What do you get when you take a razor-sharp mind with a state-of-the-art bullshit detector and apply it all to a sphere of inquiry most academics run in terror for their careers from?
You get Jeff Kripal's Authors of the Impossible, a book that people in the future will look back on as a pivotal text in the development of a new consensus on topics that have for too long been consigned to the fringes. Jeff wrote the definitive text on the history of Esalen (which I included as one of my decade's best) and he's also the author of the upcoming Secret Life of a Superpower, a very deep and exhaustive look at the enduring resonance of the superhero meme. (Note: Read Jeff's bio here.)
Longtime Secret Sun readers will be stunned to see how many of the topics we've discussed here being covered in Authors of the Impossible (as well as in Secret Life). Stunned but not surprised- there is a new consensus unfolding that acknowledges the past but isn't beholden to it. That acknowledges the importance of the scientific method but recognizes its limitations in certain dilemmas. I hope that you read Authors of the Impossible and hope that it inspires you to apply a similar discipline to your own research. Discipline, rigor and most of all courage are desperately needed as the old weird becomes the New Normal.
Here's a description taken from Jeff's site. It refers to the upcoming film but covers the basic outline of the book as well:
The film profiles four extraordinary thinkers: the British psychical researcher F. W. H. Myers, the American anomalist writer and humorist Charles Fort, the astronomer, computer scientist, and ufologist Jacques Vallee, and the French philosopher Bertrand Méheust. Gradually, eerily, what Kripal dubs “the fantastic narrative of Western occulture” emerges before the reader from within that strange middle realm where fact mimics fiction, where fraud mimics fact, where everything is related and nothing is as it seems. The cultural histories of telepathy, teleportation, and UFO’s, a ghostly love story, the occult dimensions of science fiction, cold war psychic espionage, galactic colonialism, poltergeist girls, consciousness as the creator of culture, and culture as the crystallization of consciousness—it is all impossible, and it all happens here.
Ultimately, Authors of the Impossible is about us—you and me—waking up inside a dream, a novel, or a movie (call it culture, society, or religion) and realizing, with a start, that we are its authors. Even more stunning, we realize that none of it is real (to the extent that it pretends to be literal, stable, and absolute), and that all of it is real (to the extent that it reflects and expresses the Consciousness that projected it). Realization is the insight that we are being written, that we are caught in a story we did not write. Authorization is the decision to do something about it. If Realization involves the act of reading the paranormal writing us, Authorization involves the act of writing the paranormal writing us. What the film is finally about, then, is us becoming our own Authors of the Impossible.All that being said, let's go to part one of an interview I did with Jeff:
Jeff, tell us about the basic premise of Authors of the Impossible.
The basic premise of the book is that paranormal experiences, as anomalous events that possess both objective and subjective dimensions, do not and cannot be fit into our normal dualistic way of looking at the world as either "material" or "mental." They can, however, be fruitfully approached as "living stories" or as "physical meanings" that are appearing in our world.
One of the thrulines in the book is the essential malleability of what we call reality. How would you explain that concept to a (relatively intelligent) novice?
Our experience of reality is always filtered through our psyches and its linguistic, cultural, social, and biological conditioning. Different such conditionings produce different experiences of reality, different possibilities, and so different impossibilities. Reality is thus not stable as we move from culture to culture or temporal period to temporal period. It shifts, morphs, and moves. And--and this is the cool part--we have some power of how it is shaped and appears to us through these various linguistic, cultural, and social filters.
How have your peers in Academia responded to the work?
It's too early for that. Reviews generally take a year, believe it or not. I've received some very positive feedback via correspondence and conversation, though. My sense is that intellectuals are fascinated by this stuff, like everyone else.
We've seen certain writers work in relative obscurity- or are even shunned by the mainstream- in their lifetimes- do you foresee a future in which Jacques Vallee or Bertrand Méheust are taken more seriously by people outside UFO/paranormal circles?
I certainly hope so. That's one big reason I wrote this book. To get serious readers to take these wonderful writers more seriously.
We've seen Philip K Dick become more highly regarded by the Intelligentsia- could something similar happen to Charles Fort, or is his work too weird?
I don't know why not? Though Fort did not really tell stories like Dick did. That's one big reason Dick has been embraced by Hollywood. His work lends itself to story-telling, because it IS storytelling.
So how does the normal person sense this? Or do they?
A normal person senses this precisely in those anomalous events we call "paranormal." Individuals who have traveled a great deal or lived in another culture also know this intuitively.
Why is the UFO topic so heated up these days?
Well, that's an easier one: because many, many UFO sightings violate our understanding of how reality works and our sense of place in the universe. If these things are really happening, and I really do think they are happening, then our science and our self-understanding are both seriously challenged. Any system, be it religious or scientific or political, will resist these kinds of profound challenges through a kind of immunological response. That is, the system will surround and eject the anomalous or problematic presence like an invading bacteria or disease. In the more poetic terms of Charles Fort, the Dominant will "damn" the offending datum.
Has the nonphysical reality of UFOs become a dogma unto itself?
The reason I ask is because in UFOlogy circles you'll have your self-appointed "Vallee fundamentalists" who shut out all opposing views as to the physicality of UFOs. Why do so we seldom hear the argument that stories of djinn and fairies were in fact close encounters that people simply pasted folklore and religious dogma over?
Vallee himself insists on the physical dimensions. He also insists on the folkloric dimensions. He insists on BOTH. That's what makes him Jacques Vallee. I too am a both/and thinker, not an either/or thinker. As for the founders, yes, they were most likely very porous to these sorts of experiences, but I would not say that the dogmas were "pasted over" their experiences. I would say that the doctrines emerged from these experiences and enabled other people later to have similar sorts of experiences. The problem, of course, always comes in when the religious tradition insists on only its doctrines, only its practices, etc. That's always a mistake. And it has produced untold violence and suffering in human history.
Of the most famous UFO abduction cases, which strike you as the most likely to be a report of a real, physical event?
This is a tough one for two reasons. First, I do not make the equation of "real" and "physical," as I think there are entire realms of reality that are not "physical" or even "material" in the sense we usually mean those terms, so I think that UFO encounters could be very real and not at all physical. Second, I find it difficult because I am not an expert on UFOs, that is, I do not have any experience in the field with such things. I would point the reader to the very recent Wonders in the Sky of Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck as a kind of model of best practice here.
Does the rise in visibility in the media on the UFO topic somehow translate into credible contacts, meaning not just hysteria or hoaxes?
These are not all hoaxes, and I'm not sure "hysteria" explains anything at all. In my mind, both "explanations" are just intellectual cop-outs, that is, refusals to think before the abyss.
TO BE CONTINUED