Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Super Natural: A Book Review

The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey J. Kripal
For my 80th Christmas on this planet, I treated myself to a weird hardback book by two experienced explorers of strange phenomena that lie outside of what these days passes for science. Whitley Strieber is the author of Communion in which he describes his personal contact with "non-human beings" -- contact that continues in some form to this day. Jeff Kripal is the author of several scholarly and popular books on comparative religion with an emphasis on the particular experiences which gave rise to various religious beliefs and to alleged insights into the nature of reality.

This book features each of the specialists taking turns writing a chapter, so the book reads as a dialog between an experimenter (Whitney) and a theoretician (Jeff). But this simple distinction is blurred by the fact that Whitney theorizes about the meaning of his experiences and Jeff adds experiences of his own and of his colleagues to his theories of how to deal reasonably with unreasonable experiences. This taking turns works: each man respects the other's expertise but the two do not always agree.

A further feature of this book is the fact that after he published Communion, Whitley received hundreds of thousands (!) of letters from people all over the world that had had similar bizarre experiences many of which could be classified as some sort of non-human contact -- a valuable data base for those scholars of any persuasion interested in the study of unusual human experiences. Judging from the volume of Strieber's correspondence, experiences of this sort do not appear to be rare. But for obvious reasons, people rarely talk out loud about them. Would you?

Whitley attempts to describe his experiences without injecting his own interpretations, but admits that maintaining his objectivity is difficult because these events are characterized by ambiguity and by strong emotions -- primarily fear. Kripal takes the long view, arguing that emotionally powerful, ambiguous experiences of this sort have been happening to people thoughout all of recorded history. And that some of these "non-human contacts" -- Moses with the Burning Bush, Mohammed with the angel Gabriel, for example -- have led directly to the birth of new world religions that attracted billions of followers.

So, Jeff argues, such experiences are not unimportant for human history, but we are not required to see them in the same light as did their original participants. Neither are we required, Jeff adds, to view them thru the fundamentalist goggles of atheistic materialism. Let's be real scientists here, ladies and gentlemen, he urges. Let's try to set aside contemporary prejudices and work open-mindedly to discover what these strange not-so-rare experiences are trying to tell us about the nature of human (and non-human) reality.

As Whitley succinctly puts it: "We don't know what they are because we don't know what we are."

Jeff's tentative model for understanding such experiences is that each of us is part of a Larger Mind -- the "Human as Two" in Kripal's words -- part Human and part Divine. Divine and Human? Two ill-defined words like the words Classical and Quantum, which taken together make four important concepts that humans need to learn to use correctly (we haven't yet) if we hope to better understand the mental and physical reality of which we are made.

Can the notion of being part of a Larger Mind help us to understand such unusual phenomena as mathematical prodigies, lucky hunches, numinous coincidences, voices in the head, crisis telepathy, magical links between lovers, veridical visions, "the fickle finger of Fate", scientific, musical, artistic and poetic inspiration, plus the mysterious Zeitgeist itself -- that inexorable spirit of the times that seems to carry all before it like a flood -- perhaps even making sense of the unexpected election of President Donald Trump?

Strieber's way of acquiring knowledge by direct personal experience, rather than through books or teachers, fits into a religious category called Gnosticism which has a long tradition.

Jeff Kripal & Nick Herbert, Esalen Lodge, July 2010. photo: August O'Connor
Reading Kripal's description of ancient Gnosticism in The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained, I was inspired (by Big Mind?) to add my own two centavos. Jeff's text forms its scholarly core, classical human Nick (and his divine quantum Muse) provide the title and the admonition. Let the following verse express one mindful collaborative response to this challenging and unusual book:

by Jeff Kripal & Nick Herbert

The ancient Gnostics
Did not know what we know:
They did not have 

Modern cosmology
Quantum physics
Evolutionary biology.


In space-time habitation
Quantum mind alive in primate body
Our priestly task is clear:

Listen like a sly physician
To demons, aliens, angels,
Gods, efreets and witches.

By the light of wildest intuition
Expose our wise men's trinity of theories
As hidden Holy Spirit, bitches!

As hidden Holy Spirit.

Image by Todd Stock, aka Dr Paradise


Lou vanVeen said...

Great review! I was thinking of buying it and now I think I should.
And happy new year. looking forward to your posts.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your thoughts--you've sparked my interest in the book.Of course, direct contact with Greater Mind Ourself is always more interesting and direct. Every little vision and taste of Big Mind brings us closer to our core. "Science" has deconstructed the mechanisms of our collective illusion and helps us understand how stuff works so we can change nature itself and blow stuff up. but until we make the quantum leap of direct encounter with the unspoken but knowable "Why" of existence (beyond ego and time) we're not going to make much actual Human progress, just more grunting around for food and power--both of which we're running out of anyhow. I did read Whitley Strivers' Communion and thought it wasn't any stranger than several DMT experiences I've had and probably at least as personally valid as my own odd encounters with ghosts, telepathy, automatic writing, table lifting, and a Ouija Board telling a 12th grade class I was teaching that it was Johnson who killed JFK. I'm going to tap the downtown branch of our Library for the book and give it a read.
Play on, oh wood nymph of the Red Forest, your sweetly jigging flute and flirty words!

Hristo Yanev said...
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