This is a review of Dr.
Jeff Kripal’s book Authors
of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (Chicago, 2010). Dr. Kripal holds the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in
Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University.
When a distinguished endowed chair with impeccable academic lineage and credentials publishes a book on interpreting paranormal experiences, how can anyone at least not be a bit intrigued? On the face of it, what we have in this gem of a book is a learned review of four “authors of the impossible.” That is, four writers who delved into experiences that many of us would simply dismiss as impossible, or, to cite the well-known philosopher of scientific materialism, E. Scrooge, anecdotal experiences that may simply be excused as having come from “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, [or] a fragment of an underdone potato.” Underneath the review of these authors, what Dr. Kripal seems to be doing as elegantly as possible, is nothing less than exploring a new 21st-century metaphysics that can actually account for events on the fringes of our experience. If that sounds complicated or difficult to grasp, it really isn’t.
When I used to teach philosophy and religious studies (an endowed chair, no less), we would spend a week or so on Blade Runner, consciousness and philosophical anthropology (what does it mean to be human?).
In the movie, Blade Runner, the lead character of Decker (played by Harrison Ford) has the job of tracking down and killing escaped murderous robots, known as replicants. They look like us, act like us, and seem to have desires just like us. In fact, these new models are barely indistinguishable from humans at all. They can only be identified through a special test, instruments, and series of questions. The first few generations of replicants could be found out after a few test questions but the latest replicants, those that Decker now is assigned to kill, are a bit different. Here he is learning about the replicants from their creator (Dr. Tyrell) as Tyrell’s assistant, Rachael, walks close-by around the office they are all occupying during their conversation:
We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.
The ultra-respectable, but the condemned, anyway. But they’ll march.”
This blog is a plain language and accessible review of some of the truly revolutionary ideas currently being recognized by academics and public intellectuals that help to explain generally overlooked or unstudied human experiences. We give understandable context to an array of “edge” topics like anomalous religious experiences, consciousness, chaos and ritual magic, UFO abduction claims, DMT visions, and the like. These events, generally not seriously studied and, at times, even ridiculed in the past one hundred years, can no longer simply be brushed aside. We seek to treat the experiences with respect while also starting to build a worldview that fits these types of incidents while remaining true to sound intellectual standards and a slimmed-down vocabulary taken from the history of philosophy. In short, there is solid evidence that weird things happen, we seek to build them into a worldview that doesn’t ignore science and reason while simultaneously doesn’t succumb to popular unquestioned assumptions about the nature of our universe. We pursue a metaphysics and epistemology of high strangeness.
The blog is loaded with intriguing anecdotes, scientific findings, and weird (but verified) stories that cause us to reconsider what is real. It borrows heavily from Jeff Kripal, Diana Walsh Pasulka, Jacques Valle, Charles Fort, Dean Radin, Gordon White, Graham Hancock, and Russel Targ.