Book Club Channel
Paranormal America: An Interview with Jeffrey Kripal
From a pop culture perspective, what do you think of a show like Fringe, whose central themes are parallel universes, paranormal experiences, and psychic powers?
I don't watch Fringe, I'm afraid, but I've seen plenty of similar material on television and in film. I mean, how does one watch all of these things? There are literally dozens of such series at any point in time. But this in itself is significant. My suspicion here is that these tropes are so successful and so omnipresent because people are tired of being told that they are just biological robots, that they are nothing but matter, that there is no meaning anywhere. They know this is a half-truth, and they turn to science fiction because it looks like science, but it is really religion in disguise. It is not really about science. It is really about the soul. Which is what people are most hungry to hear about.
Do you think there is a relationship between psychedelic drug use and religious experience? Could we ever consider that kind of drug use to be a "religious" or "spiritual" practice?
It's a definite pattern in this history, for sure. You know, I write about this very question at length in Esalen via Aldous Huxley, who thought about this question deeply and concluded that psychedelic substances do not "cause" mystical experiences but rather catalyze them by suppressing brain function. The brain for Huxley is primarily a filter of reality and what he called Mind at Large. The brain does not "produce" consciousness. It filters, reduces, mediates, or translates Mind at Large into social, cultural, linguistic, and neurological frameworks. Mess with or suppress or traumatize that filter and a whole lot of reality, a whole lot of Mind at Large pours in, translated, of course, by the human imagination and all that conditioned, socially determined brain matter. I agree with Huxley. In some cases, not all of course, profound religious experiences can be catalyzed by drugs, just as they can also be catalyzed by other forms of trauma: car wrecks, illness, death, life crisis, sexual experience, you name it. There are many ways to traumatize the brain-filter and get beyond the ego. There are many ways to crack the cosmic egg and allow Mind at Large to pour in.
Name one person you hope reads this book. Why?
Jack Kirby. Kirby was the artist who co-created with Stan Lee so much of the Marvel Universe. He's one of my heroes. He would get this book. He would love this book. But Jack is dead.
Maybe Steven Spielberg, then. Why? My secret hope is that authors, artists, and filmmakers of all types will do something with these ideas, create new culture, create new visions of what we can be. Our contemporary stories of who we are are so pathetically small and parochial. We need new stories, soul-sized stories, as I put it in the Conclusion of the book.
I think filmmakers have a special "in" here. Most people will not read a book, but they will watch a movie. This is one reason I have been working so closely with a Houston filmmaker named Scott Hulan Jones. Scott has optioned both Esalen and Authors of the Impossible. We are now working full steam on the former book for a documentary called "Supernature: Esalen and the Human Potential." Take a look at http://www.scotthulanjones.com/.