Raising the Bar
Some of you will have attended the recent webinar with Prof Jeffrey Kripal talking about his new book The Flip. He defines a ‘flip’ as an experience that transforms the outlook of the experiencer in the direction of holding consciousness rather than matter to be primary. Such a ‘crucial experience’ turns out to be much more powerfully transformative than any ‘crucial experiment’ As John Kenneth Galbraith wittily remarked: “faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”
When referring to the epistemological status of anomalies, Jeff used the analogy of a high jump competition, where the bar is gradually raised. The first bar is: do they happen at all? Materialists regard all psychic experiences as impossible in principle, and often base their arguments on this brazen statement of metaphysics. The second bar is: are they significant for consciousness and mind? They might be classified as pathological and dismissed on that account. The third bar is: do they have implications for our understanding of the nature of reality? My own study of, for instance, near-death experiences has led me to the third view, which I imagine is shared by many SMN Members. It is also worth noting that all the founders of the SMN had personal mystical experiences.
Jeff goes further, by arguing that mystical and synchronistic experiences are, as it were, shouting out to be noticed for their implications in terms of our understanding of consciousness. He sees them as intentional signs of the fundamental inadequacy of our present Western worldview. Far from letting such exceptional experiences pass unnoticed, though, the scientific and academic establishment goes out of its way to ignore and suppress findings inconsistent with its basic materialist philosophy. This can be seen in its most extreme form with highly organised sceptical movements that control Wikipedia entries on parapsychology and complementary medicine to reflect their strongly held view that such ‘pseudo-scientific and ‘woo-woo’ activities are an affront to ‘reason and science’ – as if there can be a monopoly on such words.
For Kripal, this materialistic framework is not wrong, but only half right, applying as it does to the outside of things and adopting a third person perspective. As Alfred Russel Wallace and Lawrence LeShan have argued, there is no such thing as an impossible fact: if your theory is inconsistent with the facts, then your theory must be modified rather than the fact set aside. It is just not good enough to say that “such things that happen all the time cannot happen at all.” The stakes are high, though, relating as they do to what is considered real or unreal in terms of ultimate ontology and epistemology.
In his book Communication Power, Manuel Castells defines this as the capacity to impose a specific frame that shapes human reasoning and manipulates emotions in the interpretation of media messages. He reminds us that people select information according to their cognitive frames, and that the fear frame is extremely potent, as we have all experienced in recent times. In defending a conventional academic framing of synchronistic experiences, peer pressure and professional shaming tactics are widely prevalent and correspondingly intimidating to young researchers. This is where the Network can help as a safe forum for open exchange and, as a 1980s SMN document states: “The existence of the Network lets it be widely known that there is a strong minority amongst professional people who wish to take fully into account in spiritual capabilities that we all possess.”