Book review: The Super Natural

The Super Natural: A New Vision of the UnexplainedThe Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained by Whitley Strieber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one is kind of bonkers if you think the world and the universe around it are pretty much known things. If you’re less certain (just what is dark matter, anyway, and why is there so much of it?) then the you may find the ideas presented to be intriguing, even as the authors make no absolute claims on any of the evidence they bring forward.

The premise of The Super Natural is that the various unknown phenomena reported around the world–everything from UFOs to alien abductions, apparitions, implants, strange lights and more–are real and explainable, and point to a larger reality that most people lack the perception and skill to interact with in a meaningful way, or even at all. Further, they suggest the possibility of parallel universes that may intersect with ours at times. On top of that, there’s a lot of theory on what happens after you die and whether or not the soul exists. Finally, there is a common belief between the authors that some kind of intelligent plasma energy may be behind most of this.

Pretty bonkers, right?

Whitley Strieber is well-known for his books about what he calls the visitors, starting with Communion. His experiences have been largely ignored by mainstream media or openly mocked (he expresses regret for coming up with the phrase “rectal probe”, two words that have launched a thousand jokes over the past thirty years). His chapters largely consist of him recalling and expanding on experiences he has previously described, as well as bringing in some new ones. He offers theories but is very careful to commit to none of them, keeping his mind open to other possibilities. He doesn’t think the visitors are aliens from another planet, a common misconception people have with his experiences.

Jeff Kripal is a historian of religions and his chapters focus more specifically on the theories behind what may be going on, with different techniques offered as part of a “toolbox” for examining and cataloguing the unknown.

In a few instances the authors disagree on specifics but overall they present a united front in believing the likeliest explanations of all this weird stuff lies in intelligent plasma energy that exists perhaps in a dimension outside of ours and may be trying to teach those who are receptive what lies beyond our physical form and physical dimension. There are suggestions that these other beings live outside of normal space and time and to them we seem pretty primitive with our living and dying and not being able to fly around as spooky balls of energy. But the good news is they consider us teachable.

There are no good explanations on why these more advanced forms of life want to teach us or why they are being relatively coy about it (I say relatively because there are thousands of UFO sightings, for example, and even well-documented cases rarely get reported by conventional media, so while these various phenomena may be unknown, they are not exactly rare). Perhaps we’re just really slow learners. Maybe our nukes scare them. They still kind of scare me.

Kripal in particular also goes into detail about what is real versus fictional or imagined and how we may essentially make our own reality. One example he recounts is about an academic colleague who was making blueberry muffins (mmm). He finished mixing the wet ingredients then rinsed out and set the empty honey jar on the sink counter to dry. He went to get a tin of flour off a shelf and, surprised by how unusually heavy it felt, dropped it on the floor. He sifted through the spilled flour and found the honey jar, caked in the flour. He looked at the counter. The jar was no longer there. It had moved on its own. Neat! And weird.

Kripal explains:

Apparently, that is what the human mind-brain does when it is participating in a dimension of reality that is quite beyond our primitive “mental” and “material” categories of thinking (and our primitive science, which assumes the same division to work at all). It tells itself a story that involves otherwise impossible things and then acts out that story with physical objects. If those objects are available in the immediate environment, it uses them as props, like Dan’s honey jar. If they are not, it creates them “out of nowhere.”

He goes on to say these odd events happen to “mess with us” (that is a direct quote), to shake up our view of the world as one in which the mental and physical are separate things. It’s all very trippy, like trying to count to infinity.

In the end a skeptic is unlikely to be convinced by the evidence presented by Strieber and Kripal, but their ideas are interesting and entertainingly presented. The way they both hold back from making absolute claims seems less a dodge and more a genuine admission that they–and us–really don’t know for sure what it happening out there. But something certainly seems to be.

Meanwhile, I can’t even get the TV remote to teleport into my hand. If the mental and physical are really one, I wouldn’t mind at least a few perks before evolving into a super-intelligent ball of light.

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