In his 2022 book The Superhumanities: Historical Precedents, Moral Objections, New Realities, Jeff Kripal argues that academic studies under the broad heading of the humanities must escape the unidimensional constraints of materialism and embrace that other dimension we call by many names – spiritual, occult, magic, mystical, psychical, to cite a few.
This other dimension suggests the reality of ‘superhuman’ powers, but the idea of the super man has been distorted and debased by Nazism and materialism. Superpowers are preserved in our consciousness as fantasy, telling us something of the idea’s fundamental importance.
Christianity set out to eradicate unauthorized superpowers – with only God, Jesus and saints being permitted actors. All else were of the Devil and were, by their very nature, evil. Later, as science developed a more assertive materialistic culture, anything that did not fit a rational materialistic model was dismissed as fakery and folly. Superpowers became fictional or the stuff of weak-minded belief.
Despite what religions and materialism insist, our unmediated culture retains links to a deep intuition we have that these superpowers are a birthright – in our imagination, at least, for now. We will have all different memories of our childhoods, but the younger you are the more you will have been exposed to superhumans and superpowers as the media transitioned from paper comics to movies and animation. Superpowers are very much part of our now. But are they fantasy or heritage?
As a scholar of religion Kripal has carved his own unconventional path. He does not imagine the ‘divine’ expresses only through formal and approved channels. He sees it erupting into our normal in manifold ways. This is no sudden insight, as the following books show:
- Mutants & Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal, 2011
- Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred, 2012
- The Super Natural: Why the Unexplained is Real (with Whitley Strieber), 2018
- Changed in a Flash: One Woman’s Near-Death Experience and Why a Scholar Thinks It Empowers Us All (co-authored with Elizabeth G. Krohn), 2018
- The Flip: Who You Really Are and Why It Matters, 2020
I have read a lot on religion over the decades. And I have explored the transgressive essences of this other ‘super’ dimension thoroughly as well. That was a necessity, given my own lived experiences.
Kripal is arguing for a bold and necessary move forward out of one dimensional thinking about who we are as humans and into a two dimensional comprehension of who we are. This transition is becoming urgent.
Human as Two
Kripal writes of Human as Two (H1+H2 – these symbols are my idea, as far as I know). This isn’t just a reference to body and soul but two distinct consciousness – one generated by our organic existence and the other of a more fundamental nature, but still (for the most part) mediated by our organic being. Sometimes this second sense (H2) of being can be experienced without organic mediation – as in out of body experiences.
For many, it is Human as One that is alone true – only H1. Also, H2 can be seen as a highly limited domain that we are discouraged from engaging without powerful dogmas that can act as an effective invalidation of anything beyond pure imagination – effectively making it a fuzzy H1 affair.
None of this is novel or radical, but we have engaged with this theme in messy ways and for a long time, lacking clarity and intellectual discipline.
Kripal’s book is a call to academia to release its grip on the materialistic biases that have distorted and limited its vision. At a time in our culture when reason and intellectual rigor are highly esteemed, alongside the scientific method, clinging to materialism is little more than indulging in ideological bias – and unworthy of any claims to genuine advancement in knowledge.
In a way what we have created is a profoundly unbalanced progression. I like the ideas of the anthropologist Robert Redfield who wrote of the technical and moral orders of a community in his 1953 book The Primitive World and Its Transformation. We have progressed the technical order while the moral order has been allowed to atrophy, relatively speaking. I think Redfield’s use of the term ‘moral’ as related to traditional and archaic cultures and can be inflated to embrace all the 2nd dimension (H2) themes and the psychological as well as the moral. The point here is that ‘moral’ in an archaic culture embraces the precepts of animism, myth, and magic as part of a relational connection with a living cosmos.
Redfield noted that technical order used to be subordinate to moral order, but that has flipped. Now the technical order dominates. Now we measure our success in terms of technology and commerce rather than in any relational sense concerning human and other lives.
Of course, academic inquiry hasn’t completely ignored H2. There have been plenty of PhDs awarded on H2 themes – but not always celebrating it. As Kripal notes, often an inquiry is driven by a form of critique – and that can lead to efforts to invalidate or re-interpret in H1 terms only. There are H2 courses as well, available in some institutions. But the point is that H2 themes are still taken to be contested and in conflict with the H1 only perspective. Things are, however, changing in the right direction.
I get that there’s a need to intellectually validate H2, but it’s not a battle that has to be constantly fought. At some stage the irrationality of materialism must be admitted, and a white flag raised on its behalf. This is, however, likely to happen via generational change rather than the emergence of a revolutionary insight.
Kripal has dragged the debate out of the shadows – well, to the extent that the H1 only adherent will address his challenge. However, his arguments will add clarity to kindred spirits. I noticed that the Kindle version Superhumanities seemed to be priced as a student’s book rather than for a more general market. So, he is speaking more to the next generation via university students?
My recent posts have argued that we need to rethink our spirituality and Kripal’s book fits neatly in with that sense – as if there is a current of inspiration flowing and we can clamber on board.
I read/listened to Ingo Swann’s Resurrection of the Mysterious and D. W. Pasulka’s Encounters recently as well. Swann reminded the reader of the determined anti-psychism spirit that is part of both Christianity’s denial of unauthorized awareness and materialism’s denial of anything not anchored in the H1 only mindset.
A crisis of consciousness
A few weeks ago, I listened to a discussion looking at the astrology of 2024 on The Astrology Podcast. It was super technical at times, and a bit beyond my knowledge, but it moved me to reverse my decision not to have a reading for the year ahead. What was of particular interest to me was the comment that there are major technology changes that may be foreshadowed in 2024 but which will really hit in 2025-26. These changes will be revolutionary. It’s not that I necessarily believe these forecasts, but they do gel with other indicators.
Pasulka’s book put a lot of emphasis on AI. This interest in AI was also reflected in a short article on management themes for 2024 from the founder of the Neuroleadership Institute, David Rock that I read a few days ago. There are other indicators as well that suggest something that might be a watershed change is in the offing. The focus may be on the technological dimension in a purely materialistic sense, but we must not ignore the psychosocial and psychospiritual elements as well (H1+H2). It is difficult to imagine AI as relevant to H2 without understanding it as a form of ‘animation’ of the human-made world. You need an animistic perspective to see this. Without this angle AI seems like a threat to the H1 only mindset. But please wonder why we want a human-made environment that talks back, communicates and thinks, relates to us as seeming peers, possesses powers we do not have, and may serve us to do evil upon us? Its an animistic cosmology.
I have been reading in management and organizational psychology for a little shy of 40 years. It’s an area that has attracted a growing level of academic interest – and hence it’s a good trend indicator for wider social and cultural themes. The human is (now) at the centre of our inquiry. There has been a steadily increasing trend toward empathy and inclusion that requires higher levels of self-awareness and psychological maturity. This is still mostly H1, but we can see the dawning light of H2 on the horizon.
As AI evolves there is an evolutionary impetus for us to become more empathic and holistic. Sure, the technological growth is often driven by unempathic and almost sociopathic types (maybe in search of a AI agent who will give them unconditional love), but the rest of us embrace what is offered.
With technological trends as well, we are being pushed into various crises of conscience and consciousness as a tension between adaptive and reactive responses grows.
All in all, a watershed change in 2025-26 seems not unlikely. Part of that adaptive/reactive tension is likely to be the tension between H1 only and H1+H2 adherents (with H2 Champions). We must flip the technical/moral dominance to bring the moral order back. That, by the way, includes embracing the suite of holistic environmental and quantum science implications as they apply our sense of who and what we are.
It is worthwhile repeating here that certain religious faiths fall squarely in the H1 camp precisely because they are motivated to curtail or control H2 experiences. For example, for some US Christian nationalists, Jesus has become “too woke” for them. We must not automatically assume religions are pro the superhuman. In fact, the opposite is often true. A purely mythic superhuman can be a rationale for insisting followers remain controllably within the H1 camp. The idea that a true believer acts in the imitation of Christ is often considered a challenge to authority rather than fulfillment of the faith’s objectives.
Kripal’s employment of the superhumanitues is provocative in a good way because it forces a reimagining of an idea that has been relegated to a corner where it can be ignored or invalidated. I have a memory of a book well known in academia that I will not name because I cannot verify my memory. My memory is that it says, “because there are no such things as spirits…” and heads off on an argument based on that assertion. But I do clearly recall numerous instances of writers in anthropology reinterpreting the ideas of indigenous peoples because they were presumed to be mistaken in their interpretations of their experiences.
The superhuman is thus often redefined as part of naïve delusions and immature fantasies. This is why we now find the theme in movies meant for 12 year olds, but described as ‘family’ so permission for adults to enjoy can be smuggled in. Arguably only 5, at the most, of the 50 highest grossing movies of all time are ‘real world’. The other 45 fit into the fantasy category, and 10 at least (by my count) fall into the superhuman category – but that’s a matter for debate.
Equally, we can argue about why we watch movies – to escape from some state that is oppressive or to aspire into a state that is liberating and fulfilling? Is what we call fantasy hopeless dreaming or anticipation?
The ‘supernatural’ was considered the misperception of the ‘primitive’ mind in a lot of early anthropology. Anthropology doesn’t like to be reminded of the disrespectful notion of ‘primitive’. Now it ‘respectfully’ re-interprets perceptions and interpretations to correct and improve understanding. Not ‘primitive’ (sorry about that), just wrong.
In our culture the H2 stuff is about what we see as superpowers. We are conditioned to see them as mythic or scarce – applied only to exceptional people. Or its all superstitious and ignorant BS. But they also can be read as part of our destiny – potential or inevitable sometime down the track.
The standard sci fi vision of humans living in a hi-tech world – as in 2nd Gen Star Trek – is that they have the time to pursue self-development as if that means only H1 competencies like sports, arts, and education. The goal is still the refinement of the individual – only not in the H2 sense. Imagine otherwise. What if our self-development goals were H2? That would disrupt the narrative that proposes only technologies evolve and humans evolve only in adaptation to the technologically dominated and mediated environment. What if human evolution was not Darwinian (driven by adaptation to the physical environment), but by a H2 level impetus?
Kripal observes that our traditions, going way back, celebrate the superhuman. So why isn’t our H2 potential knitted into our vision of who we are? Why are we merely monkey-made-good and not that other soul/spirit side as well? The present ‘rational’ perspective is that seeing our H2 nature is optional is rational because it is not substantiated by evidence and is hence no more than a matter of (irrational) opinion.
That simply isn’t so. The evidence is abundant, but it can be accepted or ignored, depending on motive – like any evidence. Motive is something we need to think through. Why would you choose ignore/deny half of who you might be?
I am reading/listening to an interesting book called The Misinformation Age. It explores how valid knowledge can be distorted and misrepresented. The actuality of our H2 nature is distorted by propagandistic efforts from both religion and academia where there is a motive to distort or deny evidence. That motive is about control and authority, and surrendering either will likely precipitate a crisis of consciousness – and identity – among those who desire to exercise control. This is no conspiracy theory. Somebody (individual or group) exerts control over a community – imposing and policing norms. As we evolve into ever more complex and pluralistic communities those controls become more abstract. This is precisely what current right-wing passions are reacting against. They want simple and singular. This applies also to materialism.
At the opening of The Superhumanities Kripal shares a poster for a course – Mutants and Mystics: Race, Sexuality and the Future of the Human(ities). The poster features a costumed superhero character asking, “Are you one of the mutants?”
This gives me a thrill. It is clearly aimed at a younger student audience. I so wish it was available when I enrolled at UTas in 1970s. I didn’t stay long.
What I love about the poster is that it takes a playful approach to a deep matter. It creates a sense of excitement that is very present, and future looking. Kripal puts the potentiality well in saying,
“As someone who was once trained in Hindu and Buddhist philosophies, which insist that the real as such cannot only be known as such but that this is the very purpose and goal of a human life-form, I have always found this Western academic assumption to be a rather obvious and most dubious piece of Eurocentrism. Why stay within these reasonable (European) limits when much of humanity has not? Who says they are limits, and to what end? (P 97)” (The bold is mine)
There is also a sense of ‘irreverence’ in the poster. But who says reverence is the only way? What about curiosity and innovation? What about excitement? Religions have relegated so much of human potential to dark corners and basements through invalidation or denial. Kripal observes that, “most of all, religion is looking the wrong way: it is looking backward to the past, not for- ward to the future.” (P 94).
Rational intellectual inquiry into the whole of who we are should be our best hope, but that won’t be something we can realise until the choking fingers of materialism are loosened from the throat the spirit of inquiry. – and we are allowed to be mutants without fear.
Kripal’s works are invigorating and unsettling, and getting unsettled or disrupted is necessary if we want to open ourselves up to our future and our potential. The books are also demanding. That’s a good thing, but these days we are seduced toward the easy. To consume input that demands we pay attention and find something that makes us work hard to get best benefit can be a surprise. I highly recommend Kripal’s works, but I don’t want to mislead. You’ll have to work for the reward.
Imaging formally studying the humanities (psychology, sociology, the arts, philosophy and so) with a H2 perspective on who we are. What a blast that would be! Why isn’t this how it is now?