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Who Are They Really?
The truth behind humanity's greatest thinkers.
Adam Jacobs (00:34): Hi, Jeff. Thank you so much for being here today. How are things in the Lone Star state today?
Jeff Kripal (00:40): Don't get me going. Yeah, let's not talk about the lone star state. Let's talk about something else.
Adam Jacobs (00:48): Fine. So let's just jump right into it. I have had the great pleasure of just completing your book called Super Humanities, which we'll go ahead and we're going to post a link to. And I want to tell you the reaction that I had to it, which was fascinating for me. I've never quite reacted to a book like this. My first feeling, even just a few pages in, was like, I would like every home in America to own a copy of this book. I'm willing to fundraise for it. I mean, I was enthralled by much of what you were saying, and then interspersed in, there were things that would come up, but I would be like, wait, wait, wait, wait. Maybe I got this wrong. A little confused by some stuff. And then a few pages later, I'd be back on track. So I had this careening from one pole to the other, which was actually quite stimulating. But I figured I would spend some time today and ask you some of my questions that were generated. And I hope at the end, I'm going to give an unabashed full-throated endorsement of the book and recommended it all over the world.
So your premise, which it takes a whole book to unpack, is that, if I can speak for you, human beings are really superhuman, that there are deeper levels of possibility that exist within each and every person. These potentials are often hidden, locked, so to speak. But there are occasions, and there are individuals throughout the course of history who seem to have transcended their limitations. And there's good reason to believe that that is a real thing, and therefore, you did a huge study of these cases and why they're meaningful. Is that a decent way of summarizing?
Jeff Kripal (02:52): That's fair. There's more to it than that, but that's fair.
Adam Jacobs: I know there's a lot more to it, and hopefully, we'll get into it. But I guess my first question is, it struck me as very interesting that you said your students need to be Clark Kent before they can be Superman. And I guess my question is why Superman himself knew who he was. He was Kal El and he sort of purposefully hid himself. So it seems like sort of the opposite. And we seem to have lost track of who we are, but why can't we just jump to being super people right off the bat?
Jeff Kripal (03:36): Well, my graduates can't do that because they'll never get a job. I
Adam Jacobs (03:42): I mean, okay, fine. Yeah.
Jeff Kripal (03:44): I mean, Superman never gets a job. Let's be clear. He's beyond the job market, as it were. Clark Kent gets a job, and it's a boring job, and he's got to go to the Daily Planet every day, but he actually gets a job, and he has a way to make a living. And the truth of the modern academy is that you need to get a job and that these are good skills to have. By the way, I don't think the skills we teach people, critical thinking skills, language skills, how to read, how to write, are tangential. I think they're at the core of this. And these super moments in life are generally rare, and they generally only occur in transitions or illness or death or dying. And so that's just not the level upon which we live. We live in a very banal level, and we need to flourish there, and we need to be there. So I'm not in any sense opposed to our Clark Kent existence. I just want us to acknowledge we do have this Superman that's in that's inside. It's in the glasses. The glasses are pretty; it's a pretty bad disguise, lemme put it that way.
Adam Jacobs (05:10): Okay, I agree. But would you say that the vast majority of humanity is unaware of their super potential?
Jeff Kripal (05:18): So I actually wouldn't say that I, I've been talking about these things for decades, and I've given hundreds, literally hundreds of lecturers at universities in Europe and the US.
Virtually every single time in the Q&A session or when we go to dinner, somebody will tell me a story. And it's a pretty remarkable story. And my sense over the years is that most people have had these kinds of experiences, and then their cultures or their professions, or their families encourage them to suppress them. And so they don't talk about them. And so we all think that they're rare and unusual, but actually, they're, they're actually really common, and they're extensive. And it's actually at the core of, I think, what it means to be a human being. But we're just disciplined and beaten into submission essentially by our cultures and by our families.
Adam Jacobs (06:22): So you think part of it is societal? Do you think that people are afraid to be themselves? There’s a famous Marianne Williamson quotes I wrote it here, she says, “your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure about you. We are all meant to shine as children do. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.”
Jeff Kripal (06:51): Yeah. So I think we are afraid of these abilities, but I guess I'm a little more cantankerous or crabby than Marianne is.
Adam Jacobs (07:03): <laugh>. Okay.
Jeff Kripal (07:06): If you look at the history of religions and particularly the history of magic or practice by the way, it's pretty dark. I mean, it's, there's this much magical practice designed to subdue or seduce or kill someone or some animal as there is to help people or to nurture people or to have a child or something. I think these abilities are morally neutral. Or if they're not morally neutral, they're they're not moral, period. And by that, I don't mean they're immoral. I just mean it's like electricity in the wall. I mean this electricity in my wall, it, it's powering the lights, but my God, if I stick my finger in that socket, it's not going to be good. And that's not the electricity's fault.
Adam Jacobs (07:55): Sure.
Jeff Kripal (07:56): It's just the nature of power. It's the nature of electricity. And I think these experiences and anomalies and abilities are a lot like that. I do think we're afraid of them, but I think we're afraid of them for sometimes good reason and sometimes for not-so-good reasons. So I think it's complicated. The quote that you just gave there, I think is the beneficent good side of the superhuman nature. But there is a more difficult side that I think we need to struggle with too.
Adam Jacobs (08:37): That's actually, it's a perfect segue into one of the things that confuse me, maybe about super humanities. You seem to have an empathy, I would say, for magical practices. And you know, outline a bit of them in the Egyptian mode. And my understanding, even from a theological perspective, is yes, the magic existed there, but like you said, I think very well the magic itself, assuming it exists, is neutral. But my cultural understanding of what happened in Egypt was that they used it in a very bad way. And it was rank immorality as I understand immorality—wanton murder and slavery, all kinds of very negative things. So the magic was in service of what I would consider to be bad. And so it seems to me, and I think you would agree, but maybe you can clear that up for me. There's a healthy and an unhealthy channeling of this capability or this reality. So therefore, I was just confused as to what appeared to me to be a certain empathy that you had for it.
Jeff Kripal (10:08): So the super humanities are precisely this conversation and precisely this debate. I do have empathy to answer your question. Yes, I have empathy. I also have questions. And the worldview you just hit it at or alluded to there is very, very monotheistic.
Adam Jacobs (10:35): Yes. That's where I come from. So yeah,
Jeff Kripal (10:37): I know. I get it. The Jewish take on ancient Egypt in the Torah, I don't think that's the take you'd get if you talked to the Egyptians or if you looked at a text that was not Jewish. I think you'd get a very different take. And I'm not privileging the indigenous perspective over the Jewish perspective, but neither am I privileging the Jewish perspective over the indigenous perspective. I want us to have a conversation, and I want us to think critically and reflexively about our own deepest beliefs and worldviews and whether those are truly adequate to the full human experience. And I'm as positive and as hard on my own Roman Catholic background as I am on any other background. I don't think anybody is immune from this. No one. Absolutely.
Adam Jacobs (11:35): No, I saw that in your writing. Yes.
Jeff Kripal (11:38): So I want us to have a conversation. I want us to think about this and your ambivalence, your confusion, or the stuff you picked up in the book. You're kind of going back and forth. It's precisely what I want to happen.
Adam Jacobs (11:56): Okay, good.
Jeff Kripal (11:57): Because I don't have the answers. I'm not inhabiting some kind of absolute perspective here. I'm just saying, look, this is part of what a human being is. Let's include this in our conversations and in our religions, and in everything. Let's do it.
Adam Jacobs (12:20): I actually wholeheartedly agree with that perspective. I think it's critical for all of us to go through that process and whatever stands, stands, and whatever falls falls, I think it has to be that way. At the same time, my subjective analysis, and I'm not a scholar, I'm just a person who reads things and thinks about them, is that the polytheistic worldview lends itself much more easily to being corrupted. That. And again, I'm not saying that polytheists are bad people. I'm saying that the ability to work with the local deity, though if you want wind, you can make some kind of bargain with the Wind God, if you want rain, you can make an arrangement. There's a certain self-service that polytheism seems to boil down to that is not available in monotheism because the One can't be bribed. It already has all that it needs. And so again, in my cultural background and in my subjective understanding of how these things work, it seems to me that the one is destined to go down a path of subjective morality and what I would consider to be bad. And the other one is much less corruptible. How would that strike you?
Jeff Kripal (13:53): I think this part of the debate, I was raised in what called itself a monotheistic tradition. I think that's debatable too, but there's a lot of conversation in the book about “The One.”
A capital, and the distinction between the one and the one God is not always very clear. And I think that's part of the debate as well. It's not just polytheism versus monotheism; it's also pantheism, it's also pan panentheism, also idealism. There's a lot of answers on the table, as it were. And the only ones that conventional academics are looking at are materialistic and secular. And what I'm trying to do is say, look, that's an answer, but it's only an answer. If you've taken all this stuff off the table.
You put all this stuff back on the table, those answers don't work so well. And I'm actually very sympathetic to the one God, to monotheism, but I want those traditions to own up to their past and see where they have something to learn from these other religions. I mean, I'm a comparativist at heart. I want to look at all these religions on the same table evenly. I don't want to privilege one over the other. So I'm not coming from a traditional religious background, but I'm also not coming from a secular or materialistic perspective either. I'm trying to do something between those two, as it were.
Adam Jacobs (15:43): And I think you're succeeding at doing that. And that's why my great hope is that the ideas as you're presenting them, we'll find the right audience. It's not hard to see the extreme dedication to physicalism, the absolute assumption of its correctness, and all the implications that could and do follow from that, which make me nervous.
Jeff Kripal: So I think it should make you nervous.
Adam Jacobs: I think it's very critical. And so one of the things that you do, and you really taught me something with a few of these chapters. So, for instance, you have a chapter called All Truth Must Be Depressing. And which I thought was funny to begin with because it, it's so, that is so true by itself for some reason. It's cool to be cynical, and a naysayer about everything, and everything is constructed and false and power-driven. So I was really surprised to discover your discussion of Camus and Nietzsche that they're not precisely what I thought they were. And these are both people that I've read. It's been a while. So, for instance, you quote Camus, if I'm pronouncing his name, I never know, but “I often read that I that I am atheistic. I hear people speak of my atheism, yet these words say nothing to me, for they have no meaning. I do not believe in God, and I am not an atheist.”
Okay. So my first question is like, okay, well does that make it agnostic? Does it make him something else that, I don't know what the category is called? And furthermore, has that been masked? Why does confusion exist about him? And I'll get to the Nietzsche quote in a minute, which is also totally shocking to me. But is the academy hiding this from people in your way of thinking?
Jeff Kripal (18:01): I don't think there's a conspiracy afoot to hide anything from anyone. I just think it's easier to take things apart than it is to affirm things. And I think academics learn to take things apart, and they're very suspicious of putting things together because they know historically those things have been used to hurt people. And so there's a natural tendency among intellectuals to acknowledge and affirm depression, essentially how bad everything is. And there's a natural tendency to be suspicious of optimism and anything positive. And that's what I was trying to put my finger on. And the joke is, of course, told as a joke. I've told it hundreds of times, people always laugh. And the reason they always laugh is because it's true. And they know it's true. They know when I say that, they're like, oh my God, he's right. They've never considered that. But it's just so obviously and immediately true that it gets them thinking away. Okay, well, what does that mean? Yeah. And this book we're talking about is the answer to what I think it means. I think we're in a bad place in the humanities, and we have, we've dug ourselves in our own hole, our own grave as it were, and it's time to step out of the hole as it were.
Adam Jacobs (19:32): Okay. I agree. And I want to get into that a little bit more, but just going back to Camus for a second, what does he mean to say when I'm not an atheist, and I don't believe in God?
Jeff Kripal (19:41): So I don't know what he means, but I think what he means, well here's what I think he means, that the traditional or conventional conceptions of God are insufficient and do a lot of damage and look to him like human projections of human beings. On the other hand, he's not saying that there is no transcendent source or background to existence. He doesn't know. I think a lot of his work is actually agnostic, not not in the bad sense, but in the good sense. I mean, the fall and the rebel, and all of these things are essentially agnostic myths about the divinity of the human being and the capacity of the human being to stand up to unjust constructions. And I think for Camus, certainly, his French Catholicism that surrounded him was an unjust construction, and he was trying to stand up against that and before he was killed in a car accident. So I think that's what he's about. I was just trying to say, look, Camus is way more complicated than we're told, not what you think. And if we get to this, so Nietzsche—hat guy was wildly religious even though he hated religion, but he actually loved religious people. I mean, it's complicated. Let's not shove these people into a secular reductive box when that's not who they were.
Adam Jacobs (21:23): So I've been taught to think, or I've concluded that Nietzsche in my circles gets a bad name. I mean, have a certain respect for him as a brave atheist. That's what I've always regarded him as, somebody who concluded that there was no God but wasn't particularly happy about it, that he felt there was a certain bravery in a certain weight that you had to carry it. As opposed to other modern atheists who seem to absolutely revel in the idea that there's no God, which personally I have a tremendously hard time understanding, and their behavior and their writing and doesn't seem to reflect the personality of somebody who has drawn that conclusion. They're so upbeat, and they want to give, and they want; they're normal people. And I would think that would be extremely a depression inducing to draw that conclusion. It always has made me feel like maybe they just don't really mean it. And so the interesting thing with Nietzsche—to discover all of these undercurrents of his spirituality is really a revelation. And I think it would be to a lot of people.
So the quote that I wanted to ask you about specifically, which again is another thing I find to be hard to process, is he says, “I have the most extensive soul of all Europeans now living, or whoever lived Plato, Voltaire. It depends on conditions that do not entirely depend on me but rather on the essence of things; I could become the European Buddha, which admittedly would be a counterpart of the Indian one.” So that just strikes me; my first reading of it is just want and hubris and something that would call into question spiritual enlightenment to view yourself in such an exalted way. It's, it already calls into question what he's arrived at. So how do you square that with what you've discovered about him?
Jeff Kripal (23:44): Well, first of all, what you just said is, again, very monotheistic. Humility is an important part of it. Yes. Yeah. I mean, it's like, yeah. So first, what I really believe, and this might show my own deep Catholicism, is I think particular human beings have essentially become one with God through human history. And their ego or their subjectivity has essentially been erased or removed. And this kind of divine subjectivity shines through, and they experience in themselves as God because, in fact, they are God. So, so is everyone else. We just don't know it. And I think with Nietzsche, what needs to be said about Nietzsche is from 1981, I mean, I'm sorry, from 1881, he had some kind of profound mystical experience in the Alps to the day he collapsed in a street in 1889, he became increasingly extreme in his claims to divinity.
And he claimed to be Dionysius, he claimed to be the Christ, he claimed to be the Buddha. He claimed to be the reincarnation. He claimed to be all names in history, by the way, all names. So I think what was happening is what we call the ego or the subject was, in fact, disappearing. And this sort of divine subjectivity was, in fact, shining through. When I read that late, I think of all the mystical authors I've read, and he reminds me so much of them; he reminds me so much of Meister Eckhart or Margaret Cora or any number of mystics whom I know well, who I think their subjectivities were also erased either temporarily or permanently. We now think Nietzsche was probably suffering from a brain tumor that was eating away at his mind until he collapsed. I suspect that's true, but that does not for me exclude the possibility that the brain tumor was essentially erasing or eating away at his egoic identity.
So that's my read of Nietzsche now, but the point here for our conversation is once you start talking about that, it's really hard to say that all that Nietzsche was about was naysaying and that he was just about deconstruction and “God is dead,” and which he did say, and he meant, but he also saw all his naysaying as just preliminary to this ye saying. And what he was most about was he was trying to battle and get us to move beyond Nihilism, this idea that there is no meaning in life. And so he really, really thought he was doing that. I think he was doing that, particularly in the last decade of his life. And I think he's been profoundly misread. I read him late in life, very late in life. I read my early career was all about Sigmund Freud. I love Sigmund Freud.
I still love psychoanalysis. And Freud adored Friedrich Nietzsche, by the way. But I had never read Nietzsche. I had only read Freud. And the reason I read Nietzsche was because a number of my graduate students' lives had been frankly saved by this man. And I wanted to know why. I wanted to know what is going on here. And so I read him, and I was like, holy smokes. This is not the Friedrich Nietzsche. I assumed I was totally wrong. So are the receptions, by the way. And so I had the same reaction you did. I was like, what? This is not what I was, I thought. And again, that's the superhuman, and that's the super humanities behind the humanities that I'm trying to get at. And I don't think Nietzsche's right about everything. I'm not saying let's all be Nietzche saying, let's, for goodness sake, let's read Friedrich Nietzche in an honest and full way. And let's not just make all the truth depressing because it's not depressing with Nietzsche. It's actually incredibly affirming and incredibly well, it's ecstatic, it's divine at the end of his life.
Adam Jacobs (28:16): And I think that that is absolutely critical, and it challenges so many fundamental assumptions that people have, including myself and I, I'm quite open to hearing <laugh> these reinterpretations of these famous figures that I know. And as such, I thank you really for introducing it to me. And I hope that others can grasp what you're getting at with a whole litany of figures in your book.
Jeffrey Kripal: It's not; it's not just Friederick and the people we've talked about. I mean, it just goes on and on and on and on.
Adam Jacobs (28:59): Yes. And that's my understanding of what people are really like. I do think that people have; first of all, I agree with you that everyone's got a spark of divinity in them. And secondly, I think that they sort of know it and that there are moments that everybody has where the, there's, there's a moment of pause, something happens the birth of a child, the sun sets, very stressful situation that momentarily sort of something in them and they think about it for a minute, or they don't know how to process it, or people tell them that they're crazy and they go back to sleep. Okay. Still, I want, just bear with me for one more second in my monotheistic questioning of these
Jeff Kripal (29:43): I’m not bearing with you. I love your questions. They're great. And your questions, of course, are my questions. You're an internal conversation, not just an external lot.
Adam Jacobs (29:54): Yeah, no, I'm having it also internally, and it's a good one. It's very good. But if you believe that Nietzsche became one with the infinite, essentially, what evidence is there for that meaning besides his claim of it? The kind of evidence, and let me frame it like this, then, there's a historian named Paul Johnson and who I like very much, he wrote a book called Intellectuals, and the book essentially maps out what the primary thinking of a given intellectual was. And then it shows the way through primary sources by the way that they actually lived their lives, which of course, was in diametric opposition to what they claimed to believe in. So, for instance, a figure Rousseau, if you read him beautiful stuff in terms of the brotherhood of man and all these beautiful flowery things that he talks about. And then you find out that he had tons of gambling debts, that he had multiple illegitimate children that he never took care of and spent most of his time in pubs. And, it's disappointing when you see that he was very selfish, seemingly, and very focused on his own needs. So in my world, the evidence of being a truly enlightened individual, here's how I would measure it. How many loads of laundry did he do for other people? How much time did he spend in pastoral counseling helping other people with their problems? Did he lose a lot of sleep dealing with people's worries? Did he give a lot of charity? What evidence is there that he was this in your way of thinking?
Jeff Kripal (31:41): Okay, so we're still talking about Nietzsche, right?
Adam Jacobs (31:44): Any of 'em.
Jeff Kripal (31:47): Honestly. Well, okay, so first of all, I actually do not equate mystical identity and morality. Maybe that's where our real difference is. I think someone can have profound mystical experiences and be a total jerk.
Adam Jacobs (32:03): I saw that on page 128, by the way.
Jeff Kripal (32:05): That's what my religious tradition did. That's what most religious traditions do, is they want to measure mystical accomplishment by the yardstick of morality. I think it's just a mistake. I think it's wrong. Now, having said that, I think if you look at Nietzsche's postmortem life in his books, they did a lot of bad, they did a lot of horror but they also did a lot of good. And I think any great writer I don't confuse a badly used idea with a bad idea.
That's one of my sayings. Yes, totally. Yes. A badly used idea is not a bad idea. It's a badly used idea. And every idea in human history has been used really badly. My own tradition reveres and worships a Jewish rabbi named Jesus. Well, there's been a lot of evil done in that man's name, and there's been a lot of good things done, wonderful things done in that man's name. And so I don't equate whoever Jesus was and what he experienced with what human beings did with him. So I think it's complicated. Why do I think Nietzsche was a great mystic? Because when I line his texts up to the comparative mystical literature that I know from Asia and Europe, including Jewish mystical literature, by the way, I intuit, I feel a profound similarity, and I conclude that something similar is going on. Is it the same?
No. Is it similar? Yes. That's my judgment, and I'm happy to be wrong. I'm happy for someone to show me I'm wrong, but there are a lot of books out there, by the way, Nietzche as Mystic or Nietzsche as Buddhist, and I think they're onto it. I think I'm like, yeah, that's basically right. So again, it's just one example. I don't want to reduce the super humanities to Friedrich Nitetzsche, even though he coins this German word Ubermensch, which becomes the superhuman or the Superman. But I don't, so do a lot of other writers; a lot of other English writers actually use the word superhuman, And a lot of French writers use the adjective superhuman or superhuman. So it's a really common expression in the last 200 years, 150 years. And so that's what I'm trying to put my finger on.
Yeah, don't equate or conflate the super humanities with Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It's part of it. It's part of it. But the humanities for this is incredibly broad literature that's constantly ramifying and growing. And there are all these debates in it, and I'm like, I want to embrace all those debates. And I want to say, yeah, those are good questions, and let's put the horizontal political and social concerns together with the transcendent and the theological concerns, and let's do it all together. So even though I don't think there's a necessary connection between mysticism and morality, that doesn't mean I don't have moral concerns, and I don't have mystical concerns. They're together in me. They're also together in you. But let's not project ourselves into all the human history and say you can't have a mystical experience unless you're a good person. Of course, you can. Of course,
Adam Jacobs (35:46): Yes. I don't deny that at all. I'm just saying that there's a difference between having a mystical experience and being one with all the names in the universe and making that claim that I am the Buddha and I am God. And…
Jeff Kripal (36:01): I think he was describing the state he was in.
Adam Jacobs (36:04): Okay. Okay. Fair enough.
Jeff Kripal (36:05): And I happen to think he was probably really accurate about that. But again, that doesn't mean everything that he wrote. I signed my name to it because I don't sign my name to anyone or anything. I don't sign my name to what I write. I, I disagree with myself. I'm like, oh my God, I say that or you know, change your mind 10 years later, and you're like, Ugh, okay.
Adam Jacobs (36:29): I really appreciate you saying that actually because, and it does come across in your work, the conflict. I really appreciate the fact that you question yourself and leave the door open in your conclusions and that with more information can come changes anytime. That's very healthy, it seems to me. And I think we'd all benefit from approaching things that way. So I want to ask you about the concept of the eternal recurrence if, and then I have a couple others, I knew from the get-go that this could be a very, very long conversation. I have a limit limited window, and I want to just get two or three more in. But one of the things that you discussed is what's called the eternal recurrence of the same, which means that, essentially life happens over and over again. In one sense, what Nietzsche quote I thought was very interesting which he said literally the same exact stuff happens over and over again.
I don't know exactly how he knows that. Okay, still he says, “I teach you redemption from eternal flux. The flux also flows back into itself again and again, and you always step into the same flux again and again as the same people.” So I just want to contrast that to a quote from, do you know Frank Tipler from Tulane? Okay, very interesting writer. Also, somebody willing to embrace very unusual ideas and also very accomplished in his field. But he says the following, “the political consequences of Nietzsche's, eternal return philosophy have been catastrophic. Perhaps the simplest way to show this is to point out that the eternal return is sufficiently ancient and important, a concept in philosophy and religion to have its own symbol. The old Anglo-Saxon word for the symbol of the eternal return is fil for. So dominant had the idea of progress, the antithesis of the eternal return become in England that when the English encountered the eternal return symbol again in the 20th century, they had to their credit, forgotten their ancient word for it. Instead, they used the Sanskrit word for the symbol swastika.” So the eternal return, again, as I've come to understand it, is a very negative thing. Apparently, the Nazis were, and the symbol of the swastika is the circle turning on itself forever as opposed to, again, the Judeo-Christian way of understanding history and humanity is that there is, it's more like a spiral going up, that there's always an advance. Yes, it may be going back on itself, but it's also moving upward. So am I misunderstanding the concept of the eternal return, or is Dr. Tipler describing it in an accurate way?
Jeff Kripal (39:32): Well, I don't know. I mean, I'm not a scholar. My reading of the eternal recurrence of the same would not be accepted by most Nietzsche scholars. So yeah, I could back up a bit. First of all, behind your question is a whole history we should probably put on the table. What happens is Nietzsche is profoundly anti-German, by the way, anti-German nationalist and certainly anti anti-Semitic. Yes, he, he's adamantly; he hates people who are anti-Semitic. He thinks they're idiots, and he says as much, but his sister marries a very famous and a proto-Nazi, and it's his sister who takes care of Nietzsche when he's in a coma essentially, and he dies, and then it's his sister who promotes his thought to Hitler and Mussolini, and it gets picked up by the Nazis as integral to their ideologies. So that's how he gets a really bad name,
Adam Jacobs (40:40): Right. Guilt by association,
Jeff Kripal (40:42): But it's not him. This is what I want to say. And the American Nietzsche is really driven, by the way, by a Jewish intellectual, Walter Kaufman, and it's very positive, and it's very much aligned with social justice. And frankly, the Superman, the guy in blue tights in the red cape, I mean, it becomes something very different in the American context than it did in the national socialist German context. So let's just put that on the table and just acknowledge that there are different receptions, and at least one of them is really, really evil, really, really bad. I don't want to say anything to affirm or align myself with that. Now, eternal recurrence are the same. There were two final teachings of Nietzsche that were famous. One was the Ubermench, which by the way, was progressive.
It was all about evolution. It was all about moving from the ape to the Ubermench and we're the transitional species in between, but we're moving into the future. It's very future oriented, it's very progressive. It's very, very positive, ecstatic. The other teaching was the eternal recurrence of the saying where you realize that time is not what you thought it was. Time is circular. The way I read that is frankly through precognition, and this is my own eccentricity; I have known a lot of people who have had precognitive dreams, and I have worked with a lot of what are essentially precogs who know what's going to happen before it happens. Sometimes it's a day out, a week out, sometimes it's three years out. The most extensive ever worked with was a Jewish woman in Houston named Elizabeth Krohn. She was struck by lightning in the parking lot of her synagogue, and she became massively precognitive, particularly around plane crashes and tsunamis, and natural disasters.
(So what I do is I philosophize, or I think out of these precognitive experiences, and I basically say, look, if precognition is true, it happens. And I think it does. That means the future's already happened. The future's already there, just like the past. Nobody doubts the past is back there. Nobody doubts the president is here. But for some reason, we doubt that the future's up there. And once you adopt what physicists call this block cosmology in which past, present, and future are all there, then something like eternal recurrence are the same, becomes obvious because everything is always happening all the time in exactly the same way. It's just where you are at in that block. And so that's how I read. I don't think Nietzsche had block the block cosmology. I don't think he had an adequate set of precognitive literatures to understand it. He had ancient Greek polytheism through which to understand this, but I think he had some kind of experience of this.
There was a lot like Elizabeth Krohn and these precogs I work with in which things do happen exactly as they happen if you want to say over and over again. But actually, they're happening once in that space-time block, and we're just kind of moving through it with our bodies and brains. So that's how I read it. Now, that is not the way it's read by most Nietzsche scholars; by the way, read it metaphorically. They can't take it either. And they'll say, oh, he's just trying to get us to accept what happens in our lives. It's a metaphor. I don't think it's a metaphor. I think he's being really metaphysical. And I, that's my reading of it. But again, I'm not willing to surrender my reading of pre-cognition, but I'm certainly willing to be educated about what Nietzsche thought. I think that's a different question.
Adam Jacobs (44:47): That was actually very well answered and very enlightening and interesting. And you mentioned that pre-cognition, let's least I, I'm going to stuff in one more question, maybe one and a half. William James is one of the people that you speak about who I love, and I find more and more things to admire every time I look at him. But one of the quotes that you share in the book is “the kinds of truth communicable and mystical ways, whether they be sensible or supersensible or various; some of them relate to this world visions of the future, the reading of hearts, the sudden understanding of texts, the knowledge of distant events, for example. But the most important revelations are theological and metaphysical.” Well, that's surprising. Who would've thought that the father of modern psychology would hold such unorthodox views about the nature of human reality? So I get, again, it's another great example of somebody who, like a piece has been selected out of to concentrate on William James. He started psychology and was a very rational thinker. And yet many people that you cover and explain the depth of their views surprise you. Yeah. My question is that I think that most people who would hear that quote would regard it as something that's fit for the National Enquirer or maybe the Marvel Film franchise
On what grounds would your average person be compelled to take any of this seriously?
Jeff Kripal (46:29): Well, on the grounds that serious intellectuals take it seriously. I mean, James was not only the founder of modern psychology at Harvard. He was one of the founders of what we call pragmatism. He was a very serious intellectual. He came from an intellectual family. His brother was Henry James. And he spent, James spent most of it, much of his life, steady steadying psychics and mediums and what we would think of today as new age healers. And he concluded that there was something really there and that these people were not lying. They were sometimes exaggerating or putting it in their own belief system. But, and towards the end of his life, he wrote extensively about the superhuman and theological and philosophical matters that really are interesting. They're certainly not monistic, but they're not pluralistic either. It's a kind of combination of pluralism. And so people should take these things seriously because all of these words that they think were invented in the tabloids or the national choir actually were, they were actually invented at Cambridge and Harvard <laugh> Duke, and by scientists by the way and a lot of philosophers and a lot of botanists and physicists and people like that classicists.
These are not Dantes. So that's why they need to take them seriously. And the other reason then they need to take them seriously is that they happen. You can make fun of them all you want, but just wait till it happens, and then good luck. Be without a rudder because you'll just be made fun of every model to make sense of them.
Adam Jacobs (48:22): Okay. Another good answer. And here I, time is actually up, but I just want to ask you one final, and this final question is such a bomb like you could talk about it for two hours, but I wanted to ask you, having read your book and having read your Peace and Consciousness unbound, which is a wonderful collection of essays that people should go and read at this point in your career and your thinking if you had to summarize everything that has happened that you've thought about, where are you at? What is the purpose of the universe? What do you think it's all about? Why are we here?
Jeff Kripal (49:05): Yeah. So I'm not afraid to try to answer that question. I think most academics would block it or deflect it. They would try to get around it. I'll try to answer it as clearly as I can. I think we're at a transition point. I think we have a lot of stories that we call religions in our past that have worked well for our ancestors but are not working so well right now. And science is developing other stories like the Big Bang and evolution and things like that. But they're, they're pretty superficial at the end of the day as well. And I think the task that's a, that's ahead of us, maybe not our generation, maybe our children or our grandchildren is to put those two things together, is to put some kind of religious or theological foundation together with what we know through the sciences, and to come up with a new story, a big story, what I call a super story. And I think that super story will involve God evolving in and as the universe, but not actually being the universe. I'm very much a panentheist. At the end of the day.
I'm not convinced you or I are that important, not convinced the person. I mean, this is where I do differ with people. I'm not actually convinced that the person or the individual survives or is that important, but I think this supermind or this cosmic consciousness, or this God or the capital G, if you will, is behind it all and is moving the universe somewhere. I don't know where, but I think it's actually really good. And at the end of the day, I'm a panentheist like our friend Ed Kelly, I think that we talked about before the show. There are a lot of intellectuals landing there, by the way. And I think that's where we're going. I don't have the answers. I think it's up to the generations to come up with this. That's, again, the super humanities is a communal, intergenerational project. It's not Jeff Kr,ipal not about a book. It's about a conversation going on over many generations, around millions of people involving millions of people and thousands and thousands of texts and experiences.
Adam Jacobs (51:37): That sounds pretty good to me and really tantalizing and fascinating, and part of what we exist actually to explore over at our blog Beyond belief.blog, in case anybody would like to go and check it out. We are actively trying to explore exactly what you're talking about and going to be delighted to publicize this conversation that we just had, which I found very enriching. And I sincerely thank you for your time today, and I really look forward to what's coming next for you.
Jeff Kripal (52:17): I feel the same way. Please. It's entirely reciprocal. This is it. This is the conversation. I personally have no idea why hundreds of millions of people are not interested in this. I don't get it. I just don't get why everyone's not excited about this. So I'm totally There.
Adam Jacobs (52:36): We have to explain it to them in the right way.
Jeff Kripal (52:41): I don't know; it's some mystery there.
Adam Jacobs (52:46): I think it just has to be framed in a particular way that's not scary, or it has to be enticing. And it is. There's nothing more enticing that could happen, I think. But anyway, thank you. Okay. Thank you for being here for your time and for all of your amazing work. And thank you. Thank you. I look forward to speaking again in the near future.
Jeff Kripal (53:12): Anytime. Anytime.
Adam Jacobs (53:14): Okay. Thank you. All right. Bye, everyone.
Jeff Kripal (53:17): Bye.