Bridges, Literacy, and Visionary Education
Updated: Aug 8
I’m so pleased to post the first of six short excerpts from A Short History of (Nearly) Everything Paranormal: Our Secret Powers – Telepathy, Clairvoyance & Precognition by Terje G. Simonsen. Thank you to the author and his publisher for their permission and support.
A Short History is a remarkable and indispensable addition to Paranormal Studies. Though it may appear a little daunting to causal readers because of its length (480 pages), it is a joy to read, partly because Simonsen has a knack for storytelling and a wonderful sense of humor, and partly because one recognizes, almost immediately, that the author is a reliable source and expert guide to the world of the paranormal. Simonsen seems motivated by general curiosity and a broad range of scholarly questions, rather than any particular agenda within the field. See a summary of the work here.
Reflecting on the book I came to realize that its scope serves important rhetorical and disciplinary purposes. The sheer number of examples of paranormal phenomena, from various times and places, and including individuals from various walks of life, is an overwhelming argument for taking psi seriously. Also persuasive are the references to philosophers and scientists who have been intrigued with psi questions. In addition to discussing James, Jung, and Pauli, Simonsen notes that paranormal phenomena engaged Socrates, Kant, and a wide range of twentieth-century scientists.
The disciplinary value of the work is at least threefold. Firstly, it provides a common curriculum for individuals seriously interested in the paranormal. Secondly, it places psi phenomena in socio-cultural context. Thirdly, and this may be its greatest value, the book presents patterns of human experience, over large swaths of time and place, that will undoubtedly give rise to new theories and research agendas. The book is like a complex system that gives rise to new thought forms.
In reflecting on the book I’ve come to think of Paranormal Studies as a kind of a bridge. It’s a bridge to future knowledge: a way to ask questions and to research phenomena that cry out for explanation, and the understanding of which may very well revolutionize human ways of knowing and being in the world. It is also a bridge to the past, helping us to contextualize and learn from historical cultures for whom the world was sacred and alive in ways we can only begin to imagine. It’s also a path to understanding contemporary cultures we have misunderstood, marginalized, and degraded for far too long.
Paranormal Studies is a bridge to the unconscious and our own latent capacities as individuals. It’s also a way of connecting individuals with interest in paranormal phenomena who may feel alienated by both standard Western cultures and New Age excesses. (Simonsen’s work is a prime example of a capacity to connect because it combines scholarly research with a reader-friendly prose style.) Paranormal Studies is also a bridge for human beings to other communities of living beings in an ecological context.
The paranormal has been marginalized as a threat to political power for millennia. Today it may also pose a threat to the status quo. Given what has recently been revealed about that status quo, in the context of the world’s former “superpowers” at the very least, the paranormal may be a bridge to a future in which life is valued in ways that a wide variety of materialisms seem to have foreclosed.
I’ve chosen the following excerpt because it addresses a question I have been pondering of late about ancient cultures. I’ve been studying ancient North American and Indus Valley cultures, for example, and I keep coming across debates about literacy, which tacitly posit Western forms of literacy as a kind of cultural bar or standard. The excerpt below suggests that Western literacy may actually represent a kind of degradation of communication and social bonds. Research on African and Australian indigenous cultures illustrate that communal knowledge is communicated in virtual, ‘dreamtime’ classrooms. Written texts are unnecessary because comprehensive cultural and scientific knowledge is always available in a kind of virtual database. Simonsen also suggests, referencing Freud, that the general population has not completely lost this form of literacy, but that we may unconsciously employ psi forms of communication in tandem with our usual, clunky, ways of communicating.
The following excerpt is from pages 136 – 138 of A Short History of (Nearly) Everything Paranormal
Professor Bradford Keeney (b. 1951) at the University of Louisiana is a renowned theoretician in cybernetics (systems theory) and psychology and has published about 30 books, including classics on group dynamics and counseling. But Keeney has also worked as an anthropologist with among others the San people of the Kalahari and the Ju/’hoan people in Namibia and Botswana. These are ethnic groups who are often referred to as ‘Bushmen.’ (The term has been debated, but most of the Bushmen themselves are apparently fine with it.) It is said that Keeney is the only Westerner to be initiated in their ancient spiritual tradition to the level of becoming a shaman, a n/om-kxosi (as to the pronunciation, I’m afraid I cannot help…). He portrays the Bushmen as having a far more direct, complex and nuanced kind of collective consciousness than a collective appreciation of fish and chips or a shared football roar.
[In the strongest of such experiences] one’s consciousness will seem to slide or slip into another domain of being where one merges with the knowing of previous ancestors. In this domain of collective consciousness, sometimes called a ‘classroom’ by the Bushmen, you receive knowledge. It is visionary and is directly absorbed—like being downloaded. Here songs, dances, information about plants, beadwork, and all kinds of matters are passed on. This is why the Bushmen have no written or oral custodians. They enter into domains of collective consciousness and get downloaded through a heartfelt absorptive experience.
Keeney says that Bushmen do not depend on the usual types of transmission of knowledge, because their culture from days of old has used online teaching! These are indeed strong statements, but Keeney cannot easily be dismissed; in addition to being a highly respected psychologist, he has also headed the N/om-Kxaosi Ethnographic Project—a long-standing collaboration between the Texas Medical Center and the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), to which both Megan Biesele and David William Lewis, two of the world’s foremost experts on Bushman culture, are affiliated.
Since there is no widely accepted explanatory model for telepathic communication of knowledge, researchers have often ignored the Bushmen’s stories of this kind, or have reinterpreted them as symbols of ‘a sense of closeness to the ancestors’ or the like. We shall not attempt to prove that the Bushmen’s telepathic experiences are objectively valid—we simply open up to the possibility that they may be so. I also note with pleasure that Keeney’s descriptions seem to fit surprisingly well with our own model. The Mental Internet really seems to be the epitome of a World Wide Web!
Some researchers have suggested that groups among Indigenous Australians have, or at least used to have, ‘classroom experiences’ when entering into ‘dreamtime’—the timeless sphere which we briefly mentioned earlier in this chapter. Bushman and Australian Aboriginal cultures are immensely old; in 2012 a set of Bushman tools was discovered dating back to 44,000 BCE! Perhaps this collective sphere, this ‘classroom,’ this ‘dreamtime’, may be the very basis of our human consciousness? And in that case, perhaps telepathy is our original means of communication? As we will see in the next chapter, Sigmund Freud thought that this is probably the case. He believed, however, that ordinary language is preferable. But we may not need to choose, for if there actually is a capability, a ‘language,’ which in a subtle way allows for direct communication between people, this could perhaps help strengthen the feeling that we, on a basic level, all are connected, and that we are part of something bigger. These insights form an intrinsic part of many primordial cultures, and we Westerners probably could benefit from becoming a little more aware of them as well.
See glowing reviews of A Short History of (Nearly) Everything Paranormal here
Image Source: Dreamtime Sisters by Colleen Wallace Nungari, Central Art - aboriginal art store