The mind-blowing book I mentioned last week is here unveiled. I discovered Jeffrey Kripal’s work years ago, and have subsequently had a few conversations with him. The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge is a challenging and necessary book. In a way that only full-time academics can, Kripal examines the large picture. When I say “large” I mean cosmic in scale. He does so through the lens of the humanities and, especially, religious studies. If anybody’s going to make religious studies cool, it is he. The world is full of weird things. If we’re honest most of us will admit to having had strange things happen to us. Often we’ll filter them out or explain them away, but at other times we will stop, scratch our heads, and wonder what just went on.
The Flip is not a book of such anecdotes (and I, along with the author, am willing to take anecdotes seriously). There is some strange stuff in here, but there is also a lot of science. Historically the humanities, as understood by ancient Romans, included what we would call sciences. Humanities, in other words, were attempts at understanding the world. Today religious studies is among the humanities while science is separated out into STEM. Kripal takes science seriously. In fact, much of what he discusses here is the application of quantum physics to the macroscopic. (I’m probably not explaining this well, but then, I guess you’ll have to read the book!) In other words, science and the humanities need to come together again. It’s not either/or, but both/and.
Holding out a hand across the aisle is uncomfortable. Religion has done a great deal to disgrace itself of late, and it’s no wonder respectable folk want to keep their distance. To understand what we are, however, requires a willingness to admit that humans are both deeply intellectually curious and deeply religiously inclined. We can be both. In fact, it is unlikely we can be any other way. Anomalous occurrences aren’t generally welcome in religious studies any more than they are in the sciences. That doesn’t stop strange stuff from happening. This little book of big ideas uses that disjunction to lead the reader into spaces where the future might faintly be discerned. Wide-ranging and provocative, this book needs to be read. It is a strange world where two different approaches to knowledge so often decline to speak to one another. Here they do, and their conversation is mind-blowing.