It has been interesting to watch the Seth Thing develop in THE SUN. First, there was Sy’s review, then just about every month some germane excerpt from Seth Speaks would show up somewhere in the magazine. I began to think Seth was Official Sun Philosophical Doctrine or something. It was a little like that old nature show on Channel 28 where the host always manages to find something in each episode’s outdoorsy subject matter that’s analogous to life insurance. “Yes, and just as the shimfeathers on the African Nutcrested Bloodwrench protect it from snow, Mutual of Omaha protects you from even the most unlikely misfortunestance . . .” Anyway, with trust in the Safransky’s good sense, I went down to Fowlers and picked up the copy of Seth Speaks that had stared for what seemed years from the top row of the paperback rack there. This took some effort, because the cover is about as off-putting as any Troo UFO! or Van Daniken Space Teacher book from a 7-11 paperback carousel. Jane Roberts strikes a front cover pose that’s pure Dracula, and rifling through the pictures inside isn’t much more encouraging. Under Seth’s alleged influence the otherwise attractive Ms. Roberts looks like hell. I also borrowed The Seth Material, an earlier book by Jane Roberts which is more about Seth than by him.
Now, as I prepare the second and final draft of this essay, I have recently finished a third Seth book, The Nature of Personal Reality. I also took a peek at a few other publications by Jane Roberts, including a novel, a book of poetry and a book of nonfiction called Aspect Psychology. I am impressed. Exposure to all this has had a profound effect on my thinking. Perhaps I am naive, or easily impressed; but I think not. I am a hardcore skeptic and an old school rationalist, not easily swayed by arguments that don’t make down-to-earth sense. I am also a businessman with a record of hustling everything from cookware to radio time and I know a hype when I see one.
I don’t think Seth is a hype. Jane Roberts is no Yoyo schizoid, out to make a buck with a fancy imagination and a bunch of specious nonsense about post-mortal cavortings.
It has been several months since I first read Seth, and I have read a lot of other books too, just to satisfy my rationalist need to make intelligent connections, to corroborate evidence, to regain perspective, to make more sense of it all. Now I can say this: Either Seth speaks some of the most profound revelations to come down the pike in a long time or it’s all the most profound hogwash I’ve ever read.
What Seth has to say is provocative in the extreme. He is lucid, elaborately precise and warmly good-humored. He can be easily understood and at the very least casts a surprising amount of light on many things that have nothing, it seems, to do with the cosmic. His writing, if it can be called that, thankfully lacks the ectoplasmic nebulosity of so much else that comes from the other side of mortality. Jane Roberts, and her husband Robert Butts (who transcribes Seth as he speaks through Ms. Roberts) come across as downright nice people. Throughout both Seth Speaks and The Nature of Personal Reality, Robert Butts’ notes on the Seth sessions lend further authenticity and place Seth’s communications in an almost conversational context.
Well, anyway, for all my rational amblings, I still boggle. There seems to be no middle ground with Seth. Either you swallow it or you don’t. I am afraid the whole mess is still stuck in my intellectual craw and I can’t let it go. So what follows is in the nature of premastications. There are too many connections between what Seth has to say and so much else that I cannot begin to explore them all. So I will move along the one line that most interested me at first, and where most anti-Seth arguments begin — Science.
I have loved science since I was a kid. I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up, but I was a lousy student and a dummy at math so that axed any professional ambitions. Therefore, my interest in science is of an avocational sort. I have no specialized field of interest. I just gobble up everything I can read.
My inexpert interest usually takes me to the macroscape and the microscape, where things are so big or so small that old fashioned certainty fades into educated conjectures. These are the remaining frontiers, bless them — where the experts burn their brains trying to figure things out and give unavoidably human progress reports that tell us that they really don’t have the durndest notion about what is going on for sure, but that they are getting closer.
My favorite philosopher is Michael Polanyi, who recently died at the age of 84. Polanyi took up the philosophy business after a long and successful scientific career. He has a lot to say about science and how we know things and how most of us, it seems, have wrong ideas about both. After reading the first two Seth books I returned to Polanyi. The connections were interesting.
One of Seth’s main points is that each of us has a personality that is far deeper and more complex than our senses lead us to think. Each of us has lived many lives, he says, and the physical reality that we are focused in is but one aspect of personal being that operates on many levels. He speaks, for example, of an inner and an outer self. We identify with our outer, physical selves, “. . . the part you think knows what it is doing. But the seemingly unconscious portion of yourself is far more knowledgeable, and upon its smooth functioning your entire physical existence depends.” As a practical example, Seth takes the case of speech: “The familiarity of speech begins to vanish when you realize that you, yourself, when you begin a sentence do not know precisely how you will end it, or even how you form the words. You do not consciously know how you manipulate a staggering pyramid of symbols picking from them precisely those you need to express a given thought.”
In Polanyi’s epistemology, “knowing” is not the mental fact-stacking paradigm we seem to have adopted. Knowledge is not Data, he points out. Knowledge is personal. It is not something built in our brains with explicit blocks and parts, symbolic or otherwise. Knowledge is gained tacitly, through an indwelling development of understanding that appreciates far more than the particulars involved. “We know more than we can tell,” is his simplest illustration. [In The Tacit Dimension, Polanyi explains “the structure” of tacit knowing.] Take for example the development of a skill. In driving a nail with a hammer, the tool becomes, in effect, a part of the body. The person dwells in the skillful use of the tool. But when we examine a particular part of the skill, like following the hammer’s head as we swing it toward the nail, the skill breaks down. Our knowledge here is not of explicit torques, weights, stress factors or any of that, but rather of a whole skill. We have a tacit understanding of each personal skill, and that understanding operates in every skilled act, from walking to manipulating that staggering pyramid of symbols, each with countless implications, that we use effortlessly in daily communication with one another.
Yet people want to quantify knowledge and invoke science when arguing against the likes of Seth. Here’s the reason: not only do people not understand what knowledge is all about; but they don’t understand what science is all about either. Marjorie Greene explains in the introduction to Polanyi’s Knowing and Being:
It is one of the paradoxes of modern epistemology that we take science as the paradigm case of knowledge, yet insist on a wholly explicit truth. For science lives by discovery and even further discovery; without the itch to solve problems, to follow hunches, to try out new and imprecise ideas, science cannot be explained in terms of wholly formalizable, wholly explicit knowledge.
Arthur Koestler, the well-known author of Darkness at Noon and a pile of writings on scientific and other subjects, was a friend of Polanyi’s, and even attended the same gymnasium as Polanyi did back in their native Hungary. Koestler seems to share many of Polanyi’s views, though as a writer Koestler is far more accessible. In my post-Seth quest for connections (or authentication, or justification, or whatever), I read Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence and his contributions to The Challenge of Chance [which was written in collaboration with Robert Harvie and Sir Alister Hardy and is based on telepathic experimentation]. Here the connections cascaded, starting with the following:
. . . the phenomena of parapsychology appears somewhat less preposterous in the light of the unthinkable propositions of modern quantum physics. This argument is not new and enlightened physicists are quite willing to concede it, but it has not penetrated the consciousness of the wider public, simply because quantum physics is a discipline beyond the grasp of the educated layman.
Our prejudices against the vagaries of knowledge and science go back a long way in our traditional western scientific views. Koestler quotes Sidney Hook: “When Aristotle drew up his table of categories, which to him represented the grammar of existence, he was really projecting the grammar of the Greek language on the cosmos.” Then, “It was only in the eighteenth century that causality was enthroned as the absolute ruler of matter and mind — only to be dethroned in the first decades of the twentieth, as a consequence of the revolution in physics.”
What about causality? Seth tells us that time and space are just constructs that we use to deal with physical existence and that such concepts do not apply to the inner reality of multiply-reincarnated personalities and multi-dimensional consciousness. Well, twentieth century physics has taken old-fashioned causality along with old-fashioned time and space concepts and chucked it all out the window, or down the Black Hole, as the case may be.
The executioner who did in old fashioned causality was Werner Heisenberg (who also died recently). Heisenberg discovered the “Indeterminacy Principle,” which has become a cornerstone of modern physics. A cornerstone for the old causality notion was a hypothetical notion by Laplace. That notion held that if every particle in the universe could be known, along with its direction, velocity and relation with every other particle, then all subsequent events could theoretically be predicted. In other words, everything is determined. But Heisenberg made a startling discovery to the contrary. He found that if one could specify the location of a particle one could not determine its direction or velocity. The reverse was also true: If one could tell the direction and velocity of something, the location could not be specified. On top of this, the very act of measurement affects results.
An even stranger fact is that the objects we study on a subatomic scale turn out to be altogether different from what we are commonly led to believe. Heisenberg, in Koestler’s words, points out that “atoms are not things. The electrons which form an atom’s shells are no longer things in the sense of classical physics, things which could be unambiguously described by concepts like location, velocity, energy, size. When we get down to the atomic level, the objective world of space and time no longer exists, and the mathematical symbols of theoretical physics refer merely to possibilities, not to facts.”
It has been said that in the known universe we are middle-sized — that is we are as much larger than the smallest known particle as the largest known object is larger than we are. And as meso-things, there are still monstrous spaces between the “parts” of which we are composed. If the Earth were collapsed into a black hole, for example, it would be the size of a ping-pong ball. Every spoonful of matter in a neutron star weighs tons. According to Einstein’s relativity theory, mass itself is only concentrated packets of energy while gravity and inertia have been reduced to warps and kinks in multidimensional space. Koestler sums up:
The hard, tangible appearance of things exist only in our medium-sized world measured in pounds and yards, to which our senses are attuned. On both the cosmic and the sub-atomic scale this intimate, tangible relationship turns out to be an illusion.
Seth says that we create matter, that consciousness forms physical reality just as the mind forms words. It’s just that our physical senses and the “facts” they convey don’t support this truth because they can’t, any more than our sight can distinguish between the actual and apparent differences in the sizes and distances of stars.
Do we create matter? Certain studies at the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man in Durham, while they do not confirm Seth’s claim directly, at least “prove” to an extent that there are interesting connections between mind and matter. Studies conducted under Helmut Schmidt showed that subjects were able to predict, to a significant extent, purely random sequences based on a quantum process (decay of radioactive Strontium 90, which is about as random as random can get). The results were significant against odds of two billion to one. As dramatically, in another study, subjects were able to influence or to predict (it couldn’t be said which) random sequence, again based on a quantum process. Was this psychokinesis, mind influencing matter? Or was this only precognition? Or was it something else entirely?
This matter-creation notion is one of the hardest of Seth’s dicta to swallow. Yet matter has to come from somewhere. Strange things do happen on the subatomic scale. Things have been replaced by “fields,” which are forces without substance. Play with magnets sometime and realize that the forces which cause attraction and repulsion contain nothing in themselves and yet have tangible effects. Electrons are both particles and waves. In radio, electrons which leave the transmitter become waves when they leave the antenna. They turn into electrons again in your receiver. (There may be some argument on this, but the contradiction is clear.) Sir George Thompson put one electron through two holes at the same time. Photons, those massless packets of energy that constitute light, have been observed giving birth to twin particles with solid mass. When such contradictions mesh, scientists call this “complementarity,” and it has a parallel in the mind-body-inner reality-outer reality dilemma. Koestler quotes Wolfgang Pauli:
The general problem of the relationship between mind and body, between the inward and the outward, cannot be said to have been solved by the concept of psycho-physical parallelism postulated in the last century. Modern science has perhaps brought us nearer to a more satisfactory understanding of this relationship, by introducing the concept of complementarity into physics itself. It would be the more satisfactory solution if mind and body could be interpreted as complementary aspects of the same reality.
Maybe it’s just that when you’re dealing with a reality, or realities, that extend far beyond the concrete certainties of the mesophere, you just have to forego too much explanation after a while and accept apparent contradictions as complementary.
Seth talks about God some. He prefers to call God All That Is, which is roughly speaking, an inclusive parent entity which dwells with colossal ubiquity in everything.
Now: God is more than the sum of all the probable systems of reality. He has created, and yet He is within each one of these, without exception. He is therefore within each man and woman. He is also within each spider, shadow, and frog and this is what man does not like to admit.
In The Seth Material, he calls All That Is an “absolute, ever-expanding, instantaneous psychic gestalt . . .”
At this point, an oft-quoted passage by Sir James Jeans seems germane:
Today there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.
In the meantime, while physics progresses towards further knowledge of non-mechanical reality, where do we stand? Can science really make that progression? Or do we need a Seth to fill us in while the heavy thinkers work out the rational details?
I submit that from our mesoscopic standpoint we can still understand, if nothing else, why science, and perhaps mankind, is making that progression. We can understand that there are, frankly, realities that we don’t know, that we can’t know — at least in ordinary ways.
I return one last time to Polanyi. In his last book, the old professor discussed what in the science business they call “boundary conditions.” These boundaries are those which exist between principles in a hierarchy. Every comprehensive entity, from a human being to a game of chess, has its principles, its rules, “each level of which relies for its workings on the principles of the levels below it, even while it itself is irreducible to those lower principles.” With a machine for example, the laws of mechanics harness to their service the principles of physics and chemistry, among others. Certain rules of how the machine is itself put to use in turn harness the laws of mechanics to a higher purpose, and provide the boundaries for those laws. “Each level is subject to dual control,” Polanyi says. Control by the workable limits of the lower laws, and control by the higher laws of the powers that control the lower laws.
We can understand at one level or another. We dwell in many levels at once. When we learn to drive a car, for example, we learn through tacit indwelling the skills required to make the car do what we want it to do (higher level control), so far as the car is capable (lower level control). We provide the higher principle to regulate the lower ones. If you race your car, then that’s the purposeful boundary you provide. If you just drive it to work, then that is its boundary. But you cannot describe the skill of driving in terms of internal combustion or front end design, though knowledge of the principles governing those operations might help you understand your car better. Those higher principles are additional to the lower ones. Life itself is, as a controlling higher principle, additional to the matter which composes living things. Now, Polanyi’s clincher:
There is evidence of irreducible principles, additional to those of (biological) mechanisms, in the sentience that we ourselves experience and that we observe indirectly in higher animals. Most biologists set aside these facts as unprofitable considerations. But again, once it is recognized, on other grounds, that life transcends physics and chemistry, there is no reason for suspending recognition of the obvious fact that consciousness is a principle that fundamentally transcends not only physics and chemistry but also the mechanistic principles of living things.
We know more than we can tell, remember? We know life, but we cannot explain it, not in terms of anything less — and everything else we know is less.
Now, since our understanding is of wholes, and the parts we encounter provide only structural details without meaning but for understood wholes to put them in, and since each comprehensive entity consists of hierarchies of interlocking principles, and since life itself, through pure indwelling, is the highest principle we can understand — is it not possible that there are even higher principles, realities, comprehensive entities, whatever, that are invisible or unbelievable to us simply because we can’t make the parts into a whole, because as living creatures, our understanding is limited, and beyond a point we can only guess about possibilities?
Well, Seth says that our physical senses simply prevent us from experiencing a lot, and this is true. Koestler points out that if our sense of touch, for example, were as sensitive to mass as our eyes are to light, we would better understand the direct relationship between mass and energy. If our eyes were sensitive to the whole spectrum of electromagnetic waves (light is a very small part of the spectrum), we might “see” radio, TV, X-Rays and all kinds of electromagnetic signals, including those from space. Physical reality would of course look very much different.
Our brains are like filters — excluding devices that narrow down sensory input into manageable sizes and details. But we are always at the same time aware of contexts, of larger pictures which give emergent details meaning. Polanyi says we have two kinds of awareness. One is focal, the other is subsidiary. Our subsidiary awareness takes in contexts, unspecifiable wholes, backgrounds. It manipulates possibilities and explores constantly without words or details. Focal awareness is just that — the point, the word, the specifiable item to which we attend at any given moment, the tip of our consciousness tracing the world. When we say that we can think of only one thing at a time, we are talking about focal awareness. But it is the subsidiary side that counts. Knowing is a tacit operation, which uses both focal and subsidiary awareness to develop understanding which is profoundly personal.
Life is a process. Heisenberg says that we cannot tell, specifically, both where something is and what it is doing at the same time. But one strange miracle of life is that we do know. We can deal with personal certainties in our lives and live freely at the same time. This is because we flow in skilled process with everything else and knowing is at the core of our participation in that process. Heisenberg’s principle applies in science, because science is concerned, technically, with telling. Polanyi’s complaint was that scientists concentrated on telling to the point that many forgot what knowing was all about.
I think it would be fair to say that what Seth calls the “Inner Self” is the part of us that does the knowing, that operates tacitly. It would also be fair to say that as souls in flow with a Great Thought, we possess great reserves of vitality. When we look inside ourselves and feel that power and when we look outside ourselves at the awesome profusion of marvels, known and unknown — then what Seth has to say does not seem so awfully strange after all.
I realize that in making a case for Seth, I have also made a case for just about any theology you care to bring up. Perhaps this was intentional. We need to be more broadminded, and our popular concepts of science have made us pretty narrow-minded about lots of things.
I have noticed something going on. I take to mind that Sir James Jeans quote, that the stream of scientific knowledge is toward a non-mechanical reality. Now here is Seth telling us we are going there, and that there will be a new theology come about a century from now.
Then I look at a lot of other goings-on and I realize that there is a general movement, just about across the board, in that direction. THE SUN, here, is an example. So are lots of other things. We are being asked by our thinkers to open our minds to new things, new ideas. My mind wanders to other evidence: the resurgence of astrology; the popularity of Eastern thinking; the growing rejection of rationalist traditions and institutions (e.g., our colleges and universities).
There is a dark side too: we find in the mid-twentieth century the flowering of ideologies which breed hideous moral inversions, where believers are infused with great moral fervor in service of immoral purposes (e.g., Nazism under Hitler, Marxism under Stalin and, forgive me, even Maoism under Mao). In each of these cases, millions have died to streamline an ideology which had (or has) as a purpose the improvement of mankind. I worry about this dark side. Ideologies come easy.
Looking over this general movement, though, I feel that Seth stands out. He doesn’t ask you to blindly believe. He makes you think. I like that.