Reasonable Magic and Magical Reason (1)

My friend Joseph Felser, Ph.D, a professor of philosophy, gave the keynote address to The Professional Division of The Monroe Institute in March, 2006. He called it Reasonable Magic and Magical Reason, and I found his insights remarkable. He has graciously allowed me to reproduce it here. It’s long, so I will publish it in six parts on successive days.

Reasonable Magic and Magical Reason:
The Philosophy of Robert Monroe
by Joseph M Felser, Ph.D.
Keynote Address
20th Professional Seminar
March 25-29 2006
The Monroe Institute

Well, it’s a great delight to be back at TMI once again. Arriving here always feels like a homecoming. As I know you will agree, this is a unique–and uniquely valuable–institution.

I feel deeply honored to have been asked to give this keynote address to the professional division. I want to express my sincere gratitude to Shirley, to Dar, and to Laurie for their most generous and welcome invitation.

Part I: A Terrible Discovery

When I took my Gateway Voyage in August of 2000, I could not have imagined that I would be standing before you here, today, in David Francis Hall. This is a daunting prospect, as I am acutely conscious of following in rather large footsteps. I do so with a profound sense of humility, but also with an increasing sense of urgency, for reasons I hope to make plain in my remarks. We have much work to do together. For, as the old Sioux holy man Black Elk declared, “no good thing can be done by any man alone.”(1)

Black Elk’s statement invites us to ponder the true meaning of “success,” which in our culture is usually synonymous with tangible achievements in the areas of money, power, and fame. Just this sort of social striving is the subject of an amusing anecdote told by the Jungian psychologist, Fraser Boa. The story (which happened to be a particular favorite of Joseph Campbell’s) goes like this:

“One day a retired senior executive was playing golf with a friend. As they walked along the fairway, his friend asked how he was enjoying retirement. ‘Well,’ replied the retired executive, ‘let me put it this way. I started at the bottom of the ladder and I climbed, rung by rung, until I got to the very top. And then I made a terrible discovery. I had the ladder against the wrong wall’.” (2)

Compared to the retired executive, I was rather lucky. My own moment of “terrible discovery” occurred when I was only twenty-two, just I was just beginning my graduate studies. During my college career, I had labored with single-minded determination to acquire the various merit badges of academic distinction and philosophical achievement. Now, at last, my efforts were receiving their due reward. I was on the yellow brick road to the Ph.D. Or so I thought.

When I finally arrived at the wizard’s palace, however, I found it to be a rather cold and unwelcoming environment, largely devoid of anything resembling feeling, spontaneity, or creativity. Only the sheer virtuosity of the analytical intellect (or at least its appearance) was valued. Nothing else mattered. Like the mythical Narcissus, reason was in love with itself and drunk on its own seductive power.

I had been hungry for wisdom, but the only item on the menu was cleverness–and heaps of it. As a result, I began to experience a chronic sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. This psychological nausea mutated into a series of severe panic attacks whose assaults left me shaken and exhausted. During this same period, I was also having some very strange dreams that both disturbed and intrigued me.

In one dream, I am standing at the back door of my parents’ kitchen, gazing outward, when I am confronted by a female rabbit who speaks to me, mind to mind, telepathically. In a mournful tone, she informs me that she had fallen asleep under an old split maple tree, only a few yards from where she now stood in the tall grass. Then I watch in amazement as Mother Rabbit’s helpless newborns squirm about in the silver “crib” of the stainless steel kitchen sink.

I awoke with a start, my heart pounding wildly in my chest. This dream had been so preternaturally vivid and crystal clear in its imagery that it made my waking life–and the grey gothic buildings of the university campus–seem dull and dreary by comparison. Yet, I was utterly perplexed, both by the meaning of the images and the depth of my emotional reaction to them. How could a mere dream seem more real than waking reality? Why, of all things, was I having telepathic conversations with an intelligent female rabbit that had fallen asleep (like some animal version of Rip van Winkle) beneath a tree? The dream was like a fable or a fairy-tale–somehow larger than life. Its intensity was unnerving. I was worried that I might be going crazy.

It was as if I’d traveled down a long and winding road at dusk, with no map or sense of direction to guide me, only to arrive at a lonely and deserted dead end. I was lost in the enveloping darkness, clueless and full of dread. What on earth had gone wrong?

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