Reasonable Magic and Magical Reason (5)

Part five of six of Joseph Felser’s paper on Bob Monroe’s philosophy.

Part V: “Forms of Freedom Inconceivable”

To make the magical as reasonable as possible and reason as magical as it can be; this, then, is the chief task of the members of this professional division.

Many of the fruitful results of these investigations have been catalogued in the reports of the Focus and the Hemi-Sync Journal, as well as in those two marvelous volumes edited by Ronald Russell, Using the Whole Brain and Focusing the Whole Brain. (38) Contained therein are reports of just some of the many “peak performances” that can be coaxed out of individuals willing and able to “try and test for themselves.” From the healing of physical and mental suffering, and the facilitation of learning, to the sheer, exhilarating fun of exploring There, Hemi-Sync has proven its worth, time and again. Magic can be eminently practical and down-to-earth after all, just as the intellect can soar when it embraces (or at least tolerates) experiential data that may not fit its preconceptions.

As noteworthy as all these particular achievements are, however, I suspect that behind and beyond them there is a still greater purpose at work. What might that purpose be?

In an unpublished paper, Bob suggests that the expansion of perceptions facilitated by Hemi-Sync “may lead to forms of freedom inconceivable to the present consciousness of man.” “Therefore,” he adds, “it is [human] consciousness that first must begin to change.” Then he indicates that two main signposts on the road to ultimate freedom are the voluntary “release of illusions promulgated and instilled by others,” and what he terms “total self-determination.” (39)

Not just freedom, then, but forms of freedom inconceivable to our present consciousness: now this is a heady prospect, indeed! But perhaps we should begin by considering the currently conceivable forms of freedom. What are they?

For many of us, “freedom” means getting what we want, or doing what we please. This is what passes for “the pursuit of happiness” or “the American dream.” In practical terms, it means being able to buy the products of our choice: Coke or Pepsi, Republicans or Democrats, Burger King or McDonalds, Addidas or Nike. This, in other words, is the consumerist ideal of freedom: having the wherewithal to satisfy our appetites. Of course, there is no reflective prioritizing of our desires, no critique of our wants, and certainly no questioning of our impulses. These are accepted as given. But given by–and for–whom?

The more cynical among us might choose to cast a wary eye on the mass media. Our Hollywood and Silicon Valley action heroes teach, by their violent example, to vent our pent-up anger on others. For unloading our splenetic road rage, the SUV is our weapon of choice, while the phrase “going postal” has become an ironic icon signifying instant mass murder at the workplace. At the same time, we are seduced by ever more sophisticated advertising techniques to impulse-buy every product under the sun, from candy bars and beer, to cell phones and monster trucks. Sex, fear, and aggression are the hot buttons that marketers love to push.

Given our bully culture, is it any wonder that bullying has become an epidemic problem in our schools? Given our penchant for instant gratification and our increasingly wandering attention, is it any wonder our children suffer from attention-deficit and impulse-control disorders at an alarming, ever increasing, rate? We should not be surprised; the system is designed to produce exactly these outcomes. Well, guess what? The system is working.

But is this true freedom, or is it slavery to what Bob termed the “illusions promulgated and instilled by others?” In the words of the ancient Roman judge, cui bono (who stands to gain)? The answer seems all too obvious.

On the other hand, traditional religionists do distinguish between freedom and mere license. But this distinction is based on a negative view of the self as a sinful worm (in the West), or the supremely ignorant cause of all suffering (in the East). So, for example, St. Augustine declared that freedom is the freedom to go wrong, since our very nature is evil and corrupt. “Freedom” in these religious systems thus tends to equate with voluntary acquiescence to cosmic necessity, conceived either as an impersonal law of karmic justice, or as the inscrutable will of a wrathful personal god whose harsh punishments are our just desserts.

Scientism, of course, dismisses all such notions of god and karma as illusions promulgated by priests and gurus. True freedom means not falling for such wish-fulfillment fantasies (as Freud called them), and basing our beliefs solely on what can be scientifically ascertained. But what, then, is the ultimate goal of scientific knowledge? What, in other words, is freedom in the positive sense?

In his classic 1903 essay, “A Free Man’s Worship,” the British philosopher Bertrand Russell argued that the human mind no longer prey to the illusions of religion must accept what he termed the “unyielding despair” of living in an impersonal, accidental, but highly deterministic world. (40) In the clockwork universe of Newton, entropy always has the final say. Even the enormous power conferred on us by our technology is limited. Perhaps we can hit the snooze button on the clock a couple of times before the great flame-out of the sun and the inevitable final contraction of the expanding universe. But that’s all, folks.

Well, in the words of that venerable sage, Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Russell’s stoic fatalism is a sign that scientism merely replaced the religionist acquiescence to metaphysical necessity with an alternative, but equally morbid, acquiescence to physical necessity. There isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them.

The French Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre would dismiss all three of our popular concepts of “freedom” as expressions of what he termed “bad faith.” That is to say, they are evasions of the real truth. It was Sartre who said that we are “condemned” to be free, meaning that we are so terrified of the breadth and depth of our true freedom that we flee from it into illusions of necessity. (41) We invent god, moral absolutes, and other forms of social, psychological, biological, or metaphysical determinism that ostensibly limit our choices. Freedom of the will is a heavy burden–a responsibility that we assume only with the greatest reluctance (if at all).

I strongly suspect that such comments would elicit a knowing chuckle from Bob Monroe. Time and again, he stated that fear is the greatest barrier to human growth. So I think he would have been sympathetic to Sartre’s argument. However, as I also think Bob would have been the first to admit, no one can ever be forced to be free, for no one can be compelled to face and overcome his or her fears. If the motivation is absent, the outcome will merely be to exchange one form of servitude for another. Hence that darkly humorous line from Woody Allen’s movie, Annie Hall: “I used to be a heroin addict. Now I’m a methadone addict.”

I think it’s fairly clear, then, that for Bob Monroe, our popular notions of “freedom” are quite limited (and limiting)–and unnecessarily so. As part and parcel of the “illusions promulgated and instilled by others” that we must willingly relinquish, they hamper, rather than foster, the movement towards total self-determination.

As against the consumerist ideal of freedom, Bob knew from his own experience that simply having the means to get what we want is not a recipe for freedom, unless the wants themselves are within our control. There is a difference between robotically running the installed program, and having the ability to reach inside the computer to alter the very programming itself. True freedom implies the power to manage or change our desires, appetites, and impulses.

A prime example of this is in Journeys out of the Body, where Bob discusses his “Gene Autry” solution to the sex-drive problem. (42) Since his sexual desire had limited his non-physical adventures by tethering him so closely to his physical body, he learned how to outfox those persistent urges by, in effect, saying, “Not now, later.” However, in our present cultural climate of “I want it yesterday,” even delayed gratification smacks of antique thinking. Well, so much the worse for us.

By virtue of these very same adventures, of course, Bob learned that he was far more than his physical body. So, the scientistic surrender to fatalism–which presumes an identity of self and body–was, for him, out of the question.

As for religious conceptions of God and karma, one has only to read, in his third and final book, the accounts of his ultimate journeys along the far reaches of the Interstate, to realize that these, too, were ideas he did not find verified by his own experience. And thus could not endorse.

No wonder Bob came to the conclusion that genuine freedom is incompatible with the scientific or the religious view. “The bulk of our scientific knowledge is not germane to any approach that tries to make Something out of Nothing,” he writes in Ultimate Journey, “and so we must reluctantly set it aside.” While religion professes its belief in Something (something more than the physical, that is), it has been a dismal failure as far as enabling its followers to convert this belief into a valid Known. So, he concludes, “we come back to personal experience uninhibited by belief systems.” (43)

“Personal experience uninhibited by belief systems”–this, I think, goes to the heart of Bob’s concept of freedom and the process by which we expand our consciousness into the zone of the inconceivable. It gives us our best available clues as to what the release from illusions and total self-determination is really all about. For there is no path to the total self that does not go through the personal self.

First and foremost, we must realize that there is such a thing as a “self”-in other words, that we are more than just a skin bag of appetites craving satisfaction.

Secondly, we must realize that this self can trust its own experiences–including and especially the non-rational forms of inner guidance provided by dreams, intuitions, feelings, and visions–as well as rely on the authority of its own rational judgments.

Easier said than done? Undoubtedly, just because the main and enduring obstacles to such realizations are none other than our own ingrained cultural beliefs and attitudes. We have been taught to dismiss and denigrate ourselves, and not, under any circumstances, to put any stock in our inward personal experience of reality. This is taboo.

As we hinted earlier, religionism undermines our self-trust by declaring human nature fallen, corrupt, sinful, or, at the very least, a heavy drag on our spiritual development. We are told to put our faith in something external–the priest, the holy writ, the church, the guru, the hidden masters in the Himalayas–whatever it might be, as long as it isn’t your own insignificant little self.

The scientistic assault on the idea of self that began, as we said, with Descartes’ successors, culminated in the work of the eighteenth century Scottish empiricist philosopher, David Hume. Hume rejected Descartes’ concept of the non-material soul as unscientific, asserting instead that the self is nothing more than a bundle of sense perceptions in perpetual flux. Change the environmental stimulus, and you alter the organism’s sense of itself.

On Hume’s view, reason is just an adding machine that sums up our current crop of sense-impressions. Unfortunately, says Hume, no matter how many times we check and re-check our sums, we can never be absolutely sure that we have done the math correctly. There is always the chance that we have left something out–or (as is even more likely) that we have put something in that doesn’t belong. We humans are forever making fantastic leaps of logic, either by wrongly assuming that past experience is an infallible guide to the future, or by supposing a false coherence in our current sense-data where there is only the chaos of fleeting and fragmentary awareness. We want to connect the dots; yet the connections exist only in our imaginations, not among the dots themselves. The world is a meaningless hodgepodge.

How, then, can we really know that world? Answer: We can’t. Hume’s thoroughly “scientific” approach led to the cul-de-sac of skepticism. Not a healthy skepticism that rightly demands evidence and reasonable proof, but rather, a chronic inability to accept even the best available evidence and reasoning. As Hume himself admitted, the doubts that so “heated [his] brain” nearly drove him crazy. (44)

Thus, the ultimate irony is that Hume, the self-professed empiricist, came to despair of our ability to acquire genuine knowledge from our experience. In the end, he did not trust the self that he said did not exist. “Reality,” for Hume, turns out to be a nonsensical fairy-tale told by an idiotic nonentity to no one in particular.

In practice, however, science ignored Hume’s skeptical conclusions even as it embraced his (ostensibly) empiricist premise that every legitimate idea must be grounded in sense-experience. But not, of course, in the actual everyday experience of the ordinary individual, who is prey to such “distorting factors” as fears, hopes, wishes, needs, and the like. All these are “biases” that must be eliminated through a neutral, disinterested, impersonal process of experimental inquiry that squeezes all the personal “juice” out of the experience, quantifying its result in the form of a dry mathematical equation or statistical probability. In short, we must place our trust, not in ourselves, but rather, in the experts, who know best. In fact, they know us better than we know ourselves. Self-reporting and anecdotal evidence be damned.

In short, the attack on the self has been unrelenting. In this light, Bob Monroe’s humble, but quietly persistent call to recognize the authority of “personal experience uninhibited by belief systems” must be seen for what it actually is: the equivalent of intellectual dynamite. Placed beneath the twin cultural pillars of scientism and religionism, it would explode the code of self-mistrust.

This is the value of Hemi-Sync, which is the ideal tool for de-programming and re-programming the self. Hemi-Sync functions as a set of training wheels for learning, or re-learning, how to trust our own perceptions and judgments. Hemi-Sync doesn’t force us to be free; rather, it entices us by providing tantalizing clues to our greater identity and destiny. We taste a small slice of the pie of self-knowledge, and find ourselves, bite by bite, wanting to eat the whole thing. Alone, in the privacy of the CHEC unit, or in the solitude of our spare bedroom, we become aware of the immense breadth and depth of consciousness, the exotic locales and exhilarating adventures. We are afforded a glimpse or what the philosopher-psychologist William James dubbed the “distant ranges” of possible human experience. (45)

The audio technology of Hemi-Sync, solidly based in the languages and protocols of science, is an attractive lure to the intellect that has been shaped by our scientific culture and its ideal of objectivity. Yet, the subjective experience of the Hemi-Sync process represents a custom-made, alchemical blend of that technology with the unique consciousness of the individual. This personal response is always mysterious, for it cannot be predicted or controlled according to the scientific method.

Thus does reason propel us into the magical flight of our inward journeys, from the measurable to that which is beyond measure, from the near to the far. Before we even realize it, we’re on the yonder side of the bridge.

Returning Here from our expeditions There, we find ourselves beset by certain nagging questions. These, it so happens, are the very questions that the English writer, Thomas Carlyle, said were the philosopher’s perennial concerns: Who, and what, am I? What is this unfathomable thing I live in which we call the Universe? What is life? What is death? What should I believe? What should I do? (46)

Thus, reason is not the enemy of magic; it is the very flower of the mandrake root. Not sheer information, nor even mere knowledge, is what we’re after; it’s wisdom, after all. Hemi-Sync turns us all into philosophers. As such, we are no longer able to rest content with anyone else’s answers to life’s great questions.

It is by this route of self-inquiry that we may arrive at forms of freedom beyond our present comprehension, even as our understanding expands to meet the challenges of the journey. Expanded awareness leads to a larger field of experience, which in turn leads to a more spacious concept of the self. This is a never-ending process, however, so there are no absolutely final answers.

Toward the end of his sojourn Here, Bob concluded that his life’s work had been driven by a cosmic purpose so grand, and so unfathomable, that it dwarfed all of his conscious intentions, plans, purposes and values.

This is a stunning realization. Are we courageous enough to cross that same bridge? Will we open the gateway to wisdom?

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