I'd like to add my two bits to the discussion on the "Seth" books. A friend recently sent me a copy of Jane Roberts' THE NATURE OF PERSONAL REALITY. Although I won't claim to understand everything in the book, I have some opinions about Seth and what he's saying.
I am assuming that Ms. Roberts is sincere, that she is not inventing the whole show just to make money. (Of course, many mediums turn out to be simple confidence artists.) Furthermore, we have the testimony of our own Ben Rowe, an obviously sincere fellow, that he has had "channeling" experiences of his own. So, channeling apparently happens; some people at some times feel as if their bodies and minds become home for other intelligent personalities, who then begin to speak and act through them.
The first question that we have to answer is the one about the "reality" of entities such as Seth. Are we dealing with two minds -- one incarnate and one "elsewhere" -- or two aspects of a single personality? Unlike Ben, I am not sure that Occam's Razor cuts in favor of the former explanation. Before we offer metaphysical explanations for this phenomena, we have to exhaust all the earth-bound ones.
For instance, is it really true that channeling produces new ideas? Is Seth really telling Jane Roberts things that she could not have known by herself? Ms. Roberts is obviously a highly intelligent and creative person. Who knows what her mind has soaked up and improvised on over the years? And, as a writer myself, I can vouch for the fact that the darndest things come up when you least expect them.
I'm not sure if I understand the argument about EEG studies. If such studies show that people who experience channeling are in some way similar to those who suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder, why should we assume that both are metaphysical and not merely psychological? I'm kind of in the dark on this aspect. Maybe Jim could post some data.
Also, Ben said that his experience of channeling was quite different from normal intuition or creativity. But why should there be just one kind of creativity? Why not a dozen or a zillion?
Last of all, perhaps the best evidence for the "independent reality" of entities like Seth is Ben's claim that Seth-like material is sometimes validated by a third party who discovers a hidden "key" or "code" which makes it all come together. Well, Ben, you've probably heard me say this before, but it is all too easy to find patterns. More than one speculator has walked down the garden path, convinced of a pattern connecting, say, the stock market and the zodiac, only to lose everything when the market and the zodiac decide to uncouple and go their own ways. The human brain is, in part, a pattern-finder. Sometimes that works out great and sometimes it leads you down the Bermuda Triangle.
"Hidden codes" are particularly fascinating. There are statistical techniques, developed by Claude Shannon of Bell Labs, that tell whether a set of symbols contains meaningful information or just noise. If someone told me that he or she had discovered a hidden code in my own work, I would want to apply the Shannon equations before I jumped to conclusions. (By the by, these formulas could perhaps be used to authenticate "mysterious" documents like the Voynich manuscript or the "angelic" writings of John Dee.)
So, Ben will probably accuse my left brain of muscling in on my right brain. But I really believe that intuition and reason have to be applied in equal ammounts if you want to avoid mistakes. And, my intuition tells me that claims of "independent reality" for Seth and his buddies somehow belittle the human mind.
Of course, the point is not whether Jane Roberts or Seth is doing the talking, but what is said. I think that this is a lot more interesting than questions of who is real and who is not. From what I have seen so far, the claims made in THE NATURE OF PERSONAL REALITY are not only familiar but, I believe, shaky at best.
the law of parsimony, the famous Occam's Razor that Ben wielded. According to this well-known argument, if we all create reality, then how is it that our various realities hang together so well? How can you and I make an appointment for lunch next Tuesday without one of us winding up in Tibet or the salad bar turning into a nest of rattlesnakes? To explain this problem, the mystic is forced into offering a bizarre hypothesis in which God juggles our various realities, plugging them into one another like a cosmic version of Ernestine the switchboard operator. Of course, all this mumbo-jumbo vanishes if you are willing to concede the existence of some kind of objective reality outside the human mind.
In other words, I think that Whitehead has Seth over a barrel.
At the risk of digressing, I should say that I can't support the hard-line "objectivist" viewpoint in which we are merely passive sponges soaking up sense-impressions:
mind <<-------- apple
The strange and wonderful revelations of quantum mechanics seem to indicate that the mind and the world are tied up in ways that would seem heretical to the staunch materialist. But physicists themselves are not sure what's going on, and its pure mud to most occult writers.
My second objection to the Seth material springs from the first. If we create the physical universe, as Seth argues, then surely we are responsible for everything in it. And this is what Seth tells us: "You see and feel what you expect to see and feel. The world as you know it is a picture of your expectations. ... If you are in poor health, you can remedy it. ... If you are in poverty, you can instead find yourself surrounded by abundance."
This is another familiar claim: everything that happens to you is of your own choosing. To a certain extent, I don't have any problem with this idea. Certainly no one is going to take responsibility for your life except you, and if things are bad you should first look to yourself for help. But Seth is going further. As Seth sees it, we are not only responsible for our clothing and occupation; we can also take credit for our sex, hair color, and the country in which we were born.
This all happens through reincarnation, which is a big theme with Seth. Although Seth has a unique view of reincarnation (our "previous lives" are actually going on simultaneously), the basic idea seems familiar -- that a disembodied soul chooses its parents the way the rest of us might choose a college major.
Like heaven and hell, reincarnation is basically a matter of faith. Still, the concept itself is so loaded with bugs that you have to wonder how sound it is. For instance, as with Seth's other major point about the external universe coming out of the human mind, I believe that the concept of reincarnation violates the law of parsimony.
Common sense -- and genetics -- offers a perfectly good explanation for the differences between people. I like computers and my friend likes poetry because different people have different genetic and psychological makeups.
On top of this simple concept, Seth constructs a huge, cosmic ballet of reincarnation, in which souls flit from body to body across the dance floor of human history. From the viewpoint of this scheme, perhaps I am into computers because in my last life I was Ada Lovelace.
. Of course, the Jew marching off to the gas chamber is not aware of having made that choice, so the two seem pretty much the same to me.
In fact, the idea of reincarnation has been used to justify all sorts of cruelties, as the sad history of India shows. While I am sure that the majority of people who believe in reincarnation would do all they could to aid their less-fortunate brethren, the specter of fascism is never far away. I once heard someone use reincarnation as a reason for withholding food stamps from the poor. After all, they CHOSE to go to bed hungry, and if we give them food we are interfering with the Divine Plan. These were some of the ugliest words I have ever heard come out of a human mouth.
So, reincarnation violates the law of parsimony. Furthermore, I doubt if it is possible to have a concept of reincarnation without an element of fascism, whether implied or stated out front.
Those are my objections to the material in THE NATURE OF PERSONAL REALITY. As I said before, I don't care much whether Seth is "real." I just wish that, real or not, he'd shut up.