Deep dives into the unknown Deep Weird
This engrossing, thought-provoking study of ‘high strangeness’ makes a formidable case for an innovative approach to the unanswered mysteries of our world and existence, says Bob Rickard
The Varieties of High Strangeness Experience
Jack Hunter, ed.
August Night Press 2023
Pb, 409pp, £17.99, ISBN 9781786772244
August Night Press is an imprint of White Crow Books, the publisher of a substantial catalogue of titles arguing, generally, that we are more than “animated meat”. These include Dr Hunter’s previous anthology of papers Greening the Paranormal [reviewed FT388:59]. What is significant here is that under Hunter’s editorial vision, Deep Weird not only recapitulates Greening but builds upon it, making a formidable case for an innovative approach to the unanswered mysteries of our world and existence.
Significantly, expressions of “scientific reasoning” are not solely modern but can be found in the studies of phenomena by the natural philosophers of ancient cultures well before the Common Era. What distinguishes the modern period is the extent to which scientific inquiry has been strictly limited by materialism and so-called rationalism. For example, it has signally failed to explain to us what consciousness is.
In both volumes, Hunter has argued that the modern industrialised and commercialised world has lost almost every sense of the paranormal which was an integral and “normalised” element of human society for the greater part of its social and psychological evolution; and a consequence of that distancing is the wholesale degradation (if not actual loss) of the appropriate processes of dealing with anomalous experiences.
No sensible fortean would deny that by focusing upon what could be measured, manipulated and reliably demonstrated, science has achieved wonders that have benefited modern life; but the charge led by Hunter and his fellows addresses the anomalous phenomena manifesting outside the ring-fenced preoccupations of the citadel of orthodoxy. Charles Fort was, mistakenly, accused of being anti-science, but his inquiries were deliberately suggestive of a “more inclusive science”. This was well expressed by William James, who argued that: “Anyone will renovate his science who will steadily look after the irregular phenomena, and when the science is renewed, its new formulas often have more of the voice of the exception in them than of what were supposed to be the rules.”
In Deep Weird, we hear that voice taken up by a new generation of pioneers, boldly wrestling with mysterious phenomena – defined herein as “varieties of high strangeness experience” – and not afraid to try new, more inclusive methods, and (if need be) more direct experience. This demonstrates that on the frontiers of modern science are minds just as disciplined, sensible, and capable as those of their academic critics.
Deep Weird has three parts, each focusing upon a particular mode of questioning, interpretation and understanding the significant problems presented by high strangeness phenomena. The first samples different forms of anomalistic experience: such
They don’t shy away from adopting innovative methods of questioning and theorising
as coincidences, out-of-body experiences, mediumistic materialisations, poltergeists, fairies, bigfoot and entheogen-induced entities.
In the second part, three experimental methodologies are tested for interpreting the dynamic imagery exchanged between a high strangeness event and its experiencer. These are detailed studies comparing the methodologies of psychologists, folklorists and ufologists.
Lastly, we are presented with five “deeper dives” by pioneering investigators who have spent much time exploring their particular specialities, all with new and fascinating case material. One explores the use of cinematic metaphors for understanding “virtual” or subjective “realities” as analogues of imaginative experiences.
Two quite different writers each tackle notions about “mental-creations” and our evolving understanding of physical and mental “reality”. These disturbingly “non-human” intrusions into our consensus “reality” are shown to be quite ancient, from deities, demons, tulpas and psychical parasites to apparitions and other entity types associated with traditions of magical conjuration, UFO encounters, hauntings and even ayahuasca “shamanic” experiences.
Then a discussion of “panpsychism” freshly exorcises Cartesian dualism as a philosophical “roadblock” to understanding profound numinous experiences such as “panic” and religious awe when faced with an awareness of something “greater” in every respect than our everyday preconceptions. This is followed by a fascinating study of the ancient “shaking tent” ritual séances of the indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes region, and as an example of how paranormal phenomena have been successfully integrated into a rural culture.
There is a great deal more, but our space is limited. With a stellar list of erudite (and some, to FT readers, familiar) writers and researchers – including Jeffrey Kripal, Sharon Rawlette, Gregory Shushan, Samantha Treasure, Michael Grosso, Zofia Weaver, Alan Murdie, David Luke, Simon Young, Zelia Edgar, Leonardo Martins, Peter Rojcewicz, Barbara Fisher, Christopher Diltz, Joshua Cutchin, Anthony Peake, Peter Stjöstedt-Hughes, Susan Demeter and Renée Mazinegiizhigo-kwe Bédard – you can be sure of an engrossing, thoughtprovoking and exciting read.
Their feet may be planted in the ground of academia, but their gaze is outward into the greater unknown. They describe new or evolving forms of inquiry into “high strangeness” phenomena, and don’t shy away from adopting innovative methods of questioning and theorising – and even in some cases personal experimentation – in their search for better understanding.
One of the exciting “takeaways” from this anthology is that the work begun by Fort is recognised and that “paranthropology” is ramping up as an authentic new branch of scientific inquiry. Jack Hunter deserves the admiration of all forteans for these important, provocative and exciting steps forward. ★★★★★