Letter from the Publisher: Changed in a Flash
Categories: General Metaphysics & Unexplained Phenomena New Release Psychology & Personal Growth Spirituality & Religion
Tags: Letter from the Publisher Elizabeth Krohn Jeffrey Kripal
One of the challenges of publishing books that question conventional wisdom is that conventional methods for determining their validity are not wholly sufficient. After all, conventional wisdom would never evolve if brave voices (and brave publishers) didn’t take chances on positions that at first blush seemed unlikely, unusual, or even unfathomable. As Einstein famously said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Or the corollary: Be careful about calling bullshit when we so often get the truth wrong.
This challenge resides at the heart of Elizabeth Krohn’s and Jeffrey Kripal’s new book Changed in a Flash: One Woman’s Near-Death Experience and Why a Scholar Thinks It Empowers Us All. In this fascinating and unusual account, Krohn, a self-admitted skeptic, details the nonordinary, telepathic powers endowed to her after she was struck by lightning in a parking lot while holding an umbrella. In many ways Krohn’s experience is not that unconventional within the realm of paranormal literature: the beautifully told vision she has during her near-death experience intersects with other descriptions of this phenomenon; the way her psychic capabilities manifest are unique but also familiar.
This is the very point that Kripal, a professor of religion at Rice University, picks up on in the second half of the book. Krohn’s experience is exceptional not because it is so unique; rather it is important because it is yet another story in the growing canon of paranormal experiences. Kripal expertly guides readers on an inquiry: not into whether Krohn’s experience is fact or fiction, but rather into why it’s so difficult for Western discourse to take such claims seriously. We certainly have an accepted bucket for this kind of thought—religion—but what if Krohn’s experience was more akin to the quotidian than the supernatural? Kripal suggests we reject liminal experiences out of hand at our own peril: that our inability to truly integrate them into our belief systems is a crisis of the imagination that shuts us off from our full human potential.
It’s interesting to note that 75 percent of Americans profess a belief in the paranormal. When you get down to it, almost everyone has had some sort of experience that cannot be explained by reason alone. And yet, as Kripal points out, he largely encounters three responses to stories of nonordinary experiences: 1) “It must be a hoax—the source is a self-interested huckster”; 2) “The storyteller has made an honest misperception—there must be some other explanation”; 3) “It may be true but I’m not going to think too much about its implications.” The least common conclusion is the one Kripal is inviting readers to make, namely: 4) “This individual story is likely true, and it may point to universal questions of what we constitute as ‘truth.'”
At present our world is both breaking down and breaking open; what were once stable systems are beginning to fray, in large part because much of what they were built on was either extractive or exclusionary—both Mother Nature and the people are speaking up, and the shift is seismic. Simultaneously, there are new movements and technologies and language and identities and modes of thinking springing across the broken shards. Some of these have been there all along; perhaps we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see them. At this critical juncture, the choice seems simple: to fully embrace at the very least a sincere curiosity in what was once in shadow. What will we see? What can we learn? We do not need to know to start.