“We are here for one little thing: to change reality itself”.
That is how Professor Jeffrey Kripal chose to inaugurate the Archives of the Impossible Conference on March 3rd at Rice University in Houston, Texas, where scholars and laypeople from all walks of life gathered for this unprecedented event.
And in truth Kripal’s words may seem farfetched, but the goal of the movement he and his colleagues are starting –if successful– would be no small feat if they manage to change one iota in the traditional posture of Academia, when confronted with experiences and events we currently store under the daunting label of ‘the paranormal’. For decades the only academics who paid attention to such things (from a very safe distance) regarded them as folklore or psychological delusions, and the rest chose to frown upon and look the other way when asked about things like UFO sightings, ghost apparitions or psychic phenomena. “It’s impossible, ergo it can’t be” they would pedantically answer as they resumed writing their grant application seeking to get fundings for research in a well-trodden avenue of human knowledge, while steering clear of the dark and narrow paths leading to the untamed forests of the unexplained.
Kripal & Co.’s response: Yes, it is impossible. And yet it is real… so what do we do about it?
What they and others are bravely proposing, is that it is high time universities and higher centers of learning get their heads out of the sand and deal with these enigmas that ruthlessly challenge our understanding of reality once and for all, lest they keep fostering an information vacuum which is always eventually filled by charlatans or well-intentioned amateurs, whose primary goal is to vindicate their belief systems rather than conducting a useful search for the truth. Here be monsters, fellow travelers, so better to arm yourselves with a good roadmap and a compass before venturing into the wild.
What sort of roadmap, would you ask? Well, that’s where Kripal’s brainchild comes in: During a casual conversation with Dr. Jacques Vallee –one of the subjects of his book Authors of the Impossible who has become a close friend of Jeff’s ever since– the celebrated investigator wondered out loud about the ultimate fate of his massive archive of files and research notes he’s gathered in close to half a century of searching for an answer to the UFO enigma (an answer he’s humble enough to recognize it has eluded him yet). It is an all-too-common curse in the quest for understanding these forbidden topics that, once the researcher dies, their relatives or surviving spouses simply toss all their books and case files that took them a lifetime to gather into the trash bin. Thus, the study of the paranormal is like trying to build a library of Alexandria out of sand.
If this were the subject of a comic book then the artist might have drawn a proverbial light bulb turning on above Kripal’s head right at the moment he listened to Vallee’s bemoans; a few months and dozens phone calls later (or in our allegory just a transition panel) Kripal had managed to convince his superiors at Rice University to store and archive Vallee’s files in perpetuity at Fondren Library. Not only that, but Kripal reached out and got others on board who have graciously donated their papers and other invaluable research materials to Rice, making them available to the public thanks to the enthusiastic help of dozens of grad students in charge of cataloguing these mountains of material –much of which is still waiting to be parsed and processed*.
Now, after years of careful archival work, interested researchers will be able to peruse through the thousands of letters received by Anne and Whitley Strieber after the publication of Communion; the careful scrutiny of which forced the late Anne to conclude the UFO phenomenon has more to do with the afterlife, than with little green men visiting our world from other planets. They will also be able to study Ed May’s papers on remote viewing and the Stargate project at SRI –a subject that it is still deeply controversial and divisive, even among people who are not skeptical to paranormal topics– or Stanley Krippner’s parapsychological publications archive. All this, along with Vallee’s collection, is but a fraction of what it is currently stored at Fondren Library.
The Archives of the Impossible Conference was thus designed to commemorate the public opening of these collections with 3 days of roundtables and plenary presentations given by some of the same people who have donated their papers to Rice. The webpage designed by the University is now hosting all the recorded sessions and I urge everyone to check them out. Here is for example Vallee’s presentation given right after Kripal’s inaugural speech, in which he nonchalantly shoots down the illusion that hard materialist sciences can reveal the ultimate truths of the universe –not to mention consciousness– and that we should instead have faith in the power of new ideas:
And here is my personal favorite, given by Chicano author John Phillip Santos about the importance of borderlands (both physical and sociological) when dealing with the paranormal:
At the end of the conference, Kripal gave one final admonition to the audience: “Go forth! Confuse the world!” And in truth many people will scratch their heads at what these piles of yellowing papers and deteriorating tapes really mean. They certainly won’t help to convince any of the hardcore skeptics who will cry on their deathbeds that ESP and all of this ‘woo’ is a bunch of poppycock. But if the Archives of the Impossible manage to open up an honest and open-minded dialogue between those who have devoted their lives studying these ‘damned events’ –to use an appropriate Fortean terminology– and those in academic circles who’ve always had a secret interesting in these subjects –just like Vallee’s colleagues in the 70’s– then we will manage to enter a new era that might not necessarily find an ultimate solution to these mysteries, but that at least will allow us to look for the answers out in the daylight, instead of hiding in the shadows for fear of ridicule.
Here’s to the end of Invisible Colleges.
(*) Jacques Vallee’s collection, while being the first to be admitted to the Archives of the Impossible, will also be the last to be fully accessible to the public because the files have an access restriction of ten years from the date of donation. This has already caused a lot of controversy and speculation in online UFO circles –especially among those who are total strangers to how university archives work– but the simple answer behind Vallee’s wishes is that his papers name many individuals who are still alive, and whose privacy he seeks to protect.