Poynton, J ‘Science, Mysticism and Psychical Research: The Revolutionary Synthesis of Michael Whiteman’ – A 20th Century Swedenborg

Reason and Reenchantment: The Philosophical, Religious, & Political Thought of David Ray GriffinScience, Mysticism and Psychical Research: The Revolutionary Synthesis of Michael Whiteman – by John Poynton

Reviewed by David Lorimer

Michael Whiteman (1906-2007) was a physicist, mathematician, musician and mystic who was an early member of the Network. Elsewhere in this issue, readers will find an outline of his revolutionary work by the author of this book, John Poynton, himself a biologist who knew Whiteman for over 40 years. I agree with Stanley Krippner, who, on the back of this book likens the summarising of Whiteman’s work to capturing a rare tropical bird and rendering his ideas accessible in a series of short and clearly written and referenced chapters. Given his three areas of interest in science, mysticism and psychical research, this is a very important book for Network readers as Whiteman had a deep knowledge allied to extensive personal experience – some 7,000 experiences are recorded in his diaries. The five sections and 32 chapters cover the basics of his thinking, the house of personality, spiritual development, elements of mystical experience and an overview with a technical appendix on the mystical derivation of physical laws. Incidentally, these three main areas also correspond to the sections of another important book written by a member Raynor Johnson, The Imprisoned Splendour.

As readers will appreciate, the predominant view in science is still what Whiteman calls one-level naturalism, which cannot in principle explain psychical and mystical experiences – it can only try to explain them away. Whiteman’s method is what William James called radical empiricism based, like Swedenborg, on self-evident and repeated direct observation. This also represents a deeper phenomenology of actually penetrating appearances, and produces a systematic and rationally coherent testimony. One important parallel between physics and mysticism is the translation of potential into actual, essence to existence, the integration of subjective and objective. Anything external is by definition actual: the one instantiates the other.

A key postulate for Whiteman is the existence of other nonphysical spaces giving a multifrequency and interpenetrating picture of which he himself had direct experience. Instead of using the term out of body experience, he uses ‘separative experience’ and distinguishes various levels. These experiences all take place in such parallel spaces, which makes sense both of the phenomenon and of the occasional discrepancies noticed. For such phenomena to be taken seriously, we need an analytical – deductive approach rather than a hypothetical – deductive; the former applies conceptual analysis to a problem or observation (p. 33) beyond the confines of one-level naturalism. It is also important to realise that other spaces also exhibit extension and position in relation to nonphysical sensing. Whiteman describes the necessary skills of Active and Continuous Recollection that have to be developed in this sphere. He also outlines a complex 16-fold objective and subjective cycle.

A chapter on the influence of Kant draws on his scathing book about Swedenborg, Dreams of a Spirit Seer. Kant initially satisfied himself of the veracity of some of Swedenborg’s experiences, but could not rationally make sense of them within his limited scheme. He even regarded a positive interpretation as a corruption in the use of reason, setting his own limits to its use. As John points out, Kant was simply wrong, but this has not prevented mainstream philosophers from following in his footsteps and those of David Hume. However, we are now steeped in the influence of Eastern philosophies that have a quite different approach to consciousness and reality. Whiteman studied these in detail produced his own edition of the Yoga Sutras, commenting that many translators had misunderstood such texts because they themselves were not mystics.

I found the section the on corporate structure of personality particularly interesting. Whiteman’s model consists of a core identity or individual in charge (representing a time-transcendent line of consciousness), influenced by contributory minds. What we call personality is a combination of these factors. Whiteman had a particular interest in criminal psychology, entailing the issues of free will, responsibility and punishment. He felt that current psychology had an inadequate model and that many crimes occurred because the individual in charge was overwhelmed by a contributory mind, which might even represent a form of spirit attachment (a number of cases are discussed). This model also has interesting implications for the interpretation of the work of Ian Stevenson, as contributory minds also have memories of the individual life that may give rise to children remembering previous lives – Whiteman corresponded with Stevenson about this, and suggested that many of his cases were a form of ‘loose’ reincarnation. Perhaps those including birthmarks could represent a deeper level. Interestingly, Swedenborg’s interpretation corresponds closely with that of Whiteman in postulating a form of attachment rather than reincarnation.

Whiteman sees the process of spiritual development as becoming open to the universal I AM beyond the blocks of a separate sense of self (atta). This means developing the capacities for recollection already noted and moving towards selflessness and nonattachment; put another way, towards the True and the Good: ‘a creative light of Life itself, streaming forth in Love and Understanding, and forming all other lives out of its substance: a Light become Life not through addition to material light, but by the removal of the impurity of fixation.’ (p. 133) At another level, this means the practice of faith and obedience where ‘self gives place to the underlying core identity.’ This is what is meant by dying before you die, becoming a channel of Loving Wisdom (p. 150).

What makes the book, subtitled ‘the revolutionary synthesis of Michael Whiteman’ so important is precisely this synthesis of science, mysticism and psychical research at a time when, as John observes, the formalisms of established religions, classical science and materialist philosophy are disintegrating. Whiteman was a pioneer in this respect, and John has done readers an enormous and indeed Herculean service by introducing his work in such a clear and systematic fashion. There is a great deal to study here before moving on to Whiteman’s own books. This is not only a matter of reflection, but also of applying these ideas to our own lives as we ourselves must experience our own disclosure and transformation through an encounter with the Divine Source.

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