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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 618)...

    I recently finished The Holy, which I found clever and thought-provoking. Had I merely read the book, I'd simply see the many connections between it and your other work, and that would have been that. But I'd read Rennie's account on your website of the childhood event that partly inspired the book -- your encounter with the part-man-part-animal. There is much I don't know about the world, so the last thing I'd do is just discount this experience of yours. However, I have to admit great surprise. What (admittedly little) I know of you is that you're a lover of science and a skeptic -- this is evident in your work, on your website, and in much of our previous correspondence, in which you have spoken scientifically in general and, in some cases in particular, directly against "new age" or "occult" beliefs and phenomena.

    I'm very curious to hear how you reconcile this childhood experience of yours with your scientific knowledge -- and, by extension, I'm curious to know what you might tell your science-loving fans (like me) who might not understand how they should reconcile these two things about you, these two things that, not knowing better, we might see as contradictory. I'm also incidentally curious about the extent to which your portrayal of the "yoo-hoos" is fictional, i.e., simply for the purposes of fleshing out the story, as opposed to things you actually believe. For example, that they themselves represent what ancient cultures thought to be gods and what older Taker cultures thought to be demons/devils, that they are matter- based and yet immortal and possessing of shape-changing abilities, etc.

    ...and the response:

    I don't "reconcile" my childhood experience with my scientific knowledge. It was an event, something that happened. I was once sitting over drinks with a friend, and out of the blue I said, "I'm thinking of a word. What do you think it is?" He said, without hesitation, "orange," and that's the word I was thinking of. Must this event be "reconciled" with scientific knowledge? The same friend later moved to a new state, and I paid him a visit. From the window of the spare room I stayed in that night I saw a motionless red light quite high in the sky (not possibly Venus and before the era of geosynchronous satellites). I assumed it marked the top of a radio or television tower. In the morning, I asked him about it. He said, "There is no tower visible from that window." Again, must this event be "reconciled" with scientific knowledge? It's just something that happened, and if science says it couldn't have happened, then science is simply in denial of reality.

    You speak of things I "actually believe." I don't know of anything I "actually" believe. Believing in things that might not exist or that might be false strikes me as completely silly. Atheists have a belief--that God doesn't exist. This too may be false (though we'll never know). I prefer to think of the universe as peopled by gods--but I don't "believe" that it is.

    Back in the early seventies, I once talked to a young woman at a party about Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan and his encounters with the kind of entities I later described in The Holy. I said I understood the temptation that many of Castaneda's readers had given into--to travel down to Mexico in search of such encounters. She said, "Why? Do you think those entities don't exist in Chicago?" Well, why wouldn't they, of course, if they exist in Mexico? They're universally known in shamanic cultures all over the world. You may be prepared to pronounce all these peoples merely deluded, but I'm not. I'm not prepared to say that these entities do exist--but neither am I prepared to say that they don't. If you're prepared to say that they don't exist, then, as far as I'm concerned, you're simply acting out of belief. Do you know of any science that proves they don't exist? Of course not. Science can establish that something does exist, but it seldom has tools to establish that something doesn't exist. (Science can prove that no vehicle exists that can travel faster than light; mathematics can prove that no map exists that needs more than four colors to satisfy the requirement that no two regions with a common boundary have the same color.)

    category: I Have a Question About Daniel Quinn,I Need Some Clarification
    keywords: Animism,Anthropology,Education,Quinn's Motivations,Religion,Writing and Publishing

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