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.)
updated: 08 Mar 2003