Christopher White – A History of Alternate Dimensions

Vassar College Religious Studies professor Christopher White’s book Other Worlds is a history of the western world’s search for extra dimensions and how it affected science, the arts, literature, and spirituality. Beginning with the relatively well-known 1884 book Flatland by Edwin Abbott, Chris describes the rise of science in Victorian England and attempts by some thinkers of the period to reconcile these discoveries with traditional and entrenched religious ideas.

We moved on to Charles Edward Hinton and his elaborate system of cubes which he said would help anyone realize hidden truths about higher dimensions. We examined the late 19th century astrophysicist Karl Fredrich Zollner and his clash with other scientists regarding his belief that he had found a system of laws that reconciled science and spirituality and who also enthusiastically conducted seances. Chris also delved into the visual arts with Russian avant-garde painter and philosopher Kasmir Malevich as well as iconic author JRR Tolkien, who belived his dreams contained hidden truths regarding his Christian faith.

We ended with the advent of television and how it was regarded as an almost magical device when it was introduced and the observation that many scientists and science writers still use mystical ideas and language when writing for a popular audience, and conversely, how those involved in matters of spirit and faith routinely borrow from the language of science.


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One Response to Christopher White – A History of Alternate Dimensions

  1. nathan cearley says:

    This was one of my favorite Radio Misterioso episodes of late, and “paranormal” interviews in general, given how it dissolves many of cliched assumptions about the relationship between science, other worlds and occult, paranormal and spiritualist narratives.

    All to often this kind of vague, boring and dualistic narrative emerges that constructs science and materialism as the enemy and the paranormal and occult as a kind of hero fighting off its oppressive advances. These narratives, weirdly thinking themselves “next level,” are often paradoxically grounded in old and stagnant concepts of what science and materiality are.

    An engaged looked at the history of science reveals the presence, always already, of “other worlds” both implicit and explicit to scientific ontological narratives. The paranormal and occult, after boo-hooing science, can often be witness sneaking out the back door with these concepts hidden in their pockets.

    Moreover, scientific epistemology, still, one way or another, stuck to the concept of the transcendental subject, albeit often in the form of a transcendental brain, creates, as a kind of surplus, the idea of a world beyond the reduction of experience to our concepts and stories. There is the absolute, what is not relative to human experience and thinking, and that unknowable “place” will always be the site for possible other worlds and beings that exist in states completely other than those our minds can represent. What science will likely accidentally discover, to the chagrin of many paranormal researchers who abhor it, and who seem to feel entitled to the idea of themselves as experts on other worlds and beings, is an empirical and material path to information about the absolute and the verification of other worlds. A doubt that that path is going to be revealed by someone doing some channeling in Yelm, Washington at a retreat that costs thousands of dollars.

    Our pursuit of an understanding of the Other and Otherness can only benefit from abandoning antiquated and negative concepts of science and materialism, and that kind of Fortean “science is mean to paranormal phenomena,” to see in actual scientific practices, data, mathematics and concepts a way through the trap of the mind and an real understanding of the phenomena.

    This starts by erasing the simple and false dichotomies between science and the paranormal and that begins with paying attention to the work of historians like Christopher White.

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