Recently I discovered, via the latest Wikipedia edit on Whitley Strieber, an interesting exegesis on Strieber’s “The Key” by “Heinrich Moltke.” It is as scholarly work as anyone could hope to generate. I won’t recapitulate it; the text is available for free to anyone interested. Moltke reminded me of a number of contradictions that I remember from the time—I was then a devoted listener to Art Bell’s incarnation of “Coast To Coast” as well as a student of Strieber’s journals (and also a subscriber to his site). Careful students of Strieber (as well as maybe some casual ones) are well-acquainted with a number of glaring contradictions running through his work. I’ve noticed them for years, first encountering them in the early ‘90s, pre-internet. Many I’ve ignored; others have been more glaring and consequential, causing me to unsubscribe from his site on two occasions. Still, because I’m merely a casual reader of Strieber, they do not bother me as much as they might if I were an acolyte.
My core conviction is that, in the paranormal field, integrity is everything. Paranormal and / or pseudoscientific texts are going to be scrupulously examined and vigorously debunked, if possible. Even if your essential hypothesis is “right,” you invite discredit by failing to argue it correctly. This Moltke manages to do quite effectively with Strieber’s “The Key.”
Still, I always return to Strieber’s work. Flawed as much of it is, Strieber has had some startling insights here and there, as well as some transcendent experiences of some nature. My suspicion is that many of them have been essentially non-physical—they happened “somewhere,” but not in this physical consensus reality. If you do not believe that it is possible to have a valid experience of a non-physical nature, then case closed—Strieber is full of it. However, I believe that it is quite possible to have a numinous, tangible, physically-seeming experience that doesn’t register in our space and time. Certain people, in fact, seem quite susceptible to these experiences, and some have been significant enough to change history.
In the back of my mind, this is what I’ve always suspected of Strieber and why I’ve always cut his writings a large amount of slack. It has been worth wading through the contradictions and seeming illogic in order to find the kernel of insight that is usually there.
But there are dangers involved in this sort of intellectual equivocation, and I don’t recommend it as a general practice—particularly with the paranormal.
Certainly, I don’t expect anyone to be persuaded by the argument that because Strieber’s experience wasn’t necessarily physical, his recounting of it should be casually believed. But I accept, in principle, the possibility that he encountered *something* in that hotel room in 1998, and his account of what he claims to remember of it is personally fascinating. I don’t think he confabulated it.
Which brings me to what I originally intended to write about: Strieber’s apparent communication with his late wife, Anne Strieber. Channeling the dead is a subject that I do have a nodding acquaintance with, and the two journal entries that “she” has written so far (filed under “Afterlife Journal”) are interesting. Indeed, in the areas that Strieber has explored that I have some knowledge of or experience with, I have found his accounts to be reliable. So I’m looking forward to more communications from “Anne.”
Update: As I read further in the text of “Problems,” it’s dawning on me that “The Key” may have been confabulated or manufactured.... which raises a couple of questions.
Primarily, if “The Key” was confabulated, might well have “Communion” been? Or “The Secret School”? Both books purport to document literal, physical events. Though it’s been years since I’ve read it, I remember being impressed with “The Secret School” at the time. The difference between these two books and “The Key” is that there’s somewhat of a documentation trail involving “The Key,” and the contradictions in “The Key” invite skeptical analysis.
Secondarily, if confabulated, how? Despite his early equivocations, I tend to think that Strieber is firmly convinced that his hotel encounter with the “Master” was a “real” event. When confronted with the textual contradictions, as documented by Moltke, Strieber overreacts with confused defensiveness, as if he’s lost his footing and can’t completely recover the memory of the event. If he had simply made the story up, I tend to think that he would have reacted evasively.
Moltke argues that “at this stage, given the problems reconciling all of Strieber’s accounts of the scenario, the most charitable reading that can be given is that Strieber had a true encounter that was ‘hyperdimensional’”, which seems to be a polite way of saying that it was hallucinated—albeit a hallucination that is lengthy, three-dimensional, and interactive.
This all may explain Strieber’s obsessive, lifelong quest to obtain validation and proof of his core “Communion” experience.
Considering that hallucinations are, by their nature, not objectively observable by others, we simply have to accept the experiencer’s testimony of the hallucination as “true”—unless the experiencer proves to be an unreliable narrator (which, Moltke seems to suggest, Strieber is).
My gut instinct is that a “valid” supernatural experience will have a certain consistency... it may be strange and unverifiable, but the accounting of it will remain consistent over time. And while we should hope that it has a positive impact on the experiencer’s life, at the very least, we should be concerned if the experience seems disruptive and destabilizing and interferes with the experiencer’s daily life. We should certainly question the experience’s nature—and origin—if it seems malignant. We understand relatively little about the nature of consciousness, or the nature of the human personality. A malignant experience may contain an element of truth and may impart valid and useful information. But if it destabilizes the experiencer, we should be concerned.
I think that the contradictions of Strieber’s experience—and the incoherent narrative that results from it—have a simple explanation. He may have had a valid experience, but it may not have been a “true” one.
A while back, I blogged quite a bit about the dangerously negative effects surrounding the whole “human abduction” narrative, both from the standpoint of the experiencer, the investigator—as well as the student. Basically, as useful as it might be to know if abductions are happening—more-so, if the “government” is behind it all—uncovering these experiences seems to have a damaging effect upon all associated with them, damage that has been extensively documented. I increasingly view “The Key” as the product of an interaction with an intelligence that cannot be trusted to be of any benefit.