Continuing my look at Jane Roberts's 1970 book The Seth Material, today I'll cover chapters 8 through 13. This takes us about two-thirds of the way through the book.
A good part of this section deals with Jane's ESP abilities, which seem to be legitimate (if we can accept her account at face value – and I think we probably can, given the endorsements provided by some parapsychologists). What I find more interesting is the philosophical material purportedly channeled by Jane, speaking with the voice of Seth, a high-level discarnate entity.
Seth's discussion of reincarnation matches up pretty well with my own speculations on the subject. Essentially he tells us that past, present, and future are concepts that don't apply to the higher self. Accordingly, all incarnations are lived simultaneously, even though, as a matter of convenience, they can be described as past or future lives from our current perspective. He explains:
Your idea of time is false. Time as you experience it is an illusion caused by your own physical senses ... The physical senses can only perceive reality a little bit at a time, and so it seems to you that one moment exists and is gone forever, and the next moment comes and like the one before also disappears.
But everything in the universe exists at one time, simultaneously. The first words ever spoken still ring through the universe, and in your terms, the last words ever spoken have already been said, for there is no beginning. It is only your perception that is limited.
There is no past, present, and future. These only appear to those who exist within three-dimensional reality. Since I am no longer in it, I can perceive what you do not. There is also a part of you that is not imprisoned within physical reality, and that part of you knows that there is only an Eternal Now. The part of you who knows this is the whole self …
Pretend that you have several dreams, and you know that you are dreaming. Within each dream, one hundred earthly years may pass, but to you, the dreamer, no time has passed, for you are free of the dimension in which time exists. The time you seem to spend within the dream – or within each life – is only an illusion, and to the inner self no time has passed because there is no time.…
The various reincarnational selves can be superficially regarded as portions of a crossword puzzle, for they are all portions of the whole, and yet they can exist separately.…
What you have instead [of sequential time] is something like the developments narrated in The Three Faces of Eve. You have dominant egos, all a part of an inner identity, dominant in various existences. But the separate existences exist simultaneously. Only the egos involved make the time distinction. 145 BC, A.D. 145, a thousand years in your past, and a thousand years in your future – all exist now.…
It is interesting that the personalities [in Three Faces of Eve] did alternate‚ and all were in existence at once, so to speak, even though only one was dominant at any given time. In the same way, so-called past personalities are present in you now but not dominant … Since all events occur at once in actuality, there is little to be gained by saying that a past event causes a present one. Past experience does not cause present experience. You are forming past, present, and future – simultaneously. Since events appear to you in sequence, this is difficult to explain.
When it is said that certain characteristics form a past life influence or cause present patterns of behavior, such statements – and I have made some of them – are highly simplified to make certain points clear.
The whole self is aware of all of the experiences of all of its egos, and since one identity forms them, there are bound to be similarities between them and shared characteristics. The material I have given you on reincarnation is quite valid, particularly for working purposes, but it is a simplified version of what actually occurs.
Each incarnated personality represents only the tip of the iceberg of the total personality, which is the sum of all its parts. The higher self chooses when and where to be incarnated but cannot control the course of the incarnated personality's life, which is determined, in large part, by the free will choices of the earthly ego. As a result, some incarnations are more successful than others, in the sense that some people will learn the lessons they were intended to learn, while others will not. In the event that a necessary lesson is not learned, a new incarnation is necessary to get the job done.
Souls are often grouped together and reincarnate collectively, playing different roles in different lifetimes. Karma is not a form of punishment. It "presents the opportunity for development. It enables the individual to enlarge understanding through experience, to fill in gaps of ignorance, to do what should be done. Free will is always involved."
When it comes to Seth's discussions of the past lives of particular people who attended the sessions, the material is pretty standard. Happily, no past lives as celebrities are reported, although in one case a person was said to have been a priest in Atlantis. This was, however, the only reference to Atlantis that Seth came up with, which is probably just as well. (For the record, I'm dubious that there was ever a "lost continent" of Atlantis, although it's possible that the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete formed the basis of the legend, and conceivably this is what is meant by Atlantis in such accounts.)
At any rate, the reincarnation material, though impossible to prove and therefore lacking any evidential value, at least dovetails with many other sources and, for what it's worth, with my own speculations on the subject.
When we get into the nature of physical reality, however, difficulties arise. The basic idea of Seth's teaching in this area is that we are constantly forming the physical universe without knowing it. Jane Roberts, speaking for herself rather than as Seth, summarizes:
We form matter in order to operate in three-dimensional reality, develop our abilities and help others. Physical matter is like plastic that we use and mold to our own desire, not like concrete into which our consciousness has been poured. Without realizing it we project our ideas outward to form physical reality. Our bodies are the materialization of what we think we are. We are all creators, then, and this world is our joint creation …
We are not at the mercy of events. We form the events to which we then react.
How does this actually work? According to Seth, everything in the universe has some degree of consciousness, right down to atoms and even subatomic particles. "Even the lowest particle retains its individuality," he claims. He goes on:
Matter is continually created, but no particular object is in itself continuous. There is not, for example, one physical object that deteriorates with age. There are instead continuous creations of psychic energy into a physical pattern that appears to hold a more or less rigid appearance [which deteriorates as the energy behind it weakens, creating the appearance of age].…
Matter of itself … is no more continuous, no more given to growth or age that is, say, the color yellow …
Each individual creates his own space continuum …
As [one of the attendees] sits in his chair, he is constantly creating his own physical image, using his own psychic energy, and using particular atoms and molecules for the construction of his body.
During the session in which these ideas were expressed, several apparitional materialization's were reported that were, according to Seth, his attempt to dramatize the idea that physical reality can be manipulated by the mind.
In a later session, Seth goes into the mechanics of this process. This is where I think we really get into some trouble. He tells us:
Thoughts and images are formed into physical reality and become physical fact. They are propelled chemically. A thought is energy. It begins to produce itself physically at the moment of its conception.
Mental enzymes are connected with the pineal gland. As you know them, body chemicals are physical, but they are the propellants of this thought-energy, containing all the codified data necessary for translating any thought or image into physical actuality …
Chemicals are released through the skin and pore systems, in an invisible but definite pseudophysical formation. The intensity of a thought or image largely determines the immediacy of its physical materialization. There is no object about you that you have not created. There is nothing about your own physical image that you have not made.
The initial thought or image ... is not yet physical. Then it is sparked into physical materialization by the mental enzymes.
If I'm reading this correctly, we're supposed to believe that our particular physical world – which is distinct from every other observer's physical world, albeit with overlapping features – is generated by the release of "chemicals" through the pores of the skin. (And wouldn't you know that the pineal gland, a favorite of mystics and alchemists down through the centuries, would play a role?)
There are at least two problems with this notion, one empirical and one logical.
The empirical problem is that no one has ever detected the release of any such chemicals, though one would think that a release of any chemical substance sufficient to form our entire subjective environment would not go unnoticed. A related empirical problem is that it's hard to see how the human body could contain enough "chemicals" to produce its environment from moment to moment, especially if that environment consists of some massively large object like the Empire State Building.
The logical problem is that the body itself is supposed to be produced from thoughts. But if so, then the chemicals exuded by the body are themselves nothing more than thought-forms. Can thought-forms produce other thought-forms? Why would this even be necessary? If the mind can produce the chemicals of the body directly, why can it not produce all the other physical features of its environment directly, without the need to exude any chemicals – which are, after all, only illusions anyway?
I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea that each individual, as a subjective observer, creates his own bubble of reality, which overlaps with other people's bubbles. This idea has been explored in some detail by Bernardo Kastrup in his paper "Making Sense of the Mental Universe," and though I have some issues with that paper, which I may get into sometime, it's at least an interesting idea and could be true. But this whole business of exuding chemicals through the skin strikes me as silly and even self-contradictory.
The other major subject tackled by Seth in these chapters is health. Here we have the fairly standard New Age idea that we can maintain our health by thinking the right thoughts. Perhaps this was more of a novelty in 1970 than it is today – I'm not sure. In any event, I'm skeptical of such assertions. For one thing, I think they give far too much power to our thoughts, which can lead us to be afraid of our own thinking. Seth says as much at one point, when addressing a particular sitter who was plagued by poor health:
You must watch the pictures that you paint with your imagination, for you allow your imagination too full a reign. If you read our early material, you will see that your environment and the conditions of your life in any given time are the direct result of your own inner expectations. You form physical materializations of these realities within your own mind.
If you imagine dire circumstances, ill health, or desperate loneliness, these will be automatically materialized, for these thoughts themselves bring about the conditions that will give them reality in physical terms. If you would have good health, then you must imagine this as vividly as in fear you imagine the opposite.
You create your own difficulties. This is true for each individual. The inner psychological state is projected outward, gaining physical reality – and this regardless of the nature of the psychological state …
You cannot escape your own attitudes, for they will form the nature of what you see.
There is probably some truth in this. It's hard to deny that our expectations condition, to a certain extent, what we pay attention to in our environment. If we expect bad news, we focus on it. But to draw the larger conclusion that we will materialize anything that we vividly imagine seems unrealistic and unhelpful. Its practical result is to make people feel that they themselves are responsible for their own illness, not necessarily a healthy attitude.
Overall, I continue to find the Seth teachings a very mixed bag. I do think that Jane Roberts had legitimate psychic abilities and was a sincere spiritual seeker. I don't think she was just in it for the money, though undoubtedly she did quite well with her series of books on Seth. But it's one thing to say that she was channeling some kind of information that came, at least in part, from a discarnate source, and another thing to say that the claims made by this source are entirely trustworthy. There may have been errors in transmission, or maybe Seth wasn't all that he was made out to be. Who knows?
Anyway, I'll continue to the end – though I have to admit that I'm starting to find the book to be a bit of a long slog.