The Flip (Book Review)

The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge

by Jeffrey Kripal | Review by Jacob Kyle

Jeffrey J. Kripal’s 2019 book, The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge, is an important contribution to a growing literature that invites us to pierce through the illusions of scientific materialism. Among other things, this materialism, which is indeed the foundational ideology of modern industrial culture, operates according to a politics of knowledge that will not permit the veracity of what Kripal calls “the flip”, which he refers to as a “reversal of perspective” from the “outside of things to the inside of things”. Examples of the flip include near death experiences, precognitive dreams, trauma-induced experiences, and various kinds of mystical events.

According to the pervasive materialist ideology, the flip is nothing but a hallucination, a flight of fantasy, a delusory event that can easily be explained away as some less-than-rigorous thinker’s mistaken perception. In almost exactly 200 pages, Kripal skillfully deconstructs this ideology by rejecting the assumption that matter is primary. He also offers an alternative theory of the function of the brain and problematizes the notion that paranormal experiences are for cranks by offering examples from scientists, philosophers and serious professionals throughout history who have experienced “the flip”.

This list of historical figures who have experienced such a reversal of perspective is a proverbial who’s who of serious scientists and philosophers: Hans Berger, A. J. Ayer, Eben Alexander, and Michael Shermer, to name a few. Kripal’s clearly-stated purpose in highlighting these particular figures is to show that it is not just mystics and “soft-minded” folks who experience radical shifts of consciousness; the flip is a ubiquitous experience that happens indiscriminately despite supposed dividing lines of rigor and expertise. The reason we don’t hear about these events very often is not because they rarely occur, but rather because there is a widespread and largely unconscious process of policing knowledge that is specific to the current prevailing dogmas about what constitutes reality. 

Throughout the book, Kripal is eager to suggest that the flip is not “religious”, per se. It is instead a universal occurrence that is prior to, or below, religion; and religions are, at least originally, expressions of the flip and attempts to transcribe its truth into structures of meaning and representation. In this way, Kripal frees “the flip” from any religious claim and permits the reader to encounter the flip on his or her own terms. 

Kripal does not cohere his argument toward some sort of justification for spiritual practice, as one might expect from such a book. Instead, he makes an argument for a revolution of the humanities, which he says currently are like “candy sprinkles on the cake of science”. As he states, “I want to argue that, even in their present distant secularized forms, the humanities carry something of their original spiritual impulse […]. Accordingly, they carry a certain flipped structure that can well be called ‘prophetic’” (Pg. 170). That flipped structure problematizes the prevailing structures of knowledge in various ways to open up avenues of new ways of seeing and new modes of inquiry. 

The word “prophetic” might strike one as altogether religious, but here again Kripal is suggesting a meaning of that word that transcends religious categories. The prophets being referred to here are not ones pointing to a life beyond this world, but those who are critiquing and challenging a status quo that supports unjust social structures across lines of race, gender and class. Seeing that reality is other than what we’ve been socialized to believe it is is not simply a matter of abstracted spiritual insight; it is an altogether pragmatic event that serves the larger process of supporting those modes of engagement that will help us build a more just and egalitarian world.