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Whiteman, J H M

Category: Musician or composer

This biography was extracted from the Colin Smythe website

A review in the Cape Times (South Africa) of November 7, 2006, commenced with the remark, “Michael Whiteman, mathematician, musician and mystic, turned 100 last week, but is far too busy with his music and his writing to think of dying.” That still held true on February the 3rd, 2007, when I spoke to him on the phone during one of our customary phone-calls. I always had the impression of speaking to someone half his actual age, an impression supported by a perfectly steady hand and, according to reports, still great dexterity at the piano. All this came to a sudden end on the 5th of February when he was found dead in his home by his devoted daughter, having suffered a heart attack.

            Joseph Hilary Michael Whiteman was born in London into a distinguished family. His father, using his stage name Sydney Carroll, was a publisher, editor, dramatic critic and impresario; among other achievements he founded the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and `discovered’ Vivienne Leigh. His mother encouraged a rigorous mental training, ensuring the best education and persuading him to enter a Pelman course of mind-training, which introduced him to the practice of focusing on perceptual details without any theorizing and as if time had stopped. It then allowed “timeless recall” of particular sensations in which time had become like space. This practice became a major feature of his inner development. He received no training in mystical or occult practices.

One of four children, Michael obtained an MA in mathematics at Caius College, Cambridge, where he obtained a first class in the mathematics tripos. He met his musician wife at Staffords School in Harrow Wealds, where he was scholastic head. They emigrated to South Africa in 1937. His professional life there was divided principally between teaching applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town, and music at Rhodes University College.

He retired from the University of Cape Town in 1972 with the title of Emeritus Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics. Earlier, the University of Cape Town awarded him a Ph.D. for a thesis on the philosophical foundations of mathematics, and a M.Mus. for composition. He took part in musical performances, conducting and teaching, and for 55 years was journal editor for the South African Society of Music Teachers. His editorials are outstanding pieces of musical scholarship, and it may be hoped that the SASMT will re-publish at least some of them. He also taught mysticism and Sanskrit to various groups, some attached to the University of Cape Town.

            He joined the SPR in 1953, and was made an honorary member in 1999. His first publication in the field of psychical experience was on angelic choirs in The Hibbert Journal of 1954. In 1956 he published his first paper in the JSPR on separative (out-of-body) experience. His diaries record over 7000 such experiences, which commenced around the age of five. References to his publications relevant to psychical research have been listed in the JSPR of 1994, 1996, 2001 and 2007, where a summary of some aspects of his work may be found. But it will take time fully to evaluate his work – if a full evaluation will ever be possible. What can be said now is that he showed the most diligent attention to accuracy and veracity in everything he wrote.

For his study of mystical writings he gained proficiency in Vedic, Sanskrit, Pali, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and tested all these teachings in the light of his own extensive experience. He was drawn to the phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl, which insists on the importance of direct experiencing free from the “cloak of ideas” which invests current theory-bound science and philosophy. On these grounds, he was critical of much in current physics, philosophy, and parapsychology.

In physics he fretted over the dominance of elementary particle theory over quantum field theory, which he believed was far more penetrating and has greater relevance to psychical research. In philosophy he decried the dependence on the hypothetico-deductive method, which he believed acted blindly in contrast to the phenomenological method where the logical structure of any experience may be seen as self-evident by direct insight. He was critical of the tendency in parapsychology to be trapped in conventional scientific thinking, to be unwilling (or even incapable) of coming to grips with non-physical experience and an understanding of life in worlds other than the physical, such as in separative experience. He saw conventional approaches to show a lack of understanding of appropriate investigation, and lack of direct experience. This view might seem unhelpful to those entrenched in standard scientific method, and may account for only limited influence of his work in parapsychology.

            A biographical sketch may be found at www.whiteman.co.za. More detailed examination of his development is given in his books (1961 pp. 5-22, 1986 pp. 167-175, 2000 pp. 306-343). Here he attempted to show his growing recognition and practice of skills which he termed Recollection (Recollectedness) and Obedience. These skills are directed against tendencies to automaticity, absent-mindedness, self-absorption and indulgence, through the attainment of time-released perception – a freeing of the mind from sense-activity in the world, maintaining a kind of double-consciousness – and dedication to what is right and fitting. An outcome for Whiteman was a deep comprehension of self in all its multiplicity, and of worlds of manifestation in all their multiplicity. His discovery of a feminine core to his being could lead to superficial misunderstanding, but it was the result of unfettered perceiving.

            It is gratifying that he was able to celebrate his 100th birthday among a large circle of friends, admirers and students from many different fields. It is also fortunate that he was able to have in hand the third volume of his trilogy that explored “old and new evidence on the meaning of life” (2006). The meaning of his own life and work will hopefully occupy the attention of an increasing number of people over the years to come. I believe that in studying his work one should attempt to discard any “cloak of ideas”, and follow his phenomenological method by not bringing a battery of theories and preconceptions to the reading. A direct encounter with his ideas was what he hoped for, but in these theory-ridden times he seldom found evidence of it happening.

 JOHN POYNTON

14 Mordern House
Harewood Avenue
London NW1 6NR

J H M Whiteman recorded over 600 full separation out of body experiences in his diaries over the course of the years.  He describes a large number in his book The Mystical Life.  As there are so many, I decided that it might be interesting to juxtapose some against the paintings of Rene Magritte, as from what I can see Rene Magritte was also blessed with similar abilities but painted the observation.  As I cannot put two sources against an observation, however, you will need to go to the Rene Magritte entry to see the observations combined - all listed under 'Rene Magritte and J H M Whiteman'

 

References


Whiteman, J. H. M. (1954) The angelic choirs. The Hibbert Journal 52, 262-277.

Whiteman, J. H. M. (1956) The process of separation and return in experiences fully `out of the body’. PSPR 50, 240-274.

Whiteman, J. H. M. (1961) The Mystical Life. London : Faber.

Whiteman, J. H. M. (1986) Old and New Evidence on the Meaning of Life. Volume 1. An Introduction tp Scientific Mysticism. Gerrards Cross : Colin Smythe.

Whiteman, J. H. M. (2000) Old and New Evidence on the Meaning of Life. Volume 2. The Dynamics of Spiritual Development. Gerrards Cross : Colin Smythe.

Whiteman, J. H. M. (2006) Old and New Evidence on the Meaning of Life. Volume 3. Universal Theology and Life in the Other Worlds. Gerrards Cross : Colin Smyth

Observations

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