Saturday, June 28, 2008

Objectivism & Religion, Part 14

Evidence for religion. A widespread prejudice among the anti-religious is that no evidence exists for religious phenomena as miracles, God, and the after-life. This is a bit of an exaggeration. There are, as a matter of fact, evidentiary claims made on behalf of all religious phenomena. The religious, for instance, consider their scriptures to constitute evidence, arguing that such scriptures constitute the history of actual events as related by eyewitnesses. And it would be a mere semantic quibble to deny that such things are evidence. The question is whether they constitute valid or relevant evidence. In this light, scriptural evidence, once subjected to rigorous textual criticism, falls way short of the mark.

There are, to be sure, other types of evidence. In Patrick Glynn’s book, God: The Evidence we find a sample of some of the evidentary claims made on behalf of religious faith. First, there is the run through of the improbable universe evidence which, though greatly strengthens the case for agnosticism and gives a generous toehold to deism, hardly gets us to a legitimate position of actual religious faith, with all the concomitant theological bells and whistles. Glynn then offers us some intriguing though hardly conclusive evidence of the utility of religion as psychological therapy and medical placebo. But evidence of utility can hardly be equated with evidence of truth or existence. We know from Sorel and Pareto that false views, or “myths,” can be useful despite being false. So what, then, is Glynn left with? He presents, in his last chapter on evidence, one of the stranger and more confounding phenomena to confront human intelligence in recent years, so-called near death experiences (NDE), with their bizarre tunnels, “mystical” lights, out-of-body experiences and “life reviews.”

Objectivism, of course, would reject the very notion that such experiences could be evidence of anything other than a warped epistemology. The so-called “paranormal,” as Objectivists have told me, is a contradiction, and therefore can’t exist. It’s a claim that a person can sense things that don’t come from the senses—a palpable absurdity. This view, however, is based on a confusion regarding logic. Contradictions can only exist between two propositions. No single claim about a matter of fact, regardless of how strange or incongruous with normal experience, can ever be a contradiction. It can only be a contradiction in relation to another claim of truth; and it is only false if it contradicts a claim that is actually true. Hence what Objectivists are really saying is that the paranormal contradicts some principle of reality which the Objectivists regard as true. Yet in making that claim, the Objectivist is surreptitiously assuming the very point at issue, and is himself committing a logical fallacy.

The first prerequisite for attaining any kind of rational understanding of such strange phenomena as NDEs and the like is to overcome the modern assumption that such things are impossible. Such an assumption may be practical and prudent in everyday life. The historical evidence, however, when impartially collected, is, as the philosopher Santayana noted, “far from supporting it, and logically it is untenable. Logically everything is possible; and if a certain sequence of events happens not to be found in our experience, nothing proves that it may not occur beyond.”

With this in mind, let us examine the naturalistic explanation of NDE, known as the “dying brain hypothesis,” compliments of Susan Blackmore:

Severe stress, extreme fear and cerebral anoxia all cause cortical disinhibition and uncontrolled brain activity, and we already have most of the ideas needed to understand why this should cause NDEs. Tunnels and lights are frequently caused by disinhibition in visual cortex, and similar noises occur during sleep paralysis. OBEs [i.e., Out-of-Body-Experiences] and life reviews can be induced by temporal lobe stimulations… The visions of other worlds and spiritual beings might be real glimpses into another world, but against that hypothesis is evidence that people generally describe other worlds that fit their cultural upbringing. For example, Christians report seeing Jesus, angels and a door or gate to heaven, while Hindus are more likely to meet the king of the dead and his messengers, the Yamdoots.

For the most part, this is a respectable hypothesis—though it is only a hypothesis, as Blackmore herself has stated. I would merely quibble with the relevance of playing the temporal-lobe-stimulation card. Blackmore is not bringing up lobe stimulations merely to disprove that NDEs provide a glimpse into another world: she is also using them to reaffirm the epiphenomenal nature of consciuosness. The fact that specific characteristics of NDEs can be artificially stimulated allegedly proves that NDEs are brain events arising from physical processes. This is the steam-whistle theory of consciousness smuggled into the discussion on NDEs. It should raise alarms even among those who believe that NDEs are purely “natural” phenomenon.

What about the other side of the argument? Is there any possibility that these NDEs constitute a veritable intimation of immortality—a glimpse into the “undiscover’d country from whose bourne no traveller returns”? Those who regard NDEs as evidence for an after-life attempt to stress the difficulty of explaining them on materialistic or conventionally naturalistic grounds. Even Blackmore concedes that some phenomenon associated with NDEs could potentially raise problems for materialism. She relates the experience of a 44 year old man who, while still comatose, had his dentures removed by a nurse. When he saw the same nurse for the first time a week later, he said, “Oh, that nurse knows where my dentures are.” (Supposedly, during his NDE, this individual had seen the nurse remove his dentures.) There are other reports of individuals having out-of-body experiences during NDEs and remembering seeing things they could not have possibly witnessed while comatose. One of the strangest episodes involves singer and songwriter Pam Reynolds, who was subjected to a desperate procedure to remove a grossly swollen blood in the brain stem in which her body temperature was lowered to sixty degrees. All her vital signs, including her EEG brain waves, flattened to silence. As the surgeon began cutting her skull, Reynold’s felt herself “pop” outside her body and hover above the operating table. She would later describe, with considerable accuracy for a person who knew nothing about surgical practice, the Midas Rex bone saw used to cut into her head. She also described the nurses in the operating room and listened to what they were saying. In short, a very strange experience all way around, very difficult to explain on materialistic grounds. “These cases are potentially important,” admits Blackmore, “because if they are true, then there is something seriously wrong with all materialist and functionalist theories of consciousness.”

Do such experiences constitute, not merely proof against materialism, but evidence for God and the after-life? That is difficult to say. While NDEs aren’t easily explicable on conventionally naturalistic grounds, perhaps its the narrowness of this conventional naturalism that is at fault. Nature, after all, may be as strange as she likes. Yet I can hardly blame those who have experienced NDEs for regarding them as a glimpse into the after-life and as evidence for their religious convictions. To be sure, whether they are or not, no one really knows. But it is not irrational or “mystical” to suspect they might be. We will all find out one way or the other at some point. Until then, we’re all just guessing.


Michael Prescott said...

Although I think NDEs are good evidence for postmortem survival, I've found that the Pam Reynolds case is often misreported. It's true that Reynolds eventually flat-lined on the operating table (as the surgical team intended), but the verifiable part of her NDE occurred earlier in the procedure, at a point when she was sedated and deeply unconscious, but not flat-lining.

Her experience remains interesting because she was not only sedated but had her eyes covered and her ears occluded. Later she accurately described the opening of her skull - but this happened before her body temperature was lowered to induce hypothermia.

Of course, this is only one of many such cases which have been reported for decades (long before the phenomenon was popularized by Raymond Moody's 1975 book Life After Life, in which the the "near-death experience" was coined). Many skeptical hypotheses have been proposed, but none covers the full gamut of cases.

Jay said...

Couldn't near death experiences be the brain releasing endorphins? I've heard that when a person drowns it actually feels beautiful, like you're slipping into a deep sleep.

PS: If we're all just guessing, I'd say atheism is the more educated guess.

Dragonfly said...

Hey, is this becoming a woo-woo site or what?

gregnyquist said...

Dragonfly: "Hey, is this becoming a woo-woo site or what?"

Is this suggesting that topics relating to the paranormal should never be discussed at all—that such discussion is perhaps offensive? Isn't that a bit of an extreme position. Given Objectivism own brand of extremism on this subject, I thought we had to have one post that addresses the subject; and I further thought that focusing on the most interesting and the least implausible (and in some ways, best documented) of these phenomenon, NDEs would be the way to go—particularly given my own skepticism regarding such phenomenon, as I wanted to give as good a case on their behalf as I possibly could. Now Objectivists don't even want these phenomenon to be studied scientifically, since they believe that, on metaphysical grounds, they can be dismissed out of hand. As a fallibilist, that is not a position I can accord with. The path of inquiry must never be blocked by metaphysical injunctions. NDEs, regardless of whatever implications they may or may not have regarding life after death, are worthy of scientific and psychological study. At the very least, they have a very real effect, in terms of attitude and conduct, on those that have them, and if for no other reason than this, are deserving of study and investigation. The suggestion that they are somehow "woo-hoo" suggests a psychological discomfort with them, as if they represent some kind of threat. But why should they be a threat? Perhaps in the end we will discover that they are entirely natural processes. Yet we will never make such a discovery unless we discuss and investigate them.

Michael Prescott said...

Hey, is this becoming a woo-woo site or what?

With all the discussion of Atlas Shrugged, I always thought of it more as a choo-choo site.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "Couldn't near death experiences be the brain releasing endorphins?"

Possibly. But I'm skeptical that NDEs will ever be explicable on materialist grounds. If a non-religious explanation is discovered, it's going to be based on non-materialist version of naturalism that believes in that mind and consciousness have at least some role in human willing and aren't mere epiphenomenon.

Jay: "If we're all just guessing, I'd say atheism is the more educated guess."

I could almost agree with this except for one thing: would we come to an atheist (or at least non-theist, mortalist, agnostic) conclusion if we had experienced one of these NDEs ourselves? Atheist and agnostics have had them, and many such people (perhaps most) have "converted" to some kind of religious or "spiritual" outlook as a result. I tend to believe in the cognitive primacy experience. There are, of course, exceptions. The experiences of lunatics and chronically credulous people can be disregarded. But NDEs are not confined merely to the cognitively suspect. They happen to people from all walks of life; and those that have them generally, regardless of what they may have believed before the experience, tend to regard them as a glimpse into an after-life. This conviction doesn't make them right, but I can't bring myself to say absolutely that they are or must be wrong, because I don't know if I would agree with that if I had an NDE myself.

Wells said...

I'm with Dragonfly on this. The problem with the study of paranormal events is that every time the bright lights on inquiry are shined on things like that, the phenomena being studied vanishes, almost like a ghost.
It's woo-woo because there probably isn't anything else there.

Anonymous said...

But for fun let's consider the supernatural. Nobody has ever described it correctly (If it exists mind you, which I doubt), and nobody ever will. The brain of a human is made of matter like everything else and the mind is dependent on the brain, it's only going to hold thoughts about natural things. Anyone's conception of God, Near Death Experiences (To include people who say they have had them), Spoon bending (not the magic trick kind), or anything else will have to be wrong at best. If it is not literally blowing your mind to the point of smoke coming out of your ears and you babbling like a loon but speaking no words, it's probably closer to wish fulfillment than truth.

Mark Plus said...

How does an "afterlife" mean "immortality"? Evidence for an afterlife doesn't establish the eternal survival of human minds, only that human minds could apparently survive somewhat longer than we had previously expected.

Damien said...

Mark Plus,

But to keep living after death, at least part of your mind would have to survive the grave, since you would have no physical body after death. If you were to continue to exist after death, you could only exist as a conscious or semi conscious non physical entity, because the body is no longer usable after death. Theoretically, your soul could be immortal and continue to exist without a body.

Dragonfly said...

Damien: "Theoretically, your soul could be immortal and continue to exist without a body."

No, that's not possible. What we call our "soul" is that part of us that can think and remember, our consciousness. But thinking and remembering are physical processes. It is a complex and sophisticated form of information processing, and we know that there is a certain amount of energy required to process information. In this sense information is a pattern in matter and/or radiation and processing of information is changing such patterns. Therefore information processing (implying thinking, memory, consciousness) is inexorably coupled to a physical substrate. Non-physical information processing is a meaningless concept, like non-physical light or non-physical matter.

The whole notion of a soul that survives physical death is of course pure wishful thinking. In general we don't like the idea that at a certain moment the game is over. "I'm going to die, shit! isn't there a way out?" Small wonder that religions that promise some kind of survival (at the price of behaving properly during your lifetime on Earth) have had so much success, certainly at the time when the physical background of thinking was completely unknown. But now we should know better. An "immortal soul" is a primitive notion that has no place in modern science. Information processing stops when you switch off the computer or kill the body. You'll just have to live with that...

Michael Prescott said...

Probably the best book presenting evidence for a nonphysical mind is the massive (800-page) tome Irreducible Mind, by Williams & Williams, et al. It's very expensive, but indispensable for anyone seriously interested in the subject. A good review of the book is found here.

Regarding the idea that thinking is a physical process - no one doubts that the brain employs physical processes. The question is whether thoughts originate in the brain or are simply processed by the brain. To use a common analogy, a TV set is necessary to translate a TV signal into pictures and sounds, but the signal does not originate inside the TV set, and it will continue even if the TV set is turned off.

Dogmatism on this point is unwarranted. Neuroscience has not even begun to solve "the hard problem" of the relationship between thoughts and neuronal activity.

However, if your worldview works for you, stick with it. We all have our own path to follow, and none of us knows the ultimate truth about such things.

Michael Prescott said...

by Williams & Williams, et al.

Oops. It should read Kelly & Kelly et al.

Dragonfly said...

There isn't any doubt that thoughts originate in the brain. That we are still far away from understanding all the details is no argument. We still don't know the exact mechanisms at work in thunderstorms and lightning, but we can be sure that it is a physical phenomenon in which ions, electrons and electric fields play an important role, there is no reason to think that the theory of Zeus hurling thunderbolts is a viable alternative. That would be a variant of the "god of the gaps" argument: if you can't explain everything at this moment, there must be a supernatural explanation. Not. (That point is also made by Topher Cooper in his reaction to that review of Irreducible Mind.)

There exists for example a large amount of data concerning the influence of certain chemicals or physical stimulation or damage of the brain on our thoughts and even our whole personality. We find in nature the whole range from the simplest information processing by primitive animals to the highly sophisticated information processing by the human brain, the result of a mindless process of evolution. The global picture is clear, even if many details still have to be filled in. In contrast, supernatural explanations are no explanations at all, they're only an escape. Sorry, no energy transfer, no thoughts.

Michael Prescott said...

There exists for example a large amount of data concerning the influence of certain chemicals or physical stimulation or damage of the brain on our thoughts and even our whole personality.

Very true. And if you hit a TV set with a hammer and damage it, the picture and sound may be distorted. But the signal isn't damaged; it exists outside the TV set.

Speaking of "a large amount of data," there's 800 pages of data in Irreducible Mind suggesting that consciousness is (or can) be extracerebral. No theory that fails to take account of these data can be correct. There's just too much it leaves unexplained.

Anyway, that's how I look at it.

Namaste. :)

Wells said...

The Television set is actually a bad analogy.

The radio waves that a television picks up are as physical as the actual television set. As is the transmission equipment that generates the said waves.

Information requires physical media to store it. And the physical only interacting with the physical is an assumption that is good for everything else in creation. Human beings are pretty interesting, but unique physics that is obeyed by nothing else is not needed to explain them.

Daniel Barnes said...

>Information requires physical media to store it.

Hi Wells

Yes, but the argument - at least from a Popperian POV - is that the physical media is necessary, but not sufficient, to explain abstract information.

For example, a book of logarithm tables is physically published. Yet we notice that it contains a mistake.

It is a mistake compared to what?

Dragonfly said...

A mistake compared to the correct values. Abstract isn't the same as supernatural... We invent rules about abstract entities that give consistent results, so we get consistent results. What's there to explain about it?

gregnyquist said...

Dragonfly: "But thinking and remembering are physical processes."

Are they only physical processes? If they are, then how do you escape the conclusion that mind and consciousness must be epiphenomenal?

The error here seems to be the all-too-human tendency to regard causation as a simple billiard ball striking billiard ball process. But as anyone knows who studies complex system, causation doesn't work this way: causation is plural and reciprocal. The mind-brain-self-will are most likely a complex system involving causal interdependence that is far too complex for the mind to grasp in a single thought or intuition.

It is precisely from a model of this of the mind-brain relationship that there can be any hope of discovering a natural explanation NDEs. To adopt a materialist outlook in order to rule out even the most benign vestiges of religion and theism is like amputating one's foot in order to prevent an ingrown toenail. It's allowing religion to force one into adopting an extreme position. Even worse, it plays right into the hands of dogmatic religionists, who want to claim that the debate is not between religion and non-religion, or theism and non-theism, but between religious theism on one side, and materialism on the other—as if materialism were the only alternative!

gregnyquist said...

Mark Plus: "How does an 'afterlife' mean 'immortality'? Evidence for an afterlife doesn't establish the eternal survival of human minds, only that human minds could apparently survive somewhat longer than we had previously expected."

This is the best argument that can be made against immortalist and other religious notions drawn from NDEs, because it avoids the commitment to materialism made by those who say immortalism is impossible because the mind and soul are soley the products of physical processes and it emphasizes the epistemological shot-in-dark quality of immortalist inferences from NDEs. When we talk about possibilities on a subject that goes beyond the limits of the human mind, we really are taking shots in the dark with the hope of hitting something solid.

Dragonfly said...

Greg: "Are they only physical processes? If they are, then how do you escape the conclusion that mind and consciousness must be epiphenomenal?"

Well, of course mind and consciousness are epiphenomenal. No matter how complex they are, there is no essential mystery, no need for skyhooks, to use Dennett's metaphor.

"The mind-brain-self-will are most likely a complex system involving causal interdependence that is far too complex for the mind to grasp in a single thought or intuition."

That the mind is an enormously complex system doesn't imply that it must contain supernatural elements and that it cannot in principle be completely reduced to purely physical events. The materialist outlook is the only scientific outlook, the rest is fantasy. There isn't a shred of evidence that there is a soul that survives bodily death (NDE's are certainly no evidence for that), and it would go against everything that we know about physics, biology, physiology and information theory.

Wells said...

Greg Nyquest said
If they are, then how do you escape the conclusion that mind and consciousness must be epiphenomenal?

You say that like it's some kind of bad thing.

In real life there are plenty of things that work like a materialist would describe the mind and the brain.

For instance a Corporation would be a piece of paper if it wasn't for the actions of its owners and agents. A State really would be just a flag if it wasn't for its citizens and bureaucrats. A software program is just a description of some process unless there is a computer to run it.

The stretch comes not from saying that mind exists because something else, in this case the brain, takes it and runs with it. We see that in the case of other things.
The real stretch is saying the mind works differently from everything else in the universe.

Michael Prescott said...

There isn't a shred of evidence that there is a soul that survives bodily death

Actually, there is a great deal of evidence - enough to have convinced many open-minded skeptics. Only those who won't look at it can continue to claim it's not there.

For anyone reading this thread who is interested in the evidence, here are a few recommended books:

Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of the Afterlife, by Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum.

Immortal Remains: The Evidence for Life after Death, by University of Maryland philosopher Stephen E. Braude.

Mediumship and Survival: A Century of Investigations, by Alan Gauld.

Any of these books will provide the serious reader with plenty to think about.

ctyo said...

I'd also like to add the massive 1,800 page "Recincarnation and Biology" by Ian Stevenson to that list.

Zetetic_chick said...

On afterlife research, I'd recommend the classic "On the edge of etheric" by Arthur Findlay and (more recently) "Your eternal self" by Dr.Craig Hogan.

A critical look at ephiphenomenalism can be read in this paper:

The author (Titus Rivas) is a philosopher and researcher of NDEs:

Congratulations for this blog!

Daniel Barnes said...

Hey thanks, Zetetic Chick...;-)

Leo MacDonald said...

Their is a overwhelming amount of evidence in support of an afterlife. All of the evidence appears to support eternal survival why? because number one we have cases of reincarnation of people living much more than one life.Their is lots of cases of spirits coming back to earth communicating after very long time after their deaths. Also their is evidence of animals also surviving.

Update on evidence for survival of bodily death and evidence that the mind is more than the brain
1. minds change water crystals

2. the brain just reflects what the mind has already seen


4. The newspaper tests overcoming super esp

5. The book tests overcoming telepathy

6. The first book test

7. Replicable evidence for an anomalous information transfer

8. Channeling evidence for a pk effect to independent observers

9. The r-101 case

10. Ian Stevenson's reincarnation research

11. Anomalous Information Reception by Research Mediums Demonstrated Using a Novel Triple-Blind Protocol

12. Voices on tape electronic voice phenomena

13. Remote Viewing

14. The amazing DD Home

15. The honolulu case

16. The paranormal: the evidence and its implications for consciousness

17. The cross correspondences

18. Animals and the afterlife

19. Recordings of deceased people talking

20. The very best cases demonstrating the survival of the human personality after the demise of the physical body.

21. Psychic mediums beat million to one odds

22. The scole experiment

23. The proxy sittings

24. Verdical out of body perception cases's_nde.htm's_nde.htm's_nde.htm's_nde.htm's_nde.htm's_nde.htm's_nde.htm's_nde.htm

1. The case of Al Sullivan: Al was a 55 year old truck driver who was undergoing triple by-pass surgery when he had a powerful NDE that included an encounter with his deceased mother and brother-in-law, who told Al to go back to his to tell one of his neighbors that their son with lymphoma will be OK. Furthermore, during the NDE, Al accurately noticed that the surgeon operating on him was flapping his arms in an unusual fashion, with his hands in his armpits. When he came back to his body after the surgery was over, the surgeon was startled that Al could describe his own arm flapping, which was his idiosyncratic method of keeping his hands sterile.

2. The case of the Chinese woman: The author Maggie Callanan in her 1993 book, Final Gifts, wrote about an elderly Chinese woman who had an NDE in which she saw her deceased husband and her sister. She was puzzled since her sister wasn't dead, or so she thought. In actuality, her family had hid her sister's recent death from her for fear of upsetting her already fragile health.

3. The case of Pam Reynolds:This is reported by Michael Sabom in his book Light and Death. Pam Reynolds underwent a very risky operation to remove an aneurysm from her brain, in which her brain was drained totally of its blood so that the doctors could clip off the swollen blood vessel. During this procedure, Pam had a deep NDE in which she saw all of the details of the operation and later reported on it with complete accuracy, even though she was "dead" by usual criteria (no heartbeat or respiration, and a flat EEG) for much of it.

4. Cases of the blind who can see: As recorded by Kenneth Ring in his book, Mind Sight, there is solid evidence for 31 cases in which blind people report visually accurate information obtained during an NDE.'s_nde.htm's_nde.htm's_nde.htm's_nde.htm's_nde.htm's%20NDE.htm's_nde.htm's_nde.htm's_2614_nde.htm

25. Blind woman sees during nde

26. Near death experiences

27. Out of body experiences

28. Consciousness more compatiable with quantum physics then classical physics

29. You can read the Irreducible Mind Book free here
for more evidence that the mind is irreducible to the brain such phenomena they discuss is stigmata, internal impressions etc.

30. The ganzfeld debate

31. Crisis apparitions

32. Biases and blinkering mentality

33. Effects of Frontal Lobe Lesions on Intentionality and Random Physical Phenomena

34. Observation of a pk effect under highly controlled conditions

35. Effects of Intentionally Enhanced Chocolate on Mood

36. Xenoglossy

37. Poltergeist phenomena

38. Apparitions and afterdeath contacts

39. The ouija board and drop in communicators

40. Reincarnation

41. Psychic laboratory experiments

42. Direct Voice Mediums

43. Deathbed Visions

44. Back from the dead?

45. Distinguished researches found evidence for survival after bodily death

46. Seeing without eyes

47. Various scientific studies on psi and life after death

48. Animal telepathy

49. Neuron firing is indeterminate

That is, the behavior of any given neuron and its firing is probabalistic. In other words, sometimes a neuron will fire under stimulus, and other times not. This is almost certainly because neural firing is mediated by the behavior of ions within the synaptic gap, and the behavior of those ions is subject to quantum fluctuations. Because the firing of a single neuron can be amplified through thousands or millions of other neurons throughout large areas of the the brain, and trigger motor neurons, this gives the possibility for individual quantum events to determine gross motor behaviors (shall I give the possible example of neurons controlling muscles in fingers typing a blog entry?). To a large degree, the brain can be seen as a device for magnifying the effects of quantum indeterminancy to the macro-scale, and if those quantum fluctuations are somehow influenced by consciousness, they can use them to drive behavior.

50. Scientific observation of mediums

Anonymous said...

Here is a site briefly discussing the evidence for the afterlife with links for more information:

This page also gives a skpetic's definition of scientific proof which seems to fit the evidence for the afterlife. It also discusses Nobel prize winning scientists who investigated the evidence for the afterlife and recognized there is something going on that science cannot explain.

It's easy to make dismissive assumptions about the evidence for the after life which do not hold up upon further investigation, so if you really want to understand the evidence you have to investigate it for youself. The people who read this blog should be interested in rational thinking so if you don't know what the evidence is, you ought to have a good look at it.

(All the conventional theories for NDE do not explain the observed phenomena.)

william said...

Zetetic chick: I just finished this book on the edge of the etheric and found it a very interesting read. Sloan the medium worked 12-hour days and read few books yet he could bring people though that knew the sitters and intimate details about their lives. Also I thought Findlay did a good job of investigation to consider other explanations for this medium’s ability to bring though relatives of the sitters.

Why does it so often have to be an Indian chief as the spirit guide? Findlay asked that same question but the answer was unsatisfactory from my point of view. Anytime an Indian chief or a famous person comes through I get very suspicious.

Would love to see how an ultra skeptic would respond to the evidence in that book. I suspect they would say Findlay was lying or Sloan somehow tricked them or Sloan was able to use telepathic communication, which Findlay ruled out.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in evidence of life after death and what it may be like on the other side.

Dragonfly said...

Oh my, the paranormalists are certainly flooding this site...

As it's impossible to check every link dumped here, I've just looked up a few at random. And what do I find: the same old stories that have been debunked long ago, some of them even dating from the 19th century! Those old cases are of course far more spectacular than what we see today: levitations, ectoplasm, "materializations", ghost hands, flying trumpets, etc. etc. Now why where those sessions with mediums at that time so spectacular compared to the mere dull "channeling" of today's mediums? The answer is of course that today no one could get away with such cheap tricks under controlled conditions with modern detection techniques.

Another link was to a book by the sensationalist writer John G. Fuller, a man who for example believes that a "psychic surgeon" can operate with scissors that remove a tumor on their own (or steered by a ghost). Well, if that kind of books is presented as evidence...

A good antidote is for example A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology, edited by Paul Kurtz, Prometheus Books, which btw also contains some chapters by believers like Scott Rogo, John Beloff and Douglas M. Stokes.

Leo Macdonald: "To a large degree, the brain can be seen as a device for magnifying the effects of quantum indeterminancy to the macro-scale, and if those quantum fluctuations are somehow influenced by consciousness, they can use them to drive behavior."

That is incorrect. See for example:

Maximilian Schlosshauer, Decoherence and the Quantum-to-classical Transition, Ch. 9, Springer 2007.

E. Joos et al. Decoherence and the Appearance of a Classical World in Quantum Theory, 3.2.5, 2nd edition, Springer 2003.

F.H. Eeckman, J.M. Bower, Computation and Neural Systems, Kluwer, Boston 1993.

R.L. Harvey, Neural Network Principles, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1994

D.J. Amit, Modeling Brain Functions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989.

M. Tegmark, Importance of quantum decoherence in brain processes, Phys. Rev. E 61, 4194-4206 (2000)

C. Seife, Cold numbers unmake the quantum mind, Science 287, 791 (2004)

Zetetic_chick said...


Yes, I totally agree with you. Findlay's book is great. Event thought that book was written many decades ago, I think that a critical study of it will reveal to any open mind skeptic and truth-seeker that something interesting was happening. At least, it will create reasonable doubts in his mind.

In my view, if you take account all the details and evidence in that book, it's very hard to dismiss it as a trick from the medium. It's not a plausible explanaition.

The only alternative for a debunker seems to be to force the gratuitous interpretation that Findlay was lying. But it will be based on debunker's prejudices and subjetive opinion (or a hasty generalization based on fraudulent mediums), not in the concrete evidence of that book.

Craig Hogan's book is different. It was written this year (2008). It has a lot of documentation, references and evidence (anecdotal and scientific) from many sources.

In my view, that book makes a powerful case for the possibility (and reality?) of afterlife.

In my opinion, the discussion about psi and afterlife isn't only about evidence; it's about our metaphisical preconceptions too.

If we have a metaphisical system of beliefs (like most materialist systems) that excludes a priori the possibility of afterlife or psi, you will never accept them, regardless of the evidence. You'll always interpret it as product of fraud or delusion, because it will be the only interpretation consistent with your worldview (and human mind try to be consistent in matter of beliefs; if not, it suffers of cognitive dissonance)

It's the reason why it's a waste of time trying to "convince" a debunker with arguments or evidence. It's in most cases, from a psychological point of view (and for all the practical purposes), impossible.

You can't convince any person who wants to protect their worldview from any doubts or questioning (it applies to any person with a dogmatic attitude or very convinced of their own beliefs, including a dogmatic believer in psi or afterlife). They always will have a way out (by using the words of a well known debunker)

In his extraordinary book "parapsychology and the skeptics" (the best I've read on psi controversy), Chris Carter documents and explain in depth the philosophical basis of psi controversy, and how that philosophy determine the interpretation of the data. The same is applicable (and with more reason) to afterlife.

By the way, Carter's next books will cover afterlife controversy and evidence. Stay tuned!

Art said...

People who have NDE's routinely make statements in the description of their experience that sounds like it came straight out of Michael Talbot's book The Holographic Universe. Ken Ring, in his book, Life At Death, devotes a whole chapter to the holographic universe. Melvin Morse in his book, Where God Lives, devotes several pages to the parallels or corroboration between NDE's and the holographic universe. The Life Review is a holographic experience par excellance. I'm not sure it's even possible to really understand NDE's unless one understands the holographic paradigm. And by the way, we don't have a clue where or how consciousness arises, nor where or how memories are stored. All we have are theories and speculation.

Leo MacDonald said...

The reason why I believe that their is life after death is not because it makes me feel good. But because i one day,I did a search on the net to see if their if this ridiculous idea[ yes that was what i thought before] had any possible scientific backup].

Apparently, it does it took months for this evidence to sink in at first I did not believe it at all. But after reading, extensively with an open minded I concluded that their truly is overwhelming scientific evidence to support a view of an afterlife.

By the way I think Physicist Henry Stapp, Dr.Stuart Hameroff, Physicist Roger Penrose would disagree with you dragonfly.

Who are you to say what is possible
? The brain is not a computer.

Dragonfly said...

The arguments of Stapp, Hameroff and Penrose are definitely refuted in the references I gave. Penrose's Gödel argument against the brain as a computer has been refuted in a formal argument by Taner Edis: How Gödel's Theorem Supports the Possibility of Machine Intelligence, Minds and Machines, Vol. 8 Nr. 2, November 1998, and by Daniel Dennett in Darwin's Dangerous Idea, The Penguin Press 1998. Ch. 15: The Emperor's New Mind, and Other Fables.

Art said...

Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real. - Niels Bohr
from an article by Dr. Pimm Van Lommel, Cardiologist:
"But Roger Penrose, a quantum physicist, argues that “Algorithmic computations cannot simulate mathematical reasoning. The brain, as a closed system capable of internal and consistent computations, is insufficient to elicit human consciousness.”36 Penrose offers a quantum mechanical hypothesis to explain the relation between consciousness and the brain. And Simon Berkovitch, a professor in Computer Science of the George Washington University, has calculated that the brain has an absolutely inadequate capacity to produce and store all the informational processes of all our memories with associative thoughts. We would need 1024 operations per second, which is absolutely impossible for our neurons.37 Herms Romijn, a Dutch neurobiologist, comes to the same conclusion.30 One should conclude that the brain has not enough computing capacity to store all the memories with associative thoughts from one’s life, has not enough retrieval abilities, and seems not to be able to elicit consciousness."

Anonymous said...

Hey Art, leave the dragonfly alone. If you've swatted him, how can he point out the computer with free will which evolved by natural selection in a scrapyard?

Dragonfly said...

Pim van Lommel's statements have been debunked by Gert Korthof. Unfortunately I have only a link in Dutch: (Fouten in het boek van Pim van Lommel = Errors in Pim van Lommel's book). The reference to Romijn's article is incorrect, that article doesn't contain any proof that the brain has not enough capacity to store memories from one's life.

The article contains some interesting links, for example a site about NDE's by anaesthetist Gerald Woerlee:
and an article about Eric Kandel, Nobel laureate Physiology or Medicine 2000: . Kandel is a real expert in this field, in contrast to cardiologist Van Lommel or computer scientist Berkovitch.

william said...

"real expert"

those words are the first red flag that should go up when stated

an expert is an unknown drip under pressure


Art said...

The article contains some interesting links, for example a site about NDE's by anaesthetist Gerald Woerlee:
and an article about Eric Kandel, Nobel laureate Physiology or Medicine 2000: dragonfly


Do they explain why it is that people who have near death experiences oftentimes make statements that parallel, corroborate, and support quantum physics and the holographic nature of reality?
Near Death Experience: A Holographic Explanation
by Oswald G., Ph.d. Harding

Art said...

Remember that game show on TV, Concentration, where contestants would guess letters put up on a board, and after so many letters they'd try and guess what the saying was? What was funny about that show is that once you got the answer it seemed so simple all along. It then seems so obvious. That's what the evidence for life after death is like. It's the total aggregate of evidence that all point in the direction that something of who we are survives the death of the physical body. It's like a puzzle, and when you put all the pieces together the picture just jumps out at you. The anthropic principle, NDE's, death bed visions, quantum physics and the holographic universe, EVP, and the work of some psychic Mediums. I'm a huge John Edward fan by the way. He's charismatic, funny, entertaining, pleasant, and sometimes he even says some things that make you think, "Wow! Where did that come from?"

Leo MacDonald said...

Dr.Stuart Hameroff Rebuts Max Tegmark here

Art said...

All physics is quantum physics and all chemistry is quantum chemistry. It's like saying all physics is Newtonian physics except that which happens on the smallest of scales. Einsteins description of what was happening ("new physics") refined and explained much more exquisitely what was going on than Newtonian physics did. In reality all physics is quantum physics, and all chemistry happens at the quantum level. There is a much deeper reality where everything happens that we are not privvy to. Because we can't explain it we say it's random, when in actuality there are processes going on in dimensions that we can't see that dictate what happens at the macro level in our dimension.

Anonymous said...

Dragonfly needs to stop saying every paranormal claim with a counter-argument has been debunked or refuted. Pretty much every argument both ways has a counter argument, that doesn't meen thay've all been refuted. And it seems to me like he's barely looked at the evidence for the paranormal, only at the counter arguments against it. He's convinced that his position is an established fact and therefore any evidence against it must be "woo-woo". Although reductionism is the majority opinion among neuroscientists, it is far from a definite fact. The evidence given was alot more than just "the same old stories that have been debunked long ago" (care to elaborate on that?), but you only needed to read a few random links to decide it was all just "woo-woo" and "wishful thinking".
Also Wells gave examples of two things that supposedly work like the brain, but obviously neither of them are "conscious"

gregnyquist said...

Dragonfly: "Well, of course mind and consciousness are epiphenomenal. No matter how complex they are, there is no essential mystery, no need for skyhooks, to use Dennett's metaphor.... That the mind is an enormously complex system doesn't imply that it must contain supernatural elements and that it cannot in principle be completely reduced to purely physical events. The materialist outlook is the only scientific outlook, the rest is fantasy."

I appreciate the honesty in accepting even the most difficult implications of the materialist-physicalist position, particularly epiphenomenalism. But I still regard it as a patently absurd position. If consciousness and mind really were epiphenomenal, you would expect to find no major differences in the behavior of conscious and unconsciousness people. Yet that's not what we find, do we? And why should a non-materialist explanation involve a supernatural element? This is, again, the polarizing effect of materialism, limiting our choices to materialism and the supernatural. But where do non-materialist unbelievers in the supernatural fit in this scheme? Where would one place thinkers like Searle and Popper?

Obviously the choice is not between religion and credulity about paranormal phenomenon on the one side and materialism on the other. There is third alternative: a non-materialistic scientific naturalism open to the examination of all experience and not hemmed in by materialist paradigms—a view more in keeping with agnosticism, but also open to weak atheism (of Searle's type, for instance) on the one side and non-religious deism (of Flew's type) on the other.

gregnyquist said...

Wells: "Greg Nyquist said:
"'If they are, then how do you escape the conclusion that mind and consciousness must be epiphenomenal?'

"You say that like it's some kind of bad thing."

It's not bad thing--just an implausible thing. In fact, I would go further. A previous commentator has suggested that there is evidence of animals surviving after death. I find epiphenomenalism about mind and consciousness as plausible as the view that Rover, after he dies, goes to doggie heaven. Epiphenomenalism is simply a prejudice brought about by the misapplication of Occam's Razor and/or hostility to religion. It turns the mind into a mechanical device, turns men into automatons, and reduces human willing to the subject matter of physics. None of these views fully corresponds to what we know about thinking, willing, and being human.

Wells: "In real life there are plenty of things that work like a materialist would describe the mind and the brain."

Exactly. Physical processes work just like materialists describe them. But the mind doesn't work like that. Materialists misrepresent how the mind works. Hence the collosal failure of AI. Remember Liza? If you run OS X or Linux you can access Liza, an AI psychologist, through emacs. Whatever Liza does, it is not thinking. Liza is not capable of thinking. Thinking is not a mechanical process that can be reduced to the subject matter of physics. Computers don't think—they calculate and sort data, which is something different. Thinking requires emotion and desire—hardly mechanical processes! That is why computers, despite their amazing calculating and data sorting powers, are dumb as rocks—as any programmer soon learns to appreciate. A human being can do things no computer can ever do, like originate a new thought, design a better mousetrap, and compose a symphony.

Wells said...

I'm starting to think that alot of people in this thread don't even know what they are talking about.

First Quantum and Holographic Universe are not magic words that will give you whatever you want. They are disciplines of physics. It might be a good idea to find a book that is on quantum physics and only quantum physics (Make sure it has lots of math) and read it. It might also be a good idea to pick up a book on biology while you are out. (this book should contain a lot of chemistry).

I know there is a temptation to say that you don't have time. I know that because I don't have time for books on near death experiences. But if you have read 6+ books on near death experiences you would be lying to yourself if you said that.

Michael H said...

“Two fundamental forms of ignorance were recognized by the Platonists: simple ignorance and complex ignorance. Simple ignorance is merely lack of knowledge and is common to all creatures existing posterior to the First Cause, which alone has perfection of knowledge. Simple ignorance is an ever-active agent, urging the soul onward to the acquisition of knowledge.

“In addition to the simple ignorance which is the most potent factor in mental growth there exists another, which is of a far more dangerous and subtle type. This second form, called twofold or complex ignorance, may be briefly defined as ignorance of ignorance . . . Humanity no longer regards itself as primitive or aboriginal. The spirit of wonder and awe has been succeeded by one of sophistication. Today man worships his own accomplishments, and either relegates the immensities of time and space to the background of his consciousness or disregards them entirely . . .

“Humanity has forgotten how infinitesimal, how impermanent and how ignorant it actually is. Ptolemy has been ridiculed for conceiving the earth to be the center of the universe, yet modern civilization is seemingly founded upon the hypothesis that the planet earth is the most permanent and important of all the heavenly spheres . . .

“Philosophy reveals to man his kinship with the All. It shows him that he is a brother to the suns which dot the firmament; it lifts him from a taxpayer on a whirling atom to a citizen of Cosmos. It teaches him that while physically bound to earth (of which his blood and bones are part), there is nevertheless within him a spiritual power, a diviner Self, through which he is one with the symphony of the Whole. Ignorance of ignorance, then, is that self-satisfied state of unawareness in which man, knowing nothing outside the limited area of his physical senses, bumptiously declares there is nothing more to know! He who knows no life save the physical is merely ignorant; but he who declares physical life to be all-important and elevates it to the position of supreme reality--such a one is ignorant of his own ignorance . . .

“The criers of the Mysteries speak again, bidding all men welcome to the House of Light. The great institution of materiality has failed. The false civilization built by man has turned, and like the monster of Frankenstein, is destroying its creator. Religion wanders aimlessly in the maze of theological speculation. Science batters itself impotently against the barriers of the unknown. Only transcendental philosophy knows the path. Only the illumined reason can carry the understanding part of man upward to the light. Only philosophy can teach man to be born well, to live well, to die well, and in perfect measure be born again. Into this band of the elect--those who have chosen the life of knowledge, of virtue, and of utility--the philosophers of the ages invite YOU.”

Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, 1928.

william said...

the beginning of wisdom is the realization of one's ignorance.

for me it happened on a mountain top. when I looked up to the sky and asked the universe "what am I missing" and I heard a voice say "just about everything."

dr hora calls the two types of ignorance positive ignorance when we think we know but do not know. and negative ignorance when we do not know that we do not know.

positive ignorance is the most difficult to overcome.

Art said...

First Quantum and Holographic Universe are not magic words that will give you whatever you want. They are disciplines of physics. - Wells

You missed my point entirely. It doesn't answer my question. Why is it that some near death experience descriptions parallel, support, and corroborate what Michael Talbot wrote about in his book The Holographic Universe? Michael Talbot didn't write his book to support NDE's. The two things are not related, yet the parallels are obvious and strking? Capisce? I'm not interested in reading a bunch of math equations about holograms. Been there, done that. It's pointless and boring. What I am interested in are the overlaps or parallels between what some near death experiencers say about their experience and what some physicist say about reality. Why and how does it happen? When you finally see it, it just jumps out at you. It's obvious. The two things weren't written to support one another, yet they very much do.

Dragonfly said...

Anonymous: " And it seems to me like he's barely looked at the evidence for the paranormal, only at the counter arguments against it."

You are dead wrong. I've probably read more books about the paranormal than you. Long ago I was a believer myself in the paranormal (not in the supernatural) and at the time I read every book I could get about those matters, so I really know the literature. To reverse the argument: how many skeptics books have you really read yourself? I have at least studied BOTH sides thoroughly, and when I look up some of the given references and see all of the old stuff that I've read 40 years ago dredged up again, I know that I'm wasting my time. In the course of the years I have myself helped debunk some of those extraordinary claims, but today I'm no longer interested in hearing the same tired old stories.

Dragonfly said...

Greg: "If consciousness and mind really were epiphenomenal, you would expect to find no major differences in the behavior of conscious and unconsciousness people."

I suppose you mean "conscious and unconscious people". In fact the difference is strong evidence for the materialist position. How do you get someone unconscious? For example by giving him a clunk on the head or letting him breathe some special chemical substance. Both methods directly affect the physiology of the brain, disabling temporarily some functions, so it's hardly surprising that his behavior will differ significantly from that of a conscious person.

The same is true when a person is sleeping. The physiological differences corresponding to a different state of the brain can be even detected by such a primitive measuring device as the EEC.

"And why should a non-materialist explanation involve a supernatural element? This is, again, the polarizing effect of materialism, limiting our choices to materialism and the supernatural. But where do non-materialist unbelievers in the supernatural fit in this scheme?"

Let's have a look in the dictionary ( "materialism" = Philosophy The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.

"Supernatural" =
1. Of or relating to existence outside the natural world.
2. Attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural forces.

So it's either-or: either the mind can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena, or it cannot, and in that case the explanation is by definition supernatural. There is no third way.

"Thinking requires emotion and desire—hardly mechanical processes!"
Yes, they are mechanical (and chemical) processes, even if we are not yet able to reproduce such processes artificially.

"A human being can do things no computer can ever do, like originate a new thought, design a better mousetrap, and compose a symphony."

And people will never walk on the moon. A computer will never beat a grandmaster in a chess match. Etc.

That we at the moment are still far removed from the realization of AI does not imply that AI is impossible. We've barely begun to scratch the surface of this extremely complex problem, we'll probably still need several decades before we've solved it. But one day, if we're not destroyed by some asteroid striking the earth before, we'll be able to create real artificial intelligence and then we'll be able to scrap forever all that spiritual blah blah.

Leo MacDonald said...


Well if you have really read the lierature. You would realize that the tired skeptic arguments have no substance.

Dragonfly said...

If you would have read the skeptic literature yourself, you'd know that the woo-woo arguments have no substance.

Michael H said...

So it's either-or: either the mind can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena, or it cannot, and in that case the explanation is by definition supernatural. There is no third way.

Idealism is the doctrine that ideas, or thought, make up either the whole or an indispensable aspect of any full reality, so that a world of material objects containing no thought either could not exist as it is experienced, or would not be fully "real." Idealism is often contrasted with materialism, both belonging to the class of monist as opposed to dualist or pluralist ontologies.

As far as ‘supernatural’ or ‘paranormal’ phenomena, W. Y. Evans-Wentz may have articulated the issue as well as it can be articulated, nearly a century ago:

“And if (these anomalies) actually exist as invisible beings or intelligences, and our investigations lead us to the tentative hypothesis that they do, they are natural and not supernatural, for nothing which exists can be supernatural; and, therefore, it is our duty to examine (these phenonoma) just as we examine any fact in the visible realm wherein we now live, whether it be a fact of chemistry, of physics, or of biology. However, as we proceed to make such an examination, we shall have to remember constantly that there is a new set of ideas to work with, entirely different from what we find in natural sciences, and often no adequate vocabulary based on common human experiences . . .

“Among the Ancients, who dealt so largely with psychical sciences, there seems to have been a common language which could be used to explain the invisible world and its inhabitants; but we of this age have not yet developed such a language. Consequently, men who deny human immortality, as well as men with religious faith who have not through personal psychical experiences transformed that faith into a fact, nowadays when they happen to read what Plato, Iamblichus, or any of the Neo-Platonists have written, or even what moderns have written in attempting to explain psychic facts, call it all mysticism. And to the great majority of Europeans and Americans, mysticism is a most convenient noun, applicable to anything which may seem reasonable yet wholly untranslatable in terms of their own individual experience; and mysticism usually means something quite the reverse of scientific simply because we have by usage unwisely limited the meaning of the word science to a knowledge of things material and visible, whereas it really means a knowing or a knowledge of everything which exists. We have tried to deal with the rare psychical experiences of Irish, Scotch, Manx, Welsh, or Breton seers, and psychics generally, in the dearest language possible; but if now and then we are charged with being mystical, this is our defence.”

Taken from the Introduction to The Fairy-Faith In Celtic Countries (1911).

You’re as free to accept your ideas as absolute as anyone else, dragonfly, yet it might be worth asking why it is that none of us ever seem to encounter someone who agrees with us on everything, and why polarization is as rampant as it is - which is aptly demonstrated by this very thread.

Why can’t we seem to change someone else’s mind?

Dragonfly said...

Michael H, if we follow the definition of materialism "The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena", do you agree with materialism or not?

Michael H said...

. . . do you agree with materialism or not?


Ross W said...

Why indeed, Michael H?
Like you, I do not comprehend the materialist, objectivist position.

None of the forces of nature modeled by physicists are actually correct descriptions of what appears to our senses as physical reality. They are only mathematical working models which help us to make predictions. All these models break the Law of Conservation of Energy, which is supposed to be an unbreakable primary law.

Examples of laws broken by the current models:

Gravity acts faster than light (Einstein said nothing does).

Gravity depends on mass but a heavy object falls at the same speed as a light object (air resistance can be discounted if the objects have the same shape and size).

A secondary (smaller) object in an elliptical orbit is somehow attracted back sharply from the furthest point of its orbit, even though the square of the distance means that at that point the primary (more massive) object should only be exerting a quarter of the gravitational pull on it.

Gravity acts indefinitely without draining a physical power source (breaks the Law of Conservation of Energy)

The “strong nuclear force” acts to hold what are modelled to be strongly repellent protons in an atomic nucleus together without a power source (and never drains a power source, since the nucleus lasts indefinitely).

“Electrostatic forces” act indefinitely without draining a physical power source.

Electric charge, defined as a flow of electrons which never vary in their individual charge and are indivisible, are supposed to “give up” their charge to electric circuits, but if they never vary, how is this power given up and where does it originate?

Dark matter and Dark Energy: apparently not physical, yet are modelled to occupy 96% of the Universe.

Physics is purportedly the investigation of the physical. The investigative process involves creating abstract ideas and mathematical models to simulate what we observe. Then we predict and manipulate what is apparently “out there”. But in doing so, as indicated above, we do not even come close to describing reality.

From the above, it appears to me that logically, we need to accept that the true nature of reality is “metaphysical” –beyond the power of physics to grasp. Metaphysics is subjective. It appreciates that the mind models reality. Objectivism and Materialism, which are themselves ideas, are profoundly illogical, because they deny the very minds that conceive them and offer them us as models. Hubris!

Art said...

Here's an interesting article about how consciousness is primary and matter is secondary, or how matter is an epiphenomena of consciousness. The journal it's in is the journal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

A New Theory of the Universe By Robert Lanza The American Scholar

Ross W said...

Nice link, Art. Though he stops short of calling the brain a sophisticated quantum receiver, and he doesn't mention other ethereal realms (apart from any number of theoretical hidden dimensions). Also, he seems to accept the Big Bang myth [yawn]

Dragonfly said...

Ross, you'd better be silent about a subject that you don't understand, like elementary physics, it's too embarrassing.

Dragonfly said...

Michael H.: so you think that consciousness needs a supernatural explanation?

Michael H said...

so you think that consciousness needs a supernatural explanation?

I think that consciousness is the underlying source of reality, or first cause, and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and matter, can be understood through individual exploration of consciousness itself.

It's an inside-out, subjective reality that we're actually in, dragonfly, with all the appearance of an outside-in objective reality.

The materialist as well as the dualist fails to see his or her own intellect as a construct of the underlying first cause, which leads them away from absolute truth, and causes them to recognize and investigate the manifestations while remaining ignorant of the source of the manifestations, which is consciousness itself. As a consequence of this failure, we have rampant complex ignorance in the world, with sometimes dire results.

We then end up with battling dogmatic positions, both of which are based on differing interpretations of appearances, not 'facts'.

If you'd like to read a short piece about what battling dogmatism looks like regarding findings in neuroscience, I'd suggest Don Hoffman's Dismissing God (PDF) available at AntiMatters:

I would also suggest that it is precisely because we are sharing a reality that is fundamentally subjective in nature that human beings experience the discord that I mentioned in my earlier questions that you chose not to answer:

Why it is that none of us ever seem to encounter someone who agrees with us on everything, and why is polarization as rampant as it is - which is aptly demonstrated by this very thread.

Why can’t we seem to change someone else’s mind?

Art said...

Why it is that none of us ever seem to encounter someone who agrees with us on everything, and why is polarization as rampant as it is --- Michael H

The whole purpose of life is to experience duality and separation. Separation teaches the soul what it means to be separate. We come here to become unassimilated. That sense of "self", something that may be very difficult to learn in the Spiritual Universe due to those overwhelming feelings of oneness and connectedness so often mentioned in NDE's. Because time and space don't seem to be "real" the soul "comes here" to learn about time and space, what it looks, feels, sounds, tastes, and smells like and will use that information to create our reality after crossing back over into the Spiritual Universe.

Ross W said...

"you'd better be silent about a subject that you don't understand, like elementary physics, it's too embarrassing."

I am happy to have you enlighten me, dragonfly...assuming you can!

Anonymous said...

"Why it is that none of us ever seem to encounter someone who agrees with us on everything, and why is polarization as rampant as it is - which is aptly demonstrated by this very thread.

Why can’t we seem to change someone else’s mind?"

Beliefs, like genes, are subject to Darwinian selection. They replicate through communication. They mutate in content. They're selected on by the environment of the mind. Many beliefs die. Others evolve to become more believable.

A banal falsehood will die on the vine. A falsehood that is poetic, however, that builds off Theory of Mind, that assuages fear of death, that confers status (like fringe expert or sage), that satisfies in-group/out-group mentality, that views lack of evidence as evidence, that lacks stringent definition, that is susceptible to the confirmation bias, that is aesthetically coroborated by supporting ideas--those kind survive.

Might a belief with those features actually be true? Yes, but it's pretty f'n suspect. There's one way to be right, and a whooooole lotta ways to be wrong.


gimlet said...

So anonymous, are you saying that NDEs are falsehoods? In what way? They are real experiences by real people, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

"Near death" and "experience" are factual. The dualist/paranormal interpretations however...

Dragonfly said...

Ross: Sorry, you'll have to do your own homework. I suggest you study a good book about physics. I'll give you one hint: energy and force are two different things!

dragonfly said...

Michael H.: that no one will agree with us on everything is not relevant, "everything" is a lot of things, including many subjective notions, so that's hardly a surprise. The point is that there are things about which there do find agreement, namely in science. For example the fine-structure constant is 0.00729735..., the g-factor of the electron is 2.002319 3043622... There may be a certain uncertainty in the last decimals, but it is clear that with increasing accuracy of the measurements, done by many different people from all over the world, the results seem to converge to a certain value. We therefore put forward the hypothesis that there is a value independent of our consciousness, which we call the real value. We'll never be able to find that real value, but we'll be able to approximate it better and better with increasing sophistication and accuracy of our measurements. More general than with regard to such specific constants, we see that our measurements in science, but also our observations in daily life (which can be refined by using scientific and technological means) tend to converge to certain invariant results. Of course there is always uncertainty, but the results are not random, they tend to converge to an invariant core, the more and the better we look. Invariant doesn't mean that it cannot change in time, but that it is independent of our consciousness. That invariant core we call objective reality.

This notion of an objective reality, independent of our consciousness, is a hypothesis, there is no way we can experience that reality directly. But it is a good hypothesis, while it makes science possible, and science works, it delivers the goods. Science makes technology possible, which gives us among other things computers and atomic bombs, and that is a good reason to take this hypothesis seriously.

About Don Hoffman's article: observe that he introduces the notion of an objective reality without defining it, as if it is something obvious. Well, it is not obvious if we accept his claim that we don't know whether our observations converge to an invariant core that we call reality. In that case the whole notion of an objective reality becomes untestable and meaningless (Rand would call this an example of a stolen concept).

About the mystery of the dark matter and dark energy he writes:

"So our best science tells us that there are serious limits to how deeply our perceptual and cognitive endowments allow us to penetrate the nature of objective reality."

That is of course nonsense! That science at this moment cannot tell us what the exact nature of dark matter and dark energy is does not imply that we will not solve this problem in the future. The whole history of science is full of moments where scientists couldn't find a solution to a certain problem. Fortunately, instead of philosophizing about the serious limits to our possibilities of penetrating the nature of objective reality, they forged ahead and finally found a solution, sometimes revolutionizing science.

He then continues with: "The same message appears repeated many times
elsewhere in science, for instance in the uncertainty principle and the measurement problem of quantum theory."

Apparently he doesn't realize that he's undercutting here his own thesis. The uncertainty principle and the "measurement problem" show that our naive notions about external reality fail in the realm of subatomic particles. But we can draw this conclusion only when we accept that scientific research with its instruments that leads to these conclusions gives us a better approximation to that reality. In that case we are not limited by the perception based on our senses. We can use models (for example inifinite-dimensional spaces) that far exceed the possibilities of our direct perception. The limitations of our perceptions are not in reading numbers from a measuring device or reading a graph.

And then finally the religious cat comes out of the bag: Hoffman comes with the argument that science cannot disprove the existence of God. Duh. Science cannot disprove the existence of Zeus, fairies or a teapot orbiting Pluto either. The point is that science doesn't need the hypothesis of a God, Zeus, fairies or a teapot orbiting Pluto. It is up to the person who makes such claims to prove his claim. The god of the gaps argument is certainly not valid. If there is some phenomenon that cannot yet be explained by science, hypothesizing some omnipotent agent doesn't explain anything. It's merely an exhortation to give up, saying in effect: stay away, this is our territory! Fortunately there will be always enough stubborn scientists who refuse to give up to such a nebulous authority.

Well, as you can see I'm not unwilling to answer questions or read the links you give. But I hope you'll understand that I don't have the time to do that with every question and every link presented on this forum...

Art said...

Dragonfly, just in case you find your "self" (that voice inside your head) still existing after your physical body dies, remember to head for the Light. Everything good is in that Light!

Michael H said...

Thanks for the reply, and for taking the time to read the Hoffman paper, Dragonfly. I happen to agree with you in that it seemed Hoffman was too willing to accept the validity of religious notions of God - but he does demonstrate, (to my mind at least), that either side can use the findings of neuroscience to support their argument. Andrew Newberg has pointed out the same thing.

I do not deny that there is an objective reality that we can apply our physical sciences to with great success, nor am I dumb enough to argue otherwise. What I am suggesting is that the source of objective reality is consciousness itself, and that the realization of the ultimately subjective nature of existence is available to anyone who becomes more familiar with their own consciousness, and learns to cultivate a quiet mind.

The materialist assumes that the objective reality is all there is. I acknowledge that there is an objective reality, but that objective reality is best described as a reflection of a deeper reality that we can also access through individual exploration of our own consciousness. I think Kant argued that the ‘Noumenal’ world was forever unknowable. He’s wrong. It’s completely knowable, by any given individual, but can’t ever be demonstrated to someone else once known.

Materialism fails to account for countless subjective experiences and certain anomalous objective observations, as exhaustively outlined in the volume Irreducible Mind, mentioned by earlier posters in this thread. The book itself is massive, but there is an excellent 30 page review that's also available at AntiMatters, Vol.1, No.1, for anyone who has either the time or the inclination.

I find myself frustrated at times by both the materialist and the dualist. The former group appears to discount all subjective reports and phenomena that conflict with their worldview, while the dualist cherry-picks the data in defense of their own. The sum of my life experience informs me that they're both wrong.

I'm as certain as I can be that consciousness is primary to existence, and that we are all an extension of that underlying consciousness, as is the entire cosmos. It is the direct experience of the underlying consciousness that the mystics throughout history have labored to express, and whose efforts have been misinterpreted and horribly corrupted by those who haven't themselves experienced the underlying consciousness.

Having said all that, I have no doubt that most everyone who reads this will regard it as mystical nonsense, unless they themselves have explored the subjective, intuitive side of their own nature to some depth.

The materialist argument that consciousness arose from matter is backwards, but the dualist argument that creation was spun into existence by some sort of transcendent deity is also misguided. I ask no one to believe it (not that anyone can), but my understanding of reality is that we actually exist within an objective reality that ultimately has its source in the subjective realm of spirit. And we will continue to experience other ‘objective’ realities until we fully realize the depth of our own consciousness.

It's Pantheistic (probably panentheistic) Idealism: We both exist within the sacred, and we can uncover the sacred within us. And those who do so can never prove it to another, because the underlying consciousness can only be experienced subjectively.uu

Leo MacDonald said...

To me idealism does not make much sense like materialism.

Materialist's assume that only physical reality exists sees matter as absolute and consciousness as an illusion.

While Idealism sees consciousness as primary but seems not too take matter seriously.

Where DUALISM takes both of these realities sujective and objective both seriously.

Neutral Monism seems to not too take consciousness or matter seriously.

Art said...

We have to believe this life is real in order for the soul to be imprinted with what it needs to be imprinted with. If we knew it for what it really is, a holographic illusion, we wouldn't mourn quite as much and the soul wouldn't learn what it needs to learn. Emotion is the energy of the soul. The more emotional the experience the more powerful and long lasting the memory it creates. The lessons have to be powerful enough to last for eternity.

Wells said...

To Greg Nyquest who compares the plausibility of neurological materialism to the plausibility of Doggie Heaven

Actually; if you believe that there is such a thing as a soul that animates the mind of a human in some supernatural way, then you have to believe that the same thing happens in other animals. Mammalian brains are more or less the same. The differences are in size of the various parts of the brain and the number of connections that neurons have. Also animals also have emotions like a human being has, just about any animal has emotions of some sort. Therefore the philosophical problems posed by human cognition and the philosophical problems posed by the cognition of a domesticated dog (to pick an animal at random) are the same. Therefore if there is something supernatural about human thought processes, there also has to be something supernatural about canine thought processes and Doggie Heaven is not implausible at all.

Not that I am going to concede the existence of Doggie Heaven or supernatural cognition. None of which I believe to be correct.

Art said...

Consciousness is a property of the Universe and does not reside in just one species. It is everywhere. We exist inside the mind of God. We are God's dream.

"I remember understanding the others here.. as if the others here were a part of me too. As if all of it was just a vast expression of me. But it wasn't just me, it was .. gosh this is so hard to explain.. it was as if we were all the same. As if consciousness were like a huge being. The easiest way to explain it would be like all things are all different parts of the same body." - excerpt from Michelle M's NDE,'s_nde.htm

from Mellen Benedict's NDE:
"And it became very clear to me that all the Higher Selves are connected as one being, all humans are connected as one being, we are actually the same being, different aspects of the same being."

Ross W said...

“force and energy are two different things”
So, Dragonfly, your worldview includes a model of magical forces like the Strong Nuclear Interaction and Gravity which act to constrain matter at rest without access to a hidden power source (energy). That model also presumably includes the mystical Higgs Boson and mythical Dark Matter.

My worldview includes the belief that the whole of our consensual reality is sustained by Ideas, devised by an Intelligence much greater than that contained in my brain. That much you will find easy to accept. I regret that your worldview appears to include the belief that no known intelligence is greater than that contained in your brain. So, as usual in blogs like this, we will just have to agree to differ...

Wells said...

To Art who refuses to do the math.

I've never going to read that book that you mention, so I also won't critique it. If I were a betting man though I would wager that it was full of baloney.

I've read your posts though, where you promote the book as worthy of being read. So I will critique those.

What you would have to do to determine if the observations of people having a near death experiences are corroborating observations made by the study of quantum physics is
(A) Collect several accounts of near death experiences.
(B) Learn quantum physics.
(C) Translate near death experience talk (language = woo woo) into quantum physics talk (language = mathematics). Or translate quantum physics talk into near death experience talk.
(D) Compare and contrast.

On 7/07/2008 06:52:00 AM you said the study of math (concerning holograms) is pointless and boring. Insomuch as you believe that, you refuse to do (B) and (C), therefore it would have to be concluded that you do not know what you are talking about.

I see this as just an example of why the paranormal really doesn't impress me. There is lots of stuff that is beautiful without having to make stuff up. You just need to work to find it, that's all.

Wells said...

To people who believe in mind over matter.

If the universe was made of the consciousness of its intelligent residents, it would be possible to do stuff without any effort whatsoever. If thought hard about a glass of beer, one would appear in front of you as if by magic. I hear the objection now, 'You have to know how to do that!' No, you would not! The theory that the universe is the product of consciousness implies that whatever you think are the laws of the universe, really are the laws of the universe, and so you could do anything.

But you can't do just anything.

Therefore the universe is not made of consciousness.

Art said...

I see this as just an example of why the paranormal really doesn't impress me. - wells

Belief is irrelevant. Acceptance is irrelevant. Agreement is irrelevant. None of it makes any difference. But if just by chance I'm right, remember if you find yourself out of your body, go to the Light. Everything good is in that Light! And I promise not to say "I told you so!" more than a trillion times after we meet on the other side. {grin!}

Michael H said...

Therefore the universe is not made of consciousness.

I guess that settles it, then.

Honestly, Wells, I'm continually amused when I see simplistic statements and arguments such as you put forth here, all presented in a tone of absolute authority.

Quantum Mechanics, just like the findings of neuroscience, can not be considered as conclusive proof in support of any metaphysical worldview. Ulrich Mohrhoff has an excellent website that explores the countless interpretations that are in conflict. This quote from Dennis Dieck's addresses this:

"Most physicists have no clear conception of the interpretation of their most basic theory, quantum mechanics. They are largely unaware of the exact nature of the problems in giving a detailed and consistent account of the physical meaning of the theory; and if they are aware, they often don’t care very much. Only very small numbers of researchers have given serious thought to the interpretational problems of quantum mechanics, and have expressed more or less detailed points of view. As can perhaps be expected from the statistics of small numbers, the diversity of opinion is large. Very different ideas have been put forward, none of them supported by great numbers of physicists."

Mohrhoff happens to be a particle physicist, and also happens to support the cosmology of Sri Aurobindo, who compiled exhaustive tomes exploring and reconciling the mind/matter problem while demomonstrating that consciousness can indeed be seen as the foundation of existence.

If you choose to invoke quantum mechanics in order to claim a defense of materialism and 'objectivity' for yourself, you might want to explore his website first:

Mohrhoff is also the editor of the website Antimatters, which has presented several papers from numerous scientific fields that essentially demonstrate that materialism is no longer tenable, dominating today as a consequence of faith in materialism and little more. Again, if you wish to claim objectivity for yourself, you must consider ideas beyond those that dovetail with your current belief system:

Ross's earlier post puts things well: "My worldview includes the belief that the whole of our consensual reality is sustained by Ideas, devised by an Intelligence much greater than that contained in my brain."

What Ross is expressing here is a concise expression of Platonic philosophy, the truth of which has been lost over the centuries as a consequence of the corruption of Aristotelian philosophy. The emphasis placed on the supremacy of human reason has caused too many to arrive at the conclusion that the ego is the true god, which is responsible for no less horror than the dualism that materialistic scientism has replaced.

There are two kinds of people in the world, Wells: those who are searching for truth, and those who already know it.

Which are you?

Art said...

"Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real." - Niels Bohr

"If anybody says he can think about quantum physics without getting giddy, that only shows he has not understood the first thing about them." - Niels Bohr

"If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet." - Niels Bohr

Anonymous said...

Why I am a "materialist":

“The ability to think critically, as conceived in this volume, involves three things: (1) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods. Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. It also generally requires ability to recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems, to gather and marshal pertinent information, to recognize unstated assumptions and values, to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discrimination, to interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments, to recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions, to draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, to put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives, to reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience, and to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life.” (Edward M. Glaser)

Why I am spiritually satisfied:

"Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs — in time, in space, and in potential — the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. We gaze across billions of light-years of space to view the Universe shortly after the Big Bang, and plumb the fine structure of matter. We peer down into the core of our planet, and the blazing interior of our star. We read the genetic language in which is written the diverse skills and propensities of every being on Earth. We uncover hidden chapters in the record of our origins, and with some anguish better understand our nature and prospects. We invent and refine agriculture, without which almost all of us would starve to death. We create medicines and vaccines that save the lives of billions. We communicate at the speed of light, and whip around the Earth in an hour and a half. We have sent dozens of ships to more than seventy worlds, and four spacecraft to the stars. We are right to rejoice in our accomplishments, to be proud that our species has been able to see so far, and to judge our merit in part by the very science that has so deflated our pretensions." (Carl Sagan)

-- Ian.

Art said...

"We are right to rejoice in our accomplishments, to be proud that our species has been able to see so far, and to judge our merit in part by the very science that has so deflated our pretensions." (Carl Sagan)

And just remember that after you die, which you surely will because every one of us, including Carl Sagan who has all ready died, will one day die, to go to to the Light. Do not be afraid because every good thing is in that Light.

Clegg said...

The Zero Point Field connects everything in the universe to everything else, like some vast invisible web. Papers published by scientists from top-ranking institutions such as Princeton and Stanford University in the US and many prestigious institutions in Europe show that the solid stable stuff we call matter is an illusion and is simply subatomic particles constantly moving and being gripped on by the background sea of energy. Everything in our world, no matter how heavy or large, boils down to a collection of electric charges interacting with the Zero Point Field.

It's a bit like the Force in Star Wars. As quantum waves also encode information, it also as though, on the tiniest level of reality, a memory of the universe for all time is contained in empty space that each of us is always in touch with.

Scientists who have studied it say the Zero Point Field has enormous implications. Astrophysicists have called the ZPF a 'cosmic free lunch'.

Perhaps more important, the existence of the Zero Point Field implies that all matter in the universe is interconnected by quantum waves, which are spread out through time and space, and can carry on to infinity, tying one part of the universe to every other part. The idea of The Field might just offer a scientific explanation for the spiritual beliefs of many religions that there is such a thing as a life force.

gimlet said...

Clegg, you can rule out the cosmic free lunch –that’s just sci-fi. But it does seem that Mass is the manifestation of energy in the ZPF acting upon charged particles to
create forces.

Your life force idea relating to the ZPF reminds me of Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff. Penrose came up with the idea that there’s a missing quantum mechanical ingredient in consciousness. He suggests that multiple quantum possibilities in our subconscious “collapse” into a single conscious perception or action. The choices are influenced by Platonic values like mathematical truth, aesthetic and ethical values, and qualia (subjective phenomenal qualities like the redness of a rose or musical sound) which are embedded in the fine structure of the universe at the Planck scale. Hameroff said the microtubules in the brain were candidates for the “collapse”, and suggested that each moment of consciousness—a quantum mechanical collapse inside the microtubules—selected a particular set of qualia from the Planck scale. So the subjective, if you like, is a matter of adopting a point of view and choosing from an infinite field of 'objective' choices. Presumably previous experience limits the likely choices we actually make.

Michael H said...

Clegg and Gimlet are each pointing out that one of the consequences of our advanced capabilities in investigating the material universe has been a deepening of the mystery of existence, not an absolute solution. Anyone who claims materialism as absolute is making the metaphysical assumption that because the scientific method has been so successful in its investigation of material existence, that’s all there is.

There continue to be observations that suggest a profound interconnectedness on a deep level; Bell’s Theorem might be the best known. There is also mounting evidence that absolute objectivity is more elusive than we know. It appears that we are all influenced by deep assumptions we have made about the nature of existence. The brief discussion of the math/mind/matter triangle taken from Mohrhoff’s home page speaks to this:

“Both the diversity of opinion and the lack of wide support jump out of a recent article in which Piet Hut, Mark Alford, and Max Tegmark discuss the famous matter — mind — mathematics triangle. (Matter appears to produce mind, mind appears to be the creator of mathematics, and mathematics appears to be the foundation of matter.)

“For Tegmark, matter is essentially mathematics, and mind is the "feel" of information being processed. For Alford, mathematics is a creation of the human mind. For Hut, matter, mind, and mathematics co-emerge from a source beyond the three M's. The authors' "key message for non-physicists reading this paper is… that they should be deeply suspicious of any self-proclaimed popularizer or other ambassador claiming to speak on these matters on behalf of the consensus of the theoretical physics community."

The referenced article is here (PDF):

Like everyone else, I’m limited by my own assumptions regarding reality, but I agree with Hut’s position of co-emergence from a deeper source. Further, I suspect that the “deeper source” is what is involved in mystical experience. It seems well beyond coincidence that every mystic, of all cultures and religions, reports the direct experience of divine realization as a sense of profound, limitless unity and interconnectedness with all of existence.

In the end, I find myself opposed to both the dualists and the materialists. I can do nothing but agree with Richard Dawkins and his cohorts when they excoriate blind faith in a transcendent God, and honestly recognize the butchery that continues to result from that assumption. At the same time, I can empathize with the followers of the religions in their insistence that there is much more to the human experience than can be explained away by chemical reactions in a three pound hunk of matter that somehow arose from primordial slime.

Yet, just as the atheist accepts, in faith, that the latter scenario is the truth, the followers of the Western religions ignore the very Eastern ideas at the mystical core of their various faiths as they worship their various Gods in heaven. The Kabbalah of the Jews and Sufism in Islam each point directly to the fundamental nature of existence as One Thing, and repeatedly describe the divine as immanent; essentially saying we’re immersed in the midst of God itself. And there are too many Christians who remain ignorant of the same message at the core of their faith. The following excerpt from Buried in the Sands of Time: The Gospel According to Thomas describes the consequences of that ignorance much better than I can:

“Once we have read the Gospel according to Thomas we realise, perhaps with a shock, how different Jesus was from the pompous “Only begotten Son,” and how different the true Christian has to be from the typical homo religiosus whom Jesus called the grammateus, the man with the holy book, the holy mien, full of holy words: The Lord, the Law, Wrath, Repentance, Paradise, Hell, the Devil, Damnation, Sin, Redemption, etc.
all things utterly foreign to Jesus as he appears to us in the St. Thomas gospel. He was no Galilean Billy Graham talking to the multitudes, no ascetic saint macerating himself and his disciples by penances, not the popular preacher of hell-fire and brimstone nor the sentimental sweet Jesus of the “Now let’s all be nice to each other and everything
will be all right.”

“If what he says is shocking, what he does not say in this most ancient of all gospels is even more shocking. We realise how perverted those words were which the busy church fathers invented in their eagerness to convert the crowds in the Agora.

“If the world around Jesus had listened to his message of oneness it would have been spared its cultural schizophrenia, its thousand year long neurosis leading practically to the end of civilisation, its splitting into innumerable sects and churches, tribes and nations, the long nightmare of the dark ages with their religious wars and their persecutions of thinkers and scientists. The time may finally have come to get rid of our
paleolithic gods, together with our bloody, sickening, disabling duality!”

When I consider all of the evidence, from both science and mystical (not religious!) testimony, as well as my own life experiences, I can come to no other conclusion than this: consciousness itself is the ground of being, and exploration of our own consciousness can potentially lead anyone to both a direct realization of the unity of existence, and a much deeper understanding of the material universe we currently inhabit.

clegg said...

That's complicated. I have a simpler answer. If atheism is true, then the atheist and believer will die and neither will know that the atheist was right. On the other hand, if God exists, then the atheist would have to recognise his whole life was a lie, and the believer would be gloriously vindicated. So belief is the sensible option.

gimlet said...

Quoting the Gospel of Thomas is eccentric, isn’t it, considering its doubtful provenance. I’d prefer to go with someone we know existed, like Charles Darwin:

"Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far back wards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man ; and I deserve to be called a Theist."

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882: With Original Omissions Restored, pp.92-93)

Some say he felt obliged to write this. But it reads like an honest statement of conviction.

Sam_O said...

Einstein once said that if a theory did not offer a physical picture that even a child could understand, then it was probably useless, and his search for a unified field theory would ultimately allow him to “read the Mind of God.” So even if you are one of those who deny that Einstein was a theist, nobody can deny that he had the childlike sense of wonder required to enquire into the ultimate nature of reality.

Of all the current theories, string theory, with its vibrating string-like multidimensional particles offers the best picture – an orchestra, the music of the spheres. The Mind of God represents cosmic music resonating through ten-dimensional hyperspace.

Musical Analogy – String Counterpart

Musical notation – mathematics
Violin strings – Superstrings
Notes – Subatomic particles
Laws of harmony – Physics
Melodies –Chemistry
Universe – String symphony
Mind of God – Music resonating through hyperspace
Composer –Consciousness (God)

Analogies like this are important. It’s the way our minds work best. Analogies enable us connect us to our deeper Consciousness.

Wells said...

To Clegg, who believes in Pascal's Wager.

Actually what you say in post 7/11/2008 10:59:00 AM is not really true. If someone believes in God because of possible vindication in heaven. They will not receive any such vindication. A God worthy of the name is smarter than that.

Wells said...

Continued to Clegg, who should read the preceding post.

The only ethical choice really is to believe the truth, whatever you think that might be. If you think there's a god, you need to believe in god. If you don't think there's a god, you shouldn't believe in god.

Wells said...

To Sam O, who has the mind of a musician.

I attended a talk by a prominent physicist based out of the University of Maryland one day, back when I was attending school. He more or less said what you are saying. It seems to make some kind of sense assuming string theory is at all correct. This is better than most of what has been said by the pro-theist side here because there is science. There's even a testable prediction to be made*.
I still think you are wrong though. Basically the last two points are reaching too far. While the presence of a musician would in fact imply music, the presence of music does not imply a musician. Hit the beach sometime, particularly in windy weather and you will get what I am saying.

*You should be able to create arbitrary particles by altering the frequencies of strings. If you have a $100,000,000 physics lab, you should try it some time. There could be a Nobel Prize in it for you.

Wells said...

To Michael H, who disparages my post on 7/10/2008 04:11:00 AM.

You seem to wish to imply that I am being closeminded. You said "Honestly, Wells, I'm continually amused when I see simplistic statements and arguments such as you put forth here, all presented in a tone of absolute authority."
Coming from you, that is rich, you should be a comedian.

I would just ignore you, except for the fact that the theory of the primacy of consciousness can actually be tested empirically. I have an object on my desk, and if that object was to become say, solid table salt, I would be convinced that the universe is made of consciousness; because the only way for that to happen is for someone to manipulate reality with their thoughts.

My chips though are safely on you manipulating humor with jokes.

Michael H said...

. . . the believer would be gloriously vindicated.

Isn’t this the very mentality that continues to drive martyrdom?

I’d also challenge the suggestion that an atheist would necessarily see their entire lives as a lie. I doubt a Carl Sagan would have sensed that when he recognized that his consciousness had survived physical death, for example. I’m sure he was humbled upon realizing he had been deeply mistaken, but that doesn’t negate what he learned and accomplished. Sagan wasn’t evil, and atheism can’t be directly correlated to evil anyway, no more than religious faith can be correlated to moral superiority. The latter half of the preceding statement is demonstrated daily in the Middle East, continuing a tradition of warring dogma that goes back centuries.

Quoting the Gospel of Thomas is eccentric, isn’t it, considering its doubtful provenance.

I consider Thomas to have at least the equivalent provenance of the synoptic gospels myself, and more legitimacy, primarily because it reveals an understanding of reality that is fully consistent with all other mystical traditions. There are also several scholars who believe Thomas was an important source document for the synoptic gospels. For those who feel Thomas has suspect origin, examples of similar statements are sprinkled throughout the other gospels, though they’re deeply buried beneath the manure piled on by the church fathers to control the masses.

The essential point that I’m making is that mystical realization and certain scientific discoveries each support the hypothesis that reality is One interconnected thing, and I’m suggesting that the metaphysics of the future will involve the acceptance of consciousness as primary, as the First Cause of existence. It won’t happen because some priest, philosopher or scientist proposed a concept that others chose to adopt on faith, but will develop organically from a significant mass of humanity realizing its truth subjectively.

I think it’s already starting to happen.

By the way, sam_o, Einstein expressed an admiration for Spinoza’s God, which is essentially an articulation of the pantheistic nature of existence. He never claimed to be a mystic himself, but the origin of genius remains among the most puzzling phenomena for the reductionist. Irreducible Mind explores the topic with some depth.

In any case, I think that everyone, including myself, needs to be vigilant about what we accept as absolute. It’s occurred to me many times that if someone could view reality from a standpoint of no beliefs whatsoever, they’d instantly understand everything.

Art said...

"If you think there's a god, you need to believe in god. If you don't think there's a god, you shouldn't believe in god." - wells

I'm fairly certain that belief is irrelevant. More than likely it doesn't matter one iota. Fear now is another matter. I've read some negative NDE's which I highly suspicion were caused by fear. Fear is not a good thing when crossing over. It probably doesn't matter what one believes, but it might help to have some knowledge about what one might expect. See what I'm getting at? If I'm right and something of us survives, it might help to know a little bit about what one might expect. That way you're prepared just in case us woo-woos are right. If I'm right I'm heading straight for that light after I leave my body.

Anonymous said...

"The essential point that I’m making is that mystical realization and certain scientific discoveries each support the hypothesis that reality is One interconnected thing"

See, the problem is that mystical realization holds everything to be One: You and I are One, and You and The World are One, and Good and Evil are One, and Everything and Nothing are One.

Correct me if I'm wrong (seriously) but the whole mystical tact is to emphasize opposing concepts as abstract things-in-themselves and then to poetically equate them. The connection is counter-intuitive and thus aesthetically pleasing (be it fiction or fact, it is pleasurable to unite disparate ideas) and as abstractions it's easier to accept. Good and Evil may be pitched as "metaphysically" connected. Traffic signaling and the Holocaust, however, is a tougher sell. That's for the advanced student.

What results is a "truth" that feels deeply profound, but actually it's not. It's shallow and simplistic. There's no deep knowledge in everything equals everything--nothing about what things are, or how things are different, or what causes things to be different. Deep knowledge requires differentiation. Eastern philosophy only generalizes.

I apologize if I sound like a jerk. (My personal philosophy is that while people are to be respected, ideas are free-game). I invite a counter-argument, preferably with concrete counter-examples.

-- Ian.

Anonymous said...

"If I'm right and something of us survives, it might help to know a little bit about what one might expect."

Believe me, I am familiar with The Light. I was raised to be a fundamental Christian and I aspired as much. It's been a long, reluctant road to atheism. What remaining theism remains believes God designed the world to refute Him, or else He made me retardedly stupid. At any rate, I pray (metaphorically speaking) that He show mercy come Judgement Day. I did my best.

-- Ian.

clegg said...

Ian, first very few people posting here are fundamentalist Christians. The idea of a Judgment Day or a wrathful Jehovah is anathema, and frankly, silly. These days, believers are often convinced by the evidence of mediums and NDEs.

Second, differentiation is what we have on Earth. It appears to be a major point of our lives here. NDEs in particular show, above all, the joy of connectedness. Out of the physical straitjacket, consciousness can expand and become more inclusive.

I know people that have had OBEs and NDEs, who have experienced that connectedness. They are trustworthy, sensible, intelligent people. Their lives have been massively changed by their experiences. I have a choice: to say they are foolish, or to believe them. Attempts to explain such experiences away as unreal are simply dishonest.

gimlet said...

It is necessary to constantly remind oneself, Wells, that all scientific studies claim to be empirical in the sense of being based on experience, but they do not necessarily agree on the definition of empiricism. Objective approaches that claim to be scientific rely primarily on sensory data, measurement and analysis. But in studying consciousness, we also need subjective introspection and intersubjective discourse (the exploration of meaning and values). Our empirical approaches here will be subject to injunction, verification, and confirmation by other trained observers (peer review). Each approach has its own methods of validation. In other words, we need to remember that each method requires specialized training, and expertise in one domain does not imply expertise in another.

You will find that even in the objective sciences that people in slightly different fields have trouble understanding each other. Within the field of psychology the divisions between behavioral scientists predominantly concerned with the measurement, prediction and control of behavior, and the more introspective proponents of existential and transpersonal psychology concerned with value, meaning and purpose in human life, can be difficult to bridge.

Objective, subjective and intersubjective approaches to studying consciousness all include rational, emotional, and intuitive modes of knowing. Although intuition and emotion are often perceived as belonging exclusively to the domain of the soft social sciences, objective sciences also rely on the subjective intuition and emotional motivation of investigators. You will be aware of the old chestnut that the person paying for research usually gets the answers he wants.

Any approach can be discussed in objective, descriptive language, but inquiring into the depths of inner experience calls for interpretation and intersubjective dialogue that includes feelings and intuition. Validity in this domain depends, not on objective descriptions, but on the authentic expression of subjective reality. Authenticity, truthfulness, and sincerity are necessary for intersubjective explorations of depth and mutual understanding. When a normally reasonable person rubbishes the results of research published by experts in the field, this is either a sign that he doesn’t appreciate the wider definition of empiricism, or that he is not in touch with his own native prejudices.

sam_o said...

Looking back at what was suggested earlier about Intelligence residing outside the brain, it is worth mentioning idiot savants. Such people with an IQ of as low as 25, are often not capable of being taught or trained in their amazing abilities.

Bell’s theorem (quantum physics nonlocality) is analogous. Intelligence could be considered as "fields of potential," in the same way that magnetic fields interact with iron filings. The brains of idiot savants might receive this information directly from a non-local source, forming these "fields of knowledge."

I mention this because it may strike a chord with particle physicists, who just love their fields!

I expect Roger Penrose has considered this idea. I know he looked at the case of Daniel Tammet, who can recite from memory 22 thousand digits in the number pi. Daniel is one of those idiot savants who is capable of learning: he can learn a foreign language in a week, but like Data without his emotion chip, he doesn’t understand jokes.

ira_attlee said...

There are three main fundamental positions within the philosophy of mind:
- “Both the physical world and the realm of consciousness are real and cannot be reduced to one another” or dualism.
“Only the physical world is irreducibly real” or materialism.
“Only consciousness is irreducibly real” or idealism.

I cannot follow from what Michael H says whether he is a dualist or an idealist. At some points he seems to be an idealist, at other points a dualist. Which camp are you actually in, Michael H? Which of your words will you eat?

Art said...

Ian, first very few people posting here are fundamentalist Christians. The idea of a Judgment Day or a wrathful Jehovah is anathema, and frankly, silly. These days, believers are often convinced by the evidence of mediums and NDEs. - clegg

Exactly. I think belief is irrelevant. Agreement is irrelevant. Acceptance is irrelevant. Fear might have a little bit to do with it as I seem to recall that almost every single negative NDE that I've read seemed to have an element of fear attached to it. The only thing that might help after we die is to know that there is no need to be afraid of that Light. Everything good thing is in that Light. It is only human to label ourselves and make statements like "I believe this or that" but probably in the end it won't matter one bit. All the labels that we wear while we are alive are left behind after we die. Atheist or believer, I doubt it matters, but it might help to not be afraid.

Michael H said...

I’m going to attempt to answer Ian and Ira’s questions, but please understand that I’m a long way from a Self-realized master, so this attempt will be accordingly imperfect, and I also want to make clear that for anyone to really grasp what I’m attempting to communicate they need uncover it within themselves (I know . . . that sounds ‘mystical’).

The One is the undifferentiated state of existence from which everything arises. We can call it consciousness, we can call it Mind, we can call it the Tao, we can call it Being, we can call it God, we can call it First Cause. We can call it anything - David Bohm called it the Implicit Order. Whatever we choose to call it, it is the source of existence, and the realization of it is what the mystics report as forever ineffable, far beyond what any words may ever hope to contain. It is the One, true, final, absolute thing. It is the Real. It is Truth and it is absolute unconditional Love.

The world of form, which includes human beings, the earth, the solar system, the galaxy, the cosmos and all of its constituent parts are aspects of the undifferentiated Whole. David Bohm called this the Explicit Order.

From the mystic's perspective, which is the perspective of the undifferentiated state before form, everything is understood as One, and he would say that he’s experiencing the Real, while the world of form was secondary: a manifestation of the Real, or as I wrote in my earlier response to dragonfly, a mere reflection of the deeper reality the mystic has realized. It’s from these experiences that descriptions of the physical cosmos as an illusion, or ‘maya’, come from. It has been my experience that there are a lot of people who parrot that statement without having realized what it means – I think a better description is that we are all experiencing the real, but that our perspectives are all different. The mystic perceives the same reality as everyone else, but it appears dramatically different from his perspective. He is cognizant of both the form and the source.

The difficulty that arise in interpreting the mystic results from attempting to grasp the mystical perspective from an intellectual perspective, which is the only perspective most of us have known since early childhood. The reason we call mystics 'mystics’, is because most people haven’t realized their state of mind. If more begin to, we might decide to define them as ‘Realists’: one who sees deeply into the true nature of things.

What the mystic realizes, that the others have not, is that the portion of himself that he formerly identified as the ‘self’, is not the true self. As I wrote in an earlier response above, the realization of the underlying consciousness involves understanding that the intellect and the ego are themselves constructs of that underlying consciousness. This realization, though deeply humbling, does not involve a loss in identity. On the contrary, it involves an expansion of identity. Anyone who begins to realize it is still everything they’ve been before, but they begin to identify with a higher aspect of self, and the associated deeper feelings of that higher self.

I want to be very clear that I am not advocating anti-intellectualism, or some drifting, flighty state of mind. The experience is one of an increased state of alertness and awareness; the individual has full use of the intellect, usually an enhanced intellect. Thoughts flow, rather than cycle, and insights begin to arrive; fresh ideas just ‘come to mind’. The feeling is simultaneously deeply relaxed and fully awake. It’s nothing more than the experience of a quiet mind in the moment, and it doesn’t involve decades of meditation to find it.

Upon hearing a premise such as I’ve articulated above, anyone who is yet to experience a higher level of consciousness will begin to ask questions like: If this is all true, why don’t more people see it? Why can’t our instruments detect it? Where is it hiding? What the hell is the higher self? Why is there so much evil around if everything is ultimately One undifferentiated divine essence?

The answers have to do with why I tend to challenge existing beliefs as I do. I’m sure that I elicit reactions similar to Wells’ from many who read what I may write, but I’m honestly not attempting to just do violence to deeply held beliefs, though I do want to challenge them. And the reason I do so is that if someone begins to question their own current ideas about reality, new ideas about reality are likely to occur to them (once they calm down). And where those new ideas are coming from is the higher self. It’s subtle and elusive, but it is there. It’s the realm of intuition, conscience and insight.

But here’s the rub. Most of us aren’t even aware there’s a higher self we have access to. I wasn’t. But once I began to pay attention to how my own mind operated, I began to see how I had constructed an entire belief system over time. Once I saw that as a fact, a different way of looking at things just started to come to mind. In my case, it led to some very profound insights, culminating in the conclusions I’m expressing here. The insights were profound enough to tell me that what I’m attempting to get across here is but a fraction of what can be known, and I acknowledge that I’m also operating from my current belief system. It’s a much different belief system than it used to be, though.

So why is there evil in the world? This may sound simplistic, but as near as I can tell it’s because most everyone is unaware that there is a higher self within. We all are observing reality from a unique perspective, moment-to-moment, and we don’t understand that everyone else is in the same position. Consequently, we’re all ensnared within our existing belief systems, simply because we don’t know that there’s any other way to think or act. We don’t question our interpretations of reality, and in some cases, the interpretations of reality that too many choose to live and act from are deeply flawed. This can get really ugly when large groups of people adopt a shared interpretation, which then plays out as the Spanish Inquisition, The Holocaust, the atrocities of a Stalin and Mao, or the current train wreck of radical Islam.

The divisiveness shows up in other ways as well. From religions or political affiliations to races to sexes to metaphysical assumptions, every one of us is susceptible to an incredible array of beliefs we’ve been busy constructing over the course of our lives, and every single one of those beliefs contributes to blinding us to who and what we actually are. I’m as certain as I can be that those beliefs will continue to play out following death, and it will go on indefinitely until we awaken to who and what we really are, which is the undifferentiated One consciousness that’s hiding deep within our individual consciousness. What exists are perspectives on reality, and varying levels of consciousness. The more we identify with the higher self within, the higher level we experience, here and after ‘death’. The more we conclude that our current perspective is absolute, the lower we level we experience, which shows up on earth in its worst manifestations as violent crime and psychosis. Those who leave earth convinced of their given perspective will most likely continue to experience the same perspective indefinitely. Thus the visions of ‘Hell’, which are ultimately created by the lower self.

It’s been my observation that many of those who concentrate on phenomena like medium communications or NDE testimony are assuming that the perspectives that are shared are absolute, so they conclude that dualism is the truth. The conclusion is that life here is fully real, but there’s another life that follows this one. The testimony of the Self-realized masters tells us that this is in error: there is only the appearance of dualism until one reaches the level of consciousness where they realize that the source of all existence and all experience is consciousness itself, and there are only perspectives. Perspectives which we will all continue to experience indefinitely until we move beyond all of our beliefs, and realize that there’s never been anywhere to go. Heaven and Hell are real and attainable right here on earth, and the determining factor in what we experience is how seriously we take whatever perspective we happen to find ourselves in at the moment.

So to clarify, I don’t see ‘everything as equaling everything’ in its manifestations, but ‘everything does equal everything’ at its source. As I wrote earlier, I don’t ask anyone to accept anything I may express as absolute, although I’m as certain as I can be that it is, and I’m expressing what I understand to be the case as well as I’m capable. I’m like everyone else at this moment, viewing existence from a particular level of consciousness myself though, and if I rise to a higher level, I may understand more, and if I do, it will probably be even more difficult for others to grasp than this long, rambling post.

If any of this makes sense to someone, a book worth looking into might be Changes of Mind, by Jenny Wade. The conclusion of the review available from the Google Books page sums up the problem faced in understanding what I’ve just written:

“In my own opinion, anyone who writes about human beings in general is going to have to take this terrible knowledge on board.

“I say 'terrible' because once we think in this new way, we have to acknowledge that we ourselves are standing on a particular level, and speaking to, and about, others who are at the same or different levels. For example, most people in the world, according to Kohlberg, are functioning at levels no higher than the Achievement and Affiliative stage. A smaller number are functioning at the Authentic stage, and smaller numbers again at the higher stages. Yet the first stage at which we can use the type of logic necessary to use the idea of stages with any real freedom is the Authentic stage. This means that this logic will sound like nonsense or error to those who have not yet reached this level.
Let those who dare read Jenny Wade !”

I see the main issues in the world today as arising from polarized beliefs. As valuable and important as the intellect is, it can also be our downfall. I’m convinced that if everyone would just learn to cultivate a quiet mind, many more people would discover a much deeper sense of general wellbeing. I also think that those who define themselves as atheist or agnostic today might discover a deeper sense of appreciation for the cosmos we inhabit, while the religious might discover a more inclusive definition of their particular God.

And neither of those scenarios would be a bad thing. But in the end, everyone needs to discover the same truth, on their own path, and in their own time.

ira_attlee said...

“every one of us is susceptible to an incredible array of beliefs we’ve been busy constructing over the course of our lives, and every single one of those beliefs contributes to blinding us to who and what we actually are.”

This is pretty weird stuff. Believing nothing would mean you couldn’t build on experience. You couldn’t learn anything. If you write a book, Michael, you’ll have to call it, “I don’t believe anything”.

Anonymous said...

Nice. But he won't be able to write that book until he becomes a self-realized master.

gimlet said...

Michael has revealed his soul and does not deserve to be mocked by people who don’t even know they’ve got one. Very enlightening, Michael. May I paraphrase what you say about beliefs?

If we recognise that this world is transient, then we should also recognise that the beliefs we derive from it are provisional, and we must be prepared to drop them as soon as they fray at the edges, rather than cling on to them until they hang from us in rags.

Michael H said...

Well put, gimlet.

What took me 1800 words, took you one sentence.


By the way, anyone can mock what I've written to the heart's content. Doing so only strengthens the point I'm attempting to make.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Michael H. -- and others who feel a sense of understanding what Michael H. is trying to express:

A novel I like very much as a metaphoric attempt to convey the idea of different levels is

The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five by Doris Lessing.

This is currently not in stock in new copies at Amazon, but used copies are available:


Anonymous said...

Interesting interview with Susan Blackmore that's relevant to a lot of discussion on this thread. She herself had an out of body experience:

She articulates (in a less hamfisted manner) some of the points I was trying to make earlier:

"From the point of view of meme theory, by definition the memes that succeed will be best memes in survival terms. The critical question is will they succeed because they're more truthful than the others? Will the most useful one, the one most helpful to understanding consciousness emerge as the winner in the new science of consciousness, or will the memes that emerge be the ones that people like best?

I trust, which may sound naive in my faith in science, I trust that the scientific message, imperfect as it is, is the best hope for getting the true memes to win. Because you're trained as a scientist to test ideas again and again, not to accept things just by dogma or because they're written in a book or you like them. But to test them against the evidence. That's the point of science and that's the way you get rid of the rubbish.

There's always a problem, particularly with consciousness and studying the nature of self... these things touch people's emotions so deeply that there is a huge difference between the ideas people like and the ones they don't, so there's a danger that the ideas people like will win."

-- Ian.

Art said...

Interesting interview with Susan Blackmore that's relevant to a lot of discussion on this thread. She herself had an out of body experience: anonymous

The reason Susan Blackmore saw houses with different colored rooftops during her out of body expeierence is the same reason a bee sees different colors inside flowers than we do. After the soul leaves the body it is no longer subject to the limitations of the body and can see light in the entire light spectrum. Expect to see colors that you've never seen before. The same is true for sound. Humans have a very narrow range of sounds they can hear, but after leaving the body we will be able to hear the entire sound range, infrasound, etc.

Michael H said...

I trust, which may sound naive in my faith in science, I trust that the scientific message, imperfect as it is, is the best hope for getting the true memes to win. Because you're trained as a scientist to test ideas again and again, not to accept things just by dogma or because they're written in a book or you like them.

What Blackmore and the scientific-minded do not understand is that the scientific method can be applied by any individual to their own consciousness. Just as science is concerned with objective fact, the investigation of individual consciousness is concerned with subjective fact. Either method can lead to remarkable discoveries, but only one leads to absolute truth.

What more need to ask themselves, is, "Do I want to rely on Susan Blackmore, or Richard Dawkins, or the Pope, or John Hagee, or my Mosque's cleric? Or do I want to rely on myself?"

Anonymous said...

What Blackmore and the scientific-minded do not understand is that the scientific method can be applied by any individual to their own consciousness.

Did you not read page 3 of the interview?

You seem to think that introspection leads inevitably to an Idealist view of reality. You are mistaken.

What more need to ask themselves, is, "Do I want to rely on Susan Blackmore, or Richard Dawkins, or the Pope, or John Hagee, or my Mosque's cleric? Or do I want to rely on myself?"

In matters of fact, and discerning fact, I rely on the mainstream scientific community--its theories, spokesmen, methodologies, standards, and attitudes. Science is society's truth-seeking institution, and it's been overwhelmingly successful. It's a reliable authority.

I rely on myself too of course, but it's a colossal mistake not to temper one's views with outside knowledge.

-- Ian.

gimlet said...

Ian, if scientific methodology insists on looking for physical, material causes for everything, it will always be reductionist. Spiritual experiences are not physical. If you haven’t had a spiritual experience, think of it like this:

Suppose a scientist was asked to find out what ecstasy was. After some research, he discovers a cluster of firing nerves and neurons, and reproduces (sic) an orgasm. “That’s it!”, he says.

But there’s a difference between an orgasm and ecstasy, isn’t there? (I hope you’ve been lucky enough to discover this).

Michael H said...

But there’s a difference between an orgasm and ecstasy, isn’t there? (I hope you’ve been lucky enough to discover this).

I think it's the French who describe an orgasm as "the Little Death", gimlet. Maybe the difference is one of duration. :-)

And Ian, in reading Susan Blackmore's descriptions of her twenty years of Zen practice, it seems like she still hasn't been able to move outside of the intellect itself. Maybe it's something that is just exceptionally difficult for certain people.

Peter Kingsley, who has researched the metaphysics of Parmenides and Empedocles, describes the latter's instructions to his disciple as follows in his book Reality:

"There is one crucial point to note about Empedocles' instructions for [his disciple] Pausanias. This is that the things he tells him to do are things we never do ourselves . . .

"His first instruction to Pausanias is not to perceive but to perceive that he is perceiving -- to watch the perceptive process itself. In other words he is telling him not just to look or touch or hear but to look and touch while fully conscious of looking and touching, to hear with the awareness that he is hearing . . .

"This state of awareness is the trickiest of things because it never extends beyond the present moment. The reason why Empedocles instructs his disciple about it, presents it to him as such a very specific practice, is because it doesn't do itself. It isn't automatic but only lasts for as long as you stay conscious.

"The moment you become fascinated by something you perceive, you will be dragged off by your nose into a seemingly external world of spiraling shapes and colors. The moment you wander off after some fascinating thought inside your head you will be left with unseeing eyes, staring blankly into space all over again, deaf to the gentle sounds around you. And this is how we pass our lives, silently tugged backwards and forwards from one state to the other: always lost, except perhaps in the most fleeting moment, to ourselves."

Blackmore's description of noticing the distracting thoughts are common to anyone who's practiced mindfulness, but her description of silent focus on the white wall suggests to me that she has yet to "perceive that she's perceiving".

In my experience, introspection has little value until one reaches the second level of awarenesss, the level that perceives the perceiver.

clegg said...

Where scientists are emotionally committed to the materialist paradigm, or are afraid of censure from their peers, or afraid funding will be withdrawn, they become half blind. They don't see things, don't do the right experiments, don't do any experiments, because they already know it's impossible.

True scientists are fascinated by the unknown. They are not in pursuit of a recognition or a Nobel Prize. If the scientists you trust are like that, Ian, you are on safe ground. Otherwise not.

Anonymous said...

Ian, if scientific methodology insists on looking for physical, material causes for everything, it will always be reductionist. Spiritual experiences are not physical.

You've got too many words there. Science insists on looking for causes, period. Its methodology is such because it's pragmatically effective.

And some spiritual experiences, at least, have physical causes:

Psilocybin Study Hints at Rebirth of Hallucinogen Research

Suppose a scientist was asked to find out what ecstasy was. After some research, he discovers a cluster of firing nerves and neurons, and reproduces (sic) an orgasm. “That’s it!”, he says.

He wouldn't say that's "it" because ecstasy and orgasms are independently achievable, plus he wouldn't rely solely on physiological indicators (which would surely be more subtle). Self-reporting is an important part of research. The main criterion of an ecstasy study would be... do the test subjects report ecstasy? The scientist would also study those with damage to the hypothetical ecstasy center to see if they were capable of the feeling.

All of that would contribute to a better understanding of ecstasy, and if the search was fruitless, you'd have a stronger argument that ecstasy is irreducible to neurology.

-- Ian.

gimlet said...

Well of course spiritual experts say that spiritual experiences are available all the time to us, if we know how to attune ourselves (often via meditation, introspection, mindfulness etc). If the brain includes nonlocal receiving apparatus (perhaps via the microtubules, or by enforcing right brain dominance), then it’s perfectly feasible that this apparatus might be enhanced by drugs. (I expect you saw the recent case of the neurosurgeon who had a stroke which powered up her right brain in the same way). More power to your elbow, Ian. Make it happen! We need an alternative to the millions of antidepressants taken every day by people who see no meaning in their lives.

Michael H said...

Jill Bolte Taylor's experience was fascinating, gimlet. Her description of watching her perception of 'self' deteriorate as the left brain hemorrhage burst is consistent with mystical testimony of the experience of 'no-self'. I also thought it was interesting that she identified her right brain as what connected her to a surrounding field of wholeness - "I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere." The chosen terminology suggests an observer beyond both hemispheres, or entirely outside of the brain itself.

By the way, Charles Tart published a paper a few years ago comparing psychedelic experience with the spontaneous realization of Cosmic Consciousness.

His conclusion was, "There are numerous apparent similarities between LSD and CC. However, based on my personal experience, I believe that they are two very different 'states' of consciousness."

You’re right about the depression epidemic in the West, too. I can’t help but think that the intellectual elite’s insistence on a naturalist view of existence has contributed to the problem. Dawkins, Pinker, Blackmore and the like may find satisfaction in their vision of eventual oblivion, but it terrifies the average person. The reasonably healthy take anti-depressants. Others choose alcoholism and drug abuse. So it goes.