Friday, October 26, 2012

once more unto the breach

Piling on, Dr. Vallicella examines the claims of Dr. Eben Alexander, who said he experienced a vision of the celestial realm while clinically dead. Despite being a theist, and because he's a rigorous thinker, Dr. V pronounces himself politely skeptical of Dr. Alexander's paradisiacal narrative.

My point is not [that] the doctor has not given us evidence that mental functioning occurs in the absence of brain activity; I believe he has. My point is that the evidence is not compelling.

Our predicament in this life is such that we cannot prove such things as that God exists, that life has meaning, that the will is free, that morality is not an illusion, and that we survive our bodily deaths. But we cannot prove the opposites either. It is reasonable to maintain each of these views. Many arguments and considerations can be adduced. Among the evidence is a wide range of religious, mystical and [paranormal] experiences including near-death and out-of-body experiences. The cumulative case is impressive but not conclusive. It rationalizes, but does not establish. Philosophers. of course, are ever in quest of 'knock-down' arguments. This is because you are no philosopher if you don't crave certainty. Ohne Gewissheit kann ich eben nicht leben! Husserl once exclaimed.* But so far no 'knock-down' arguments have been found.

Stephen Kaplan, in his Different Paths, Different Summits, wrote of the irreducible diversity of mystical experience. With constructivist epistemology as his jumping-off point, Kaplan argued that all mystical experience is inevitably culturally mediated: we construct perceptual and conceptual filters through which we see the world and come to know it. Christians are thus predisposed to see angels, harps, and clouds; Tibetan Buddhists will see themselves haring through the bardo; Muslims will, meanwhile, envision an oasis-paradise and, perhaps, a bevy of brown-eyed virgins. Why should out-of-body experiences be any less culturally mediated than mystical ones? Dr. Alexander was already well-steeped in Christian culture and mythos long before his "death." It's only natural for him to report an angel sighting.

Upshot: move along. Nothing to see here.

*This translates to "I simply cannot live without certainty!"


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