Letter from Mark van Steenwyk IV

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 30, 2010 in Letters

Below is Mark van Steenwyk’s fourth letter to me. See the index of all our letters so far, here.

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Dear Luke,

I’m suspecting it would be take too much energy exploring the difference between our epistemoligies that this format affords us. I suspect we’re a bit of an oddity in the world of atheist/theist dialogue. You are too thoughtful and generous to be lumped in with the atheistic characatures like Hitchens or Dawkins (or “Ditchkens” as Terry Eagleton names them). And I’m something of a slippery fellow because of my mystical postmodernish approach.

But let me just address one issue quickly: the matter of reliability. You suggest that mystical experience and fideism “have been horribly unreliable guides to truth.” Sure. But that doesn’t negate them. That assumes that all mysticisms are basically the same, and that mysticism is just some sort of mushy arbitrary thing. It also assumes that truth is a relatively monolithic impersonal thing. I suggest (obviously) that there is more to it than that. If mystical “things” exist (and I believe they do), then mysticism makes sense. It may seem, intellectually speaking, putting the cart before the horse. :)

In your letter, you laid out some goals for a better world. You said that the world would be a better place if:

  • Power was less centralized, and more equally distributed.
  • People had desires that tend to fulfill other desires, rather than desires that tend to thwart other desires.
  • Slavery did not exist.
  • Starvation did not happen.
  • More cures for more conditions were available to more people.
  • Violence was uncommon.
  • More people had the opportunity to engage in fulfilling and meaningful work, rather than demeaning and meaningless work.
  • Humans did not treat other animals with such cruelty.

I agree. Though, I suspect the vast majority of humanity would agree. There are many things I would probably add to the list, but, in the end, there is a lingering obstacle: HOW. After all, so much oppression has been perpetrated in the name of alleviating oppression.

So even if we could agree on a perfect list, the method shapes the outcome. This is the political version of “the medium is the message.”

Which raises some questions:

  1. How do we know the best “path” towards utopia? Is anarchism the best “system” to achieve this? Or is there a better approach? How do we get from here to there?
  2. How would being an atheist or a “believer” factor into the development of that “path?” In other words, is there an approach that is intrinsically truer to atheism?
  3. What challenge do religious belief present to achieving these goals?
  4. What challenge does atheism present to achieving these goals?

- Mark

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

John D January 30, 2010 at 8:11 am

Mark: “If mystical “things” exist (and I believe they do), then mysticism makes sense. It may seem, intellectually speaking, putting the cart before the horse.”

That’s a pretty excellent summary of Plantinga’s reformed epistemology: If Christianity is true, then reformed epistemology makes sense.

Ah yes, but is it true?

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Hermes January 30, 2010 at 10:32 am

John D: Ah yes, but is it true?

Sure it is — or at a minimum not easily refuted.

That is, as is the fashion today, once a few pesky books are ignored (the OT and the NT anthologies), the deity Yahweh retired and then replaced by a deity that is abstract, modestly involved, and capricious. Once that is done, it makes perfect sense — well, as much sense as any other new-age entity.

Add any of the old stuff back in, and it collapses under the weight of incoherent self-contradiction.

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TaiChi January 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm

…mystical experience and fideism “have been horribly unreliable guides to truth.” Sure. But that doesn’t negate them. That assumes that all mysticisms are basically the same…If mystical “things” exist (and I believe they do), then mysticism makes sense.

I suppose Mark thinks that his particular brand of mysticism shouldn’t be lumped in with others, and though he doesn’t give a reason for why his version is correct, he may be right that there is some difference between Christian and other mysticisms. But he shouldn’t then continue by saying that mysticism as a broad epistemological approach makes sense, as he’s admitted otherwise. He can’t have it both ways.

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Bill Maher January 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I don’t know why you didn’t just talk to this guy instead of Vox. Mark seems like nice guy that is informed.

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Mark Van Steenwyk January 30, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Thanks for the kind word, Bill.

TaiChi. Of course I don’t lump my mysticism in with other mysticisms (though I wouldn’t just say that mine is simply ‘Christian’–that is too general of a descriptor). I have given epistemological reasons (though I recognize that you don’t see them as valid reasons) in previous messages to Luke.

I don’t believe that one weighs competing mystical “revelations” against one another on the basis of some sort of external rationalistic criteria. One has to enter into the experience and evaluate it from within. I am not about to say that the experiences of others are false or wrong “objectively.” That is a fools errand. Rather, I can say, from my own subjective stance, I believe I know Truth. And, as a result, out of that subjectivity I am ok saying that the God I know rejects certain things.

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Mark Van Steenwyk January 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Heremes,

There are many approaches to Scripture. One shouldn’t just treat everything in Scripture with equal weight. Scripture isn’t “flat.” And I think it is foolish to treat it as a set of propositional truths. Rather, it is an unfolding of a True story that MUST be spiritually discerned and, at some level, mystically engaged in order to be revelatory.

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Hermes January 30, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Mark, I take the general anthropologist+mythicist point of view on myths and associated legends and other cultural stories. If you’ve read Joseph Campbell’s work on myth you have a fairly good idea of what I’m talking about, though I reserve the right to disagree with Campbell and others on specifics and especially some of his conclusions. (Note: I unreservedly and vigorously reject the overreaching nonsense promoted by Acharya S. and the conspiracy theories pushed by the Zeitgeist movies.)

In summary; Any group of myths/legends/… are culturally based and express the ‘truths’ of the culture they are associated with otherwise they would not be passed around in those cultures and promoted.

As such, focusing on Christianity as a specific case for a moment, the advocacy most Christians have toward their religious texts tends to throw out most the anthropological value it contains along with the context while claiming it is ‘eternal’. Christians as a matter of course filter out parts that are still there that were culturally relevant to the people who wrote them, but are abhorrent or even regressive to us now if examined. Finally, there is little active criticism and appreciation of the myths/… of modern society that I contend are vastly superior and more appropriate than the myths/… of a copper/bronze age Bedouin society in the throws of a transition to the iron age. Why focus on those people, those alien people, to the exclusion of others including ourselves?

The idea of a set of deities has changed and the one that most Christians talk about isn’t the one that’s in the book. I’d like to see some theists admit that and not continually label their own idea of a deity with one from another culture that they are not in at all.

As mentioned earlier, this is a general view and only happens to apply to Abrahamic religious myths/… at the point they are brought up. Otherwise, this applies to any myth/… from any time or culture.

So, more thoughtfully and with no humor or idle jabs, that’s what was behind my previous snide comments.

With that out of the way, consider the following snide insight;

* Most Christians that vigorously promote Christianity do so like children lost in a storybook kingdom. They are members of a book club that rejects everything not in the preferred reading list while 35,000 similar book clubs argue over issues that boil down to the same kind of argument Trekies would have over which captain is better — Kirk or Picard?

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Hermes January 30, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Mark, the previous comment did not include the a quote from you that I was referring to;

Mark Van Steenwyk: it is an unfolding of a True story

As an example of what I commented on, may I draw your attention to the each of the sections underlined in the quote above.

* ‘it is an unfolding’ – Example of a cultural process of re-interpretaion of myths/… from other alien cultures.

* ‘True’ – Capitalized making it a special term that does not mean the same as the common word true.

* ‘story’ – Acknowledgement of the mythic aspects of the topic. We are talking about the other world.

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Hermes January 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Note: Underlined parts were stripped after hitting the ‘submit comment’ button. Sorry for any confusion.

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TaiChi January 30, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Mark Van Steenwyk: TaiChi. Of course I don’t lump my mysticism in with other mysticisms (though I wouldn’t just say that mine is simply ‘Christian’–that is too general of a descriptor). I have given epistemological reasons (though I recognize that you don’t see them as valid reasons) in previous messages to Luke.  

Mark, thanks for the unexpected reply. It seems that I wasn’t quite clear, since to me your response exhibits the same desire to have things both ways as the letter. You want to say both that your mysticism isn’t an ordinary mysticism, and that all mysticisms are equally reasonable.
Suppose I grant you that Christian mysticism is above the pack (the reason doesn’t matter here, it can be subjective as you like). Then from your point of view, Christian mysticism is uniquely warranted, and you are justified in ignoring the revelations of other faiths in favour of your own. But if so, mysticism as a general epistemological approach doesn’t make sense, only Christian mysticism does.

Mark Van Steenwyk: I don’t believe that one weighs competing mystical “revelations” against one another on the basis of some sort of external rationalistic criteria. One has to enter into the experience and evaluate it from within. I am not about to say that the experiences of others are false or wrong “objectively.” That is a fools errand. Rather, I can say, from my own subjective stance, I believe I know Truth.   

But the consequence of the Truth that you claim to know just is that the experiences of others are false and wrong objectively. You may be unable to argue for that, given that only you have access to your mystical experiences, but it is what you must believe – your mystical revelations contradict those of other faiths. Since the falsity of the many such non-Christian experiences cast doubt on the method, you should deny that mysticism makes sense. As mentioned, you can save Christian mysticism by claiming that it is somehow different, but you can’t save mysticism in general.

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TaiChi January 30, 2010 at 6:54 pm

For my own interest probably, I’ve sketched an argument similar to that in my second paragraph. Here it is:

1. Christian mystical experience is veridicial.
2. So Christianity is true. [From 2]
3. Chrisitanity is logically incompatible with non-Christian faiths.
4. So non-Christian faiths are not true. [From 2 and 3]
5. So non-Christian mystical experience is not veridical. [From 4]
6. Less than half of mystical experiences are Christian.
7. So less than half of mystical experiences are veridical. [From 5 and 6]
8. So the chance of any particular mystical experience being veridical is less than 50 percent. [From 7]
9. An epistemological method is reasonable only iff it is more accurate than not.
10. So, mysticism (as a whole, and in general) is not reasonable. [From 8 and 9]

It’s all fairly straightforward, except to say that 6 is based on the fact that Christianity is believed by less than half the religious (about 40%, I think), and I’m presuming that the incidence of religious experience is constant across the various faiths.
Of course, this argument only casts doubt over mysticism in general – 1 states that Christian mysticism is veridical, and 2 states that Christianity is true, so I’m not here arguing that Christian mystical experience is unreliable. I’ve granted that for the sake of argument, in order to show that mysticism in general must be unreliable and unreasonable from the Christian standpoint.

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Hermes January 30, 2010 at 7:17 pm

TaiChi, good post as usual. Some small nits;

TaiChi: 1. Christian mystical experience is veridicial.
2. So Christianity is true. [From 2]

Typo? Should that be …

1. Christian mystical experience is veridicial.
2. So Christianity is true. [From _1_]

TaiChi: Christianity is believed by less than half the religious (about 40%, I think)

About ~33% (2005 estimate).

Source: http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

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TaiChi January 30, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Hermes: Typo? Should that be …
1. Christian mystical experience is veridicial.
2. So Christianity is true. [From _1_]

Yep, of course.

Hermes: About ~33% (2005 estimate).

That was my source, too. But since I assume that the nonreligious do not have mystical experiences, they ought not be counted. So I calculated… 33÷(100-16)≈0.4 …to get my percentage of mystical experiences that are Christian.

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Jeff H January 30, 2010 at 7:40 pm

TaiChi,

I’d like to hear Mark’s answer to your post, but in general, trying to use logic with a post-modernist is like talking politics with a cow…

I doubt that he will agree that the “truth” of his experience negates the “truth” of other experiences. Depends on his particular flavour of post-modernism, though, I suppose.

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Jeff H January 30, 2010 at 8:10 pm

I realized with my previous comment that my analogy might be taken the wrong way. I meant no disrespect to either the post-modernist or the noble cow. I just meant that the two conversants are on completely different wavelengths. The person is talking politics, while the cow is off thinking about the delicious grass…the discussion is meaningless to both of them.

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Hermes January 30, 2010 at 9:24 pm

TaiChi, excellent. In your case, I should pay better attention and not jump to conclusions. Thanks.

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Maria Kirby February 2, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I like TaiChi’s logic here, but I wonder if you are starting at the right axioms. I thought I’d put in my logic and see if you can tell me where the holes are:
1.We know something is true first because we experience it. We know gravity because we fall down. We know a flower because we experience the characteristics of a flower.

2.We know something is true secondly because of logical and thematic consistency. We observe that everything falls down. We are able to extend our experience of gravity to a universal truth because of the consistency with which two masses attract each other. We know a flower is a flower and not bee for example because of characteristic consistencies between other examples of the same type; flowers belong to plants, all flowers are used for pollination, each flower has petals, stamens, pistils. Something that is a true flower is something that has all the characteristics of what a flower is defined to be.

3.Truth builds on truth. We understand the general concept of force because of understanding the experience of acceleration of gravity. We understand that truth of the pollinator because we understand the truth of the flower.

4.Therefore there is truth in mystical experience because it is experience. (see #1)

5.The truth of mystical experience is true because of how it reflects logical and thematic consistency with other sources of truth including other experience. (see #2) Mystical experience that is consistent with Biblical truths is considered to be Christian mysticism. The consistency to other truths imparts the value of truth onto/into the experience. Mystical experience that is not consistent with outside truth may be considered suspect if not false. St Peter had the mystical experience of a sheet of animals lowered down out of heaven and commanded to kill and eat. The truth of the mystical experience was not that there are sheets of animals floating around in the sky. The truth was in the fact that God made all things good.

6.Mystical experience illuminates new truth by building on other truth. (see #3) If a person starts with the truth that God is love. And then experiences the love of God, then they come to the truth that God loves them. This experience combined with the truth that all persons are equal can then be used to understand the truth that God loves others as well.

7.There is a lot of consistency between religions which would lend credence to valuing those commonalities as true. This is the same basis by which we validate scientific truths.

8.Any mystical experience that demonstrated logical and thematic consistency with common truth might also be considered true. (see #2)

9.There may be a third way of evaluating the truth of a mystical experience and that would be based on its predictive ability. This is also the way scientific truths are validated. But not all mystical experiences are of this nature.

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Jeff H February 2, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Maria,

I think you are giving too much weight to mystical experiences. You say that we determine truth from consistency of experience (to summarize slightly), but which is more consistent with our experiences: the 99.9% of the time when we are just living in a mundane world, or the 0.1% of the time when we have a mystical experience? If the vast majority of the time we experience things “non-mystically”, why should we give any credence to the unusual circumstance that happens to us, perhaps once in our lifetime?

Moreover, here are some other things that are consistently demonstrated: mental illness, hallucinations, being mistaken, being cognitively biased towards existing beliefs… these are all things that are demonstrated in ample measure by humans all over the world. Why are these not given any consideration? Your second point talks about inductive reasoning, which is probabilistic. So if we know all these things happen to people, which is more probable: that it is happening to us as well, or that we are experiencing something completely new and supernatural?

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TaiChi February 2, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Hello Maria.

Maria Kirby: 1.We know something is true first because we experience it.We know gravity because we fall down. We know a flower because we experience the characteristics of a flower.

In one sense correct, in another false. What we know of the objective world we do know through experience, yes. But that doesn’t mean that having an experience is sufficient for knowledge, since it is always possible that the experience is illusory.

Maria Kirby:2.We know something is true secondly because of logical and thematic consistency.   

Similarly: yes, logical and thematic consistency is a criterion for truth that we employ. But no, this does not guarantee that what is logically and thematically consistent must be true, or that beliefs in the relevant propositions count as knowledge.

Maria Kirby: 4.Therefore there is truth in mystical experience because it is experience. (see #1)

If we take the strong reading of your 1, it is false, so doesn’t support 4. On the weak reading of 1 (strong empiricism), 4 doesn’t follow.

Maria Kirby: Mystical experience that is consistent with Biblical truths is considered to be Christian mysticism.

Two points: (i) mere consistency with Christianity is far too weak for whatever is to be deservedly labelled as ‘Christian mysticism’; (ii) biblical truths, which I presume include whatever is offered as fact in the bible, themselves form an inconsistent set – so, whatever propositions about mystical experience which may be added to them, the result is always inconsistency.

Maria Kirby:St Peter had the mystical experience of a sheet of animals lowered down out of heaven and commanded to kill and eat.The truth of the mystical experience was not that there are sheets of animals floating around in the sky.The truth was in the fact that God made all things good.  

So, you’ve been trying to argue for mystical experience from an analogy with ordinary experience. But now notice how different the examples you give are. The flower you describe, whose existence we can come to know through experience, is constructed out of our experiences of it, and we think that it exists in just the way we experience it (it doesn’t, but let that pass). On the other hand, Peter’s vision is supposed to support an entirely different sort of proposition, about the moral character of an agent who is yet unseen, and which seems to have little if any obvious connection with what he sees.

Maria Kirby: 6.Mystical experience illuminates new truth by building on other truth. (see #3) If a person starts with the truth that God is love. And then experiences the love of God, then they come to the truth that God loves them.

From the skeptics point of view, it is obvious why this is so. Those who believe that ‘God is love’ quite naturally want to communicate with God, to feel and share that love. So they have an interpretive bias in favor of construing an unusual experience as the touch of the divine. I’ll admit, this alone seems inadequate to explain a full-blown mystical experience, but once you realize that an interpretation can fuel an experience and vice versa, it becomes quite plausible to think of mystics as unwittingly driving their own cycle of positive feedback to marvelous experiences.
Anyhow, your description of belief leading to mystical experience is just what the skeptic would predict. That’s worth reflecting on.

Maria Kirby: 7.There is a lot of consistency between religions which would lend credence to valuing those commonalities as true.

I don’t agree. To take one example, Calvinism teaches that not all people are equal, but that some are chosen by God to be saved.

Maria Kirby: 8.Any mystical experience that demonstrated logical and thematic consistency with common truth might also be considered true

‘Might’ being the operative word. I disagree that it is thematically consistent, by the way – everything we know appears to be physical, and God is not physical (this point is much the same as Jeff’s).

Maria Kirby: 9.There may be a third way of evaluating the truth of a mystical experience and that would be based on its predictive ability… But not all mystical experiences are of this nature.  

Very few are. But, taken as a whole, mystical experiences disagree over which faith is the true one. So far as that prediction goes, mystical experience is inaccurate, and mysticism irrational.

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Maria Kirby February 4, 2010 at 9:52 am

Thanks TaiChi and Jeff H for responding.

TaiChi said:”What we know of the objective world we do know through experience, yes. But that doesn’t mean that having an experience is sufficient for knowledge, since it is always possible that the experience is illusory.”

And Jeff gave the example “mental illness, hallucinations, being mistaken, being cognitively biased towards existing beliefs…”

I would agree that experience can be illusory that is why I made the second criteria to be “We know something is true secondly because of logical and thematic consistency.” I meant for the second criteria to be applied to the first not just used on its own which you correctly pointed out has limitations. When we apply the second criteria to the first then it becomes obvious whether or not we are having mental illness, hallucinations, or are just mistaken.

Mystical experience can be distinguished from mental illness or hallucinations because logical and thematic consistencies with the rest of one’s experience and with the experience of others.

A blind man knows that there are colors because of the testimony of those who can see is consistent. Imagine for a moment if the blind man could see for a short period of time. Then the blind man would know color from an experiential perspective. Similarly, a person who has a mystical experience is knowledgeable of certain truths through an intellectual way, but in the mystical experience he has becomes aware of those truths experientially. The experience provides a much fuller understanding than anything that can be explained linguistically.

Maybe I should have started with defining mystical experience as a way that we sense the spiritual realm, similar to how our eyes sense light, tongues and noses sense chemical composition, ears sense molecular vibrations. There some people who have no or few mystical experiences and there are others who have a lot of them. There seems to be fairly consistent teaching in various religions about how one goes about the process of having mystical experiences. And it seems like some persons are more attune or adept at perceiving spiritual or mystical kinds of things. These observations bring me to the hypothesis that we have a sixth sense for spiritual things.

If a child is prevented from hearing or seeing when they are young, then their brain does not develop the capacity to process the signals to hear or see later in life if their ears of eyes were to work later in life. When people loose their sight or hearing then the brain takes over the regions that were once used for processing sight or sound to help it process the other signals from the other senses that are still being received.

Beauty and love are spiritual qualities which we experience through our five physical senses, but which cannot be defined by those senses. The quality which we can sense whether someone is alive or not is also something that is extremely difficult to define physically. Often times we can sense someone is in a room without having any other input from our other five senses.

In Christian mystical experiences the qualities of beauty, love, and presence are most often experienced. These qualities may or may not be combined with other sensory experience. These qualities are consistent with the general teachings of the bible about who God is and what he is like.

In the record of mystical experiences though, not all of them are so sublime. Sometimes people have mystical experiences with spiritual qualities which are destructive such as hate and evil. There is probably more human mystical experience with hate than with good. And many of these experiences have had visible physical consequences witnessed by those living with the person having the evil mystical experience.

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TaiChi February 5, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Maria Kirby: I meant for the second criteria to be applied to the first not just used on its own which you correctly pointed out has limitations.

Okay, so I propose to treat your 1 and 2 as suggestive: experiences carry an assumption of their veridicality, and at least one further test of this assumption is whether they are logically and thematically consistent. I agree with these both.

Maria Kirby: When we apply the second criteria to the first then it becomes obvious whether or not we are having mental illness, hallucinations, or are just mistaken.

There’s no reason to think so. Your criteria allows us to rule out some obvious cases of non-veridical experience, but why assume that all non-veridical cases would be obvious? In fact, they’re not. The bulk of illusory experience is caused by the proper functioning of our perceptual systems, which attempt to create a meaningful model of the world from raw sensation, in large part on the basis of consistency with past experience.

Maria Kirby: Mystical experience can be distinguished from mental illness or hallucinations because logical and thematic consistencies with the rest of one’s experience and with the experience of others.

It’s possible. But until you tell me what logical and thematic consistencies you think there are, I don’t know why I should believe you. I’d like to know, for instance, whether the consistencies are consistency with other mystical experience (so that we have a loop), or whether you think mystical experience is consistent with the mundane as well.
Also, a suggestion: I think what you mean by ‘consistency’ is better expressed by ‘coherence’ – trivially, any experience is consistent with any other experience (since no episode of experience precludes any other), but not every experience coheres with another.

Maria Kirby: The experience provides a much fuller understanding than anything that can be explained linguistically.

I have to disagree here. Suppose someone were born with the ability to see into the ultraviolet range of the spectrum. Would they, automatically, know something that the scientists didn’t? Or would they just be able to have an experience denied to scientists?
Here’s an argument for the latter. To know something is to know it to be true. An experience isn’t the kind of thing which can be true (only veridical , i.e. not misleading). So if one has an experience, this alone does not constitute knowledge. What is inferred from the experience might, but what is inferred will be a the truth of some proposition, and belief in a proposition can be shared with someone who does not have experience congruent with it (like your blind man). To reconnect back to your argument, understanding is just a general case of knowledge – to understand something is to know it to be true, but additionally to know the facts about how it connects to other things one knows to be true.

Maria Kirby: There some people who have no or few mystical experiences and there are others who have a lot of them. There seems to be fairly consistent teaching in various religions about how one goes about the process of having mystical experiences.

I don’t need to be trained to use my eyes, ears, nose, or mouth, in order to see, hear, smell, and taste. The operation of these modalities is involuntary. Why, then, should I have to be trained in mysticism in order to sense the mystical? Or, since some do not have to be trained (you might call these ‘naturals’), why do the rest require such training? The analogy with our ordinary senses is tenuous at best.

Maria Kirby: Beauty and love are spiritual qualities which we experience through our five physical senses, but which cannot be defined by those senses.

Hang on, Maria. I’m quite willing to share with you, as common ground, the ubiquitously accepted sensory modalities, and ask whether mystical experience should be understood as deriving from a further kind of sense. But I’m not going to be swayed by your supporting a mystical sense with other equally dubious senses.

Maria Kirby: These qualities [beauty, love, and presence] are consistent with the general teachings of the bible about who God is and what he is like.

So, if God exists, Christian mystical experience is prima facie an experience of him. But is mystical experience itself a good reason to think that God exists? In this respect, it’s not consistency of mystical experience with doctrine that counts, since doctrine cannot be appealed without begging the question, but consistency with our extra-religious knowledge about the world. That’s the connection you need to make, if you think mystical experience is a genuine argument for the existence of God.

Maria Kirby: There is probably more human mystical experience with hate than with good.

Well, this is an unexpected opinion. So, why does the mystical experience of the good count as evidence of your good God, whereas mystical experience of evil doesn’t count as evidence against a good God (perhaps in favour of an evil God)? It looks to me like “tails, I win; Heads, you lose”. Am I wrong?

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Hermes February 5, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Maria Kirby: In Christian mystical experiences the qualities of beauty, love, and presence are most often experienced. These qualities may or may not be combined with other sensory experience. These qualities are consistent with the general teachings of the bible about who God is and what he is like.

Maria, I would contend that what you describe is not the deity described in the Christian religious texts but one of your own design.

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Maria Kirby February 7, 2010 at 9:18 pm

All senses, with maybe the exception of smell, require training in order to interpret properly the signals it receives. It takes a while for a baby to visually recognize and interpret his surroundings. They start with black and white signals before moving onto incorporating color signals. Babies do not immediately respond to smiles. It takes them a while to see and then recognize a smile as a social cue.

Same is true for sounds. Initially, sounds are just a cacophony. Only after learning the meaning of various sounds does the brain make order and sense out of what it is hearing. When a person studies music, a person learns to distinguish sounds on a deeper level. It takes training for a person to be able to distinguish the different instrumental voices, key signature, and time signature, or when an instrument or voice is in tune.

Some people catch on quickly to distinguishing and matching sounds, others need a lot of practice. Some times our abilities to process signals are dependent on synchronizing with brain development. When the training is interrupted or delayed, the brain’s ability to interpret the sensory input may be hindered or stunted. And when a body/mind is overwhelmed by sensory input it shuts down or stops processing sensory input. Medically this is described as going into shock.

I find it very interesting that our sensory input systems have corresponding sensory out put means. We can smell; we emit odors. We can hear sounds; we can make sounds. We can receive tactile information; we can give tactile information. We can see; we can make things for the purpose of being seen. The feeling experiences that we have from our five senses are connected to our ability to communicate to others in each of those same modes.

However, our feelings are not limited to interpreting information from our five senses. We also feel spiritual qualities. Feelings with spiritual qualities are consistent or coherent with general experience common to humanity. It seems that we know the common feelings before we even have words to describe or define them. Similar to how we know red before we know that color we call red is called red. Some feelings are positive spiritual qualities like love and beauty, some are negative like hate and revenge.

To the extent that some of these spiritual qualities are from thoughts about ourselves they are self generated. But a surprising number are perceived to belong to another object or outside experience, and thus can be described as sensed. Flowers, sun rises, and many paintings are perceived as beautiful. Insults and violence are perceived as hateful. These spiritual qualities cannot be defined in physical terms defined by our five senses, therefore, it is highly unlikely that they are perceived by those senses. Either we deduce spiritual qualities from data given to us from our other senses, or we sense spiritual qualities directly through some means yet to be discovered, or possibly both.

We attribute our sensory feelings to sources. The sense of heat to fire, the sound of a bark to a dog, the smell of perfume to a flower, sweetness to honey, light to the sun. Most of the time, spiritual qualities can be attributed to a specific physical source or experience such as beauty to the sight of a flower, trust to the feel of a hand shake, or spite to an insult. What we perceive coming from an outside source is usually what is emanating from that source. There is the possibility that we might project our own feelings onto another source. However, such a situation does not produce logical or experiential consistency. We may think that someone loves us, but if they continue to avoid us or say insulting things to us, then the discontinuity breaks down the illusion. Our lack of ability to predict what spiritual qualities we will receive from an outside source is also another way we can prove the veracity of the outside source.

Sometimes the source of spiritual qualities is not obvious and does not appear to be physical in nature -a mystery. Sometimes a mystical experience will be accompanied by other sensory input such as visions or voices which are used to evaluate and apply meaning to the spiritual feelings experienced. To the extent that a person has cultivated spiritual sensitivity and has multiple mystical experiences, he may become more adept at interpreting the input into something that is logically cohesive and meaningful. And in particular, learn the source of the mystical experience.

Such an experiences can be distinguished from self generated projections because there is no source with which to project one’s feelings onto. Also the mystical experience has revelatory consistency. The mystical experience will often change the perceptions of the receiver about the source by adding new or deeper meaning that while coherent with other experiences of the same source could not have been arrived at by the receiver.

Many people through out time, and across religious traditions have had such experiences. I’m not sure whether to call it consistent or coherent, but the nature of these unique individual experiences have many things in common, both in terms of how they were experienced and in terms of their content. The coherency of mystical experience with other mystical experience separates it from hallucinations and mental illness. Logical and thematic consistencies also separate the mystical experience from the hallucination or mental illness. For example, it is not logical for there to be two kings of England simultaneously, therefore one person’s perceptions are erroneous. However, to feel loved by a source that identifies itself as Jesus Christ is similar to others’ mystical experiences and does not have a logical caveat limiting Jesus Christ’s love to only one person.

The bible is a record of a certain type of mystical experience. The sum of the experience reveals a lot about the source with of these mystical experiences. Within the bible are certain consistent themes which vary in how they are experienced, how they are related, and how they are interpreted. Most Christians evaluate their individual mystical experiences based on this prior body of experience. This is very similar to evaluating the symbolism and metaphors used in one book based on allusions to another book, or based on the degree to which the symbolism and metaphors are coherent between the books. Each use of symbolism or metaphor is unique to the individual story, but consistent across the body of literature.

The reality of a mystical experience then lies with the sensation of self explanatory spiritual feelings that are perceive to have originated from an unknown source outside of one’s self. To the extent that the specifics were unpredictable and that an individual’s experience is consistent with the body of experience testified to throughout history, a person can draw certain logical conclusions about the truth and meaning of that experience. So a person who experiences love from a mystical source and corroborates that others have also had the same experience can logically deduce that there is likely a some unknown source that loves him. Any other deductions about the nature of that source of love would have to come from other experiences, personal or corporate, which included additional information. Logical inferences based on that experience can lead an understanding of higher truths.

I confess, I really don’t have any statistics with which to make the statement that “There is probably more human mystical experience with hate than with good” so I probably shouldn’t have said it. However, due to the fact that I find it easier to hate than to love, I jumped to that conclusion.

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Hermes February 7, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Maria, I’m slowly working thorough your word wall. (Not that I can complain without being a hypocrite.)

Maria Kirby: I find it very interesting that our sensory input systems have corresponding sensory out put means. We can smell; we emit odors. We can hear sounds; we can make sounds. We can receive tactile information; we can give tactile information. We can see; we can make things for the purpose of being seen. The feeling experiences that we have from our five senses are connected to our ability to communicate to others in each of those same modes.

That’s interesting for a biology student, but would be consistent with being in a world where things are not abstractions but actually are interactive and ‘with’ each other as opposed to sterile targets of some external perfection whipped up elsewhere as proposed by Plato’s forms.

Consider the nematode. It is a simple organism with under a hundred nerves, yet it reacts to stimulus and can communicate (generally) as well. Even more basic, the single celled amoeba react to stimulus. This is not unusual, and unless it is assumed that living things are just dropped into this universe as-is, there is significant pressure to not only be able to ‘see’ but to ‘be seen’. The scent of the carrion flower, or the bright colors that act as a warning of many poisonous creatures (and ones that gain advantage from not being poisonous).

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Hermes February 7, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Maria Kirby: However, our feelings are not limited to interpreting information from our five senses. We also feel spiritual qualities. Feelings with spiritual qualities are consistent or coherent with general experience common to humanity. It seems that we know the common feelings before we even have words to describe or define them. Similar to how we know red before we know that color we call red is called red. Some feelings are positive spiritual qualities like love and beauty, some are negative like hate and revenge.

Much of the above is asserting things that you haven’t shown are actually true.

That said, I recommend reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, he covers intuition and how it works.

Additionally, your labeling of some emotions as ‘spiritual’ gives them a connotation that I do not grant them. Instead, emotions are tied to many of our abilities and physiologies, as they are for other animals. The preemptive aspects you mention are well known by modern neuroscientists and psychologists. We can ‘see’ many things by examining the brain before the person is aware of it themselves.

If you are talking about something along the lines of Plato’s forms, then I think you need to update your understanding of psychology. Neuroanatomy is a topic you should consider looking into. For example, while the left and right hemispheres of the cerebral cortex aren’t strictly limited in function, they tend to specialize quite a bit. The language centers and how they interact to describe what happens in other locations in the brain would take up quite a bit of time but would end up answering questions you may have and/or would challenge some of the assumptions you have expressed so far.

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Hermes February 8, 2010 at 7:42 am

Maria Kirby: … Most of the time, spiritual qualities can be attributed to a specific physical source or experience such as beauty to the sight of a flower, trust to the feel of a hand shake, or spite to an insult. What we perceive coming from an outside source is usually what is emanating from that source. There is the possibility that we might project our own feelings onto another source. However, such a situation does not produce logical or experiential consistency. …

Sometimes the source of spiritual qualities is not obvious and does not appear to be physical in nature -a mystery. Sometimes a mystical experience will be accompanied by other sensory input such as visions or voices which are used to evaluate and apply meaning to the spiritual feelings experienced. To the extent that a person has cultivated spiritual sensitivity and has multiple mystical experiences, he may become more adept at interpreting the input into something that is logically cohesive and meaningful. And in particular, learn the source of the mystical experience.

As far as I can tell, you’re conflating sensory feelings with subjective feelings about sensory and non-sensory thoughts. That is a category error.

Consider a peach. Imagine a perfect peach. Bite down into one and let the juice run over your lips … feel the taste and the texture.

There is no ideal abstract peach that this peach came from. No Platonic source of perfection. A cat — having no taste buds for sweets — would not be fascinated with that peach. Someone with an allergy to peaches, or someone with chapped and broken lips, someone with taste buds like the cat, would not describe that peach as we would describe that peach.

Yet, most people know what I mean. Slice by slice, a group of us could evaluate a bushel of peaches and at the end of our feast we’d be in general agreement on what peach was the best one — which one was ‘perfect’ (if any were).

What is perfect depends on context. It depends on the observers. It is not arbitrary, though, and it is not solipsistic. We can taste what the cat can not, but not all people can see or feel the same thing … or be tuned to it. As we are in the same world, though, and as humans share language we can reach a deeper understanding of the usually small ways where we differ from one another.

It looks to me that you are attributing mysticism to being fully aware — simply living — and then pushing that experience off on to an abstraction, in this case religious mysticism. By doing so, you are actually distancing yourself from the experience, not drawing it nearer to you or gaining a better understanding.

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Hermes February 8, 2010 at 7:58 am

Maria Kirby: Many people through out time, and across religious traditions have had such experiences. I’m not sure whether to call it consistent or coherent, but the nature of these unique individual experiences have many things in common, both in terms of how they were experienced and in terms of their content. The coherency of mystical experience with other mystical experience separates it from hallucinations and mental illness. Logical and thematic consistencies also separate the mystical experience from the hallucination or mental illness. For example, it is not logical for there to be two kings of England simultaneously, therefore one person’s perceptions are erroneous. However, to feel loved by a source that identifies itself as Jesus Christ is similar to others’ mystical experiences and does not have a logical caveat limiting Jesus Christ’s love to only one person.

A few hard questions;

If you lived around 600 BCE, would that consistency not exist?

If you were to talk with people from the Pirahas tribe, what would you say about your mystical ideas that would be convincing to them that you did not make a category error like I described in my last post? ( http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,414291,00.html / http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirah%C3%A3_people )

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Maria Kirby February 8, 2010 at 8:07 am

Hermes,

Thanks for interacting with me as I try to sort out various thoughts I’ve had about mystical experience into some sort of cohesive logic whole. And thanks for challenging me. I would like to express myself more clearly. I feel like I am not quite understanding you though.

I am confused by what you said “That’s interesting for a biology student, but would be consistent with being in a world where things are not abstractions but actually are interactive and ‘with’ each other as opposed to sterile targets of some external perfection whipped up elsewhere as proposed by Plato’s forms.” You refer to Plato’s forms again in your second post. I am somewhat familiar with Plato’s teachings, although I haven’t read Plato. But I don’t think I was suggesting a Plato form per se.

I was trying to draw the analogy that if we can have clearly defined sensations associated with clearly defined physical phenomena, and we have other sensations that are clearly defined and clearly perceived yet do not seem to have a physical phenomena source, it would be logical to conclude that they came from a non-physical source. I suggest labeling that source spiritual since humans generally categorize those feelings not associated with physical phenomena as having spiritual qualities.

There is mathematical and physical evidence, although not conclusive, to suggest that we live in a universe that is not limited to three dimensions (four if you include time). If this is the case, then it would also be logical that we would have experiences that reflected another dimension. It would also be logical to conclude that what ever was sensing this other dimension must somehow be apart of or have characteristics associated with this other dimension.

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Hermes February 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Maria, Re: ‘Plato’s forms’.

Plato had an analogy that he developed in the Allegory of the Cave that can be very roughly summed up as this;

* A horse is a less-perfect ‘shadow’ of what it is modeled on; the ideal perfect ‘horse-ness’. We are stuck looking at the shadow horse and mistake it for the ideal horse.

The same type of ‘shadow’ analogy could apply to emotions, objects, … what have you.

So…

* If you consider that there is an ideal horse (or an ideal love) that all horses (or experiences of love) are a mere shadow of, then you are a supporter of Plato’s idea.

* If you do not, and consider that each horse (or peach or experience or emotion) is not drawn from that master perfect horse (or peach or experience or emotion) then you are not a supporter of Plato’s idea.

It’s very likely that neither of these sound quite right to you, and you may immediately be able to give examples that show each position is not correct. Consider them to be general categories that people use to view reality or subsets of reality, though some people may take each as either accurate and complete descriptions of reality or completely incorrect.

Note that regardless of the general idea someone may ascribe to, it does not prevent someone from acknowledging (or rejecting) form-like models and also at the same time acknowledging (or rejecting) single instances of events/things/emotions/… as being unique or so rare that they are functionally unique.

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Hermes February 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Maria Kirby: I was trying to draw the analogy that if we can have clearly defined sensations associated with clearly defined physical phenomena, and we have other sensations that are clearly defined and clearly perceived yet do not seem to have a physical phenomena source, it would be logical to conclude that they came from a non-physical source.

Why? No. Skip why. I’ll figure out why for myself.

How? That’s what I’d really like you to describe. How do you know the above quote is more likely than not even if you have no definitive evidence/proof for it?

To be clear, I think I understand your position I don’t see how it is justified.

If someone throws cold water on you, you will have a physiological and sensory response. That does not mean that you continue to stand there and calculate those variables in an uninvolved manner. You will react in additional ways not limited by your basic neurology or physiology, and will include other things (the context, your past experiences, …) that I’ve left out of this example but only you would know or the situation would dictate. For example, if you were a coach of a winning team, and the team dumped the water on you, you would likely be joyous and flattered though not necessarily. On the other hand, if the water came from someone who was harassing you or threatening you, your reaction would likely be quite negative.

Conversely, if I meditate (and I do meditate), and am able to enter a state where I slow or even briefly stop my heart rate (as I can do), then I have not performed a mystical act. Instead, if I were to attribute that event to anything not in the moment or demonstrable, I would be doing myself a disservice by adding in what was not there before. This is an example of what I meant by distancing yourself from reality by adding in abstractions.

Maria Kirby: There is mathematical and physical evidence, although not conclusive, to suggest that we live in a universe that is not limited to three dimensions (four if you include time). If this is the case, then it would also be logical that we would have experiences that reflected another dimension. It would also be logical to conclude that what ever was sensing this other dimension must somehow be apart of or have characteristics associated with this other dimension.

A few points;

* ‘Extra dimensions’ — if they exist or not — are not invitations to make things up. You and I can not claim that something is unknown/mysterious and then use that claim as the basis for making an assertion. We can say we are ignorant of something. We can speculate. We can not assert a conclusion is necessarily true because of our ignorance.

* If we don’t know something — a fine position to take when we don’t know something — then it is reasonable to reject the claims of those who say they know a conclusion is true but are actually themselves stuck in the intuition stage and have not understood reality properly or are loading reality up with their own wishes or conjectures. (As an explanation of this, see an excerpt from the following video from ~8:30 through ~9:10: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1X7Uvj7UAo )

* The olfactory structures in our noses use quantum effects. This does not mean we can shift our bodies entirely at the quantum level and walk through walls or leap elsewhere, it just means that we understand some part of reality — in this case how a nose works — that much better.

* If there are ‘extra dimensions’, those may be out of reach, within our reach using very specialized equipment, or only available in other universes. This is a question for atomic or astro physicists and the engineers who are able to make use of the discoveries made by the other groups.

As for personal experiences, consider this (as I posted elsewhere);

* * *

Sleep (Radiolab) – http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2008/01/11

Specifically the section on dreams (the last 20 minutes starting just after the 40 minute mark). I think this entirely addresses your comment above and opens up some interesting possibilities on how to learn and how learning happens. The whole episode is excellent and worth a listen, as well as Radiolab as a show or podcast.

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Maria Kirby February 8, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Wow Hermes, you have really given me a lot to process! Thanks again so much for all your feed back. It will take me a while to go through everything.

I can see I have a lot to learn about the use of language in philosophical discussion. I’m not sure how to explain myself further at this point without being more misunderstood. And I’m not even sure I understand what it you want me to explain. I need to think, and learn, and then maybe I can get back to you. Thanks again.

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Hermes February 8, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Maria, that’s good. No need to respond. Your comments remind me of one of my favorite quotes;

“I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.” –Mark Twain

As for philosophy, keep in mind that it is a toolbox. People often get wrapped up in how powerful it seems to be, but end up going nowhere with it. They end up being steered by someone else’s clever idea and don’t actually stop and look carefully at reality as it is. Personally, I have no patience for that and I tend to have no mercy for those who madly spin their wheels while ignoring the fact that the scenery has not changed.

The main question to ask yourself is very simple;

* How do you know what you think you know?

Note that this is not the same as explaining your conclusions or your thoughts or your speculations. It is more basic; can you say you know what you say you know? What are the limits to your claims?

If you can’t explain that to yourself, why should I or anyone else consider that your perspective is the correct one?

For example, I can not strictly say there are no deities anywhere. I can look at what people claim about specific deities, and from those claims and what I know from other sources including myself, I can then pass judgment for myself on those claims. From that investigation, I’ve determined that there are some types of deities that I have heard of that are plausible. Yet, some of those plausible deities contradict each other so not all of them are possible. For myself, I judge that none are likely, so I do not consider that the plausible ones are worth consideration at this time.

That type of approach is not a cure-all, but it helps. For example, I emphasize ‘looking’ (in the general sense) and not adding my own desires or idle thoughts to what I ‘see’.

Consider thinking like a detective; do you guess who did it first then look for evidence to convict that one person, or do you dryly gather details about the crime and then piece together what most likely did happen as a result of that investigation?

I would hope that any detective would gather first before reaching a conclusion, though I know that is not the case in real life.

Could anyone be wrong no matter how much care they put into that effort? Yes, Could they — could we — be mislead? Absolutely. Is intuition useless? Not at all.

Yet, if I were wanting to find — say — the murderer of one of my loved ones, I would not want the detective to arrest the first person the consider and vigorously attempt to get them convicted. I’d want the correct person to be found, if that is possible.

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TaiChi February 8, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Maria Kirby: All senses, with maybe the exception of smell, require training in order to interpret properly the signals it receives. It takes a while for a baby to visually recognize and interpret his surroundings.

The don’t require training, they require experience. All of this happens automatically, as the brain wires itself together.

Maria Kirby: Only after learning the meaning of various sounds does the brain make order and sense out of what it is hearing.

Interpretation of experience may require training, yes. But having the experience associated with a sense doesn’t require training. So we still have a disanalogy: whereas the having of mystical experiences requires training, the having of experiences associated with the mundane senses does not.

Maria Kirby: I find it very interesting that our sensory input systems have corresponding sensory out put means… The feeling experiences that we have from our five senses are connected to our ability to communicate to others in each of those same modes.

We also have a sense of balance.

Maria Kirby: We attribute our sensory feelings to sources.

But not our feelings simpliciter, which we understand to be our own.

Maria Kirby: We may think that someone loves us, but if they continue to avoid us or say insulting things to us, then the discontinuity breaks down the illusion.

Which is a good reason to deny that there are such ‘spiritual qualities’ – that we ‘sensed’ another person’s love, but later find that we were mistaken is plausibly explained by the sensory episode not being a genuine sensory episode at all. Without some causal story to tell about how the illusion happened, that seems to be the best explanation of the facts.

Maria Kirby: Such an experiences can be distinguished from self generated projections because there is no source with which to project one’s feelings onto.

I don’t see why this couldn’t be self-generated. Plenty of psychological disturbances are general, rather than particular in their phenomenology. Depression, for example, which is self-perpetuated.

Maria Kirby: The coherency of mystical experience with other mystical experience separates it from hallucinations and mental illness.

Ah, so you have a magic circle. Such an argument won’t convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.
But I doubt that they do cohere as you say – part of what coherence requires is that the experiences are logically related to one another. Given that most mystical experience is non-specific and vague, the measure of coherence between one mystical experience and another isn’t worth speaking of.

Maria Kirby: Logical and thematic consistencies also separate the mystical experience from the hallucination or mental illness. For example, it is not logical for there to be two kings of England simultaneously, therefore one person’s perceptions are erroneous. However, to feel loved by a source that identifies itself as Jesus Christ is similar to others’ mystical experiences and does not have a logical caveat limiting Jesus Christ’s love to only one person.

And if I suggest to you that, considering now those mystical experience that are more specific in content, religious traditions clash over which Gods and mythic figures the experiences are of? If the Christian God is the ‘one true god’, then you have a contradiction just as you have described, since it cannot be that both experiences of Yahweh and Vishnu are correct together. By your own standard, mystical experience as a whole does not demonstrate logical and thematic consistency, and so we might as well consider it hallucination or self-deception.
That is, unless you think that Christian mystical experience in particular is somehow more reliable than other kinds of mysticism?

Maria Kirby: Most Christians evaluate their individual mystical experiences based on this prior body of experience.

Which explains why Christians do not differ drastically in their experiences. Say four purported telepathists are given the same book to read, a day before they are tested for their abilities. The book is ‘Moby Dick’. On the day of the test, each is asked to read the mind of others in the group, and draw what the other person has ‘broadcast’. Each picture turns out to be of a whale (“wow” says one, “we really synchronized!”). Is it any surprise that this happens? Or is it almost expected, so that we would suspect that whoever provided them with the books was an interested party? If the bible is what unites the experiences of various Christian mystics, then isn’t this an argument against their similarity being counted as evidence?

Maria Kirby: The reality of a mystical experience then lies with the sensation of self explanatory spiritual feelings that are perceive to have originated from an unknown source outside of one’s self.

Earlier, you said that mystical experience was differentiated from self-projecting experiences by having no source to project on to. Now your saying that there is some source, but it is unknown. Different things, these.

Maria Kirby: So a person who experiences love from a mystical source and corroborates that others have also had the same experience can logically deduce that there is likely a some unknown source that loves him.

And of those who don’t corroborate the experience? How are you entitled to ignore their opinions? If you’re going to take corroboration as evidence, then by the same token, non-corroboration must be evidence against. Right? Otherwise this would just be an exercise in confirmation bias, right?

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Hermes February 8, 2010 at 11:03 pm

TaiChi: Maria Kirby: All senses, with maybe the exception of smell, require training in order to interpret properly the signals it receives. It takes a while for a baby to visually recognize and interpret his surroundings.

The don’t require training, they require experience. All of this happens automatically, as the brain wires itself together.

Maria, to add to what TaiChi wrote here, consider the following;

if a person wears prism eyeglasses that make everything appear upside down for several days, they will eventually perceive the world as normal again. If the glasses are then removed, the world again appears to be inverted until several days pass and it resumes a “correct,” perceived orientation.”

Nerves are very mailable, though more so in the earlier stages of development.

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Maria Kirby February 25, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Tai Chi, thank you for responding so thoughtfully. I’m sorry I didn’t notice your comments sooner -they ended up in my spam folder.

Explaining mystical experience is difficult. I’m not sure how to “prove” it or even if it is possible to prove it. I don’t have an instrument which can correlate what I am experiencing, like a spectograph that says ‘red’ is 650nm.

Much of understanding mystical experience is similar to that of a musician. The more a person can interpret the sounds they are hearing the better they can experience the music they hear. A musician can explain ‘color’ to me by entering into a musical piece with me and pointing out the nuances. I could try and learn about musical color by reading a description in a book, but it’s just not the same as hearing it. I just don’t believe that a deaf person could ‘know’ musical color because they don’t experience it.

You are quite right to point out that there are a number of different religious traditions that interpret mystical experiences differently which results in diverse religious beliefs. Humanity’s individuality creates a diversity of inter- and intra-religious belief. Considering our uniqueness and the power of our imagination, it is amazing that there is any continuity at all. But the fact that there is continuity, while not ‘proof’, would suggest that there is a common experience that has an intuitive interpretation. The differences lie more in the details of interpretation than the commonality of the experience.

I am very curious to know how you and Hermes would describe beauty. Is beauty a self imposed thought/feeling based on input of sensory data? Or is it a quality something would have even if it was not observed? Sort of like the Schrodenger’s cat or the tree that falls in the woods. And how do you explain the conundrum of not being able to define beauty? If beauty is a self-imposed interpretation, then shouldn’t we be able to define it?

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