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Author Topic:   Immaterial "Evidence"
Otto Tellick
Member (Idle past 2441 days)
Posts: 288
From: PA, USA
Joined: 02-17-2008

Message 49 of 154 (521931)
08-30-2009 4:17 PM
Reply to: Message 48 by Straggler
08-27-2009 3:12 PM

"Immaterial Communication"?
This is one of the best threads I've seen on EvC, and I'm grateful to every one of the participants (well, leaving aside petrophysics1). I'm replying to the previous post by Straggler, because that one really put things very succinctly, and I agree with it completely.
The comments above by Modulus are also entirely on target for me, and I wanted to look a little further at his point about "the majority view". What is the nature of the transition from subjective experience (such as what mike-the-wiz "witnessed": his testimonial of personal revelation; or the "pre-existing condition" nature of CS's belief) to a group- or society-level belief system?
Does anyone know of documented cases where some number of people woke up on a given morning and all recall having some common dream? Or, to use one the examples Modulus provided, can we confirm whether some number of people have independently stared into a fire and come up with equivalent/comparable conceptions about a willful entity existing in the flames?
If this sort of thing happened regularly, where the personal experiences could be demonstrated to be materially independent and yet the non-material perceptions and resulting descriptions were significantly consistent, this would strike me as very firm evidence for some non-material form of communication among sentient creatures (or directed toward these creatures from some other source). And I think this may be the crux of the issue that Straggler raises in this thread.
We have a fair bit of evidence, and at least a partial understanding, of material causes for the kinds of subjective experience that some people refer to as "religious" or "revelatory". For Mike-the-Wiz, the association between praying for a new car and then seeing one arrive can be attributed (as he admits) to a simple case of false causality; the voice in his head could be related in some way to his periodic bouts of depression as some sort of chemical or synaptic imbalance in some region of his brain.
But in what way (apart from Mike's own sense of personal certainty and conviction) do his internal experiences constitute a confirmation for some specific form of Christianity? (Why would it lead him to argue against evolution, for example, as opposed to adopting Roman Catholicism or some other denomination that accepts evolution? But this is a tangent.)
The difficulty I see with people who cite their personal revelatory experiences as the reason for specific religious beliefs is that this association appears to me to be a matter of coincidence: the next person you talk to after your experience happens to be a sympathetic and supportive pastor or member of the XYZ Church, so the "explanation" they help you come up with is the one that brings you into that church -- but you could just as well have gone into the Reformed-XYZ' Church, or the IJK Witnesses, or Buddhism, or even secular humanism (because the person you talked to happened to be a sympathetic/supportive neuropsychologist, with an uncanny ability to communicate with laymen).
A key issue to me is not the occurrence or nature of the subjective experience itself, but the way in which that experience is communicated to others, and interpreted. Every means of communication will impose some form of constraint -- aspects of the experience will be omitted, glossed over, compartmentalized, quantized or distorted in order to pass through the communication channel; pooh-pooh the Whorfian notion that language determines thought as you like, but for some internal perceptions, the transmutation to language will inevitably leave its imprint on the "event".
To the extent that our language is a community construct as much as it is an individual one, an inescapable influence from our immediate community is asserted on any attempt to communicate, interpret, and even comprehend or conceptualize our subjective experiences. To the extent that "religious" belief can be dangerous (what we refer to as a "cult" rather than a "denomination"), this power of the community over the individual is where the danger lies: the individual is not permitted any other framework for interpreting the event.
Of course the dangerous case is generally considered to be the exception, and of course we should free ourselves from the lock-step association of "cult" with "religious". (The reason why Nazi Germany fails as an example of the evils of either religion or atheism is because it was a cult that actually had little or nothing to do with religion or atheism.) But the issue remains that the interpretation of subjective experience can be too much at the whim of an otherwise unrelated "standard of interpretation" imposed by a community attached to the experiencer.
I have one other point, which might be unrelated but might provide an interesting contrast: as a grad student studying sociolinguistics, I was introduced to the notion of "intersubjective agreement". This was an operational procedure whereby a group of researchers would listen to a given recording of an utterance by some speaker (given that the investigators knew the speaker's language well), and the task at hand was to answer some question about the utterance, but the information needed to answer the question was not materially available in the recording.
The researchers could answer the question if, for instance, they made enough inferences from the recorded context containing the utterance (e.g. if the question was "what did the person actually say?" in cases where the recorded utterance was ambiguous), or if they tried to mimic the utterance and used their own perceptions of the articulations involved (e.g. if the question was something like "what sequence of tongue and jaw movements produced this portion of the utterance?"). But since multiple answers were possible, the only outcome could be a "most plausible" one based on a consensus among the researchers.
In order for this procedure to be objectively acceptable, the researchers had to work as a group, listening to the available evidence, proposing answers, and discussing them in order to arrive at a consensus. I suppose this is not really comparable in any way (or even relevant) to how subjective experience is interpreted in the population at large, under the influence of sometimes rigid and unassailable community belief systems, but the contrast is interesting, and it's worth noting a need for "subjective" bases of analysis in some areas of objective research.
Edited by Otto Tellick, : minor grammar repair in next-to-last paragraph

autotelic adj. (of an entity or event) having within itself the purpose of its existence or happening.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 48 by Straggler, posted 08-27-2009 3:12 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 50 by Straggler, posted 08-30-2009 5:00 PM Otto Tellick has not replied

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