Thursday, April 19, 2012

A modest defence of the paranormal...

Ran across this article that seems to present what may be the scientific consensus that there is no "life after death." I'm assuming that it's the scientific consensus on the subject.  Most material scientists (at least the ones I've known) would probably tend to lean toward a heavily materialistic worldview that does not include any sort of supernatural or supra-physical reality.

It's important to note, however, that Victor Stenger, the author, is an atheist, and atheism--like Christianity, New Ageism, or any sort of philosophy that attempts to define the unknown--is a belief.  And while his points are well made, he argues against the life-after-death hypothesis primarily because he believes it to be wrong.  The evidence that he cites supports his belief, but I suspect that he assembled his evidence after he formed his belief--as most of us do, either knowingly or unknowingly.

It's my personal belief that consciousness can exist independent of physicality, but I'm secure enough in my belief that I can appreciate the arguments of atheists and seek to learn from them.  Any dabbler in the supernatural or metaphysical should do what I try to do--seek out skeptics, atheists, material scientists, and see if our observations can withstand basic scientific scrutiny.

Dr. Stenger makes one very strong point--the evidence that is offered in support of the life-after-death hypothesis is anecdotal and does not meet rigorous scientific scrutiny. It is largely unsubstantiated, cannot be replicated, and does not follow the basic protocols and rigorous standards of the scientific method.

I agree. My biggest quibble with the bulk of the literature extant on the subject of NDEs, spirit communication, and the paranormal in general is that it is plagued by very poor scholarship, sloppy logic, and egregious errors of fact and evidence.

Paranormal investigators can, and should, do better. Possibly the only paranormal investigator that I know of who tries to do this is Loyd Auerbach.  As for the rest... I read their work, am entertained by their narratives, and I often think that they're right--but I know it's not science, and I know that it would fail the most basic scientific scrutiny.

Withstanding basic scientific scrutiny is important. I've written a bit about my personal OOBE experiences; I've described encounters with deceased relatives. Still, I cannot discard the possibility that my experiences--which I find to be evidential of my beliefs--have a simple physical or psychological explanation. I cannot absolutely prove that they are supernatural. I believe that they are--but unless I know, and can eliminate, any competing explanation--especially ones that are currently unknown to science--they do not rise to the level of proof of the survival hypothesis.

Stenger cites Dr. Jeffrey Long's research and faults him for basing his support of the survival hypothesis on the random submissions of anecdotal experiences by anonymous Internet users to his collection of websites. No question, Dr. Long (whose websites I visit daily, by the way) does not follow the most basic protocols of sampling and investigation. He just complies random accounts, throws them out to the public and says, "Here's my proof."

Despite Dr. Stenger's persuasive logic, I still think that he's wrong about his main premise: I still think that human consciousness survives death.  Here's why I still "believe."

First, Dr. Jeffrey Long. What Dr. Long lacks, which Dr. Stenger presumably has, is the financial and moral backing of mainstream science in his research. Dr. Long's websites are probably self-financed. He does not receive research grant money to investigate his claims. He cannot hire reviewers to scrutinize his submissions. Basic research of this sort takes a lot of time and a lot of money.  So he does what he is able to do--create websites that allow for random submissions of anecdotal experiences.

Consider this:  Dr. Long's websites contain thousands of user submissions spanning many years. That's a lot. Still, he doesn't need these thousands of evidential submissions to prove his argument. He needs only one.

Somewhere, in the mountain of Dr. Long's accounts, there may be only one "true" submission. But if this submission is testable--if it meets all of the criteria of scientific scrutiny, and it provides clear evidence of survival, Dr. Stenger is wrong.  Case closed. Having read many of the accounts on Dr. Long's websites, my gut feeling is that is that proof is hiding there, waiting to be seriously investigated.

Second... My own "self-tested" experiences contradict the current mainstream scientific theories of how our material world operates. Keep in mind... If we want to call the prevailing scientific consensus into question, we we don't have to assemble mountains of evidence. We just need to present a few strong cases.

Current mainstream scientific theory argues that the future is unknowable. The known laws of physics (even the oft-cited and wrongly applied research into quantum physics) offer no vehicle whereby a future event can be perceived by the conscious mind.

Yet, it happens, and I've personally experienced this phenomenon, over and over.

When I had my first clearly precognitive dreams in 1977, I immediately realized that they flew in the face of how our perceived physical universe is supposed to operate. Science in 1977 said that precognition is impossible, and science in 2012 still insists that it is.  But this singular experience , thirty-five years ago, inspired my research into the paranormal, seeking, somewhere, some explanation of what science tells me is clearly impossible.  When science can no longer explain what we clearly perceive and experience, the experiencer will try to find an explanation outside of the scientific mainstream. So, while I concede the very real weakness in methodology, logic, and standards in the paranormal "field," I still look to it for clues, ideas, and explanations for experiences that science is either unable, or unwilling, to provide.

1 comment:

  1. I've had a few precognitive dreams since 1989 & that shouldn't be possible if there is no survival of the personality. I agree-atheism is a belief. A lot of folks don't want to see that. I think we create physical reality via our subconscious (that's the part that does most the work) & I feel confident in myself that I will survive death, because my dreams, highly personal & individualistic of course, have shown me that I'm very creative & am making physical reality-even though I only had one precog. dream that had elements that literally came true afterwards, that was in 1990. I agree with you too that most New Ager types are not very analytical. Seth was genuine IMO.