Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Partying with Materialists
The August 25th issue of The Economist reports that two scientists have found a way to induce out-of-body experiences in the lab. Both Dr. Olaf Blanke of Geneva University Hospital and Dr. Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinka Institute in Stockholm use a combination of virtual reality and real sensation to create the effect. These techniques trick subjects into mistakenly locating their body or self elsewhere, although as The Economist sensibly adds, “Astral projection it is not”.
But these findings have exciting implications for consciousness research, and I’m eager to hear the results of more experiments using similar techniques in the future. What I’m not eager to hear is the monotonous drone of a certain noisy subset of materialists claiming that these results prove that existence ends with the physical universe. Such materialists have a remarkable track record of conflating their philosophy with science. So expect to be cornered soon at a party-near-you by one of them announcing that science has now proved that astral projection, life-after-death, and the soul do not exist.
But as Robert Thurman points out, such arguments are always carefully selected. For instance, it’s easy enough to stimulate the brain electronically to produce visual hallucinations. But we don’t need anything so fancy to produce visual hallucinations on demand. We could instead take a long drive through a desert on a hot day and see non-existent water ahead or we could look at any number of common optical illusions. Yet you’re unlikely to be cornered at a party by a materialist claiming that visual hallucinations prove that everything we see and sight itself are illusions.
Of course, we can try to figure out what’s real by using all of our senses on an object and getting confirmation from other people. That works fine as long as you’re looking for confirmation of something physical, and as long as you believe that other people exist and can be trusted. But the keyword there is “belief”. In other words, expect the materialist to attempt to prove his materialist beliefs with materialist arguments. To escape his circular reasoning you could attempt to achieve an out-of-the-body experience on the spot. Or, more simply, you could outwit him with his own materialist strategies by standing in some other area of the party.
Flo Finklestein hastens to add that she does not think of all materialists in this way, and that she has attempted to avoid generalization in her wording. True believers, whether materialistic or non-materialistic, tend to think that any belief system is for the naïve. They have no need for beliefs, because they KNOW. In my opinion, that is...