How many senses

Internal experience revisited. Disregard if bored with subject.

It seems perfectly rational to believe you had an internal experience, and somewhat rational to say you can’t doubt you had it. What’s not rational is to interpret it as external – and be unable to doubt that.

It’s not the same as doubting you went running this morning – because that is external. It’s a bit of behavior. It’s true that your memory of it is internal – but it is at least in principle checkable, as Chris Whiley noted. Your inner meeting with God isn’t, which makes it vastly less checkable. Stannard’s physics analogy* is bad because he doesn’t just ‘trust’ the other physicists – he also knows that their work is in principle and fact checkable – he could check it himself. That is not true of all these reports of meeting God in prayer (and of finding ‘yes, that someone does have the characteristics of love and forgiveness and all the rest of it’).

Also – Stannard says in that passage that the experience is repeatable. But it’s not. It’s repeatable (if at all) only by people who have that kind of experience. But experiments are supposed to be repeatable by any appropriately trained person not actually disabled. You could claim that the people who can’t do it are disabled – lack a sense – but that seems far-fetched, especially since the putative ‘sense’ corresponds to no physical organ, as the Big Five do – so it’s dubious even to call it a sense, sixth or otherwise.

The parallel with Wiccans and pagans is more relevant than I made out when I first mentioned it, I think. Because they’re all – apparently – doing the same thing. They all want to meet god or goddess, and believe they will, and set out to hypnotize themselves – and it works. In fact it’s not obvious why Stannard’s claim is anything other than auto-hypnosis. Of course, he can still say ‘Yes it’s auto-hypnosis and that’s how God appears to humans.’ That could be true – but is it rational to think so? Not particularly!

*’I believe a lot of things about physics, not having personally done the experiments. And it is because I trust the people who have done the experiments. It seems to me that if you’re dealing with religious people, who all engage in this prayer activity, and time and again, they keep on coming up with the idea that they are in contact with someone, and yes, that someone does have the characteristics of love and forgiveness and all the rest of it – now that is repeatable…

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