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Friday, September 29, 2023

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For many of us, the problem of what might be taken as “religious or mystical experiences” is their ephemerality and elusiveness. In “The Dry Salvages,” T.S. Eliot speaks movingly of such moments:

For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.

I have been graced with a number of such experiences in my life, and while sometimes I have embraced the possibility that they reveal something of another, higher dimension of reality, more often I have withheld judgement as to their truth importing value. They come and go too quickly, and leave me, at best, confused; they constitute one more ambiguous datum of my conscious life, which can be taken one way or another.

Would you include such fleeting and intangible moments as “religious or mystical experiences,” or are you referring to occurrences of a more unusual and enduring nature?

A quotation from one literary lion deserves another:

The influence of the senses has in most men overpowered the mind to that degree that the walls of time and space have come to look real and insurmountable; and to speak with levity of these limits is, in the world, the sign of insanity. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Oversoul")

Vito asks: >>Would you include such fleeting and intangible moments as “religious or mystical experiences,” or are you referring to occurrences of a more unusual and enduring nature?<<

Yes I would so include them. I think it would have to be allowed that the vast majority of the putative glimpses into the Unseen Order as well as the putative irruptions from that Order that break apart "the walls of time and space" are both rare and fleeting. Some examples: the experience of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus; Socrates on the battlefield in communion with his daimon; the mystical experiences reported by St Augustine in his *Confessions*; Christ in the desert tempted by Satan; Budddha's experience under the bodhi tree; and on and on by countless unnamed individuals at all times and in every land. And lest I forget, the mystical experience by the doctor angelicus that put an end to his writing. See https://williamfvallicella.substack.com/p/why-did-thomas-aquinas-leave-his

The question is: Are the rarity and fleetingness of mystical/religious/paranormal experiences good grounds for questioning their veridicality, OR are rarity and fleetingness exactly what one would expect given our being swamped by the senses behind "the walls of time and space"?

More later.

In the context of this post:

This is from a poem which I can never forget

"I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds,
Yet ever and anon, a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity.
Those shaken mists a space unsettle,
Then round the half-glimpse d turrets, slowly wash again.
But not 'ere Him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound ...

That is from "The Hound of Heaven " by Francis Thompson.

Here are the first lines:

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.

And here is the entire poem:

https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/hound-heaven#:~:text=The%20Hound%20of%20Heaven%20by%20Francis%20Thompson%20I,Up%20vistaed%20hopes%20I%20sped%20and%20shot%20precipitatedT

Vito,

Let me clarify what I was saying above @10:47.

There are a large number of extraordinary experiences that can be classified as paranormal, religious, and mystical. There are of course differences between these three classes, but that is not the present topic. For example, I once had an experience of precognition, but I wouldn't classify that experience as religious or mystical. But it all depends on how we define these terms. But the precognitive experience I had was undoubtedly an extraordinary or unusual experience, both in the sense that I have had only one or two such experiences, and in the sense that most people do not have any such experiences.

An important point that some people miss, but you (I think) understand, is that the mere having of an experience is no guarantee of its veridicality. I will explain this further if you want me to.

It is clear that the extraordinary experiences I am referring to are typically fleeting, rare, and as you say say "intangible." We may also add: not repeatable at will. For example, I can easily repeat the experience of going into oxygen debt by simply mounting my mountain bike and cranking hard or going for a hard run. Not so with paranormal, religious, or mystical experiences.

The argument you seem to be suggesting above is

1. The extraordinary experiences in question are fleeting, rare, intangible, not repeatable at will, etc. unlike the ordinary experiences of seeing tomatoes and tables, hearing dogs bark, lifting heavy objects, etc

2. The likelihood of a type of experience's being of something real is an inverse function of its rarity, repeatability, etc.

Therefore

3. It is highly unlikely that an extraordinary experience such as that of precognition is veridical or revelatory of something real.

This may or may not be the argument you intend. But I am not impressed by the argument because I see no reason to accept (2). That the extraordinary experiences in question are fleeting, rare, not repeatable ad libitum, etc is exactly what we should expect if the experiencesare what they purport to be, namely, experiences that purport to penetrate the walls of space, time, matter, and our being swamped by our animalic nature.

Bill,

I fully agree “that the mere having of an experience is no guarantee of its veridicality.”

With regard to the argument that you present, while I endorse (1), I would not approve of (2) and (3). My position is not that “The likelihood of a type of experience's being of something real is an inverse function of its rarity, repeatability, etc.,” which, if I am not wrong, calls to mind one of Hume’s objections to miracles. Something might well be infrequent and unique and yet be quite real. Nor would I go so far as to argue that “It is highly unlikely that an extraordinary experience such as that of precognition is veridical or revelatory of something real.” Such an experience might well reveal some truth.

Rather, I would construct my argument as follows:

1. The extraordinary experiences in question are fleeting, rare, intangible, not repeatable at will, etc. unlike the ordinary experiences of seeing tomatoes and tables, hearing dogs bark, lifting heavy objects, etc.

2. These types of experience's may reveal something real, but, in many instances, “their ephemerality and elusiveness” vitiates the certainty that they do.

Therefore

3. Agnosticism as to their veridical or revelatory value is justified.

All of this assumes, of course, that the only thing in play in the discursive intellect; thus, I am willing to concede that they may be experiences the emotional and spiritual force of which is so potent that the experiencer is instantly convinced of their truth importing value, but I contend that these are extremely rare and not of a kind that most people encounter.

Vito,

We are converging on agreement. Agnosticism is justified. Even in those for whom no real doubt ever arises. Saul/Paul's experience on the road to Damascus was life-changing and my guess is that he never doubted its veridicality, the proof being his later life. He became in that moment so subjectively certain that Christ had risen from the dead and was addressing him personally, that the question whether he he could claim objective certainty for his experience was moot. He was no philosopher.

His attitude toward his mystical experience is different from Eliot's description: "These are only hints and guesses, Hints followed by guesses; and the rest Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action."

My thinking is in line with Eliot's: Here below some of us are vouchsafed intimitations of Elsewhere, glimpses into the Unseen Order which are dramatic and life-changing but not so powerful as to obliterate the distinction between subjective and objective certainty. This is why I say one has to decide what one will believe and how one will live. The will comes into it. One's will and commitment are then manifested in prayer, meditation, religious observances, moral and mental disciplines, thought and action (almsgiving, etc.)

I am in complete agreement with your last comment.

However, I would like to raise an additional issue:

(1) Does the probative value of extraordinary experiences increase if such experiences are shared by two or more persons?

I raise this question because the (1) unexpected coincidence of these occurring at the same or similar times to two or more persons may confer greater confidence in their truth imparting value and (2) it is a common-sense assumption that the testimonies of two or multiple witnesses to an event are more trustworthy than that of a single witness.

I believe that the question is important since the answer that we give is intrinsically tied to our acceptance or rejection of the possibility of miracles, which depends on testimony.

My answer is that the additional testimonies of experiencers increase our right to believe what is reported but only marginally enhance, if that, the probative value of what is reported. We are still left with the need to make a choice; however, coincidence and multiple testimony do reinforce the rationality of our decision to believe, even if they do not ensure that our belief is true.

Do you agree?

Vito asks, >>Does the probative value of extraordinary experiences increase if such experiences are shared by two or more persons?<<

Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe you have in mind the types of experiences had by people at Marian apparition sites such as Lourdes and Medjugorje. See: https://www.medjugorje.org/

Those are not the sorts of extraordinary experiences I had in mind, namely, experiences had by individuals in solitude, OBEs being one example of such experiences.

Suppose many people simultaneously have experiences AS OF (to put it in the cautious way of the philosopher) the BVM. Now we know that people are highly suggestible. Social suggestibility would have to enter into any explanation of why many different people at the same place at the same time have and report the same type of experience (in this case an experience AS OF the BVM).

A different question concerns the veridicality of these experiences. Are they true? Is their intentional object real? I don't see that the number of people having the same type of experience in the same place and at the same time (and aware of one another's presence and behavior) has any bearing at all on the question of veridicality.

Yes, those are the kinds of experiences that I had in mind.

I realize that your were speaking of "experiences had by individuals in solitude," but I am intrigued by the cases of shared extraordinary experiences and wanted your thoughts on the matter.

I agree that "the number of people having the same type of experience in the same place and at the same time (and aware of one another's presence and behavior) has any bearing at all on the question of veridicality." However, they do, it seems to me, reinforce the case for belief in the reality of the reported experiences, but perhaps I am missing something.

>>However, they do, it seems to me, reinforce the case for belief in the reality of the reported experiences, but perhaps I am missing something.<<

You may be confusing the question of the reality of the experience qua experience with the question whether the experience is of something real.

You also have to be careful not to confuse token and type. If you see the Trade Towers coming down, and I see the Trade Towers coming down, these visual experiences are numerically distinct. They are two numerically different tokens of the same type, the type being VISUAL EXPERIENCE.

The important question here is not whether the people at the site of the putative Marian apparition all had the same type of experience. The important question is whether their experiences AS OF the BVM were veridical.

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