View Full Version : A non-political Fred Reed.

Jack Heinlen
07-22-2005, 07:02 PM
I don't think there is anything here that will offend tender sensibilities.

Of Knowing And Not Knowing

Elvis, Haldane, And Excessive Self-Assurance

I wonder whether the rigidly scientific approach to the world explains quite as much as we think it does (and we seem to think it explains everything).

Everywhere and in all times people have reported sightings of apparitions and ghosts, hants and inexplicable happenings. These are dismissed by neurologists as the of glitches in neural functioning, by psychiatrists as manifestations of schizophrenia or of heightened suggestibility, by physicists as consequent to curious refractions of light. But the explanations are usually asserted instead of substantiated. I wonder.

My impression is that a great many people have had experiences that do not fit the scientific world view, but do not speak of them for fear of being thought mad. A few are not so reticent. JBS Haldane, the noted geneticist, once “went into his home and saw himself sitting in his own chair smoking his favorite pipe. ‘Irregular’ was his word for the phenomenon, ‘indigestion’ his explanation. He walked across the room and sat down on his own image.”* “Indigestion” of course makes not the slightest sense.

Examples abound, quietly. A woman of my acquaintance, perfectly sane, recounts having watched a window in a room at night open by itself. My father told me of driving one night with a friend in hill country, whereupon a large truck appeared suddenly over a crest, soundless, lights blazing, too close to avoid. They drove through it without effect. “Did you see what I saw?” asked my father of his friend. “Yes,” replied the friend, shaken. They did not, he said, tell anyone.

Now, I can offer the usual explanations. These people all suffered from temporary insanity, there is no proof that they weren’t actually making up the stories, their memories were playing tricks (whatever that means), or they were dreaming and thought they were awake—all of which seem convenient evasions.

Many people have told me of having had premonitions, as for example that someone was going to die under certain circumstances, after which it happened. Others tell of having felt a sudden, terrible fear, as though something immensely evil were nearby. Most have experienced what we call déjà vu. The plausible reason is always ready to hand: chemical imbalances, the effect of stress, fragmentary memories of similar events, what have you.

Is that really what is happening? Maybe. But saying so doesn’t make it so. My father was a hard-headed mathematician, not given to the occult.

Note that the sciences are incapable of recognizing such phenomena. For the sake of discussion, let us suppose that some unscientific event actually occurred—say, that the shade of Elvis in fact appeared in my living room one night, sang Blue Moon Over Kentucky, and then vanished. Would science, or any scientist, be able to know it?

I could tell a physicist that I had seen Elvis, of course. He would assume that I was joking, lying, or deluded. I could report that the neighbors had heard Blue Moon, but the physicist would say that I had played the song on my stereo. I might show him video that I had shot of the appearance, but he would say that I had hired an Elvis impersonator, or that I had faked the footage with video-editing software.

In sum, even though it had really happened, he could never know that it had.

The difficulty is that the sciences can apprehend only the repeatable. If I could summon Elvis at will, again and again in an instrumented laboratory, physicists would eventually have to concede that something was happening, whatever it might be. While scientists defend their paradigms as fiercely as Marxists or Moslems, they can, after sufficient demonstration, be swayed by evidence. But without repeatability, they see no evidence.

Not uncommonly, those in the sciences say that they “do not accept supernatural explanations.” One might observe that the world remains the same, no matter what they accept. I might choose not to accept the existence of gravity, but could nonetheless fall over a cliff.

Yet those who do not accept the supernatural never say just what they mean by “supernatural.” By “nature,” do we not simply mean, “that which is”? If for example genuine premonitions exist (which I do not know), how can they be supernatural, as distinct from poorly understood?

I think that by supernatural scientists mean “not deducible from physics.” But of course a great many things are not so deducible—thought, consciousness, free will if any, sorrow, beauty. Scientists do not accept things which seem to have no physical cause, and of course as scientists should not accept them. If a comet were suddenly to change course, it would hardly be useful if an astronomer said that it just happened, or that a herd of invisible unicorns had pushed it off course. He, properly, would want to find a gravitational influence.

Trouble comes when the sciences overstep their bounds. It is one thing to study physical phenomena, another to say that only physical phenomena exist. Here science blurs into ideology, an ideology being a systematic and emotionally held way of misunderstanding the world. A science is open and descriptive, an ideology closed and prescriptive. A scientists says, in principle at least, “Give me the facts and I will endeavor to derive a theory that describes them.” The ideologist says, “I have the theory, and nothing that does not fit it can be a fact.” Having chosen his rut, he never sees beyond it. This has not been the way of the greats of science, but of the middle ranks, adequate to swell a progress or work in a laboratory.

In the limitless confidence of this physics-is-all ideology there is a phenomenal arrogance. Perhaps we overestimate ourselves. As temporary phenomena ourselves in a strange universe we don’t really understand, here for reasons we do not know, waiting to go somewhere or nowhere as may be, we might display a more becoming humility. But won’t.

Long ago in a computer lab that I frequented late at night, a white mouse lived. It had escaped from the biology people. As I labored over a keypunch, the wee beastie scurried about behind the line-printer. It seemed to know where to find water, where the fragments of potato chips lay, and where it could sleep warmly.

I reflected that it probably thought it understood its world, which consisted of power supplies, magnetic-core memory, address buses, and the arcana of assembly-language programming. I’d estimate that humanity just about knows where the potato chips are.

*JBS: The Life and Work of J.B.S. Haldane, by Ronald Clark, p.111

[ 07-22-2005, 08:03 PM: Message edited by: Jack Heinlen ]

07-22-2005, 07:07 PM
So Jack, do you see dead people? :D

Jack Heinlen
07-22-2005, 07:23 PM
Never seen a ghost, but have experienced them. If you're nice to me I'll tell you.

I don't know what they are about, probably a memory ingrained in the environment in a way we don't understand. But they may, in fact, be real shades of the formerly alive. I don't know.

[ 07-22-2005, 08:31 PM: Message edited by: Jack Heinlen ]

Jack Heinlen
07-22-2005, 07:55 PM
The sunset is unspectacular here.

It's interesting that ghosts, the occult in general, are staging a huge rally. We don't wish to be contained by reason, we are mythic creatures.

Jung, who delved into this occult with fervor, once said something I hold to. "If god himself ordered me to murder a man, I would refuse."

This presumes a connection with God. Don't take my word for it, write down your dreams!

Jung had these intense imaginations. I think he tapped a strange intelligence, others think he was mad. What is your experience?

07-23-2005, 07:37 AM
Originally posted by Jack Heinlen:
The difficulty is that the sciences can apprehend only the repeatable. That which is not repeatable is not very relevant to anyone, is it?

Science deals with learning about things that happen, so that we can understand them, predict them, perhaps manipulate them. If something happens only once, and only affects a couple of people, and leaves no lasting effects in our world, and the people who witnessed do not understand it themselves, and those who might study the phenomenom have no way to witness it and no aftereffects to observe, then what is the point?

07-23-2005, 08:04 AM
How does Fred decide to be a "we" or an "I".

Ian McColgin
07-23-2005, 08:34 AM
So-called supernatural events are common, repeatable, testable and observable. It's just unfortunate that Reed left the building with Elvis. The guy even thinks that mathematicians are "hardheaded." Anyone with the slightest understanding of mathematics will notice the absurdity of that!

What Reed misses is that, as with material science, the human organism doing the investigation needs a bit of natural talent augmented by training.

One would not expect a physicist to be unable to manage calculus. Just so, one should not expect a spiritual investigator, for lack of a better term, to be so inept at meditation as to be unable to achieve alpha and theta states easily.

As happens in the material sciences, we often see people applying their limited experiences in overly universal ways, leading to much spooky metaphysical nonsense. We also see people getting so dogmatic about the cosmology they erect that their fights make some scientific brawls look quite tame. Religious warfare even.

The physical sciences have many stopping places and it's often useful for folk to stop somewhere. Good engineers are needed and only a few need pursue subatomic theory. Geneticists have a role but we need far more detail-driven ecosystem managers and even more capable farmers.

So also the comfort stations provided by various religions and value systems are often good places for a rich and whole life. But there are also people who probe the experience of prayer and contemplation more deeply and find the very structure of life changed. Husserl found the structure of consciousness changed by years of eidetic reductions.

As with natural science, there are wrong paths. The physics model of a hollow cored universe - pointing up is pointing to the center - is of limited empirical value. More than a few spiritual adventurers are simply nuts. For every Daedalus there is an Icarus.

The people compelled to study such paradoxes of lived individual consciousness and felt universal consciousness, or our falling through temporality verses our ability to find time in thens both past and future, do not find hard boundaries between "natural" and "supernatural."

Jack Heinlen
07-23-2005, 08:37 AM
"So-called supernatural events are common, repeatable, testable and observable."


Ian McColgin
07-23-2005, 09:02 AM
The simple act of writing down dreams - and how doing that will over time deepen the dreaming even before one tries to make any sense of the dream content - is a perfect example of taking "supernatural" experiences common to all humans and subjecting them to refinement, investigation and eventually some understanding.

Somewhere there are people so dazzled by a sunset's beauty that they regard the study of refraction and atmospheric particulates as blasphemy, but we need not imitate them as we probe our own deeper mysteries.

07-24-2005, 07:12 AM
Wait a second. Who said dreams are supernatural? I believe they are quite natural.

Jack Heinlen
07-24-2005, 07:22 AM
Ever made a practice of writing down your dreams, George? I recommend it to anyone. As Robert Bly once remarked, there's some weird ****e in there.

Supernatural? That word has lost all meaning for me.

Ian McColgin
07-24-2005, 07:49 AM
The words "natural" and "supernatural" are confusing because there is nothing so common to human experience, so natural if you will, as the awe and mystery we feel with many phenomena such as beauty, terror, love or transcendent rapture.

As with anything, practice and skill help. Practice and skill in science are not sufficient for scientific discovery but they certainly are necessary. Same with metaphysical or supernatural or mystical investigations. The more you practice, the more you subject your experience to the tests of expression and reflection and critical discussion with others, the more likely you are to be part of expanding human understanding. This stuff is not arbitrary and not merely subjective.

So, I mentioned dreams as it had come up already. Dreaming is utterly common and many folk have experienced precognitive dreams that appear to fool with temporality a bit. Precognition is just one "supernatural" phenomenon experienced in dreams. It's quite easy to learn to dream more and recall the dreams better. It's pleasing and rewarding in its own right. While a minor spiritual skill, dreaming is a good foundation for learning how to explore these phenomena without getting dazzled by them.

All forms of human knowledge have both intrinsic seductions and the seductions of power. Intellectual curiosity can turn into ego, power and money lusts as the race to patent a new gene heats up. Understanding fluid vortices is pretty pure, winning the America's Cup is certainly thrilling, and all that sporting nobility is enmeshed in some pretty crass and commercial lusts.

So it's no surprise that the development of call it spiritual or metaphysical or emotional or transcendent or whatever knowledge is fraught with places one might want to just stop at and declare that this is it.

Certain Christian sects, for example, stop at the conversion experience. As if one could not grow in God's love after the first introduction.

Certain body awareness meditations take one inside to a radical awareness of metabolism, enabling tricks like raising the temperature of one part of the body or deliberately suspending heartbeat or becoming aware of the symbiotic life forms that live in and amidst our cells. This can lead to breakthroughs in medical techniques and it can also lead to shammanistic miracles. Both are just applications of something learned, but with different and in each case absurdly simplistic metaphysical trappings to make it respectable in the culture of the event.

It is wrong to make any aspect of experience off-limits to investigation, learning and refinement just because the experience appears to someone as supernatural.