Thursday, 17 May 2012

Spiritualism and Astrology

I have heard two a priori refutations of a hereafter. First: "Death is the end of life. Therefore, 'life after death' is a contradiction in terms." But does conscious life end with bodily life? I think so but I could be mistaken. Defining terms does not determine facts.

Second: "The criterion of personal identity is spatiotemporal continuity of a body. Therefore, a disembodied subject with a dead person's memories would not be the dead person."

However, we apply our criterion of identity because it works in practice and criteria can change with experience. Disembodied subjects with dead people's memories would identify themselves with those dead people and would therefore regard temporal continuity of a series of experiences as a sufficient criterion of personal identity. What matters is whether such disembodied subjects can exist, not whether some philosophers can question their identity. Two disembodied subjects might have one dead person's memories but, also, an embodied subject might split like an amoeba. Either case would oblige us to reconsider identity criteria.

If an astronomer predicts an eclipse tomorrow, then, after tomorrow, we will know if there was not an eclipse whereas, after our deaths, we will not know if we did not survive. We must seek an answer before death because we might not find it afterwards. Spiritualist mediums regularly have experiences which they interpret as communication with the dead, just as we interpret speaking into a phone and hearing a reply as communication with the living. If I do not believe in a hereafter, then how should I interpret the mediums' experiences? If there is no hereafter, then they must be mistaken but we cannot be certain that there is no hereafter.

Mediums claim simply that they communicate, not that they have an experience which they interpret as communication, just as, if we see someone in front of us and hear him respond to our remarks, then we claim that we converse, not that we have an experience which we interpret as conversation. However, interpretation is implicit in all experience that is not immediate sensation. 

We experience conversation because we have learned to interpret a pink, black or brown circle with five orifices as a face and to interpret sounds emanating from the lowest orifice as language. Might mediums misinterpret their experience? If a medium seems to see and hear a client's dead parent, does the medium read the client's mind and visualise the parent? Why is mediumistic communication not as verifiable as trans-Atlantic communication? 

Society is fragmented so world-views are. It is difficult to consider evidence for survival without being accused (almost) of accepting it. I hope that future generations will dispassionately assess spiritualism and astrology. If an astrologer predicts an interpersonal conflict, then his client might expect a domestic argument but instead fall out with a colleague. It is like being told that you will read a mystery novel without being told either title or plot. But how can even that much be known by calculating planetary movements against constellations? Well resourced research without prejudice or vested interests will disclose whether correlations between astrological predictions and subsequent events are statistical or psychic.


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