Dec 14, 2008

The internal experience of the holy spirit

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By checking beliefs, I don’t mean checking your belief that you experienced something. That was never in doubt. It was never really in doubt that Scott believes he saw a picture versus a mirror. The question is whether there actually was a picture versus a mirror.

If there had been a picture versus a mirror, why was Scott the only one who noticed it? Does this normally happen to people? No. Does it normally happen to Scott? No. So why should Scott believe it himself? Isn’t it more likely that he saw a picture of Jesus in or on one of the books, and confused this with the mirror? Of course it is.

The elephant in the room is that you think no belief or recollection is too far-fetched to doubt. And the only reason you believe this nonsense is to preserve your faith.

Let’s put it in general terms. The laws of physics are highly predictive and reliable, and we all think it very foolish to bet against physics (e.g., jumping off a building and expecting to live). We think this because physical laws have been observed countless times. Suppose Alf sees phenomenon X just once. Phenomenon X violates the known laws of physics. Alf must believe he saw X, but should Alf believe X actually happened?

This question is rationally answerable, and it’s not a matter of opinion. Alf needs to compare the probability that a person misinterprets sensory inputs or falsely remembers certain facts, with the probability that the laws in question would be broken. It’s very VERY simple.

People misremember facts, selectively sample facts, have visual and auditory hallucinations, double-takes, deja vu, and many other failures of cognition and memory. This happens more commonly than laws of physics are violated. Do you deny this? Have you yourself never done a double-take or misremembered a fact?

I would estimate that I mispercieve something or misremember something about once a month. Usually about small stuff. I misplace an item and have to search for it. Or maybe I think I’ve emailed a reply to a query, but actually only imagined what my reply would be. I’m not particularly absent minded, but these things happen.

Furthermore, there are well documented cases in psychology in which subjects display denial, delusion, and false beliefs when those beliefs challenge their worldviews or when they are under emotional stress. Do you deny that psychology has documented these cases in a significant percentage of the population (e.g., say, >0.01%, and probably more than 5%)?

What does this mean? It means that if I observe an event that violates known laws of physics (not just unusual applications of known laws), then I ought to be skeptical when those laws are known to better than about 1 part in 10000. At that point, I ought to suspect that I made a mistake. It happens, and there’s no need to feel bad about making a mistake. And this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t investigate the peculiarity further. Even if nothing bizarre happened, it would be interesting to know why I thought something did.

But look at Scott’s case. He sees an event that violates reliable laws of physics. FAPP, transmogrification doesn’t happen. The event is so peculiar, it’s more likely he’s misremembered something, especially given the length of time between seeing the picture and seeing the mirror. So Scott needs to verify his belief. But when he asks Judy what happened, she doesn’t tell a transmogrification story. She tells a story about how there never was a picture. Her response is inconsistent with his experience. Moreover, this is a ONE-TIME event. It cannot be tested.*

This is what I mean by testing and questioning your intuitions. If you have a belief that the picture became a mirror, how would you confirm it? Suppose this is a court case. What evidence would work if you were a juror trying to confirm your story? That’s what impartiality is about. It’s about being a juror to your own experiences, and not the defendant. You have to be your own juror. If you’re going to believe everything that you as defendant says, then you as jury are going to be extremely gullible. But because it’s a one-time event that leaves no trace, and all the physical evidence (about transmogrifying) is against you, you would be foolish to believe your memory was what it seemed to be.