I have had some intense, puzzling experiences that my predilections toward materialism tell me are impossible. I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to write about those experiences in the future, but for now suffice it to say that while I’m not sure of anything, my intuition is that it’s a big, magical universe out there, and we’re just seeing the tip of a cosmic iceberg.

I’m going to argue here that rejecting your experience out of hand as “obviously” faulty is dangerous.

Imagine a confirmed atheist is speeding down a highway, and drops his scalding coffee onto his lap. He cuts his little Japanese car hard to the right, collides with a truck, and nearly dies. During his air lift to the hospital he has an out of body experience. There has been some research into this area, so the skeptical atheist believes, upon later reflection, that his brain has played a trick on him, and his experience is the result of a “bug” in the hardware of his brain. I cannot deny that that’s possible.

Trust Equally

On the other hand, I trust my other senses, like sight, even though I know that sense is buggy. Optical illusions, movie special effects, knowledge of the wider electromagnetic radiation spectrum, all these things prove that I cannot rely on my sight to tell me the truth. We compensate for our weak sight sometimes by verifying with someone else: do you see what I see?

Similarly, when a person has a “hypernatural experience,” he might look to others to find out if he’s alone. With regard to out of body experiences, he’ll find that he is in fact, not alone.

Skeptics say that other people having the same false experience just points to an architectural flaw in the brain that is shared, rather than anomalous. I cannot deny that that’s also possible.

But if we are to reject a priori that certain classes of experience map to any external reality–like energetic consciousness visually witnessing the physical world–based on the argument that it’s a collective delusion or malfunction, then we must similarly reject almost all sensory input.

If we go so far as to say that all out of body experiences are the result of a combination of suggestion and faulty brain architecture, then we can no longer rely either on our faculties or on verification through multiple observers for any sensory input.

Normally we say that if we see something it’s probably more or less accurate. If two people independently see the same thing, then we’re quite sure it’s accurate, proportional to the number of people who see it. There is only a small, albeit real, possibility that everyone is collectively mistaken.

When we see something that doesn’t make sense, and we’ve verified that other independent observers also see it, then the next step is to generate a rational explanation for our observations. The danger in rejecting “out there” observations, is similar to but opposite of the sin of invoking God: we stop exploring before any rational explanation is possible. Out of body experiences are impossible, therefore we shouldn’t study the phenomenon.

That’s why I think we should trust our experiences–strange or not–equally. Which is to say, we shouldn’t trust them completely. We should experimentally verify everything before coming to any strong conclusions either way.

Out of Body Side Note

With the particular example I’ve chosen, believers have a difficult road ahead. They must show that:

  1. It’s possible to form an intelligent entity from heretoforth undetected energy
  2. That such an intelligence could have sensory organs
  3. That such an intelligence could interface with the human brain to keep a stable identity and memory of its experiences
  4. That even if all that is possible in theory, such an energetic intelligence is actually associated with at least some human bodies
  5. That the energetic intelligences are associated with the body such that they leave and return automatically depending on whether the body is dead or not

Alternatively, believers could devise some way to induce out of body experiences, then arrange for the out of body subject to describe some otherwise unknowable information. For example, the experimenter might induce the out of body experience, cover the subject’s eyes, wheel him into a separate room which contains various objects like a Rubick’s Cube, or lava lamp, then interview the person afterward to discover whether he had any verifiable out of body perception.

On the other hand, skeptics who induce the feeling of an out of body experience also have a difficult road. They must prove:

  1. That the mechanism they use to induce the experience is the same mechanism that causes the experience “in the wild.” Just because I can hallucinate that I saw a man, doesn’t mean men don’t exist!
  2. Further, once they show that the mechanism is the same, they must show how that mechanism is triggered, to rule out the possibility that the mechanism they discovered is the same one our energetic, intelligent entity uses to interface with the brain.
  3. They must also provide evidence that subjects in whom the experiences are induced do not have a greater than random chance of correctly identifying the objects in the room. Evidence that they had extra perception would cast doubt on the other results.

In any case, if it’s falsifiable then it deserves to be rigorously falsified before being ruled out. If it’s not falsifiable, then you should reject it as incoherent.