terça-feira, 23 de fevereiro de 2010

Miracles and Anomalies: Magic, Psi, and Science

February 5, 2010

"Do you believe in Miracles?" For me, the question would be: Do you know what you're talking about? The topic has been a masterpiece of human non-thought [in most quarters] and many people think that this is inevitably so. I, probably foolishly, don't think that non-thought is the way to go, even on this subject. I particularly don't want it to slide into the "Well, it's just a mystery" category, because my intuition feels that it is central to the understanding of many types of anomalies. So, "Devil take the Hindmost", here's a try at this.

Let's begin with something non-philosophical: Lourdes, one of the poster-children of the concept of "miracles". [In the interest of disclosure, I am a Catholic]. Here's the background: the Marian apparitions took place in 1858. Claims of miraculous cures began almost immediately. Despite what many people think, the Church is not keen on modern miracles, and rather fears them as wild-cards that occur outside the jurisdiction of the hierarchy, and sources of potentially high embarrassment, if they turn out to be bogus. Because this case was immediately so "public" and sensational [newspapers of the day were screaming headlines about the newest cure], the Church decided to try to protect itself by initiating a "Medical Bureau" composed of professional people [deliberately open to non-Catholics] to evaluate alleged cures. As time progressed, the standards that an alleged cure would have to meet to be declared a "miracle" became almost impossible to meet, even if the incident was extremely remarkable. Many instances were recognized as "cures" but, out of many hundreds of cases only 67 have been designated "miracles". Some of the qualifying criteria are: the cure must be "immediate", "complete", and "permanent", and whatever the problem was has to be termed "incurable" due to anything happening at the time or even capable of happening in terms of treatment et al. The lists of the cures are available widely on the web, and you can read about them there and make up your own minds. For our discussion here, the "miracles" at Lourdes are felt by the people who studied them to have occurred outside the bounds of what Medicine and Science deems possible.

And that, of course brings us to the debate. There are at least four main opinions about miracles. "Science" has one. "Religion" has one. People who see the world in terms of "Magic" have one. And people who see the world in terms of "Parapsychology" have one. "Science", if such an entity exists, parrots, still today, the opinions of David Hume--the ultimate restrictive reductionist. Hume said:"A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined... no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle...." Hume was exactly in the spirit of the so-called "Enlightenment" in this, and may be credited as the foundational philosopher of that sort of view. His argument above is based on the premise that there is nothing but empirically-derived physical law and so anything that does not seem to match that set of laws is impossible. If you are a materialist reductionist, you can make that argument [sort-of], but you've prejudiced all discussion a priori. Our favorite girl, Catherine Crowe, as we have seen, saw right through this restrictive prejudice. As it turns out "Science" isn't this reductionist thing that Hume imagines. The picture in the upper left of the collage shows three "scientists". Langmuir, in the upper left, ferociously opposed all "irrationality" whether he understood anything about it or not. He was a mindless skeptic [and that included basically all "anomalies"]. George Gaylord Simpson was an avowed atheist-materialist. He judged things through the lens of automatically denying anything having to do with "spirit". Nicola Tesla, on the other hand, had no time for any of that B.S., and was, in his science, simply trying to explore no matter where it might lead. Depending on what your "philosophy" was, you would be more or less sympathetic to anomalies or miracles on an incident by incident basis.

The other "philosophies", of course take wildly different stances. "Magical" thinking is a bridge between science and psi, in its more thoughtful school, but completely non-think in its other. The non-think school just says "stuff happens"--pop!--no cause. Well, that's beneath comment. The thoughtful side says: there are "recipes" that one can learn about or discover, which if performed according to proper "ritual", will produce certain "behavior" in the world, which is not understood by science. In this, magical thinking is just like empirical science [a discovery process, leading to a type of "law" of the creation, and the establishment of a set of useful tools and a "protoscience"]. Whether you can actually do any of that is, of course, another story, but people who believe in magic feel so. In earlier times, what we call science today was called "natural magic".

Parapsychology, in its more enthusiastic membership, is quite allied with magical thinking, whether they want to be or not. This is because psychic research sees the root cause of these non-physical law phenomena as "psychic" in nature--i.e. having to do more with the powers of consciousness than matter. If a "Magician" would be successful, the parapsychologist would attribute that success to psychic ability not mysterious properties embedded in the "stuff" of the universe. If he/she had to perform a ritual, that was to get them into the proper mental state. Olde-time Religionists, of course, thought that all such miracles were just part of the immediate ability of GOD to do whatever He wanted to--the "ZAP" hypothesis. That turns out to be the way most religionists still {non-}think today, but it is not the position of current Church theology--more about that later. Hopefully everyone is getting many intuitions as to how all this might come to dominate thinking about anomalies.

So, to push at least my thinking a little further: what's a "Miracle"? At a first try: "A Miracle is a Surprise which occurs without us being able to understand it on the basis of the functioning of physical laws". Maybe all schools of thought would agree with that so far. But now I'll make my enemies. This Surprise occurs because either we have an incomplete set of physical laws or understandings, [the UFO anomaly is one which will be solved, in my opinion, not by the spiritual or paranormal, but by our discovering the rest of the elements of the physical universe, i.e. E.T]; or we have not integrated the psychic and spiritual elements resident in the Creation into our cosmology. By this I mean to indicate that we might feel that something is a Miracle, but it will be well understood some day on the basis of "scientific" physical laws, but other things that we see as Miracles will never be understood on that basis, and will demand the inclusion in our thinking of spiritual or psychic "laws". Our difficulties in dealing with Miracles and certain other commonly experienced anomalies are due to our pathetic incompleteness when it comes to our pursuit of our "Theories of Everything".

The Church's "new" theology of Miracles rejects the concept that they are violations of the laws of the Creation. This new Theology says that GOD uses the potentialities already resident in the fundamental laws of the Universe to produce what we see as the miraculous. Well, OK as far as that goes. What the theologians [minus some real adventurers like Herbert Thurston, who wrote the terrific study The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism], are missing is the psychic side of all this. If there are parapsychological potentialities resident in reality, then GOD is loaded with such ability too. Are not there psychic "laws" embedded in this Universe? Even if pedestrian "science" can't get a handle on them?

When a "Miracle" or a "True Anomaly" occurs, its presentation to us is [usually] "physical" {yes, pure information-transfer anomalies occur such as clairvoyance or telepathy, but let's stick with a physical analysis for the moment}. That physical presentation or "change" may have occurred at one of several "scales of nature" as far as normal science is concerned. It could have happened grossly on the macroscopic level. [like a whole new arm suddenly appeared]. It could have happened at the microscopic level [physiological systems, molecular actions--like an immunity-related cure--cancer, diabetes, artery-clearing, slow regrowth etc]. It could occur at the atomic level [transmutations, radioactive decay]. Or it might be as deep as the level of the fundamental forces [action-at-a-distance, levitation, ---dare we say psi?][by the way, it is a "dirty little secret" of science that "action-at-a-distance" is a ubiquitous phenomenon, totally unexplained by causal models/mechanisms...i.e., a miracle]. Lourdes-like miracles probably don't occur grossly. But they well could occur by the parapsychological manipulation of molecular and deeper levels of our physical world. The theologians are not yet ready to so openly welcome the terminology of the paranormal, due to old hang-ups about it being dangerous and potentially the Devil's Workshop, but that is where they need to go. A very good book, Miracles, by Scott Rogo [quite recommended], would disagree with me on my merging of miracles and the psychic, but that is where I respectfully disagree.

What we are missing is the inclusion of the spiritual/psychic. Catherine saw that as a colossal cultural error, and it is a colossal "scientific" one as well. We will never get the Theory of Everything until the spiritual/psychic "dimensions" are included alongside the 9,10,whatever number of force dimensions that the mathematicians are fooling with now. Down deep within the engines and gears of creation, there are more elements of "force-projection" and phenomena- manifestation than restricted science is willing to contemplate. "They" will never get there. What they will resist until their last breath [when they'll have a huge shock as the "light-tunnel" shows up] is the centrality of Observership. Not only is the Prime Observer "governing" the stability of the physical laws, as originated at the Big Bang, but constant other observerships are at work, some more consciously than others. Sometimes such observership might be from the Deity, making a traditional "miracle", sometimes it might be from one of us, making a psychic or self-healing "miracle". Sometimes it might even be a spirit entity or a "folkloric" one, doing something "impossible". All of these might occur outside the bounds of restricted "physical" law, and, on that ground, "impossible" [a priori] for Hume. Well, OK. But for "Enlightenment", that is a dim bulb indeed.

I believe that despite the ongoing great discoveries that science will make--and we should all cheer that on-- the reductionist practitioners will ultimately have to change or lose face completely. The hated "Miracles" [spiritual/psi/anomalistic] will continue to happen despite their wishing them away. In the face of those events, they have reduced themselves to only one, [ironically mindless] response: as the avatar of Langmuir and Simpson, and CSICOP, says in the picture above, when faced with the parting of the Red Sea: "Fluke". We have a job in this search for truth that is bigger than what we might feel. It's our job to be little Charles Forts saving the things which don't fit, and obnoxiously bringing them to the attention of---everyone. So mount your chargers; even though you suspect that you are more like Don Quixote than Isaac Newton. What's the option? David Hume?

Last thought: in my old age I have become precisely in the chorus of Minneapolis story-teller-singer, Peter Mayer. Reflecting on the difference of old-style religion and where he has grown into today, he sings: "Wine from water is not so small. But an even better magic trick is that anything is here at all. So the challenging thing becomes. Not to look for Miracles...but finding where there isn't one. "

Source: http://thebiggeststudy.blogspot.com

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