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A Case for Reincarnation
May 24, 2012 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Robert Snow, now retired, was Captain of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, who in his career was in charge of the department of the Homicide and Robbery and the department of Organized Crime. He has written numerous articles and books on police work, and considered himself a skeptic of supposedly supernatural occurrences. But on a dare, he visited a past life regression therapist, and what he experiences made him doubt his beliefs. In an hour-long session, he seemed to recall memories of a cave dweller, an altar girl in Greece, but it was his views of the life of a 19th century painter were the most vivid. In that experience, Snow recalled a number of specific memories or events, but was certain they were fabricated memories from things he had seen or heard in his life in the 20th century. In an attempt to debunk his experiences, he ended up validating his past life memories of being James Carroll Beckwith, a painter most commonly remembered not for his art, but his friendship to more renown painters like John Singer Sargent.

Robert Snow is now a board member of the Institute for the Integration of Science, Intuition and Spirit. Though Snow considers himself not to be a "new-agey" type, his story was part of a Coast to Coast AM show (episode on YouTube in 4 parts: 1, 2, 3, 4)
posted by filthy light thief (186 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
"'That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish....' When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion."

--David Hume
posted by IjonTichy at 2:57 PM on May 24, 2012 [37 favorites]


I think it's fair to say he is a failed skeptic.
posted by milkwood at 3:01 PM on May 24, 2012 [16 favorites]


Does he have some books coming out? (google amazon) Yup. Never mind that regression therapy has been debunked for years now, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. While this is fascinating from a human-interest standpoint, it seems too much like creating a buzz to get people to read/buy/listen to his stuff.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 3:02 PM on May 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


As a board member of the institute, does he now stand to make a profit from this discovery? Because in my last life I was a skeptic.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:02 PM on May 24, 2012 [16 favorites]


How come nobody's ever an accountant, or a peasant farmer, or a baby lost during childbirth? How many reincarnated Cleopatras and artists and warriors can there be?

And his contention is that there could only ever have been one painting of a hunchbacked woman?
posted by cmoj at 3:03 PM on May 24, 2012 [21 favorites]


Yah, amazing how many of the past life regressors were somebody famous in the past.
posted by telstar at 3:05 PM on May 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


While I think it would be awesome if stuff like this was real, but your argument is not generally going to be a compelling one when it consists of "someone who used to disagree with me now agrees with me."

Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World has some interesting information about these sorts of regression therapies and perhaps predictably takes a dim view of their scientific validity.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:06 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The link on his extraordinary experiment is from his own webpage and relies entirely on his own impressions. There's not much online at all about this guy that isn't on one of his own webpages.

If he really was a skeptic he'd move beyond his own experiences and try to recreate this in other people. Prove that this triggering event is reproducible in randomly selected people, and then we'll be talking. If half of what he claims is true, that shouldn't be so hard to do. If he's not willing to even try... well then we have to question his earnestness and sincerity.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:07 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I keep being tempted to just go ahead and pick this apart, but it'd be tedious and pointless. The guy's cold-reading himself. I mean, I like wine! I've known someone with a blod clot! I hate doing portraits! I've had to use a cane before! I think I must've drawn a hunchback at some point! This guy is me in a future life!
posted by cmoj at 3:08 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah there's not much terribly remarkable here.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:10 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think we disagree on the meaning of the term "validating" here.

I always love how people interviewed on this sort of thing will go on and on about how amazingly skeptical they are. It really taught me that no one should ever describe themselves as skeptical, or highly rational, or anything like that. I'd like to believe I have a skeptical mind, but I'd be better off leaving it up to other people to make that judgment.
posted by skewed at 3:10 PM on May 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Ramtha says this guy is totally a fake.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:11 PM on May 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


That's why you have to rely on testable, reproducible results, not impressions.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:15 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Robert Snow is not the reincarnation of Beckwith. I should know. In my past life, I was John Singer Sargent.
posted by perhapses at 3:15 PM on May 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


I always love how people interviewed on this sort of thing will go on and on about how amazingly skeptical they are.

I used to think the stories in Penthouse Forum were made up, but last weekend I had the most amazing experience...
posted by rocket88 at 3:17 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's fair to say he is a failed skeptic.

I'm skeptical of any definition of skepticism wherein the skeptic necessarily fails when the answers to his skepticism fail to live up to his preconceived notions.

Which is not to say I think this guy is correct or that I think he's still a skeptic. Nevertheless, if a skeptic has decided beforehand what the answer to his skeptical inquiry must necessarily be, he's not much of a skeptic.
posted by The World Famous at 3:19 PM on May 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Boy, that dead guy with the strong jaw, high cheekbones, aquiline nose, sunken eyes, and low ears looks just like that retired cop with none of those features! Because, mustache.
posted by nicwolff at 3:23 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


These people say, "I never believed it until it happened to me." Well, I'm still waiting.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:28 PM on May 24, 2012


According to the Buddhist teaching on reincarnation, the chances of being reborn as any sort of human, nevermind a famous or even well fed one are minute:

The Buddha spoke about the rarity and the precious nature of opportune birth amongst human beings. He used a simile to illustrate this point. Suppose the whole world were a vast ocean, and on the surface of this ocean there were a yoke floating about, blown about by the wind, and suppose at the bottom of the ocean there lived a blind tortoise which came to the surface of the ocean once every hundred years. Just as difficult as it would be for that tortoise to place its neck through the opening in that yoke floating about in the ocean, just so difficult is it to attain opportune birth as a human being.

Why don't we hear about the much more likely past lives as mosquitos or pigs?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 3:30 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why don't we hear about the much more likely past lives as mosquitos or pigs?

From non-Buddhists or from Buddhists?
posted by The World Famous at 3:35 PM on May 24, 2012


My girlfriend and I count among our special places, places that are ours as a couple and we enjoy going there and goddamnit if the world's going to stop us, the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We took the way overpriced Ghost Tour the first time we were there and even though the hotel prides itself as showing up on multiple episodes of those 30 thousand television shows where they walk around buildings at night and hunt the paranormal using equipment from their ghost labs, we failed to see any floating orbs or restless undead maids or widowed brides or creepy translucent twins tricycling down the hallways.

You know what I get a hoot out of watching? Those 30 thousand television shows where they walk around buildings at night and hunt the paranormal using equipment from their ghost labs.

You know what I think are fake? Those 30 thousand television shows where they walk around buildings at night and hunt the paranormal using equipment from their ghost labs.
posted by item at 3:36 PM on May 24, 2012


telstar: Yah, amazing how many of the past life regressors were somebody famous in the past.

Except Beckwith wasn't famous. Most that was written about him are short biographies, filling a page or two in random art books (as told in Snow's book about his experience). Snow, in his own telling, saw things that weren't listed in even those short biographies, and instead he had to look through the private diaries of Beckwith to "verify" what he saw.

Mind you, I'm not saying this guy is right (thus my vague language in the OP), but its an interesting story. His book isn't well written, and it's really repetitive (we get it, you did a lot of "investigating" on your "case,"), and could probably be boiled down to a pamphlet instead of a 186 page book, but a fun distraction.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:36 PM on May 24, 2012


How come nobody's ever an accountant, or a peasant farmer, or a baby lost during childbirth? How many reincarnated Cleopatras and artists and warriors can there be?

A long time ago, when I was a young psuedo-hippy college kid open to new-agey beliefs, someone I knew (not in my primary social circle; she was someone much older and seemingly wiser) said she was experimenting with channelling a spirit that could read past lives and offered to grant me an audience. I eagerly took her up on the offer.

The session started in a darkened room. The channeler closed her eyes and remained silent for a long time. When the spirit allegedly took over, she breathed a bit more deeply and spoke only faintly between breaths; this was not the boisterous and energetic sort of channeling one associates with some new age celebrities, and it seemed to take a significant effort from the channeler to get even a few words out.

So I started asking about past lives, and I recall getting two. In one, I was a caretaker for my elderly father in ancient China. When he died, I had no family left and so I wandered into nature and let myself die. In another, I was an impoverished European girl during a war in the middle ages, constantly scrounging for survival, and died in childbirth after being raped.

I wasn't expecting to have been a famous person, but I also wasn't expecting my past lives to be so . . . gritty and sad. There was something profound, at that moment, about accepting those tragic and anonymous lives as a possible part of myself. I felt humbled and connected to history in a way that I'd never really given serious consideration.

I'm not sure I was a believer then, and I'm definitely not one now, but I still feel grateful for the strange and disquieting gift of that experience.
posted by treepour at 3:37 PM on May 24, 2012 [26 favorites]


You know what I think are fake? Those 30 thousand television shows where they walk around buildings at night and hunt the paranormal using equipment from their ghost labs.

Also see, every other reality show on TV.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:38 PM on May 24, 2012


A Case for Reincarnation

No it's not.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:40 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


item: You know what I think are fake? Those 30 thousand television shows where they walk around buildings at night and hunt the paranormal using equipment from their ghost labs.

I keep hoping MeFi's own demonicpedia will elaborate on his work as a paranormal investigator.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:40 PM on May 24, 2012


"Because, mustache" is one of the most convincing arguments of the modern era.

For all the talk of evidence there are some pretty huge jumps in logic like:

It is likely that a spirit being or Robert Snow's own soul telepathically inserted the thought into his wife's mind that they should visit New Orleans for their anniversary.

Well yeah, obviously. That's the most likely conclusion there.

I haven't come across it yet, having looked at 1/3 of the links presented, but does anything here link to any third party verification of any kind? Because otherwise it's just a guy with a book and a story, right?
posted by ODiV at 3:41 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had a spirit reading done when I was a kid. Supposedly, I used to be William of Ockham.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:45 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it's fair to say he is a failed skeptic

Skeptic tanks?
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:46 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sure Snow's memories were independently and publicly documented before the spirit being led him to the art gallery to see the painting, right? And Beckwith's diaries are also publicly available, and their provenance proven? And none of this documentation is being quoted or linked to by any of these pages because, mustache.
posted by nicwolff at 3:49 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


not_that_epiphanius: Why don't we hear about the much more likely past lives as mosquitos or pigs?

Mosquitos don't live long, but long enough to cause misery (their heading, not mine): females live 3-100 days, males 10-20 days. Not a whole lot of life to remember before getting reborn.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:50 PM on May 24, 2012


I think I'd remember if my life sucked that bad.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:51 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a running "joke" in my family that I'm the reincarnation of the family dog, who died a few months after I was conceived. Which is based on the fact that I, as a three-year-old, liked to hang out in the same spaces that a dog or a three-year-old would like to hang out in.
posted by thecaddy at 3:55 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


How come nobody's ever an accountant, or a peasant farmer, or a baby lost during childbirth? How many reincarnated Cleopatras and artists and warriors can there be?

I was a Syrian goatherder who was buggered to death by Crusaders in 1175. I can't find anyone who wants to paint that, however.
posted by Renoroc at 3:57 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


In one of my past lives I ran up a big unpaid credit card bill and they're still hounding me about it.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:57 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, next time, I'm thinking otter. They seem to have fun. Plus, water skillz!
posted by likeso at 4:00 PM on May 24, 2012


I liked Albert Brooks take on it
posted by ikkexile at 4:03 PM on May 24, 2012


I wonder whose decision it was to add the special effects to the regression video. They're going to regret it in their next life.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:09 PM on May 24, 2012


'How come nobody's ever an accountant, or a peasant farmer, or a baby lost during childbirth? How many reincarnated Cleopatras and artists and warriors can there be?"

Yup. I always figured if there were anything to reincarnation, almost all of us were miserable peasants though countless lifetimes which were nasty, brutal and short like Danny DeVito. But any account of reincarnation always makes the past life someone famous or at least around someone famous like a courtier to some Queen, or friend of a famous artist. The sheer number of people just does not work out.
posted by mermayd at 4:10 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Back when I was hanging out with what was then called the New Age community, I observed and experienced some extremely weird things, enough that I don't completely discount an earnest person like this who is convinced that he has proof of one of the usual suspect phenomena.

But the thing is, while these things are much more common than skeptics like to admit and very startling when you encounter one, if they are real they really suggest that the entire Universe is a very different thing from what we think it is, and the effects are also unreliable in very specific ways. It does seem that either the Universe or the human mind, one or the other, is broken in ways we haven't begun to suspect. But the bottom line w/r/t psychic phenomena is that IRL it really isn't profitable to act generally as if these things are real.

Acting on them specifically in cases where there's no sound skeptical reason not to, however, can be quite rewarding, even if it's just a kind of psychological masturbation.
posted by localroger at 4:15 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


But the bottom line w/r/t psychic phenomena is that IRL it really isn't profitable to act generally as if these things are real.
A rarity among industries, the Psychic Services industry benefited from the economic downturn. Over the five years to 2012, the Psychic Services industry grew at an average annual rate of 2.0% to an estimated $2.1 billion. With greater pressing financial and career concerns, a rising share of consumers turned to psychic services for guidance during the recession. Consequently, industry revenue grew 3.0% and 3.5% during 2008 and 2009, respectively. In the years since, although growth has slowed, industry revenue growth has remained positive and is expected post gains in 2012. [source]
posted by TheGoodBlood at 4:28 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]




It does seem that either the Universe or the human mind, one or the other, is broken in ways we haven't begun to suspect.

I know which one I'm betting on.
posted by adamdschneider at 4:52 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


TheGoodBlood, while I met some psychics who were quite sincere and devout in their belief in their tools, I think it's a safe bet that the psychic services industry is not acting as if these things are real; rather, it is acting as if you believe these things are real.

Also, even the most credulously devout psychics understood that much of what they were doing was armchair therapy for people who couldn't afford a real psychiatrist.
posted by localroger at 4:53 PM on May 24, 2012


But the thing is, while these things are much more common than skeptics like to admit and very startling when you encounter one, if they are real they really suggest that the entire Universe is a very different thing from what we think it is

Provide some proof of the first statement. Submit your anecdotes to the scientific method. Please.

And what the hell does "they really suggest that the entire Universe is a very different thing than what we think it is" mean?

Also, even the most credulously devout psychics understood that much of what they were doing was armchair therapy for people who couldn't afford a real psychiatrist.

See, the problem with this statement is that psychiatrists and psychologists have a code of ethics and psychics are charlatans at best, con men at worst.
posted by dave78981 at 4:58 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


A rarity among industries, the Psychic Services industry benefited from the economic downturn.

That's one of the reasons I wanted to go back to school and get a Psychic Services degree. So I went to the school to talk to one of the teachers about starting the program and he told me my grade point average was going to be too low. "You were close to getting the degree, but you fail PS 210 in three years. So you don't meet the post-requisites."
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:06 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I only go to Board certified Psychics.
posted by The World Famous at 5:10 PM on May 24, 2012


Ouija Board certified?
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:12 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I only go to bored, certifiable Psychics.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:12 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went to Bard.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:13 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went to a psychic earlier this week to get some work done, but first I needed to know if he was up to the job. I asked if I was going to pay him. He said, "Yes," so I knew he was a fraud, and I left.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:16 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can read palms, but I prefer to do it on my Kindle.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:17 PM on May 24, 2012


dave78981, I already had this argument years ago at kuro5hin and I'm not going to have it here with you. If you do certain exercises certain weird things seem to happen with great reliability, but also in some ways great unreliability; part of the unreliability is that they evade the scientific method with amazing alacrity. Almost as if the Universe is consciously lying to us. Which is one of the reasons I said that, should these things be real, it means the universe is a much different thing than we think it is.

I am quite open to the possibility that it is consciousness and not the Universe that is broken. I am agnostic on that score. But it has to be one or the other, because there is a lot of really, really weird shit out there that people like you tend to dismiss as not existing or necessarily being fraudulent when brought forth. TFA is one of those things. On the whole I tend to act as if it is consciousness, rather than the Universe, which is broken since that seems to work better in general use. But I am not religiously devoted to either assumption.
posted by localroger at 5:20 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went to Bard.

I am the Bard.
posted by The World Famous at 5:21 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bard is drab spelled backwards.

I'm sure that means something.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:24 PM on May 24, 2012


...and psychics are charlatans at best, con men at worst.

This is true of a lot of the most visible psychics, but I knew a lot of people who were very sincere in their belief that their tools held real power. I knew these people personally over a period of years, and I also knew some of the charlatan type; the difference in person is stark. One could make a good case that the credulous ones were fooling themselves. But they were making money reading Tarot cards and such.
posted by localroger at 5:27 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I got kicked out of the psychic's parlor when she caught me cheating at Tarot cards.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:32 PM on May 24, 2012


Wow, it's comedy night at Metafilter.
posted by localroger at 5:32 PM on May 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have known a number of people who honestly believe that they have some special psychic ability or another. I also have known a number of people who honestly believe they have had direct experience of God. In some cases, these are the same people. They are not crazy or malicious, but I do personally consider them to be self-deluded. Of course they feel exactly the same way about me.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:34 PM on May 24, 2012


That Coast to Coast AM link, the first one--I'm 12 1/2 minutes in and nothing about Snow yet. Nor does it seem to be happening soon . . .
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:38 PM on May 24, 2012


Wow, it's comedy night at Metafilter.

You say that like it's a bad thing.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:40 PM on May 24, 2012


James Joyce was a psychic.

"He proves by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father" - Ulysses
posted by storybored at 5:41 PM on May 24, 2012


Wow, it's comedy night at Metafilter.

Predictable.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:47 PM on May 24, 2012


I like to joke about psychic powers mainly to divert attention from the fact that I actually have them. Let me prove it to you. Think of a number between 1 and 20. No, seriously! I know you're just reading a comment on the web, but I'm really going to ask you to do this. Play along. Think of a number between 1 and 20. Concentrate. You have that number? I'm going to tell you what number you're thinking of. So take it seriously. Concentrate a little more on that number between 1 and 20. The answer is below. You have to concentrate while you scroll.















17
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:48 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nope.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:49 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's funny is that Westerners place such a big emphasis on what's "true" that they often miss the question of what's, as a friend would say, conducive to life. (What's even more funny is that such "skeptics" believe all sorts of fucking nonsense but this is ok because some academic told them so.) But I wonder what the world would be like if this sort reincarnation belief really were common and widespread and most people really believed that they had previously not been themselves and that their fate really was a matter of a karmic coin toss. I suspect the world would actually be a lot more interesting place. This suggests that perhaps reincarnation and like beliefs are in the interest philosophy if they could be suitably divorced from their larger political concerns.
posted by nixerman at 5:49 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


twoleftfeet, James P. Hogan outed that in his novel The Code of the Lifemaker, which has a character who is such a psychic charlatan. Hogan also outed enough other stuff that after the GF and I saw The Amazing Kreskin in person (casino comp back in the card counting days) I had to bring her down from belief with examples Hogan had included in the novel. 17 was one of them.
posted by localroger at 5:52 PM on May 24, 2012


Since we've taken this turn so soon after I was memailed asking a passing comment I made about an intense experience I've had that is up this alley, it amuses me to behave as if the universe requires me to share it. I'll tell you what I told my correspondant. The comment was taking about tantra and I said something about having had intense experiences during certain exercises that might scare the shit out of a complete novice:

Well, I've gotten pretty out there on regular 4-count in, 4-count hold, 4-count out, 4-count hold breathing during meditation, but what I was referring to I found in a sort of passing comment in Bob Wilson's Prometheus Rising. He said, basically, "try this, it's really interesting: Lay on your back and take 20 breaths as fast as you can, then 20 regular deep breaths and repeat." He called it something like, "Tantric Fire Breath," which had search results turn up for different things of the same name and different things called the same thing. Anyway, I tried it and after a couple of rounds, I had an experience very similar to what happens to me tripping hard on mushrooms for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, complete with spasming hands and lips and feeling wet and so forth. It even scared the dogs. I tried it a few more times since with less intense but similar results. I have no idea if that's what was "supposed" to happen, or if I only interpreted the experience that way because of my previous psychedelic experience, or anything, really except that's what happened to me.

Sorry if I over-qualify my description, but this is pretty weird stuff and I'm careful not to extrapolate from these things. All I can say is that I tried this thing and experienced this other thing.

No communications from Sirius yet, though.
posted by cmoj at 5:57 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you do certain exercises certain weird things seem to happen with great reliability, but also in some ways great unreliability; part of the unreliability is that they evade the scientific method with amazing alacrity. Almost as if the Universe is consciously lying to us.

Have you ever heard the term "My mind is playing tricks on me"?

But it has to be one or the other, because there is a lot of really, really weird shit out there that people like you tend to dismiss as not existing or necessarily being fraudulent when brought forth.

Do you mean rational people?

Here's the thing: when people make extraordinary claims, they need to back that up with some evidence. That's not a lot to ask. You hurl the "people like you" phrase at me like I'm supposed to feel bad for not embracing the spirit of the universe or some bullshit when you give me a choice between the universe being sentient and playing tricks on you or people reincarnating.

Those aren't the only two options. The mind is amazing and to limit it by claiming some experience or other as magic is small minded.

Then again...
posted by dave78981 at 6:00 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Damnit cmoj, you can't expect the coms from Sirius unless you have a properly calibrated quartz crystal.

There was once a time when I would have sold you the quartz crystal, though I'd have been careful to maintain that it's only the "lore" and I personally can't vouch that it will get you in touch with Sirius.

I'd probably still be doing that if I hadn't run out of quartz crystals.

posted by localroger at 6:00 PM on May 24, 2012


Sirius, is that rain?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:02 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tonight, we dance.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:03 PM on May 24, 2012


Wow, cmoj. Do you mean you can get high from depriving the brain of oxygen?
posted by dave78981 at 6:03 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you ever heard the term "My mind is playing tricks on me"?

Reference the second half of my comment.

Do you mean rational people?

There is no such thing as a rational person. There are only people who try hard, and even then we often fail.

Those aren't the only two options.

Yes, actually, they are. But you can't see that if you haven't had an extraordinary experience yourself. You just think it's impossible or it can't be what those of us who have had them know they are. You think you are rational. You are not. The mind is indeed amazing, particularly in its capacity to be fucked up. And that's not even getting into what known messed-up neurotransmitter chemistry can induce.
posted by localroger at 6:07 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Either he's a scamming charlatan, has a brain tumor, or is a moron.

I'm going with "all of the above" for now. Plus, he's a cop.
posted by spitbull at 6:13 PM on May 24, 2012


No I dont think the world would be a more interesting place if people believed in past lives. Ive bern to college; ive dine my dance with acid and shrooms;ive done the ouija board out in the mountains; i lived in Woodstock for fuck's sake. After a very short time it is simply tedious to keep going down that rabbit hole because yeah you need to actually focus on food/shelter/life eventually. I find that stuff much more interesting and consider the other stuff nice little road trips.
posted by spicynuts at 6:16 PM on May 24, 2012


I wonder what the world would be like if this sort reincarnation belief really were common and widespread and most people really believed that they had previously not been themselves and that their fate really was a matter of a karmic coin toss. I suspect the world would actually be a lot more interesting place.

If the majority of people believed they had a soul and there were supernatural forces deciding their fates? Well I can answer that one, no special powers needed: the world would be exactly as it is now. Because humanity has been trying that experiment for at least 6 thousand years, now. I think we have enough data on that point already.

I'd be much more interested to see what the world would be like if the majority of people thought that what's "true" is what's most conducive to life. I'm not convinced we'd be any better off, because frankly I think that people are people, and we tend to bring our best and worst selves with us whichever paths we wander down. But at least it would be a new path.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:19 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


But you can't see that if you haven't had an extraordinary experience yourself.

The level of self delusion is scary. It's obviously not possible to have any further intelligent conversation and I'm not interested in any New Age guru word games, so I'm out.
posted by dave78981 at 6:19 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


To future me who regresses back to experience my current life: I'm so sorry. You're going to bored out of your skull.
posted by maxwelton at 6:29 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well Dave, here's hoping you can maintain your delusion that consciousness is as practical as you think for a long time. It's much more comfortable than admitting the alternative.
posted by localroger at 6:38 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So in 1750 the world population was approx 1 billion.

1900, maybe 2 billion.

Today, pushing 6 billion.

Projections for 2050 suggest 10 billion.

So if you believe in reincarnation, where are all these extra folks coming from?
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:54 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Massachusetts.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:56 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're thinking "people." Think biomass.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:58 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to the Buddhist teaching on reincarnation...

Buddhism doesn't teach reincarnation in the way that it is popularly known (called "transmigration" below). It teaches rebirth. From your link:
Finally, I would like to distinguish rebirth from transmigration. You may have noticed that in Buddhism, we consistently speak of rebirth and not transmigration. This is because in Buddhism we do not believe in an abiding entity, in a substance that trans-migrates. We do not believe in a self that is reborn. This is why when we explain rebirth, we make use of examples which do not require the transmigration of an essence or a substance. For example, when a sprout is born from a seed, there is no substance that transmigrates. The seed and the sprout are not identical. Similarly, when we light one candle from another candle, no substance travels from one to the other, and yet the first is the cause of the second. When one billiard ball strikes another, there is a continuity, the energy and direction of the first ball is imparted to the second. It is the cause of the second billiard ball moving in a particular direction and at a particular speed. When we step twice into a river, it is not the same river and yet there is continuity, the continuity of cause and effect. So there is rebirth, but not transmigration. There is moral responsibility, but not an independent, permanent self. There is the continuity of cause and effect, but not permanence.
posted by desjardins at 7:01 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


While I retain an open mind on the subject (extraordinary experiences can be quite convincing), I also recognize that our inner storyteller loves a chance to get out and PLAY (as opposed to when we press it into service for more uhm pragmatic purposes). Confining it only to service the motives of those who scribe books and TV shows is a modern deprivation, and is bound to lead to rebellious acting-out.

But who's to say as-if is not just as real as our supposedly superior, tight-girdled Reality Tunnel? Who knows?
posted by Twang at 7:05 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


How come nobody's ever an accountant, or a peasant farmer, or a baby lost during childbirth? How many reincarnated Cleopatras and artists and warriors can there be?

For what it's worth, the past-life regression session I participated in revealed that in my "previous form" (the guide's word choice), I had been a girl, born to a poor family in rural Vietnam, and had been killed during a bombing raid during the war, at the age of 13. I know full well that some of my earliest memories of television included footage of the Vietnam War, but I still get a kick out of that. Plus, I can say "This isn't even my final form!" with sincere conviction.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:06 PM on May 24, 2012


Re: rebirth, I guess I don't see the use of using a word that clearly (and understandbly!) has certain connotations for almost everyone when you mean something much more mundane, like cause and effect.

Speaking of fucked up brains, I can't even read the words "it can't be" without mentally adding, "Metal Gear?!"
posted by adamdschneider at 7:09 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


But who's to say as-if is not just as real as our supposedly superior, tight-girdled Reality Tunnel? Who knows?

Your stomach knows. Try feeding it nothing but as-if for a few weeks. Pretty soon, your reality won't even need a girdle at all anymore, let alone a tight one.

/metaphore abuse
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:12 PM on May 24, 2012


Re: rebirth, I guess I don't see the use of using a word that clearly (and understandbly!) has certain connotations for almost everyone when you mean something much more mundane, like cause and effect.

Well, "cause and effect" in Buddhism is called karma, which is popularly misunderstood as some sort of universal reward and punishment system. Rebirth is informed by karma but is not at all an interchangeable word.
posted by desjardins at 7:23 PM on May 24, 2012


My grandmother is a rather influential... hard to put a word on it... New Age practitioner, for lack of a better word, since she does it all. Along with my grandfather, who handles the tarot and numerology aspects. They also do a ton of astrology, aura reading, past life regression, and so on and so forth. They consult with people out of their home and also travel worldwide once or twice a year. They've made a very comfortable living this way since, oh, before I was born.

They are wonderful, kind, completely genuine people. They believe in their work wholeheartedly. They use it to guide their own lives every bit as much as to guide their clients'. As a skeptic it used to bother me, how they make their money, but a while ago I wound up living quite near them and spending a lot more time with them, including seeing some of their work and meeting some clients. It was reassuring, because, at the end of the day... they're just counselors. Their clients leave with, yes, a bit of woo, but also care, kindness, and solid practical advice.

As the grandchildren, we've also been the recipients of their professional attention... not at all at our parents behest, and not intensively, but they do keep our astrological charts up to date and keep at least me up to date.

And so, I can tell you that I and my brothers are indigos. I was one of the drafters of the constitution (I forget which one), my big brother was an early railroad magnate, and my little brother... I forget; he always does get the short end of the stick.

(In case it wasn't clear, I'm a skeptic. I love them, though; they're wonderful people.)
posted by gilrain at 7:32 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was one of the drafters of the constitution

Can you please clear up that whole 2nd amendment thing?
posted by desjardins at 7:38 PM on May 24, 2012


Rebirth is informed by karma but is not at all an interchangeable word.

How would you explain it, then? Your quote even used the phrase "continuity of cause and effect". It was also somewhat confusing, because of course there is a transfer of substance between a seed and it's sprout, so there must again be some non-obvious meaning attached to a normally clear word.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:39 PM on May 24, 2012


I actually was thinking of 17.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 7:40 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


desjardins: Can you please clear up that whole 2nd amendment thing?

Ah, sadly not! However, according to my charts I am destined to become an influential writer, probably in the realm of politics... possibly even a politician! So, maybe I'll get back to you.
posted by gilrain at 7:40 PM on May 24, 2012


I'm a little muddled too about the Buddhist position:

Finally, I would like to distinguish rebirth from transmigration. You may have noticed that in Buddhism, we consistently speak of rebirth and not transmigration. This is because in Buddhism we do not believe in an abiding entity, in a substance that trans-migrates.

I could buy this. A continual stream of unconnected conscious lives. (Is there a name for this school of metaphysics?) But then earlier in that article it talks about the Buddha remembering his "past lives". That sounds like a contradiction. If there's no substance being passed, how can there be memory?
posted by storybored at 7:53 PM on May 24, 2012


Human beings are capable of rational thought, and it is clear that rational thought is incredibly useful in many domains and brings us many benefits. It is particularly useful in domains such as science, computing, mechanics, chemistry, physics and engineering. Reproducible phenomena allow us to construct all kinds of physical things such as these computers we are now using to communicate. It's great, it works, and we can count on the fact that a thing that we have proved to work in a set of cases, which once worked here will also work there, and everywhere else, until we butt up against the time when it doesn't, for whatever reason, at which point we get to expand the model again, all in a purely rational way. So far so hoopy.

We are also capable of thought which is not rational. This kind of thought is also incredibly useful. Never mind woo-woo New Age stuff for now: this kind of thought brings us music, poetry and the visual arts. Rational thought can also be applied to those domains - usually in an analytical retrospective mode - but it only takes you so far. You can reverse engineer Van Gogh's palette, technique and subject matter, but you can't use that knowledge to create a Van Gogh.

You can reverse engineer the music of John Coltrane or Charlie Parker - the scales used, the repeated melodic motifs, the phrasing and so forth - practise sax really hard using that knowledge and you'll get good, but you won't be able to fool anyone that you're anyone other than yourself - actually, if you do that work, analysing and attempting to reproduce the music of earlier jazz greats, the weird thing is that when you really let go and play you'll end up playing more like yourself than you did before. Is that rational? No. Does that make sense? Ask any serious musician. Listen for example to Gilad Atzmon, a sax player who has studied Parker extensively. No-one confuses one for the other - not even remotely - but in great part due to this process of study, together with other stuff, Gilad has developed his own unique voice. What's rational about any of that? Very little. So what? This is not a domain to which rationality applies in the same complete way that it applies elsewhere. It is entirely irrational to suppose otherwise.

Elsewhere, people have tried to rationally reverse engineer poetry and literature - this is an extremely polite way of describing the subject of literary criticism - but again this really only takes you so far. This is why Robert Graves talks about the proper test of a poem being whether or not it makes the hairs on your chin bristle when you repeat it while shaving. Is there anything remotely rational there? No. Is it necessary to have a hairy chin in order to understand what he is getting at? Also no. Is this something that could be tested under laboratory conditions? Of course not. Does this mean that poetry in general has no value? Also of course not. Can we argue that Graves might just have been being that teeniest bit sexist? Very possibly. The domain under discussion is by definition not bound by rationality, and as such purely rational approaches to its analysis will only take you a very limited distance.

Then there's the world of human emotions. Go try applying a strictly rational approach to this in your daily life and your relationships with those with whom you interact. See how that works out for you. Actually, please don't. Really, please don't. If person X is feeling emotion A, then pretty much the worst thing that person Y can do is to explain to them that they have no rational basis to do so - even, if not *especially* if it is indeed the case that they have no rational basis to do so. We borderline aspie types (and others) have to learn this shit the hard way - most people somehow seem to learn it instinctively. Some ignore that instinctive knowledge by choice: these people are what we call 'assholes'. Is anything remotely rational going on there? Not that I can see.

Finally we come to ontology and epistomology. What is rational about assuming a priori that the nature of knowledge and the nature of being are domains that can be described completely and satisfyingly on a purely rational basis? Various philosophers have attempted these tasks but none have come to any universally acceptable conclusions. It seems to me that the attempt to reduce analysis of the human experience to that which can be understood completely using the tools of rationality is not merely doomed to failure but is obviously so. Rationality may take us some distance but will not give us the whole story, and why should it?

None of this is to defend, necessarily, the guy from the OP who thinks he has some special handle on who he has been in a past life. Rather it is to defend localroger against ridiculous rational extremism. Rationality is great when it comes to debunking actual charlatans. When it starts assuming a priori that any statement made outside of rational bounds is necessarily that of a charlatan, it is overstepping its own bounds, and moreover, doing so in an irrational way. That's not to say that the majority of New Age woo-woo stuff isn't the work of charlatans; much of that nonsense can and should be debunked in a purely rational way. But there is nothing rational about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, nor is there anything rational about a priori assumptions that beg the question.

Given our current state of knowledge, the moment someone starts talking about their 'past life' we have left the domain of rationality. Interestingly, in this regard, the numerical argument against strong reincarnation has recently been massively debunked: according to this article on BBC News Online, the Population Reference Bureau estimates that there are roughly 107 billion people who have ever lived, while the current population is around 7 billion. That gives everyone alive today a potential average of 15 past lives, should such a phrase as 'past life' have any actual meaning.

Further, this not being a rational domain, perhaps there is no inherent contradiction in the fact that numerous people claim for example Napoleon Bonaparte as a 'past life'. If there is indeed any basis at all to reincarnation, why should there necessarily be a one-to-one correspondence between previous and current lives? It seems quite irrational to suggest that reincarnation can be reasonably attacked by imposing a particular set of assumptions about its nature, no matter how superficially rational those assumptions might seem.
posted by motty at 8:01 PM on May 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


But then earlier in that article it talks about the Buddha remembering his "past lives". That sounds like a contradiction. If there's no substance being passed, how can there be memory?

Well, you know, (most) Buddhist don't interpret this stuff literally. The Jataka tales of the Buddha's previous lives are essentially children's fairy tales. They're moral parables. I mean, they have names like The Elephant Girly-Face.

Your quote even used the phrase "continuity of cause and effect". It was also somewhat confusing, because of course there is a transfer of substance between a seed and it's sprout, so there must again be some non-obvious meaning attached to a normally clear word.

I think you're trying to mix literal botany with metaphysics there and it's not going to work out too well. The concept of no-self (i.e. no permanent "substance" of a person) is pretty hard to convey in a mefi comment. If you want some book recommendations let me know. There's no equivalent word to rebirth in Sanskrit or Pali, so the word "rebirth" is perhaps a clumsy shorthand for a complex process.

In any case, I don't think that (most of) the people who believe in "traditional" reincarnation (I used to be Cleopatra!) actually believe that their bodies contain cellular matter from their previous lives, so no, it's not the transfer of a substance even then.
posted by desjardins at 8:12 PM on May 24, 2012


Thanks for the links, Desjardins. I'm curious to know about the non-literal forms of Buddhism e.g. those that don't require belief in 31 planes of reality - are there defined schools with a less dogmatic approach?
posted by storybored at 8:36 PM on May 24, 2012


In an attempt to debunk his experiences, he ended up validating his past life memories of being James Carroll Beckwith....

How exactly is that news video 'validation'? I love how both he and the voiceover are all HE'S TOTALLY A SKEPTIC FOR SRS and then it's all 'past life regression therapy' whatever-in-the-hell that's supposed to be, and it's all OMG THE SKEPTIC IS CONVERTED HE'S REALLY A REBORN FAMOUS DUDE and that passes for validation? lulz.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:55 PM on May 24, 2012


So if you believe in reincarnation, where are all these extra folks coming from?

Someone is printing up souls, thereby diluting their value.
/George Carlin
posted by pjern at 8:56 PM on May 24, 2012


I'm curious to know about the non-literal forms of Buddhism e.g. those that don't require belief in 31 planes of reality - are there defined schools with a less dogmatic approach?

Zen. It's late and I'm typing on my phone now so I won't expand further but feel free to memail me so we don't derail this thread.
posted by desjardins at 9:00 PM on May 24, 2012


Thank you, motty.
posted by hermitosis at 9:11 PM on May 24, 2012


Wake me up when someone realizes they have a case of preincarnation.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:52 PM on May 24, 2012


after the GF and I saw The Amazing Kreskin in person (casino comp back in the card counting days) I had to bring her down from belief with examples Hogan had included in the novel. 17 was one of them.

There's some evidence that if you ask people to pick a number and concentrate on it, that certain numbers come up more often than others, and that in this sense 17 is the most random number between 1 and 20.

If you ask someone to think of a number, and especially if they think you're doing a trick, they try to be more random in their selection. People are terrible at choosing random numbers. So they pick an odd number, because that seems more random. If you ask for a number between 1 and 20 the tendency is to pick a two-digit number, because that seems less obvious than picking one of the more common one digit numbers. So they pick a two-digit number, and they make both digits different and both digits odd, and somewhat far apart. Between 1 and 20, this leaves out 13 and 15, because the digits seem too close together, and 19 is usually avoided because it's too close to 20, the apparently arbitrary upper limit you set when you posed the trick. If someone is trying to be random, they stay away from the obvious boundaries you've set.

So that leaves only 17.

It's amazing how often people pick 17, but it doesn't always work. Sometimes they choose some other number between 1 and 20. This is why you do the trick for many people. If you do it for 20 people, probability alone tells you that one person will be blown away by your "psychic accuracy."

This is when you move on to the next question. Let me show you.

I just explained a mental trick about numbers, but the trick I'm about to show you doesn't involve numbers. Instead it involves American presidents. I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to think of the answer and concentrate very hard on it. Keep other thoughts out of your mind. I will tell you the answer. Are you ready? Think of one of the presidents on Mount Rushmore. Concentrate. Scroll down for the answer.
















Teddy Roosevelt
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:03 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Count me as one who, like localroger and cmoj, has experienced unusual, unexplainable, irrational spiritual experiences, and as someone who also considers herself incredibly logical and smarter than the average passerby. This has been part and parcel of my experience since a very young age (6?), and I have had out-of-body experiences, while sober.

As someone who studies and operates within the humanities, I am no stranger to rational discourse, and I am certainly not one who would claim it has no value. Yet I reject the notion that Enlightenment discourse is the only valid viewpoint to hold, and I especially reject the idea that anyone who disagrees with Enlightenment-as-doctrine is some kind of crackpot.

I understand these things can't be proven using the scientific method. Neither can many things. I am a literary scholar, and I perform close readings and textual analyses of works that would not be "testable" in any meaningfully empirical way. My analyses however are still valid, if my thesis is anything to go by. My point is that the scientific method is only equipped to explain certain domains, and it would be ridiculous for us to apply it to all. For this reason, I find it a bit ridiculous and condescending that one would expect posters to provide "testable hypotheses" or whatever the fuck else to "prove" their spiritual experiences. Do any of you requesting this have any ideas as to how this would be practical?

My point is thus: I understand your skepticism, users of MetaFilter, but if you really think those of us who are in tune with our spiritual side are fruit-and-nut-bars, little is gained from your call-outs. I long for a MeFi, or other 'safe' place, where these kinds of topics can be discussed freely, and with an open-mind. But so often this becomes a shutting down, a veritable attack, that one has little incentive to open the comment box at all. I don't think this is a good thing, but if our dissenting viewpoints are that offensive to you, it's probably you who has something on which to work.
posted by nonmerci at 10:17 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd also like to address the question, on a purely personal basis, as to how there can be past lives with an increasing global population:

I was raised Catholic, and while never devout, always deeply enjoyed mass and the rituals associated with it. My mother was the Catholic, but my father was essentially an agnostic who veered towards mysticism, and he was always the bug in my ear telling me--in middle school--that Catholicism could never fulfill for me what I needed from life. He introduced me to Alan Watts, and while I would never put forth Watts as some kind of perfect proponent of a Western interpretation of Eastern mysticism, he was absolutely eye-opening to my 12-year-old self. Reading "The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are" before high school was eye-opening, and it inspired (alongside the death of a loved one) the outright rejection of Catholicism as a viable faith.

Alan Watts did change my life, and so did other experiences. Nonetheless, the analytical side of myself has consistently asked the following question: how can there be a continuation of souls if the world's population expounds so greatly each year? I don't have a great answer, but I don't think it's impossible to reconcile with a reincarnation-friendly worldview: to me, there are two answers. Either a) there are ontologic souls which have the capacity of 'splitting' in some way which is meaningful or b) new souls are created as needs arise (and who knows what those needs are).

Personally, I don't think either viewpoint is impossible to accept within a worldview which accepts reincarnation as possible. I don't think you have to have a 1:1 transfer of souls for this to be possible, and I especially don't think someone has to look like the doppelganger of their supposed precursor for that experience to be true (this is in response to someone saying Snow looked nothing like Carroll, which is 100% irrelevant). Since I have officially had this worldview for almost two decades, I don't feel particularly pressured to try to save face before the community. Judge away!
posted by nonmerci at 10:33 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Count me as one who, like localroger and cmoj, has experienced unusual, unexplainable, irrational spiritual experiences, and as someone who also considers herself incredibly logical and smarter than the average passerby.

What do you think the logical and smart explanation might be for what you have experienced that doesn't require an irrational spiritual force?
posted by andoatnp at 10:41 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


how can there be a continuation of souls if the world's population expounds so greatly each year?

This was studied by noted theologian George Carlin.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:43 PM on May 24, 2012


andoatno--why does there have to be a logical explanation? What do you mean by "smart" explanation? What do you find inherently problematic with the notion of an "irrational spiritual force"? All genuine questions.
posted by nonmerci at 10:49 PM on May 24, 2012


Shit--replace the "o" with a "p"! Cursed edit button. :)
posted by nonmerci at 10:49 PM on May 24, 2012


I refuse to suppress reason so that you can feel good about yourself. That's not a fair compromise (unless you're my 6 year old).
posted by Brocktoon at 10:51 PM on May 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Who said spiritual experiences had anything to do with "feeling good" about oneself? I mean...really?
posted by nonmerci at 10:53 PM on May 24, 2012


"Reason" is a concept. It's a relatively new Enlightenment concept, and it's generally applied to the sciences. It's also consistently used to shut down discourse which is outside of its purview. I don't find any compelling reason why it should be the only explanation, and no one in this thread, or in literature or philosophy, has provided one. Feel free to take a stab.
posted by nonmerci at 10:56 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


[no pun intended]
posted by nonmerci at 10:59 PM on May 24, 2012


Because anything else would be unreasonable. Duh.
posted by The World Famous at 11:01 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


lol
posted by nonmerci at 11:02 PM on May 24, 2012


That might be below the standards of MeFi discourse, but I truly did laugh out loud. DAMN YOUR CLEVER JOKES.
posted by nonmerci at 11:03 PM on May 24, 2012


Im not going to fight with you, its tiresome. I've read A Demon Haunted World. I highly recommend it.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:04 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brocktoon, no one is fighting. You didn't say anything of substance, and my jokey replies were very clearly intended for The World Famous. If you intend to enter into a contentious thread, a shallow fly-by insult isn't going to get you far. Following it up with a condescending comment makes you look childish at best.
posted by nonmerci at 11:06 PM on May 24, 2012


why does there have to be a logical explanation? What do you mean by "smart" explanation? What do you find inherently problematic with the notion of an "irrational spiritual force"? All genuine questions.

You called yourself logical and smart, I'm just using your own language. Let's assume the words mean whatever you think they mean. The problem I have with an "irrational spiritual force" is that we have a lot of evidence that it isn't real and is something that people make up in their minds to explain things that they don't personally understand.

I have had out-of-body experiences

I'm asking you, what might be an explanation for this that doesn't involve "unusual, unexplainable, irrational spiritual experiences"? Can you imagine other explanations for your experiences? How might someone sticking only with scientific processes and explanations understand your experience? What are some "logical" explanations for what you experienced? What are some "smart" explanations?
posted by andoatnp at 11:10 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really don't have answers! Is that so inconceivable or "stupid"? Genuinely asking here, because if I reverse all of your questions, do you have answers that are "logical and smart"?
posted by nonmerci at 11:12 PM on May 24, 2012


I guess I just intrinsically reject the notion that, if something can't be verified empirically, it has no value or can't be true in some sense. Again, I would point to the literary criticism examples, but any examples which involve scholarship in the humanities would suffice. None of these 'truths' (in as far as they are peer-reviewed and accepted by their scholarly community) can be proven scientifically, yet they are still true. Are these less logical and smart than the spiritual experience someone has as an individual?

I feel like part of the issue is the inherent knee-jerk reaction against anything that could be construed as religious. Speaking for myself and myself alone, I would like to clearly establish that spiritual experiences have not made me a religious person, nor have they inspired me to make absolute statements about human experience, or change my lifestyle, etc. etc. I am as agnostic as you can get, and nothing that happens seems to change that. I do not feel that spirituality is akin to being religious, and I think these are really worthwhile distinctions.
posted by nonmerci at 11:19 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really don't have answers! Is that so inconceivable or "stupid"? Genuinely asking here, because if I reverse all of your questions, do you have answers that are "logical and smart"?

Here is the google search results for "scientific explanations for out of body experiences".

You seem to be saying that you are "incredibly logical and smarter than the average passerby" and yet you are completely unfamiliar with anything that science has to say about "out-of-body experiences". Is that correct? Or have you considered all of those possible explanations and rejected them for some reason?

I'm trying to figure out what is potentially logical and smart about the way you consider your own alleged out of body experiences.

Also, I'm not considering any of your statements or my responses as having anything to do with religion.
posted by andoatnp at 11:21 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do reject googled scientific explanations for otherwise "spiritual" experiences, and yes, I'm pretty familiar with them, having more than a passing fancy in the subject for over a decade. I'd really not like to make this thread about me, and only interjected to offer my opinion.

As it turns out, you haven't offered a single response to any of my questions, only what appears to be smug condescension. I've tried to engage with you in good faith, but it's obvious that is fruitless. Cheers--bowing out now.
posted by nonmerci at 12:09 AM on May 25, 2012


I'm skeptical of any definition of skepticism wherein the skeptic necessarily fails when the answers to his skepticism fail to live up to his preconceived notions.

Mind Status: Blown.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:17 AM on May 25, 2012


My mother is very new agey and used to read both cards and tea leaves for neighbours and friends, who all thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I don't believe in any of this stuff, but I have been asked by people who know my mother to read cards. I've explained that I don't believe and I'd only be madly lying my way through the event, but a few times people were still eager and we were all bored and.. So I've done it, saying all the time I'm making this all up. Remarkably the few times this has happened people were as convinced by what I said and my predictions and lists of their worries as they were by my mother. I do not conclude from this that I have some access to a another plane, even when it comes from those about whom I was wildly guessing as I didn't know them well (I have the psychic sensibilities of a cabbage, in fact); I conclude that a great deal of us so desperately want certain supernatural things to be true that we'll ignore almost everything else,* including the fact that the person telling you the stuff is saying they are making it up . When a former skeptic comes out and says this stuff it's like Christmas for said people.

What I find amusing that if people weren't famous in the past, they are usually someone who, however, humble, lived in a famous period. So you end up with beings a peasant, you are a peasant during the plague. Or some famous conflict. Or in an area that is a known hot spot for exciting events or some intellectual leap forward. No one gets an 8th century boring armpit of the world as their home or 4th century BCE Rome; you get the fall of the Republic or the reign of Nero.

* I'm not exempting myself from this: there are a number of things that I am willing to make my mind turn cartwheels to believe.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:45 AM on May 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


filthy light thief: "telstar: Yah, amazing how many of the past life regressors were somebody famous in the past.

Except Beckwith wasn't famous. Most that was written about him are short biographies, filling a page or two in random art books (as told in Snow's book about his experience). Snow, in his own telling, saw things that weren't listed in even those short biographies, and instead he had to look through the private diaries of Beckwith to "verify" what he saw. "


That's still relatively famous. The vast majority of people have nil written about them except a few words at birth or death. And how convenient to pick someone whose private diaries are still extant!
posted by telstar at 1:44 AM on May 25, 2012


What I find amusing that if people weren't famous in the past, they are usually someone who, however, humble, lived in a famous period. So you end up with beings a peasant, you are a peasant during the plague. Or some famous conflict. Or in an area that is a known hot spot for exciting events or some intellectual leap forward. No one gets an 8th century boring armpit of the world as their home or 4th century BCE Rome; you get the fall of the Republic or the reign of Nero.

That certainly does ring true. Just want to add the caveat that, related to my "uncovering" of my past life, I think what my guide was getting her cues from was, among other things, the year of my birth - which was 1971. The whole process was very whimsical and hoodoo, though. Not something that hit me like a bucket of ice water, but I thought it was fun, anyway. Like a very elaborate horoscope.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:50 AM on May 25, 2012


Yah, amazing how many of the past life regressors were somebody famous in the past.

Celebrities in past lives are easier to recall.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:57 AM on May 25, 2012


I have had out-of-body experiences, while sober.

Get a scan.

No, seriously, it's a tumour.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:17 AM on May 25, 2012


When famous people die, their souls split apart, like dandelion seeds, and scatter to the cosmic winds, to be retrieved by many to come. The more famous you were, the more soul pieces you will generate. Ordinary-people souls just sorta sit there until otherwise appointed.

Also, can we maybe lighten up a bit on people that do buy this? Even jokingly suggesting someone who's had an OOBE needs an MRI is kinda dour. Believing in past lives is about as harmful as having a favorite Avenger.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:21 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Listen, we all know sensible people don't believe in this hokum. Now get back to thinking about the imminent Singularity and how it's almost certain that we live in a simulation -- you know, the virtuous beliefs of trustworthy people.
posted by mobunited at 2:22 AM on May 25, 2012


The hilarious thing about complaining about famous past lives is that it's confirmation bias. The chances of anyone caring about a bog-standard past life is near zero because hundreds of millions of people believe in reincarnation, you know many of them, and they do not think it's important to even find out, much less tell anyone what they think their past existences were. Though it is worth noting that in such communities, the answers are usually "I was a non-conscious being," or "I was basically the same dude."

What you can complain about more specifically is the propensity of white people lured by the exotic to discover famous past lives. That just makes them indirectly racist. If they have some eccentric non-appropriative belief, they're probably just ordering their lives in some harmless fictive framework, kind of like what people do with evolutionary psychology except better, since most random forms of fictive thought ordering are better than evo psych.
posted by mobunited at 2:30 AM on May 25, 2012


That just makes them indirectly racist.

Wow. That's one way to look at, I guess, if you want to assume the worst about people's motivations.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:35 AM on May 25, 2012


Believing in past lives is about as harmful as having a favorite Avenger.

Well, at least until the book sales and other exploitative psychic woo get rolling in full gear, anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:37 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


And then what? People buy this guy's book? Eh.

Some people read the horoscopes, some get their cards read at the neighborhood bar, some believe they were Abraham Lincoln in a past life. Silly, not based on anything scientific, sure, but I have a hard time pitching every superstition into the Exploitative, Racist, Stupid and Probably In Need Of Medical Attention tent. Some people actually find it fun to indulge in these, imagine.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:06 AM on May 25, 2012




twoleftfeet, James P. Hogan outed that in his novel The Code of the Lifemaker, which has a character who is such a psychic charlatan. Hogan also outed enough other stuff that after the GF and I saw The Amazing Kreskin in person (casino comp back in the card counting days) I had to bring her down from belief with examples Hogan had included in the novel. 17 was one of them.

And then he became a holocaust denier.... [sad face]
posted by MartinWisse at 4:35 AM on May 25, 2012


teddy roosevelt

Hm. My own thought was Washington, twoleftfeet, and that's mostly because in just about any picture of Rushmore his head is the most prominent. What's the causal chain you think is at work here? Of the four (Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, TR) Roosevelt is the least prominent in history, and visually he's the one who's tucked away into a niche of the sculpture. Heck, it wouldn't surprise me if a poll showed most people don't even know TR is there.
posted by aurelian at 4:40 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


users of MetaFilter, but if you really think those of us who are in tune with our spiritual side are fruit-and-nut-bars

Why yes I do! You make it sound like a deficiency to be "not in touch with our spiritual sides.". So let me return the insult and suggest you are "not in touch with reality."

I have nothing against people who indulge in "spiritual" hobbies, but most of y'all think you're right and we materialists are wrong. You don't concede that you could be living in an imaginary universe of magical spirits you cannot prove exist, so that is just as dismissive as me saying you're delusional.

The only difference is that materialists insist on mutually confirm able evidence for claims. I cant prove a negative, but you can't prove your positive claims with any definitive and objective evidence. If one person says there's a blue dog in the driveway and no one else can see it, either the rest of us are blind or you are crazy, or lying.

Call it "spiritual" if you like, but y'all could change everyone's mind if you could prove a word of it.
posted by spitbull at 4:52 AM on May 25, 2012


I for one believe there is more to the universe than can be explained by reason and matter alone. Having said that I also find little reason to believe everything everyone says. But I generally see no harm in the imaginative stories we tell ourselves. They can even be quite helpful, instructive and entertaining.

Oh, and in a past life I was a dog. But in this life I'm a Dawg.
posted by nowhere man at 5:53 AM on May 25, 2012


I am a literary scholar, and I perform close readings and textual analyses of works that would not be "testable" in any meaningfully empirical way.

But surely one (I guess I won't address the commenter directly anymore, since she has "bowed out") doing this kind of work attempts to support assertions logically, using the evidence of the text. I don't see how this is any kind of refutation of the general idea, even if textual criticism doesn't generally use the scientific method.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:59 AM on May 25, 2012


Re: James P. Hogan: And then he became a holocaust denier.... [sad face]

Definitely. Pre-Endgame Enigma Hogan is one of my favorite writers. Sort of like up-to-It Stephen King. Afterward, WTF?

Anyway, I see this thread went about as I expected.

A very long time ago I realized that with regard to "woo" there are exactly two possibilities.

Possibility #1, perhaps more likely and certainly easier to deal with, is that it's as described by the skeptics; psychic phenomena are all psychological. (I've had enough direct experience to know that it's not all deliberate fraud, comforting as that thought might be.) This means there is something seriously wrong with human consciousness because a lot of people have had very convincing woo experiences. This is one reason skeptics get so defensive about their position; naive people acting on their own experience tend to come down on the woo side of things. If it's all bullshit that's a serious problem for our species.

Possibility #2 is that the woo is real and the Universe is capable of bending the rules on occasion. If you think about it enough this is much more terrifying than position #1 because, ultimately, it means that nearly everything we think we have discovered via science is actually a deliberate lie. Think about that for a second. We can measure time to picoseconds, distance to wavelengths of light, we can drive remote controlled cars around on Mars and detect planets orbiting distant stars but if the Universe wants to it can rearrange the macroscopic cards in a freshly shuffled Tarot deck to make them tell a story.

The fact that the Universe only seems willing to do this in situations where You Can't Prove It is actually more worrisome than having it be overt. If magic works then why so much effort to make everything work out to 7 decimal places when the cameras are rolling? If scientific consistency is just a story, what's the truth, and why is the Universe going to so much effort to hide it?

I have seen enough weird shit that I am unwilling to completely dismiss possibility #2. The way I often put it is that I believe in woo on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I don't believe in it on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And on weekends I'm agnostic.
posted by localroger at 6:12 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, cmoj. Do you mean you can get high from depriving the brain of oxygen?

Yes, I've done that too. It wasn't psilocybin-like, and it didn't last 15 minutes. Anyway, the breathing exercise would be a surplus of oxygen.
posted by cmoj at 7:31 AM on May 25, 2012


You know what I get a hoot out of watching? Those 30 thousand television shows where they walk around buildings at night and hunt the paranormal using equipment from their ghost labs.
Perhaps you have the answer to a pointless but nonetheless amusing observation trending on Reddit right now.

"Ghosthunters has been on the air since 2004. How long would you keep watching a show called "Moosehunters", if they never saw or heard a single fucking Moose?"
posted by Naberius at 7:39 AM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


localroger, we have lots of evidence (growing all the time) that the mind doesn't work the way we intuit that it does and can be quite unreliable. We have little to no reason to think the universe doesn't follow understandable, mostly predictable, entirely unconscious and unintentional laws. This is basically the exact same as the arguments for and against the existance of god.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:26 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. That's one way to look at, I guess, if you want to assume the worst about people's motivations.

Privilege drives people do do dumb things without malicious intent all the time. I'm not talking about frickin' KKK membership. But privilege drives privileged people to assert ownership over cultures outside their own. Being a super devout white Buddhist who talks about how awesome Dharma is all the time and how they have even more awesome spiritual experiences than other people is kind of like white/plastic shamanism, and I say that as a second generation lapsed white Buddhist who at one time would sure talk a lot of shit, and probably still do.
posted by mobunited at 8:39 AM on May 25, 2012


I was raised Catholic, but In terms of my beliefs regarding life, death and rebirth, I've found that I just point to the Bill HIcks cribbing Einstein in that one bit and the Lifestream explanation from Final Fantasy 7, and go "probably that."
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:55 AM on May 25, 2012


And then what? People buy this guy's book? Eh.

Some people read the horoscopes, some get their cards read at the neighborhood bar, some believe they were Abraham Lincoln in a past life. Silly, not based on anything scientific, sure, but I have a hard time pitching every superstition into the Exploitative, Racist, Stupid and Probably In Need Of Medical Attention tent. Some people actually find it fun to indulge in these, imagine.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing


I get where you are coming from, but there is a very real harm element to this sort of magical thinking, which I think is what was trying to be conveyed. Hucksters and frauds use people's vulnerabilities and desires to make money. It's not far from "I was a painter in a past life" to "let's reconnect you with your dead ancestor / friend / relative / child".

I'm sure there are others that can make the harm argument better, Dr. Steve Novella being one, but for now I'll just leave this here.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:26 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, now that I think about it, this is very very close to the old Repressed Memory Therapy debacle of the 80s and 90s. Talk about really, really awful harm. People were prosecuted due to supposed uncovered repressed memories of abuse, families broken up. Thankfully people got wise and starting suing the shitty fraudulent 'therapists' instead. This is a new form, but it's a wedge that lets exploitative douches take advantage of vulnerable people.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:29 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


We have little to no reason to think the universe doesn't follow understandable, mostly predictable, entirely unconscious and unintentional laws.

Well it's Friday so today I agree with you.

Seriously, though, most people are less aware of the flaws of consciousness (don't even get me started on how casinos work) and more aware of their own flawed perception of their experience, so they would disagree with you about that "little to no reason" thing.

My own startling experiences involve probability freakouts in carefully recorded experiments, and I"m not going to get into them because the last time I did I was assured by numerous people who weren't there that I either don't know anything about probability or I can't shuffle cards worth a damn.
posted by localroger at 9:38 AM on May 25, 2012


I'm not sure what difference their disagreement makes, though. I'm also not sure how rigorous a probability experiment can be if it relies on a participant shuffling cards.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:41 AM on May 25, 2012


telstar: That's still relatively famous. The vast majority of people have nil written about them except a few words at birth or death. And how convenient to pick someone whose private diaries are still extant!

Lots of people have something written about them, but what are the chances you've read them, and remember enough to recall their life? That's the pitch of Robert Snow's story. The things he "saw" during his past life regression session were details that were, according to his book and what I've seen online, not written about in any of these brief biography articles. Debunking the lack of coverage on Beckwith is tricky, as the internet provides easier access to more information than Snow had in his day.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:14 AM on May 25, 2012


The human brain is the most complex organic structure known. The fact that it can produce an almost unlimited variety of images and hypothetical scenarios is not surprising. Except to people who are normally not that imaginative.
posted by gallois at 10:20 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Evolution occurs at the statistical margins, not in the mean. So highly improbable events are pretty much the building blocks of the rationalist explanation. Think of it this way: Your chances of winning the Lottery are low. But the chances of someone winning the Lottery are not low. So if you happen to be the Lottery winner, it's pretty tempting to feel that something special happened just for you.

Likewise, if you happen to be the one who guesses card flips at much higher accuracy than random chance should seemingly allow, it's tempting to assume that some special force is in play. On the other hand, statistically, somewhere, somebody is the luckiest soneofabitch on the planet. Somebody will guess card flips at greater accuracy than everybody else, and greater than random chance should seemingly allow. Because a large enough sample of random chance will always produce statistical outliers. Outliers feel special. They aren't. They're actually really, really random.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Possibility #2 is that the woo is real and the Universe is capable of bending the rules on occasion. If you think about it enough this is much more terrifying than position #1 because, ultimately, it means that nearly everything we think we have discovered via science is actually a deliberate lie.

Or that we don't understand the rules nearly as well as we think we do. Or that there are rules we haven't discovered yet.

What I find interesting about the variety of responses to subjects like this is that ultimately we're all gazing at the same enormous, terrifying Unknown, and trying to deal with what we're seeing. And the range of responses we exhibit in the face of that mystery is fascinating! From total surrender to the unknowable, to absolute determination to exert control over one's sense of reality.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2012


Or that we don't understand the rules nearly as well as we think we do.

The degree to which we would have to be misunderstanding the universe for various woo phenomena to be real is hard to overstate. Basically it means the Universe is really something like the Matrix and everything is being managed by collectively omnipotent conscious beings who are aware of us and who might or might not have our best interests at heart.
posted by localroger at 11:38 AM on May 25, 2012


Me: I'm not going to get into them because the last time I did I was assured by numerous people who weren't there that I either don't know anything about probability or I can't shuffle cards worth a damn.

adamschneider: I'm also not sure how rigorous a probability experiment can be if it relies on a participant shuffling cards.

IRFH: if you happen to be the one who guesses card flips at much higher accuracy than random chance should seemingly allow, it's tempting to assume that some special force is in play.

Point, consider yourself made.
posted by localroger at 11:45 AM on May 25, 2012


I didn't address either of your "points". I called into question neither your grasp of probability nor your ability to shuffle cards. So, no, point not made.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:53 AM on May 25, 2012


(I guess I won't address the commenter directly anymore, since she has "bowed out")

It's really too bad because it would have been interesting to know why she dismissed the scientific explanations of out of body experiences.
posted by storybored at 12:13 PM on May 25, 2012


I don't believe in reincarnation per se, but the basis for something resembling it (in a perhaps-not-as-individually-satisfying/sexy form?) appears to be there in a way that's both scientifically and spiritually harmonious. The problem is when people keep thinking of "a human" as a solid never-changing entity, when in fact the cells inside of you that biologically constitute "you" are getting completely overturned constantly throughout your life such that you are a completely foreign entity to what you used to be just a few years ago. You're less of a discrete organism and more of a complex series of interlinking processes. And when you think of yourself as this constantly recycling series of ordered stuff, you're able to see yourself within the nutrient cycle that 100% recycles organic and inorganic matter into and out of living things. Every bit of you ends up somewhere else, eventually finds its way back to living things indirectly through long causal chains. There's also this problem where reincarnation always involves humans and not animals - who's to say a large part of "you" isn't reconstituted animal/insect matter? Even if our human brains did have a way to recall large chunks of previous life, they'd be incapable of experiencing life as, say, a hummingbird experiences it, just as if you stuck parts of the cell matter of a floppy drive into parts of a USB drive and expected the USB drive to be able to read the contents. So you may have "past lives" - you may be composed of trillions of past lives recycled ever since the first organic matter appeared on the earth. Depending on your perspective, this is either way more or way less satisfying than traditional notions of reincarnation. Personally, I like the idea that "I" am all beings throughout time and all beings throughout time are "me", such that individual identity and time are narrow illusory perspectives and we are all abstract processes moving towards... something, and I'd like to think this is not scientifically incompatible (though certainly this form of thinking will quickly get you outside of the bounds of scientific rationality in a big way, and I'm okay with that).
posted by naju at 12:22 PM on May 25, 2012


Point, consider yourself made.

That point being what? That we should take a vague allusion to your experience as an appeal to authority on nothing but faith because you're afraid that if you provide any specifics you might be asked to defend your points on their merits? Sorry - if you aren't willing to provide details, then you don't also get to complain if our response doesn't reflect your experience. Witnesses are notoriously unreliable. Witnesses who won't even tell you what they witnessed are, frankly, pretty much a dead-end, conversationally speaking.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:48 PM on May 25, 2012


If I were a past life regression therapist, I would tell everyone that they once were a star that went nova.
posted by IjonTichy at 1:02 PM on May 25, 2012


We are star dust. We are golden.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:07 PM on May 25, 2012


I called into question neither your grasp of probability nor your ability to shuffle cards.

You moved to the meta issue of whether anybody can reliably shuffle cards, but that's pretty much the same criticism.

That we should take a vague allusion to your experience as an appeal to authority on nothing but faith because you're afraid that if you provide any specifics you might be asked to defend your points on their merits?

I gave two reasons I wasn't going to start the argument. Without having any idea where I might go with it, you preloaded on the first of those reasons.

Anyway, if you want to see the train wreck that resulted last time it's here.

The only thing I will add here -- and this is the last time I will refer to this -- is that I grew up in a physics lab, and I do have some idea of how systematic bias works and how to implement controls. In the argument following that kuro5hin article I described these precautions and my results in some detail. My reward for my candor was to be told to my face by people who had never met me IRL that I am an incompetent ignoramus. You will have to forgive me for not wanting to do that again.
posted by localroger at 1:22 PM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


localroger: Thank you. I want to take the time to actually read that first, so that I can respond in good faith. So I won't be able to get back to this for awhile, maybe nothing substantive until tonight or this weekend. But I wanted to at least thank you for putting yourself out there, and to assure you that having asked for context, I will follow up. Also, rest assured, I will not call you an incompetent ignoramus. I can't promise not to ask for clarification or to question your interpretation of results. Only that I will do so respectfully. *

*Toward that end, I am going to begin addressing comments meant for you directly to you. That way, if I make some later smart ass comment in-thread without addressing you directly, you should take that as meaning I'm just riffing on the thread in general, not taking a dig at you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:45 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


IRFH: OK, fair enough.
posted by localroger at 1:52 PM on May 25, 2012


Well, no, that's also not what happened. I questioned the experimental design that has a participant potentially unconsciously affecting outcomes. I will also read your link and report back.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:14 PM on May 25, 2012


adamschneider, to a certain extent if you have "experimental design" woo does not work. If you read the link you'll see what I mean. If you agree to discourse on the terms IRFH has promised I'll parlay. But just about everything that can be said about it has been said in that K5 thread IMO.
posted by localroger at 4:52 PM on May 25, 2012


Ontogeny recapitulates McFlygeny.
posted by rhizome at 5:20 AM on May 26, 2012


Ok, so I read your article. By "carefully recorded experiments," are you referring to the one time you dealt the same 8 cards in a row? I didn't read the comment thread; it's pretty big. If there are other things there I'd appreciate direct links. I assumed you meant controlled experiments. Given the human penchant for self-deception, I shouldn't think you'd be surprised when people discount totally unverifiable assertions that fly in the face of recorded knowledge and reason.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:46 PM on May 26, 2012


Point, consider youself made. The reason I reacted that way was the comments. I have two big notebooks of experiments (mentioned in the comments) collected over the span of several years. The one I described in the article was just the most ridiculous of many. Please don't waste your time on an obvious fraud like myself who was trying to, oh wait, not much of anything. But whatever. Just go about your life. One of the lessons the Tarot taught me is that it is a waste of time to care what other people think about me. Tough one, though, that was.
posted by localroger at 7:54 PM on May 26, 2012


I never called you an obvious fraud or anything of the kind. I've enjoyed your comments on other threads, particularly about poker, and you do seem to know something about people's willingness to delude themselves (your frequent references to casinos say as much). You have to admit you're making an extraordinary claim.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:49 PM on May 26, 2012


The single most relevant comment of mine from that thread:
Thanks for keeping an open mind. This was not, of course, one experiment. It was a whole series of them, conducted over a course of several years.

It is not really conjecture that the divination devices might get pissed off. They communicated the lengths to which they would humor us. The Tarot would very noticeably "go random" and give us an absolutely meaningless result if we pressed it too far on any one question. (For those who think all readings can be interpreted for all questions, well, that's not true.) This never occurred unless we had received one or more intelligible results, and would persist until we went on to another question or took a break.

The I Ching was more direct; it would give us King Wen hexagram #4, "Youthful folly," which we learned to interpret as "and stop nagging me about silly things like this." The frequency with which Hexagram 4 appears in our notebooks is one of the other probability weird-outs of the whole project. (I suppose I not only can't shuffle cards, I can't flip coins high enough either.)

We also investigated a lot of other phenomena. A lot of them did not produce the sensational claims their purveyors promised, though I suspect some of them did for their purveyors.

It's not surprising, but it is rather insulting, to see how many people are ready to tell me how unskilled I am at shuffling and how ignorant I am about probability. Yes, improbable things happen, but it is not true that any given improbable thing is likely to happen to somebody; some things are so improbable it's unlikely that they will ever happen anywhere in the entire life of the Universe. Some things make winning the lottery or flipping a coin and having it land on edge look like dead certainties by comparison. And some of those things happened to me.

Imagine for a second that I am not making wild claims which invalidate all of physics by implication, but that I am claiming to be an old personal friend of Jim Morrison and I happen to not only know he is not dead, I have his home phone number. But, very reasonably, he is paranoid about having his cover blown. He screens his calls and uses caller ID and will not pick up if someone he doesn't know calls, or if the caller ID is from some place he doesn't recognize. He tolerates my understandable urge to let others know the truth about his fate, he just doesn't want to cooperate with me, for reasons of his own which are not that hard to understand.

James Randi might offer me a million bucks for proof of his survival, but if I try to collect on it I know he'll just skip town and establish a new identity like he does every once in awhile -- and this time I might not get the note with his new phone number. Now is it that unreasonable that I'd ignore the presence of the prize? I wouldn't collect it, and would just (deservedly) lose a friend. My unwillingness to try to collect would not be evidence that I don't really know Jim, but of a perfectly reasonable set of extenuating circumstances.

In Tuesday/Thursday "believer" mode, I think the Universe is supposed to act like a lot of dumb particles (the "high information" model), and it deliberately hides a lot of shortcuts which really take place to maintain this illusion (the "low information" model). Like any complicated system it can be and has been hacked, but there are limits to what can be accomplished before the system self-checking realizes something is wrong and fix the problem.

By personality and habit some people cannot be trusted by the forces behind these phenomena, and they can't do anything too public unless it can be plausibly explained as chance or misperception. They will not provide the kind of documentation trail necessary to prove their existence to the world at large, but to an individual who is suitably circumspect or isolated, they will let their guard down. (In fact, some of them are quite hostile and tricky about this, so that you must ironically maintain some skepticism or risk being manipulated and toyed with. The Ouija oracle is notorious for this.)

Any serious practitioner (as opposed to overly gullible mark or shyster) will advise you that magic is a personal affair; my experiences won't convince you and aren't intended to. They were intended to convince me, and after a suitable number of clue-by-fours landed on my head I realized that I could not maintain my strictly materialist beliefs.

The only way to convince yourself whether these things are real is to try them yourself. Make an investment in a Tarot deck and an interpretation book, or the I Ching, and do as we did, asking legitimate questions and recording the results. You may or may not get the results I did, but most people who try (particularly the Tarot) tend to. And try not to go into it thinking of the million bucks you'll get from Randi if it works. That kind of pisses them off.
I have kept an open mind about this over the years because, in all honesty, if these forces really are what they might be I don't want to become positively convinced of that. I have seen the madness that lies in that direction. But it is also madness to ignore one's own experiences in favor of an abstract theory of how things should be. I have seen that form of madness too. Unfortunately, it seems the only way to live in this world without risking madness is just to not think about it very much.

And based on the other FPP that popped up recently that probably means I should have a drink.
posted by localroger at 7:14 AM on May 27, 2012


Wait, you seriously think you have magic powers but don't want to overextend them because that would annoy the spirits?
posted by lazaruslong at 7:38 AM on May 27, 2012


That's not at all what I said, and the link makes that pretty clear.
posted by localroger at 7:49 AM on May 27, 2012


Did it?
posted by lazaruslong at 7:53 AM on May 27, 2012


Another excerpt for those too lazy to follow the whole K5 thread:
However, nothing you can do (so far as we know) will change the deck of cards into a bunny rabbit.

This is something I wish more New Age type people would understand. While I've seen a large number of astonishing things in my experiments, all of them have had "plausible" explanations (even if "plausibility" has been stretched thinner than a Pentium circuit trace in some cases). There is clearly some kind of limit at work, even though the basic principle seems to bypass everything we assume to be true about the Universe.

G. Harry Stine once wrote a neat little book called On the Frontiers of Science. In it he chronicled a story similar to my own, describing projects which seemed to function despite being pinned on ridiculous principles. (Stine, incidentally, is one of those people who had no reason to risk a solid career and reputation by coming out with this stuff.) A lot of Stine's projects involve "radionics," which Stine doesn't realize is a branch of magic which gets its symbolic system from science and technology.

At one point Stine was so astonished by the results of an experiment that he put the device (a "wishing amplifier") away, thinking it too dangerous to loose upon the world. Later he recanted, and included it in his book; he explained that there seems to be a kind of "brake" on these phenomena, and while they can perform literal miracles they can only do so within certain limits.

Whatever magic can do, one thing it definitely can't do is allow you to stand on a mountain and hurl lightning bolts at your enemies a la Dungeons and Dragons.
posted by localroger at 7:53 AM on May 27, 2012


Actually Lazarus it's Sunday, so I don't know whether I have magic powers or not. You did read the article, didn't you?
posted by localroger at 7:55 AM on May 27, 2012


Yeah, I did. I also think I've stumbled into some place of well-intentioned crazy, and am gonna go ahead and not engage. Sorry to start at all. Have fun.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:58 AM on May 27, 2012


Thanks Lazarus. I can live with "well-intentioned crazy." At least you didn't tell the guy who went on to pay off his house by card counting that I don't know anything about card probabilities or shuffling.
posted by localroger at 8:23 AM on May 27, 2012


Hah no worries. I don't know much about card probabilities, so that would make it difficult to assess that affinity in others.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:01 AM on May 27, 2012


Well, I am going to take you at your word about knowing probabilities and how to shuffle.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:25 PM on May 27, 2012


Well, I am going to take you at your word about knowing probabilities and how to shuffle.

Why? I don't recall asking you to.
posted by localroger at 2:59 PM on May 27, 2012


So you may have "past lives" - you may be composed of trillions of past lives recycled ever since the first organic matter appeared on the earth. Depending on your perspective, this is either way more or way less satisfying than traditional notions of reincarnation.

But that still leaves the question - what is consciousness? In other words, from a materialist point of view, if you're not a collection of matter but a collection of processes, and yet you have memories which remain intact throughout your life and can build on more subtle forms of recall such as motor skills, but that whatever comprises you as a conscious entity exists apart from the matter upon which it relies until those processes which keep recycling the matter cease (as far as we are aware anyway), what is this thing we call Myself?

Since matter itself is only an illusion of our limited senses, a collection of energy cycling and vibrating in certain patterns which make it appear solid and separate to us, and that quantum physics has taught us that matter is not as separate as we originally thought, what is it that separates individuals and their conscious beings? And since consciousness is not tied directly to matter (or, perhaps, even the brain in itself), what happens to the consciousness when those cycles which hold the matter together we know as the body cease operating in those particular cycles? This is the Ultimate Question which all the woo and religion attempt to answer, as well as all the biological sciences and those which study human nature.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:09 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm curious Localroger, have you observed any other anomalies in phenomena besides that seen in your tarot decks and I Ching castings? If not, what would account for that do you think?
posted by storybored at 2:24 PM on May 28, 2012


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