Monday, May 28, 2007

Intersubjectively Verifiable Mystical Experiences?

Are at least some mystical observations intersubjectively verifiable?

At first, it might appear the most truthful answer to that question is, "No, mystical observations are not intersubjectively verifiable." For one thing, mystical observations are not replicable at will. There appears to be no path or technique that guarantees someone employing it will have a mystical experience. And if you cannot replicate a mystical experience at will, how can you assert that what mystics observe during their experiences is intersubjectively verifiable?

On the other hand, there are some surprising agreements among mystics of different cultures and ages about the things they have observed during their experiences. For instance, mystics of different times and cultures have spoken about experiencing a sense, perception, or feeling that all things are profoundly interconnected. Since those mystics can have lived in cultures and times as separate from each other as 1200 A.D. Spain from 500 B.C. China, there is little chance that their agreement is a matter of their having influenced each other. In short, it's pretty clear that at least some mystical observations are intersubjectively verifiable even though they cannot be replicated at will.

At this point, however, we must be very careful not to take mystical experiences as irrefutable evidence of something they are not irrefutable evidence of. For instance, as stated above, mystics commonly enough experience a sense, perception, or feeling that all things are profoundly interconnected. Can we therefore conclude on that basis alone that all things are indeed profoundly interconnected? No. For to do so would overlook the possibility the mystics are experiencing a sort of common delusion. We know, for instance, that people of different ages and cultures can experience the same optical illusions. What is there to keep us from judging that a sense, perception or feeling of profound interconnectedness is not some kind of commonly shared illusion?

While mystic experiences might be delusions, and therefore cannot be taken as conclusive evidence that, say, all things are profoundly interconnected, it's also possible they are not delusions, for we have no independent evidence that they are indeed delusions. So, the jury is still very much out on whether such mystical observations as the profound interconnectedness of all things is a delusion or not.

Where the jury is no longer out is on the question of whether mystical experiences are intersubjectively verifiable -- I submit they are indeed intersubjectively verifiable, even though we don't know whether they are delusions or not, and even though we cannot replicate them at will. Of course, the main reason I might believe they are intersubjectively verifiable is because I haven't had enough good beer yet today to be thinking clearly. So, what do you think?


Schwinn said...

Learning is useful insomuch as it is applicable to our life.

If one has to learn that everything is interconnected, perhaps that is the delusion, and it is division rests at the core of the human experience.

How is meditation any different than a drug? Do acid trips hold any profound truths about the world around us?

Mystic Wing said...

Obviously, you're posing as something of an agent provocateur here. And a very interesting choice of language. "Intersubjectively verifiable" sounds like, but isn't the same as, "objectively provable."

To argue this point is not necessary. Those who know, know. Those who don't know always condemn those who do.

Paul said...

I find the notion that something is "objectively provable" to either be shorthand for "intersubjectively verifiable" or to be a can of metaphysical worms. "Intersubjectively verifiable" has an operational definition, but does "objectively provable"? And doesn't "objectively provable" assume an objective reality, which is a metaphysical position?

Paul said...

"Do acid trips hold any profound truths about the world around us?"

How would one know whether they did or didn't?

Brendan said...

The mystics I've studied all conclude that the error lies in ideating the things one experiences and detaching the words to describe, organize and define the experience from the experience itself. So the mystic path is to guard against delusion by always being mindful that the world of reality we experience in thought is also a world of illusions. They define each other. Mystic experiences exist because we ideate things in thought and language, include our self, and then are blown away by experiences that take us into a perspective from which we see our self-awareness as a social construct. Those experiences necessarily happen outside of language because language requires a subject and object. Thus, there is an infinite qualitative difference between any words to describe such experiences and the experiences they describe. But the experiences are made possible because of those words.