Monday, November 20, 2006

Experience and reality

Ross Douthat reacts to a brain-scan study of people experiencing glossolalia, i.e. "speaking in tongues." He concludes:
I am ... consistently puzzled by the resistance, whether it's among my friends and neighbors or the Sam Harrises of the world, to any consideration of the notion that religious experience might be like most other widespread human experiences - which is to say, a response to something that's actually out there. Atheistically-inclined scientists and philosophers have all manner of complicated theories about how religious experience and beliefs sprang up in homo sapiens - maybe it's a useful mutation, maybe it's an accidental byproduct of a useful mutation, etc. Some of these theories feel like so much hand-waving, but some are at least plausible. On the other hand, the eye exists because of interactions with light, and the eardrum because of interactions with sound waves; romantic love may be "biochemically no different from eating large amounts of chocolate," as "Al Pacino's devil" would have us believe, but both the chocolate and the woman of your dreams are still realities, not just the product of your firing neurons. As soon as homo sapiens developed consciousness, we became conscious of (what seems to be) a numinous reality interwoven with our own; it's just possible, surely, that we started experiencing the numinous because it happens to be real. [emphasis added]
And, as C.S. Lewis wrote:
"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
[Mere Christianity]

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