Intimations of Elsewhere Dismissed
A colleague once reported an out-of-body experience. He had been resting on his back on a couch when he came suddenly to view himself from the perspective of the ceiling. He dismissed the experience. He had too much class to use the phrase 'brain fart,' but that is what I suspect he thought it was: a weird occurrence of no significance. Vouchsafed a hint of what might have been a reality beyond the ordinary, he chose to ignore it as if it were not worth the trouble of investigating. This sort of dismissive attitude is one I have trouble understanding. Especially in a philosopher!
It would be as if the prisoner in Plato's Cave who was freed of his shackles and was able to turn his head and see an opening and a light suggestive of a way out of the cave were simply to have dismissed the sight as an insignificant illusion and then went back to 'reality,' the shadows on the wall.
I have no trouble understanding someone who, never having had any religious or mystical experiences, cannot bring himself to take religion seriously. And I have no trouble understanding someone who, having had such experiences, and having seriously examined their epistemic credentials, comes to the conclusion that they are none of them veridical. But to have the experiences, and not think them worth investigating — that puzzles me.
Ross Douthat assembles some examples similar to the case of my quondam colleague in his column, Varieties of Religious Experience, a title he borrows from the eponymous masterpiece of William James. Here is one:
As a young man in the 1960s, the filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, of “RoboCop” and “Showgirls” fame, wandered into a Pentecostal church and suddenly felt “the Holy Ghost descending … as if a laser beam was cutting through my head and my heart was on fire.” He was in the midst of dealing with his then-girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy; after they procured an abortion, he had a terrifying, avenging-angel vision during a screening of “King Kong.” The combined experience actively propelled him away from anything metaphysical; the raw carnality of his most famous films, he suggested later, was an attempt to keep the numinous and destabilizing at bay.
That makes about as much sense to me as blinding oneself lest one see too radiant a light.