Thursday, September 27, 2007

Scary certainty

I had a conversation with someone who believes she is psychic.

A wardrobe gave her bad feelings and she came to the conclusion that it was made from wood from a tree that had been used as gallows. She seemed very sincere in her belief and convinced she "knew" it to be true. She certainly sounds very authoritative, and I can see how one might get swept along, but then I think "Hold the phone - where is there anything but her personal internal experience?" You can't trace back the wood, you haven't even got the evil wardrobe, so it's totally founded on what she says she feels.

I can't trust blindly in someone else's personal experience. Is that all you've got?!

You "know" there's a supernatural, I "know" there's not. He says, she says, mahna mahna mahnum. My personal experience is that there are natural explanations for lots of things. (Eg. auras? Ever had a migraine? Etc etc). If that's all there is, if it's all point of view, then I will stick to my own: that where there is a natural explanation, it is far more likely than that there is a supernatural force at work. (Ghostly footsteps in the attic? You need a plumber, my friend. Door slams? Shut the bathroom window. Heheh). The supernatural explanation is generally surplus to requirements.

She claims her psychic ability is accompanied by a stomach flip and mental images. I got the sense that she felt her physical response strengthened her case. Of course, I only have her word for it that she feels this as well, so it's still all internal personal experience.

Now the last day or so, I've been thinking about sudden stomach churning (and apart from plenty of sprouts), there are lots of ways to induce them. It helps if you're of a nervous disposition! I can make my own stomach flip by thinking about past emotions, future possibilities, and notably, when I'm stressed about various things, it will also flip when I am not consciously thinking about whatever issues I have. This is somewhat annoying, but interesting.

I can get the free-fall stomach feeling when ostensibly thinking about something else that shouldn't cause me anxiety. I don't think I'm a particularly unusual sort of person, so I imagine that anyone can do the same. I can also work myself up into palpitations - now that's what I call fun!

You can build an expectation and response in yourself, you can train your body. Perhaps while honing her abilities, "tuning in", she trained herself. I'm not saying it's a deliberate deception/self-deception, because it's not as black-and-white as that. And this is where I struggle with wording... It reminds me of the flawed CS Lewis trilemma argument, you may or may not be familiar with. Liar, lord or lunatic it goes: Jesus was deliberately lying about himself, he was telling the truth or he was mad. One of the flaws in the argument is that it only works if those are the only possibilities, and they are not. There are other possibilities, such as the one which relates to the point I am slowly getting to, honest, which is 'just wrong, sincere but wrong'. Ie. it is possible to genuinely believe something and yet still be mistaken about it. You don't have to be mad to be mistaken.

What I'm trying to say is that I do think that she genuinely believes she is psychic, but at the same time, her certainty does not make me agree she is psychic. I don't think she's mad or stupid either.

Anyway, where's the harm, you may be thinking? So what if someone thinks a wardrobe is sinister...

I'd agree if it ended there, but what I found particularly disturbing is that she claimed to have met someone and through one of her psychic moments, concluded that this person was abusing her position as a carer for old people. Now we all make snap judgements about people and can take instant dislikes, but if we don't have the certainty of "psychic ability", we're not going to broadcast our gut reactions (usually). If we did have that 'certainty', however, what harm could we do a complete stranger's reputation?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It does sound very wrong to decide that someone is bad at their job based on a gut feeling.

I read too many ghostie stories when I was a kid to believe firmly in natural explanations in all circumstances. In ghostie stories, the person who is sceptical always gets a nasty comeuppance, so in a completely child-fiction-induced superstition I decided "I'm going to be the open-minded one, they always fare better by the last page than the sceptical ones!" Great reasoning huh?

I agree a LOT of so-called psychic stuff can be easily explained away. Getting good at reading body language and non-visual clues is one way. I hear voices in my head when I'm going to sleep, but I KNOW they are nobbut auditory hallucinations, lots of people get them, but if I were excitable and credulous I might say my place was haunted, always every night when I'm trying to sleep for some reason! :)

But I also think it's a big wide world out there, there's more to this place than can be easily explained, so whereas you might be a Kinsey 7 on the scale of beliefs, I'm a Kinsey 4 or 5. Also, I believe in God and the Bible, and the Bible states that there is a devil and there are demons, evil spirits abroad in the world. So if faced with something weird and haunted, I will try first to explain it rationally, and if that's not possible I wouldn't rule out demonic activity.

I have met some Satanists who gave me a very strange feeling in my waters, but I don't expect you to believe me there as quite rightly it is only my own personal experience. I wasn't afraid of them, just sorry for them and aware of their complete hatred of me (I was wearing a cross at the time). I'm not afraid of the world of demons, I'm just respectfully aware. Hence I wouldn't go messing with the occult. Abster xx