December 03, 2006

Socks and Spirits Updated (Frances)

The previous post on spiritual and visual experience has generated comments on several blogs. Some of the comments are based on misunderstandings of the original idea (since I did a lousy job in the initial post). Since the comments are well thought out, I thought it would be worth another post to elaborate on the socks-spirituality comparison so that the misunderstandings go away and I can be refuted properly.

In the socks case, I believe that the socks are blue, and I believe it based on my experience of them. In the spiritual case, I believe that God exists, and I believe it based on my experience of Him.

In the socks case, the scientists in question say to me ‘Yes, I agree that your experience seemed to be of blue socks. Many, perhaps most, of us had pretty much the same experience as you did from the general perspective you took. But more careful empirical examination will show that your experiences were misleading in that they were not of blue socks but really of some weird green socks. The experiences you had were genuine visual perceptions, but were somewhat crude. Further visual experience will show you your error!

In the spiritual case, the naysayers in question say to me ‘Yes, I agree that your experience seemed to be of God. Many, perhaps most, of us had pretty much the same experience as you did from the general perspective you took. But more careful empirical examination will show that your experiences were misleading in that they were not of God but instead were the beginnings of some levels of consciousness that are more advanced than those we have in most situations (and that merit the title ‘spiritual’) but don’t call out for the existence of a god. The experiences you had were genuine spiritual perceptions, but were somewhat crude. Further spiritual experience will show you your error!

In the socks case, as far as I can determine the scientists in question are about as knowledgeable about color, funny color illusions, etc. as anyone. Never mind whether there are other color experts much more knowledgeable about color.

In the spiritual case, as far as I can determine the naysayers in question are about as knowledgeable about spiritual experience as anyone. Never mind whether there are other spiritual experts much more knowledgeable about spirituality.

Finally: in the socks case the color scientists are mistaken; in the spiritual case the naysayers are mistaken. But this stipulation really isn’t very important.

That's all stipulation. Now I claim: in the socks case one is epistemically blameworthy if one retains one’s blue socks belief. Of course, one could easily avoid the blame. The main color scientist could be joking and you find out that she’s joking.

I also claim that if there’s blameworthiness in the socks story, then there’s blameworthiness in the spiritual story.

Most people have misunderstood what the theistic naysayers are saying. They aren’t saying that you (the spiritual theist) have gone insane, or that you are temporarily deranged or having a seizure or anything like that. They aren’t saying you are “screwed up”—exactly how the color scientists aren’t saying you’re screwed up. Your perceptual and spiritual faculties are working fine; it’s just that circumstances are odd and you’ve erred in interpreting them. The naysayer isn’t disrespectful, so to speak, of spiritual experience. Take the socks-spirituality analogy seriously!

In the socks case, you had some utterly typical visual experiences and immediately formed the belief that the socks are blue. We can stipulate, if you like, that the same happened in the spiritual case. I’m not saying that the move from the spiritual experience to the theistic belief amounts to any more of an “interpretation” or “inference” than in the socks case. In the spiritual case there is no more of an argument to the best explanation as in the socks case.

3 comments:

CK said...

I put up a lengthy reply on my blog. Didn't want to use up comment space here for my rambling--I went looking for an example of such a set of spiritual naysayers and found it in Hindu disagreements over mystical experience (Shankara and Ramanuja). Hopefully my response is more focused to the analogy now that you've rephrased. Thanks!

Bryan Frances said...

This is getting out of hand: I have posted replies to people at both

http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2006/12/trick_socks_and.html

and

http://arbitrarymarks.com/wordpress/2006/12/03/more-on-socks-and-god/

CK said...

Does Knowability take trackbacks? I tried to ping the blog here and at Prosblogion so that other blog comments are part of the original thread. Nothing seems to have shown up, however.

Thanks for making your reply at my blog.