My knickers are in a twist again. Again it’s about folks who think causally. I’ve written about this before.
Causally. I do mean causally. Not casually, although that bothers me too – “casual” thought is an oxymoron. No, I mean causally. As in causation. As in, “if this, then that.” As in, “because.”
I know, I know. We need logic or we’d go even crazier than we already are. Heck, I earn my living from logic.
I just don’t want to get carried away with it.
This latest cramp I’m in comes from Eben Alexander’s book PROOF OF HEAVEN: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into The Afterlife. In case you can’t tell from the title, the doctor-author had what’s called a “near-death experience,” in his case from a meningitis-induced coma. He had visions of angels in heaven.
Again, contemplate the title — proof, he says.
I’m too irritated to get into the ins-and-outs of why this is making me so cross. For a cogent criticism, go here. Or try this one, from Scientific American. I like the comment “the mind abhors a vacuum of explanation.”
I also like the quote in the Scientific American article from neuroscientist Oliver Sacks: “[T]he one most plausible hypothesis in Dr. Alexander’s case, then, is that his [near-death experience] occurred . . . as he was surfacing from the coma and his cortex was returning to full function. It is curious that he does not allow this obvious and natural explanation, but instead insists on a supernatural one.”
I also like Nassim Taleb’s BLACK SWAN theory. Taleb catalogs the grievous mistakes into which the drive to make up stories about stuff can gull us. There are powerful built-in incentives to come up with organized narratives. These stories may create a sense of order in us, they may orient and locate, they may help make us feel better about being flyspecks in the eye of the divine – but they do not necessarily *explain* reality.
I mean to say, I’m prepared to enjoy the picture Alexander paints of his near-death experience. I just do not want to buy his explanation for it.
Also, Dr. Alexander makes much on his website of this quote of his: “Consciousness is the most profound mystery in the universe.”
Dadgummit, more to be mad about. Jeez. Our consciousness may be “the most profound mystery in the universe” to us, maybe, if we are blinded by our own humano-centrism. I doubt the nearest asteroid barreling down on us would see it from our point of view.
In any case, I doubt even the good doctor really believes what he says, in genuflecting before profound mystery. If he thinks he’s “proved” something, he’s still thinking causally. And causal thinking leads to answers. Not mystery.
In case you’re still with me, for which thank you, here’s a quote from Taleb that does it for me: “Marcus Tullius Cicero presented the following story. One Diagoras, a nonbeliever in the gods, was shown painted tablets bearing the portraits of some worshippers who prayed, and then survived a subsequent shipwreck. The implication was that praying protects you from drowning. Diagoras asked ‘Where were the pictures of those who prayed, then drowned?’”You want a profound mystery in the universe? How about this one here, from Dr. Michael Mosely, concerning our digestive system. In each and every one of us human beings, there is this tube that runs right the way through, from mouth to the other business end. This system contains a “little brain,” a network of neurons. “[T]here are over 100 million of these cells in your gut, as many as there are in the head of a cat.”
Imagine that! (If you can also imagine somebody counting neurons, one, two, 550,000, 986,523, one million, two, nine hundred ninety-nine million bottles of beer on the wall.)
But seriously. Let’s say it’s true. These cats – these sentient beings whom we love so well and admire – these beings who, we know perfectly well, have their feelings, their way of doing things, their personalities each one different from the other – not to mention the beauty and grace and elegance of these gorgeous beings –
We got all that going on in our guts?
I wonder what it would be like to feel toward my digestive system like I feel toward my cats. To be as amazed and full of awe and wonder as that.
I want a little respect paid to mysteries. I want to hear the humility to confess that we can’t possibly explain what’s going on, with things on this level. With 100 million neurons and life and death and after death and all like that. To think we know what’s going on, with questions of that magnitude, is to commit petty violence on the magnificence.
Though I should be studying the law of contracts, what I’m going to do now is to stop thinking about all this vexatiousness and go pet my cats.
My little stomachs.
So I can blame the kitties when my guts are upset? I’m liking this…
Personally, I’m appreciative of the existence I have RIGHT NOW. I don’t think an afterlife exists so I plan to enjoy the bounty I’ve been “lucky” enough to get.
I think the dear doctor is laughing all the way to the bank. Petting cats would be my prescription in this situation. Purrs are scientifically proven to heal.
I think my beliefs are similar to yours. I once mentioned my doubts to my wife who got very upset at the thought that she might end up in heaven without me. I have never mentioned it since and I think she has forgotten.
It is not surprising to me that being hollowed out by C. diff related to traumatic brain injury.
What you said.
Wow, I come back to such a deep post! I’m uncomfortable with people like the neurosurgeon or anyone else saying that they have everything figured out too. No, no we do not.
I have a friend who likes to say that the universe always knows what we need, and will somehow manage to give it to us. I would like to believe that, but that little niggling thought in the back of my mind is, “Except for when it doesn’t.”
The universe is a mystery, one that is at the same time beautiful and terrible, and as such, deserves our awe.
Excellent post, well written and thoughtful (I love that – ‘causal thinking leads to answers, not mystery’). I appreciate the links. This post was suggested to me by someone who commented on a recent blog post of mine (bewitched…, if you’re interested).