• Sam26
    Does the conclusion follow, that is, I'm interested in knowing where the argument fails, if it fails at all.

    Before I put forth the argument, which is based on testimonial evidence, I want us to clarify several points.

    First, that testimonial evidence is a valid way of justifying one's conclusions, and moreover, one's beliefs. Most of what we know comes from the testimony of others. Thus, it's a way of attaining knowledge.

    Second, since the argument will be based on testimonial evidence, and given that testimonial evidence is notoriously weak, what criteria makes testimonial evidence strong?

    Third, if testimonial evidence is of something out of the ordinary, say extraterrestrials or something mystical, then it would seem to follow that the evidence would require a higher standard than what is generally required of good testimonial evidence.

    Fourth, since the argument falls under the category of metaphysics, how do we understand what is meant by reality? I'm a later Wittgensteinian when it comes to understanding words, that is, I don't believe there is a definition or theory that will cover every use of certain word (for example, words like real or reality). However, I don't believe Wittgenstein was correct in his assumption that the mystical can only be shown (prayer and meditation for example) and not talked about in terms of what's true or false. Wittgenstein believed this in his early and later philosophy, which is one of the reasons why he was against arguments for the existence of God. Although he was sympathetic to man's reach for the mystical, which is why he didn't agree with the logical positivists.

    In the next post I will describe what I believe to be the ingredients of strong testimonial evidence. I'm interested in all comments, but I'm especially interested in the comments of those of you who have a strong background in philosophy, and also in the related sciences.

    I will present the argument after we clarify these foundational issues, at least provide some clarification.
  • Sam26
    So what makes for strong testimonial evidence? Let's consider five criteria that strengthens testimonial evidence.

    First, a high number of testimonials gives a better picture of the events in question. So the greater the number the more likely we are to get an accurate report, but not necessarily, i.e., high numbers don't always translate into accurate testimonial evidence, which is why one must also consider other important factors.

    Second, seeing the event from a variety of perspectives will also help to clear up some of the testimonial reports. For example, different cultural perspectives, different age groups, different historical perspectives, different religious perspectives, different times of the day, and even considering people with different physical impairments (like the blind) will help clear up some of the biased and misremembered reports.

    Third, is the consistency of the reports, i.e., are there a large number of consistent or inconsistent reports. While it is important to have consistency in the testimonial evidence, inconsistency doesn't necessarily negate all of the reports. When dealing with a large number of testimonials you will almost certainly have contradictory statements, this happens even when people report on everyday events. Thus, one must weed out the testimony that does not fit the overall picture, and paint a picture based on what the majority of accounts are testifying to. It doesn't necessarily mean that what the minority is saying is unimportant, only that accuracy tends to favor what the majority are reporting.

    Fourth, can the testimony be corroborated by any other objective means, thereby strengthening the testimonial evidence as given by those who make the claims.

    Fifth, are the testimonials firsthand accounts, as opposed to being hearsay. In other words, is the testimonial evidence given by the person making the claim, and not by someone simply relating a story they heard from someone else. This is very important in terms of the strength of the testimonials.

    Each of these five criteria serve to strengthen the testimonial evidence. All of these work hand-in-hand to strengthen a particular testimonial conclusion, and they serve to strengthen any claim to knowledge. If we have a large enough pool of evidence based on these five criteria we can say with confidence that the conclusion follows. In other words, we can say what is probably the case, not what is necessarily the case.

    What other criteria would help to strengthen testimonial evidence?
  • Mariner
    Trustworthiness of the reporter. If the author of the account has a strong track record for reliability, it makes for a more probably trustworthy account. (Compared to a reporter who lacks such a record; and, of course, even more so compared to a reporter who is notoriously untrustworthy).
  • Srap Tasmaner

    I would expect some way of weighting the reports by the circumstances of the witnessing. At a baseball game, 30,000 fans might think the runner was clearly out at second, but none of them had as good a view as the umpire standing five feet away watching the play. In turn, if the umpire was poorly positioned, a crew of umpires watching video from another angle might be better placed to make the right call.
  • fishfry
    I will present the argument after we clarify these foundational issues, at least provide some clarification.Sam26

    After that shaggy dog story you didn't even say what you're posting about?

    An inauspicious start.
  • Wayfarer
    The testimony of sages is regarded as a valid basis for knowledge in Indian religions (both Hindu and heterodox, i.e. Buddhism and Jainism) and is plainly accepted in the Christian religion in the form of Biblical accounts. This however implicitly recognises 'sagacity', i.e. the capacity for penetrating insight which is absent in the common man (puthujjana, hoi polloi) and also the veracity of witness testimony to events nowadays regarded as supernatural. This mitigates against the acceptance of such testimony in modern culture; instead we have the observation, reporting and peer-review which is the basis of scientific practice.
  • Sam26
    I agree, if you had witnesses that had a reason to misrepresent the truth that would definitely undermine the reports.
  • Sam26
    Yes, which goes to my point about having a variety of testimonial evidence. In such, a case it's possible that one person's view might outweigh the views of the many.
  • Sam26
    No, but I did say there were some preliminary issues to get out of the way.
  • Sam26
    Yes, there are a variety of ways that people claim to have knowledge. Christians and those in other religions claim to have a kind of special internal revelation. However, I'm not able to make any sense of these subjective experiences in terms of having knowledge. It would seem to me that if we use these kinds of justifications we're in danger of equating knowledge with mere opinion; and not just any kind of opinion, but to reduce knowledge to purely subjective experiences. And if not to reduce knowledge to the purely subjective, to at least put it on the same level with other objective ways of knowing.
  • Sam26
    The following argument is concluding based on the testimonial evidence that consciousness survives the body. The basis for the conclusion is the testimonial evidence of those who have had an NDE (near death experience).

    Each of the aforementioned criteria serve to strengthen the testimonial evidence. All of these work hand-in-hand to strengthen a particular testimonial conclusion, and they serve to strengthen any claim to knowledge. If we have a large enough pool of evidence based on these five criteria we can say with confidence that we know, for example, that consciousness survives the death of the body. In other words, we can say what is probably the case, not what is necessarily the case. And again, if there is a high degree of probability that these testimonials reflect an objective reality, then we can also say with confidence that we know consciousness survives the death of the body. Thus, our knowledge is based on objective criteria, not on purely subjective claims.

    We will now look at the testimonial evidence in terms of the five stated criteria, and how these testimonials support our conclusion. First, what is the number of people who claim to have had an NDE? According to a 1992 Gallop poll about 5% of the population has experienced an NDE. And even if this poll is off by a little we're still talking about millions of people. Thus the number of accounts of NDEs is very high, much higher than what we would normally need to decide the veracity or accuracy of these accounts, and much higher that what is normally needed to draw a proper conclusion.

    The second criteria of good testimonial evidence is variety, i.e., do we have evidence from a variety of sources? The answer to this question is yes. We have testimonial evidence from different cultures, different age groups, different educational backgrounds, different religious backgrounds, different world views, and reports of these experiences from a wide variety of settings.

    NDEs have been reported in every culture from around the world, which by definition means that we're getting reports from different religious views, and different world views. NDEs also span every age group, from young children, to the middle-aged, and finally to the aged. It is also important that we're getting testimonial reports from doctors, nurses, scientists, atheists, agnostics, literally from every imaginable educational level and background. Also, NDEs occur in a variety of settings, including drowning, electrocution, while awake, while on the operating table, after a heart attack, etc. People have also reported that they have shared an NDE with someone else, although rarely. They have happened when there is no heartbeat, with the blood drained from the brain, and with no measurable brain activity. They have also been reported to happen with a minimal amount of stress, i.e., without being near death. Finally, there have been many thousands more reporting these and similar events happening to those who have taken DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine), which is an illegal schedule 1 drug.

    The third criteria of good testimonial evidence is the consistency of the reporting. Thus, is there enough consistency in the reports to draw the conclusion that consciousness survives the death of the body. The answer again is yes. The following is a list of what has been reported by a large percentage of those who have had the experience.

    1) Seeing one's body from a third person perspective, i.e., from outside one's body. And hearing and seeing what's happening around their bodies.
    2) Having intense feelings of being loved, and also intense feeling of peace.
    3) Seeing a light or tunnel in the distance and feeling that one is being drawn to the light, or moving through the tunnel towards the light.
    4) Seeing deceased loved ones.
    5) Seeing beings of light that one may interpret as Jesus, Mary, Muhammad, an angel, or just a loving being that one may feel connected to.
    6) Heightened sensory experiences, viz., feeling that one is having an ultra real experience, as opposed to a dream or a hallucination.
    7) Communication that happens mind-to-mind, not verbal communication.
    8) Seeing beautiful landscapes.
    9) Seeing people who are getting ready or waiting to be born.
    10) Having a life-review by a loving being who is not judgmental in any way, but simply showing you how important it is to love, and the importance of your actions on those you come in contact with. Learning from these experiences is another important aspect of the life-review.
    11) Feeling as though one is home. This is also confirmed by people who were told they chose to come to Earth.
    12) A feeling of oneness with everything, as though consciousness is at the bottom of everything.
    13) Memories of who they really are return, as though they temporarily forgot who they were. There are also reports of knowledge returning, and many questions being answered.
    14) Understanding that ultimately we cannot be harmed.
    15) That we are eternal beings simply entering into one of many realities.

    These are just some of the reports from those who experienced an NDE, and some of these reports are confirmed by those who have taken DMT.

    The fourth criteria of good testimonial evidence is objective corroboration, i.e., are there ways of validating any of the testimonial evidence? Many of the NDEs can be confirmed as being accurate by those who were closely connected in some way to the one having the NDE. For example, doctors, nurses, family members, friends, and anyone else who can either confirm or deny the accuracy of what NDErs claim to have seen while outside their bodies. One particular NDE comes to mind, Pam's NDE out of Atlanta, GA, which you can watch on YouTube.

    Fifth, is the importance of getting firsthand accounts as opposed to hearsay, or what others are reporting about NDEs. There are literally thousands of firsthand accounts being reported by the International Association of Near Death Studies.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    consciousness survives the body.Sam26

    This I don't see.

    Death is the most extreme trauma one's body can suffer. What you have are reports of living people who experienced this extreme trauma.

    What you do not, and presumably cannot, have are reports from disembodied consciousnesses.

    I understand that the claim is that, perhaps for several minutes, someone's consciousness persisted during a period when their body met one or another definition of death. But you do not, and presumably cannot, have reports from people made during this period. You can only have the reports of those who were revived.

    Those who were revived suffered extreme trauma. Isn't the most natural assumption that such a traumatic experience would leave traces? Wouldn't a neuroscientific explanation be the most natural?
  • Sam26
    I understand your point, and it's one that should be considered. After studying these experiences for over ten years I've come to a different conclusion. I don't want to get into a linguistic analysis of what's death, so let's just stipulate it's exactly what people say it is, namely, near death experience, not a death experience.

    First, there are just too many reports of people seeing things from a perspective that is outside their body; and many of these reports are from a perspective that is nowhere near their body, that is, seeing and hearing things that are many miles away from their bodies.

    Second, there are instances where there is no measurable brain activity, and even if you want to claim that there may be residual traces of neuro activity, that wouldn't explain how it is that people are claiming that what they're seeing and hearing is more vivid than the reality they are use to. It would seem to follow that if there are only traces of neuro activity, instead of full blown neuro activity, we could conclude reasonably that whatever they're experiencing would be less vivid and more dreamlike than normal reality. How does one explain what they are experiencing in terms of a brain that has no measurable activity? Moreover, when you say "leave traces" what does that mean? Because traces of neuro activity is certainly far from normal neuro activity, and these reports make claims that point to heightened sensory awareness, not dumbed-down sensory experiences.

    I have found no neuroscientific explanation that would explain these experiences. In fact, Dr. Eban Alexander who is a neurosurgeon couldn't explain his NDE in terms of what he understood about the brain.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    when you say "leave traces" what does that mean?Sam26

    Only that the brain is a pretty complex chemical environment. Who knows what the body might do when experiencing that degree of trauma. And then once blood has stopped flowing, various molecular machines stop doing their jobs as they run out of fuel. When you "reboot", I would expect the whole system to be a mess, and certainly not a typical environment for the brain of a living body. The bizarre chemical imbalances are what you wake up in since there's been no cleaning up going on.

    The Wikipedia article describes many unusual circumstances -- injection of ketamine, oxygen deprivation, etc., etc. -- that reproduce some of the features of NDEs. It's clear that monkeying with the brain's chemistry can produce all sorts of effects. I'd just assume all sorts of such monkeying takes place in the moments leading up to and in the moments just after death.
  • Sam26
    Most of what you're saying is pure speculation about what might happen. I've given a ton of evidence about what is happening, namely, what people are experiencing.
  • MikeL
    The brain's job is to interpret its sensations. There are reported incidents of people losing part of their vision and the brain literally filling it in with garbage, like Mickey Mouse. There are reports of people experiencing intense religious experiences such as walking with Jesus when their temporal lobes were stimulated (also in epilepsy which can be a temporal lobe seizure).

    Is it not perhaps more prudent to boil these experiences down to the baseline feeling - how did these experiences make them feel? Much of what you describe sounds pretty cozy to me, and is line with what I've heard about the massive flood of endorphins that happens near death.

    Out of body experiences fall right into this category when in the room. The ears are passively picking up sound, the occipital lobe is trying to put an image to it.

    There is also the expectation that they did see something. Perhaps they may choose to interpret their feelings in line with what their expectations are?

    Having said that, I have heard some pretty whacky stuff too often throughout my life about clocks stopping, people knowing of a death at a distance - people with nothing to gain by saying so and a lot of credibility to lose.

    Its a great mystery, and a great topic.
  • Sam26
    How does a massive flood of endorphins explain this NDE?

  • Sam26
    One can always explain away any sensory experience one disagrees with by coming up with something that sounds plausible or possible.

    What makes any sensory experience accepted by others? What makes it accepted by others is that it fits within a certain framework of objective experience, which bring me back to how testimonial evidence gets its strength. I don't think it's correct to assume that a particular experience is not real or not objective because it doesn't fit a particular world view. It's the evidence that should be considered, and nothing else.
  • MikeL
    Hi Sam, so you just want to know how we would evaluate if the testimony is plausible, and not discuss what might be happening in NDEs?

    Ok, well, how dogmatically they cling to the claim even when everyone else thinks they're nuts might be a good place to start, especially when they stand to lose something by saying so and have nothing to gain.
  • Sam26
    That's no argument, you're just assuming their nuts because it doesn't fit a particular world view. Besides there is just too much corroborating objective evidence that belies what you're suggesting. Too many accounts of doctor, nurses, family, and friends who have given accounts confirming that what people claim to have seen is exactly what they did see.
  • John Days
    First, that testimonial evidence is a valid way of justifying one's conclusions, and thus one's beliefs. Most of what we know comes from the testimony of others. Thus, it's a way of attaining knowledge.Sam26

    It's hard to trust someone who uses "thus" twice in three sentences. :p
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