Saturday, March 3, 2012

Twelve obstacles for the scientific study of survival of consciousness and the existence of the spirit.

Both the spirit of the 'living' and the 'dead' are sensorially unobservables Every evidence of their existence is indirect, by means of an intelligent fingerprint exibited by any medium (body behavior, external symbols)... Therefore, both cases (of the spirit of the 'living' and the 'dead') are epistemologically identical (Chibeni, 2010).

S. Chibeni has recently posted a presentation on GEEU webpage (Chibeni, 2010) about the scientific research of the spirit that has many points in common with the subject we have writen about here. His presentation is a set of elucidating slides about the scientific research of the spirit and survival of consciousness. Unfortunately, they are presented in Portuguese and here comment on 12 obstacles that Chibeni put forward as preventing the studies about survival of consciousness and the existence of the Spirit.

After a brief introduction of the phenomenology associated to the substances 'matter' and 'spirit', Chibeni summarizes the present philosophical views as:
  1. Materialism: there is only matter;
  2. Idealism: there is only spirit;
  3. Dualism: both substances exist;
  4. Skepticism: we can't know that;
We should note that the word 'skepticism' above refers to a philosophical doctrine and should not be confused witth the ordinary 'skeptical' point of view about psychic or other said 'supernatural' phenomena. Spiritualism splicitly admits the dualist viewpoint and, according to this view, we summarize a set of obstacles that seem to prevent any evolution in the scientific understanding of survival. But we do not refer here to this understanding in accordance to theoretical frameworks of natural sciences. Readers should be very aware of this important difference. 

Then, our comments are as follows:
  1. To regard the subject as metaphysical or 'supernatural'. Such problem is originated by a difficulty in accepting the existence of a 'scientific way' for solving the question. Very often the whole matter is regarded as beyond what would be classified as 'normal' or 'verifiable' (and, therefore, as belonging the domain of metaphysics). In face of a mystical viewpoint of all psychic facts, the question is therefore associated to the 'supernatural kingdom';  
  2. To regard the subject as thoroughly investigated with a firmly negative conclusion. This is the most common mistake among ordinary skeptics. This is also the view shared by those who have a superficial understanding based on claimed researches not done with proper care or in-deep analysis that the whole surely subject deserves. Already in 1857, A. Kardec identified this problem (see Remark 1);
  3. To regard what is important about the Spirit as already investigated by psychology etc within a materialist framework: this is a variant class of the former obstacle. Since a theory fundamentally determines the facts that should be considered in a research program, by assuming a materialistic theoretical framework, one severely restricts the universe of facts. The 'proof' so obtained in favor of a given point of view is simply not valid.
  4. To regard the materialist viewpoint as accepted and 'proved' by Science: Science understood as 'knowledge' has nothing to do with the subject of survival. Quite a different thing is the opinion of scientist about that subject. But such opinion does not constitute established science. Rather, established science has nothing to say about it mainly if its scope or object of study is not directly related to the specific research of survival and the spirit;
  5. Try to 'detect' the Spirit by direct means: many people think that physical psychic phenomena (as originated by physical mediums) are in fact 'spiritual manifestations'. Others say that, if the spirit exists it may be detectable by measurable features. Here we find a crucial flaw concerning the object of study: matter can be detected by certain features (colors, sounds, forms, smells etc) while the spirit has thoughts, will and sentiments that are all unobservable features from the sensory perspective. It is also not difficult to see that the question can not be settled by increasing the accuracy of whatever  conceivable measurement device.
  6. Try to 'measure' the spirit: This is variant case of the former obstacle.
  7. Only reproducible (repeatable) evidences are relevant: here we have a point for endless debates. But the essence of the problem is very simple: since all psychic effects depend on external intelligences that are independent by themselves, to strictly demand reproducibility is equivalent to condemn the research of psychic facts since the beginning.The source of spiritual phenomena can not be controlled at will - they are all independent - therefore its effects are not reproducible. Try to run an experiment to settle the question  as a physics or chemistry test is a very common mistake.
  8. To treat the subject from a exclusively experimental perspective, theoretical developments are discouraged. This is a typical hindrance in parapsychology. Real science was never made without the help of theories. Some researchers in psi sciences believe that experiments alone could solve the whole matter. For them, to invoke 'explanations' or 'theories' would betray 'neutrality' and rigour that the subject deserves. However, this is wrong because 'rigour' has nothing to do with 'neutrality', while any normal scientific development demands that experiments be conceived and performed in accordance to a theoretical framework. If the theory does not support facts, the whole enterprise is doomed to failure.
  9. To work with theoretical fragments (isolated hypothesis). On the other hand, when explanations are given, they do not account all facts. There is scarcely any attempt to correlate the facts. Different psychic facts, that manifest themselves in a distinct ways are explained by often totally opposite hypothesis, no underlying fundamental principle is believed to be at work.
  10. To assume a dogmatic or preconceived standpoint. Dogmatism and prejudice are rules in human behavior, not exceptions. The understandable 'neutrality' should not be eliminated to the point of adopting a clearly radical point of view. Nobody can claim ownership of truth.
  11. To mix or agree with mysticism. Again, this is entirely due to the lack of understanding of the scientific aspect of the subject of survival and the spirit. The mystical view does not accept or recognizes the need of scientific understanding, since mysticism considers itself an independent way to knowledge. It is a clearly a hindrance since mysticism obliterates such scientific awareness. Moreover, the presence of mystical approaches only increases scientific scorn about the subject;
  12. Lack of rigour. Any true research method (not necessarily exported from ordinary sciences)  must be applied with exactness in order to arrive to valid conclusions.
Such are the obstacles that allow us to understand why the question of survival of consciousness and the existence of the spirit is broadly involved in the dark clouds of ignorance and scientific disdain. It also help us to orient our future way of understanding the matter: by assuming a thoroughly Spiritualist standpoint as developed by the early fathers of psychic research. Allan Kardec is a good example to be followed. Why? To many, this would contradict 'neutrality' that is believed to be important in any scientific study. However, we emphasize that it is not possible to regard the facts of Spiritualism outside the theoretical frameworks that its  specific explanation demands to collect and register its facts.

Thus, by neglecting the theoretical reference that was developed by the early Spiritualist founders of psychic research, we are paving the way for the evidences to be contaminated by inappropriate conceptions or assumptions that do not take into account the Spiritualist theory. It is, therefore, very easy to reject the Spiritualist thesis, since the evidences will be wrongly collected or described under a different ideology. For me, this is a crucial point that is hardly recognized and that would characterize a 13th obstacle for the truly scientific understanding of survival of consciousness and the reality of the spirit. We will write about it in a future post.

Chibeni's presentation is therefore a pedagogical summary that we strongly recommend the reading. 

Remark 1

When it does not result from prejudice, the skeptic's view of the Spiritist Doctrine often has its source in a poor knowledge of the facts. Unfortunately, many well-meaning people have tried to settle the question as though they had perfect knowledge. Their excessive belief in their own infallible judgment, though, only shows how little discernment they have. (A. Kardec (1996), 'The Spirit´s book', Introduction, Art. XVII,  A. Kardec Educational Society, Philadelphia, USA. Transl. from the 2nd edition in French, 1860. ).