Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sifting visions

Alex Malarkey's retraction of his NDE is a good occasion to draw some necessary distinctions.

i) When dealing with very young kids, I think it's important to distinguish between lying and make-believe. I'm not saying very young kids never lie. But for very young kids, the distinction between reality and fantasy is blurry. Indeed, that's one reason why very young kids are generally unreliable witnesses. 

ii) There's a distinction between lying, really seeing something, and seeing something real.

Take a hallucination. If you hallucinate, it's not a lie to say you saw something. You really did see something.

Yet you saw something that isn't real. What you saw was a figment of your imagination. 

Conversely, there are people who blatantly lie about seeing things. That goes to the distinction between deception and self-deception. The liar is a witting deceiver, whereas the hallucinator is self-deluded. 

iii) Apropos (ii), this is one reason we need to distinguish between an experience and the interpretation of an experience. The hallucinator had a genuine experience. But his experience is delusional. What he saw and what he thought he saw are two different things. What he saw was an illusion.

iv) Take a dream. We might say that's all in the dreamer's head. Same thing with a subjective vision. It's a psychological state. There's nothing necessarily happening on the outside that corresponds to that mental state. 

a) Yet, as Christians, we need to be careful with that distinction. The Bible records many revelatory dreams and (subjective) visions. In a sense, it was all in the head of the seer or dreamer. 

But unlike ordinary dreams, this isn't the product of the seer's or dreamer's imagination. Rather, God is using that medium to convey information. The mode is psychological, but the source lies outside the mind of the dreamer or visionary. 

b) In addition, although nothing external may be happening at the time of the dream or vision which corresponds to what the dreamer sees, that mental event may have an extramental referent. Often a future situation. 

v) We need to distinguish between veridical and inverdical claims. Take a premonition.

a) Suppose you have a friend who tells you about an interesting dream he had the night before. A few days later the dream comes true. Suppose you're in a position to independently confirm it. That's a veridical premonition. 

b) Suppose your friend tells you about a dream he had. He describes what he saw in his dream. Then he mentions how it came true. That's inverdical.

In the case of (a), he told you in advance of the fact. That puts an outside observer in a position to test it.

In the case of (b), he told you after the fact. In that event, all you have is his word to go on.

vi) Apropos (v), that doesn't mean inveridical claims are false or inherently dubious. Rather, the credibility of the claim turns on the credibility of the witness.

An inverdical claim is an uncorroborated claim. There's no evidence above and beyond the testimony of the claimant. 

If, however, the witness has a reputation for honesty and sobriety, if there's no reason to think he was lying or mistaken, then it can still be a credible claim.

Indeed, we routinely believe things which trusted friends tell us. I believe some things my father told me about his father. I'm in no position to double check his claim. 

No comments:

Post a Comment