Wednesday 18th July 2018

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Out Of Body Experiences?

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By JOHN YOUNG

It is often claimed that some people, when seriously ill, have had out of body experiences. People have testified that they seemed to be looking down on the operating theatre, seeing their body and the doctors and nurses. Some speak of bright lights and of a feeling of great peace. Others have allegedly reported accurately events outside the operating theatre, events which they could not have known naturally.
These experiences are sometimes quoted as evidence that we are more than our bodies, that we have a spiritual component which survives death and which can know and love. The experiences are given as an argument against materialism.
I believe this conclusion does not follow, and to put it forward as an argument for an afterlife is to leave ourselves open to valid criticism and may lead people who see the fallacy to assume we have no good grounds for accepting a spiritual soul which lives on after bodily death. I am not saying that the experiences don’t occur; there is no doubt that they do. But I disagree with the alleged explanation.
The fatal objection is that the experiences reported are on the level of sense: that is, knowledge had by the five senses as elaborated by the internal sense of imagination (our picture-making power). They are in terms of colors, shapes, and sounds, with a vision of the operating theatre, and the doctors and nurses around the operating table with the patient lying there. Or they are of a long tunnel with a light at the end, and so on.
But that is not the kind of knowledge had by the intellect, for intellectual knowledge is different in kind, not merely in degree, from sense knowledge.
Sound philosophy and common sense show that we have an intellect which transcends the body and forms concepts that show the very nature of things, not merely external appearances.
As St. Thomas Aquinas says, sense knows this colored thing, whereas intellect knows the very nature of color. Sense knowledge is concrete, whereas intellectual knowledge abstracts the meaning from the data presented by the senses. We have sense knowledge in common with horses and dogs and other animals, whereas the knowledge in the human intellect is akin to that of the angels.
The conclusion therefore must be that the experiences in question are had by the living person, body and soul. The fact that signs of life are not detected doesn’t mean that the person is dead, or even totally unconscious: People have come out of a coma and been able to report that they knew what was going on, even though there was no sign of awareness.
A further consideration is that if the separated soul were having these experiences the person must be dead, because death is the separation of soul and body. That would mean that the soul came back into the corpse after the experience, restoring it to human life. That is to posit a miracle, and one that would occur rather frequently, for these experiences are not extremely rare; but natural explanations should be sought for mysterious phenomena, and miracles invoked only when no natural explanation seems possible.
Now suppose these experiences did occur in the soul when it was outside the body. This would leave the question: How could the person remember the experience after returning to the body? I don’t believe he could.
The reason is this. The human soul and body form one being, with the intellect (which is in the spiritual soul, not in the body) always acting in conjunction with images in the imagination. So while intellectual knowledge is in the soul alone, not in the body, it is always had in association with the body. In this life we are not disembodied souls.
So we can’t think clearly when we are very tired, and the memory — especially the short-term memory — deteriorates with age. Likewise brain damage can result in loss of memory.
The corollary of this is that if an out of the body experience occurred, it would leave no trace in the brain, and therefore could not be remembered after the soul returned to the body. It would be just as if severe brain damage had obliterated memories.
An objection may be raised. How are we to explain the claim that people having these experiences sometimes know things that could not be known naturally, as when they report what has happened in another room while they were on the operating table?
Firstly, these claims need to be validated. Are there peer-reviewed studies confirming such claims?
Secondly, it seems there may be such a thing as mental telepathy, and if so this alleged knowledge may be explainable along those lines. Radio and television are explained through physical causes, but until modern times there would have seemed to be no way in which the pictures and sounds could be conveyed almost instantaneously around the globe.
If it is indeed correct that some people experiencing these phenomena are aware of events taking place elsewhere, an explanation should be sought along those lines.
Anyone with a sound understanding of the relation between soul and body and of the distinction between sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge should see that the phenomena here can’t possibly be a case of out of the body knowledge. If some such people don’t see this it is because they haven’t realized the implications involved.

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