William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience

When we discuss religion, oftentimes we’re talking about the institution. But James wants to get at the essence of religious belief, and for him, the institution is a bit of a sideshow. He’s not interested in what lies in the psyche of an ordinary believer—the sort who prays or goes through the motions without actually experiencing anything very different from a non-religious person—but instead as it is manifests in its most acute forms. He’s interested in those who break away from the mainstream to start new religions, or at least those who write about their experiences in an especially convincing or evocative way.the-varieties-of-religious-experience-by-william-james

It’s interesting to read about mystical experiences and conversion as they are described by people with different backgrounds and personalities. Some of these first-hand accounts, often in the form of letters or diary entries, are from famous people (Whitman, Tolstoy, Saint Theresa), others are from obscure members of the working class.

But I want to focus on James’ philosophical views, the sections of the book that provide background for his radically empirical (and perhaps phenomenological) stance toward religious experience. This may be a strange text to use for this purpose, considering he wrote books that directly address his philosophical positions. I confess I’m using this one because it’s my favorite…something about the way he handled this subject seems fair-minded. I also like that it’s a philosophical work about a subject outside of philosophy. While this makes his philosophical stance slightly less clear in one respect, in another respect it makes his ideas easier to grasp, because it shows us what his philosophical thinking does. That is a rare thing indeed.


Nothing-But-ism

‘Nothing-but’-ism is an overly simplistic reductionism, one that fails to account for what it purports to account for. When people say, “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” they’re implying that religion is “nothing but” a balm for stupid people.

Medical materialism is a phrase James coined to refer to a kind of nothing-but-ism that reduces religion to medical pathology, often in a vague, but science-y, way. “Religion is a such-and-such imbalance in the brain.” In this view, religion itself is nothing more than an effect of physical illness.

James criticizes this view, arguing that religious ideas and insights should be judged by their intrinsic value and in light of what real impact they may have. (He’s specific about what counts as a valuable insight, but I won’t get into it here.) In other words, religious ideas should be assessed on their own terms, just as non-religious ideas are. After all, he points out, geniuses often have unsound constitutions, and a great number of world-changing ideas wouldn’t have seen the light of day if we’d judged them by the temperaments of their authors.

But this doesn’t mean he takes issue with the actual science of seeking causal links between mental phenomena and their physical counterparts. In fact, he insists on including medical pathology in his broader assessment of religious thought—if it should happen to be the case that the extremely religious tend to be clinically psychotic, that’s something we take into account.

He goes on to say that if medical materialists were consistent, they would pull the rug out from under their own feet; instead, they employ a double standard:

Modern psychology, finding definite psycho-physical connections to hold good, assumes as a convenient hypothesis that the dependence of mental states upon bodily conditions must be thoroughgoing and complete…But now, I ask you, how can such an existential account of facts of mental history decide in one way or another upon their spiritual significance? According to the general postulate of psychology just referred to, there is not a single one of our states of mind, high or low, healthy or morbid, that has not some organic process as its condition. Scientific theories are organically conditioned just as much as religious emotions are…So of all our raptures and our drynesses, our longings and pantings, our questions and beliefs. They are equally organically founded, be they of religious or of non-religious content…

It is needless to say that medical materialism draws in point of fact no such sweeping skeptical conclusion. It is sure, just as every simple man is sure, that some states of mind are inwardly superior to others, and reveal to us more truth, and in this it simply makes use of an ordinary spiritual judgment. It has no physiological theory of the production of these its favorite states, by which it may accredit them; and its attempt to discredit the states which it dislikes, by vaguely associating them with nerves and liver, and connecting them with names connoting bodily affliction, is altogether illogical and inconsistent.

The argument of medical materialism operates no differently than the dogmatic theologies and philosophies it purports to demolish. Both sides try to validate or discredit religious experience by tracing it back to its origins, its root causes. But in doing so, both sides ignore the phenomena they purport to account for.


Radical Empiricism

As I see it, traditional empiricism is the source of the medical materialist’s disdain for “spiritual judgement,” or ideas.

This matter hearkens back to the traditional rationalism/empiricism divide. Generally speaking, the rationalist prefers ideas, deduction, a priori certitude. The empiricist prefers concrete reality, specifics, observation—as does James. For him it’s a foregone conclusion that traditional rationalism is off base. He has little sympathy with this side…he launches scathing attacks on Immanuel Kant every chance he gets, sometimes to the point of being unfair. But he finds serious problems in traditional empiricism as well.

Empiricism is usually defined as the belief that knowledge derives from experience, and such a definition by itself would also describe James’ position. But it’s important to understand that, historically, empiricists took “experience” to be virtually synonymous with sensory perception. More specifically, sense data, or “atoms” of perception. These were understood to be the origin of knowledge.

But James believed that if we are to be true empiricists—what he would call radical empiricists—then we shouldn’t dismiss ideas by treating them all as private irrelevancies, or mere organizers of perception. The notion that ideas are derivative, secondary, or unreal is itself a theoretical assumption which stems from an overly narrow take on what counts as experience (and therefore knowledge).

In the chapter, “The Reality of the Unseen,” James explains just how important ideas are:

“The whole universe of concrete objects, as we know them, swims, not only for such a transcendentalist writer [Emerson], but for all of us, in a wider and higher universe of abstract ideas, that is its significance. As time, space, and the ether soak through all things so (we feel) do abstract and essential goodness, beauty, strength, significance, justice, soak through all things good, strong, significant, and just. Such ideas, and others equally abstract, form the background for all our facts, the fountain-head of all the possibilities we can conceive of. They give its “nature,” as we call it, to every special thing. Everything we know is “what” it is by sharing in the nature of one of these abstractions. We can never look directly at them, for they are bodiless and featureless and footless, but we grasp all other things by their means, and in handling the real world we should be stricken with helplessness in just so far forth as we might lose these mental objects, these adjectives and adverbs and predicates and heads of classification and conception. This absolute determinability of our mind by abstractions is one of the cardinal facts in our human constitution. Polarizing and magnetizing us as they do, we turn towards them and from them, we seek them, hold them, hate them, bless them, just as if they were so many concrete beings.”

Though he may sound a bit like a Platonist here, he’s not. (Notice the careful wording, the “as if” constructions.) What he’s actually saying is that the empiricists have not been empirical enough. Ideas aren’t just our way of gluing together sense perceptions. Ideas are directly experienced too, and perhaps—to echo Hume—with even more “force, liveliness, and vivacity” than sense data.

Empiricism had to be updated, broadened, but not abandoned.

You see that at bottom we are thrown back upon the general principles by which the empirical philosophy has always contended that we must be guided in our search for truth. Dogmatic philosophies have sought for tests for truth which might dispense us from appealing to the future. Some direct mark, by noting which we can be protected immediately and absolutely, now and forever, against all mistake—such has been the darling dream of philosophic dogmatists. It is clear that the origin of the truth would be an admirable criterion of this sort…Origin in immediate intuition; origin in pontifical authority; origin in supernatural revelation…these origins have been stock warrants for the truth of one opinion after another which we find represented in religious history…

In the end, it had to come to our empiricist criterion: By their fruits ye shall know them, not by their roots.


Pragmatism

Unfortunately, I can only barely touch the surface here. Rather than define pragmatism as such, I’ll just say that his is characterized by an earnest attempt to search for “the fruits,” wherever they may be found.

Pragmatism is often described a philosophy that takes truth to be synonymous with usefulness, which sounds a bit like wishful thinking. But James isn’t trying to sell us a sheisty “truth is whatever you want it to be” philosophy. Such an absurd stance would be both anti-empirical and a slap in the face to common sense…and he just doesn’t seem like the sort of guy to slap common sense in the face. I prefer the word “fruitful” because it brings to mind “a fruitful discovery.” I see his approach as multi-layered and interdisciplinary.

I’ll leave you with his own words, which I think can be taken as an example of what pragmatism might look like:

Let us play fair in this whole matter, and be quite candid with ourselves and with the facts. When we think certain states of mind superior to others, is it ever because of what we know concerning their organic antecedents? No! it is always for entirely different reasons. It is either because we take an immediate delight in them; or else it is because we believe them to bring us good consequential fruits for life…It is the character of inner happiness in the thoughts which stamps them as good, or else their consistency with our other opinions and their serviceability for our needs, which make them pass for true in our esteem.

Now the more intrinsic and the more remote of these criteria do not always hang together. Inner happiness and serviceability do not always agree. What immediately feels most “good” is not always most “true,” when measured by the verdict of the rest of experience. The difference between Phillip drunk and Phillip sober is the classic instance in corroboration. If merely “feeling good” could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience. But its revelations, however acutely satisfying at the moment, are inserted into an environment which refuses to bear them out for any length of time. The consequence of this discrepancy of the two criteria is the uncertainty which still prevails over so many of our spiritual judgments. There are moments of sentimental and mystical experience…that carry an enormous sense of inner authority and illumination with them when they come. But they come seldom, and they do not come to everyone; and the rest of life makes either no connection with them, or tends to contradict them more than it confirms them. Some persons follow more the voice of the moment in these cases, some prefer to be guided by the average results. Hence, the sad discordancy of so many of the spiritual judgments of human beings…It is, however, a discordancy that can never be resolved by any merely medical test.

[In determining the value of religious opinions] Immediate luminousness, in short, philosophical reasonableness, and moral helpfulness are the only available criteria…

As far as strong, but fleeting, religious experience goes, he doesn’t give us a pat answer on what to make of it. Perhaps in philosophical moods we would love to seize upon rules that will be true now and forever, but if we’re honest with ourselves, most of the time we accept, however provisionally, whatever seems most fruitful.

Of course, we don’t always agree on what’s fruitful. He seems strangely comfortable with conflict, perhaps even inner inconsistency, and his philosophical views might be denounced as a kind of extreme relativism. I think they escape this characterization—in his view, both the atomistic empiricist and the absolutist rationalist are wrong. And to be clear, he’s not interested in establishing personal religious truths on equal ground, but in examining them from different angles to determine which types are most valuable on the whole. (If you read the Varieties, you’ll find his answer.) In other words, what turns out to be fruitful may not necessarily be fruitful for all time, but these matters aren’t decided willy-nilly either. Fruitfulness can be argued for in the same way anything is argued for. When he says that ideas illuminate our experiences “as if” they were concrete beings, this implies it’s fruitless to obsess over their invisibility. What matters is that we can’t live without them.

He might be accused of a kind of subjectivism, but that involves a naive stance toward knowledge and reality, whereas his is an attempt to undermine the dualistic paradigm on which subjectivism stands. Whether he succeeded is another question. I read most of his works a while back, and as I recall, the Varieties was most successful, but I may have to revisit those others. In any case, in this work he manages to illuminate several opposing religious moods and practices without falling into a bland egalitarian tolerance.

This overturning of the traditional rational-empirical divide is one place where I see some overlap with phenomenology, but I’ll save that for another day. Judging by the rate of my posting lately, I’ll be lucky if I get around to it before next year.


Does “fruitfulness” succeed in establishing truth? Is experience the proper foundation for knowledge? What do you think?

And to those of you I haven’t spoken to in a long time…how’s it going? (Same ‘ol here. Geordie. Flamenco. Still working on the novel, rewriting it in omniscient. Someday, I swear, someday, it will be finished. But I will say this—I love writing in omniscient.)

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36 thoughts on “William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience

    • Thanks! As you say, James certainly gets around, but I often come across simplistic versions of him that would fail to entice me to read him if I hadn’t already. It’s a shame, as I consider him one of the greats. It’s nice to hear from you and thanks for stopping by!

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  1. Hey Tina!,
    In general, I’m a fan of the pragmatic approach to things. From what I’ve read about James’ philosophy, he’s on the short list of philosophers whose ideas resonate with me (along with Epicurus, Hume, Russell, Spinoza, and Hobbes).

    But the word “fruitful”, standing alone, strikes me as….well, unfruitful. I think we have to ask, fruitful for what? For me, in terms of theories of truth, the answer always comes down to fruitful for accurate predictions. In that sense, a belief is true to the extent it enhances our ability to make accurate predictions. Accurate predictions lead to better decisions and (hopefully) longer and more prosperous life.

    I do think experience is a crucial foundation of knowledge. But alone it isn’t sufficient. Our perceptions are constructed from our worldview and updated, hopefully, from current sensations. Experience always requires interpretation. Indeed, there is no experience free of interpretation. The key is figuring out which interpretations are fruitful, and that requires reason (scenario simulations). But if reason contradicts (consistent) empiricism, reason is the one that must yield.

    In my view, the above applies very much to religious experiences, which are pretty much all in the interpretation. If a skeptic like me, a Hindu, and a Christian, all have the same powerful sensations on the top of a mountain, we are all likely to interpret it within our own worldviews and come to radically different conclusions.

    Good to hear from you. I’m still crazy busy and wish I could post more often myself.

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    • Nice to hear from you too! I hope I haven’t missed too many of your posts…I have to admit I’ve been reluctant to check my email because I’ve let it go for so long, and now I’m just making it worse.

      On “fruitful,” this is a good time to point out that I’m the one using this word in connection with James’ pragmatism. He used the word in the Varieties, but I don’t recall if he did elsewhere, if he means the same thing I’m assuming. And of course “The Meaning of Truth” would be a better text for understanding him on this. But anyhow, I can see your point. “Fruitful” is a vague way of trying to sum thing up. The problem is, it’s hard to nail what he means with one specific criterion for truth that apply to all contexts. “Truth is what works” is equally vague. It has its advantages, though, because it seems to me it can welcome other theories of truth, such as correspondence or coherence. But maybe that’s not saying anything? Quite possibly.

      As for prediction, how would that theory of truth apply in a context where prediction isn’t the point of the inquiry? Or is prediction always the point? 🙂

      Your account of experience and knowledge sounds like an “updated” empiricism, non-atomistic.

      “If a skeptic like me, a Hindu, and a Christian, all have the same powerful sensations on the top of a mountain, we are all likely to interpret it within our own worldviews and come to radically different conclusions.”

      And most of us know that we will derive vastly different conclusions from the same or similar phenomenon or experience, which then leads to the question—why? It’s easy to say such experiences don’t really count, since they aren’t the kind from which consensus can be formed, but this is a problematic stance since consensus is sometimes wrong. And then there’s the problem I wrote about, that this one special experience (James uses the example of drunkenness) might not jive with the rest of experience, the norm. Some people would find that very troubling. Others may say that the norm was simply a lower mode from which this powerful experience has extricated them, or it’s is no longer relevant, or the norm changed from then on out. Add psychological differences on top of all this, and it’s no wonder we come up with different conclusions!

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      • You haven’t missed too many of my posts because I haven’t hardly been doing any. I think I’ve done maybe a half dozen so far this year. I might need to emulate BIAR and simply find a way to force a production quota on myself. I keep saying the secret is to make brief posts, but they never seem to happen. Part of it is that I don’t seem to have much of the someone-is-wrong-on-the-internet motivation these days.

        “As for prediction, how would that theory of truth apply in a context where prediction isn’t the point of the inquiry? Or is prediction always the point?”

        I’m coming to think that prediction is the point a lot more than we may think. Consider a tree. From an information processing perspective, the mental concept of a tree is a prediction framework. It predicts what it will look like if you walk around it, how it will feel if you touch it, how it may keep the sun off of you if you’re under it, how it may smell, and a variety of other possible future sensations.

        Or perhaps another way to look at it is to ask, what kind of inquiry isn’t about prediction? Trying to understand a historical event perhaps? Except that even there, you’re building a prediction framework, just in this case one based on what you’ll find if you continue researching the event. And of course we learn history to get predictive insights (albeit not super accurate ones) on future events. But could there be examples I’m missing?

        “Your account of experience and knowledge sounds like an “updated” empiricism, non-atomistic.”

        You made me look up atomism in this context. Interesting. I’m not sure where I actually stand on that. More research may be called for here.

        “It’s easy to say such experiences don’t really count, since they aren’t the kind from which consensus can be formed, but this is a problematic stance since consensus is sometimes wrong.”

        Part of the problem here is that, since none of us has the time to personally verify assertions with our own personal experience, we’re almost always at the mercy of consensus, not the consensus of everyone, but often the consensus of relevant experts. Who are the relevant experts? Well, we’re at the mercy of another consensus about that, in this case from other experts. There is a consensus hierarchy that ultimately is dependent on our society’s overall consensus of the hierarchies. It can be unsettling to think about.

        Ultimately though, I think it comes down to how accurate are the predictions of the experts. (See, prediction again 🙂 ) The experts gain authority in our eyes when we personally see their predictions validated. (Such as new forms of technology being built on them.) So when they reach a consensus, it’s rational for us to pay attention to it. (The trick, of course, is recognizing real prediction versus confirmation bias.)

        I didn’t comment above about your switch to omniscient. I’m happy to hear that since I think omniscient is woefully underused these days. Just out of curiosity, what made you decide to shift? I know I find third person limited to often be maddeningly….well, limited.

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        • Half a dozen posts isn’t bad. I certainly can’t claim to be that productive. Well, I have to confess that a part of why I haven’t been blogging is not just that I’ve been writing my novel, but also because I downloaded the Scrabble app on my Kindle, which is turning out to be seriously addictive. It’s a lot of fun to play random real people, not just a computer. BTW, What is BIAR?

          “Part of it is that I don’t seem to have much of the someone-is-wrong-on-the-internet motivation these days.” Ha! Good one.

          On prediction, I think I see what you mean now. I was thinking of it in a narrower sense, more like a weather report. You seem to be talking about it in a paradigmatic sense, some sort of organizing principle involving expectation?

          There might be many philosophical uses of the word “atomic”, some of which might even include atoms in the physical sense…I have no idea. But I’m just using the phrase “atomic empiricism” to mean the belief that we have experiences of pure sensation (apart from what you might call a predictive model, or interpretation), and that these “atoms” of sensation are the bedrock of our knowledge of the world. I don’t buy into this because I don’t think we do experience pure sensations, in a tabula rasa way, outside of contextual and relational factors, whatever those might be.

          On consensus, I think it probably depends on what the topic is. When it comes to highly specialized technical knowledge—like medicine, for example—there’s no point in doubting the consensus opinion of experts, all else being equal. But religious and philosophical ideas, and perhaps those belonging to other types of knowledge, aren’t necessarily best decided by the consensus of experts. (Unless you’re Catholic, I guess… although the “experts” there are looking pretty terrible these days.)

          “I’m happy to hear that since I think omniscient is woefully underused these days. Just out of curiosity, what made you decide to shift? I know I find third person limited to often be maddeningly….well, limited.”

          Honestly, now that I’ve made the switch to omniscient, I don’t know if I’ll write in limited again. But I don’t have a problem with getting into my character’s heads the way many writers do, and so I’m not sure the warning to avoid the omniscient ever did apply to me. For me the problem has always been choosing what to say and when to say it. What goes in, what stays out. Omniscient allows me to cut many, many pages of irrelevant junk to get at the heart of the story. Before, I felt compelled to create mini-arcs out of every character POV, but I had a lot of characters, so the story went off into la-la land as I attempted to round out each chapter. Omni allowed me to pick out all those relevant bits from each chapter. Though it’s not as easy as simply stringing them together, the compression of information in the end result was damn near audible…at times it was something on the order of 5 chapters squeezed into one. Omni also allows me to get across the truth of what’s going on, even while none of my characters grasp the full situation. This is powerful. The reader knows all the information that my characters are withholding from each other, and this creates a lovely tension all by itself. I have one scene where two characters hold different pieces of the puzzle, but they’re trying to prevent the other from finding out what they know, while at the same time trying to find out what the other knows. This is a comical scene, not exactly high drama, but it efficiently compresses a lot of information and moves the plot forward.

          There are so many fascinating things you can do with omniscient that you can’t do any other way, and there are many ways to write in omniscient, to accomplish different goals. Omni gets my enthusiastic thumbs up. It has saved my novel.

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          • “BTW, What is BIAR?”
            BIAR is short for BloggingIsAResponsibility. He commented above. People often use BIAR as a short hand, the same way they often use SAP for my handle.

            He did a Camp Nanowrimo, committing to writing 50,000 words in July, which led to him posting almost daily. I don’t know that I’m up for that. But I did used to post more or less daily, albeit with lots of short posts that were more about sharing articles than anything else. The problem was that it led to burnout. I don’t know how bloggers who post multiple times a day, year in and year out, do it. When I blew my shoulder out, it served as a good excuse to cut back to a post every week or two. But I’ve had a hard time achieving a post a month lately, partly because I often go days without time to do the reading and thinking to produce those posts, but also because after a multi-month break, I’ve just had a hard time getting my blogging mojo back.

            “You seem to be talking about it in a paradigmatic sense, some sort of organizing principle involving expectation?”
            A lot of neuroscientists are coming to the conclusion that the brain is a prediction organ. I often read about the mystery of intentionality, how mental concepts can be about things in the outside world. But if those mental concepts are prediction frameworks, mechanisms to help an organism predict future sensations along with the valence associated with those sensations, then the aboutness just seems like a higher level label for that functionality. It’s a principle with a lot of explanatory power. (At least until any falsifying evidence comes to light.)

            “I don’t buy into this because I don’t think we do experience pure sensations, in a tabula rasa way, outside of contextual and relational factors, whatever those might be.”
            I totally agree.

            “But religious and philosophical ideas, and perhaps those belonging to other types of knowledge, aren’t necessarily best decided by the consensus of experts.”
            I think it depends on the specific ideas. Many of them make no testable predictions, leaving no way to settle differences of opinion about them. There’s no experiment to settle the differences between a consequentialist and a deontologist, or between a Christian and a Muslim. But it’s worth noting that many historical philosophical and religious propositions have been falsified, such as creationism.

            On omniscient, it’s interesting that the vast majority of fiction using third person POV was omniscient until a few decades ago. Definitely it makes conveying a lot of information easier. I think it’s why short fiction, when it used to tell actual stories, used it liberally. A lot of fiction these days is longer than it needs to be due to being rigidly locked in third person limited, particularly the very limited stream of consciousness now in vogue.

            The thing is, with omniscient, you always have the option of tightly focusing on a particular character’s thoughts and motivations, getting most of the benefits of limited, but with the flexibility of being able to pull back and reveal objective information, or switching to a different viewpoint, all without necessarily needing a chapter or scene break. Doing the transitions well does take some skill, but from what I can see, no more than other aspects of writing.

            Anyway, glad it’s working for you!

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          • “BIAR is short for BloggingIsAResponsibility.” Oh. Right. Haha. I’m terrible at recognizing abbreviations.

            I know what you mean about losing the blogging mojo. It’s also so time consuming, at least for me, that I don’t want to get involved unless I have a good chunk of time.

            Is “intentionality” a term now used in neuroscience? (perhaps in some other sense?)

            On relying on experts, yes, it definitely depends on the concrete issue. And of course, there’s a lot of variation on what each person is willing to believe when expert advice comes into conflict with personal opinion. Some of that depends on personality… some people don’t seem to realize they’re making a choice of whose authority to believe when in fact they are making a choice (and perhaps not a good one).

            On omniscient, I’m sensing that it’s coming back, actually. I think the way it’s coming back is a little different, perhaps slightly more careful about head hopping than the old-fashioned novels. Maybe writers are seeing your point—there’s very little sacrifice in character intimacy and you gain a lot of efficiency.

            How’s your fiction writing coming along? Have you been working on anything lately?

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          • “Is “intentionality” a term now used in neuroscience? (perhaps in some other sense?)”

            Not that I’ve seen. They do talk about mental concepts, or image maps, which are understood to be representations of external objects and the environment, and some equate such concepts with predictions. I’m the one linking intentionality in the philosophical sense with those mental concepts / predictions. (Although I’m sure I’m far from the first.)

            “some people don’t seem to realize they’re making a choice of whose authority to believe when in fact they are making a choice (and perhaps not a good one).”

            People often aren’t cognizant of where they’re getting their information. I know I used to get notions from source that, if I’d given it any thought, I would’ve rejected as unreliable. But I think the Catholic situation you noted above shows that sources of authority can lose credibility. (Not that the Catholic church’s credibility among most protestants was strong before.) Astrologers once enjoyed a consensus that their own consensus conclusions were authoritative. So the overall consensus definitely changes.

            On omniscient making a comeback, I’ve noticed that it’s often paired with first person POV, used for scenes where the viewpoint character isn’t present. I think mixing it up with other POVs (first, third limited, etc) is a good way to go. The modern reader doesn’t seem to have any problem switching. Everyone knows these POVs are a gag anyway, that the reality is that the author is always omniscient. The only people I’ve seen object are editors and an occasional persnickety reader.

            On my own fiction writing, unfortunately, I suck. Nothing but fragmentary stuff last year, and zilch so far this year. I need to get my mojo back there too. Maybe I should do a Camp Nanowrimo after all.

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          • “I’m the one linking intentionality in the philosophical sense with those mental concepts / predictions.”

            Another Husserl term that might be useful in talking about prediction is “eidetic variation” (or “imaginative variation”), the process in which the essential features of an object (eidos, idea) are arrived at. (Husserl avoids words like “model” because he wants to avoid making ontological assumptions.) These essences depend on their particular correlates and evolve over time. The tree example you brought up would make sense here. A tree need not have a brown trunk, for instance, even if most do. And you might find this out when you discover a palo verde or birch, and then your tree idea needs to shift or expand to include palo verdes and such. As far as prediction goes, the essence (eidos, idea) of the tree is brought into comparison with some particular tree (or tree-like object) and that idea is imposed until something stops the idea in its tracks. I believe Husserl thought this is how we perceive the world. Our ideas run ahead of particulars and give them shape, otherwise we would encounter each object as an infinity of perspectives. Life would be hard!

            In phenomenology, the “eidetic reduction” is meant to be a deliberate philosophical exercise, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something like this process can be related to subconscious brain activity, although maybe only when the particular thing/event is surprising or doesn’t conform to expectations. Otherwise, if things are going swimmingly—or, as we say, when reality meets expectations—I imagine it would be hard to study a predictive process scientifically?

            “People often aren’t cognizant of where they’re getting their information.” I know I’m not always cognizant either, but I try not to be too forceful about my opinions when I can’t remember the sources I formed them from, which is most of the time. 🙂 Maybe that reluctance has to do with being called to task in philosophy on even common sensical assertions…that doesn’t happen in non-academic areas. But still, I’m not sure how I feel about Facebook being held responsible for spreading false information. Doesn’t everyone know that Facebook is not the place to go for news? I thought that was obvious. On the other hand, maybe there’s more to the situation with Facebook than I’m aware of? I just worry that if FB does attempt to police this situation, people will think it’s a reliable source.

            “The modern reader doesn’t seem to have any problem switching. Everyone knows these POVs are a gag anyway, that the reality is that the author is always omniscient. The only people I’ve seen object are editors and an occasional persnickety reader.”

            Exactly.

            On your own writing, have you ever considered writing historical fiction?

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          • “Husserl avoids words like “model” because he wants to avoid making ontological assumptions.”

            I think the reason I like the word “model” is it gives us an idea of how we might someday accomplish this in AI technology. I usually try to make clear I’m talking about the representations that philosophers talk about and the mental concepts and image maps that neuroscientists often discuss. Philosophers, neurobiologists, and AI researchers use different terminologies. But I realize equating them is provocative for some people, an assumption about a computational mind that many people still find objectionable.

            “Our ideas run ahead of particulars and give them shape, otherwise we would encounter each object as an infinity of perspectives. Life would be hard!”

            It may be possible to experience it given the right drugs, which must effectively knock out the pre-conscious predictive mechanisms. I read an article the other day about research that shows that the experience of babies may be similar to a psychelic trip, precisely because they don’t yet have a vast library of predictive expectations. (Although even babies aren’t completely without expectations. Some are expectations innate, coming with us out of the womb.)
            https://www.wsj.com/articles/for-babies-life-may-be-a-trip-1531932587

            “I imagine it would be hard to study a predictive process scientifically?”

            I think studying pre-conscious predictive processes from the inside is very difficult, perhaps often impossible. I’m reminded of all the optical illusions which persist even after their illusory nature has been clearly demonstrated. And once we see a pattern, it’s extremely difficult to avoid seeing it.

            I’m totally with you on Facebook. But I do know people who pretty much do get their news from it, although most of them can tell the nuttier stories from the more plausible ones. The core problem, I think, is motivated reasoning. People are predisposed to believe bad things, even crazy ones, about parties or groups that they perceive to be against their interests, and to discount negative news about the parties or groups they see as their allies. I wish I could say this was only a conservative thing, but in this Trump era, I’m seeing it a lot on the liberal side too. It seems like the current environment is bringing out the worst in everyone.

            Can’t say I’ve ever considered writing historical fiction. (At least not in the traditional sense. I have pondered writing fiction set in prehistoric times.) I suspect historical fiction readers, similar to science fiction readers, have expectations that the author knows their subject really well, and while I do find history interesting, I don’t know that I’ve ever found it interesting enough to do all the research.

            Interestingly, I read that Robert Howard, the author of the Conan stories, invented the Hyborian age that the stories are set in largely to avoid all the historical research he’d have to do if he set them in an actual historical period. The Hyborian age probably inspired a lot of other fantasy worlds. I have to admit that my own impetus to set stories in other eras and places is at least partly to avoid having to make all those historical or place details consistent with known facts.

            Liked by 1 person

          • A good trick in fiction, if you don’t want to commit to meticulous research or consistency is to imply something without explicitly confirming it. It can be overused (see Doctor Who), but used judiciously it can be a powerful tool.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. She’s baaaaaaaa-aaaack! Yay! Also, D’oh! Because there are certain topics so near and dear that one wants to jump into the discussion immediately without first reading the post or comments… which, of course, one mustn’t do, but it’s like a dog who’s seen you take out the leash! Walkies!!

    For the record, I come at this with pronounced dualist leanings and deist suspicions (I’m even “theist curious”). Nonetheless, I plant my flag on Decisive Agnosticism.

    Nothing-but-ism made sharper thru medical materialism! It reminds me a bit of physicists and multiverses; the latter a “scientific” (ha!) explanation for what otherwise smells faintly of mystisicm — our mysterious existence.

    James’ approach of judging (true) religious experience on its own merits actually seems the more scientific (and, of course, philosophical! 🙂 ) approach. I’ve long thought science was being unscientific when it casually, and with prejudice, dismisses religious experience (so you’ve got me quite interested in James)!

    And I think that first bit you quoted is exactly right. Scientific prejudice. Same as with physicists and multiverses (which are, quite frankly, prepostrous).

    As I see it, traditional empiricism is the source of the medical materialist’s disdain for “spiritual judgement,” or ideas.

    Yes! And the need for multiverses. 😛

    This matter hearkens back to the traditional rationalism/empiricism divide.

    I’m gonna have to go read that link (love SEP!), because I would have thought those two go together like chocolate and caramel. But it looks like it’s a divide between a priori and a posteriori? And I don’t see either of them as “the one right way” — don’t we acquire knowledge in both ways? In some ways (just reading the opening paragraphs of the link) rationalism seems dangerously close to solipsism.

    And, hmmm… I’m not sure I’m down with James attacking my hero, Kant. He Kant do that! 😮 Yet James seems to think both ideas and experience are necessary. I totally agree! I don’t think either rationalism or empiricism is sufficient alone.

    Though he may sound a bit like a Platonist here, but he’s not.

    Ha! Exactly what I was thinking! That lonely “as if” at the very end seem to have a lot to modify! (But then, did even Plato really think the world of Ideal Forms was real? Is James more in line with Plato than it seems?)

    I do like his empiricism. It ties in with my feelings about the moral relativism (or moral absentism almost seems a better term in some cases). So much of this nonsense, “however acutely satisfying at the moment, are inserted into an environment which refuses to bear them out for any length of time.” I.e. (at least for me) when compared to body of global moral thought going back thousands of years.

    I do worry, though… the phrase “post-empirical” world scares me. A lot.

    As far as strong, but fleeting, religious experience goes, he doesn’t give us a pat answer on what to make of it.

    I doubt there is a pat answer. Certainly none has occurred to us ever since philosophers. (No, I’m sure there’s no connection. I’m sure it’s not like quantum… the existence of philosophers precluding the existence of pat answers. I mean… almost certainly probably not… 😀 )

    A key observation for me: Every society of humans, throughout history, has had some sort of metaphysics. To my knowledge, there has never been a truly atheist society. We seem designed to apprehend some form of “god.”

    Which either means we are wired that way for some evolutionary reason — a variety of “medical materialism” — or that it’s a real sense we have of something real. (And in fairness, religion does seem to help build community and may have evolutionary value in that regard. But the feeling of numinosity is profound, which seems weird. Perhaps it is related to feelings of love, which are also, theoretically, have evolutionary value for mating and family.)

    Surely the truly scientific approach would be to take that seriously as a common shared experience? Surely that is just as empirically real as anything else?

    Anyway. To answer your specific questions:

    Does “fruitfulness” succeed in establishing truth? Is experience the proper foundation for knowledge?

    To me the first depends on precise definitions of “fruitfulness” and “truth.” To the extent truth equates with “facts,” I think fruitfulness requires backing with James’ sense of robustness — that fruitfulness has to survive examination. To the extent we’re talking personal truth, I think fruitfulness is a fine criteria. (The personal views — truths — I mentioned to start have borne me fruit throughout my life.)

    Obviously I do think experience is a foundation for knowledge, but I again agree with James about how it needs to survive meeting the real physical world over time. And it must survive critical analysis. Justified True Belief, as they say.

    Glad you and Geordie are still dancing the Flamenco! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • “…one wants to jump into the discussion immediately without first reading the post or comments…”
      Actually, feel free! I don’t expect anyone to study my insanely long-winded posts, but to use them as a (really long) jumping off point for discussion.

      As for rationalism and empiricism, I think this distinction just characterizes a certain aspect of various philosophers who disagreed with each other. I’m sure some people think the distinction doesn’t make sense, but I think it makes it easier to understand the history of philosophy and what everyone was going on about.

      On Kant, yeah, I know! I love Kant. I actually agree with James when he directs his criticism to Kantian noumena (why have that phenomena-noumena distinction at all?) but he often gets sarcastic about it. It seems so strange to me that he can be so fair-minded in general, but not when it comes to Kant.

      “(But then, did even Plato really think the world of Ideal Forms was real? Is James more in line with Plato than it seems?)” Good questions! It’s hard to say in a simple yes or no way what Plato thought of the forms. I think his take on reality was so different from ours that it’s easy to misunderstand him, so I’m reluctant to say Plato thought they were real without explaining his ontology. Our “real” is probably not his “real”. (His “real” is far more thoughtful than ours, in my opinion, but not at all obvious or common sensical.) As for the comparison of the two philosophers, I’ll have to ponder that one! So far I see much more Husserl in James (or rather, historically, it’s James in Husserl…James’ work in psychology inspired Husserl’s phenomenology in big ways).

      “Surely the truly scientific approach would be to take that seriously as a common shared experience? Surely that is just as empirically real as anything else?”

      I wonder if scientific approaches would end up going no further than the material it’s “allowed” to work with? What sort of scientific approach did you have in mind?

      What James did in his book wasn’t science, at least not by our current narrow understanding of the word. But I’m totally agreed with you that religious experience should be an empirical enterprise. The fact that it’s been described throughout history makes the case for me.

      “Obviously I do think experience is a foundation for knowledge, but I again agree with James about how it needs to survive meeting the real physical world over time.” I think James might say that what you’re calling the “real physical world” is actually subsumed in experience. Actually, I’m not even sure he would say anything lies outside of experience. That might explain “A Pluralistic Universe.” (I read it a long time ago and found it too weird.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • As for rationalism and empiricism,…

        The distinction makes sense to me. The idea either one alone is sufficient doesn’t. I can see that historically, it may well have been a serious divide!

        …(why have that phenomena-noumena distinction at all?)(

        Interesting comment! Why do you see no distinction?

        It seems so strange to me that he can be so fair-minded in general, but not when it comes to Kant.

        Did he have a personal antagonism? Or was it more a clash of views? It’s certainly not unheard of in any of the sciences or arts for leading members to clash in almost oddly personal terms. (You’d think if anyone could be above that sort of thing…)

        Our “real” is probably not [Plato’s] “real”.

        Heh, surely not! 🙂

        It’s interesting to me that both Plato and James speak about an abstract world that is the source of certain key thoughts. Whether math is invented or discovered is one of my favorite philosophical conundrums, and the idea of tying numinosity into that is very intriguing!

        I wonder if scientific approaches would end up going no further than the material it’s “allowed” to work with? What sort of scientific approach did you have in mind?

        It can be (and sometimes is) studied at the phenomenological level. Branches of theology explore it. Even psychology gets in on the act.

        Now that the stink Timothy Leary put on hallucinogenic research wore off, there’s been some interesting work that looks at the common experience of spirituality or numinosity under hallucinogenics. As James does, we can ask why those experiences are so common — what do they mean?

        The fact that it’s been described throughout history makes the case for me.

        Yes. Such a fundamental aspect of human history. How can we not ask why? (Or perhaps more accurately: How can we dismiss it as a mass mental aberration?)

        As I mentioned, for me there seems an either-or thing: Either our spiritual feelings have some evolutionary purpose (e.g. building community) or they are a real “sense” of something. Science tends to bet on the former, which is entirely appropriate.

        I just hope it keeps its options open until the book is firmly closed, is all. Science can be narrow-minded sometimes. (Fortunately, it usually can’t get away with it for very long. Facts always win in the end. At least in science.)

        I think James might say that what you’re calling the “real physical world” is actually subsumed in experience.

        (Which seems to make his antagonism towards Kant weird.) Did I misunderstand? Isn’t James an empirical realist? He certainly didn’t seem an idealist to me. His definition of empirical evidence may be broader (and I have no problem with it), but I have the impression he agrees external reality does exist consistently?

        It may not matter here, actually. I did say “actual physical world” but I do mean that in a Kantian sense, you might say. With the understanding none of us knows anything about the APW! I meant that our experiences must jive with the common body of shared experiences we call “the real world.”

        Actually, I’m not even sure he would say anything lies outside of experience.

        To the extent of denying the physical world? If so, I have misunderstood! I better go back and re-read! 😮

        Like

        • “…(why have that phenomena-noumena distinction at all?) Interesting comment! Why do you see no distinction?”
          I see a distinction, but I don’t know whether I put much value in it. This is the main reason why I disagree with Kant. To me it’s a bit perverse to have this un-knowable realm in which we place “things in themselves”, God, freedom, the soul. But at the same time it’s difficult to just toss aside the concept of noumena, because it seems logically feasible. That’s why I like the bracketing in Husserl’s phenomenology. It’s a way of saying, “Let’s get this elephant out of the room, shall we?” Now it’s in the other room, but at least we don’t have to deal with it right now, and we don’t have to construct our epistemology around it. Anyway, I was speaking for James when I made that comment…I think he might say that an unknowable realm of real really reality is useless. I think he has no use for making a big mystery out of things, many of which we can know, though to a lesser degree.

          But this leads to weird consequences for him. I think he believed phenomena and reality were entirely relational, and there are multiple interpenetrating realities. But don’t quote me on this. It’s been a long time since I read “A Pluralistic Universe.”

          “Did I misunderstand? Isn’t James an empirical realist? He certainly didn’t seem an idealist to me. His definition of empirical evidence may be broader (and I have no problem with it), but I have the impression he agrees external reality does exist consistently?”

          “James’s fundamental idea is that mind and matter are both aspects of, or structures formed from, a more fundamental stuff—pure experience—that (despite being called “experience”) is neither mental nor physical.”

          The quote comes from here: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/james/

          I don’t think you misunderstood so much as I failed to explain in this post what he later thought. In Varieties, he doesn’t get into ontology so much. (Maybe that’s why I like it best?) But even there he’s neither a realist nor an idealist. (I don’t think.) And I don’t think he would say “external reality exists consistently”, at least not in the way I think you mean here. But like I say, don’t quote me on this stuff. Here’s what I think: He’s a precursor to phenomenology. His work in psychology gave Husserl a lot of ideas about what we actually experience. Husserl took phenomenology forward, but stopped shy of drawing out ontology from it, whereas James took something similar to phenomenology forward, without knowing that term or what Husserl was doing, but didn’t shy from doing ontology in the wake of it. Hence, a pluralistic universe. However, it’s not clear which components of James’ philosophy (like pragmatism, radical empiricism) are necessarily involved in that pluralistic ontology. I think he himself viewed them as separate, or separable.

          Whew.

          Anyway, there is A LOT going on in James. I prefer to cherry pick.

          Liked by 1 person

          • “To me it’s a bit perverse to have this un-knowable realm in which we place ‘things in themselves’, God, freedom, the soul. But at the same time it’s difficult to just toss aside the concept of noumena, because it seems logically feasible.”

            I think I’m confused about the distinctions between Plato’s Perfect Forms, Kant’s noumena, and James’ abstractions. I’m seeing them as more similar than different.

            But it’s possible I’m very confused about Kant… or over-simplifying, maybe. (Or cherry picking? 🙂 )

            I took Kant’s ‘things-in-themselves’ to connect with his empirical realism. That these ‘things’ truly exist, but can never be known except through our senses (combined with analysis).

            Wiki suggests it’s not clear whether Kant meant ‘things-in-themselves’ and noumenon as synonymous. (I’m no one to say, but I think he didn’t. AIUI, he did believe in an external physical world — but one not directly accessible to us. That would differ from God, etc.) Don’t know if that affects your view or not.

            “That’s why I like the bracketing in Husserl’s phenomenology.”

            Drat. I never did understand that. I’ll have to give it another try.

            “I think [James] might say that an unknowable realm of real really reality is useless.”

            😀 Okay, got it.

            “I think he believed phenomena and reality were entirely relational, and there are multiple interpenetrating realities.”

            That’s certainly true in a trivial sense. One can have a work reality, a home reality, an out with friends reality. Or the reality of ones perceptions versus that of ones beliefs. I kinda get off the bus if we’re talking multiple physical realities. (I am absolutely an empirical realist.)

            [your SEP quote about James]

            Well,… I think that’s an odd ontology… 🙂

            “I don’t think he would say ‘external reality exists consistently’, at least not in the way I think you mean here.”

            I’m pretty sure you’re right about how I mean it: physical, persistent. Something in which we exist (and are a part of). I may have dualist leanings, but I’m not really down with idealism (which I tend to conflate with solipsism).

            “… Hence, a pluralistic universe. However, it’s not clear which components of James’ philosophy (like pragmatism, radical empiricism) are necessarily involved in that pluralistic ontology. I think he himself viewed them as separate, or separable.”

            Hmmm… I’m with you… only the tastier cherries.

            Like

          • “I think I’m confused about the distinctions between Plato’s Perfect Forms, Kant’s noumena, and James’ abstractions. I’m seeing them as more similar than different.”

            Good question! And honestly, I’ve been using “noumena” to mean “Kantian noumena”, and taking the term to be synonymous with “things in themselves”, but there are definitely other kinds of noumena. I just rarely hear that term used outside of discussions on Kant. SO.

            Noumena in the broadest sense is the opposite of phenomena. That’s how I understand it anyway. I realize that’s not saying much, but see, once you define it more specifically, you start to exclude other philosopher’s definitions of it.

            If we were to talk about the phenomena/noumena distinction for Plato, this would amount to: the world we perceive through the senses is phenomena, and the forms—mathematical triangles, etc.—is noumena. Plato thought the forms were not only knowable, but the MOST knowable (once you drag yourself out of the cave and all that.) For Plato, noumena is not unknowable—it’s the highest knowledge there is.

            Now my interpretation of Kant is that he believed “things in themselves” were noumena=unknowable. I believe this is the standard interpretation. Anyway, it’s not my own…we all took this interpretation for granted in class, but I’m sure there are Kant scholars who have a far more nuanced take. Anyway. According to this interpretation of Kant, “things in themselves” are independent of me and my experiences. I can’t get outside of or around myself to know “things in themselves.” I can only know things as they appear to me (and through the categories that belong solely to my mind, such as space, time, and causality). Phenomena=the world as it appears to me=knowable. Noumena=the world in itself=unknowable.

            But things get weird in this scheme. He seems to think we need to posit noumena as a way of pointing towards something beyond our (subjective) knowledge. But I don’t see why. I think this sharp division causes him to contradict himself all over the place and make distinctions that don’t matter. On the other hand, I get the goal of his project—to save causality from Hume’s skepticism. Kant wanted to delve into this subjective realm of pure reason to show where causality resides, and why it’s so important, but he didn’t want to fall into solipsism. So he needed to separate the mind and all its categories from whatever it is that’s really out there. Hence, noumena.

            In the end, I think we need to get rid of this idea that the world in itself is utterly unknowable. This is, I believe, where James stands, although I don’t know if or where he confronts noumena head on.

            As for whether James posits multiple physical realities, I don’t know. It’s been too long since I’ve read his other works, and I never understood them in them in the first place. That was probably my fault, not his.

            On the other hand, Trump supporters seem to live in a different reality. Maybe James was onto something. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • Noumena in the broadest sense is the opposite of phenomena.

            I’m obviously going to have to go review Kant, because I had the sense he meant something different between “things-in-themselves” and noumena! (Although both are external.)

            In the end, I think we need to get rid of this idea that the world in itself is utterly unknowable.

            Agreed. Perhaps not fully knowable, but certainly not utterly unknowable!

            On the other hand, Trump supporters seem to live in a different reality.

            True, but we’re talking more psychology there, I think. And ignorance… massive ignorance!

            Liked by 1 person

          • “I had the sense he meant something different between “things-in-themselves” and noumena! (Although both are external.)”

            You might be right! I suspect if you delve into the Critique, you’ll find evidence to support both views. (Kant is not super duper consistent, though he writes in a way that gives you the impression he is.) That said, if the case can be made that the terms mean different things, that would be a more generous interpretation of Kant, which I would applaud.

            “On the other hand, Trump supporters seem to live in a different reality.
            True, but we’re talking more psychology there, I think. And ignorance… massive ignorance!”

            Yeah. I know. I just couldn’t resist the joke.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article, Tina, for which many thanks. I read TVORE many years ago and recall warming to his even handedness, and the pragmatism you refer to — it’s hard to dismiss the sanctuary that so many find in their beliefs, and which sustains them through unbearable hardship. (I think of the Chilean miners, the 33, and how to a man they said their prayers and faith kept them going when all seemed lost). Perhaps it’s unfortunate that the word ‘religious’ appears in the title, as transcendent experiences (even ‘experience’ can be off-beam — some profound intuitions are barely that), and as Mike suggests above, are (I would hazard) as common outside of religion as in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello! Hello! It’s been so long…I’ve missed these conversations. I’m not at all surprised that you’ve read this one, it’s right up your alley. I know what you mean about the title. It’s a great-sounding title, but it’s too narrow for what he actually takes on. But the only other word I can think of is “spiritual”, and that sounds wrong too. What do we call…it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dunno Tina, it’s hard really, because ‘religious’, ‘transcendent’ and ‘spiritual’ all seem to miss the mark by some considerable margin. I suspect that what’s common amongst such experiences/intuitions is that they leave a lasting impression, and to some extent are transformative, if often only mildly so. I suppose ‘Transformative Intuitions’ might come close, if we were to tie those two things together? Intuitions alone aren’t necessarily transformative, and transformative experiences aren’t necessarily intuited — but the two happening at once feels about right to me. I don’t think people who undergo such moments/phases necessarily appear to others transformed in any way — i.e. their social selves stay as they were — but inwardly something shifts, and stays shifted, I think it true to say from what I can gather.

        I’m so pleased you’re cracking on with your novel — I want to buy it, want to know how Isaac at Winston is coming along, so hurry up! 😉 My own wee novella has undergone three redrafts in the past six months or so and I think has more or less gone as far as I can help it go. Sheesh, I realise now why writers all seem to say that first drafts are invariably rubbish. I tried your tip of reading aloud but ran out breath all the time; and I’m so addicted to semi-colons. Is that a bad thing? How do you feel about semi-colons these days?

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        • I agree that it’s hard to sum up in a title what he’s talking about. I get the feeling he wouldn’t like “intuitions” because that sounds like a Kantian term. 🙂

          Yes, first drafts are rubbish. The fifth draft is rubbish too. I don’t know which draft is not rubbish, but I’m pretty sure the rubbish stops at some point after I lose count.

          “I tried your tip of reading aloud but ran out breath all the time; ”
          HA! Well, is that the voice you want your reader to hear? If so, go…hugh…od…good…hugh…hugh…

          As for semi colons, I’m a fan. I think one of my first stories was titled something like, “Sitting in a Semicolon”. I’m starting to break into colon territory, though. I mean the sort followed by many semi-colons. What do you think?

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          • I’m afraid I can’t respond to your post with any of the degree of knowledge of philosophy which your other readers are able to, Tina, but have looked-up Kantian intuition. His idea seems to be (I’m likely incorrect or hopelessly incomplete here, so let me know) that any genuine ‘religious’ intuition/experience would require an objective referent — such as a god or heavenly realm or the fact of an underlying unicity in the world — from which it is derived, rather than it being some kind of lightning-speed thought appearing out of nowhere, so creating gods etc. purely in mind via intellection.

            But I think these intuitions as experiences, are just that, in that they (genuine ones) do have referents; their origin is not a mind-construct but necessitates mind-contact (i.e. a loose memory or representation of the object — ‘something weird happened / or is happening’) in order to confirm and seemingly derive their existence and occurrence. This would explain why they can’t be satisfactorily described, only pointed to in thought via negation i.e. describing what they are not. The experiencer-subject, though likely having disappeared as such, would know something weird happened yet can’t reconstruct it in mind because the necessary tools as words or images aren’t available. Over to you for clarification and correction!

            Like

          • “Kant’s idea seems to be…any genuine ‘religious’ intuition/experience would require an objective referent — such as a god or heavenly realm or the fact of an underlying unicity in the world — from which it is derived,”

            Just so long as you mean ‘referent’ in a way that preserves the phenomena/noumena distinction. Kant wouldn’t say, for instance, that an idea or experience of God establishes God’s existence, since we don’t know what’s really “on the other side” of our experience. Actually, the segment of his Critique of Pure Reason called the “antinomies” is devoted to this point. He believes God’s existence or non-existence is utterly unknowable and beyond the limits of pure reason. (But he thought we ought to believe in God as a matter of faith, for practical reasons):

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kant%27s_antinomies

            But if Kant were to leave aside pure reason, I’m not sure what he would call a “legitimate” religious experience, or whether that would necessitate an objective referent.

            But James doesn’t like the phenomena/noumena distinction…in other words, I don’t think he buys into this idea that there is “the other side of experience”, or that the world “in-itself” is forever inaccessible to us. So yes, for him, legitimate religious experience is not a mind construct. It’s possible to be skeptical about the experience’s meaning, value, and implications, but the experience itself is a fact. Now, if that experience should be “of God”, there’s no Kantian limit to pure reason that requires us to deny ourselves knowledge of God’s existence (thereby dismissing the experience as purely mental or subjective) but there might be other factors that do (like, for instance, the rest of experience, or even the quality of that one experience, and so on…)

            I hope this makes sense?

            Liked by 1 person

          • Thank you Tina, and your reply (sort of) makes sense to me, but again, your level of understanding in philosophy eclipses my own by an absurd degree. Still, I can’t help but feel that nothing much is to be gained by speculations on this, as in doing so one is forever anchored on one side of the proposition, which is to say contained within thought-constructs, belief, predispositions, and so forth, which are all personal and conditioned, no matter to what extent we may adapt those things through book-learning and reasoning. And it seems to me things soon get fruitless when we start talking vaguely about ‘God’ and the ‘spiritual’. I think the test of any genuine so-called ‘religious experience’ (again, both terms misleading in my view) is whether or not their transformative effects remain over one’s lifetime. To be clear, I’m not talking about getting fixed into supposed certainties; in my view the genuine so-called RE is beyond both certainty and doubt, which are mind qualities alone.

            As regards the origins of genuine transformative intuitions (REs), then by ‘referent’ I mean no more than a state of affairs within the world that the mind has not previously contacted. I don’t mean something forever inaccessible in its objectivity or ontological status. For example, a person may have a realisation (better to say it becomes ‘actualised’) that their awareness (i.e. the illumination of their conscious mental objects) is not a personal ‘thing’ which is contained and bordered by the brain and nervous system, as that’s to place a non-dimensional (hmm . . .) ‘quality’ within the constraints of space. In this instance, the illuminative ‘quality’ of awareness (if one accepts such an idea) was never objectively inaccessible and forever removed; it just had never been actualised previously — because conscious streams of thought and feeling had beclouded it. There is no separation in this actualisation, because what’s actualised isn’t a phenomenon which can stand of itself; it’s more like (don’t take it literally) awareness folding back onto itself, or knowing itself in and as its own featureless-ness. What’s ‘seen’ (many say and in many different ways) is that there was always a unicity in the world, and it was only the mind that divided the world into ‘things’ as absolutes of discrete phenomena. Sorry to blather on, just trying to explain myself.

            Like

          • I was just trying to speak to Kant’s take on these things, which isn’t my own. I don’t think it’s yours either. Anyway, bringing him in turns this already sticky matter into a stickier one.

            “I think the test of any genuine so-called ‘religious experience’ (again, both terms misleading in my view) is whether or not their transformative effects remain over one’s lifetime.”

            I tend to agree with this, for the most part, as I tend to like having the proof in my pudding, although I wouldn’t want to make it the sole criterion of genuine “REs”. Actually, I wouldn’t want to put myself in the position of judging them, particularly since I have never had one.

            “What’s ‘seen’ (many say and in many different ways) is that there was always a unicity in the world, and it was only the mind that divided the world into ‘things’ as absolutes of discrete phenomena. Sorry to blather on, just trying to explain myself.”

            Holism, essentially?

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          • Reluctant to use ‘isms’ as invariably they vary, and are many-hued. But loosely, yes, certainly in terms of the RE itself, although who knows as regards it (what’s experienced) being a fundamental property of the universe?

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  4. Hi Tina, wonderful to read something from you again. I am still offline with my blogs and hope I will have time soon to bring them back to life. I will take a couple of days free soon. Too much to do at the moment. I am actually a bit too tired to read your article completely today, I will come back to it tomorrow.

    My thoughts on your question, in a nutshell: rationalism and empiricism are both partially wrong and partially right. Knowledge is generated by experience, by means of reason. Without reason, i.e. some process or algorithm to process the sense data and some language or set of representations (data structures etc.), nothing would form out of the sense data. However, this “reason” is not a fixed thing. It is developing in creative steps. It is historical (across individuals, in cultural and historical developments) and biographical (historical inside the life of a human being). The totality of these creative steps in which reason develops is not formalizable, i.e. it cannot be completely described in terms of a formal theory or algorithm. Reason is a historically developing proteon. The state of reason at a given time does not contain enough information to predict which variations or creative steps are going to work, which ones will be successful (similar to the situation in biology where mutations occur but it cannot be predicted which ones are going to work – the previous state of the organism before a change does not contain enough information to predict what will be successful, i.e. evolution is not orthogenetic or teleological). In a similar way, the development of reason is not orthogenetic. What works can only be seen in hindsight. The extended theories, languages, algorithms, analytical spaces are tested against reality, and here, empiricism comes in again. Reason develops empirically. Classical rationalism is wrong in viewing all thought processes as “rational” logical processes of inference. Classical empiricism is wrong in not understanding how the sense data is being processed by rational processes.

    So we might think of cognition consisting of two different types of processes: “rational” processes that we might think of as the application of algorithms, and “creative” processes that can be viewed as algorithmic only in hindsight, when a new, larger theory or algorithm has formed. They are akin to mutations in biology or the application of a productive function in math.

    So cognition or intelligence needs both: formal/algorithmic/logic reason that can be modeled as computation, and creativity that can also be modeled as computation (as the application of productive functions (see https://arxiv.org/pdf/1608.04672v1.pdf) that create a new formal theory or algorithm that can do more than the previous one). The strange thing here is that if you try to include this productive or creative mechanism inside the algorithmic rationality, you get a limited algorithm instead of something creative. The creative mechanism has to be applied from the outside, it is not under the control of the algorithmic knowledge itself. Think of biological mutations: they do not happen under the control of the genes of an organism. The genome of the organism does not contain enough information to control its own evolution. Something has to come in from outside its control. In the nervous system, that might be (for example) something like the growth of additional neurons or synapses, happening outside of the control of the neuronal network and changing how it works.

    What you get as a result is a hermeneutic process of knowledge generation that cannot be formalized (if you try to formalize hermeneutics, it becomes special, if you make it general, you can no longer describe it completely and exactly – generality and exactness of descriptions are mutually exclusive goals). What we have is a creative hermeneutic circle of knowledge generation. The knowledge consists of parts (analytical spaces) that can be described as formal theories or algorithms. But algorithms alone are always limited. A creative mind is a proteon, i.e. it cannot be completely described in terms of an algorithm (with other words, as long as AI researchers do not figure out how to build artificial cognitive proteons, their systems will remain systems, i.e. limited in their capabilities).

    I hope this is at least partially understandable. 🙂

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    • I would interpret “fruitfulness” as success of analytical spaces. It means that they work. This does not necessarily mean “truth”. We can never be sure (there are no a-priory Kantian certainties, the categories and forms of intuition are also just analytical spaces, and they develop historically and biographically). Knowledge is not “justified true belief” or anything like that. It is always partially wrong, contains gaps, is partially vague etc. I would still call it knowledge and we can always improve it.
      Basically, pragmatism is on the right track, I think.

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    • “Too much to do at the moment. I am actually a bit too tired to read your article completely today, I will come back to it tomorrow.”

      No worries! I’m just happy to be chatting with you again. And don’t worry about reading the whole thing. I wasn’t too happy with the way it came out, but I talked myself into hitting “publish” just to get it out of my sight.

      I think I have a sense of what you’re getting at here. I wonder if by “ratio” you mean “ratiocination”? (This sounds vaguely familiar to me…did we discuss this while working on the translation of Frege?)

      “What you get as a result is a hermeneutic process of knowledge generation that cannot be formalized…What we have is a creative hermeneutic circle of knowledge generation.”

      Hermeneutic circle—how very Heideggarian of you! 😉

      I wonder if creativity makes this is a hermeneutic spiral, then?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Replace “reason” for “ratio”. I mean the English translation of German “Vernunft”. I am not a native speaker and sometimes use the wrong word (got it mixed up with Latin here, sorry for the confusion).

        You might have read some articles by me along similar lines. I plan to write something larger about the whole thing. If I can get it ready before the end of the year, I might try to submit it to “Borderless Philosophy”, see https://www.cckp.space/single-post/2018/07/23/BP2-2019-First-Call-For-Submissions (maybe something for you as well?).

        The central text about philosophical hemeneutics is Hans-Georg Gadamer’s “Truth and Method”, which was indeed inspired by Heidegger. I have only had a brief look into it myself so far, I hope to get around to it at some time. I see parallels there to my own ideas (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_and_Method).

        Liked by 1 person

        • You do a phenomenal job of writing in English. The word has been changed.

          Thanks for the information about “Borderless Philosophy”. It looks like an interesting philosophical publication, an fun alternative to the academic stuff I often see. Good luck on submitting!

          Liked by 1 person

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