Monday, January 3, 2011

The Spirit World Revisited



Many deny the reality and dangers of the spirit world. In some cases, their worldview rules out any consideration of its reality; in other cases, initiates are so desperate to believe that they are plugging into something benign. In The facts on Spirit Guides, John Ankerberg and John Weldon sound the alarm about this often ignored world, which carries such a high price tag. They warn of the strong association between spiritism and mental illness:

“One discovers many mental patients who are mentally ill precisely because they are demonized. This is born out by the research of German psychiatrist and parapsychologist Hans Bender who coined the term “mediumistic psychosis’; by theologian and psychologist Kurt Koch; and by clinical psychologist and Swedenborgian Wilson Van Dusen, who has examined thousands of patients and noted the parallels to spiritistic experiences and phenomena.” (27)

However, the spirits do not gain a foothold by advertising the costs, one of which is suicide. According to Ankerberg and Weldon, there have been,

• “…innumerable cases where the ‘loving’ spirits have deliberately induced emotional dependence upon their advice and then at a moment of weakness encouraged their contact to commit suicide. And this has been occurring for decades, probably even centuries. In the 1920 text The Menace of Spiritualism, case after case of tragedy is listed.”
(37)

The authors have compiled their own list of horrors that have stalked mediums:

“Arthur Ford became a morphine addict and alcoholic…Bishop Pike died a tragic death…The biography on [Edgar] Cayce by Joseph Millar reveals the extent of suffering Cayce’s occultic involvement cost him—from psychic attacks to mysterious fires…Many channelers seem to succumb to various vices later in life.” (39)

Although they describe the medium M. Lamar Keene as “fraudulent,” from his book, The Psychic Mafia, the authors cite:

• “All the mediums I’ve known or known about have had tragic endings. The Fox sisters, who started it all, wound up as alcoholic derelicts. William Slade…died insane in a Michigan sanitarium. Margery, the medium, lay on her deathbed a hopeless drunk….Wherever I looked it was the same: mediums, at the end of their tawdry life, dying a tawdry death.”
(39-40)

Violence was another price to be paid:

• “Spiritist and guru Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual advisor at the United Nations observes, ‘Many, many black magicians and people who deal with spirits have been strangled or killed. I know because I’ve been near quite a few of these cases.’”
(40)

• “Dr. Kurt Koch observed after 45 years of counseling the occultly oppressed that from his own experience ‘numerous cases of suicide, fatal accidents, strokes and insanity are to be observed among occult practitioners…Anyone who has had to observe for 45 years the effects of spiritism can only warn people with all the strength at his disposal.”
(40)

These observations parallel our more global observations regarding the fate of spiritistic cultures. In Whence the “Noble Savage,” Patrick Frank, summarizes the research regarding analysis of ancient burial sites of spiritistic cultures. The findings, for instance, demonstrate that the violent death rates of British Columbian Native Americans (27-33%) far exceeded even the violent death rate of 20th century Europe and the US (1%). Frank also adds,

“The Southwest is dotted with finds of people killed en masse…These indications of war, violent deaths, mutilations and cannibalism are from tribal societies that experienced no European or modern contact, thus contradicting the idea that peoples who were free from European influence lived relatively peaceful lives.” (Skeptic Mag. Vol 9, #1,2001, 54-60)

Spiritistic societies build no hospitals, establish no universities, and build no enduring institutions. Instead, according to their own reports, they have been spirit-ravaged. Ankerberg and Weldon and also list some books by spiritists who have found refuge in Christ:

1. Victor Ernest, I talked with Spirits
2. Ben Alexander, Out from Darkness
3. Raphel Gasson, The Challenging Counterfeit

They conclude, “What is amazing is that the evidence is there for all to see and yet it is ignored.” (38) This may be “amazing,” but it’s also frustratingly true!

27 comments:

  1. Are you sure they don't have their analysis backwards ie. people who are predisposed to these mental illnesses are also more likely to think there is some "spirit world" (due to the illness perhaps)?
    It seems certainly true that people with temporal lobe epilepsy "suffer" religious experiences due to their condition, and those who are schizo-types personalities often have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality.
    It also seems to me that it is these conditions which cause the "problems", as when they are treated, the religious experiences or fantasy worlds diminish or disappear.

    What your sources (and you) need to do is demonstrate that it is spirits causing the mental problems and not the mental problems causing a belief in spirits.
    My understanding of the current evidence of psychology and neuroscience would seem to make that prospect very difficult for them and you :-)

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  2. Havok,

    There is also as much reason to believe the opposite thing -- that depressed people have a more accurate assessment of both self and reality, according to numerous psychologists.

    You really need to read/investigate these accounts. From a distance, it's easy to say that these experiences are just mental phenomena, but when you examine them more closely, this hypothesis evaporates in many instances.

    Have you investigated after-death-experiences?

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  3. Daniel, you're not addressing my argument. That depressed people (that would be mild to moderate depression, I imagine) have a more accurate assessment of themselves has little to no bearing on what I was claiming - that it isn't spirits which cause mental illness, but mental illness which causes "spirits".

    Mann: this hypothesis evaporates in many instances.
    That the vast majority of the claimed experiences can be explained in purely physical terms should make us rather sceptical of those which currently don't have an explanation - it's like betting against a horse which has won every race it's been in.
    Secondly, simply because something currently lacks an explanation doesn't mean that you can insert any old explanation you'd like, or that a natural explanation is impossible. You would need to provide a detailed explanation for the phenomena instead of your usual premature claim of victory.
    Also, I'd be interested in just what these instances are which defy natural explanation (in your opinion).

    Mann: Have you investigated after-death-experiences?
    Have you done so sceptically, or do you simply accept NDE's as veridical because it supports your presuppositions in some fashion?
    It seems that in every case of NDE and OBE where we have enough evidence to make the call, a natural explanation is available. In other cases where we lack the evidence, it seems rather premature to claim that a natural explanation has failed.

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  4. Havok,

    You claim that "mental illness which causes "spirits"." I did address this by replying that the "mentally ill" might be less likely to concoct such a thing than the "healthy."

    "That the vast majority of the claimed experiences can be explained in purely physical terms should make us rather sceptical of those which currently don't have an explanation - it's like betting against a horse which has won every race it's been in."

    You commit a logical fallacy by excluding the middle option -- that some are frauds, but some are genuine. You insist that they all must be one or the other -- one size fits all! It would be like saying that that all investigations are either fraudulent or honest.

    Regarding NDEs, you stated, "In other cases where we lack the evidence, it seems rather premature to claim that a natural explanation has failed."

    While you are willing to make a judgment about those fraudulent experiences, you are unwilling to make a judgment about those experiences that have been debunked. Instead, allow them to speak for themselves. Otherwise, you are merely embracing a biased sample to justify your own presuppositions.

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  5. Mann: I did address this by replying that the "mentally ill" might be less likely to concoct such a thing than the "healthy."
    No, you tried to form an analogy to studies which show depressed people are/can be more "accurate" in their self assessment. This seems most likely due to depressed people being more "negative" than non-depressed people, rather than them actually being more "accurate" in their assessment (though that is the result).
    In the case of the mental illnesses I mentioned, there seems to be very good evidence that the illness causes the experiences, so your analogy would seem to fail anyway.

    Mann: You commit a logical fallacy by excluding the middle option -- that some are frauds, but some are genuine. You insist that they all must be one or the other -- one size fits all! It would be like saying that that all investigations are either fraudulent or honest.
    No, I'm simply asking you what reason there is to think any are legitimate since all those which have been investigated have been found to be delusions etc. You can claim that some of them "might" be legitimate, but without evidence to support the claim, simply relying upon a lack of evidence, your claim can be ignored - you might be correct but you've given no reason to think that is the case.

    Mann: Instead, allow them to speak for themselves. Otherwise, you are merely embracing a biased sample to justify your own presuppositions.
    I do, Daniel. I accept that people had an experience. What I'm not doing (and what you seem explicitly to be doing) is going beyond that simple statement to the claim that the experience was something "after death".
    Why would you think that when you discount so many other experiences (such as those by Buddhists who find no God)? Why can't you simply let them speak for themselves rather than embracing your own biases and presuppositions?

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  6. Basically, as I see it, you've painted yourself into a corner. You want to accept the testimony that these things (religious experiences, NDE's etc) are veridical, but ONLY when they agree with your biased view. Someone who claims to have experienced Jesus is (probably) correct on your view, but someone who experiences Vishnu is (probably incorrect). Yet your own claims regarding this seem to limit your ability to make this sort of discrimination in anything other than a subjective manner - "I'm a Christian, therefore those who claim to experience actually do, while those who experience Vishnu have been deluded". You don't seem to see that the exact same charge can be made by a Hindu against your own claims.
    What you need is some objective means or methodology (or as objective as possible) to discriminate here, and as far as I can tell, that is basically what I'm advocating here - intersubjective empirical enquiry (or, basically, scientific investigation).

    You seem to rail against subjecting your own claims and experiences to this sort of investigation (because, presumably, you fear what is likely to be concluded), but have never provided even a hint of how any sort of investigative methodology which doesn't already assume the conclusion(s) you wish to reach can be achieved, while still reaching those conclusions.

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  7. Havok,

    I agree with you. I think we both have a strong tendency to embrace the facts that support our paradigm and marginalize the others. There is a very intimate dance that occurs between the “facts” and the way we interpret them, which requires a continual scrutiny and realignment of both polarities.

    In this re-examination, if you could produce just one instance (fact) that could affirm that just one thing is natural, unequivocally standing apart from any purpose or ID, I think you could strengthen your case immensely.

    BACK TO SPIRIT BEINGS, you wrote, “Why would you think that when you discount so many other experiences (such as those by Buddhists who find no God)? Why can't you simply let them speak for themselves rather than embracing your own biases and presuppositions?”

    Actually, I think that I’m doing the same thing that you are doing – questioning their interpretation of their experiences. Many Buddhists claim to have encounters with spirit beings, and they have even generated teachings and literature regarding what to do when confronted with these evil beings. While I acknowledge these encounters, I would add that they can not be understood from their monistic perspective.

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  8. Mann: In this re-examination, if you could produce just one instance (fact) that could affirm that just one thing is natural, unequivocally standing apart from any purpose or ID, I think you could strengthen your case immensely.
    I imagine you'll shift the goal posts here, but here goes nothing.
    Quantum Phenomena are statistically "random". not sure how you would "infer intelligence" from this.
    Or in biological evolution, mutation is basically random (different types may have different statistical characteristics). Selection seems similarly "undirected", being a result of environmental factors.

    I imagine you'll now retreat into some gap now and claim that, since I haven't explained the origin of quantum phenomena, or some specific trait of an organism (the origin of life is also a popular retreat), I haven't answered your question.

    How about something supernatural?
    Please ensure your explanation is more than simply an argument from personal incredulity.
    We've discussed intentional explanations previously - I hope you'll see fit to provide a detailed one this time (whether your own or that of someone else) :-)

    Mann: Actually, I think that I’m doing the same thing that you are doing – questioning their interpretation of their experiences.
    You assume your subjective bias is true and try to explain the experiences through that lens. But your own experience could be explained by a Hindu in the same fashion - how are we to distinguish between your "interpretation" and theirs?
    I'm (trying) to point to a method/process to explain these experiences without begging the question. You're providing nothing of the sort.

    Mann: Many Buddhists claim to have encounters with spirit beings, and they have even generated teachings and literature regarding what to do when confronted with these evil beings.
    I imagine they don't see (all) of them as evil - you're putting your own subjective interpretation on things. A buddhist could provide an interpretation of your own experience consistent with their buddhism beliefs.

    Mann: While I acknowledge these encounters, I would add that they can not be understood from their monistic perspective.
    An argument from personal incredulity again?
    Obviously the "encounters" can be understood, since Buddhists do interpret and understand their experiences (and presumably those claimed by people such as yourself) within their own perspective.
    Perhaps you'd like to explain this claim further Daniel?

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  9. And you've still not provided a reason to think these experiences are actually to be taken to be veridical, rather than simply mental/neurological phenomena.
    In light of the evidence that these experiences can be physically induced, are mistaken/delusional when they can/have been investigated, and are often contradictory in nature (God/No God etc), as mentioned previously, surely we ought to have such a reason before we accept them as veridical (even if/when the experience is our own)?

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  10. Havok,

    You responded, "And you've still not provided a reason to think these experiences are actually to be taken to be veridical, rather than simply mental/neurological phenomena."

    Let's take Jesus' Resurrection for example. It couldn't have been "simply mental/neurological phenomena." He was seen over a 40 day period, by many people at the same time -- 500 on one occasion. Further, the witnesses never retracted their testimony. Many even suffered martyrdom rather than retract.

    It strains credulity that this many people over this period of time could have all succumbed to the same pathology or hallucinations.

    ABOUT RANDOM MOVEMENT OF PARTICLES UNGOVERNED BY LAWS -- I think that this is problematic for both of our worldviews. I also wonder how scientists could ever conclude that the movements are truly random.

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  11. Mann: Let's take Jesus' Resurrection for example.
    Lets do just that.

    Mann: It couldn't have been "simply mental/neurological phenomena."
    Lets see...

    Mann: He was seen over a 40 day period, by many people at the same time -- 500 on one occasion.
    The earliest witness we have to this is Paul, whose writings equate all of the appearances to his own, which seems to be a revelatory experience (from reading the OT?), or if Acts is to be believed, a light and/or voice, rather than experiencing a flesh and blood person. Nothing which can't be accounted for by mental phenomena so far.

    Mann: Further, the witnesses never retracted their testimony. Many even suffered martyrdom rather than retract.
    Really? We have very sketchy records of these martyrdoms, and no idea whether claiming they had a vision of Jesus (which is what is claimed of Paul in Acts) would have saved them.
    The "who would die for a lie?" claim is rather weak, Daniel.

    Mann: It strains credulity that this many people over this period of time could have all succumbed to the same pathology or hallucinations.
    And we only have the Gospels to go on for this time period (to my knowledge). Essentially anonymous works, with obvious theological rather than historical objectives, drawing events from existing literature and reinterpreting it, the earliest of which records no resurrection appearances, and the latter 3 (which tend to borrow from the earlier) diverge wildly at this point.

    No, since the resurrection can be easily dealt with by appealing to what we know of mythical/theological literature, without the need to invoke an actual "resurrection".

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  12. Mann: ABOUT RANDOM MOVEMENT OF PARTICLES UNGOVERNED BY LAWS -- I think that this is problematic for both of our worldviews.
    Who said anything about "ungoverned"? QM is statistically random. It is after all one of the most successful and accurate theories in the history of science.
    Not sure what difficulty QM demonstrates for Naturalism.
    For supernaturalism, some people see it as a way for God to intervene without being detected, But that simply means God is indistinguishable from random noise - not the God most people conceive of (and certainly not the God of Chrisitianity, unless he's been demoted).

    Mann: I also wonder how scientists could ever conclude that the movements are truly random.
    Math - statistics in particular. Of course we probably couldn't distinguish between a truly random source and a sufficiently "complex" pseudo random source, but to the limits of our knowledge, quantum phenomena are truly statistically random (it's a part of the theory after all). A change to this would modify the theory completely, since it is actually built in.

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  13. Havok,

    How can you maintain that the activity of the sub-atomic particles are "governed" by laws, while at the same time you are using them as an example of something that defies ID governance?

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  14. Daniel, this would be very close to shifting the goal posts.
    There is no indication that an intelligence guides the "particles" (doubt that's the right term for the quantum world).
    We can model their behaviour, and that behaviour is statistical in nature - we can glean some consistent "stuff" out of the fuzz :-)

    As I said, you're likely to retreat into the "laws" or some such, where there is ignorance. That wouldn't be sporting of you.

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  15. Mann: ID governance
    Daniel, please elucidate me into exactly what you mean here? I know you're referring to the "laws of physics" (which we've somewhat dealt with), but how does (some sort of) consistency equal ID (either implicitely or explicitely)?
    And preferably not appeals to "elegance" or suchlike thanks :-)

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  16. Havok,

    I don't think you've resolved your conundrum: that particles are ungoverned (non-ID) and yet they are governed.

    Of course, I'm arguing that the laws of physics do reflect ID. I've already written extensively in support of this position: http://mannsword.blogspot.com/2010/09/idolatry-present-style.html
    http://mannsword.blogspot.com/2010/03/naturalism-vs-supernaturalism.html

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  17. Mann: that particles are ungoverned (non-ID) and yet they are governed.
    You'll need to do a lot of work to equate governed (ie. regularities) with ID. I doubt the connection can be made in the manner you require.

    Mann: Of course, I'm arguing that the laws of physics do reflect ID. I've already written extensively in support of this position:
    And when you do argue in support, there always seems to be (important) questions you are unable to answer.

    You also need to support your supernatural phenomena (the resurrection as presented is unimpressive), as well as reasons why we ought to take experiences of the "spirit world" as veridical (in light of the evidence that they can be and often are purely mental/neurological phenomena).

    In short, you have some serious work cut out for you :-)

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  18. Havok,

    In summary (I'm summarizing because I think we are just going around in circles), there are extensive and I think unimpeachable evidences and testimonies regarding the extra-material world. Further, there is no evidence whatsoever for the materialistic notion that there is nothing beyond the material/natural.

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  19. Of course we're.going around in circles - you're not supporting your contentions.

    Funny that you claim "unimpeachable" evidence, but have failed to actually provide any. The assumption of naturalist seems the reasonable position to take in the absence of supporting evidence,as well as the evidence we now have regarding the source of these experiences being the brain rather than some "other reality.

    If you want to go on believing that these experiences are real, then that is fine, but don't mistake your belief for knowledge in this case - it seems its a belief held in spite of the evidence, not because it.

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  20. Havok,

    You come to the spirit world with your eyes closed and mind made up, assuming that all of the many, even ubiquitous testimonies are either fraudulent or psychotic. I think you need to visit people who practice various forms of spiritism and see for yourself.

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  21. Mann: You come to the spirit world with your eyes closed and mind made up, assuming that all of the many, even ubiquitous testimonies are either fraudulent or psychotic.
    Not at all. I come to it with evidence that these experiences can be explained without recourse to actual spirits, and ask what evidence you have that they're not purely physical.
    You've provided nothing remotely convincing as yet. I could quite easily turn your accusation around and say that you come to these questions with your mind firmly made up that there are spirits, and are unable to look at things in a more objective manner (you certainly haven't shown any inclination to do so).

    Mann: I think you need to visit people who practice various forms of spiritism and see for yourself.
    And I suspect you need to investigate the claims of others and your own experiences a little more, to try to distance yourself from your own obvious biases and try to objectively investigate them.
    Thus far you're relying purely on subjective testimony and have provided not means of differentiating between legitimate and false/delusional experiences.

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  22. Havok,

    The validity of a paradigm is established in many ways. One way is to assess its fit with the rest of the facts. As we know that a piece belongs to a given puzzle because of its fit, we can also feel confident about the reality of spiritism because of its fit with the rest of known reality.

    It conforms to the Bible, my own experience, and the experience of millions of others. It explains the poor showing of spiritistic societies and the superior showing of Christian societies. It explains the horrible fate of those who partake in its rituals and the beneficent fate of those who escape the spirits through the surpassing power of Christ. It explains after-death experiences and "extra'sensory" experiences. It even gives us a superior explanation for UFO experiences. I'm at a loss to find anything that disconfirms this paradigm.

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  23. 1) The bible is flawed as a means of finding truth. It frequently fails when compared with external controls (archaeology, "hard" sciences, history).
    2) The experience of those who do not share your religious beliefs seem to resemble your own experience (or interpretation thereof) only superficially.
    3) We have a perfectly good explanation for these phenomena (as occurring in the mind/brain) and the alternative hypothesis lacks supporting evidence.
    4) "NDE"s have generally been found to be due to the brain dying, and have not been shown to provide any information (and often the information believed gained has been false).
    5) Your hypothesis postulates disembodied minds of some kind, but since minds require physical substrate (brains), and as the evidence currently suggests, are solely a result of those substrates (the mind is what the brain does), postulating "immaterial beings" simply to explain phenomena which have a reasonable and evidenced explanation already is far from plausible.

    Basically, the neurological explanation explains the exact same evidence without the problems with invoking some immaterial entities, explains the evidence we have, and does so with a minimum of extraneous assumptions makes your own "paradigm" a very poor fit.

    Perhaps some day you'll see how ludicrous the suggestions you often make are, given the evidence you're working from, and apply some critical thinking to these topics. Thus far you seem more than happy to stay ensconced within your delusions.

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  24. Havok,

    You wrote, "5) Your hypothesis postulates disembodied minds of some kind, but since minds require physical substrate (brains), and as the evidence currently suggests, are solely a result of those substrates (the mind is what the brain does), postulating "immaterial beings" simply to explain phenomena which have a reasonable and evidenced explanation already is far from plausible."

    You claim that the NDEs are "solely" the result of physical phenomena. While I certainly don't dismiss that the physical is at play in SOME of these cases, you reveal your faith-commitment in asserting that it's "solely" the matter of the physical. Scientifically, it's impossible to make such a statement.

    While your contentions are quite ungentlemanly (and so reflective of so many of the New Atheists) -"you seem more than happy to stay ensconced within your delusions"- I am truly amused that you are always ready to make such unfounded allegations.

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  25. Mann: While I certainly don't dismiss that the physical is at play in SOME of these cases, you reveal your faith-commitment in asserting that it's "solely" the matter of the physical.
    They can be explained as solely physical/neurological phenomena, as far as I'm aware. You present no evidence whatsoever to support an alternative, and therefore no reason to reject my claim as presented, and yet you continue to dispute it. That doesn't seem like a reasonable position to hold at all.

    Mann: Scientifically, it's impossible to make such a statement.
    And yet unless and until you provide contrary evidence, it remains the more strongly supported position.

    Mann: While your contentions are quite ungentlemanly
    I figure if the shoe fits, wear it Daniel. You consistently make claims concerning reality, consistently fail to back them up with arguments and evidence, and yet consistently fail to readress your own position and claims. Without evidential support for your claims regarding the spirit world (and your own experiences of such) I see no reason to think those experiences are not delusional - you certainly haven't provided reason to think otherwise.
    If you don't like the label which seems to best fit, perhaps you ought to provide further justification for your claims, or back off from them?

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  26. Havok,

    Just tell me what type of evidence you might find meaningful. Actually, I've already posted 228 essays providing proof for extra-materialism. I suspect that I will not succeed in pleasing you.

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  27. Mann: Just tell me what type of evidence you might find meaningful
    Evidence outside of subjective experience. Arguments that those subjective experiences could only be due to substance dualism. Decently detailed intentional explanations of those experiences.

    Mann: Actually, I've already posted 228 essays providing proof for extra-materialism.
    No, those essays have attempted to argue for extra-materialism. They fail (well, I've not read all of them, but I feel confident in my conclusion).

    Daniel, you need to provide more evidence than "It feels that way to me, and to other people". We already have explanations of how those experiences can arise which do not rely upon anything more than neurological phenomena. Your claim, that maybe some of the experiences cannot be explained this way is weak - present an experience you think cannot be explained this way and then actually DETAIL why it cannot be explained this way.

    I don't see any point in continuing this or any other discussion until you start to justify your claims here and elsewhere further.

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