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(Nagel’s book argues that evolution is driven by some non-Goddy teleological and non-material forces that science can’t fathom.) Kripal begins his essay by recounting two anecdotes (one by Mark Twain) about how people sensed other people’s deaths, and accurate details of how it happened, before they knew about the deaths.

Read his piece for the details, which are indeed striking.

And then of course there’s the nagging problem of consciousness.

This is truly a God of the Gaps for Kripal (though he doesn’t push religion), for he takes science’s failure to explain the hard problem of consciousness to mean that In the rules of this materialist game, the scholar of religion can never take seriously what makes an experience or expression religious, since that would involve some truly fantastic vision of human nature and destiny, some transhuman divinization, some mental telegraphy, dreamlike soul, clairvoyant seer, or cosmic consciousness.

And Kripal says that these incidents of precognition are common, suggesting that there’s something out there that science can’t explain.

(He doesn’t, of course, note the more frequent instances of “precognition” that The early-Victorian researchers had it right: They called dreams like the two with which I began “veridical hallucinations,” or hallucinations corresponding to real events.

We know this only by exposing water to extreme conditions, by traumatizing it, and then by detecting and measuring the gases with technology that no ordinary person possesses or understands.

The situation is eerily analogous with impossible scenarios like those of Twain, the wife, and the Swedish seer.

Kripal, a professor of religious studies at Rice University in Texas.

But Kripal, in the good tradition of these pseudoscientists, has his own explanation: Putting aside for the moment the fact that psychics sometimes do get rich, and that statistically significant but humble forms of psychic phenomena do in fact appear in laboratories, the answer to why robust events like those of Twain, the widowed wife, and the Stockholm fire do not appear in the lab is simple: There is no trauma, love, or loss there. To play by those rules is like trying to study the stars at midday. Methods that rely on or favor extreme conditions are employed in science all the time to discover and demonstrate knowledge.

It is like going to the North Pole to study those legendary beasts called zebras. As Aldous Huxley pointed out long ago in his own defense of “mystical” experiences suggestive of spirit or soul, we have no reason to deduce that water is composed of two gases glued together by invisible forces.

“As such” is a weasel phrase, meant to obscure the fact that we consider consciousness an “illusion” in the sense that, while it exists, : it isn’t a little immaterial man sitting inside the brain and observing it all.

It isn’t a disembodied “I.” Then comes the whining about marginalization that inevitably accompanies this turf defense: umanists have paid a heavy price for their shrinking act.

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  1. For significant contributions to public life in Australia in support of hospital and health administration, social justice and education, to young people as a role model, and to the Australian Parliament. For service to the Catholic Church in Australia and internationally, to raising debate on matters of an ethical and spiritual nature, to education, and to social justice.