Thursday, April 06, 2006

Beyond Physical?

Dear Internet Diary,

jhuger pointed out to me, in a comment over in the post A Civil Discussion, that someone asserted he had "non-physical experiences" that led him to believe in the supernatural.

How do people experience things? By the senses. Taste, touch, see, smell, and hear. Ah, you say. But I feel love and hate inside of me. What kind of physical sense is that? I'd call that a physical response to chemical signals from the brain that memory triggers. You could say touch, I suppose. But there's nothing non-physical about emotion. And before you protest, there's nothing here that de-values love or anything else important. But it's not intangible. If it were, we wouldn't--get ready for it--feel love.

This is what it means to experience something. Take someone like the person who made the initial claim. What did he experience? Well, I don't know, because he didn't tell me. Why, I couldn't say. Believers claim transcendent experiences. As an ex-believer and human being, I have experienced very warm and intense feelings based on recognition of values. I have felt intense love and acceptance. I felt I had deep understanding of something I thought was extremely important. I have seen and heard things that were so beautiful, I recognized them as transcendent. To put it bluntly, I have felt the warm fuzzies.

What is the experience here? I felt love. I felt warm. I felt accepted. My brain sent signals to my pleasure center. I dare say I had activity in my temporal lobe: the place in my brain that triggers feelings of deep significance. Significance that comes from recognition--when new data finds recognition in retained data. The new data reinforces the old, and the old reinforces the new. This can be pretty exciting, and I have several aquaintances that experience this significance in college, where concepts sometimes become more deeply understood through unrelated subjects.

But nothing can boost recognition of values more than hormonal rushes. Everything's more intense with sex.

I used to think that deep emotion is belittled by this kind of reductionism. But no more. There's no shame in being a human being. There's no need to say that a spiritual experience is lessened when you know that it comes from you, and that wonderful brain of yours, your appreciation of beauty and learning, and your ability to love. Don't cheapen it with dimestore religious or pseudoscientific fantasy.

Oh--before I forget. How do you sense things that are beyond the senses? Just a thought.


BlackSun said...

Great post, Alleee! I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I read good solid critical writing.

breakerslion said...

A well-written post is a good read indeed. As for physical attributes cheapening emotional experiences, that's always struck me as silly. To me, that's like saying, "The experience of ice skating is cheapened for me because I can't do it without a big slab of ice."