August 13, 2009
It so happens that a single claim forms the entire foundation upon which nearly all varieties of theism must inevitably be built: the claim that consciousness can exist outside of a material body. Although the claim is a necessary component of nearly all religions, we should note that it is not necessarily theist, as there are atheists who accept the existence of metaphysical entities.
As far as traditional monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam or any derivative thereof) are concerned, we can safely say that if no spirits exist and consciousness cannot exist outside of a body, then their key claims are either false or severely distorted (Ephesians 6:12, Luke 3:22 & John 4:24, as examples).
Most skeptics and rationalists are familiar with the difficulty (note: not impossibility) of proving a negative. While it’s certainly difficult to prove the materialist’s claim that there is not a ghost in the machine, what’s less difficult and also theoretically possible is proving or at least supporting the claim that consciousness can and does exist outside physical bodies. Let’s refer to this claim as the immaterial consciousness hypothesis, or ICH for short [NOTE: the TMC introduced here envelopes the ICH. In other words, the ICH represents a deprecated term that has since been modified. I explain the reason for the change here, and I apologize for any confusion].
I recently had an experience that I think constitutes strong anecdotal evidence for the ICH, fortunately in the presence of two able-minded witnesses. I was at a friend’s house doing the usual Playstation 3 after dinner thing with him and his girlfriend, who we’ll refer to as A and L, respectively. In the northwest corner of their living room sits a large, big-screen television, about 5′ tall, which had a stack of four or five video games on top of it (I lean towards five). We had been playing for about an hour or so, and by that time of the night we’d had a few beers each, but were nowhere near hallucinatory drunk, which typically requires something like Tequila.
As it often does, our conversation had turned to things metaphysical, specifically A’s long-standing belief that some spiritual presence inhabits their home, when all of a sudden, the stack of video games literally flew from the top of the television to within a foot of the coffee table, roughly centered in the middle of the room. By flew I mean something like zapped from point A to point B, with no apparent impetus. If that weren’t odd enough, although they slid slightly resulting in a staggered position, the games remained stacked when they landed.
The distance from the games’ original position (see ‘A’ below) and it’s post-event position (see ‘B’ below) was about 4 or 5 feet, and the games traveled at roughly a 45-degree trajectory. The following diagram should put things into fuller perspective:
Honestly, what is a reasonable person to do with this data? To simply dismiss it is to skirt one’s obligation to reason.
We can’t call ourselves skeptics if we don’t think critically and examine all the options, so I quickly took to searching for a naturalistic or at least non-conscious explanation for what happened. The ICH needs a competing hypothesis, so consider the perpendicular hypothesis or PH, which states that unless propelled by lateral force, objects fall perpendicular to the ground. Is there a plausible non-conscious explanation for the strange trajectory at which the games fell? Thinking back, we were listening to music; is it possible that audio vibrations slowly rattled the stack of games closer and closer towards the edge of the TV until they finally fell?
We find a problem with this hypothesis almost immediately: if the games fell according to the established laws of physics, per the PH they would have followed a perpendicular trajectory, landing in the area marked C in the diagram, and they would have scattered upon impact, but this is not what happened. Even if we account for a significant “teetering” effect, stacked video games don’t fall at 45-degree angles across a room, then land still stacked. It’s no limb regeneration, but it directly contradicts known laws of science which clearly define the paths of falling objects.
Now, by no means could anyone claim this single data point conclusive, but what seems more reasonable here? The PH? Or something like the ICH? More importantly, why? If we say the event catalyst was non-conscious, what sort of strange phenomena must we posit instead, and is it arguably more complex than the ICH?
Whatever moved the games had the ability to move mass, presumably without detectable mass of its own. Masslessness is a feature philosophers, pyschologists and scientists commonly attribute to consciousness, as is the ability to understand verbal communication, and we should also note the context under which this event transpired: amidst sustained discussion about A’s longstanding belief his house was inhabited by some sort of spirit(s). Though certainly not proof that the event catalyst heard and responded to our conversation, the event sequence is concurrent with what we might reasonably expect if A’s belief – and the ICH – were correct.
This suggests that either consciousness can exist outside the body in the form of something like a spirit, or some hitherto undiscovered but seriously strange non-conscious phenomena is at work, or there’s some other option I’m overlooking, and I need your help in identifying it.