Jun 12 2012

Reading Braude’s Immortal Remains

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I’ve been wrestling with epistemology of identity.

Stephen Braude’s book Immortal Remains is an inquiry into the Survival Hypothesis, ie “does something of us survive bodily death?” Granted, I have my own opinions on the matter, but reading Braude is quite an engaging exercise. I’m only on chapter 3, but so far, from a parapsychology/philosophy standpoint, he’s talking about the overwhelming evidence needed to conclude that the person one is communicating with, is in fact, the deceased. At what point do you accept that you’re speaking to a dead person, rather than a medium who may have some incredible telepathic skills, or who may be a total charlatan.

Braude’s discussion is much more complicated than this, but I don’t feel inclined at the moment to go further into depth. This summary will suffice for now.

My internal dialogues as I read this are starting to wander in the direction of how do you know that the living person you are communicating with is in fact that person? What criteria do we set up for this? What do I accept that makes me believe I am talking to you, whether you are living or deceased? Certainly “because I can see you” isn’t sufficient, because we have things like telephones and e-mail. “We have shared memories” might be an answer, but certainly one might have those with the deceased as well. Positing (as some do) that there’s either a deliberate or unintential telepathic communication going on between the medium and the sitter, and the medium is merely reading those memories from the sitter, rather than actually speaking with/for the deceased (and this is entirely possible in some cases, I will certainly grant) opens this can of worms into some intriguing directions. Maybe what I think is “you” is really a telepathic imposter (assuming intentionality). Maybe I’m not really me, and am only unintentionally telepathically reading your perception of what you think I am, and feeding that back to you.

There is a story about Mulla Nasrudin (of course).

The Mulla enters a shop, and asks the shopkeeper, “Did you see me come into your shop?”

“Yes,” replies the shopkeeper.

The Mulla asks him, “Have you ever seen me before?”

“No,” replies the shopkeeper.

“Then how do you know it’s me?”

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