I´ve seen many debates between religious people and atheists, some (most) of which end up in a dead end as simply a question of faith. However, there are other debates that in spite of that fact, seem to incite and inspire the listener to engage in an introspective thought about themselves and about life. A recent debate I´ve seen is, by far, one of the latter.
In this remarkable and mind-altering debate, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are giving a relatively calm responses to the variety of religious reasoning (for lack of a less antithetical term) two rabbis try to defend.
In one occasion during the debate, they referred to the significance of NDE (Near Death Experience) and discussed it by different names and experiences (personal as well as of others). This phenomenon is when the soul/consciousness/being (or whatever name we choose to call it) leaves the physical body and manages to fly/hover/transport itself to other locations (in most cases physical).
Now, the debate is obviously not about the question if people believe it happened to them or not, but what does it signify in the grand scheme of things. Meaning, can we collectively deduce the existence of “something out there” from an experience of that sort? While watching the debate, many things come to mind (many of which were told by the two astute liberal thinkers) but one of which I think to have a more interesting gray zone, and that is the commonly known Astral Traveling.
A few years back, as part of my travels, I had a six month stay in a small village in a developing country. The village was fascinating and awe-inspiring with a hallo of the supernatural, surrounded by human beings with incredible powers and capacities. And still, more than anything, what was the most marvelous in this bucolic community were the stories. I have been told about many versions of miracles, metaphysical experiences and even natural born gifts of the people around me. However, no matter how hard I tried, I could not find not even one proof for the veracity of any of the stories. I was desperate, wanting so bad to believe, I walked around looking under every stone, entering all forbidden areas, asking human teleporters, psychics and astral travelers to show me, teach me, to give me a simple test demonstration just so I could live and believe what I wished so much to exist. I heard many firsthand experiences, magnificent epistemic unimaginable ones, yet, for the most part, after insisting on some proofs I was simply considered as another enthusiastic skeptic, materialistic in the need of unnecessary science. Other times, I was actually told to wait while they will show me their powers when I least expect it (note: I´m still waiting, 10 years later).
The sad and unfortunate fact is that in spite all of my will to believe (that actually I possess to this day), I couldn´t find a shred of proof. On the other hand, my understanding of basic psychology helped me more than once to understand the birth of those perspectives.
Like the time I was doing a meditation session to reveal who I was in my former life (regression to former life/s meditation). It was amazing, so vivid, so true, I still remember it to this day. I was lying on the mattress regressing step by step with the mellow, harmonious sound of the voice of the instructor, going back remembering year after year every step of this life. I saw my toddler’s years and me as a baby, all the way to the memory from the womb (that was, admittedly. a little vague) but when we reached the metaphysical space and then the former death, I was shocked. I did see myself in my former life (who I was and how I died is a story for another post).
Needless to say it haunted me for days. However, the more I thought of it, the more I began to analyze it as I used to do for years with my dreams. You see, as a person with very vivid and dynamic oneiric life, I began to have a lot of interest in interpretation. When you do it long enough, one can start seeing a pattern of how it functions (both in the oneiric state as in the other ones). Remembering that event I began to see this pattern functions splendidly. After all, the soft meditation music with the fact that we are lying down, rapidly took us to a theta wave neural oscillation. I did some more reading and not much time later I found the experience rather explainable by simple self awareness. Of course, if I wanted to blindly believe what I had seen (or imagined) I would have simply blocked any possible explanation (rational and natural one). But I couldn´t. I say these words not without some sorrow because a part of me still wishes to simply avoid reason and let faith be the creator of magic and wonder. In fact, at times I would have liked to be able to wake up every day with the pure and irrevocable notion that my dream is, in fact, reality. Nevertheless, instead of believing it to be right and by that arguing the existence of other worlds and spiritual existence to all, I simply enjoy yet another lesson about the most magically and mysterious entity we can undoubtedly say exists… our brain.
So, enjoy this wonderful and inspiring debate, and if you have any comments or ideas, feel free to share them.