Friday, August 24, 2007
Scientists have found a way of inducing out of body experiences (OBEs). Practically, it is said, this technology may take video games to 'the next level' and enable surgeons to operate on patients remotely using a virtual self. Personally, I don't want either of those things to happen. But, leaving that aside, OBEs, especially when they are also NDEs (near death experiences), have often been used as evidence for the existence of the soul. The film Flatliners was based on the potent idea that an ODE/NDE represented an entry into a personal moral drama. Obviously any such interpretation is scientifically offensive. But, equally obviously, OBEs (and NDEs) happen and not necessarily to people who could easily be dismissed as liars or nutters. Scientists, therefore, have sought explanations. One was sleep paralysis, which seemed to be associated with the kind of OBE that led to tales of alien abduction. This latest seems fairly credible, though a little contrived. But what is interesting is the way scientists rush in to draw conclusions that are not actually justified by the experiment. Dr Henrik Ehrsson says it shows the criticality of the first person visual perspective, the feeling that our self is located behind the eyes. Hmmm, well not really - it merely shows that we can create this illusion by disrupting our vision. Dr Susan Blackmore talks of 'disrupting our normal illusion of being a self behind our eyes'. This is loaded with ideology. Both philosophers and scientists like to shock by talking about the illusion of the self. They also like to say this because it has a consolingly anti-vitalist quality. But I have never read anything that makes the phrase 'the illusion of the self' meaningful. I could go on for pages about this, but it would all come down to one question: to whom is the self an illusion?
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:43 am