bookmark_borderDunn and Ehrman on “Forms” of Jesus in the Philippian Christ Hymn/Poem (PART 2/2)

I just wanted to make a quick clarification to the last post.  In that post, I mentioned in the gospels Jesus says the son of man does not come to be served, but to serve, to die, an allusion to the son of man/human in Daniel, second only to the ancient of days/God.  As I said, in the Philippian poem we read this is the evolution of Christ’s mindset going from form of god to form of human/slave.  We read:

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

assuming human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a human,

8     he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

“Assuming human likeness” clearly alludes to “I saw one like a human being (NRSVUE)” / “one like a son of man (ESV)” of Daniel 7:13.

With Adam and Eve, initially, lack of knowledge of Good and Evil was what differed them from God.  Jesus was godly / in godly form as paradigmatically knowing good and evil as an interpreter of the Torah, but was exalted by god when he became in servant form and was exalted to a place only second to God (the ancient of days in Daniel) after the cross.  To go beyond God form to servant form is exceedingly difficult, as is illustrated with Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22

The Rich Young Man

  • 16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. 19 Honor your father and mother. Also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

“Like a son of man” thus has the ambiguity of meaning “human,” but also second in place only to God.  Once you have determined for kenosis or emptying, submitting fully to the will of God, the real task begins of trying to live this, as the rich young man found out.

To see the first part of this mini series, see:

bookmark_borderDunn and Ehrman on “Forms” of Jesus in the Philippian Christ Hymn/Poem (PART 1/2)

The Philippian Christ hymn poetry is a very old pre-Pauline discussion of the nature of Jesus.  In the updated NRSV it reads

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he existed in the form of God,

    did not regard equality with God [as Adam and Eve did]

    as something to be grasped,

7 but emptied himself,

    taking the form of a slave,

    assuming human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a human,

8     he humbled himself

    and became obedient to the point of death—

    even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God exalted him even more highly

    and gave him the name

    that is above every other name,

10 so that at the name given to Jesus

    every knee should bend,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess

    that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

This is a very controversial passage, and the two main approaches seem to be Ehrman’s as a poem about the incarnation of a great angel, and Dunn with the transition from Adam to Jesus.  I think Dunn is closer to the best reading. Following the clue in the introduction to the hymn, I don’t think the poem is about the ontological constitution of Jesus at all, but a change in Jesus’ mindset that we also need to undergo.  I will quote a piece of Ehrman’s critique of Dunn and his school to set the stage:

  • Here I just want to mention briefly an interpretation that is sometimes floated for the passage which takes it in a very different way indeed, as not being about incarnation at all.  In this alternative interpretation, the passage is not about a pre-existent divine being who becomes human and then is exalted to an even higher state.  In this other interpretation the passage instead means to refer to the human Jesus from beginning to end (though he is exalted at the end).  The poem, in this interpretation, is about how Jesus is a second Adam, who reversed the very bad consequences of the sin of the first Adam.  In this interpretation, when the poem begins by saying the Christ was “in the form of God” it does not mean in some kind of pre-existent state.  It is referring to the fact that as a human, like – Adam, Christ was made “in the likeness of God” (as in Gen. 1:26-27; so that “form” and “likeness” are understood to be synonyms).   The problem with Adam’s sin is that he ate of the fruit in order to “be like God” – as it says in Gen. 3:4-5 (God “knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God”).  Christ, on the other hand, also in God’s image, decided that “equality with God was a thing *not* to be grasped.”  In other words, he acted just the opposite of Adam.  As a result of his decision to do God’s will, rather than to seek his own well-being, he agreed to die on the cross – thereby reversing the sin of Adam by bringing salvation from the sin that Adam brought into the world.   And in response, God did to Christ just the opposite of what he did to Adam.  Adam he cursed.  Christ he blessed.  And exalted.  And raised him up to the heavenly places.  And made him the Lord of all.   Adam wanted to be like God and just the opposite happened; Christ did not strive to be equal with God and because of that he *was* made equal with God.  This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that in Romans 5 Paul does explicitly talk about Christ as the Second Adam.  For years I’ve wished that this interpretation could hold water.  On the surface, it sounds so persuasive, and it completely saves the big problem of Christology that people have, namely, that here in a Pre-Pauline poem there is a high Christology, whereas one would expect that high Christologies would come only later in the tradition – not prior to any of the writings of the New Testament!   So I and others have real incentive to want this interpretation to be right.  But I’m afraid that I don’t think it can be.   For several reasons:  If the author of the poem really wanted his reader/hearer to think of Adam when he described Christ, he would not have said that Christ was in the “form” of God but he would have used the word used in Genesis, that he was in the “image” of God.  Different words.  So the allusion doesn’t work.  It was Eve, not Adam, who is said to have eaten the fruit when she realized that doing so could make her like God.  However you interpret “form of God,” it is clear in the poem that after refusing to grasp for what should not be grasped, Christ “became human.”   In the alternative translation of Christ as Adam, he would already have been human.  So that doesn’t work.   This is about a pre-existent being becoming incarnate.  And elsewhere Paul does indicate that Christ was pre-existent (i.e. that he existed before his birth).   This can be found in four passages of 1 and 2 Corinthians: 1 Cor 8:6; 10:4; 15:47; and 2 Cor. 8:9  So, as much as I would like the passage to be about the man Jesus (second Adam) behaving in a way opposite to the man Adam (first Adam), I just don’t think it is saying that.  Instead I think it must be about a pre-existent divine being – an angelic being – who becomes human and as a result of obedience unto death is exalted after death, to be the equal of God himself.   It’s quite a statement.  It’s quite early.  But it’s not the only Christological view that was floating around at the time.  See Ehrman

As I read it Dunn seems to hit closer to the mark than Ehrman.  The Philippian Christ hymn/poetry isn’t about the incarnation of God or a great angel, but rather the being born again of Jesus’s mindset from god form (morphe) to human servant form (morphe), which is going from striving for the paradigmatic knowledge of good and evil (eg., Jesus filling full of meaning the prohibition against adultery by saying if your eye lusts after a woman you have committed adultery), to the morphe of man which is the servant par excellence.  Hence, Jesus says the son of man doesn’t come to be served but to serve, to die.  We have in Mark, echoed in Hebrews, the struggle in Jesus’s mind in Gethsemane desperately trying to get God to change his plan, but resolutely deciding to remain obedient. Jesus says unless one is born again in this way, they can’t enter the kingdom of God, and this includes Jesus.  We know the hymn is about a change of attitude because that is how Paul introduces it.  To enter the kingdom of God one must overcome the god morphe gone wrong like Adam and Eve who innocently and curiously sought equality with God as knowing good and evil, to be born again or created anew in the morphe of the human, which is the servant who even though he desperately wants not to follow God’s plan, is obedient like Christ in Gethsemane.  Price raises the issue that the desperate prayer in Gethsemane may have originally been envisioned as being granted (compare Hebrews 5:7, where Jesus’ prayers were “heard”) (Price, 2011, p. 223). – Price needs to be slightly modified: NOT ANSWERED, BUT HEARD, JESUS PROVED HE WOULD BE OBEDIENT EVEN THOUGH HE DISAGREED, UNLIKE THE RELIGIOUS ELITE who wrongfully had him killed.  Hence, the Philippian Christ hymn/poetry reverses the genesis account, as Dunn argues.  As McGrath points, out this is not a high Christology, because the hymn says Jesus was given the divine name after the resurrection, not before hand.

In order to see this we need to interpret the key word form or morphe in the poem, which occurs twice, in a Greek philosophical way.  Rittenbaugh comments:

  • The first word we need to consider is form in verse 6. It is the Greek morphe, for which English has no exact equivalent. Unlike “form” in English, morphe does not mean “shape.” It is a philosophical term that means “the outward expression of an inner essence.” We can derive an illustration of this definition from figure skating. One might say, “I went to the Winter Olympics, and the figure skater’s form was outstanding.” What is meant is that skater’s swift, rhythmic grace, and coordinated movements were an outward expression of his inward ability to skate expertly.

Similary, in the movie Hook when Captain Hook sees Peter Pan fighting with sportsmanship and honor, he says good FORM, as opposed to when he sees someone acting deficiently, in which case he says bad FORM.  So, Jesus was in the morphe of God with his ministry of signs and wonders, but in the morphe of a slave when he went to the cross.  Lets consider this with a brief analysis of the Greek words morphe (form) and phusis (nature or inner principle).  Heraclitus says physis kryptesthai philei: nature loves to hide.  The job of the thinker is to disclose this being/nature of beings out of hiddenness, “a-letheia.”

For example, for the Greeks, fire strives up, and the stone strives down, kata phusin, according to their nature. When a body moves towards its place, this motion accords with nature, kata phusin … [such as when a] rock falls down to earth. However, if a rock is thrown upward by a sling, this motion is essentially against the nature of the rock, para phusin.

Heidegger argues “Being” for the Greeks basically means “presence,” and so Plato says with the beautiful thing beauty is “present.”  Similarly, with the piece of chalk materiality is co-present.  Presence means movement as presencing, and so with the beautiful mansion beauty is presencing through it, it is Beauty incarnate, the universal presences through the particular.  This is physis as morphe.  Heidegger, commenting on Aristotle’s Physics 193 a 31-b3, says the universal is not divorced from the particular, but presences through it, which is conspicuous in incarnate (so to speak) cases such as when we say “this is truly Nature” when we see the eagle circling, or “this is truly art” when we encounter the van Gogh (Heidegger, Physis, 21-22).  “Incarnate” is meant to describe the experience and is not making any theological claims.

So, with the gorgeous mansion “Being” is experienced in terms of movement, presencing beautifully for one person, gawdy for the next, and mere presencing if it is encountered as the average house (houseness is merely present in the average house).  Aristotle said the being-true of beings, the true beings (in the sense of exemplar or “true-friend”), were of course the most proper beings (the on alethes are the kuriotata on).

The other half of the determination of phusis (besides morphe) is hyle. Heidegger comments that hyle is dunamis (power, potentiality, possibility, appropriateness).  We say that the wood that has been selected is appropriate to the making of the house. More specifically, dunamis has the quality of movement, in this case being-at-the ready-to-be-enacted, in the sense that a runner poised on his marks on the starting line is ready to go (EAF, 187-8). Speaking of dunamis, Marx, in “Heidegger and the Tradition,” speaks of ‘”possibilities’ press toward their ‘actualization,’ energeia. ” Morphe is a greater degree phusis than hyle is. The poised runner (dunamis), for instance, is not indifferent towards the enactment of the running (energeia), but precisely has this in view in itself, and in this sense has the entelecheia in itself. It is this poise in which the end and the dunamis lie stable before the work is enacted that is the stable presencing

As peculiar as it initially sounds, Aristotle can say actuality {energeia) is prior to potentiality {dunamis). If we keep in mind the presencing of nature as the circling eagle or houseness as the mansion, hyle as material for production is now understood to mean that which is so constituted so that it can be passed over in a productive seeing that goes to the universal and returns in the hyle realized as morphe (eg, this specific Picasso painting presencing as Art incarnate).

Jesus was in the form/morphe of God, meaning having an exemplary understanding of good and evil (eg, adultery is not just the sexual act, but if you look at someone lustfully you have committed adultery).  But Jesus did not strive for equality with God as the religious elite did when they tried to outsmart God with a loophole by having Pilate kill Jesus when God forbid them to do it.  The religious elite tried to find a loophole by getting Pilate to kill Jesus, since they knew they were not allowed to kill him.  They thus broke the third commandment, thou shalt not misrepresent and pervert God’s will.  In Christian theology, kenosis (Ancient Greek: κένωσις, romanized: kénōsis, lit. ’lit. ’the act of emptying”) is the ‘self-emptying’ of Jesus’ own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will.  John the Baptist displayed the attitude when he said of Jesus: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

Jesus as “a-letheia” dis-closing or un-hiding incarnate is, as the Philippian Christ hymn says, in the form (morphe) of the slave, self-sacrifice incarnate.  Plato, in Parmen., p. 132 d., calls finite things ὁμοιώματα, likenesses as it were, in which τά παραδειγματα, i. e. αἱ ἰδέαι or τά εἴδη, are expressed).

As Luke says, it is not a penal substitution interpretation of the cross but a moral influence one where the soldier sees the suffering Jesus and undergoes a transformation of repentance: “truly this was an innocent man,” “truly this was the son of God” in Mark.  As Paul says:

  • I grieved you with my letter, I do not regret it. Although I did regret it (for[b] I see that that letter caused you grief, though only briefly), 9 now I rejoice, not because you were grieved but because your grief led to repentance, for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor 7:8-10)

For a Further Critique of Ehrman’s reading of Paul, see Dr James McGrath here:

For my further collection of blog posts on this topic, see

For my concluding second post on the Philippian Christ Hymn/Poetry, see:

bookmark_borderTrying To View The Paranormal Though The Lens Of Science.

This video talks about the failure to turn reports of the paranormal regarding Skinwalker ranch into actually documented evidence of the paranormal. Keith Augustine points out it gets particularly interesting about 15 minutes in (i.e., the AAWSAP directive to “tell Mr. Bigelow what he wants to hear” and an underling weaving tales while drinking vodka to meet this directive in faxed reports from Skinwalker Ranch to Bigelow): see

The evidence for the dinosaur beaver is particularly compelling, lol.

bookmark_border(Part 2) Keith Augustine’s How Not to Do Survival Research: Reflections on the Bigelow Institute Essay Competition

Augustine raises the issue of the fallacy of how survivalist’s conclude from the difficulties in describing how consciousness arises from the body that therefore it doesn’t:

  • Ruickbie’s use converts Noë’s actual meaning into an argument from ignorance: we don’t know how brain activity gives rise to consciousness, therefore it must not give rise to consciousness. If the argument were that we don’t know how migrating birds navigate, therefore they must not navigate, it would not impress. Nor should it here...It does not follow from the inability to explain how consciousness arises from matter that it does not so arise, and in fact its ubiquitousness throughout the biosphere positively suggests that it does (though see McGinn, 1999, pp. 89-95 and Nahm, 2021*, p. 64 for ways to get around this). And the distinctively individual consciousnesses necessary for personal survival almost certainly so arise.

One fruitful approach would be to say the mind is instantiated in the brain, and so wouldn’t exist apart from it:

  • Moreover, computationalists and other functionalists would never say that you are your brain; at most, they would say that you are instantiated in a human brain, but you could’ve been instantiated in something else—like a silicon network, an extraterrestrial brain, or even an astral body or nonphysical substance (it’s just that, as a contingent matter of fact, a brain is what happens to instantiate your mind).

There is an interesting short discussion about morality and God, and certainly we should conclude it far more noble to act morally with no external rewards as opposed to one who does so because they think God will reward them.

There is an interesting discussion trying to pin down the nature of consciousness, and brings up the issue of philosophy and idealism. Augustine concludes:

  • Since idealism is pure metaphysics, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that its picture of reality will be empirically indistinguishable from that of its antithesis, realism. Our daily lives would be like living in a Matrix in which there are never any glitches to reveal the true underlying reality. Idealism is a rather abstract thought experiment, akin to the notion that you might really just be a brain in a vat and mistakenly think that you have a body, or be a victim of René Descartes’ evil demon. But it’s also a picture that we have no positive reason to affirm. Sure, it could theoretically be true, but if the world appeared and functioned in exactly the same way as it would if it were false, what would it matter?

Plato, in the Sophist, called the idea that the objecthood of the object was encountered like brownness and hardness “the most laughable, katagelastotata (252b8),” because it denied that something was to be understood by appealing to something beyond the thing itself, while such proponents (Antisthenes for Plato) tacitly adopted a whole slew of ontological structures even in mere naming that go beyond the mere entity at hand, such as einai, Being, choris, separate from, ton allown, the others, and kath auto, in itself.  Thus, to be a being for Plato means something is what it is in its specificity (eg a bachelor), and not what it isn’t (a tree), and not nothing at all. The table is encountered as “not me,” for instance. This is the birth of metaphysics: ta meta ta physica, beings understood in their Being.  So, for Plato man must always have Being in view by the mind’s eye.

For Kant this evolved into transcendental idealism, the really real is what allows us to have the experience of the world that we do. We could not have the experience of beings that we do unless we had in view such things as variation/equality by the mind’s eye in order to encounter various things; a view of sameness/contrariety to encounter ourselves as self-same in each case; a view of symmetry and harmoniousness allow us to arrange and construct things; etc.

It is also specifically understood by the scolastics from the point of view of a being’s “what being (the table as hard),” and its “how-being (the table as badly positioned),” this second sense of Being referring both to how the observer encounters the being (it looks badly positioned) and the context of the being. In this second sense, a table is (i) at-hand if we need to resolve a dispute about its colour, and (ii) badly positioned in the corner of the lecture hall during a lecture vs well positioned in the corner of the stadium when the game is going on.

What this shows us is that while the objectivity of objects is ideal, Kant says beings are nonetheless empirically real because we could not even dream unless the senses had been furnished something that the imaginative sleeping unconscious could then combine, multiply, stretch, etc. to produce dreams.


Bonus Reading:

Etienne LeBel Keith Augustine Adam Rock’s “Beyond the BICS Essays: Envisioning a More Rigorous Preregistered Survival Study” see

bookmark_border(Part 1) Keith Augustine’s How Not to Do Survival Research: Reflections on the Bigelow Institute Essay Competition

See Augustine’s essay here:

This is a large essay so I’m breaking reporting of it into 2 parts.

Augustine points to the difficulties in using eye witness testimony as evidence for the mind surviving death:

  • Nahm later writes that impartial judges “would take eyewitness testimonies just as seriously as they would do in other contexts” (2021*, p. 66). While Elizabeth Loftus’ (1979) seminal research into the reliability of eyewitness testimony provides all sorts of reasons to hesitate to rely upon it so heavily (as survival research typically does), what DRW say about it in their prize-winning essay is more than sufficient: “eyewitness testimony would not convince those who also take into consideration the relevant literature from the neurosciences, clinical, cognitive, and perceptual psychology, and court cases. Research in those disciplines has shown that eyewitness testimony is not as reliable as one might hope because perceptions and memories are easily distorted” (2021*, p. 3).So, although Nahm concludes that “the available evidence for survival of human consciousness after permanent bodily death clearly matches the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt” (2021*, p. 66), survival agnostics might well note that there’s an abundance of eyewitness reports for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, too, that they find just as unconvincing. For all the talk about courtroom standards of evidence, empirical survivalists have habitually engaged in a hitherto-unacknowledged evidential sleight of hand by demanding that the “defense” (survival skeptics) produce their own counterevidence to offset the “prosecution’s” (survival proponents’) weaker testimonial evidence for personal survival, all the while seeking to rule as inadmissible the defense’s much stronger “DNA evidence”—the chiefly neuroscientific evidence that our mental lives cannot be sustained absent a functioning brain.

Decades of research into mediumship have failed to produce desired results for paranormal investigators. Moreover, there have been many survival researcher who have set up tests to demonstrate their continued existence after they died, but none have panned out:

  • This raises an obvious question: if communication with the dead occurs, as the vast majority of empirical survivalists evidently believe, then why have we heard nothing from any of these deceased psychical researchers, many of whom were dedicated to providing “proof” of discarnate personal survival during life? Why can’t a single one of them “authenticate” their continuation (or come as close to that as possible) by providing their “passwords” to a medium (or as an ostensibly reincarnated child—à la Berger, 1991—or via EVP/ITC, for that matter)?In her prize-winning BICS essay, Beischel does not mention such tests directly, but does seem to try to preempt questions about them, writing:
  • During any research reading, we need to ensure that we only ask the mediums to report the types of information they usually report. Since this does not include winning lottery numbers, combinations to locks, or what color shirt the sitter should wear tomorrow, I didn’t ask for any of those things in my experiments. Additionally, although in your physical life you are regularly known by your personally-identifiable information (PII), like your name, date of birth, social security number, address, and phone number, these are not the types of information mediums are regularly observed reporting, so I didn’t ask for those during research. (Beischel, 2021*, p. 23)

Of course, this is exactly the kind of evidence we should be asking for and would validate the claim. Augustine continues:

  • Their failure gives the scientific community good reason to doubt the existence of extrasensory perception (ESP) of any sort akin to why many scientists doubt the existence of psychokinesis (PK): if it’s real, why can’t anyone demonstrably move an object for any distance behind sealed glass? If seers can provide accurate specifics about future events that defy chance, then why have premonition registries (Ruickbie, 2021*, pp. 48-51), which securely document precognitive claims before prophesied events, produced hits less than 1% of the time (Shadowitz & Walsh, 1976, pp. 116-117), if at all? (West, 1948a, p. 268).

The type of evidence we get is exactly what would be expected on the brain dependent mind thesis, such as the Covid virus causing brain fog, and peculiar on the mind independent thesis. Augustine comments:

  • Here philosopher of mind Colin McGinn poses a fair question: “Why does brain damage obliterate mental faculties if minds do not owe their existence to brains?” (1999, p. 27). For a less direct, but no less relevant kind of evidence, consider my paraphrase of philosopher Mathew Iredale’s upshot: “The greatly enhanced mental powers of human beings, compared to those of our primate cousins, are a clear result of the enlarged brains that we possess but that they do not. But then how could human minds retain their impressive mental faculties in the complete absence of brain functioning after death?” (Augustine & Fishman, 2015, p. 232).

Moreover, events like supposed NDE’s are culturally specific:

  • For example, on cross-cultural comparisons of NDE reports, which Nahm concedes are characterized by more differences than similarities (2021*, p. 18), Satwant Pasricha and Stevenson wrote of reports of encounters with others in NDEs: “For Americans this is usually a deceased relative or friend; for Indians it is usually the messengers (Yamdoots) of the god of death. The variations in the persons of the ‘next world’ do not weigh against (or for) their reality” (1986, p. 169).

Survival research seems a lot like what we see with Young Earth Creationists who pick a few pieces of data that do not disagree with their model and disregard everything else. And, why could psychics not just post their predictions for the future online to be vetted?

We know that the brain makes experience possible, so it would take a discarnate mind to have something like brain assistance for NDEs to be experienced at all. Specifically, we know from general anesthesia that the medicine causes the brain to shut off the experience of time, and so the patient goes under and re-awakens a dreamless hour later in what feels like an instant. Without the brain supplying this internal stretching of time there is nothing in which experiences can appear.

We know mass hallucinations are unusual but perfectly natural events (like the claim of Jesus appearing to the 500 or the so called Fatima sky miracle), so:

  • The remaining three sources—apparitional experiences, induced experiences, and ADCs—received DRW’s lowest assigned grade, C. On apparitions, DRW conclude that “despite a few cases with multiple witnesses, the rest of the available evidence is anecdotal and there are numerous potentially mundane explanations,” such as that (in addition some witnesses priming others) “the perceived [collective] apparition may be explained by group exposure to environmental factors that correlate not only with feelings of anxiety and/or disorientation but in extreme cases with hallucinations” (2021*, p. 22).


bookmark_borderReview of *Not* So Fast: A Response to Augustine’s Critique of the BICS Contest: Stephen E. Braude, Imants Baruss , Arnaud Delorme, Dean Radin, Helané Wahbeh

see the article here:

At times Braude et al’s response to Augustine reads like a long lottery fallacy, the idea that since it’s mathematically absurd that I should win a major lottery, if I do win a miracle has taken place.  Against this, while it’s preposterous for me to think I should win when buying the ticket, given the probability cast in the light of the number of entrants it is certainly reasonable that “someone” should win.  Similarly, while it is highly unlikely that my health recovery should baffle medical knowledge, this doesn’t imply a miracle since in a planet of many billions of people unexplainable recovery, though ridiculously rare, are to be expected.

One major flaw is the god of the gaps fallacy whereby an apparent gap in the scientific knowledge of the physiology of memory opens the door to something supernatural that has access to past lives:

  • With regard to point (2) above, there are serious reasons for relaxing our commitments to standard interpretations of the neurophysiological data and entertaining possibly radical alternatives.  Some famous experiments in the 1920s by psychologist Karl Lashley illustrate this clearly. Lashley thought he knew where memories would be stored in a rat’s brain. But he found that no matter how much of a rat’s brain he surgically removed, trained rats continued to run their maze. And when Lashley reached the point in his surgical marathon where the poor critters were unable to run a maze, they were unable to do anything. (See Lashley, 1929) So some—but not Lashley—concluded that a rats’ memory is not localized at a specific place in the rat’s brain Rather, memories are diffusely localized, much as information is diffusely distributed in holograms.
  • This proposal catapulted Karl Pribram to the status of a pundit.[1] However, to someone not antecedently committed to the received wisdom about mind-brain relations, Lashley’s experiments take on a different sort of significance. They suggest that memories aren’t located anywhere or in any form in the brain. More generally, they suggest that the container metaphor (that memories and mental states generally are in the brain or in something else) was wrong from the start, because memories (and mental states generally) aren’t things or objects with distinct spatiotemporal coordinates.

  • [1] Granted, most neuroscientists are unfamiliar with the logical and conceptual errors in positing memory traces. Like Pribram, when confronted with challenges to their views on memory, their first impulse is to simply modify the nature of the trace (say, as a dense neural network) and ignore the reasons for regarding trace theory as deep (or disguised) nonsense. Moreover, the arguments for the vacuousness of trace theory are hardware-independent. No matter how they’re configured, it’s relatively easy to show that memory traces are impossible objects. For more details, see Braude, 2014, “Memory without a Trace.”

The writers take paranormal research right out the realm of science by saying replicability isn’t an issue, but a single instance, even if a mathematical anomaly, is the gold being dug for:

  • In any case, not all parapsychological tests (including survival investigations) have failed. For example, although Mrs. Piper’s results are often ambiguous and messy, the investigation of her mediumship counts as a failure only on an indefensibly strict standard of success, one which we reject in many domains. That’s why a baseball player who gets a hit 1 out of 3 times is considered excellent.We also know that the ability to demonstrate ESP or PK reliably seems to be quite rare, even if psychic experiences can occur to virtually anyone under the right conditions. But then we must exercise caution in interpreting a parapsychology experiment’s negative results. Augustine presumably knows this, but he nevertheless fails to consider what kind of ability is under investigation. He doesn’t even entertain the counter-proposal that when OBErs and NDErs fail to identify remote targets in formal tests, perhaps they’re simply not particularly good at it—or good at it in formal tests or under mental or physical duress. After all, there’s no evidence that people generally, or randomly selected people, are good at remote viewing, or as good as the small number of outstanding RVers. But then we can say, plausibly, that the ability to Remote View is genuine (as RV superstars demonstrate) but like many normal abilities it’s not widely or evenly distributed, and it’s also situationally fragile. That’s what the data, both negative and positive, tell us. Augustine apparently considers encrypted messages and combination-lock tests to be the gold standard for testing mediums. But he claims repeatedly that all such tests have failed. He writes, “While some mediums were asked to describe the contents of sealed envelopes or provide auditory information, most direct tests of survival involve asking living persons to posthumously reveal to a medium key words, phrases, or mnemonic devices, ostensibly unknown to any living person, that would decipher encrypted messages or open user-set combination locks.” Then a few sentences later, “After 121 years of such simple tests, only undeniably fraudulent mediums (Spraggett & Rauscher, 1973) or cryptologists (Bean, 2020; Gillogly & Harnisch, 1996) have ever been able to solve them.” Predictably, Augustine doesn’t consider the option that the tests were psi-inhibitory. He also doesn’t indicate what his position would be if the tests were successful. Would he concede that the positive results count as evidence of survival? That would help clarify how open-minded he is about evidence for the paranormal….However, Augustine’s assessment of encrypted message and combination-lock tests seems viable only when we regard both experimenters and subjects as psychological stick figures, unburdened by self-defeating character traits and untroubled by the concerns, fears, hopes, and other frailties that plague most of humanity. The issues here coincide with some of those discussed in connection with the replicability problem in parapsychology (see Braude, 2018).

The author’s seem to like to argue from the “it’s not impossible” premise, that just because everything we know about the mind suggests physical dependence, this doesn’t logically exclude something immaterial that we have no access to:

  • McTaggart’s view is insightful. Strictly speaking, the evidence for mind-brain correlations doesn’t show that selfhood or consciousness is exclusively linked to bodily processes, much less the processes of any particular physical body. We noted earlier that survival-unfriendly interpretations of the neurophysiological data may seem initially compelling because their presuppositions are widespread and deeply rooted. And if so, it may be a useful intellectual exercise to try to divest ourselves of those presuppositions and then take a fresh look at the data. We might find, then, that McTaggart’s (or some other survivalist) interpretation seems more immediately appealing. It’s therefore regrettable that Augustine doesn’t rise to the challenge.       

The authors offer a helpful summary of Augustine’s arguments against survivalism:

  1. Minds mature as brains mature
  2. Childhood mental development halts when childhood brain development halts
  3. Minds degenerate when brains degenerate (due to old age or traumatic brain injury)
  4. Creatures with simple brains have simple minds
  5. Creatures with complex brains have complex minds
  6. Sickening/injuring the brain sickens/injures the mind
  7. Mental dispositions can be inherited from one’s parents
  8. Mental desires can be induced or eliminated by brain stimulation
  9. Mental disorders can be cured by altering brain chemistry with drugs
  10. Mental disorders can be brought on by altering brain chemistry with drugs

One critique they offer is

  • Regarding number 7 above
  • Mental dispositions can be inherited from one’s parents may not state a fact at all. We wonder: Why not say “learned/absorbed” rather than “inherited”? Although some genetic data suggest that certain personality traits and talents are inherited through DNA, Augustine can’t simply assume that this alleged regularity is an example of nature and not nurture. After all, many (perhaps most) families don’t exhibit this generational continuity. In fact, children often have attitudes, dispositions, and preferences that conflict with those of their parents. Are we really to believe that Augustine doesn’t know this?

This is absurd. We know extreme cases such as schizophrenia, bipolar type 1 and 2, OCD, etc have an obvious biological component and definitely have a hereditary component, often dormant and skipping between generations there was no contact with like one’s great grandparents. And it’s not simply mental. As far back as the Greeks greatness in the creative arts was often associated with melancholy because boredom and dissatisfaction inspired creating.

In the end, this was a poor response to Augustine that was neither well reasoned or argued.

bookmark_borderWhen Will Survival Researchers Move Past Defending the Indefensible? (Part 3)

So, this is my last post on Augustine’s “Defending the Indefensible” Essay I particularly liked Augustine’s distinction between analogies that illustrate and analogies that argue, since we are all familiar with debates that are just opposite sides throwing illustrations at one another as though they are arguments (eg pro life vs pro choice; conservative vs liberal).

It is a general point that there is a reason hospitals don’t have faith healer teams on staff, or that psychics don’t repeatedly predict and win the lottery. Augustine comments:

  • Until survival researchers produce evidence of the sort that replicable positive results from properly controlled tests of survival would have provided, the rest of the world is quite justified in responding: “Call me when a medium gets even one hit out of dozens of vetted attempts to get an afterlife code, or when an out-of-body NDEr has actually identified a visual target in the latest installment of the AWARE study. Then I’ll be keen for replications. Until then, tend to your own garden.”

It’s not of importance that scientific data doesn’t render survivalism impossible, since “impossibility” is a ridiculously high standard:

  • Braude et al. (2022) think that I believe that the chiefly neuroscientific evidence “puts survivalists in an awkward position empirically, because they can’t explain away a large and respectable body of neuroscientific data suggesting that survival is impossible.” First of all, I’ve always characterized this evidence as rendering discarnate personal survival highly unlikely, not impossible, since that’s the most that any evidence can do for any hypothesis.[1] Second, the issue is not that empirical survivalists cannot reinterpret away such evidence—it’s that, if they wish to proceed scientifically (rather than pseudoscientifically), they ought not reinterpret it away

  • [1] Discarnate personal survival may well be nomically or even metaphysically impossible, of course, given the true nature of consciousness (whatever that turns out to be). But the issue here is what we can know, in the same sense that we can be said to know things about other scientific matters, about the relationship between our individual mental lives and our brain functioning in light of the total relevant evidence. Here we can only speak in probabilities, as with all scientific hypotheses. As far as we can ascertain, personal survival does not seem possible, given the evidence, without technological or miraculous intervention. But that conclusion is highly probable, not certain.

There is a growing body of evidence in favor of naturalism when it comes to mind/brain dependence, so it really a question of academic honesty of letting the evidence point the way instead of explaining the evidence away:

  • Early on it might be reasonable to try to save one’s pet theories [1] from unfavorable evidence in order to avoid their falsification (or at least a reduction in their overall probability). The data themselves might have been bad, for example. But as more unfavorable evidence accumulates—and from a variety of independent, reliable sources—at some point it becomes unreasonable to continue to cling to one’s theories in the face of the evidence. All that I ask is that psychical researchers adhere to the same standards that other scientists do.

  • [1] The term ‘theory’ should be understood as a synonym for ‘hypothesis’ throughout—as Braude et al. (2022) also use these terms—following the conventions of philosophers of science.

The self is too shaped by the brain to survive in any meaningful sense after death:

  • Whenever empirical survivalists get more specific about their theories on the mind’s relation to functioning brains, they are forced by the facts to concede that the functioning brain changes our mental functioning through and through. Thus it is as if we are never really ourselves when we are incarnate. The corollary of this implication is that who we are now in a substantial or ‘thick’ sense will not survive death even if some mere part of us becomes discarnate. Some abstract impersonal part (not all that different from our bones) might ‘survive’ biological death—perhaps with the mind of a paramecium—once the brain activity that sustains human consciousness during life drops away. But that is not personal survival... [W]hat the independence thesis predicts we will find contradicts what ‘neuroscience-plus’ has in fact uncovered, whereas what the dependence thesis predicts matches it. We thus have pretty compelling evidence that having a functioning brain almost certainly is necessary for human mental processes to exist/occur.

We can see analogs to survivalist approaches with Young Earth Creationism:

  • It’s no less logically possible, after all, that fossils of simpler organisms are found in older geological strata than those of complex ones because God created the fossils that way all at once 10,000 years ago (rather than due to biological evolution). Just as no evolutionary biologist takes such “alternative accounts of the data” seriously, no neuroscientist should take a ‘dependence-looking independence thesis’ seriously, either. If all signs from reliable sources of evidence point to existential or functional dependence, then we should tentatively take such evidence to indicate exactly what it seems to indicate (barring forthcoming, comparably reliable bodies of evidence that suggest otherwise—but we are here talking about available evidence).

That concludes my 3 defending the indefensible posts. Check out Augustine’s journal exchange here: . Next time I will be blogging about further issue related to this exchange.

bookmark_borderWhen Will Survival Researchers Move Past Defending the Indefensible? (Part 2)

Augustine feels the interaction brought out many things that needed to be said, particularly a more accurate representation of the best that the skeptical eye could bring to the table. Reber and Alcock had argued in Skeptical Inquirer in 2019 as to why physics makes psi impossible. Under Braude’s final year as JSE Editor-in-Chief, either the whole issue or a significant portion of the JSE was devoted to refuting Reber and Alcock’s arguments.

Refuting arguments that “psi is impossible” is antecedently easy to do, since anyone claiming that a thing is impossible puts a large burden on oneself to show that. Saying that the evidence makes it highly improbable, or that science needs to reject psi as a working hypothesis in order to investigate things empirically at all, is a more nuanced and defensible position. It’s also one that the echo chamber of JSE readers have likely not heard before (which is why lead author Braude’s reply to Augustine missed the mark on so much–it seems like he’s never even thought about the best skeptical arguments that could be made, just the easy-to-refute caricatures, judging by how much space in that earlier JSE issue was devoted to refuting Reber & Alcock, 2019).

Augustine is just giving voice to what non-fringe scientists have actually argued in an echo chamber that would otherwise never hear it, but only their caricatures of “materialists” or whatever. There are popularizers saying the same things Augustine’s said. He already quoted Sean Carroll on UAP/UFOs and Sam Harris on neuroscience. Consider Neil deGrasse Tyson:

  1. On NDEs and testimonial evidence, at the start (the hypercube/tesseract discussion comes later):

2. On an afterlife being scientifically unlikely (esp. at 2:25 about strokes destroying mental capacities):