header image
 

The Anatomy Of Miracles

Someone recently told me in an online forum that they had evidence of some kind of consciousness surviving after death. He wouldn’t go into detail, but emphasized that while there was no physical evidence extant, there were multiple eyewitnesses.

The Eye, from Nicu's Photo Blog (CC:by-sa-n)

Admittedly several eyewitnesses is better than only one, but it really doesn’t raise a perceived event above the level of anecdote into that of hard data (unless, of course, you restrict the definition of your data to “what people *reportedly* saw” – which is legitimate, but it is dificult to see how it could be considered supernatural). Two or more people reporting a ghost (or alien, or Virgin Mary) sighting is no less anecdotal than one person’s report.

I know this first hand, because I once created such a miracle out of thin air.

I once had some roommates who had convinced themselves that their minds could access other realms in their dreams. I’m not proud of it now but I screwed with their heads something awful by pretending to participate in those dream travels. (My personal ethics have evolved since then.) I picked up on some of the dream events they discussed, “let slip” that I’d had similar dreams, expanded on the themes and added to them. Before long they were having dreams that followed on from mine, or possibly imagining they had after the fact, or possibly pretending the same way.

The effect was the same. We all described having shared dreams, wherein we traveled to strange realms and met unearthly personages who dispensed wise advice and warnings, usually rather vague and unintelligible except in hindsight, occasionally more pointed. At least one of us was faking it, though. I was just seeing how far I could skew the plotlines and tenor of the shared dreamworld to my liking. Rather far, it turned out.

Patterns for the Marionette Body - Bennington College CC: BY-SA-N

It was rather intoxicating, that manipulative process. It’s entirely possible that every one of us four was playing the same game I was, but I doubt it. The dreamworld events didn’t move in any particular direction unless I nudged them, and as far as I could tell my roomies were quite sincere in their belief in the reality of the other realms. One would remember something from the previous night’s dream, and another would suddenly remember something similar, or connected. They convinced each other, and I (to my present shame) helped them along with it. Every once in a while I would even slip in a specific piece of information that would tie into the real world; I mentioned being puzzled by a spirit’s reference to “a false fire” for example, just before a surprise fire drill I happened to know was coming.

I moved it out of the dream world; I got them genuinely believing to all appearances that they were slipping into other universes almost all the time. Eerie events would occur; a glassy-eyed jogger passing became translucent, his feet hadn’t touched the ground! At one point I the entire decor of a restaurant we were in had changed in the blink of an eye; suddenly it was pastel shades and painted walls instead of wood paneling. Totally inexplicable! I overheard one of them describing the incredible “event” to another party, who was naturally somewhat skeptical – and remained so, to his credit, but seemed rather shaken when the story was backed up by my other two roomies (there were four of us in toto).

Recipe and Key - Patrick Q, CC: BY-NC

The key to effective acting is to be able to temporarily convince yourself, and I still have a clear “memory” of what it looked like when the decor changed; it would not have taken much effort to have convinced myself it was a real event. In fact it might have been easier, as it would have let me relax about keeping it all straight, or mostly so. A contradiction here and there didn’t matter much, I found.

After a few months it began to get a bit out of hand. We were all fairly insular nerdy people, and living in the Bible Belt, and getting sucked into a crystallizing proto-cult wasn’t doing any of our stunted social lives any good; the Southern evangelical churches have the lock on weird cultiish beliefs in that neck of the woods and don’t take kindly to competition. I decided I’d had enough of it and ‘fessed up my fakery; I was ready to move on, literally and figuratively. I explained that I’d just been playing along, that it hadn’t been serious to me but just a game. I tried to put a nice spin on it by saying it was, to me, just a game we’d all been playing together, which was something I’d kind of told myself at the beginning, but I was no longer able to convince myself, and so I couldn’t convince them; it might have started that way but it had devolved into deliberate manipulation on my part, and we all knew it, and our friendship was in no way strong enough to survive that kind of betrayal.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened to those miracles in our memories, if I’d just moved on without confessing. Would those shared dreams have faded into “some crazy shit we thought up as kids” or would they have reinforced themselves into indisputable facts? Would my former roommates have stuck together and continued feeding each other’s credulous subconscousnesses?

Heaven's Gate - Darth Downey, CC: by-nc

When tragedies like the Heaven’s Gate suicides, there is always a chorus of people asking how could it happen? How could a group of highly intelligent people, skilled and educated professionals, possibly have convinced themselves of such bizarre things, to fatal result?

I don’t ask that. I know.

~ by BT Murtagh on November 20, 2011.

musings, Religion, skepticism