Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Kind of makes you think...

A commenter to an earlier post got me thinking.

If you had a friend who claimed to see ghosts, what would you think of them?

There are three alternatives which spring to mind:

1) There are ghosts, and they really can be seen by the friend.

2) There are not really any ghosts, but your friend does believe he is seeing them--they are figments of his imagination.

3) The friend is just making it up.

There may be other alternatives, but they are complex and the above three probably account for most of the possibility set.

I think that in most cases, you can dispense with 3), if you know the person well and they have been honest in all other matters. To some extent you can also dispense with 2) if the person functions well in the world. E.g. he has a job which requires intelligence and good judgment. He is able to run his private life with a minimum of drama--not in trouble with the law, gets along with friends and family etc. These things would indicate a healthy mental state and people with healthy minds don't usually hallucinate.

The problem is that 1) is not that believable either. Scientists have tried for decades to show (in laboratory-controlled conditions) that there is something to the para-normal. All of these efforts have failed so far.

Maybe there are options 4), 5) and 6) that I haven't thought-up yet.

What if a parent told his child a parable, for instructional purposes only. Then that kid brought the story up in front of other adults? The parent is in a dilemma: Wreck the story by admitting it was made-up, or repeat it in front of others. Eventually one could become trapped into vouching for a story which was never really meant to be taken literally.

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