Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hallucinations


In a paper (Visions for all) published in its April 7th 2012 issue, Science News summarizes the work of Tanya Luhrmann about the God experiences that many people claim to have felt. After four years of research, the anthropologist believes that she has proved the surprising conclusion that normal people can have hallucinations. But since hallucinations are common in diseases like schizophrenia and psychosis, she predicts that people who have many of these experiences are likely to end up psychotic. In particular, the article says, it is possible that Joan of Arc would have become psychotic if the British had not burned her.

This argumentation has a hidden premise. If we make it explicit, the associated reasoning can be summarized as follows:
  1. God does not exist.
  2. Therefore all reports on God experiences must be hallucinations.
  3. Many normal people claim they have had God experiences.
  4. Therefore many ordinary people suffer hallucinations.
  5. Having many hallucinations can lead to schizophrenia or psychosis.
  6. Therefore Joan of Arc would have become psychotic if the British had not burned her.
But if the first premise, the hidden premise, is false, (i.e. if God exists), the whole argument falls to the ground, for some of those God experiences could be genuine rather than hallucinatory. In particular, the unwarranted and useless conclusion about Joan of Arc is disavowed.
It is a shame that serious journals like Science News fall in these fallacies that rely on hidden assumptions which are unscientific, unproven and even worse: impossible to prove.
Manuel Alfonseca


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