Popularized by astronomer Carl Sagan, the actual source of the quote I used to title this post may be from Marcello Truzzi, a co-founder of the debunking group called CISCOP. The concept, however, goes back to people such as the French astronomer Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace —usually just called “Laplace”— (“”The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness”) or even Scottish philosopher David Hume (“A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence”). It seems so reasonable. The question, however, is should we accept it as valid?
The people at SCEPCOP point out that no matter how reasonable it seems, the debunkers or pseudo-skeptics can use this to denounce what they don’t believe in. In their article (LINK) they provide five ways this can either be “underhandedly” used to prevent further examination of claims or reasons why it may simply not be valid at all. Take a look at the article and see what you think (and please ignore their error in numbering).
What I’d like to discuss here is the concept of anecdotal evidence. As a general rule, those people who call themselves skeptics (but in reality are pseudo-skeptics or just debunkers) do not accept as valid evidence individual reports or anecdotes. For example, although there are hundreds of thousands of reports of UFOs, all of them are rejected by debunkers because they’re just anecdotes. Now, the truth is most of those anecdotes are errors, mistakes, misinterpretation of natural phenomena or in a few cases, fraud. But that’s not all of the cases. There are still many thousands of cases from expert observers that are not explained through those solutions. What do the pseudo-skeptics do? Ignore them. To debunkers they’re just anecdotal evidence and that doesn’t matter. They want something that can be examined in the laboratory, and if they can’t have it their way then it doesn’t exist.
But the truth is, science has always accepted anecdotal evidence. Much of Freud’s theories that form one of the pillars of the science of psychology were based on a few instances of working with a relatively small number of individuals. Jung, whose concepts form another pillar of psychological science, came up with many of his theories through self-analysis.
In the latest issue of Edge Science Magazine (a free PDF journal that can be downloaded at this LINK), there is a great article by Robert McLuhan (author of Randi’s Prize, an important book that reveals the damage done to real science by this supposed contest) entited “Anecdotal Evidence.” In it, he discusses the relationship of the brain and the mind. Today, most scientists blithely state that they are the same. But are they? What evidence do scientists have for this?
The usual evidence to support this thesis is the strange case of Phineas Gage. In 1848, an explosion drove an iron bar over 40 inches long and 1.25 inches in diameter through his head. The bar went behind his left eye and came out at the top of his head. Amazingly, although it destroyed most of his left frontal lobe, he not only survived the explosion and the surgery to remove the bar, he actually lived for many years.
Photograph of Phineas P. Gage (1823–1860).
In his left hand he holds the “tamping iron” that was removed from his head.
The case of Mr. Gage is trotted out to prove that the brain is the source of the mind. After the injury, Gage’s personality supposedly changed dramatically, so much so that his friends said, “he was no longer Gage.” The assumption, therefore, is that the destruction of his left frontal lobe caused the change.
However, McLuhan did some investigation and discovered that the change occurred gradually (if the mind and personality are controlled by the brain, shouldn’t it have happened immediately?) and was nowhere near as dramatic as claimed by some. In fact, two years after the accident a Harvard professor of surgery claimed Gage was completely recovered “in body and mind.”
But let’s assume that Gage’s personality did change after the accident. Look at where the bar went and how it left him. I don’t know about you, but if that happened to me it would certainly change my personality! In the year 2000 I had an NDE (the paramedics had the paddles out to get my heart working correctly, but apparently an injection got my heart going properly) and since then I find myself far calmer and more balanced. If that change happened to me, a change certainly could have happened to Gage.
In fact, if you stuck a 3.5 foot bar through my head I guarantee my personality would change!
As McLuhan states, “No conclusion can be drawn, except that in 1848 a man reacted to severe physical trauma more or less as a man living in 2009 might be expected to do.” And yet, scientists continually use this one case of anecdotal evidence to “prove” that, as McLuhan describes such theories, “the mind is what the brain does.”
You’ve probably heard about Gabrielle Giffords. She is the Congressional Representative from Arizona who, in January of 2011, was shot in the head. According to Dr. Peter Rhee, the trauma director at the University of Arizona, “This wasn’t a little grazing wound through the brain, this was a devastating wound that traveled the entire length of the brain on the left side.” And yet, although she is still getting therapy, in August of 2011 she was able to return to Congress to cast a vote.
Although all of the books indicate this shouldn’t be happening, both the cases of Gage and Giffords indicate that although certain areas of the brain are supposed to control things, it is possible either for their to be some sort of rewiring of the brain in some unknown way or, although there is some relationship between the brain and the mind, they are not the same. In fact, it’s legitimate to say that unless the mechanism by which the brain can intelligently (and where and what is this “intelligence?”) rewire itself to allow different areas of the brain to control functions other than what is “normal” (whatever that means), then the link between the mind and brain is tenuous at best.
The Meaning for Magick
If we accept that the brain is simply a physical representation of the mind, then there is no reason that the mind cannot separate from the brain and the physical body, allowing for astral projection, astral travel, pathworking up the Tree of Life, and astral magick. Although some practitioners contend that all astral work is simply within the mind and imagination, the concept of the mind being separate from the brain and the physical body implies that there can be other planes of existence and other dimensions which, though different from the physical plane, are every bit as real as the physical plane.
This, by the way, compares to some of the latest theories in quantum physics identifies as “String Theory,” which contends there multiple dimensions ranging in number from 10 or 11 to 26! Once again, science is catching up with magick.
I discuss the importance of the concept of a non-physical astral plane for magickal work in my book, Modern Magick. I would add that if the mind and brain are related or associated but not the same, there’s no reason that the mind cannot survive the death of the body. This would allow for communicating with the deceased who have not yet reincarnated, as well as reincarnation (AKA “the magickal memory”) itself.
Thus, when looking scientifically at the mind and brain, it is just as likely to say that astral projection and reincarnation are possible as it is to say that “the mind is what the brain does.” After all, both are merely anecdotal evidence.