Cup of Nirvana Philosophical and Contemplative Explorations

Posts on Postmortem Survival (Life after Death)

(23) Rivas Redux (February 3, 2016)

(22) Response to Titus Rivas (January 7, 2016)

2015 Posts

(21) Response to Bernardo Kastrap (December 25, 2015)

(20) In Defense of Sam Harris on Near-Death Experiences (December 21, 2015)**

(19) Unmasking Survivalist Presumptions (December 6, 2015)

(18) What’s Wrong with Survival Literature (September 29, 2015)*

(17) Awakening Survivalists from their Dogmatic Slumber (September 28, 2015)

(16) Personal Reflections on Life after Death (August 7, 2015)*

(15) No Exit for Survivalists? (April 27, 2015)

(14) Survivalists in the Crosshairs (April 25, 2015)

(13) Concise Overview of Survival Book (April 19, 2015)

2014 Posts

(12) Near-Death Experiences – Evidence for Life after Death? (September 9, 2014)**

Synopsis:  I offer some brief observations on one weak sense in which near-death experiences are somewhat trivially evidence for life after death, and I contrast this with survivalist claims to have shown that these experiences provide evidence strong enough to suffice for the rational acceptance of personal survival of death.  As in my earlier publications, I draw attention to the problem of auxiliary hypotheses, a problem that vitiates all empirical survival arguments.

(11) Survival and the Empirical World – Book Abstract (July 23, 2014)

Synopsis:  A short revised abstract that summarizes the focus of my book in progress on empirical arguments for life after death (under contract with Palgrave Macmillan).

(10) Falsification, Simplicity, and Survival (June 4, 2014)*

Synopsis: I respond to reader comments on Michael Prescott’s blog.  The reader incorrectly interprets my critique of survival arguments as based on Popperian epistemology.   I clarify that the central problem for survival arguments is not that the survival hypothesis isn’t falsifiable, but that the empirical inference to survival (whether construed as an explanatory argument or confirmation-style argument) depends on auxiliary hypotheses that are not (presently) independently testable.  I also argue that the frequently played “simplicity card” (in favor of survival) results in a “poor hand.”

(9) Response to Prescott’s Minions (May 30, 2014)

Synopsis: I respond to various critical comments offered by Michael Prescott’s blog readers to my critique on survivalist Chris Carter.  Much of my response addresses a number of remedial issues in argument formulation and clearing up misunderstandings of my arguments.  I also address near-death experiences as potential evidence for survival and the implications of the so-called “transmission theory” of consciousness.

(8) Response to Michael Prescott (May 19, 2014)

Synopsis:  I respond to author Michael Prescott’s criticisms of my critique of Chris Carter.  Prescott argues that while the auxiliary hypotheses required by the survival argument are not independently supported, they do nonetheless fit with our background knowledge.  I argue that fit with background knowledge is too epistemically permissive (or anemic).  First,  non-survival counter-explanations of the data, for example appeals to living-agent psychic functioning, also have auxiliary assumptions that fit with our background knowledge.  Second, there are many alternative survival hypotheses whose auxiliary hypotheses fit with our background knowledge, but these alternative survival theories do not lead us to expect the data alleged suggestive of survival.  In the absence of independently supported auxiliary hypotheses, we have no way of knowing (or justifiably believing) what the world should look like if survival is true.  This renders the survival hypothesis vacuous as an alleged empirical hypothesis, it suggests that we’re really dealing with a piece of metaphysics to which empirical data has been not so cleverly retrofitted to give the impression that it’s a hypothesis with powerful empirical credentials.

(7) Chris Carter’s Challenge: Survival vs. Super-Psi (May 12, 2014)

Synopsis:  Chris Carter is a popular survivalist author who has presented a “challenge” to skeptics of empirical survival arguments who think that living-agent psychic functioning challenges survival arguments.  Carter simply rehashes the standard survivalist responses to these skeptical arguments, responses that I argue are indicative of everything that’s been unimpressive in pro-survival literature since about 1912.  First, like most survivalists, Carter fails to present much in the way of a positive argument for survival, much less any logically rigorous account of principles of evidence assessment.  The survival hypothesis appears to be the best explanation of the data largely, if not exclusively, because competing explanations are allegedly not very good explanations. However, even if true, at best this shows that the survival hypothesis is simply more reasonable than alternatives (vis-a-vis the selected data), not that the survival hypothesis is all things considered reasonable or has any strong net plausibility or probability.  Second, like other survivalists, Carter fails to see how his criticisms of appeals to living-agent psi also apply to the survival hypothesis once we take account of how empirical survival arguments depend on auxiliary hypotheses that are untestable and lack independent support.  Carter is simply wielding an epistemic double standard, a philosophical vice concealed by focusing more on what competing explanations don’t accomplish than on what the survival hypothesis does accomplish.

(6) Getting Sober about Survival, Part 3 of 3 (February 28, 2014)

Synopsis:  I develop the “problem of auxiliary hypotheses” by showing that lack of independent support or testability for the auxiliary hypotheses required by survival arguments functions as a multi-faceted “defeater” for empirical survival arguments.

(5) Getting Sober about Survival, Part 2 of 3 (February 11, 2014)

Synopsis:  In this blog, I develop the “auxiliary hypothesis requirement” for empirical survival arguments.  I argue that empirical survival arguments fail (in both Bayesian and Likelihoodist formulations) because the predictive consequences of the survival hypothesis depend on auxiliary hypotheses that are not independently testable or supported.  To illustrate the general point, I outline a dozen or so auxiliary hypotheses required for arguments for survival from the data of mediumship and show why most, if not all, of them are not independently supported or testable.

(4) Getting Sober about Survival, Part 1 of 3 (January 29, 2014)

Synopsis:  I provide a review of Elliott Sober’s critique of Intelligent Design arguments (based on Likelihoodist approaches to confirmation theory), and  I also discuss in a preliminary way their relevance to empirical arguments for postmortem survival.

(3) Interview on Postmortem Survival (January 20, 2014)

Synopsis: In this interview (conducted by by Jime Sayaka), I provide a detailed response to a number of important questions about empirical survival arguments, including the various formulations of empirical survival argument, issues on which the cogency of the arguments depend, their central problems, and the merits of various criticisms of these arguments.  I pay particular attention to Bayesian and Likelihoodist formulations of the traditional survival arguments.  Much of the discussion centers on the need to formulate the survival argument with greater conceptual clarity and logical rigor than has traditionally characterized pro-survival literature. I also argue for the need to recalibrate the empirical survival debate with the “predictive power” of the survival hypothesis as the central issue, not the failure of alternative explanations or even assessments of the (comparative) prior probability of survival and its explanatory competitors.

2013 Posts

(2) Clarifying my Critique of Survival Arguments (Februry 19, 2013)

Synopsis:  After “Wrong Turns” made its way around the cyber world, it became clear that many readers simply didn’t understand the nature of my criticisms of empirical survival arguments.  I’m not challenging the truth of the survival hypothesis. I’m challenging the cogency of certain arguments for the survival hypothesis.  I don’t claim that there are no good grounds at all for belief in survival.  It’s also not my view that there is no empirical evidence for survival. I also don’t claim that belief in survival is unreasonable or irrational.

(1) “Wrong Turns” in Arguments for Postmortem Survival (February 9, 2013)

Synopsis: I outline several of the “logical” problems that infect traditional empirical arguments for postmortem survival.  For example, it’s not clear that the survival hypothesis is the best explanation of the relevant empirical data.  It’s also not clear how being the best explanation of some range of data confers any significant epistemic probability on the survival hypothesis.  Survivalists rarely address the gap between explanatory merit and epistemic merit; they simply “tack on” a favorable judgment of net plausibility/probability on the grounds of alleged explanatory superiority, perhaps with a bit of a boost from favorable judgments of the antecedent or prior probability of the survival hypothesis.