Cup of Nirvana Philosophical and Contemplative Explorations

Update: Survival and the Empirical World

Greetings Friends:

I have been busy working on my book Survival and the Empirical World.  As indicated in my prior blog, I had to cut back on my planned blogging on the topic of my book in order to prepare a full project proposal which an interested publisher requested.  Between work on the proposal (which includes chapter drafts and a working bibliography) and my teaching load, there has been precious little time to devote to regular blogging on the topic as I had planned.  This of course will likely change once the semester ends.  I plan to use my blog to provide more regular updates on my book and share excerpts of book material as the manuscript takes shape.  In fall 2013 I may also set up a private online discussion group where chapter drafts will be available and we can have regular discussion of the book, including some live stream seminar-style sessions.

Also, at the end of May or beginning of June I will have completed my entry on empirical arguments for survival for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which—pending permission from the editor—I will make available on my website.  I will post a notice in my blog.

For now I have included the revised book abstract below, which includes a link to the current book prospectus. If you compare the current and earlier outlines of book chapters you will notice that I’ve narrowed the scope of what I’m covering in the book.  The main adjustment here has been the elimination of the final chapter in which I had planned to discuss some positive grounds for affirming the rationality of belief in survival.  For various reasons I have decided to only sketch some suggestions in this direction in the conclusion to the book rather than provide a more developed chapter-length argument.  The topic really deserves a book-length treatment, so I’m going to save a more developed argument in support of the rationality of belief in survival for a possible subsequent book, which will cover the larger territory of the epistemology of belief in survival.

Finally, a word of thanks to those of you who have emailed me about my book and your interest in the topic of postmortem survival.  While the comments section for my blog is currently closed, I do welcome emails from readers and try to answer all of them as time permits.

Michael Sudduth

Survival and the Empirical World (Book Abstract, 5/1/13)

Most broadly stated, Survival and the Empirical World is a philosophical exploration of the empirical approach to postmortem survival—the survival of consciousness or the self beyond physical death.  More specifically, in this book I critically evaluate the contention among many who believe in survival that there is empirical evidence that justifies belief in survival. I argue that the classical empirical arguments for survival as developed by prominent philosophers and survival researchers during the past century are unsuccessful.

My exploration of the classical empirical arguments for survival focuses on the “explanatory axis” of such arguments, specifically the contention that the survival hypothesis provides the best explanation of a wide range of empirical data drawn from the phenomena of mediumship, cases of the reincarnation type, apparitional experiences, and out-of-body experiences.  Although the empirical approach to survival has considerable merit and there is intriguing empirical evidence that is at least suggestive of survival, I raise significant doubt about the force of the classical arguments, especially where these arguments maintain that the survival hypothesis has the kind of explanatory success characteristic of scientific hypotheses. 

The weaknesses of the empirical arguments for survival have largely been masked by the way in which the debate concerning these arguments has been framed, for example, with an emphasis on how certain strands of data are quite improbable but for some hypothesis of survival.  I argue that the central issues of debate concerning the inference to survival from the relevant data must be approached with a particular recalibration of the explanatory axis of such arguments.  Such a recalibration will constellate the central issues of the debate around the predictive power of the survival hypothesis, rather than the alleged failures of alternative explanations of the data and hence the alleged surprising nature of the data but for survival.  This maneuver exposes a range of largely unacknowledged or unexplored auxiliary assumptions on which the explanatory inference to survival crucially depends.  I contend that once these assumptions are isolated and their implications traced out, it will be necessary to substantially rethink the three areas of traditional debate concerning empirical arguments for survival: (i) the content of the survival hypothesis, (ii) the assessment of the antecedent probability of the survival hypothesis, and (iii) how alternative explanations challenge the survival hypothesis.

In the light of the recalibration of the explanatory axis of empirical arguments for survival, I argue my central thesis:  we are not warranted in concluding that the survival hypothesis is the best explanation of the data traditionally adduced as empirical evidence for survival.  To the extent that the inference to survival depends on survival being the best explanation of these data or otherwise embodying a range of ostensible explanatory virtues (in a way superior to various competing hypotheses), the inference to survival suffers from debilitating defects.  I conclude with a call for survivalists partial to empirical arguments for survival to rethink the epistemological presuppositions of the tradition of “scientific” inquiry into postmortem survival.

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