Re: Article in NATURE / Cause and Effect

Paul K. Wason (
Thu, 6 May 1999 09:10:20 -0400

Rather than step into the current debate (I haven't read the article yet),
I just wanted to highlight something EGM wrote that I think is of immense
importance, though easily overlooked:

> I am one who believes that there is a
>fine connection between the physical and supernatural; the scientists
>finding a chemical responsible for my persistant prayer life (I wish)
>would be finding the "physical" cause of my experience without access
>to the pre- or supra- physical cause. However, the crucial point of
>the questions was not address by your short comment. Thanks anyway.

I believe this is important because there is a tendency among scholars (and
in the "popular imagination") to assume that when chemicals are involved,
they are the cause. I realize that when put baldly like that most people
would recognize that this is an inadequate view of the world, but in
practice, I believe many people think of chemicals as basic and more likely
to cause other phenomenal than the reverse.

I don't know if this is what this article claims or (regardless of what
they claim) how people will want to interpret their work, but I suspect
that if an experiment correlates chemical conditions with spritual
experience, many people will skip the fine print and jump to the conclusion
that they can now dismiss spiritual experience as simply a result of
certain chemical conditions which, thanks to Science we can now identify.

But EGM makes the crucial point that the chemical condition may itself be a
Result -- if a result of one's prayer life, then it would be a result of
real contact with the supernatural. Finding chemical markers for spiritual
experience would not be evidence that spirituality is merely an
epiphenomenon of chemistry, even though it is likely that our experience
itself is, like any human experience, has been mediated by the chemical


Paul K. Wason tel (207) 786-6240
306 Lane Hall, Bates College fax (207) 786-8342
Lewiston, Maine 04240