Applying the Scientific Method to Spiritual Truths

(This is Q&A Follow Up from my post yesterday: New Agers Are Metaphysical Lightweights)

Friend: How do you falsify/test your soul theory?

Me:

Here are a few different possible epistemological angles I’ve thought of:

1) The phenomenological claim most people make is that there is something deeper to who they are than their personality. That enough people make this claim has some truth merit on its own.

2) You could then look to test this claim more structurally by employing a highly predictive theory of personality, that would also incorporate other theories that predict behavior. Many people who have built very compelling personality models end up finding that people who are the same type end up having some fundamental feature that is different about them. Many have called this “God in the Gaps” the soul. You could then test if the model that includes personality and soul is more predictive of behavior than a different theory of behavior. This has some Kuhnian paradigm dynamics to which model is “considered right”.

3) Some people claim to be able to determine something about someone’s soul from looking at their eyes. “the eyes are the window to the soul”. You could construct some type of double blind inter-rater reliability to see if they consistently rated someone similarly.

4) Ian Stevenson and Jim B Tucker are academic professors at University of Virginia who investigate reincarnation claims and have some compelling case studies.

5) Eventually we may develop the technological tools to be able to attempt to measure where people think the soul lives in the objective realm. In analogy, there was no way of knowing much about the nature of bacteria and viruses until we invented microscopes. People had all sorts of strange explanations for why people got sick before that.

6) The more developed a theory of soul is the more predictions it would make that you could test. There are many models of soul that consider it a developmental phenomenon for instance where people come in at different soul ages, so with that additional ontological claim there are other things you could test, such as studying people who are classified as the same soul age, and doing longitudinal studies on their behavior to see if stage they’re at meaningfully predicts their behavior.

 

Friend:

1. People claim all sorts of stuff. Doesn’t seem falsifiable
2. Any putative theories you could test based on soul?
4. Will read up on them sounds cool
5. Seems most tests (soul age, eyes) have confounding variables you could be detecting instead of soul. How do you make sure it is soul you detect?

Me:

1. That’s only sort of true. Integral psychology gives us a much better frame to make sense of the claims people make. The rational world, which is Orange in the integral model, has a habit of simply dismissing any idea that doesn’t seem rational, rather than understanding the worldspace in which the idea originated, and the partial truths they may be picking up on.

Building on that thought, if many people within a given world space (given by a celll in the matrix of the image I shared below) all say things, that coherence is worth something, much more than a one off story which can more easily be attributed to general kookiness.

http://integral-life-home.s3.amazonaws.com/wilber_combs…

Integral epistemology also gives us a broader definition of what it means for something to be falsifiable.
It gives three levels of science. Narrow, Broad and Broader. And makes the claim that interior sciences like spiritual claims can follow the same epistemological rigor of narrow conventional science most people know. Namely the generalized process of Injunction -> Experience -> Confirmation/Rejection.

The claim I’m making about soul is in the domain of a “broader” causal claim. So technically for you to be considered a “viable peer” that could falsify my claim, as the peer review process in science does, you’d have to be capable of performing the “injunctions” to reach a causal state of meditation, have the same experience I’m talking about and see if you interpret it differently or not. If you can’t reach that causal state of awareness in meditation, you’re technically no different than Joe Blow off the street looking into a microscope trying to tell a biologist what they see is wrong. You need training to be able to properly interpret what you see in the microscope. Similarly you need training to interpret meditative experience.

2 – I actually don’t know any that are rigorous enough to meet my Integral Epistemological requirements. Most
theories of soul are enacted from an Amber-Mythic or Green-Pluralistic-New Age Consciousness and therefore have some easily spottable fundamental flaws. Wilber has been hesitant to formally theorize about soul and “trans-migration” due to its potential to overshadow the rigor of the rest of his work.

Here’s an example of a green new age philosophy of soul that has some truth in it I think but also has a lot of fundamental flaws that I don’t think would enable it to pass many or any objective experiments http://www.michaelteachings.com/

5 – Agree. You’d have to make predictions about how what a given classification means for a person and see if it is meaningfully predictive over a cohort who are all classified as the same.

I have learned some developmental models from soul that do make interesting predictions. Some of which seem to be true. But given the lack of rigor must be taken with a grain of salt.

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