It was just a migraine

In a lecture on St. Hildegard, the lecturer mentioned that's some modern "scholars" explain away her spiritual visions as having been caused by migraine headaches.

It is certainly possible that Hildegard may have been having migraines. But what in the world does that have to do with whether or not God was sending her visions? When I see a tree, certain things happen in my brain. But it would be nonsense to point to those neurological phenomena and say, "See, Gene is not seeing a tree: there is just this electrical activity in his brain."

Perhaps visions sent by God are so intense that they cause migraines. Or perhaps migraines are God's way of sending us a vision. I don't know if Hildegard was having genuine revelations or not, but I do know that whether or not she was having migraines has nothing to do with answering the first question.

In any case, here is one of her migraine headaches for your viewing pleasure:




It looks remarkably like the migraine headaches experienced by Tibetan monks, doesn't it?




UPDATE: As I feared, Ken B. invoked his "parsimonious explanation" mantra when commenting on this post. Sorry, Ken, your parsimonious explanation would "prove" that Paul Erdos was not really having mathematical insights in his hundreds of papers, but was just feeling the effects of speed.

15 comments:

  1. No, this won't do. It's the usual thing: simple parsimonius explanation.
    People cite her "visions" as evidence for god or his alleged intervention in and concern for human affairs. But what did she really testify to? Certain mental experiences. There is no reason to believe her *explanation* of them over more prosaic and well established scientific explanations. If her experience has a simple, common, natural explanation it fails as evidence of divine intervention.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I posted this, I thought to myself, "Now Ken B will respond with his usual nonsense about parsimonious explanations."

      But your principal, we could eliminate all evidence for trees, since we have a "natural", parsimonious explanation for the fact people think they exist: we can measure certain neurological phenomena that occur whenever people THINK they are seeing a tree. And there is absolutely zero evidence for the existence of trees that is independent of neurological phenomena that makes people think trees are there.

      So congratulations, you have proved we have no need for the hypothesis "trees."

      Delete
    2. "By your principal..."

      Delete
    3. Ken, please note that EVERY scientific theory relies on scientists testifying to "certain mental experiences"!

      Delete
  2. Suppose in the future scientists identify not only the physical process that causes "visions" to be one of the symptoms of migraines but precisely what drives the content of such visions.

    That also wouldn't prove that such visions are not transmitted by god, but many people would see it as strong evidence against that theory, wouldn't they?

    ReplyDelete
  3. No, rob, there is no way to move from a scientific explanation to a phenomenological experience. Modern science was built by "bracketing off" (Husserl) the phenomenological, so by its very postulates it cannot account for it. Please see Galileo, Descartes, Newton, etc. on what they were doing to create modern science.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is UFO stuff Gene.
    Fred says he saw a UFO on June 3 last year. But we just discovered that a weather balloon drifted past his house that night. Of course that undercuts the claim Fred really saw a UFO, or that Fred's sighting proves aliens are real. You are falling into the trap Murphy and Major Freedom do: demanding that your position be accepted as reasonable and rational unless it can be proven to be logically impossible.

    Erdos had ideas. Erdos's stated results can be and were proven. We are not relying on his testimony that the mathgod assured him of these results. There is no analogy at all here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "This is UFO stuff Gene.
      Fred says he saw a UFO on June 3 last year. But we just discovered that a weather balloon drifted past his house that night. Of course that undercuts the claim Fred really saw a UFO..."

      What an idiotic analogy! If Hildegard had claimed she was having a seizure, but instead turned out to be having a migraine, THAT would be analogous to your example. But Hildegard was not claiming anything about what state her brain was in! We know it was in SOME state, so what your claim amounts to is, "If we can show someone's brain is in some state or other, then we can disregard whatever they say caused that state."

      And you say Erdos's results were "proven"? By your own principle, that is nonsense: all that happened was certain mathematicians' brains happened to enter a "proof-like" state! Maybe Erdos's work just caused them all to have similar migraines!

      Delete
    2. Oh, and as opposed to Major Freedom: pretty much everyone of the greatest figures in the history of philosophy would agree with me on this point, and laugh off your objections as the drivel of someone unable to think philosophically. How is that for "independent" proof? Or do you suddenly not like independent proof so much anymore?

      Delete
    3. Hey, Ken, you think my reasoning in this post is unsound, hey? But neurology shows that when you thought that's what you were thinking, actually you were just experiencing certain electrochemical activity in your brain! In fact, while you believe that there is such a thing as science, and such things as scientists, we can show these beliefs are also just certain states of your brain! And while you think you have "independent evidence" that scientists are real, from the testimony of "others," we can show that these supposed others just correspond to states of your brain as well.

      Delete
  5. Let's review the bidding.

    Monk: God intervenes! He gave Hilde a vision!
    Skeptic: Say what?
    M: She drew a picture. She saw this fancy shape with flashing lights. She saw it! It's weird and wonderful! God is the only explanation!
    S: You are kidding, right? She saw flashing lights and fancy shapes. That's not unusual. A lot of people do. My wife does when she drinks red wine.
    A simpler explanation of what she saw is that it was caused by a migraine. It's not the only explanation possible. Perhaps she ate a funny mushroom.
    In any case, there are many naturalistic explanations for her seeing lights and shapes. It's like with UFOs. My uncle Fred saw something last summer, and called it a UFO. I don't doubt he saw a shape but we have film of that day and can see a weather balloon floating by just as he shouts "UFO".
    I think the more reasonable explanation is that he just saw the weather balloon.
    M: But she SAID it was from god!
    S: She might have privileged access to her experience but not to understanding or explaining what caused it. Just as Fred has no privileged position in regards to explaining what he saw. Her explanation is what I question.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ken, the summary is as bad as the analogy. Neither I (nor anyone at the time!) ever said "God is the only explanation" for visions! In fact, the very first things Hildegard did, upon having these visions, was to SEEK INDEPENDENT CONFIRMATION from experts!

      Delete
    2. Sorry, I have to call intellectual dishonesty here: I wrote "I don't know if Hildegard was having genuine revelations or not..."

      To turn that into "God is the only explanation!" is really pretty bad. And note: that is absolutely not what they did in the Middle Ages! The Church was very skeptical of people who had "visions," and investigated very thoroughly before they would let anyone claim they were from God. So, either you are completely ignorant about these things -- then why comment on them? -- or dishonest.

      Delete
    3. "It is certainly possible that Hildegard may have been having migraines. But what in the world does that have to do with whether or not God was sending her visions? "
      The point at issue is whether the migraines provide a significantly more plausible explanation of the visions than god.
      " I don't know if Hildegard was having genuine revelations or not, but I do know that whether or not she was having migraines has nothing to do with answering the first question."
      It certainly has to do with *whether we should believe she was*. Which is the point at issue. If there is a mundane explanation then there is no reason to see these as revelations. Maybe she did, maybe Charles Manson did, maybe Timothy Leary did. All these things are possible but none are rational because there are simpler explanations for their visions.

      Delete
    4. "The point at issue is whether the migraines provide a significantly more plausible explanation of the visions than god. "

      No, no, no! Utterly and completely wrong!

      It is like asking "Are sound waves the cause of these noises or is the cause Gene yelling about how bad my comments are?"

      You are in utter and total confusion about levels of explanation here: SOMETHING is going on in our brains in EVERY experience we have. It is utter nonsense to be asking, "Was X experiencing Y, or was something going on in his brain?"

      Which is exactly the question you keep asking, again and again, though dozens of COMMENTS, AND...

      See, that was Gene yelling!

      Delete