Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fascinating Interview with Eric Steinhart...

...at Prosblogion. I found his description of his religious experiences particularly fascinating. It's worth quoting at some length:
Much of my interest in philosophy of religion has been driven by a series of religious or mystical experiences. I have had five or six of these. Of them, three have been overpowering, ego-shattering experiences, while three have been gentler. But all have been profoundly moving. None of them have involved God. Other philosophers, such as Wittgenstein, Hick, and Plantinga have reported their own mystical experiences. So it’s worth thinking more about how such experiences inspire philosophies. 
I would not say that I really gained much new knowledge during these experiences. The content of my experiences was shaped by what I had already studied and found interesting in philosophy, theology, and mathematics. I already thought that reality was a certain way, but my thoughts were merely very abstract outlines of that way. During my mystical experiences, I saw with intense vividness that reality is this way. Much of what I have written philosophically is an effort to verbally express the content of these visions. I regard all these efforts as failures. The vision really is ineffable. 
To some, the term “vision” might suggest hallucination. But I would not say that I have hallucinated. Rather, my visions are more purely mathematical. During one, which came close to the violence of a seizure, I saw the iterative hierarchy of pure sets. I had been studying a lot of set theory; but then I saw it. Along with this vision there was an extreme flood of joy, as well as a kind of pain that comes from being cognitively broken up. Another vision involved something like the totality of recursive functions on the ordinal number line, and the recognition that these functions are the meanings which produce reality as they generate themselves. The forest dissolved into a network of computations. I had already experienced something like this while reading Josiah Royce. This vision was again extremely joyous, and I knew that death is nothing. 
On the basis of these experiences, as well as plenty of discursive reasoning, I identify myself as a religious naturalist. However, I do not take this naturalism to entail simply materialism or logical positivism.   Unfortunately, religious naturalism today is mostly intellectual, and has little in the way of social practice. So I am primarily interested in developing social practices for religious naturalism.   Rather than my practices driving my beliefs, my beliefs are driving my search for practices. And much of my search is for practices which cohere with my mystical experiences.
On a related note, if you haven't already, you should really read his fascinating paper, "On the Plurality of Gods" (Religious Studies 49 (2013), 289-312.) And of course you know about his book, Your Digital Afterlives.

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