“If the end of the world appeared in all the literal trappings of the Apocalypse, if the modern materialist saw with his own eyes the heavens rolled up and the great white throne appearing, if he had the sensation of being himself hurled into the Lake of Fire, he would continue forever, in that lake itself, to regard his experience as an illusion and to find the explanation of it in psycho-analysis, or cerebral pathology. Experience by itself proves nothing. If a man doubts whether he is dreaming or waking, no experiment can solve this doubt, since every experiment may itself be part of the dream. Experience proves this, or that, or nothing, according to the preconceptions we bring to it.”

— C.S. Lewis, “Miracles” (1942)[1]

Although Lewis’s point is clearly hyperbolic, he has a very good point. When we experience things, we always interpret it through our preconceptions. Let me give an example. When discussing with a friend some time ago, the discussion went into materialism and theism. My friend, an agnostic, pointed to a certain experiment (I have not found out anything more than what he said) where a number of people where asked to rest their hand on a table and randomly — within one minute — lift one of their fingers (I can’t remember which). The interesting thing, was that a split second before the people lifted their fingers, the brain told the nerves and muscles to get ready. My friend said that this was proof that we have no free will, and that everything is predetermined. But how can this “prove” this? Let’s see how we can interpret this with either precondition a (naturalism) or precondition b (theism).[2]

A: This shows us that the brain is predetermined, and when we think that we rule ourselves, we really don’t.
B: This shows us that the soul, which is incorporeal, but which is connected to the body — and of course, the brain — as its form. In other words, when we think that we rule ourself, we really do.

The question then, is not what experience tells us — even though all reasoning starts with the senses — but which precondition is true, or the most probable. I will not write about that just now, but I would want people to ponder that noone is absolutely objective when it comes to experience.

Notes & references:

1. Lewis, C.S., “Miracles” in God in The Dock: Essays on Theology. Edited by Walter Hooper (London: G.Bles, 1971/Fount Paperbacks, 1979), pp. 11-12

2. By “theism” I mean a religious approach, allowing for man to have some sort of soul.