Reasons not to scoff at ghosts, visions and near-death experiences


There is a long tradition of scientists and other intellectuals in the West being casually dismissive of people’s spiritual experiences. In 1766, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant declared that people who claim to see spirits, such as his contemporary, the Swedish scientist Emanuel Swedenborg, are mad. Kant, a believer in the immortality of the soul, did not draw on empirical or medical knowledge to make his case, and was not beyond employing a fart joke to get his derision across: ‘If a hypochondriac wind romps in the intestines it depends on the direction it takes; if it descends it becomes a f–––, if it ascends it becomes an apparition or sacred inspiration.’ Another ‘enlightened’ enemy of other-worldly visions was the chemist and devout Christian, Joseph Priestley. His own critique of spirit seership in 1791 did not advance scientific arguments either, but presented biblical ‘proof’ that the only legitimate afterlife was the bodily resurrection of the dead on Judgment Day.

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What chess can teach us about concentration


The challenge of chess – learning how to hold complexity in mind and still make good decisions – is also the challenge of life

In recent years, I have worked in academic and public policy contexts, attempting to integrate our understanding of complex societal challenges with our inner lives, while also looking after my two sons. I miss many things about not being an active player. I miss the feeling of strength, power and dignity that comes with making good decisions under pressure. I miss the clarity of purpose experienced at each moment of each game, the lucky escapes from defeat, and the thrill of the chase towards victory. But, most of all, I miss the experience of concentration.

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