Infrasound and religious experiences

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Scientists have discovered that feelings of eeriness and religious experiences can correlate with very sounds lower than we can hear. According to NPR today, a man working on a house alone saw what looked like a ghost. The next day he discovered an electric tool buzzing on its own. He investigated and found a fan operating at a very low frequency. When he turned it off, the tool stopped. Apparently this was also the reason for his ghost sighting. British scientists have investigated the effects of infrasound at musical performances. Parts of the music with infrasound notes correlated with experiences of "sorrow, coldness, anxiety and shivers down the spine". The NPR story described a different experiment. There was a strong correlation between those in an audience who near infrasound projectors and those who reported strange or spiritual sensations during the performance.

What do we conclude? Those who are quick to dismiss any reality to spiritual claims say: According to The Guardian's story, "natural sources of infrasound - wind, air conditioning systems and traffic for example - could possibly explain why there were persistent reports of hauntings in some buildings." That doesn't bother me. At atheists.about.com, however, we find a stronger stance. "It disproves that old idea that there are some things that science cannot and will not ever be able to explain, one of which is often the strange sensations people have in some circumstances. Religious feelings are not immune to careful, scientific investigation - we just need the right sorts of things to look for, first."

This is doubly fallacious. First off, you can't disprove the idea that there are some things science can't explain by showing that one such thing is now explained. There still may be lots of other things science can't explain, for all this argument has shown. Second, as one of the people interviewed on the NPR spot this afternoon pointed out, all this shows is a correlation. This gives us one occasion for religious experiences. It doesn't show that it's the cause. I can think of a number of possible scenarios for this. He suggested that maybe we're always unconsciously having religious experiences, and this just brings it into our conscious awareness. Another explanation would be that these infrasound effects bring us into a connection with spiritual realities that we're otherwise not aware of. A third possibility is that this is an effect that leads to a similar sensation to those caused by spiritual realities. One way or the other, the conclusion doesn't follow. It's a possible explanation for some religious experiences, as the Guardian story said, but it's a bit beyond the evidence to say much else for sure.

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