James is a photographer, gallery owner, musician & paranormal investigator from Wellington.
1. What are your spiritual beliefs?
I have no spiritual beliefs. Even the word Spiritual has an uncertain meaning for me. It seems a bit of a catch all for anything that is not material, or energy (in the scientific sense). People may mean different things when they use the word.
I was not brought up to have religious beliefs (thank God). I have vacillated between agnosticism and atheism, but these days I’m a full time atheist, having read The God Delusion and been a member of NZ Skeptics for a while now. I wouldn’t say I’m a hard atheist, as I have plenty of respect for others’ religious beliefs and I don’t try to disabuse them of their faith. That would just be bloody rude.
People around me (not my family so much, but friends and acquaintances in general conversation) have always referred to the human soul as if its existence were a given, and if you reply that you don’t necessarily buy into the concept of the soul, it’s either a conversation killer or an argument starter.
The most concerning thing I’ve heard a fairly smart, educated person say is, “I don’t need to question what I know to be true.”
What do I believe in the realm of the paranormal? Here is my recent blog post on that thorny question.
Summary of blog post: I think telepathy may be possible in extremis, and that would explain the phenomenon of the crisis apparition, which I think does occur. I am not convinced that ghosts are explained by the survival of human personality after death; rather, some complex behaviour of time may be the key and science may one day explain how it is that we sometimes encounter ghosts.
2. How sure are you that those beliefs are true?
Not sure at all. I am prepared to change my thinking if presented with strong evidence that contradicts it.
3. How did you come to have these beliefs?
By reading a bunch of books, and also by going out into the field and trying to find out stuff. I co-founded the paranormal investigation group Strange Occurrences for that purpose.
I disagree with the practice of ‘armchair skepticism,’ which means forming views based on received accounts but with little or no practical experience in the subject area. Acquiring first hand knowledge and experience is extremely valuable in understanding what people believe they have experienced. Interviewing people who have had spiritual or paranormal experiences also helps you to understand what makes people tick in this regard, and it is a useful gauge for evaluating personal experience.
4. What do you wish you could believe (but don’t)?
It would be cool if extraterrestrial beings one day visit Earth (provided they don’t wipe us out), but the evidence that this has already occurred does not convince me. Given the huge number of stars in our galaxy, it would seem improbable that Earth is the only planet to have evolved a technological civilisation; but interstellar travel appears to be an enormous barrier, from current understanding at least.
5. What do you think it means to believe in something?
I try to avoid using the word ‘belief,’ as it seems to imply holding a thing to be true despite the lack of good evidence to support it. It is a complex, loaded word, like Freedom, Love or Peace – all of which are good things, but very much open to personal interpretation. That is to say, the word Belief is highly subjective.
I’m not sure if I believe in anything (hold any view) that I don’t at least have some evidence in knowledge to support, even if that evidence is not hard (material), and a little difficult to present and to understand.
6. Does this stuff matter to you? Do you think about it much?
Yes, it matters more as I get older, and I think about it quite a bit. Filling in this questionnaire was quite an enjoyable challenge, and I’m looking forward to reading others’ responses. I would like to find out why people experience ghosts, which is related to belief in some quite complex ways.
All photos courtesy of James.