98: Examining Exceptional Experiences

In this podcast John and Gregg once again return to “the Eagle” in order to discuss the notion of experience and, particularly, to contrast everyday experiences with exceptional experiences.

Gregg begins by explaining how he wants to relate exceptional experiences, and particularly experiences of God, to something called Speech Act theory (by J. L. Austin). John seeks a definition for experience and Gregg believes that experiences in general are composed of—and require—three components: 1) an external event that I can recognize and evaluate as being “really there,” 2) my own action of recognizing and evaluating such an event, and 3) my responses to whatever I recognized and evaluated.

From Gregg’s perspective, experiences of God are different than everyday experiences because they involve different categories and require that we ask different questions. When it comes to experiences of God, Gregg categorizes them by / believes that they must meet four criteria: availability (how prevalent are such types of experiences), reliability (how susceptible are such types of experiences to being misread / how difficult are they to validate), purpose (what is the role of experience generally and of this particular experience, when it comes to believing in God), and value (what types of experiences are valuable and what type of importance should we attribute to them).

John finds this helpful. Gregg goes on to note that the third and particularly, fourth point here are very important. In other words, understanding the value that we attribute to an experience is extremely important, because people use certain experiences as signs or validations of the way they think or what they believe. In other cases, we identify certain situations as “experiences the God” and yet these serve more as indications of God’s presence rather than offering specific ratification or validation of my thinking or beliefs (about God, the Bible, Christianity, etc.).

As Gregg explains, his difficulty with situations such as seeing eagles in the sky at a crucial moment it that those who encounter the Eagle take from that experience something (such as as a degree of validation for their thinking or the current disposition on a certain matter ) that the experience itself does not have the density to offer.

John wonders: if these are some of the difficulties with exceptional experiences, what good things can we draw from these experiences? Gregg’s view is that, despite the fact that one does not have certainty about the significance of a particular experience, the positive side is that i) by being more attentive to the general nature of experience, and ii) having a greater understanding of exceptional experiences in particular, then iii) we are better able to evaluate experiences on a number of levels (and attribute appropriate value to them) such that we can draw better conclusions from our experiences.

Gregg then explains one of his own experiences, that he interprets as being an “exceptional” experience, by examining it using this adaptation of the three categories of Speech Act theory.

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