Impossible knowledge - extraordinary simultaneous experience narratives as vernacular forms of philosophy

Condon, Eileen M. (1999) Impossible knowledge - extraordinary simultaneous experience narratives as vernacular forms of philosophy. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

This thesis presents the hypothesis that extraordinary simultaneous experience narratives (ESENs) constitute a category of narrative which may be argued to have existed for many centuries. Emphasis on precise or probable simultaneity between intuitive knowing and a distant crisis, such as death or illness—whether such emphasis is literal or rhetorical in any given version—is a primary, and philosophically important, characteristic of these narratives. This characteristic distinguishes them, in many cases, from stories of prophecy and premonition. Whereas precognition accounts may portray tragedies which arrive some time more clearly after the moment of their anticipation—a day, a week, or a year later, perhaps—ESENs portray correspondences which approach precise simultaneity, separated at most by mere seconds, minutes, or hours within a day—if by any time at all. While premonition stories often describe human crises envisioned before they come to pass, ESENs emphasize the wonder of synchronicity, between crises and their intuitions elsewhere. As such, ESENs sustain a number oi fundamentally different philosophical explanations and beliefs about causality than do precognition stories. Unlike a premonition, an intuition of a distant simultaneous tragedy cannot be explained by folklorists' concept of foreknowledge or what a philosopher might regard, more skeptically, as “backward causation, for it is not the future which appears, so impossibly, to be known. Neither can the fleeting vision of a person dying at that very moment in a distant place be attributed confidently to the agency of any ghost—in time, a death has not yet occurred: the beliefs the stories inspire must conform to the stories' temporality. -- Distinguishing between such story types on the basis of temporality (along with other general thematic features) allows hybrid versions—for example, a story about an ongoing feeling of nameless fear weeks prior to an unexpected death, culminating in a extraordinary simultaneous dream or vision—to be understood and discussed more clearly in terms of philosophical arguments and folk beliefs about causality. This kind of distinction also adds kindling to the interpretive debate surrounding all stories of extraordinary or supernatural experience, a debate in which scholars and storytellers are equally authoritative participants, on the subject of the stories' meanings and possible causes. -- While I have found only one passage in the New Testament which matches the ESEN pattern, many New Testament passages demonstrate that beliefs about the holiness of coincidence existed in early Christianity. Narratives of holy simultaneities are more plentiful in medieval collections of exempla and legend, but these texts carry on the conventions of hour notation and envisioning death and suffering as a moment, conventions which are established in the New Testament. The persistence of these narratives in increasingly secularized contexts for centuries afterward, up to and including 20th-century academic literature and informal North American oral narration, may be explained by the fact that the stories manage to sustain many different interpretations, sacred and secular—psychological and biological ones, alongside the religious and the supernatural. -- Over forty informants participated in this study, in St. John's, Newfoundland, and in Amherst, Massachusetts. Their explanations draw upon multiple belief paradigms—twin biology, genetics, divine intervention, the psychology of divided consciousness, parapsychological processes, and various understandings of coincidence. Most informants explored or at least considered explanations which proceeded from natural, supernatural, and religious premises, rather than limiting themselves to a single line of explanation. For these and other reasons, I present these stories and the speculation they inspire in informal conversation as vernacular forms of philosophy. -- Key words: Death, illness, token, twins, coincidence, narrative, philosophy, telepathy, simultaneity, synchronicity, Newfoundland

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/1188
Item ID: 1188
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [368]-387
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Folklore
Date: 1999
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador--Avalon Peninsula--St. John's; United States--Massachusetts--Amherst
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Coincidence--Psychic aspects; Telepathy--Folklore; Death--Folklore

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