Mind over matter

During the Paris massacres last November, I saw video imagery of a lady clinging to a window ledge. She was trying to avoid, on the one hand, being shot by the terrorists inside the Bataclan theatre, and on the other, falling to her death. I note that she was pregnant, a condition that would tend to increase a woman’s weight, and make her tire more quickly. I am guessing she had no specialized athletic training. Yet she held on for a long time. Eventually she was pulled back into the building. My information is that she survived the ordeal.

How long can gentle reader cling to a window ledge? My guess would be, longer if he were several storeys up, than if the ground were a foot beneath his toes. Scientific tests may be conducted on the latter, but even with the advance of eugenic liberalism, there are objections to experiments that will kill people.

Likewise, there is difficulty testing miracles, for to do that one must reproduce events which, for various reasons, are not reproducible. Science is about what always happens, not what sometimes happens; yet when something odd does happen, the scientists are still curious about how it was done. They are, after all, our (global) village explainers, and as in other branches of entertainment, the show must go on.

A piece I saw on the BBC website looks, in the usual glib media manner, into “superhuman” feats of strength. Women, especially those protecting children, seem disproportionately represented in such anecdotes. Some, for instance, have been able to lift cars, and other objects beneath which little bodies find themselves pinned. The weight exceeds the maximum any professional weightlifter has ever essayed. But they try anyway, and sometimes succeed. We learn, as ever from BBC Science, that the labcoats are still working on it.

The physiological effects of faith are often discussed, without knowledge of what we are discussing.

In extraordinary circumstances, people can do extraordinary things. I know this at first hand, from e.g. the experience of clinging to a rockface when I was quite young, as the result of what I had judged, wrongly, to be an easy scramble. I survived because I was suddenly able to see microscopic irregularities in the texture of the rock, and wriggle like a spider up the last five feet of this poorly-selected climb. It wasn’t a test of strength, primarily, but of perception, and the utilization of skills I had never obtained by training. (I also acquired a fear of heights for which past experience had not prepared me.)

Miracles are not my topic, today; only faith. Saints, in particular, do many remarkable things, often before many witnesses. Non-saints can do them, too, when the issue is life or death. A mother’s love for a child, yea even an unborn child, can inspire “miraculous” behaviour. I think there is a parallel in some battle scenes I’ve heard about, where the inspiration is to save a comrade: true love in another form.

“I knew that I could do it, because I knew that I could do it, so I didn’t have to think.” The line is remembered from an incident in Vietnam, some decades ago. It strikes me in retrospect as a confession of faith. Some agency within takes over, because it has been asked to take over.

The scientists may be right. If a human being has been proved capable of performing some act, then human beings must be capable of it. We have large unexplored inner reserves, of strength and perception and motor skill.

I take miracles for granted, but also for granted that God was not such an awkward designer that He could not intervene in nature without breaking His own rules. Creative foresight would have been employed to anticipate all circumstances. Grasp that, I think, and any potential conflict between “science” and “theology” disappears.

Faith can move mountains, or at least cling to ledges, and lift cars. And we could do it ourselves if, like the Saints, or like certain pregnant mothers, we developed the faculty. “Do this O Lord,” one requests, not because one can’t in theory do it, but because one doesn’t know how.