The Experience of Experience: The Terrain of Miracles

Today at the Serpentine Miracle Marathon, I found myself considering the status of knowledge through experience. Often, as in the case of David Hume — frequently cited this weekend for his refutation of validity of the idea of the miraculous in favour of an empiricist epistemology — experience, or the lack of experience, means that miracles are figments of the imagination. Perhaps it’s the Husserlean in me, but I continue be troubled by this idea. Knowledge through sensory experience is one form of knowledge via experience, but knowledge from cognitive or internal experience seems to me the place where the miraculous not only has permission to exist, but where that permission grants it a license to enter the world of objects. Mental states are notoriously invasive species of experience, and so necessarily, miracles become sensory experiences from the inside out.

Though there were many discussions which touched on this dynamic, not least the panel of Kris De Meyer, John-Dylan Haynes Aarathi Prasad and Daniel Glaser, I Believe in (Scientific) Miracles, but nothing brought the point as deeply home to me as the performance that opened today’s proceedings, Lekan Babalola and The Sacred Funk Project. Babalola’s music slowly came to life, a few notes and percussive ticks and soon an emotional landscape not only cohered, but soon I found myself so deep in it that everything else drifted away. I looked over at my co-conspirator, the intrepid Legacy Russell, and she, too, seem fully immersed in the world Babalola and his band had created for us. Each of our experiences, was, of course, individual, but they were also communal. These experiences were engendered by, but also participated in by Babalola himself. Ideas hum to life in the deep thicket of neurons and suddenly they find themselves not only in the world, but treading the wash of other people’s thoughts and emotions as well. They both create and instantiate experience.

This Sunday has been a long one. Generous servings of Genesis P-Orridge have blended in with the intense emotional flavours prepared by Bhanu Kapil, The Otolith Group and so, so many others.

The richness of the diversity of intellectual input has left me reeling, but also with a more tenacious sense that the cognitive terrain of miracles is not a locus of illusion, but of a different kind of reality, a reality that takes part in material relations, but is not limited by them. Federico Campagna’s talk early in the day drew parallels between the forgotten Theosophies of post-Reconquista Islamic thought and the work of Isaac Newton. Newton is unfairly cast as something of a fall guy for a materialist universe displaced by quantum mechanics, but Newton himself knew that his system was in part limited, both by the social context in which his ideas incubated, but also by a universe that refused to be understandable on strictly materialist terms. That universe remains our universe, the universe of trans-material experience, the universe of miracles.