© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2003 - 2018.
taking consciousness really seriously
Let us start clean-clear : mental states are
non-material, non-informational, non-reductive,
non-extended in space, logically primitive, basic, and
ontologically distinct but interdependent objects, always attributed or designated to a unique
individual consciousness or subject of these states, defined by an exclusive
point of view or vantage point. This individual subject apprehends from a first-person, subjective perspective and is
known by others from a third-person, public viewpoint. As a first-person,
every individual consciousness constitutes a "reality-for-me", an intimate,
secret, inner, private, secluded experience of him or herself and his or her
environment, "Lebenswelt" or milieu. This reality can only be
described by way of private indexicals (PI). These
words refer to components of mental states. This implies a special ostensive
definition featuring private access only. Moreover, PI are
completely defined by other words alone and thus private ostension is
coupled with semantic isolation. Indeed, PI are the only words available
to talk about human sentient experience. Hence, unless a human being has
actually experienced the referent of one or more PI, no
understanding of it is possible. Human imagination may try to conjure up
an image or feeling of something it never experienced, but nothing can
substitute an actual experience. This phenomenological uniqueness can not
be reduced or taken away. Private experience is private and thus not
intersubjective. Describing these states only conveys meaning if and only
if the experience to which these descriptions refer are shared in a
phenomenological sense, i.e. by way of first person experience. Saying
"This music is wonderful." has no meaning for somebody who never
experienced music and/or wonder firsthand.
Mental states are either based on sensation or are non-sensational. Hence, the
subject of experience apprehends (possesses) only two kinds of objects : sensate
objects and mental objects.
Sensation, as defined here, is
the faculty through which the external world is perceived.
Sensations have a clear bodily location
and possess "raw feels" or qualia, defined by the five-tiered
sensory input of the five physical organs of sense (smell, taste, touch,
audition and sight). Sensations
are always the experience of a conscious subject.
Without this conscious
experience, sensations are not.
mental states have no distinct, outer events associated with them. These states, also emerging without one being conscious of
them, may be classified as. These non-sensational mental states can be
classified as volitions, feelings, thoughts & consciousness.
quasi-perceptional states :
hallucinating, dreaming, imagining, trance-visioning ;
affects : the
complete range from utter disgust to sublime bliss, from violence to peace,
from woe to happiness ;
conative states : wishing,
wanting, intending, trying, acting ;
cognitions : thinking,
reasoning, knowing, conceiving, understanding, intuiting, etc.
The affirmation of the
independence and separateness of mental states comes at a time when materialism
numbs most intellectuals, making them fideistically accept materialist monism as the
only correct "frame" or credo to approach the philosophy of mind.
Materialism must be rejected with finesse, but not without affirming the constant
influence of the living brain on the mind and this to the point of changing the mental states
of the individual. Indeed upward causation (brain to mind) goes hand in hand
with downward causation (mind to brain).
Indeed, this exercise does not back the ontological supremacy of the brain over & above the
mind (exclusive upward causation or emergentism), for this is in contradiction
with evidence from psychosomatism, placebo/nocebo-effect, hypnosis,
autosuggestion, bio-feedback, parapsychology, meditation, prayer, ritual, etc.
The brain is never :
the mind : mental states are not always and only caused by
neurological states ;
the mind : mental states are not merely an inferior description of neurological
brain is not conceived as having a secondary role, on the contrary, for an
individual, in order to manifest as a conscious entity (as a sentient, luminous,
photonic being) in the physical continuum, needs a brain. Brain and mind are
co-relative operators in a triune equation covering matter (hardware),
information (software) and consciousness (userware). Mind refers to consciousness
(C), whereas the brain is both material and informational (MI). The interaction
between C and MI beings the crucial factor in this argument.
Crick, 1994, p.3.
In this interactionist philosophy, individuality (a kind of higher-order mental
object) is not a priori caused, generated,
produced or made-up by the brain, the executant organ of human evolution in this
material world, refuting the conjecture :
"... that 'You', your joys and your sorrows, your
memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are
in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their
Materialism stipulates mental states are caused, produced, reducible to, or
somehow made-up as an epiphenemon of the living brain. It comes in many
variations. Physicalism, reductionism, supervenience, epiphenomenalism,
behaviorism or functionism will be studied and critized. Each branch has minor variations and offers
interesting logical facilities. In functionalism, for example, the most refined
& sophisticated species of materialism,
"... all our conscious experiences are explained
by the behavior of neurons and are themselves emergent properties of
the system of neurons."
Searle, 1997, p.22.
Avoid these positions by rejecting their common ground.
The common ground in materialism, is thinking the living
brain as the cause, origin or root of consciousness, the mind and its mental
states. These thoughts are associated with the dogmatic conviction mental
states end when the brain dies. This materialist credo is used to
highjack the secular ideal, for most religions accept the afterlife (evidence of
this belief at least goes back to the Neanderthals, if not earlier). So this
dogma conveniently causes a rift between science and spirituality. But is it
correct ? I will argue this is not the case, but not by taking naieve
spirituality on board, quite on the contrary. The ontological framework needs to
be totally reconsidered.
The philosophical, metaphysical myth, dream or speculation,
the disincarnate, non-material mind as the water in touch with the
cup before it was broken, eludes the monist. For the latter, the water and the
cup are substantially identical "stuff". When the cup breaks, the water is
spilled, transformed and as such lost. But, ad contrario, the fact
consciousness is an extraordinary "property" should amend functionalism to
regard this emergent property as another cause of change in neurons. But then
monism would be lost, for the rule of identity applicable to substance can not
longer be used. Two entities would then be designated : non-material mind &
material brain, sharing extensiveness (mind temporally, the brain
spatio-temporally). I fully agree with Popper & Eccles.
"I think that science has gone too far in breaking
down man's belief in his spiritual greatness and in giving him the idea that he
is merely an insignificant material being in the frigid cosmic immensity. Now
this strong dualistic-interactionist hypothesis we are here putting forward
certainly implies that man is much more than is given by this purely
& Eccles, 1981, p.558.
It is not because the mind ceases to be "in touch" with
the surface of the brain, that mental states may not exist in their own
"world", Hilber space or set of co-relative event-points. If the brain is a car and
consciousness its driver, then the "living" brain does not, under
normal circumstances, allow
its mind to leave the car. By virtue of life in the physical continuum, the mind
has only the brain to act as a kind of "false door" or
"input/output-device" between the material neuronal networks and the
non-material mind and its states.
Cebes rejoined, 'if it is true, Socrates, as you are fond of saying, that our
learning is nothing else than recollection, then this would be an additional
argument that we must necessarily have learned in some previous time what we now
remember. But this is impossible if our soul did not exist somewhere before
being born in this human form ; and so by this argument also it appears that
the soul is immortal.'
'But, Cebes,' said Simmias, 'what were the proofs of this ? Remind me ; for I do
not recollect very well just now.'
'Briefly,' said Cebes, 'a very good proof is this : When people are questioned,
if you put the questions well, they answer correctly of themselves about
everything ; and yet if they had not within them some knowledge and right
reason, they could not do this. And that this is so is shown most clearly if you
take them to mathematical diagrams or anything of that sort.'"
Plato : Phaedo,
72-73 (translated by Harold North Fowler in 1914), my italics.
On the one hand, no philosopher dismisses that since the days of René Descartes (1596 - 1650), it has been difficult
to explain how & where the mind "interacts" with the brain. Indeed, often
circular explanations or endless regressions ensued. Hence,
research in that area was deemed uninteresting. Only recently has a joint venture
between a philosopher and a neurologist been able to propose an alternative
model (Popper & Eccles, 1981), whereas the physics of interactionism was
recently studied by Mohrhoff (1999) and others. These propositions will be
studied at length.
"... it follows that material particles are the only
source of the electromagnetic field, and that the non-material self can only
influence the summary effect -represented by the electromagnetic field- of the
action of particles on particles."
Mohrhoff, 1999, p.181.
On the other hand, there are also great difficulties involved with
accepting the non-extended (mind) as emergent or caused by the extended (brain).
Indeed, it is highly problematic
events located in physical spacetime may cause events which are not affected by
the physical continuum. In the many variations on materialism,
the unique, luminous splendour of the self-reflective capacity of consciousness, experienced by the
individual in his or her inner intimacy and the necessary and sufficient
ground of human freedom (cf.
ethics), is reduced to the point
of equating the human being with the intelligent primate (cf. sociobiology).
Moreover, where in nature do we see material objects cause mental objects to
emerge ? Materialist answer : because the brain is so complex. We will see
whether this argument is strong enough.
beyond both monism and dualism
The solution proposed could be called "triadism".
The event-continuum, the sum total of all existing concrete, particular
entities (or concrescences of events), is conceptualized as the unity of three logico-functional basics
or primitives, each characterized by an irreducible function or
task, which it puts into operation thanks to a set of unique arrangements,
enabling it to discharge its function in such a way as to make different events
matter (M-events) : the physical
continuum of the brain & its nervous system = hardware or the executive
information (I-events) : abstracts,
universals, codes, laws & algorhythms embodied in M-events = software or
the legislative branch ;
consciousness (C-events) : meaning,
autostructuration, identity, mentality & degree of freedom = userware or
the judicial or intentional branch.
Three unique sets of
arrangements or "worlds" follow :
composed out of periodical elements (especially hydrogen & helium), liquids,
crystals, four physical forces, living organisms (the nucleotides), the human body, the
world of physical objects & the
five senses (perception) ;
informational world : natural (binary) numbers, integrative, algorhythmic, natural
& cultural forms, limited but integrated set of expert-systems :
composed from products of nature and the human mind stable enough to be expressed in
universal codes (like DNA) and well-ordered propositions (or : the residue of a
tradition of shared intersubjective dialogue & experiment - cf.
Clearings, 2006). This symbolical world contains natural & human languages,
theories, works of art, science and technology. This information is either
carried by or processed in the material world (as glyphs, i.e. well-ordered
states of matter) or exists disembodied as
logical possibilities so far not fully explored. The issue of the objective
existence of this world (cf. Husserl) is a separate issue ;
the intentional world :
complex numbers, paradoxical, centripetal, conscious, meaningful, identity,
individuality, cognition, affectivity and mentality, ranging from animal to
rational and beyond :
composed from individuals with their particular mentalities, expressed as a
series of mental states attributed to a first person perspective. It
includes all states & contents of consciousness and also all psychological dispositions
and non-sensational mental states like quasi-perceptional states, feelings,
conative states and cogitations.
In the traditional rationalistic and hence dualistic approach of the body/mind relationship,
M-events and I-events were taken together, opposing
"brain" (M + I) or "res extensa" MI plus "mind" (C)
"res cogitans". The Cartesian soul was conceived as a closed,
self-referential identity. This "I" did not emerge symmetrically with
the "other", but had a logical priority over otherness, and so
failed to incorporate a historical, intersubjective approach of the individuals (the
minds, the souls). The concept of mind evoked here will be Cartesian insofar as
pluralism or triadism (which calls for an interaction between all three classes of
events) and the emphasis on self-reflective consciousness are concerned, but it
radically rejects the Cartesian concept of the closed, windowless (monadic)
substance-soul. Instead, the soul is defined as the functional own-Self of
an individual (cf.
Intelligent Wisdom, 2007), existing disembodied in its own
C-world, and, potentially
interacting on its own plane with all other own-Selves of the "great
assemby" (or "collegium ad spiritum sanctum"). Together with Plato (427 - 347 BCE)
Buddhadharma, let us speculate consciousness may have existed before the birth of the physical body and its brain and will continue to do so after
its death. The driver leaves the vehicle only after he arrived at his destination and/or his vehicle
finally broke down.
"When finally a brain stops acting altogether, or
decays, that special stream of consciousness which it subserved will
vanish entirely from this natural world. But the sphere of being that
supplied the consciousness would still be intact ; and in that more real
world with which, even whilst here, it was continuous, the consciousness
might, in ways unknown to us, continue still."
James, W. : Essays in Religion and Morality, Harvard
University Press - Cambridge, MA, 1989, pp.85-86, my italics.
"The physical basis of the
mind is the brain action in each individual ; it accompanies the activity of
his spirit, but the spirit is free ; it is capable of some degree of
initiative. (...) The spirit is the man one knows. He must have
continuity through periods of sleep and coma. I assume, then, that this spirit
must live somehow after death. I cannot doubt that many make contact with God
and have guidance from a greater spirit. But these are personal beliefs that
every man must adopt for himself."
As the three worlds are irreducible logico-functional primitives, materialism (only
M-events), idealism (only I-events) and spiritualism (only C-events) are
avoided. Moreover, these three operators are co-relative, implying they
always refer to each other although each has elements of its own and exists in
its own world. The accepted notion of emergent evolution implies
novel event with unexpected and unpredictable properties, much like a great work
of art is new.
"'Creativity' is the
universal of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact. (...)
'Creativity' is the principle of novelty. (...) The novel entity is at
once the togetherness of the 'many' which it finds, and also it is one among
the disjunctive 'many' which it leaves ; it is a novel entity, disjunctively
among the many entities which it synthesizes. The many become one, and are
increased by one."
Whitehead, 1978, p.21.
The various systems of invariant laws are not limited enough to prevent the
emergence of new, ordered properties. Determinism as a doctrine is Newtonian
and has been superseded by probabilism (terminism).
The crucial "emergent events" listed below may be classified under three major
headings : being, life & humanity.
the Big Bang, with hydrogen
and helium present ?
the "soup" of the
heavier elements ;
the formation of stars like our Sun
the start of life of Earth
and very likely elsewhere ;
the emergence of the brain ;
creative C-contributions to
an objective I-world, and M-world (glyphs).
The notion a
single living cell executes some C-events makes sense. Brains
existed before human consciousness manifested on Earth. Excellent states of
animal consciousness are realized in many species. The specifics
of the brain of Homo Sapiens sapiens are not old, but well adapted to execute the
arrival of "intelligent" consciousness, with its typical creative
features, evident in the creative contributions to the informational world. On
Earth, the human brain is indeed the most complex MI-system.
If the experience of the Divine (ranging from everyday to
mystical encounters) has a neurobiological seat in the living brain, then surely the
materialists are refuted on their own ground. Kant (1724 - 1804)
denied man his "intellectual perception" because it is not
given to every man automatically. Laplace (1749 - 1827) argued "God" could not
be quantified and thus had no role to play in the equations of celestial
mechanics. Lenin (1870 - 1924) and all leading atheist communist thinkers
with him, rejected religion as the "opium" of the people. Historical
materialism and physicalism, the cornerstones of the great "scientific"
edifice of communist thought, conjectured they had no need for "God". Logical positivism &
radical behaviorism proposed a reductionist and eliminativist approach. Fascinated by the technological revolution, these thinkers
were unaware their rejection of an irreducible first person perspective
implied a "contradictio in actu exercito", like somebody walking
saying "I stand still." This absurdity has thrown in a difficulty
which is self-defeating ... for the "greatest and most interesting
riddle" (Popper, 1981) is denied existence
a priori. Phenomenology, depth-psychology, observational psychology, cultural anthropology and quantum mechanics etc. have all shown the
influence of the observer on the observed is indeniable both in principle
("objects" refer a priori to "subjects" - cf.
logic) as in practice (a posteriori observation entails the subjective).
To integrate consciousness in the equations of science will be the great
achievement of the XXIth century.
The "I" irreducibly accompanies all "my" mental states,
which are executed, computed, processed by the living brain or
"informational matter" (hardware with excellent software). Who is this "I" ? Although the
first-person perspective is fundamental, nobody has directly observed an
"individual", but only a physical body behaving as one. This brings us to
the distinction between, on the one hand, a testable proposition ("It is
raining outside.") and, on the other hand, a statement which is untestable, but only arguable, or : the demarcation
between empirico-formal sciences & metaphysics.
Neurospirituality (or neurotheology) implies the
neurobiology of spiritual experience, the processing by the brain of the set of common or "routine" religious
experiences, intense religious experiences and full-fledged mystical
experiences, called "nonordinary and transcendent experiences" (Braud, 2002).
"Neurotheology is an
emerging discipline that integrates religious and spiritual concepts with
neurological and neuropsychological analysis. Thus, both the neurological and
theological perspectives must be considered if one is to find the best way of
understanding both the human brain, and how that brain perceives and experiences
Newberg & Iversen,
"Neurotheology" has been correctly
criticized (Pigliucci, 2002) as being no theology at all. Traditional
orthodox theology, the study of the attributes of the Divine, is supposed to grant us
knowledge about the "nature" of the Divine, independent of human minds
(as something "out there"). According
to these dogmatic theologies, such knowledge can only be given by the Divine and
hence all theology is rooted in revelation, or the Divine being Present in
our largely material world, unveiling its Names to mystical & religious
individuals, entertaining a
relationship with Its own Divine periphery, and explaining "Its
Wishes" ... (cf. the prescriptive command versus the creative command
These theologies take for granted the Divine exists, although a rational
definition of the Divine, insofar as it is transcendent, seems unlikely
Does the Divine exist ?, 2005).
As what happens to the brain during a spiritual experiences is a measurement of
neural events, the best such analysis can do is to provide us with an
understanding of the executant structures of the brain when the latter is
supposed to compute or process these extraordinary, isolated (sacred), radical experiences of the
"supernatural" or "totaliter aliter" in general and the Divine in particular, such as in intense religious experiences and mature mystical states and stations of
"Quiconque est capable
de se plonger dans la contemplation et d'ouvrir son âme à l'impression, devra
'reconnaître' le sacré d'après des critères intimes dont la règle est
inexprimable et aura, dans le sentiment pur, la 'vision de l'éternel dans le
temporel'. S'il y a un Éternel, un Sacré dans lequel se mêlent et se
pénètrent les éléments rationnels et non-rationnels, téléologique et
indéfinissables, comme nous avons cherché à le comprendre et à le décrire,
c'est ici qu'il est apparu de la façon la plus puissante et la plus
Otto, 1995, pp.223-224.
Intense religious and mystical experiences should not be equated with habitual, common,
experiences, which are always in conformity with a communal and
spirito-social symbolization or shared superstructure (Staal,
than a direct, individual experience of an extraordinary nature (i.e. uncommon or
"experiences", involving the awareness of Divine Presence, are always mediated by the particularities of
brain, and so do not inform us about the Divine as an independent
object of experience (in an absolute sense), but only (at best) as a dependent one
(this is an example of the
of the game of "true" knowing, stipulating observation is
always theory-laden, a fact supported by the
neurophilosophy of sensation). Moreover, the neurotheological "model" arrived at,
will necessarily be based on the standard average & standard variation of the
experimental groups. Individual case-studies are necessary, but risk being too anecdotal and
rhapsodic, as parapsychological research has shown (Griffin, 1997).
In this definition of "theology", neurotheology indeed fails in providing us with any information about the Divine
as such. Terminologically, "neurotheology" is too near theism and its concept of
a "God" ("theos") and so "neurospirituality" or "contemplative
neuroscience" is to be preferred.
Neurospirituality tries to
define the neuronal executants of this extraordinary experience, namely the direct experience of a transcendent presence.
Pigliucci's argument regarding the absence of knowledge about God in
neurotheology is solid. So, applying it to dogmatic theology, we may ask : Have
dogmatic theologies succeeded in giving us a solid model of the Divine ? In
detail, many antinomic
models of the Divine may be
distinguished, whereas the general
bi-polarity of the
Divine is a returning characteristic in most, if not all, ancient and
contemporary traditional theist theologies (Egyptian,
Of course, the Dharmic religions, like
a non-substantial model of the Divine.
Most theist theologies stress the essence of the Divine
is unknown in principle, i.e. ineffable (cf.
theology). So, only the "Divine Names" are known. These are "revealed" to the seers, enlightened teachers, gurus, masters,
messengers of the Divine, apostles, prophets & prophetesses, people of good
will, etc. Hence, dogmatic theology does not provide us with any
information about the Divine as such, for the latter is veiled by un-saying.
Only God knows God. Traditional, katapathic theology is a path to the Names only. They are
the ladders left behind when the clouded & nameless top is reached.
Hence, no direct, objective knowledge
about the essence of God is possible, as strict apophatism makes clear. The
best theology can do is to provide us with indirect knowledge based on revelation
backed by "the light of faith".
"To recover an adequate
sense of God, as expounded in the great religious traditions of the world, it is
important to stress both the ability of God to respond creatively to events in
the finite world and the complete transcendence of God over any of our
categories of thought. The dialectic must remain between the compassionate Lord
and Saviour of the world, and the eternal, immutable and fully actual unlimited
ocean of being who remains unmoved by all things finite, but is their ultimate
foundation. (...) These modes cannot be confused with one another, and yet they
must be said to be modes of one and the same being, and not just to parallel one
another by some sort of similarity."
Ward, 1993, p.159.
The Divine is unlike anything material. It shares with information its
non-materiality (bits have no mass) and non-spatiality, and with consciousness its
intentionality. This Presence is overwhelming,
irreversible and crisis-inductive (because of this Presence, cognitive,
affective and motoric processes have to reequilibrate on a higher level). Why
has our brain evolved the capacity to dream, experience and remember what
is invisible (hallucinations, perceptual illusions, the
dreamworld, the hereafter, souls, spirits, angels, communion with Divine
Presence, etc.) ? For materialists, these are all symptoms of neuronal
malfunction, as if such a statement explains how so-called dysfunctional
people can be so highly creative. Moreover, the core result of a
successful mystical experience is a heightened moral sense, not the
presence of hallucinations. Pathological states do not lead to
otherness, but to more selfishness ...
religious versus mystical experiences
us distinguish between, on the one hand, common but special experiences
(like orgasm, strong & intense emotions, awe, falling in love,
serendipity, Aha, inventivity, intuition, etc. -
1980) and, on the other
hand, common and uncommon religious experiences and mystical states and stations
of radical otherness (of "Ultimate Concern" - cf.
more fundamental distinction exists between (nonordinary) religious experiences and mystical experiences, although both
belong to the category of
"spiritual experience", or the felt "presence" of the
numinous, sacred, holy and Divine. Only intensity and impact differ.
Common special experiences are
intermediate, dynamical states of consciousness, prone to
change and determined by continuous (linear, cyclic, chaotic) processes (or
changes of events in phase-space). These experiences do seem to contain traces or
sparks of the "presence"
of the Divine and its co-relative tendency to break through
"nominal", "common" barriers. However, the experience of "radical
otherness" ("totaliter aliter") is either part of a living religious tradition (invoking a dogma shared by a
living religious community) or present in a direct mystical experience of the most
individual and intimate kind (and liable to radically transform an
sense of "I-ness" or reality-for-me). In this
definition, private religious experiences are always mystical experiences (in
other words, religious experiences are public and constitute a reality-for-us).
We focus on uncommon religious
experiences and mystical experiences.
Strong religious experiences (re)connect an individual or a group with a
fascinating larger, totalized whole, experienced as awesome and
mysteriously transcending the ordinary (cf. Otto's "mysterium tremendum et
fascinans"). This whole may be identified
natural phenomena, nature as a whole, Divine kingship, the God-man, the
ancestors, the Deities,
a Pantheon or one
Supreme Being, approached with intellectual love (cf. Spinoza), etc. All these components may have different relationships and
operational contexts. Together they constitute the storehouse of all human
religious ideologies. Since the Cro-Magnon and especially in the Paleolithic and
early historical periods, shamans and priests specialized in religious
Religion, although invoking a subjective, individual component, was
and is fundamentally
communal and serves the convenant between a holy "numen praesens" and
a people, a nation, or a unified humanity.
Let us call this larger whole, to which the uncommon,
deep religious experience seems to point, "radical
otherness". This is experienced as a "presence" or "Gegenstand",
opposing an individual's everday
conscious identity in a radical way, exposing
one's ego to the transformative powers "from above".
In religious experience, "radical otherness" is always
mediated by a superstructure (a set of beliefs, a system of virtues and a
"canon" of sacred rituals). In the direct experience of the
Divine, which only befalls mystics, the radical and complete form of this urge to move beyond
limitations has become observable.
In this case, "otherness" can in no way be compared with our
experience of otherness in nature, in the world and even in our fellow human beings.
Nor can it be identified with a tradition, for indeed,
mystics are founders or perfectors of traditions, often causing revolution and
the rejection of certain dogmata. Mystics experience "otherness" as an
outstandingly exclusive nondual presence and this has a dramatical impact on the
subject of experience. Hence, in
mysticism "otherness" is a truly "radical" Divine Presence.
This experience can be superstuctured in a theist, deist or Dharmic way.
experiences are always mediated by a superstructure (cf. infra), insanity
is more likely to be the outcome of a dogmatic religious education than of
mystical practices leading up to greater insight, intense well-being,
all-encompassing feeling of unity of all in All etc. Indeed, psychotics report religious
scenes and hear religious figures whispering to them or see angels and prophets
appear. But they are unable to integrate this "sacral" spirituality in
their everyday life as do genuine mystics, who no longer need any
"mediation" or "scala perfectionis", for they create their
own conditions of spiritual happiness. Although both are strong believers, so
that "religious terrorists" (ranging from crusaders to suicide bombers) and mystics display an increased temporal
activity, the former are more likely to be driven insane and indulge in extreme
(sadistic) violence (cf.
This is indicative of the steering role of the prefrontal pole of the spiritual
function, for mystics display an increased creative ability and a hightened sense of
morality (Bucke, 1961).
Due to their experience, their world becomes highly integrated, not
fractioned, as in psychotics.
Recurrent mystical experiences not only allow consciousness to encompass
the "process" of the coming and going of the transcendent presence, but they also make it
possible to observe the relationships between the color of "the glass" (the state
of consciousness) and "the
water" (the Divine Presence), so to speak "poured into it". At some point, the mystical stations (mostly
ending in waking consciousness) rotate around one central mystical state, constantly enlightening the waking state (like an open door through which light
enters into the rather dimmed room of nominal consciousness). The
pendulum-movement (Deikman, 1971) and phase-changes
(Sundén, 1969), which are characteristic for the stations,
are then replaced by the integrated
state of living with and in Divine Presence. This is an "awakened mind".
A rising scale may be set forth :
experience of connectedness & totality or the everday spiritual experience ;
approach of radical otherness or the
common religious experiences ;
experience of the Divine during ritual, prayer and
meditation or the uncommon
religious experience ;
experience(s) of Divine Presence or mystical experience(s).
Consider the following schema. It runs from founding mystical experiences
to religious traditions with their canon and dogma :
mature mystic (Buddha, Christ, Mohammed) has as immediate access to the direct,
nondual experience of radical otherness,
triggering superstructures which may or may not be made explicit ;
the companions are guided by
mystic and collect (after his
or her death) the stable components of what they think (or have been told) the
superstructure of the founder looked like, making it into a
religious dogma or a particular canonical discourse on the founder's experience
of radical otherness ;
those who adhere to the dogma -usually calling for an imitation of some
of the practices of the founding mystic- may indirectly experience radical
otherness through the eye-glasses of the particular dogma, veiling &
limiting the original. This then animates their uncommon religious
a religion is born if the soteriological (salvic) power of the dogma
triggers the formation of a solid spirito-social structure (i.e. the companions
have followers). This can only mean the eye-glass was strong enough to
allow for a succesfull, albeit derived and indirect, imitation of the founder's
mystical experience, transforming it into the deep religious experiences of the
disciples who claim to walk "in the footsteps of their master" ... ;
the more time has elapsed between the mystical experiences of the
the uncommon religious experiences of the followers of the companions, the more likely the original superstructures (of the founder) become intermixed with
elements foreign to the original direct experiences of radical
otherness, moving the religion away from the message of its founder (as has been
the case in all world religions).
neurospirituality and "God"
Neurospirituality furthers a non-dogmatic approach of Divine Presence,
and so a concept of
"God" not soly dependent upon a sacralized and eternalized revealed
scripture. Instead of holy words, the individual experience of the holy is intended.
And surely, words remain a path to this too as long as this variety of "grand God-talks"
remains inspirational. These "grand stories" about Divine Presence are
constitute the many conceptualizations of this direct experience of the Holy.
Their invention generally moves hand in
hand with the socialization of the religious movement (the establishment of its canon, tradition or
"magister fidei"). Hence, a concept of "God", or even
the use of the word "God" is broader than what is aimed at in
neurospirituality, to wit : the understanding of spiritual experiences on the basis
of the executant, processing, computing, expressive features of the brain, in
particular the right temporal lobe, in particular the amygdala-hippocampal
In the past, religious & mystical experiences were studied using dogmatic theology, instead of trying to repeat, deepen and understand the experience
of Divine Presence itself. Contemplative science is therefore far more better placed than dogmatic theology to
assist people in deepening and understanding their religious experiences and, if they
wish so, realize a mystical experience of Divine Presence for themselves.
The model of neurospirituality is in accord with what is known about the neuronal executants of the experience.
Hence, instead of being exclusively rooted in
supposedly authentic religious traditions, its suggestions are inspired by neurobiology.
With the discovery of the "abode of God" (Joseph,
2002) in the limbic
system, in particular the role played by the right, anterior, temporal lobe and
the amygdala-hippocampal complex or "God-spot" in computing extraordinary
presence, profoundness & realness (Saver &
Rabin, 1997), the biological deep-rootedness of
Homo Sapiens sapiens'
affinity with these extraordinary experiences has been confirmed. Spirituality is not an
opiate, a fiction or an invention, but an integral part of the biological make-up and wiring
of the brain. For there is a
neurological area in the living human brain which is so intimately linked with
religious & mystical experience, that the metaphorical title of "God-spot" (the
domain of the neuronal executants for this privileged "experience of the Divine") seems
justified. Interestingly, this same area in large part also executes
sexual, bizarre, unusual & fearful memories, dissociative states,
depersonalization, hallucinogenic and dreamlike recollections (Gloor, 1997),
"déjà vu", illusions (Weingarten, 1977), as well as feelings of fear, terror and
rage. Fear being the common reaction associated with the
activation of the amygdala (Davis, 1997).
If the concept of the Divine is more than a fiction, belonging to the informational
world of believers and executed by neuronal structures computing intellectual
construction & imagination (processed by the frontal lobes), then neurospirituality may have a firmer handle than dogma,
namely neurobiology. Ideally, it first conceives religious & mystical experiences in terms of
executant material structures, and then tries to find ways to trigger the direct experience of
As parts of these particular executant neuronal structures are
not acquired (through a learning-process) but are indeed endogenic to the structure
and dynamics of the systems of the living human brain, then surely, the least one should affirm
is that religious and mystical experiences (like cognitive and motoric experiences)
series of privileged neuronal executants. The exclusive element being the
fact other skills need training to acquire (causing new neuronal networks
to form), whereas the limbic "God-spot" is part of an already acquired,
automatic (internal) hardwiring, given at birth, and part of human evolution at
least since the time of the Neanderthals, if not earlier (Homo erectus).
If "God" is : nowhere (Laplace), invoked to still fears (Feuerbach), a
drug one must refuse (Marx, Lenin), "dead" (Nietzsche), a sublime
cultural father-fiction of the human mind (Freud), etc. ... then surely the direct
experience of the Divine should not be part of the natural hard -and
software of the brain, i.e. part of its endogenic hardwiring. The presence of the
"God-spot" implies the experience of the
Divine is part of the natural set of basic
experiences the brain (as a sublime executant) has in store as a result of the
forces of its biological evolution.
not a new "proof of God"
The study of the "God-spot" does not entail a biological "proof of God"
Does the Divine exist ?, 2005).
But is does point to the fact the human brain seems to be called to execute
spiritual experiences. As the "spot" is not necessarily a "circuit",
human consciousness is required to bridge the gap between what is only a
possibility (a potential) and the actual occurence of deeply
religious to advanced
mystical states and stations of consciousness. So neurospirituality
allows us to redefine
"enlightenment" as the dissolution of the "spotlike" nature
of the "God-spot" and the emergence of a new wave-like circuit in the brain, playing out the
brain to its own evolutional advantage, resulting
in an enhanced mental efficiency, a more inspired creativity and a continuous inner
well-being (greater conscious steering of neuronal functions).
Why did the brain adapt to the point of producing the "God-spot" in the
amygdala-hippocampal complex ? Materialism proposes the thesis of the naked ape.
Without structures to execute the illusion of the hereafter, this creature would
have been eliminated because of its awareness of self and so of its own possible
annihilation. Without a brain arranging a meeting with its ancestors in a dream,
this intelligent animal would not have moved beyond its existential loneliness
and anxiety. Without adapting, by shaping a "God-spot", man would not have been
able to make sense of it all and survive on this planet ...
"Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait
Joseph (2002, p.184) responds by saying that if there was nothing to experience
visually, we would not have evolved eyes and a visual cortex. So, should the
same evolutionary principle not apply to religious and mystical experience, i.e.
the activity of the spiritual function of humanity ?
Some neurons seem to be naturally selected to execute the experience of the
Divine. Is the "God-spot", the limbic area of our mammalian brain which
has the potential (like an
antenna we calibrated) to receive the "messages" of the
"other shore of being", able to compute the numinous aura of and the fear
for a higher, holy being, experienced as profoundly real and present ?
human freedom taken seriously ...
This bring us to conscious human choice, moral conscience and free will to act
and change the world.
"Voluntas est animi motus,
cogente nullo, ad aliquid vel non amittendum, vel adipiscendum."
Augustine, De duabus animabus, X.14 ("The will
is a movement of the soul to, in absence of all coercion, either not to
relinquish something, either to acquire it.")
Earlier, Plotinus (204 - 270) had, contrary to Greek standards,
attributed will to "the One" :
"If then, we are to allow Activities in the Supreme
and make them depend upon will -and certainly Act cannot There be will-less- and
these Activities are to be the very essence, then will and essence in the
Supreme must be identical. This admitted, as He willed to be so He is ; it is no
more true to say that He wills and acts as his nature determines than that his
essence is as He wills and acts. Thus He is wholly master of Himself and holds
his very being at his will."
Can, in a materialistic philosophy of mind, human freedom
be taken seriously ? In not, ethics is impossible (cf.
Behaviours, 2006). Freedom contradicts strict determinism. Freedom is
unthinkable without a first person perspective. To be free one needs more than
just an abstraction. Freedom
must imply the activity of an element beyond all possible determination or
lawfulness. This factor abides in its own intentional world and can
purposefully interact with the material and informational worlds, causing
environmental change far more tremendous than any other known aggregate of
Can M-events harbor such a
nondetermined cause of change ? Clearly not. That is why materialism has no
higher, spiritual values and disregards others for adhering to them. It is
materialism's "Archilles heel". Higher human concepts such as freedom, equality,
fraternity, truth, justice, beauty, goodness etc. have no meaning and use
without intersubjectivity. When recorded in language they become third person
perspectives, but never do they have their origin in the outer world of M-events.
Neither is their active intentionality an I-event, for the latter can also be
defined as a imperative codation and be poured into "glyphs" of states of matter. The concept of human freedom
is intimately linked with a first person positioning of objects, typical for a
self-consciousness able to act without constraints in its own intimate reality
and interacting with both M-events and I-events. So, are we willing to take ourselves seriously and take
the first person perspective for granted, or shall we continue to hide ourselves
the fabric of our own conceptualizations, rationalizations & mental
"The proper study of mankind is man."
To guarantee "I am free.", philosophy of mind must
acknowledge "I" exist. Twentienth century philosophy has been
reluctant in precisely doing that. As a result, higher human values have
been desubjectified (objectified), so as to turn human beings into producing and
consuming automatic devices (cf. Chaplin in "Modern Times"). Public
indexicals cannot be reduced to private indexicals. The end
of alienation (a worker having lost touch with his product) precisely
comes with this "prise de conscience", which is the vital,
sympathetic, attracting, clear, luminous, photonlike component overlooked in the description of
intentionality. The end of intentionality is unthinkable in concepts.
Because of free will, "I am" the
nondetermined cause of autopoiesis (self-production), autoregulation
& reprogramming affecting my mind profoundly, while causing changes
in the neuronal wirings of my brain (cf. neuroplasticity), affecting others. Consciousness is the source of choice and
the intersubjectivity of language, socialization, culture and spiritual
emancipation (metanoia). To accept this, is to allow C-events their irreducible,
primitive, basic ontological status as part of a triadic
& interactionistic metaphysical research program.
building a memory-theatre of the brain
To close, let me justify the use of a visualized model of the brain. This
is the third, emancipatoric move of this investigation. After having localized the
executant structures involved with the computing of religious and mystical
experiences, a neurofeedback mechanism is proposed. This is initiated by
visualizing one's own brain in its natural skull.
Next one tries to allocate and
"follow" the processes projected to happen in this
"mindmind", i.e. a "brain" visualized by the "mind" in
the "space" of one's own physical brain.
Biofeedback and studies of the physiological correlates of meditation have demonstrated the influence of consciousness over processes of
the autonomous nervous system, such as galvanic skin response, heart rate,
respiratory rate, blood pressure, muscle
tension, EEG patterns etc. (Jevning, Wallace & Beidebach, 1992). In certain cases, mental states may stop the natural
bleeding-reaction when their skin is pierced or in some way mutilated (cf. the
image of the fakir on his nailbed). Hypnosis may suggest mental realities
profoundly affecting the physical limitations of the bodies of those under
hypnosis, often extending them beyond what the normal waking consciousness of
these individuals would expect as possible (cf. walking on burning coals). The placebo-effect
is real, as well as its reversal, the nocebo (Vroon,
1992). Parapsychology has shown
phenomena like telekinesis, telepathie, psychometrie etc. are factual, although
difficult to repeat and control (Griffin, 1997). The power of suggestion is one of the
fundamental truths of marketing.
Why not use these findings to the evolutionary
advantage of the living brain and its mind (the brainmind) ? Restructuring the brain
by the mind to allow for
a more conscious steering of its own neuronal processes ?
The driver who can visualize his vehicle while driving it, tries to extend his
awareness to its limitations (to apprehend volume) and then aims
to understand the processes going on in it or potentially given
with its structural characteristics and dynamics. Likewise, by
trying to visualize -with the mind's eye- a complete picture of the brain
(aligning the visualized "mindbrain" exactely with the "brainmind"),
the initiating step is taken to envisage the extensions and dynamics of this
special organ. This step is needed to proceed to influence the brain by means of
this mindbrain, a visualized, imaginal "brain" construed by the mind and
featuring all the integrated, conscious knowledge an individual has of his or
her own brain, which is, of course, still quite limited.
Experiments with real time EEG-scans show extraordinary states of consciousness
are correlated with combinations of four types of brainwaves (Cade,
2002). These categories refer to the building blocks of the mind-executive
function of the brain : Beta, Alpha, Theta & Delta. Thanks to biofeedback, everybody who trains sufficiently long enough, may learn to
these electromagnetic patterns, especially the reduction of Beta-waves, the
increase of Alpha-waves, a better access to Theta-waves and a refined use of
Delta-waves, confirming the
notion of changing states and structures of the brain by means of repeated
mental states (albeit a visualized "model" of the brain).
Neuroplasticity is a fact and can be caused. The exercise itself, when repeated, will by itself and over
time cause new neuronal pathways to appear in order to facilitate the
"imaginal mindbrain" to instruct the brainmind and vice versa.
In this way, an evolution or emancipation takes place, stretching from the natural brainmind, with its
potential to experience the Divine, to the imaginal mindbrain, with its
actual power to alter neuronal events by means of repeated trained mental choice (volition), in
this case, aimed at the modification of
the brain in order to increase (quantity) and refine (quality) its activities
(at least increase the number of neuronal connections).
Thus, what is a potential, biologically given "God-spot", may become
an actual, creative "God-circuit" in the brain, influencing all major neuronal
modules and networks. This natural genesis of human capacity also encompasses
the stages of cognition, from mythical to nondual thought (cf.
Intelligent Wisdom, 2007).