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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

Authentic Knowing: The Convergence of Science and Spiritual Aspiration.

Baruss, Imants. (1996).
West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press

ISBN:1-5573-085-8 paperback
1-55753-084-X hardcover
Description: Hardcover, xii + 228 pages.

Contents: Figures, acknowledgments, 7 chapters, glossary, Appendix: Selected Biographies, notes, references, index.

Excerpt(s): Existential questions are rationally coherent. However, satisfactory answers may not be available through empirical or rational means. The effort, then, becomes one of trying to determine if there is a latent mode of understanding superior to rational thought and, if it exists, to bring it into activity. How does one go about doing this? In this section let us develop one line of speculation about this effort.

While it is the discursive aspect of the mind that allows for explicit formulations of existential questions, at the same time it is that aspect of the mind that prevents the surfacing of superior modes of understanding. The normal functioning of the mind obliterates the transcendent. “The mind is the great slayer of the Real. ... Let the disciple slay the slayer.” The task thus becomes one of eliminating the barrier created by the discursive mind. This can be done in one of two ways, through regression or transcendence. (page 64)

There are a number of ways in which attempts have been made to discount the noetic value of transcendent experiences. For example, given that people who score higher on absorption are also more likely to have had more mystical experiences, could it be that these experiences are just the product of an overactive imagination? Perhaps one becomes so involved in transcendent ideas that one loses the power of discrimination and comes to regard them as real.

Based on a comprehensive review of the relevant neuro-physiological literature, mostly concerning the effects of psychotropic drugs, Arnold Mandell has given an account of transcendence in physiological terms. Drugs such as hallucinogens, amphetamines, and cocaine disturb the activity of the neurotransmitter serotonin in such a way that it fails to inhibit excitation of hippocampal CA3 cells — a sector of cells in the hippocampus of the brain. Such an effect would also be created by prolonged activity, stress, sensory deprivation, or meditation. Because of this hyperactivity of the hippocampal CA3 cells, the hippocampus cannot properly compare information coming from the outside with information that is already stored in the temporal lobes. In effect, internal information is unchallenged by external data, leading to a sense of unity with the universe and the conviction that one already knows everything. Hippocampal CA3 cell hyperexcitability leads to “hippocampal-septal flooding and may be variously interpreted — for example, as ecstasy. These cells become “progressively excited and die,” resulting in permanent personality changes, such as “religious conversions, hyposexuality, transcendent consciousness, good nature, and emotional deepening,” which are characteristic of psychomotor epileptics with hippocampal cell death. Mandell has speculated that in the absence of external explanations, the source of the experience of ecstasy, as CA3 cells fire furiously, followed by “empathic beatitude” once they are dead, gets erroneously attributed to God.

Does this mean that transcendent experiences are nothing more than the hyperactivity and death of brain cells? An analogy may be helpful for putting this information into perspective. If I am watching a hockey game on television and somebody comes along and puts a sledgehammer through the screen, this does not mean that the hockey game has ceased to exist. In other words, the existence of physiological correlates of some experiential events does not rule out the possibility of experiences at another level of reality. Death of hippocampal cells may be the source of transcendent experiences, or it may simply be one possible physiological mechanism through which such states of consciousness can manifest themselves. Physiological explanations cannot discount the possibility of transcendent consciousness. (pages 74-75)

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