As I mentioned in a previous post, while exercising and meditating, I’ve had some experiences that can be described as “transcendental.” I have spontaneously felt that the boundaries between my little separate self and the world were dissolving, and I was one with all that is. This is also accompanied by feelings of love for my fellow human beings and is very peaceful and joyful. And it feels like coming home to my true self. Similar experiences have been reported by contemplatives from all the spiritual traditions of the world, and in “runner’s high”-like experiences of athletes and explorers † I was surprised to hear in this interesting review that “Some studies have shown that about a third of the American population agrees that they have had an experience where they felt one with all things”. This raises the question of the meaning of such experiences and has made me interested in reading the science of consciousness as well as aspects of psychology and philosophy that may be relevant. In this “amateur philosopher” section of the blog, I discuss interesting findings.
There are two explanations on either side of the spectrum of beliefs that explain the kind of experience I have described. The first is in line with the philosophy of materialism. This is essentially that matter is the fundamental reality and that there are natural explanations for all phenomena, including consciousness. According to neuroscience findings, keeping track of the body’s physical boundaries is one of the functions of the parietal lobes of the brain , and if its activity decreases, for example during meditation or endurance, this boundary may seem to soften or even disappear, explaining the sense of unity. Perhaps in this relaxed state spontaneous feelings of peace, love and joy would also arise. In any case, such experiences would be just brain phenomena.
At the other end of the spectrum are philosophies that believe that there is some kind of universal consciousness underlying the material world, which various religions refer to by names such as God, the Great Spirit or Cosmic Consciousness. According to the perennial philosophy, contemplatives of all major religions have had insight into such a reality, and it is the common core of all these belief systems, much more similar than their superficial differences. So we can begin to perceive this awareness when the mind is particularly calm, and this awareness is benevolent, which explains the feelings of peace, love, and joy. A good example of this statement is this poem by the 17th-century mystic Angelus Silecius:
Materialism and Eternal Philosophy are, of course, not the only two belief systems in the world, but they are the two main ones that explain the experience I have described above. Most scientists, especially neuroscientists, would probably follow the first (“materialistic”) explanation. But from what I’ve read so far, science can’t prove which of the two options is currently valid, and there are a significant number of scientists who are beginning to lean towards an explanation that some sort of universal consciousness exists. I have to admit that I would rather the second statement were true. But if science were to prove the materialist argument, and that there is therefore a rather prosaic explanation for these “peak experiences”, I would have to accept it. This preference may make me less objective than I should be in my questions, but I’m still trying to be open-minded. I’ll go over some of the things I’ve read in this fascinating field in my next “philosopher’s Corner” post.
Coffey, M, Explorers of the Infinite: The Secret Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes, TarcherPerigee, 2008. Hans, R, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, New Harbinger Publications, 2009.
Published by BionicOldGuy
I am a mechanical engineer born in 1953, Ph. D, Stanford, 1980. I have been in the mechanical CAE field for decades. I also have a lifelong interest in outdoor activities and fitness. I had both hips replaced and a heart valve replacement due to a genetic condition. This blog describes my adventures to stay active despite these bumps in the road. View all posts from BionicOldGuy
Published March 23, 202222 March 2022
This post Amateur Philosopher’s Corner- Introduction – BionicOldGuy was original published at “https://bionicoldguy.home.blog/2022/03/23/amateur-philosophers-corner-introduction/”