When Is the Whole Greater Than the Sum of Its Component Parts in a Constantly Changing Universe?

When Is the Whole Greater Than the Sum of Its Component Parts in a Constantly Changing Universe?

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This paper was prepared for “Continuity + Change: Perspectives on Science and Religion,” a program of the Metanexus Institute, June 3-7, 2006, in Philadelphia, PA.

Abstract: Heraclitus (c. 500 BCE) suggested that the entire “world” is in a state of perpetual flux, and that nothing remains the same for any length of time except for the “Logos” (the controlling principle of the “world”). His follower Cratylus (c. 400 BCE) suggested that any description that can be given by way of identifying any particular object becomes false as soon as it is enunciated, for the thing has then changed and description is no longer applicable.

Parmenides (c. 480 BCE) denied the existence of change and suggested that being is One, and that all movement, change, and divisibility is merely appearance. Parmenides argued that only the eternal, uncreated, indestructible One is real. Parmenides’ follower Zeno (c. 470 BCE) used a clever set of paradoxes which used infinite regress as an argumentative device against plurality, motion, and change. Thus Heraclitus and Cratylus argued for change in the “world,” whereas Parmenides and Zeno argued for continuity in the “world.” It is of interest that both groups of thinkers posited, underneath appearances, an underlying “Logos” or “One,” respectively, that does not change.

Both science and religion have attempted to understand the apparent universe(s) in different fashions. Until recently, science has attempted to explain “how” the universe(s) works, whereas religion has attempted to explain “why” the universe(s) works, pulling God into the explanatory model. Unfortunately, both science and religion tend to reify their epistemological presuppositions, and then give them ontological status, preventing further growth. For example, Christianity unequivocally asserts that the conversion experience of St. Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9: 1-9) was an “act of God,” whereas many physicians assert that this conversion experience was “nothing but” a temporal lobe seizure. (It has also been suggested that the religious experiences of the following people were “caused” by epilepsy: Ezekiel, the “Priestly source” of the Pentateuch, Socrates, Mohammed, St. Birgitta of Sweden, Joan of Arc, St. Teresa of Avila, Swedenborg, Joseph Smith, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky.) Yet God, who created the entire universe(s), including “space” and “time” itself, can operate within disease states to achieve any Divine goal in a “top-down,” “whole-part,” “bottom-up,” or “interactionistic” causal fashion.

In this paper, many other cases in which the whole may or may not be greater than the sum of its component parts are examined. It is concluded that three factors underlie the current lack of dialogue between science and religion: 1) premature 2 reification of scientific constructs (e.g., the “anthropic principle,” “time is linear”) and religious constructs (e.g., “God caused the miraculous conversion of St. Paul”); 2) both science and religion do not know how to examine human intentionality; and 3) science forgets that it, like religion, is a history-laden story system. New methodological stances, namely, methodological pluralism and methodological reductionism, are put forth as alternatives to naïve reductionism in science. These stances, juxtaposed with apophatic theology (“via negativa”) and panentheism (incorporating phenomenology [Polanyi, Merleau-Ponty] and process philosophy [Whitehead, Hartshorne]), should allow a better dialogue between science and religion. Directions for further research are discussed.  


The primary purpose of this paper is to discuss a philosophical issue (continuity versus change) as it relates to scientific and religious investigation. In this regard, major methodological issues will be discussed. Finally, the problems inherent in studying increasingly complicated and holistic phenomena will be examined. We will conclude by examining the human creative insight and the human mystical experience.

Mythology, Pre-Socratic Philosophy, and Radical Inquiry

Mythology: Ian Barbour (1997, p. 114) suggests that the term “myth,” in popular usage, refers to fictional and untrue tales with pejorative implications. He suggests that the term “story” be used instead, “…since the status of a story is clearly left open” (p. 114). However, it should be noted here that the life’s work of many scholars such as Mircea Eliade (cf. The Myth of the Eternal Return, 1954/2005) has been in mythology. Furthermore, sometimes a theory in science has been transformed into the apparent form of a narrative structure, allowing it to be taken up by our culture as a means of transmitting fundamental understanding. St. Clair (1993/1994, p. 13) states:

When you listen to popular lectures by physicists or read their works written for the well-educated public, you realize that these scientists assume a grand coherent scheme of things running from the singularity of an infinitely dense point when space and time were infinitely curved, to the big bang, all the way to themselves as physicists constructing those understandings.

The basic assumption they start from is that there is a single evolutionary process that in reality runs in an unbroken line from the big bang to the present….Long, long ago before there was time, even before time was collapsed as a dimension of space, there was singularity. Not the singularity that can be spoken, not even the singularity that erupted into an incredibly tiny universe whose density during that first part of the first second cannot even be imagined. Supersymmetry reigned and everything was all the same in beautiful simplicity. But supersymmetry spontaneously broke into gravity and the unified symmetry; and the unified symmetry spontaneously broke into the symmetries of the strong, the weak, and the electromagnetic forces, and there were protons and there were neutrons. Then there was one second. For a 100,000 years the universe was so dense that everything was optically opaque, but, as space expanded, room was created and photons began to move freely. The universe became optically light, and there was light. Millions of years passed and atoms formed and hydrogen prevailed over helium, and hydrogen gave birth to stars…. 

St. Clair (1993/1994, pp. 13-14) suggests that a story like this is “sinking deeper into the contemporary mythic consciousness; it has mythic themes; it is about radical beginnings; it has a middle and connects to the present, and even though it offers several possible endings [an “open universe” that goes on expanding forever, a “closed universe” that ends in a heat death called “the big crunch,” and something inbetween – “the critical divide” – Barrow, 2005], all of them are radical endings….The traditional world, whose meaning was conveyed fundamentally through stories, has given rise to a scientific world which generates scientific theories.”

But this commonly accepted story carries a haunting presupposition. In all extant graphs (of which the present investigator knows) of the development of our universe from the initial singularity to the present (approximately 15 billion years), size (or space) of our universe is plotted on the y-axis, and time is plotted on the x-axis, with time running from the big bang to the present (e.g., Figure 6.2, Barrow, 1998; Figure 5.1, Davies, 1995; Figure 8.1, Barrow, 1991). One convenient way to conceptualize the hypothetical origin and development of our universe is by showing someone (God?) facing the right direction and blowing up a balloon which is our universe (see Figure 1.3, Barrow, 1994). (It should be remembered here that all of the entities within our universe do not expand to fill the void of space; neither space nor time existed before the big bang.)

Why do all of the extant models of our universe go in only one direction, rather than in two or more directions? Graphical difficulties aside, why weren’t an infinite number of universes created in an infinite number of directions in a single Multiverse (cf. Ellis, 2006a)?  Ian Barbour (1997) suggests that the notion of an infinite number of universes is too “mind-boggling” to consider; he appears to invoke Ockham’s razor here (Barbour, 1997), and asserts that the simplest theory is that there is just one universe. However, there is no a priori reason to do so. In fact, it seems to the present investigator that the assumption that there is just one universe, “our universe,” is a clear manifestation of pre-Copernican thinking that might inhibit scientific growth. It is indeed clear that, due to the fact that nothing  physical can travel faster than the speed of light, humans will never be able to study these other possible universes (Ellis, 2006a). However, to fail to acknowledge this presupposition and how it enters into the stories of present cosmological thinking might not be a good thing. For example, the theoretical cosmologist Max Tegmark tells us the following story (1997, L69):

Some superstring theories have more than one effective low-energy limit corresponding to classical spacetimes with different dimensionalities. We argue that all but the (3+1) – dimensional one might correspond to ‘dead worlds’, devoid of observers, in which case all such ensemble theories would actually predict that we should find ourselves inhabiting a (3+1) – dimensional spacetime. With more or less than one time dimension, the partial differential equations of nature would lack the hyperbolicity property that enables observers to make predictions. In a space with more than three dimensions, there can be no traditional atoms and perhaps no stable structures. A space with less than three dimensions allows no gravitational force and may be too simple and barren to contain observers. 

The possibility of superstrings aside, the theory suggested in this paper would allow an infinite number of universes with physical properties radically different than ours. In this regard, there is no a priori reason to assume that there has to be “observers” such as Man, let alone “traditional atoms” and “stable structures”  in these universes. It needs to be remembered here that the constructs of “time” and “space”1 have been debated by philosophers probably since the advent of human consciousness.

Furthermore, the advent of the concept of “linear time” has been a relatively recent occurrence in the history of the planet Earth (see “The Five Exoduses” below). Some cultures presently on the Earth, such as the Australian Aborigines (Davies, 1995) and the Hopi Indians of the American desert Southwest (Waters, 1977) still do not have a linear sense of time; Davies and Gibbin (1992, p. 135) state, “[The Hopi Indians] do not have a linguistic distinction between past, present and future, and have no way of expressing the idea of a flow of time. For them, events are categorized only by whether they are ‘manifested’ or are ‘evolving’.” Similarly, the Moken Boat People who survived the 2004 tsunami have no sense of past, present, or future. People, such as friends and relatives who show up are welcomed, but no greetings or farewells are given; it does not matter if they have seen such people one day or one year ago.

With respect to the scientific phenomenon of reifying a construct such as “physics,” “space” or “time,” and then assuming that it exists “out there” independent of a construing mind, a philosophically naïve bumper sticker states, “Physics makes the world go round.” Yet the world “goes round” in and of its own accord, and did so long before the evolution of humans and their construction of a branch of scientific study called “physics.” In this regard, the existential phenomenological philosopher Merleau-Ponty states (1945/1962, pp. viii-ix):  

I cannot shut myself up within the realm of science. All my knowledge of the world, even my scientific knowledge, is gained from my own particular point of view, or from some experience of the world without which the symbols of science would be meaningless. The whole universe of science is built upon the world as directly experienced, and if we want to subject science itself to rigorous scrutiny and arrive at a precise assessment of its meaning and scope, we must begin by reawakening the basic expression of the world of which science is the second-order expression….To return to things themselves is to return to that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks, and in relation to which every scientific schematization is an abstract and derivative sign-language, as is geography in relation to the country-side in which we have learnt beforehand what a forest, a prairie or a river is. (emphasis added) 

Pre-Socratic Philosophy: Thales to Cratylus

It has been suggested by many modern philosophers (e.g., Blackburn, 1994; Honderich, 2005) that the writings of the brilliant philosopher Heraclitus (c. 500 BCE) are too obscure and cryptic to be understood. Furthermore, the one book he wrote, On Nature, has not survived history. All that remains from this thinker are 100-130 “fragments” which have been arranged by different people in different styles (Haxton, 2001). With respect to his writing style, Honderich (2005, p. 378) states: 

Heraclitus’ obscurity is a calculated consequence of his style, which is usually compact and often deliberately cryptic. He believed that what he has to say goes beyond the limits of ordinary language. Combined with the fragmentary state of the surviving evidence, his obscurity is a formidable obstacle to understanding. It is clear, though, that Hearaclitus’ thinking was meant as a comprehensive and systematic whole, covering every aspect of human experience, of which every part was connected with every other.

The present investigator does not feel that the thought of Heraclitus is difficult to understand. Because the polarity between continuity and change as discussed by Heraclitus is serving as a springboard for this conference, his thought is examined closely here. Before Heraclitus, early Greek thinkers sought the stuff of which the world was made (Haxton, 2001); for Thales, it was water; for Anaximenes, air; for Anaximander, a combination of hot and cold; for Empedocles, there were four indestructible elemental principles; for Anaxagoras, there were innumerable generative seeds composing the nature of things; the Atomists posited multiple particles moving in a void; for the Pythagoreans, the truth of the world could be found in numbers, their propositions and relations (Haxton, 2001).

Heraclitus took a different approach – he was more spiritual and psychological than these other pre-Socratic thinkers. While the mythological legend about his early life, like that of the Buddha, is unprovable, it is interesting that the legend is similar to that of the Buddha (Haxton, 2001). Heraclitus was to inherit a wealthy kingdom in Ephesus, Greece and chose, instead of the trappings of power, to seek the Word of wisdom. His 100-130 “fragments” (cf. Haxton, 2001) are conveniently grouped (by the present investigator)  into the following four categories (with representative examples):

I. The World of Appearances Constantly Changes

“As all things change to fire, and fire exhausted falls back into things.” (Fragment 22, p. 15)

“The river where you set your foot just now is gone – those waters give way to this, now this.” (Fragment 41, p. 27)

II. The World of Appearances Seems to Have Polarity

“The cosmos works by harmony of tensions, like the lyre and bow.” (Fragment 56, p. 36)

“From the strain of binding opposites comes harmony.” (Fragment 46, p. 31)

“The beginning is the end.” (Fragment 70, p. 45)

III. Underneath the World of Appearances is the One or God [monotheism]

“Yet all things follow from the Word.” (Fragment 1, p. 3)

“The oneness of all wisdom may be found, or not, under the name of God.” (Fragment 65, p. 41)

“All people ought to know themselves and everyone be wholly mindful.” (Fragment 106, p. 71)

“For wisdom, listen not to me but to the Word, and know that all is one.” (Fragment 2, p. 5)

IV. Apophatic (Negative) Theology2 and Mystical Theology

“Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing, for the known way is an impasse.” (Fragment 7, p. 7)

“Things keep their secrets.” (Fragment 10, p. 9)

“Of all the words yet spoken, none comes quite as far as wisdom, which is the action of the mind beyond all things that may be said.” (Fragment 18, p. 13)

“Thus in the abysmal dark the soul is known by scent.” (Fragment 38, p. 25)

“Applicants for wisdom do what I have done: inquire within.” (Fragment 80, p. 51)

“After death comes nothing hoped for nor imagined.” (Fragment 122, p. 83)

Some of these mystical sayings, like those of Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 8:21-22), are harsh: “ ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead’” (cf. Daniel, 2006).

“Those unmindful when they hear, for all they make of their intelligence, may be   regarded as the walking dead.” (Fragment 3, p. 5)

“Though what the waking see is deadly, what the sleeping see is death.” (Fragment 64, p. 41)

“People need not act and speak as if they were asleep.” (Fragment 94, p. 63)

Although the self-proclaimed follower of Heraclitus named Cratylus (c. 400 BCE) clearly altered what we know of the teachings of Heraclitus, Heraclitus nevertheless influenced Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Socrates, Montaigne, Neitzche, Heidegger, Jung, and others. Cratylus suggested that any description that can be given by way of identifying any particular object becomes false as soon as it is enunciated, for the thing has then changed and the description is no longer applicable (Harris, 1969). (This idea antedates the notion by Heisenberg that one cannot simultaneously know the exact location of a subatomic particle and its velocity.) At best, Cratylus felt that one could only make vague approximations concerning an object, but that any attempt at exactitude or precision will be defeated by the flux of the object of our reference. If this is so, exact science becomes impossible; we can have no precise knowledge about anything, no statement will ever be completely true, and the degree of its error can never be precisely determined (Harris, 1969). Perhaps this is a disturbing proposition.

Pre-Socratic Philosophy: Parmenides and Zeno

Parmenides of Elea (c. 520-440 BCE) went to the opposite extreme compared to Heraclitus and Cratylus, and denied the existence of change by using purely deductive reasoning without any appeal to the senses or to empirical confirmation. For example, once one has proved the theorem that the square on the diagonal of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides, there is no need to measure; if one did and found a discrepancy, one would suspect the measurement and not the proof (Harris, 1969).

Zeno of Elea (c. 470 BCE) was a student of Parmenides, who designed a clever set of paradoxes which used infinite regress as an argumentative device against plurality, motion, and change in the appearances of the “world.” For example, an extrapolation of one of his paradoxes is to ponder, while walking on a sidewalk, how one can ever reach the crack in the sidewalk, when there is always some distance between one and the crack which can be infinitely halved. Very clear explanations of what is wrong with Zeno’s paradoxes can be found in the work of the theoretical mathematical physicist Paul Davies (1983, pp. 14-15), who states:

Scientists have long recognized the need to base all their considerations of infinity on precisely formulated mathematical steps, for measuring the infinite can produce all sorts of paradoxes….The essential feature of infinity…is that a part of infinity is as big as the whole….Many surprises of this sort emerge from a study of the infinite, and it has taken mathematicians centuries of logical construction to fully comprehend the rules for the proper manipulation of infinity. An odd feature is that there exists more than one sort of infinity.

Another critique against Zeno is that his paradoxes were introduced primarily as an argumentative device, which later gave rise to the use of dialectical reasoning by Socrates and others. Nevertheless, the thought of Parmenides and Zeno versus that of Heraclitus and Cratylus is presently useful in that it forces us to remember whether we are dealing with contradictions in appearances versus a hypothetical underlying unifying principle (such as God). If it is the former, we can expect logical conundrums in all of our conceptualizations (even theological) until we are clear in our thinking about change versus continuity.

For example, when I teach statistics, I tell students that nothing is ever really “proven” in science, and that all one does in science is to lend support to a hypothesis, which can, down the road, be replaced by another hypothesis. In this regard, while our statistics might make it look like “X” causes “Y,” further data and studies might yield an underlying progression of variables that are more proximally related to the outcome variable “Y” than the more observable variable “X.” (Some students like this sense of science as a continual exploration; others do not.)

Are We Entering a Fifth “Exodus” In the History of Mankind?

Previously it was stated that Western Man did not always have a linear sense of time and history. When did this sense develop? An interesting intellectual model covering the whole history of  Mankind based on the Judeo-Christian tradition has been put forth by Peck (William J. Peck, 1977, University of North Carolina, personal communication). This model will be presented because it is felt that one aspect of a “fifth exodus” in the history of Man is the present coming together of science and religion, juxtaposed with ecumenical religious movements, as is seen in the Metanexus Institute.

According to Peck, to date there have been  four exoduses (mass departures) in the history of Man.3 The first exodus occurred in approximately the 13th century BCE when the oppressed  Israelites were successfully led out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses (Exodus 1-18) (Ferm, 1945). (The entire book of Exodus is a composite work by the redactor of the “Yahwist” [J], “Elohist” [E] and “Priestly” [P] sources, and was probably written ca. 538-450 BCE.) (Ferm, 1945; von Rad, 1961, pp. 23-30; Buttrick, 1951). As part of this first exodus, the Israelites journeyed to Mt. Sinai, where Moses had a revelation of Yahweh in which a covenant and the promulgation of certain laws occurred (Exodus: 19-40). From the time of the first exile to Moses to Second Isaiah (Isaiah: 40-55) (c. 550-538 BCE), when monotheism was being fully established, Israel was in varying stages of “henotheism,” which Ferm (1945, p. 331) defines as follows:

Intermediate stage between polytheism and monotheism; worship of one god by an individual, clan, or nation to the exclusion of others; term applies when worshipper has achieved this measure of unity but is not sufficiently philosophically advanced to deny the existence of other gods.

During this transitional period, from polytheism to henotheism to monotheism, various cultic ritualistic practices, including live child sacrifices, were performed to appease what was then thought to be the wishes of the deity (von Rad, 1961; Peck, 1976), including the newly emerging monotheistic deity “Yahweh.” (von Rad, 1961) (Peck, 1976). In this regard, some of these rituals and practices served to restore cyclical time to historical Man in fashions that one sees in other cultures, such in the Aborigines of Australia, the Hopi Indians of the American Southwest, and the Moken Boat People (the “Sea Gypsies”) in Asia.

The second exodus occurred during “the Akedah” (Genesis 22: 1-29) (von Rad, 1961; Peck, 1976, 1977), which scholars consider to be the most perfectly formed and polished of all the Genesis patriarchal stories (von Rad, 1961). In this story, God came to Abraham in a dream and ordered him to take his only son Isaac, and, with that, the hope of all of Israel (and, by extrapolation, all of Mankind), to the land of Moriah and to offer him there as a burnt sacrifice. This appearance of God to Abraham in a dream was a typical occurrence in cyclical dreamtime (Eliade, 1954/1995; von Rad, 1961). Freud posited projection as a defense mechanism in which unconscious impulses of the id that threaten the superego can be displaced outwardly onto someone else or onto an external object (Rychlak, 1981). After this displacement occurs, psychological equilibrium is re-established until another conflict is encountered (Ryclak, 1981). (To Freud, the wishes of the id frequently appear in dreams.)

The cultic demand Abraham thought came from Yahweh to murder his son Isaac (cultic sacrifice of one’s first-born child was common to historical Man) (von Rad, 1961; Peck, 1976, 1977) was nonetheless monstrous, completely incomprehensible, and surely must be a very difficult sermon to deliver by ministers, priests, and rabbis today. Isaac, given to Abraham by God after a very long delay, was the only link to the promised greatness of Abraham’s seed. However, according to Abraham’s dream (his projection), Isaac was now to be given back to God in cultic cyclical ritual sacrifice. But Abraham now, in the eternal living present, had to cut himself off from his whole cultic past and face an unknown future with dread and despair rather than the certainty of the cult of Yahweh (von Rad, 1961; Peck, 1976, 1977; cf. Kierkegaard, 1939/1983).

At the very last moment, as he raised his knife, Abraham realized that he had been projecting all along, withdrew the projection, and God had room to be present when the crowded projections within his psyche receded into the background. Concurrently, Abraham saw a ram, and sacrificed it instead (Peck, 1976, 1977). He therefore satisfied the needs of his cult, but also of a more consolidated (monotheistic) Yahweh, who, from this point forward, acted with Man in history, out of cyclical time. A clear sense of history was born for the first time in Man, in which he was now fully accountable for his past (Peck, 1976, 1977). Peck (1976, 1977) goes further with the Akedah story and suggests that it has the following theological significance: “The withdrawal of projections is the psychological equivalent of the Incarnation.” von Rad (1961, p. 235) suggests, with respect to the Akedah:

…the application of the idea of temptation or testing to the paradoxes of God’s historical leading is to be understood as a suppression of the ritual and an exit from the cultic realm, i.e., with respect to the history of faith, as a sign of positive maturity.

The third exodus occurred when Jesus of Nazareth walked the face of the Earth. In this regard, the spirituality put forth by Jesus of Nazareth was less codified and legalized than had been the case in traditional Judaism. Theologically, what this may have meant was that Man’s monotheistic God had “become freer,” and no longer needed the rigidity projected onto him or her via the strict letter of the traditional Judaic law; these rules “tethered” God to Man and to the Earth. In essence, with Jesus of Nazareth, God was now calling humans to journey with him or her into the unknown in an increasingly exploratory fashion throughout the universe(s) (see below).

The fourth exodus occurred during the Protestant Reformation, which was initiated by Martin Luther in 1517. It was a protest against the secularization of Christianity and the abuse of power and privilege which had grown especially among the clergy, from the popes down to the common priests (Ferm, 1945). For Martin Luther, his faith became salvation by grace and not by blind obedience and/or attachment to the Church. For Protestant Man, all that was needed for salvation was God’s grace and the Bible. By contrast, Roman Catholic Man had the entire Church, including priests, popes, and saints as intermediaries between him and God. Because Protestant Man did not have these intermediaries, he had a large degree of free-floating anxiety that inadvertently got sublimated into hard work (an accidental attempt at justification by faith), which fed into the spirit of capitalism (cf. Weber, 1930/1992; Peacock & Kirsch, 1980).

In all of these four exoduses, it should be noted that one does not have to be Jewish, Christian, Roman Catholic,4 or Protestant, respectively, to have been effected by them. This is because they are by definition large-scale movements that, due to the intermingling of cultures, and the unavoidable syncretistic nature of all religions, enter the collective psyche of all humans. Thus, in the United States, one is likely to find a Roman Catholic family that is just as driven to hard work as is a Protestant or a Muslim family. Probably the important point about all of these exoduses is that they forced Man to trust in a God that was less and less bound to Earthly structures (e.g., pagan statues) to a God that was not so clearly tangible in Man’s preconceptions (“A God defined is a God confined.” – author); all of this represented a maturation of faith. It should be noted that, because these exoduses are large movements, it can be difficult to discern exactly what the final outcome will be, especially if one is presently in the middle of one (Peacock & Krisch, 1980).

Nevertheless, Peck (1977) asks, “Will there be a fifth exodus?” If so, what will it look like?” The present investigator feels that Mankind is currently in the early stages of this fifth exodus, and that it has eight features of relevance to this conference. First, the problem of how to address concurrent change and continuity being studied is likely to be an issue that will continually have broad ramifications for all human intellectual endeavors. More specifically, humans need to develop models and heuristics in order to develop modes of thinking. By their very nature, these devices are static, and hence have continuity. However, there comes a time when they must be jettisoned for newer models and heuristics, and it is time for change. (Perhaps this is a natural consequence of entropy.) In this regard, there are no clear guidelines for when to support change versus continuity in either science or religion, and this is a topic for further debate and discussion.

Second, more dialogue is taking place among science, philosophy, and religion. Third, the boundaries causing conflict among the various world religions are decreasing. Of special interest in this regard are the dialogues between Eastern and Western religions, and between Islam and Western religions (cf. Murphy, 2006, with respect to the latter). Fourth, there may be an increasing desire for personal experience of the Divine, whether this experience be conversion experience, “numinous” experience (a feeling of the presence of a powerful force such as the Divine  or God), or mystical experience (a feeling of unity with all Life, all Nature, the Universe, or with God) (cf. Spilka et al., 2003). (This hypothesis needs to be empirically investigated.)

Fifth, there appears to be an increasing interest in studying emergent properties of the universe(s), Life, and God, whether these properties exist holistically by themselves, exert downward causal influences on lower levels of “explanation,” or interact concurrently with lower levels of  “explanation” (Polanyi, 1964/1974, 1965, 1966, 1968; Sperry, 1986; Clayton, 2004a, 2004b, 2004c: Clayton & Davies, 2006). Sixth, there appears to be interest in exploring theological alternatives besides theism.5 Seventh, there appears to be a small but growing group of people whom I would call “mystical-scientists, mystical-philosophers, and mystical theologians.” Such persons are likely to view conducting their particular worldly quest as a spiritual or mystical endeavor. In this regard, Peck’s thesis juxtaposed with apophatic theology is applicable. If such a person is able to withdraw his or her preconceived rigid conceptualizations concerning a phenomenon being studied (the phenomenological “epoche”) (Merleau-Ponty, 1962), he or she is likely to see the phenomenon anew, and will therefore generate newer, fresher hypotheses and/or discoveries than before. Of course, when to slacken the threads of intentionality (Merleau-Ponty, 1962) that allow past knowedge, models, and constructs to recede into the background of one’s consciousness (which formerly constituted “working reality”) is likely to be up to the individual investigator; there will never be any formal guidelines in this regard (cf. Polanyi, 1966, 1964/1974). Eighth, at the 2005 Metanexus Institute meeting on “Science and Religion: Global Perspectives,” Professor David Peat (Peat, 2005, p. 1) put forth a novel idea on the creation of “global academies” that were distributed:

…in the form [of] academics and researchers who are connected electronically via an interpenetrating metric- and topologically- connected networks. Such an academy would be in the position to discuss a series of meta-topics involving research and education. These include issues of the dissemination of scholarly knowledge, copyright, more powerful citation indexes, a global system for the identification of scholars whose knowledge, skills and interests would benefit from networking, discussion of ethical issues related to research and assessing the value of the “orchid” disciplines.

Peat’s idea will go a long way towards breaking down needless barriers among various academic disciplines and institutions.

Will there be a sixth exodus after the fifth exodus, perhaps in some eschatological sense towards the end of time (“The Omega Point” – cf. Teilhard de Chardin, 1959)? No one of course can answer this question, but two points need to be made. First, as previously discussed, evolution and the emergence of life both go against entropy. The positing of “negative entropy” by some thinkers (e.g., Teilhard de Chardin, 1959; Davies, 1983) must therefore be viewed as purely metaphysical speculation (Daniel, 1977). Second, any student taking Introductory Statistics learns, when covering the topic of linear or nonlinear regression, that one cannot extrapolate beyond the data at hand. In this regard, all of the extant graphs of the size or density of our universe (the y-axis) in relation to time since the big bang (on the x-axis) cannot project past the current approximate age of our universe (15 billion years); this situation is rendered more difficult by the fact that the study of cosmology is quasi-experimental (Cook et al., 2001); we have absolutely no control over any cosmological variables, and technically cannot and will never be able to extrapolate past the current approximate age of our universe.

On the Nested Structure of “Causal Events” in Studying Emergent Phenomena6

When humans first acquired consciousness, they probably noticed that there was an asymmetric directionality in the manifestation of various phenomena (e.g., human life: pregnancy to birth to youth to senescence to death; a pebble thrown into a still pond: small concentric circles form, followed by increasingly larger concentric circles). At first, humans perceived that these phenomena had a certain “existential thickness” to them that was a-dimensional (Merleau-Ponty, 1945/1962). In the 17th century Galileo and Isaac Newton assumed that “mass,” “space,” and “time” were fundamental ontological entities because they could be used mathematically in conducting science (Barbour, 1997).        

Science at this time attempted to “prove” “causality” among “events” by examining the temporal and spatial inter-relationships among these “events.” The following classical Newtonian philosophical presuppositions became deeply engrained in the psyche of most people, and were rarely challenged, and found their way into modern physics (including relativity theory and quantum theory): 1) “space,” “time,” “events,” and “causality” exist apart from a construing mind (naïve classical realism). 2) these constructs are fixed and immutable. 3) these variables have no phenomenological (experiential) depth to them (Melges, 1982; Clayton, 2004c), and 4) an “event” possesses at most one temporal dimension (Tegmark, 1997).

Yet considerable problems are created by naïve conceptualizations of an “event” in dealing with many phenomena. In discussing the human mystical experience, Jones (1993, p. 4) states:

William James [1902/1985] describes the process by which the concepts we invent to cut the fluid continuum of perceptions and experiences into a useful order becomes ossified and takes on a life of its own that blinds us to the fact that it is our own construction. Concepts become a barrier between us and the dynamic, continuous reality we confront in perceiving.

Thalbourne (2005 p. 121) states:

The designation of what is to count as one single event is arbitrary: for each event may be part of another, or it may itself contain other events. The borders spoken of  between one event and another are purely for the sake of convenience, and have no ontological reality.

Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962, p. 411) is even more radical and states:

For, looking at the things themselves [i.e., in a Kantian sense],…the very notion of event has no place in the objective world….the “events” are shapes cut out by a finite observer from the spatio-temporal totality of the objective world. But on the other hand, if I consider the world itself, there is simply one indivisible and changeless being in it. Change presupposes a certain position which I take up and from which I see things in process before me: there are no events without someone to whom they happen and whose finite perspective is the basis of their individuality.

These quotations suggest that how we classify an “event” is arbitrary and that there may be a certain amount of existential (a-dimensional) “thickness” that is being overlooked when we simplistically suggest that an “event” is “caused” by a particular variable.

Any discussion of “causal events” needs to address the concepts of “emergence” and the “nested” structure of “events.” Consider the following example (cf. Neisser, 1986).  When I type the present sentence at my usual 100 w.p.m.,  I do not notice successively striking the individual keys on the word processor. However, if I had slowed down while typing this sentence, I might have noticed (and even remembered) typing the letter “W” (now an “event”) nested in the word “When” (now an “event”), which itself is now nested (along with the other letters and words, etc.) within the composite “event” of having typed the whole sentence. The typing of this sentence will in turn become nested within a paragraph (soon to become an “event”), which will in turn be nested in this entire essay (eventually to become an “event” despite my many breaks in writing it – cf. Neisser, 1986). 

This example demonstrates that, through an act of free-will, I paid attention to the letter “W” (etc.), thereby giving it an ontological existence with existential thickness in an a-dimensional universe, because we cannot say with any certainty which direction in “space” this nested structure took place. Thus, by the mere act of focusing attention, the boundaries of one “event” can become blurred from both smaller “events” that make up the target “event” as well as larger contextual “events,” although each of these “events” is “nested” within all of the other events, perhaps in a hierarchical structure.

An “emergent” phenomenon (simply put) is one where “the whole is more than the sum of its component parts” (cf. Polanyi, 1966, 1974). Conversely, one might have the case where “the whole is equal to the sum of its component parts,” a stance which reductionistic science has operated on for some time (Davies, 1983; Barbour, 1997; Ellis, 2005, 2006b). The Nobel Prize winning split-brain researcher Roger Sperry (1986, p. 417) states:

Emergent, holistic properties arise from organizational relationships and configurational patterns in space and time. Causation and control operate from higher levels downward, making use of the laws of lower levels without violating them. Whole entities are also governed by novel emergent properties of their own, and these holistic properties in turn exert downward control over the parts. When a new entity is created the new properties of the entity, or system as a whole, thereafter overpower the causal forces of the component entities at all successively lower levels in the multinested hierarchies of the new infrastructure.

An example of an emergent phenomenon is human consciousness, which is more than the sum collection of all of the neurochemical and neurophysiological operations of the human brain (Davies, 1983; Sperry, 1986; Daniel, 1996; Ellis, 2006b). Several points need to be made about emergentism. First, what seems to be an emergent phenomenon today may be more successfully “explained” by a “bottom-up” reductionistic understanding tomorrow. Furthermore, at the same time, methodological reductionism might be used by one investigator of a given phenomenon, whereas more of a “top-down” or “whole-part” interactionistic approach might be used by other investigators of the same phenomenon. The net result of all of these approaches should be less rigidity and less of a tendency to reify one’s theoretical assumptions as the results of this  methodological pluralism are collated. However, if we choose the reductionistic route, we need to remember that our reductionistic constructs are being used for the sake of convenience and, as we attempt to bridge the gap between the secular and the Divine, our constructs will indeed fail and be in need of further revision. (Clayton, 2004b; Clayton and Davies, 2006; Peacocke, 2001; Polanyi, 1966, 1964/1974; Ellis, 2006b). After all, this is the nature of science – an infinite exploration of nature, always able to revise itself. (Theology should be able to revise itself accordingly.) Second, top-down causality may exist by itself, bottom-up causality may exist by itself; both may interact concurrently, or both may act in “strange loops,” as in M.C. Escher’s Waterfall painting where, if one follows the path of the water around the loop, at each stage the water behaves perfectly normally until suddenly (with a shock), one finds oneself back at the very beginning (at the top of all of the waterfalls) (Davies, 1983). The theoretical mathematical physicist Paul Davies (1983, p. 96) states:

My belief is that the explanations of “emergent” phenomena in our brains – for instance, ideas, hopes, images, analogies, and finally consciousness and free will – are based on a kind of Strange Loop, an interaction between levels in which the top level reaches back down towards the bottom level and influences it, while at the same time being determined by the bottom level. The self comes into being the moment it has the power to reflect itself.

Third, the physical biochemist/theologian Arthur Peacocke (2001) prefers to talk of whole-part causation/interactions rather than top-down causation/interactions. Perhaps the former terminology avoids the danger of us reifying causality in some abstract spatial sense, which is the natural tendency if we talk about “top-down” or “bottom-up” causality. Furthermore, Peacocke (2001) embraces panentheism rather than theism philosophically. If God exists panentheistically in the universe(s), then God, who created everything and is in everything in the universe(s),8 can exert causal influences (which we presently cannot understand) in any particular part of the universe(s) or on the whole universe(s) instantaneously. In this regard, since God (who by definition created time itself) can travel at the speed of light, faster than the speed of light, or instantaneously, God can alter, slow down, reverse, or halt time, all of which would dramatically alter the way humans understand the interconnectedness of the universe(s), let alone “causality.”

Until the next section (see below), we will defer discussion of the holistic phenomena of the human creative insight and the human mystical experience. Instead, let us now examine nine other increasingly complex phenomena that illustrate various issues pertaining to emergent phenomena, “events,” and “explanations.” In this regard, we will make liberal use of terms which scientists have historically used (e.g., “bottom-up causality”), and some newer ones that philosophers, theologians, and scientists have recently been using (e.g., “top-down causality,” “whole-part causality,” “interactionistic causality”) (Barbour, 1997) pertaining to emergent phenomena to see how our tentative “explanatory” language might help us understand these phenomena. (One interesting feature about more sophisticated “explanations” of a phenomenon is that, once we have embraced a more sophisticated “explanation,” we find it difficult, if not impossible, to go back to the simpler “explanation.”)

First, consider water – understanding the gaseous and nonpolar properties of its structure does not allow us to predict the liquid and polar “self emerging” properties of water (H2O) (top-down causality).9 Second, from 39oF (4oC) to 32oF (0oC), the density of water decreases, enabling ice to float, and fish to survive under the ice. This irregularity can be viewed both as a God-made miracle (top-down or whole-part causality) or merely as a natural anomaly (a-causal). Third, in an analytical chemistry class, my professor said, “For those of you who think that there is something spiritual or mystical about a rainbow, I’ve got news for you – it’s nothing but refracted light.” However, if a mother sees a rainbow after finding her daughter buried alive under the debris of a devastating earthquake, she is not wrong in saying the rainbow represented the fulfillment of a “promise” from God (top-down or whole-part causality), even though the physical chemist can say a rainbow is “caused” by refracted light [cf. “Anatoli” – Appendix 1 – paragraph 10, line 4]. Fourth, during the first Gulf War, a United States Air Force pilot was shot down over Iraq. After parachuting safely to the ground, he hid in some bushes for several days eating leaves and insects (Air Force survival skills), while Iraqi soldiers desperately searched for him. When a TV reporter asked him how he survived (bottom-up causality), he repeatedly said, “God was responsible for that, Sir (theistic top-down or whole-part causality).10 Fifth, the Moken Boat People (“Sea Gypsies), who survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, even though 200,000 others perished, attributed their survival to being in touch with the Spirit of the Sea (top-down or whole-part causality,)11

Sixth, a very small percentage of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) (“complex partial epilepsy”) experience “ecstatic seizures” of oneness with God, the universe, and all life. It is clear that these patients, when brought into the EEG lab, have demonstrable epileptiform EEG temporal lobe activity (Hansen & Brodtkorb, 2003). In one such patient, the source of the epilepsy was a brain tumor (Morgan, 1990). After removal of the tumor, this patient had no more ecstatic seizures. Although the theological substrate for his experiences might have been intact, the neurology of his brain could no longer support his visions (interaction of top-down/whole-part and bottom-up causality). In one study (Hansen & Brodtkorb, 2003), patients with ecstatic seizures deliberately did not take their anticonvulsant medications so that they could continue to have these pleasurable seizures. In this case, these patients’ free-will (an emergent property of consciousness) descended vertically to disobey the physicians’ lower level (mundane) pharmacological orders.

The next three examples are more difficult to dissect. Seventh, in 1988, I was in an automobile accident in which I should have been killed. (My friend fell asleep at the wheel of my Toyota truck.) This accident probably took only three seconds of physical time. However, when I woke-up after being asleep in the passenger’s seat, “a voice” (Christ) “said” to me (in my heart), “You are in a very serious automobile accident. You will either live or die from this accident. But you know that it is not up to you.” I “replied” to Christ, “I surrender.” This “conversation,” which had to have taken place in at least eight seconds of time, was followed by my truck stopping about one foot away from a big tree. How could I have had this “conversation” in so short of a period of physical time? It is possible that God, through Christ, descended vertically into our horizontal world of time, and altered or halted it to achieve some Divine purpose (top-down or whole-part causality) (Knickerbocker, 1988).

Eighth, some psychologists, neurologists and psychiatrists (e.g., Landsborough, 1987; Brorson & Brewer, 1988; Vercelletto, 1994) assert that the conversion experience of St. Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9: 1–9, 22: 6–11, 26: 13–18; I Cor. 9:1, 15: 8; Gal. 1: 15–16) was “nothing but” a complex partial seizure (i.e., an “ecstatic” TLE seizure) with auditory and visual hallucinations that secondarily generalized into a full-blown tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure, which in turn was followed by postictal (ictal = seizure) blindness all the way to Damascus (cf. Fisher et al., 2005). As far as Saint Paul’s “thorne in the flesh” is concerned (II Cor. 12: 7-10; Gal. 4: 13-14), this could have easily been a part of an interictal temporal lobe epilepsy syndrome (Bear and Fedio, 1977; Sorensen and Bolwig, 1987; Hughes, 2005; Dodrill, 2006; Hermann, 2006). However, God, through Christ, may have altered the zealous goal of Paul12 to persecute Christians in a top-down or whole-part fashion over and above St. Paul’s hypothetical case of temporal lobe epilepsy.

In addition to St. Paul, it has been suggested that the religious experiences and/or behavior of the following people were “caused” by epilepsy: Ezekiel (Altschuler, 2002), “the Priestly source” of the Pentateuch (Altschuler, 2004), Socrates (Musamoto & Englert, 2006), Mohammed (Freemon, 1976), St. Birgitta of Sweden (Landtblom, 2004), Joan of Arc (Foote-Smith and Bayne, 1991), St. Teresa of Avila (Garcia, 2003), Swedenborg (Foote-Smith and Smith, 1996), Joseph Smith (Daniel & Jenkins, 1997), Kierkegaard (Hansen & Hansen, 1988), and Dostoyevsky (Gastaut, 1984; Voskuil, 1983). It should be noted here that, while ecstatic seizures with EEG evidence do occur (Cirignotta et al., 1980; Naito and Matsui, 1988; Morgan, 1990; Vuilleumier et al., 1997; Binnie and Wilkins, 1997; Hansen & Brodtkorb, 2003), these types of seizures with mystical experience related to temporal lobe epilepsy are very rare.13 Furthermore, the present investigator does not feel that there is substantive evidence for the diagnosis of epilepsy in Ezekiel, “the Priestly source” of the Pentateuch, Socrates, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, Swedenborg, and Kierkegaard.

Ninth, at the Durham, N.C. Duke University/Veterans Administration Hospital  medical complex, a young adolescent male patient named John (he was from a small farming town, and had probably never even heard of an out-of-the-body [OBE] or an astral projection [AP] experience, let alone read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, was a surgical candidate for a temporal lobectomy for uncontrolled seizures. As part of the neurosurgical work-up, he had surgically implanted depth electrodes, one in each hippocampus, and one in each amygdala. When the two hippocampi and the left amygdala were electrically stimulated (this was an attempt to trigger one of his seizures), nothing happened. However, when his right amygdala was electrically stimulated, John said, “Gee, Dr. M. [the attending neurologist], I had the feeling that I was out of my body and was a different person.” (cf. Vuilleumier et al., 1997). (Some of us observing the procedure wanted it repeated and the voltage increased, but Dr. M. would not do this for ethical reasons.) (The surgical decision was made to remove John’s right temporal lobe, including his right amygdala.) How could John have had this OBE with AP (both of which constitute an “event”) in so short of a period of electrical stimulation (0.25 second duration) followed by 1-2 seconds of epileptiform EEG after-discharge? Was his OBE/AP “nothing but” impaired neurophysiological functioning (bottom-up causality), or was there some aspect of existence (downward causality) “nested” (perhaps in a “Strange Loop”) within John’s brain? Obviously, we will never be able to test hypotheses concerning what happened to John. Nevertheless, it is very clear that we must develop a broader metaphysics in order to accommodate these and other seemingly emergent phenomena (Clayton, April 2005, personal communication).

The Human Mystical Experience: Should It Be Investigated Phenomenologically or Empirically?

Many people are reasonably ambivalent about discussing their most intense and personal spiritual experiences with others, especially scientific investigators. However, in conceptual discussions of religion in the last century, the central role that mystical and numinous experience has played has been a dominant topic of interest (see Spilka et al., 2003). For the purpose of this investigation, a mystical or numinous experience is defined as an intense state of union or “oneness” with the universe, all Life, all people, Nature, or with God. For example, the American screenwriter Sidney Field (1917 – 1986) had the following mystical experience (1989, p. 27):

At some point during the talk, something extraordinary happened to me. For no apparent reason I experienced a sudden outburst of intense joy in the region of the heart. It went on and on in increasingly strong rhythmic waves, until I thought I would have to open my mouth and shout for joy. I was reminded of Irving Pichel’s laughter in Lazarus Laughed – only this was the real thing, uninvited, unsought, possessing my entire being. It was an experience that practically lifted me out of my body, something I had never felt before or thought I could ever feel.

Clare Boothe Luce (1903 – 1987), a prominent American journalist, editor, war correspondent, playwright, author, U.S. Ambassador to Italy, and congresswoman had the following experience when she was 16 or 17 (Kerr & Mulder, 1994, pp. 248-249; cf. Shadegg, 1970):

I no longer remember where it took place, except that it was a summer day on an American beach. I seem to remember that it was early morning, and that I must have been standing on the sand for some time alone, for even now I distinctly remember that this experience was preceded by a sensation of utter aloneness. Not loneliness, but a sort of intense solitariness. I remember that it was a cool, clear, fresh, calm, blue, radiant day, and that I stood by the shore, my feet not in the waves. And now – as then – I find it difficult to explain what did happen. I expect that the easiest thing is to say that suddenly SOMETHING  WAS. My whole soul was cleft clean by it, as a silk veil slit by a shining sword. And I knew. I do not know now what I knew. I remember, I didn’t know even then. That is, I didn’t know with any “faculty.” It was not in my mind or heart or blood stream. But whatever it was I knew,  it was something that made ENORMOUS SENSE. And it was final. And yet that word could not be used, for it meant end, and there was no end to this finality. Then joy abounded in all of me. Or rather, I abounded in joy. I seemed to have no nature, and yet my whole nature was adrift in this immense joy, as a speck of dust is seen to dance in a great golden shaft of sunlight.

I don’t know how long this experience lasted. It was, I should think, closer to a second than to an hour – though it might have been either [cf. Rubin, 1986; Daniel, 1988]. The memory of it possessed me for several months afterward. At first I marveled at it. Then I reveled in it. Then it began to obsess me and I tried to put it in some category of previous experience. I remember, I concluded that on that certain day the beauty of nature must have concorded with some unexpected flush of tremendous physical well-being….Gradually I forgot it. The memory of it never returned to me until one day several years after my conversion [many years later in mid-life], during the first minute of the liturgy of the [Roman Catholic] Mass, where the server says: “Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meum…”

Pupul Jayakar (1916-1997), a prominent Indian cultural, political, and literary figure, had the following climactic mystical experience at the age of 36 (Jayakar, 1986, p. 185):

While I was in Poona [India] to attend the [J. Krishnamurti: 1895 – 1986] discussions at Vithal Wadi, I found myself watching with ruthless attention. I watched the movement of thought and feeling as they arose within me. I also watched what was outside me – people’s faces, a leaf, a stone. While on a walk alone in the woods around Vithal Wadi, I suddenly found myself running. It was a still evening. The cry of one bird superimposed itself on other bird cries; the murmur of mosquitoes and chirping of crickets, a distant voice, the sound of my heartbeats poured piercingly into me, while sharp scent of neem, tulsi, and a multitude of jasmine swept through me like a strong wind. I was afloat in a sea of exploding color. The living green of peepul leaf, fresh fig green, new pink green of the mango shoot, the pale green of a cactus bud, became one with sound, filling my nostrils, my ears, my mouth. I found I was standing before a cactus bush weeping, unable to bear or contain the potency of that spring evening. The abundance of beauty, heavy like honey, lay in my eyes and ears for days. In seeing, beauty awakened; what was seen was unimportant. The intensity diminished as day followed day, but beauty taking over the sensory doorways, had generated a perception that seldom abandoned my eyes.

The Siberian psychiatrist Anatoli (Kharitidi, 1996) had the profound and fascinating mystical experience reprinted in Appendix 1. Another fascinating experience by a physician named “Taudo” (pseudonym) is reprinted in Appendix 2. Finally, The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences (http://www.issc-taste.org/index.shtmland the Exceptional Human Experiences Network (http://www.well.com/user/bobby/ehe/eheorg.html) (founded by Charles Tart and Rhea White, respectively), are online archival data bases of mystical and other unusual experiences by scientists and all people, respectively. Furthermore, at least three books exist that document the apparent permanent loss of the author’s “ego” (“false-self”) (Keating, 1996; also cf. Figure 2) (Roberts, 1993; Segal, 1996; Drysdale, 1998) (cf. Lancaster, 1993). Additionally, another book exists that probably is the most extensive documentation to date of a mystic’s inner thoughts, perceptions, and sensations (Krishnamurti, 2004). These and other phenomenological studies (e.g., Williamson and Pollio, 1999) are important because they try to reclaim for scientific psychology the a priori pre-eminence of experience (James, 1902/1985; Fischer, 1971; Merleau-Ponty, 1945/1962; Wulff, 1995; Hood, 2002; Spilka et al., 2003). In this regard, Wulff (1995, p. 197) states, “Indeed, systematically appropriate and developed by even a handful of investigators, phenomenological psychology could revolutionize the field [of psychology of religion].”

These case reports aside, how many people, as revealed in survey or poll studies (cf. Spilka et al., 1985, pp. 182-185, 2003, pp. 307-312) have had (or report having had) a mystical (or numinous experience) at least once in their lifetime? An analysis of 17 studies,14  excluding one study that examined subjects with no religious affiliation,15 one study that sampled churches, 16 one study in which demand characteristics were probably high secondary to face-to-face home interviews being conducted17 and studies in which the number of subjects was not given were all excluded from analysis. Results indicate that, in this total sum of  33,955 subjects, a median of 36.0% of all subjects report having had a mystical or numinous experience, with the sample-size adjusted mean being 36.2% of all subjects.

What causes or “triggers” a mystical experience? Spilka et al. (2003, p. 328) state, “Survey research has long established that a variety of triggers can elicit mystical experiences…- prayer; church attendance; significant life events, such as births and deaths; and experiences associated with music, sex, and entheogens [psychedelic drugs]…” In a study of highly versus lowly self-actualized persons, Hood (1977a) found the highest mysticism scores (Hood, 1975) in the following settings or activities: introspection (22%), nature (20%), religion (19%), drugs (16%), sex (14%), and miscellaneous (9%).

In two fascinating quasi-experimental studies, Hood (1977a, 1977b) (also cf. Spilka et al., 1985, pp. 194-196, 2003, p. 318) has provided data consistent with a set/setting incongruity hypothesis for the elicitation of mystical experience. He measured mystical experience in relation to high- and low-stress setting conditions in a solo camping trip in recently graduated high school males in which anticipatory stress levels were also measured. The results indicated that higher mysticism scores occurred in subjects regardless of whether the incongruity was between high anticipatory stress and low setting stress or between low anticipatory stress and high setting stress. Spilka et al. (1985, p. 194) suggest “that when anticipatory set and setting stress are incongruent, a sudden awareness of limits is likely to be produced that facilitates transcendence or positive mystical experiences.” An example of this thesis occurred to the present investigator in 1990 while climbing Mt. Aconcogua (elev. 22,840 feet, 6,960 meters) in Argentina with four experienced technical climber friends. On a rest day at our 17,600 ft. (5,380 meters) base-camp, we were casually chit-chatting outside of our tents when a violent avalanche came crashing down from a nearby 20,000 ft. (6,096 meters) mountain. Although we were in no danger, and were seasoned climbers, this radical alteration of low stress set – high stress setting produced a sense of awe in us, probably because we were able to successively incorporate the experience into our advanced climbing backgrounds. (There is great beauty in the violent forces of Nature as long as one is safe and knows what one is doing.)

Phenomenological, survey, and quasi-experimental studies aside, how can one more precisely measure human mystical experience? To date, there exist two empirical mystical experience scales: The Hood Mysticism (M) Scale (see Appendix 3) (Hood, 1975; Hood et al., 1993, 2001; Burris, 1999) and The Mystical Experience Scale (see Appendix 4) (Thalbourne, 1991; also cf. Thalbourne, 2004; Lange and Thalbourne, 2007). To date, various variables have been found to be associated with elevated mysticism scale scores: creativity, ego permissiveness, intrinsic religious orientation, openness to experience, positive affect, transliminality, etc. (Hood, 1975; Thalbourne and Delin, 1999; Hood et al., 2001, Thalbourne, 2004). However, the studies using these scales can be criticized for three reasons. First, in the majority of these studies, “samples of convenience” have been used, which have most frequently been undergraduate university students. It is unclear how the results from these studies generalize to the population at large, including the factor analytic structures that have emerged (Hood et al., 1993, 2001).

Furthermore, it would be extremely useful for future studies to first ask a general “yes” or “no” question, such as that asked by Back and Bourque (1970, p. 489): “Would you say that you have ever had a ‘religious or mystical experience’ – that is, a moment of sudden religious awakening or insight?” Responses to this question could then be related to the profile (i.e., the linear or nonlinear discriminant function) separating the two groups (Harris, 2001), and would provide a bridge between survey-style studies and studies using specific mysticism scales. Furthermore, if such studies are given to non-student-based samples, one might obtain more precise information about mysticism in the population at large, as well as in specific groups of people interested in mysticism and contemplation in particular, such as monks, nuns, and contemplative laypeople (e.g., Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. [http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org].). Hopefully many such individuals could then be brought into lab for formal neuroimaging studies in order to examine the neurological correlates of these experiences (e.g., Newberg et al., 2001, 2003a, 2003b; Beauregard and O’Leary, 2007).

Second, the social psychologist/multivariate statistician Richard Harris (1985, p. 678) asks, “Multivariate statistics: When will experimental psychology catch up?” It is the opinion of the present investigator that psychological science (and all science for that matter) can no longer afford to waste its resources by looking at one dependent variable in relation to one independent variable at a time, or to look at sets of variables on either the x- or y-axis ignoring two things. First, when one looks at just one variable at a time in a set of variables, one runs the risk of increasing the experimentwise- (Type I) error rate, capitalizing on chance. Second, one ignores looking at the variables in their natural context, which might result in missing “emergent” patterns in the data (Harris, 1989; Grice and Harris, 1988; Harris, 2001).

The third critique against the current use of mysticism scales (and any other scale measuring any other complicated phenomenon, by extrapolation) is their failure to examine nonlinear relationships or patterns in the data. While it admittedly makes data analysis complicated to mix curvilinearity into multivariate data distributions, it can be done (Harris, 1989, personal communication), and one can always consult other investigators in inter- institutional international collaborative networks, as Peat (2005) recommends in his suggestion to create Global Academies; most people like to collaborate. For example, the present investigator hypothesized (Daniel, 1989) that in a set of variables representing a complicated phenomenon, one would alter the linear and/or curvilinear relationships among the dependent and/or independent variables if one examined any of these variables out of its complete “natural” context, producing an unsolvable statistical conundrum, because the statistical “target” has now moved (cf. Heraclitus and Cratylus, c. 500 – 400 BCE). However, Harris (1989, personal communication) has suggested that there are ways around this problem.

How Can One Model An Emergent Phenomenon?

The theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and mathematician George Ellis has suggested, in a discussion of complexity and hierarchical structure (2006b, p. 3) that “There is no clear theoretical definition of true complexity, but for practical purposes it is a system that involves more than say 106 interacting active components.” While we need to rethink this number, it should be realized that the number of main effects and interactions from this number is ([21,000,000 ] – 1) (Maxwell and Delaney, 2004, pp. 391-392). (A formula which takes order effects into account can be found on page 392 of Maxwell & Delaney [2004].) Although Maxwell and Delaney appear to be referring to controlled experimental designs in which one prospectively manipulates the independent variables, the truth is that many phenomena in the universe(s) above the level of complex organic macro-molecules are thought to have emergent properties (Peacocke, 2001; Ellis, 2006b) at both the independent and dependent variable side of the equation. Additionally, it must be noted that a “bottom-up” causal bias is probably built into Maxwell and Delaney’s thinking, and it is doubtful if they anticipated modeling emergent properties. Therefore we need to get busy conceptualizing the problem of how to model emergent phenomena.

The experimental psychologist David Rubin, in a discussion on autobiographical memory (memory for one’s life experiences) (Rubin, 1988), suggests that the tool of phenomenology (cf. Merleau-Ponty, 1962) must be used in the study of autobiographical memory (or, by extrapolation, many other “holistic” phenomena, such as Life itself (Polanyi, 1968), because, if one uses an exclusively reductionistic (i.e., “bottom-up”) causal approach to study autobiographical memory, one will find, by the time one finally reaches the level of complexity and/or organization of autobiographical memory, that it has vanished (i.e., it is a “will-o-the-wisp” phenomenon). Nevertheless, seemingly holistic phenomena may be embedded in a nested or partially nested fashion with lower levels, without violating the “operating principles” of lower levels (Polanyi, 1966, 1968, 1964/1974). How might this be so?

Figure 1 displays a heuristic in which the percentage intactness of a creative insight is depicted on the y-axis as the dependent (outcome) variable, and the “amount of thinking about the problem (the independent or predictor variable) is depicted on the x-axis. It should first be noted that neither of these two variables is thought to be “complete,” and the final capturing of the “causes” of creative insights. Instead, for example, “thinking about the problem” is a rather vague term, which might be comprised of the length of time, the intensity, and many other components (e.g., intentionality, dreaming about the problem) that eventually lead to a creative insight. Similarly, the “percentage of the creative insight present” is a rather naïve metric, and it too must exist at many deeper levels than are depicted in Figure 1. Nevertheless, Figure 1 is a useful

heuristic by which we might begin to think about emergent phenomena that seem to exist in an “all-or-none” fashion: autobiographical memory (Daniel, 1988; Rubin, 1988), consciousness (Sperry, 1986), creative insights, ethics (Ellis, 2006b), free-will, intentionality (Merleau-Ponty, 1945/1962; Daniel, 1996; Ellis, 2006b), Life itself, (Polanyi, 1968), and the human mystical experience (James 1902/1985; Hood, 1975). (Figure 2 is a heuristic based on Jungian psychology [Jung, 1958] developed by Rychlak [1981] that might be useful in understanding human mystical experience.) However, despite how great a “handle” we may feel we have in accounting for any given phenomenon, it should be remembered that we may never be able to account for the real cause of a phenomenon. For example, many people believe that their creative insights come from God, who will prove difficult to mathematically model.


Acknowledgements: I wish to thank the following people for their help and moral support in the preparation of this manuscript: Knick and Sandie Knickerbocker, Marc Sabransky, and Michael Thalbourne.


 Creative Insight (Y) = m1 (Thinking)1 + m2 (Thinking)2 + m3 (Thinking)3 + b; Y = 100%

(where m = the slope, b = the y-intercept, and the squared and cubed terms indicate the curvilinear relationship before the asymptote of 100% awareness of the creative insight is reached; this is represented as a segmented curve.)



Appendix 1: The Siberian Psychiatrist Anatoli’s Mystical Experience

(from Kharitidi, 1996, p. 198-199; reproduced by permission. Copyrighted by HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)


[Anatoli  is talking to a fellow psychiatrist, Olga Kharitidi, who works with him at the large psychiatric hospital in the city of Novosibirsk, Siberia.]

“My grandmother lives in Altai. It takes me two full days to drive to her village, so I rarely have enough time to visit. But a little over a year ago, I decided to take a short vacation and go hunting in the forest around my grandmother’s village. I took my favorite rifle and went there with high expectations.

“A few days after arriving in the village, I finally went out to hunt. Winter had ended and most of the snow had melted, leaving behind a wet, golden brown carpet of last year’s dead grass. Soon the new green shoots of spring would be pushing through it. The walking was easy, and I went deeper and deeper into the forest.

“You know, it’s amazing what a simple change in perception can do to our minds. As I walked through the forest, I realized that just leaving behind all the noises of the big city and entering the primordial silence seemed to alter my state of mind even more greatly than some of my patients experience in the deepest stages of their hypnosis. I walked in utter silence, relaxed and absorbed within a special kind of meditation, yet still with the keenest instincts of a hunter. It was exactly what I had anticipated in going there, and I was enjoying it.

“Then a small sound on my right drew my attention. I looked, and there she was. A beautiful young deer, standing near the trees. She seemed somehow strange to me, and I knew instinctively that she would need a special strategy to be hunted.

“She stood watching me in absolute silence. She made no movements at all, but she was not immobilized by shock or fear. She was like a sculpture. Her graceful pose, her beautiful shape, could only be compared to a masterpiece of art. Every line of her body was drawn with incredible grace.

“Always before, my relationship to the animals I had hunted had been purely utilitarian. They were simply impersonal quarry, and if I could outsmart them and shoot straight, they would be food for the table. I don’t know why I never saw more than this, but until that moment I had never imagined an animal could hold so much beauty.

“At the next moment my eyes met hers. Her gaze was straight and direct. I lost all track of time. I was looking into the soft black eyes of nature itself. Then something happened inside me, and I realized that it was my own eyes that were looking back at me. The boundary between me as a human being and the deer as an animal completely dissolved, and we were one. I became hunter and prey at the same time. It was real, not just something I imagined. It was a hundred times stronger than imagination. I was connected with that animal throughout every level of my entire being, from the smallest molecule to the depths of my very soul. At that moment I lost the curse of my damned rationality, my usual need to explain everything logically, to symbolize everything. It was a moment of pure, concentrated existence.

“At the next moment, my hand moved without thought and pulled back the hammer of my rifle. It was all part of the same flow of energy that connected me with the deer. It was all natural and right, because I felt both sides of what was happening. I was ready to kill, and I was ready to be killed. It was all part of the same continuum, the same balance.

“I aimed and pulled the trigger in one motion. At first I heard no sound. I saw only that this beautiful wild animal, the deer, swayed slightly and then started to sink. Every tiny fraction of her movement formed an intricately choreographed pattern, accomplished within itself, as if a set of beautiful pictures were replacing each other in my mind. And at the same time, I felt that it was me falling down, falling out of this life. Then her eyes finally closed, and the connection stopped.

“It was only then that I heard the sound of the shot, a primordial sound of life and death, a thunder filling up all the space around me. I lifted my head and looked up into the tops of the tall pine trees surrounding us. And then I looked at the sky. Unbelievably, there was a brilliant rainbow almost directly overhead. I was overwhelmed. I sat on the dead, wet grass and started to cry.

“I had always considered myself a very strong man, but I was crying like a child. There was a mixture of pain and ecstasy in my tears, and my entire mind and body were in shock. I felt totally transformed. This was probably the only experience of my conscious life that I have never even tried to interpret or explain.

“I returned to Novosibirsk, but I was different. That feeling that came to me at the deer’s death, of my heart being torn apart by the incredibly beautiful pain of my connection with all the world around me, became a stable part of my life.

“You [Olga Kharitidi] asked once about why I hadn’t gone further with my career. I didn’t answer then, but I guess tonight I have told you why. When I came back from Altai, the idea of a career had lost all importance to me. All that mattered to me was helping people through my work. Since then, every time I see a patient, I experience again the feeling of being both the hunter and the victim. This perspective colors my professional relationships. I think it makes me a little different as a psychiatrist. I hope it makes me a better one.”


Appendix 2

The Mystical Experience of Taudo

Riding the Dragon: An Unexpected Encounter


In the summer of 1984 I was 30 years old, fresh out of my Navy medical internship and assigned as a general medical officer to a Marine Corps Air Station. Glad to be out of training, and excited to begin my first tour of active duty, all seemed right in my world. The base was here in the continental US, and was largely a training command. There were no wars or deployments on the horizon.

It seems important to make note of several personal aspects of my life at the time – if only to anticipate questions others may have. I had been married for 10 years at that point, and no marital or financial problems were occurring. I had no psychological difficulties and I had never used any form of psychoactive drug (and have not to this day). I was a near teetotaler. Nor, at the time, was I engaged in any form of meditative or spiritual practice. In fact, it was a time when such concerns were far from my mind.

As is customary at military installations, personnel newly transferred are given a rather lengthy series of “orientations” to their new post. One of these to which I was assigned took place in a modern, well-lighted auditorium that could have been a lecture

hall in any university – hardly a place in which one would expect to have a “mystical” experience. Nonetheless, that is what occurred.

As I write this account in November, 2000 I can still see the room clearly. The plain concrete floor was terraced in a series of curved steps to form the typical sloping lecture hall. There were curved tables bolted to the floors, and simple chairs arranged behind them. I was seated about 2/3 of the way to the back, on the left side of the room which was about 3/4 full of uniformed Marines and sailors.

The “orientation” being given this day consisted of an interminable series of presentations and lectures given by various officers at the base. These presentations dealt with mundane aspects of the base bureaucracy, and were completely uninspiring.

As I recall, it was probably about 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning when, after enduring several hours of these talks, I was looking at the presenter when my eye was attracted by something on the floor near the feet of the man in front of me. My initial thought was that a field mouse had run there. However, when I looked directly at the place I had sensed motion, I was astonished to see that the man’s legs seemed somehow to be elongating through the concrete floor! As I visually followed them “down” they appeared to merge with a very large, living structure which appeared to be the back of some sort of truly enormous reptile.

I was quite confused by this, as one might imagine, and looked intently to determine what I was seeing. The image did not fade, but became ever more clear. As I looked around, I saw that the same “connection” was true of everyone in the room. Each stood revealed to me as a kind of animated extrusion from the body of the beast – individual, but of a piece with the same living organism.

Until this point – which may have been 30 seconds from the initiation of the event – I had been so astonished and intrigued by what I was seeing that I had no sense of alarm whatsoever. That changed to a momentary sense of anxiety, or even dread, when it occurred to me to look down at my own legs.

Sure enough, I was also attached. And in that instant I could feel, as well as see, that intimate attachment. I could feel the animating energy flow into me, giving me form, existence, and conscious individuality.

With that, came a flood of extremely positive emotions. I felt vibrantly alive, safe, warm, connected with all that exists. All sense of astonishment, skepticism, or disbelief vanished and was replaced with a directly experienced knowledge that what I was being shown represented a more fundamental reality, and that my normal experience of separate beings was not wrong – just incomplete.

The joy and comfort of that realization was tremendous. For several minutes I could do nothing more than sit back in my chair and bask in that glow. While I did, I looked.

The vision had become as solid and as clear as my normal waking experience. This was no daydream or fantasy. The solid walls and floor of the auditorium had become somehow mildly transparent, allowing me to see everything there clearly, but at the same time being able to look “beyond” and “below” to see this great reptile – or, at least, parts of it. It’s size was so enormous that I could not see where it ended. It’s back seemed to stretch forever and the number of beings it extruded from itself was infinite – and they were infinitely varied. As they stretched away from me I could see them less clearly, and my attention seemed to stay focused more closely at hand.

The back of the beast was extremely intricate, with scales or plates that did not overlap, but were tiled like the shell of a turtle. The color was predominantly green, but with intricate patterns of tan, white, and various subtle patterns of iridescent, almost jewel-like, colors. It was inexpressibly beautiful, and shimmered as it subtly moved. It was somehow surrounded by a warm, comforting darkness, and what light there was seemed to come from within it.

I sat amazed and completely engrossed. I was so enthralled by the beauty I saw that I could think to do nothing else but stare in absolute awe. As I looked far “beyond” the walls of the room, over the back of the beast and into the distance, it made a sinuous, fluid-like movement, reared up its huge head, and looked back at me.

The head was enormous, flattened, and comprised of plate-like armor of a tan color. The eyes were protected by the overlap of these plates forming triangular recesses from which reptilian eyes of deep gold gleamed. In those eyes, to my astonishment, I saw tremendous compassion and – humor! I swear it smiled – at least with its eyes. I was filled with a sense of connection, attachment, or friendship with this enormous reptile. Although no words were exchanged in that brief eye-to-eye encounter, it seemed to me the message was clear:

“So, for a moment, you see. Relax. Don’t take yourself so seriously! All is well. We are forever one.”

After a moment or two of examining me with great amusement, it turned away. I was left with only a view of its back once again.

That view remained absolutely clear for a period of several more minutes. Then it slowly faded, and the room regained its “normal” appearance. I could no longer see the great beast, the warm darkness, or the connection all of us had to it. My vision was again blocked by mere walls and concrete. Altogether, I estimate the whole experience lasted between 5 and 10 minutes – really quite a long time.

I do not recall anything of what happened the rest of the day. I apparently showed no outward signs for I was not immediately hospitalized. It would be many years before I mentioned this experience to anyone.

I remember feeling somewhat dazed for several days after this event, and working furiously to understand it while performing my duties in a perfunctory manner. No further visions occurred, and I rapidly concluded I wasn’t experiencing a psychotic episode. As time went on I became more re-rooted in ordinary experience and basically decided to “let it be” – to accept the experience just as it was and to get on with life. I dimly recalled hearing that visions occasionally occurred during meditation or trance states and had no serious prognostic significance. I chalked it up to that.

In the 16 years since that time, I have had no further such experiences and have practiced traditional, conservative, medicine for the entire time.

Recently however, perhaps as a part of my own mid-life crisis, I have thought much more about the transpersonal aspects of medicine and of life. Quite recently I was struck by the realization that I had never once in all those years applied to my vision the word which I believe most people would use. What I had seen was not just an “enormous reptile” – it was a dragon. And all of us were on its back. Within the last week I have read that “Zen provides dragon-riding lessons.” Perhaps I now have a faint inkling as to why such lessons are needed.


Contributor’s Comments on the Experience


            Partially as a result of this experience, and partially due to more mundane factors, I am re-evaluating my career. I have applied to a post-doctoral fellowship in integrative medicine and plan to finish my PhD in transpersonal psychology. I hope to blend these disciplines into my practice and my teaching.

And, for the first time in my life, I have begun a regular meditative practice. To sit, perchance to see.


According to Dr. Charles Tart (Taudo, 2000), “Taudo (pseudonym) has an MA in Cognitive (Experimental) Psychology and a D.O. in medicine, and is board certified in Family Mractice. He has been an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and is now in private practice. His totally unexpected and unusual visionary experience took place when he was 30 years old in the most unlikely setting of a military briefing.” (from The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences, November 12, 2000, Submission No. 00070, submitter No. 00065) http://www.issc-taste.org/arc/dbo.cgi?set=expom&id=00070&ss=1 (Reprinted by permission) (Copyrighted 1999 by the Institute for the Scientific Study of Consciousness)


Appendix 3

The Hood Mysticism (M) Scale (Hood, 1975)  (Factor Analysis)

Factor 1: Extrovertive Mysticism

6.    I have never had an experience in which I felt myself to be absorbed as one with all things.

8.    I have never had an experience in which I felt as if all things were alive.

10.  I have never had an experience in which all things seemed to be aware.

12.  I have had an experience in which I realized the oneness of myself with all things.

15.  I have never had an experience in which time and space were nonexistent.

19.  I have had an experience in which I felt everything in the world to be part of the same whole.

24.  I have never had an experience in which my own self seemed to merge into something greater.

27.  I have never had an experience in which time, place, and distance were meaningless.

28.  I have never had an experience in which I became aware of a unity to all things.

29.  I have had an experience in which all things seemed to be conscious.

30.  I have never had an experience in which all things seemed to be unified into a single whole.

31.  I have had an experience in which I felt nothing is ever really dead.


Factor 2: Religious Interpretation

5.    I have experienced profound joy.

7.    I have never experienced a perfectly peaceful state.

9.    I have never had an experience which seemed holy to me.

13.  I have had an experience in which a new view of reality was revealed to me.

14.  I have never experienced anything to be divine.

16.  I have never experienced anything that I could call ultimate reality.

17.  I have had an experience in which ultimate reality was revealed to me.

18.  I have had an experience in which I felt that all was perfection at that time.

20.  I have had an experience which I knew to be sacred.

22.  I have had an experience which left me with a feeling of awe.

25.  I have never had an experience which left me with a feeling of wonder.

26.  I have never had an experience in which deeper aspects of reality were revealed to me.

Factor 3: Introvertive Mysticism

1.   I have had an experience which was both timeless and spaceless.

2.   I have never had an experience which was incapable of being expressed in words.

3.   I have had an experience in which something greater than myself seemed to absorb me.

4.   I have had an experience in which everything seemed to disappear from my mind until I was conscious only of a void.

11. I have had an experience in which I had no sense of time or space.

21. I have never had an experience which I was unable to express adequately through language.

23. I have had an experience that is impossible to communicate.

32. I have had an experience that cannot be expressed in words.


Note. With minor exceptions, Hood (1975) developed this empirical scale by operationalizing  Stace’s (1960) phenomenological investigations into mysticism. Sixteen items are positively worded, and 16 are negatively worded to avoid a response bias; possible responses are:

+1: This description is probably true of my own experience or experiences.

 -1: This description is probably not true of my own experience or experiences.

+2: This description is definitely true of my own experience or experiences.

 -2: This description is definitely not true of my own experience or experiences.

   ?: I cannot decide.

The above statements are listed within the three-factor solution that was identified by studying American samples (Hood et al., 1993, 2001; cf. Burris, 1999) and in a Persian version administered to University of Tehran students (Hood et al., 2001). In another study (Hood & Williamson, 2000), the regular M Scale was used as well as two scales in which either the words “God” or “Christ” were used; the same three-factor solution emerged across test forms (cf. Hood and Williamson, 2000; Spilka et al., 2003, pp. 314-331). Adapted by permission. Copyright 1975 by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Appendix 4

The Mystical Experience Scale (MES)

(Please read each statement below and circle “True” or “False.”)


1.     I have never had a personal experience on the basis of which I could say that there exists a God of some sort.                                                               True False

2.     I have had the feeling that humanity was in some sense a body and that I am a purposeful cell within that body.                                                      True False

3.     I have sometimes felt as if I was overflowing with a nonselfish love for all human beings – a love that sprang from somewhere inexhaustible within.      True False

4.     My happiness has never been so intense that I wept.                           True False

5.     I have never had an experience in which I felt I received profound illumination about the purpose and meaning of my life and the universe.                 True False

6.     I have never felt so loved by “God” that I found it perfectly easy to be unselfish to all those around me.                                                                       True False

7.     I believe that it is possible to experience union with something

we can call “God”.                                                                                   True False

8.     I have never been in a state, which I would describe as perfect love for my fellow human beings.                                                                                    True False

9.     I have never experienced a state of transcendental ecstasy.                   True False

10.   I have never experienced an altered state of consciousness in

which I felt that I became cosmically enlightened.                                  True False

11.   I have never experienced an altered state of consciousness which I believe utterly transformed (in a positive manner) the way I looked at myself. True False

12.   I have never felt that the boundaries between my self and the selves of others had in some real sense been obliterated.                                                  True False

13.   I have never felt that I had received special wisdom, to be communicated to the rest of humanity.                                                                                  True False

14.   I have never had a dramatic experience as a result of which my values and priorities were radically re-ordered.                                                               True False

15.   I have never had a period of time when I felt absolutely and

perfectly happy.                                                                                                 True False

16.   I have never had an experience for which I could find no words

       with which to communicate it adequately.                                              True False

17.   I have never had an experience in which it seemed clear that pain

and suffering had their parts to play in “the school of life”.                   True False

18.   I have never had an experience in which space seemed to disappear,

or to be entirely irrelevant.                                                                      True False

19.   I have never had an experience in which time seemed to disappear,

or to become entirely irrelevant.                                                              True False

20.   I have never had an experience that made me feel that, whatever

mistakes I had made in the past, I was completely forgiven.                  True False

21.   I have never had an experience which completely convinced me

            (at least at the time) that I and everyone else am immortal.               True False

22.   I have never seriously declared “I am God”.                                          True False



Note. From Thalbourne (1991; also cf. Thalbourne, 2004; Lange & Thalbourne, 2007) (Printed by permission). Negatively worded items are used so as to prevent a response bias. For more information on this scale, please contact Dr. Thalbourne at the Department of Psychology, University of Adelaide, South Australia 5005. Copyrighted 1991 by Michael Thalbourne. Email address: m.maitreya@virginbroadband.com.au. The Rasch top-down purification scaling of the MES revealed that more males than females replied “false” to item #22, and that more females than males replied “false” to items $#4 and #8 (all ps < .01).



1. The scientific status of “time” and “space” needs to be re-evaluated. With respect to “time,” frequent versus infrequent observations of unstable systems have been shown to lengthen (the “quantum Zeno effect”) and shorten (the quantum “anti-Zeno effect”), respectively, the decay time of cold sodium atoms (Fischer, Gutierrez-Medina & Raizen, 2001). Furthermore, an “event” under 10-43 of a second duration (“Planck time”) cannot be subdivided, because Einstein’s theory of gravity fails (Davies & Gibbon, 1992; Barrow, 1998). With respect to “space,” Barrow (1998, p. 185) states:

The possibility that our Universe contains many more than three dimensions of space, trapped at the Planck scale of size, means that our access to the overall structure of the Universe might be limited even more dramatically than we had previously suspected.

2The astronomer John Barrow (1998, p. 191) suggests that ancient Man, in an attempt to conceptualize God, developed a tradition of “negative” theology (also called “apophatic” theology) which maintained that God transcended all human descriptions and concepts; God was defined in negative (“via negativa”) (Forman, 1994) terms: incomprehensible, atemporal, etc. Famous apophatic thinkers include the Buddha (c. 500 BCE), the Buddhist thinker Nagarjuna (c. 100-200 CE), Plotinus (205-270 CE), Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153 CE), Meister Eckhart (1260-1327 CE), Anonymous (1400s CE), Nicholas of Cusa (1400-1464 CE) (Bond, 1997), Kierkegaard (1813-1855 CE), Krishnamurti (1895-1986 CE), and Thomas Keating (1923- present) (Ferm, 1945; Keating, 1996). Barrow (1998, p. 191) suggests that “…to [state] that God is incomprehensible is to express a fact about God [thereby negating negativity];” however, Meister Eckhart and Kierkegaard (Law, 1993; Kangas, 1998) state that this is an incomplete via negativa; they suggest that God is a “non-entitative entity” beyond being and non-being (the first negation), and a negation of this first negation (the second negation). “Kataphatic” (“cataphatic”) theology, by contrast, uses positive language (“via positiva”) to describe God (e.g., “God is truth,” “God is love,” “God is the cause of causal causation” [cf. St. Thomas of Aquinas, The Beatles: Yellow Submarine].) It should be noted here that an apophatic thinker can be a theist (e.g., Kierkegaard), a pantheist (e.g., Plotinus), or a panentheist (present investigator). Furthermore, not all apophatic thinkers are mystics. Kierkegaard, for example, disliked mysticism, because he felt that it was self-centered, denied sin, and was an attempt to be equal with God (Law, 1993). (However, Kangas [2006, personal communication] has suggestion that this is just a caricature of Kierkegaard.) Therefore, from a research design perspective, one has 12 theological orientations (i.e., independent variables) formed from these combinations: mysticism vs. non-mysticism; theism vs. pantheism vs. panentheism; apophatic vs. kataphatic theology. Using the 12 theological orientations created by these numbers (2 x 3 x 2), one might then examine various dependent variables (e.g., openness to experience, frontal lobe integrity- cf. Newberg et al., 2001, 2003a, 2003b) in relation to them.

3All of these exoduses, let alone the phenomenon of evolution and life, go against entropy. Some thinkers (e.g., Teilhard de Chardin, 1959; Davies, 1983) have posited negative entropy to account for evolution and life (cf. Daniel, 1977). Davies (1983, p. 166) states:

Though the spontaneous appearance of order will not conflict with the second law of thermodynamics so long as compensatory disorder is generated elsewhere, it is clear that no order at all could exist unless the universe as a whole started out with a considerable stock of negative entropy. If total disorder always increases, in accordance with the second law, then the universe must, it seems, have been created in an orderly condition. Does this not provide strong evidence in favour of a creator-designer? After all, even if natural processes can generate localized order unaided, a fund of negative entropy is still needed to drive those processes in the first place. True, this could only constitute evidence of a designer-by-proxy, a creator who winds up the machine and then lets it crank out whatever structures it will, but even that strategy would involve supernatural dexterity of an astonishing degree…

4For example, while the “Catholic Reformation” (the “Counter-Reformation”) (beginning of 16th century CE) was the response of the Papacy to the challenge of the Lutheran revolt and redefined every aspect of Catholic doctrine (Ferm, 1945), social forces that began with the Protestant Reformation were not turned back.

5Traditionally, of course, we in the West have embraced theism, which suggests that there is a monotheistic God who created Nature and stands back after Creation except for intermittent “miracles” in Creation. This stance tends to produce a gulf between God and Creation or Nature, and encouraged the notion of the punitive God of the Old Testament. In Christianity, of course, Christ somehow mediates this gulf. (The exact Christology is open to interpretation by the individual and/or the Church.) Pantheism is a stance which asserts that God is Nature, and that Nature is God. Pantheism is a rather impersonal theological stance which has been associated in the West with the philosophers Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), and the process philosophers Hartshorne (1965) and Whitehead (1977). In the East, it is fair to say that Buddhism (c. 500 BCE+) is pantheistic. Panentheism is a modern theological stance, which asserts that God created Nature, but is immanent within Nature, yet somehow manages to simultaneously transcend Nature. In panentheism, one gets the feeling that God is continually creating the universe(s) in an ongoing capacity (an “unfinished concerto”?); some thinkers even suggest that humans are created co-creators in this regard, and that God is continually emerging (Bracken, 2006; Clayton, 2004c; Clayton & Davies, 2006).

6cf. Daniel, 2005.

7This would include parallel universes, ensemble universes, and multiverses (Tegmark, 2003; Ellis, 2006a). Because God may exist in an apophatic (via negativa) fashion, we may not be able to make positive predications about the nature of God. Instead, God may be a non-entitative concept which is “beyond being and non-being” (the first negation), and beyond this first negation (the second negation – cf. Kierkegaard via Law, 1993 & Kangas, 1998).

8Navier-Stokes mathematical equations are being discovered all the time to model water and other fluids (cf. Barrow and Tipler, 1996).

9It should be remembered that many delusional psychopaths have done terrible things, believing that “God told them to do so.” It is therefore perhaps a judgement call as to when to believe this assertion.

10Many such “explanations” do not “stick to modern Man’s ribs,” probably because previous or competing “explanatory” stories, which seem more proximally related to the “cause” of a phenomenon, irrevocably alter how we view “reality” (e.g., the Asian and Himalayan tectonic plates collided underground, producting a 9.2 Richter Scale earthquake, thereby producing the Asian tsunami [bottom-up causality]).

11Even if we had had Saint Paul in the epilepsy center of a hospital’s neurology service, and simultaneously recorded (with split-screen monitoring) both his behavior and his EEG, and “captured” his Christocentric experience concurrently with the EEG evidence of his seizure, how could we have “verified” that it was “real” aside from our own faith assumptions? Would further advanced technology (e.g., enhanced MRI scanning, PET scanning) have “proved” anything? I don’t think so. Just because a part of the brain “lights up” or deviates from baseline recordings, this proves nothing ontologically. 12Furthermore, the so-called TLE interictal TLE syndrome (i.e., the “Bear and Fedio [1977] syndrome”), which occurs inbetween seizures, appears to be even rarer, and was originally found in a sample of epilepsy patients Bear and Fedio (1977) studied at NIH; these patients went through an extremely selective referral system before they came to Bear and Fedio’s attention, and their quantitative results have not been replicated to date (Sorensen & Bolwig, 1987; Dodrill, 2006, Hermann, 2006). Therefore, both ecstatic seizures and the TLE interictal syndrome (consisting of hyper-religiosity, hypergraphia, etc.), if they occur, are rare-trait phenomena, and it is difficult to know how to study such people, except in case reports.

13With the exception of the study by Thalbourne (2004), these 17 studies can be found in Spilka et al., 1985, 2003.

14Vernon (1968) found that 25% of subjects with no religious affiliation answered “yes” to the question, “Have you ever as an adult had the feeling that you were somehow in the presence of God?”

15Seventy-two percent of these San Francisco area church memberss answered “yes” to the Vernon (1968) question.

 16This study (Hay and Morisy, 1985) contains methodological problems, as discussed by Spilka et al. (2003, pp. 306 – 311).




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