Thursday, November 16, 2017

The varieties of self-transcendent experience

See this article. The abstract:

"Various forms of self-loss have been described as aspects of mental illness (e.g., depersonalization disorder), but might self-loss also be related to mental health? In this integrative review and proposed organizational framework, we focus on self-transcendent experiences (STEs)—transient mental states marked by decreased self-salience and increased feelings of connectedness. We first identify common psychological constructs that contain a self-transcendent aspect, including mindfulness, flow, peak experiences, mystical-type experiences, and certain positive emotions (e.g., love, awe). We then propose psychological and neurobiological mechanisms that may mediate the effects of STEs based on a review of the extant literature from social psychology, clinical psychology, and affective neuroscience. We conclude with future directions for further empirical research on these experiences."

A key factor is in how such experiences are interpreted. Even framing such experiences as self-transcendent is prejudicial, as if there is a transcendent realm with which we have direct access. These experiences can be easily interpreted from a postmetaphysical perspective that requires no transcendent antecedent. Much neuroscientific research has shown the various aspects of self, and that while such experiences may indeed go below the rational, narrative self structure, they in fact utilized the prelinguistic core self. For example, from Thompson on dreamless sleep:

"But whereas the Advaitin takes this minimal selfhood to be a transcendental witness consciousness, I think itʼs open to us to maintain that it is my embodied self or bodily subjectivity, or what phenomenologists would call my pre-personal lived body. In this way, I think we can remove the Advaita conception of dreamless sleep from its native metaphysical framework and graft it onto a naturalist conception of the embodied mind."

The article admits that there can be secular interpretations such as wholeness, unity, egoless and integration (5), but even those use descriptions smack of a transcendent realm beyond ordinary perception.* It also admits that interpretations have a profound effect on the experience itself (7), but that research into this aspect is underdeveloped and not definitive. Of course when one presupposes such experience are transcendent to begin with that is an unconscious bias that curtails the necessary research.

* Note that some meditative traditions see this 'ego-less' state as the most ordinary, natural consciousness.

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