Scientists Get a TASTE of the Transcendent

its-full-of-stars“The potential for a mystical experience is the natural birthright of all human beings.” Stanislav Grof

“Man may intellectually argue himself in and out of anything. But he can only defend it as long as he has not experienced the fact that he is wrong. Once he has come to the interior realization that a situation is not right, he cannot rest until he does something about it.”Manly P. Hall

“Its persuasiveness seems to hinge on an experience of this interconnection…”Richard M. Doyle

 

What has been generally termed a “mystical experience” is something that has been reported throughout time and across disparate cultures.  At its core, it’s a direct, non-verbal experience wherein an individual feels an expansion of the self to union with, to borrow a phrase from Alan Watts, “the whole works.”  Themes of euphoria, harmonization and interconnectedness are commonly relayed, along with the ultimate ineffability of it all.  Religions and the sciences have blah, blah, blah – I’m preaching to the choir here, so let’s get to the goods.

Found this gem tucked away in the corners of the web and figured it deserved its day in the sun.  It’s called The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences (TASTE), and it’s a site where scientists themselves were allowed and encouraged to submit their own experiences of “non-ordinary” states of consciousness. Its mission statement:

The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences (TASTE) is an online journal devoted to transcendent experiences that scientists have reported. It lets scientists express these experiences in a safe space, collects and shares them to debunk the stereotype that ‘real’ scientists don’t have ‘spiritual’ or ‘mystical’ or ‘psychic’ experiences, builds a database of these experiences for future research, and helps us understand the full range of the human mind.”

(check out the site’s Introduction page for further detail)

Neat, huh? Only, and unfortunately, the site ceased taking submissions around 2004 and has been inactive ever since. Would be nice if there were a bare bones database like it around today for scientists to freely and openly share such experiences. Something with maybe a higher profile that might help lift the stigma in the sciences from admitting and exploring this world of experience (check out Fear of Admitting to the Transcendent in the Introduction page).

Now, all of the accounts featured at that TASTE site are of the “spontaneous” variety. But – as most here are well aware – something of the same nature can seemingly be facilitated through the safe and/or guided use of psychedelics (as this congenial British gent could also attest). Anyway, while there are a variety of experiences reported (and I recommend reading through them all), I’m drawn to the instances of cosmic consciousness (or whatever other name one prefers).

As such, my favorite comes from Allan Smith – who was a medical doctor and self-described “atheistic materialist” at the time of the occurrence:

My Experience of Cosmic Consciousness

My Cosmic Consciousness event occurred unexpectedly while I was alone one evening and was watching a particularly beautiful sunset. I was sitting in an easy chair placed next to floor-to-ceiling windows that faced northwest. The sun was above the horizon and was partially veiled by scattered clouds, so that it was not uncomfortably bright. I had not used any marijuana for about a week previously. On the previous evening I probably had wine with dinner; I do not remember the quantity, but two glasses would have been typical. Thus, we would not have expected any residual drug effects.

The Cosmic Consciousness experience began with some mild tingling in the perineal area, the region between the genitals and anus. The feeling was unusual, but was neither particularly pleasant nor unpleasant. After the initial few minutes, I either ceased to notice the tingling or did not remember it. I then noticed that the level of light in the room as well as that of the sky outside seemed to be increasing slowly. The light seemed to be coming from everywhere, not only from the waning sun. In fact, the sun itself did not give off a strong glare. The light gave the air a bright thickened quality that slightly obscured perception rather than sharpened it. It soon became extremely bright, but the light was not in the least unpleasant.

Along with the light came an alteration in mood. I began to feel very good, then still better, then elated. While this was happening, the passage of time seemed to become slower and slower. The brightness, mood-elevation, and time-slowing all progressed together. It is difficult to estimate the time period over which these changes occurred, since the sense of time was itself affected. However, there was a feeling of continuous change, rather than a discrete jump or jumps to a new state. Eventually, the sense of time passing stopped entirely. It is difficult to describe this feeling, but perhaps it would be better to say that there was no time, or no sense of time. Only the present moment existed. My elation proceeded to an ecstatic state, the intensity of which I had never even imagined could be possible. The white light around me merged with the reddish light of the sunset to become one all enveloping, intense undifferentiated light field. Perception of other things faded. Again, the changes seemed to be continuous.

At this point, I merged with the light and everything, including myself, became one unified whole. There was no separation between myself and the rest of the universe. In fact, to say that there was a universe, a self, or any ‘thing’ would be misleading — it would be an equally correct description to say that there was ‘nothing’ as to say that there was ‘everything’. To say that subject merged with object might be almost adequate as a description of the entrance into Cosmic Consciousness, but during Cosmic Consciousness there was neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’. All words or discursive thinking had stopped and there was no sense of an ‘observer’ to comment or to categorize what was ‘happening’. In fact, there were no discrete events to ‘happen’ — just a timeless, unitary state of being.

Cosmic Consciousness is impossible to describe, partly because describing involves words and the state is one in which there were no words. My attempts at description here originated from reflecting on Cosmic Consciousness soon after it had passed and while there was still some ‘taste’ of the event remaining.

Perhaps the most significant element of Cosmic Consciousness was the absolute knowingness that it involves. This knowingness is a deep understanding that occurs without words. I was certain that the universe was one whole and that it was benign and loving at its ground. Bucke’s experience was similar. He knew, ‘… that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain.’

The benign nature and ground of being, with which I was united, was God. However, there is little relation between my experience of God as ground of being and the anthropomorphic God of the Bible. That God is separate from the world and has many human characteristics. ‘He’ demonstrates love, anger and vengeance, makes demands, gives rewards, punishes, forgives, etc. God as experienced in Cosmic Consciousness is the very ground or ‘beingness’ of the universe and has no human characteristics in the usual sense of the word. The universe could no more be separate from God than my body could be separate from its cells. Moreover, the only emotion that I would associate with God is love, but it would be more accurate to say that God is love than God is loving. Again, even characterizing God as love and the ground of being is only a metaphor, but it is the best that I can do to describe an indescribable experience.

The knowingness of Cosmic Consciousness permanently convinced me about the true nature of the universe. However, it did not answer many of the questions that (quite rightly) seem so important to us in our usual state of consciousness. From the perspective of Cosmic Consciousness, questions like, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ or ‘Is there an afterlife?’ are not answered because they are not relevant. That is, during Cosmic Consciousness ontologic questions are fully answered by one’s state of being and verbal questions are not to the point.

Eventually, the Cosmic Consciousness faded. The time-changes, light, and mood-elevation passed off. When I was able to think again, the sun had set and I estimate that the event must have lasted about twenty minutes. Immediately following return to usual consciousness, I cried uncontrollably for about a half hour. I cried both for joy and for sadness, because I knew that my life would never be the same.

Smith offers further commentary on his experience at the link.

Each submission/account is prefaced with some background on the subject, including a name (or a pseudonym) and their scientific training/credentials. Most, like Smith, didn’t have an inkling of the “spiritual” in their body beforehand – and some were actively hostile to the idea altogether.  Their subsequent experiences aren’t all as intense in degree as Smith’s, but they each shine in their own right.

With that said, here’s a sampling from a few others:

Cosmic Consciousness Experience at Age 16

I was listening to the music and looking through the open window at a tree in the garden, when something strange happened. I felt that I had left my body and had become one with the tree in the garden, with the pebbles on the garden paths and with everything else in the universe. I felt some mild amusement seeing my body sitting there in the living room. I had a feeling of indescribable bliss, a feeling that everything was, is, and forever will be as it should be, and could not be any other way, and that time did not pass, that the future was contained in the past and the past contained in the future, and there was only one time, time present.

Falling Awake

One night as I was falling asleep my mind suddenly stopped its ceaseless activity and became still. It was as if it had turned inward and collapsed onto itself. I felt a soft effusion of supreme comfortableness engulf my being and my mind was for a moment unbounded with no thoughts or perceptions. I was filled with a profound feeling of well being and happiness. I felt wrapped in a blanket of love and safety, or rather I was That, the wrapper and the wrapped all at once. There was no differentiation of experience. I WAS that state, nothing else. It was not me experiencing something outside of me. It was not happiness about any particular thing, but an unconditional, all pervading bliss that depends on nothing outside of itself. It was as if the river of ever-active consciousness moving in streams of thoughts and perceptions had arrived at the ocean of silent, ever full, unbounded awareness.

Expansion of Self in the Antarctic

My mind was totally blank. After a while I realized that I had expanded. I was no longer a small discrete consciousness located in my head – I encompassed the whole valley. I was HUGE. I was part of everything – or rather everything was part of me. I was ancient and unbelievably powerful. It was wonderful.

A Taste of Kensho

1. This totally new view of things can’t be conveyed. It is too extraordinary. No conceptual framework, no words exist to describe the depths and the qualities of these insights. Only someone who went through the same experience could understand.

THE DARKNESS OF GOD

I am not trying to push any particular theological or metaphysical conclusions when I use the word “God” here. On the contrary, my readings in theology and metaphysics in earlier years never conjured up to my mind anything remotely like this experience. I am simply saying that since the experience, Vaughan’s line and a whole host of other statements made by mystics in all religious traditions seem to make sense as word-straining attempts to describe the strange state in which I found myself

See also – Humans, the Earth, the Sun and Stars; Turn-Around at Delphi; and Suddenly, the Pervasiveness of Love

Happy reading!

TASTE – Collected Archives

“‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.” Carl Spackler

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  • Daniel Gill

    Spirit worship through the medium of ki or ch’i.

    Recommended reading list,

    GHOSTS OF WAR IN VIETNAM by Heonik Kwon

    WAR AND SHADOWS: THE HAUNTING OF VIETNAM by Mai Lan Gustaffson

    SPIRITS WITHOUT BORDERS: VIETNAMESE SPIRIT MEDIUMS IN A TRANS-NATIONAL AGE by Karen Fjelstad

    SINISTER YOGIS by David Gordon White

    KING VIKRAM AND THE VAMPIRE by Captain Sir Richard Burton

    DREAMTIME: CONCERNING THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN WILDERNESS AND CIVILIZATION by Hans Peter Duerr

    THE GIFT: THE FORM AND FUNCTIONS OF EXCHANGE IN ARCHAIC SOCIETIES by Marcel Mauss

    THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE by William James

    WHEN GOD TALKS BACK by T. M. Luhrmann

    ALEISTER CROWLEY AND THE OUIJA BOARD by J. Edward Cornelius

    AUTHORS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE: THE PARANORMAL AND THE SACRED by Jeffrey J. Kripal

    COLERIDGE AND THE DAEMONIC IMAGINATION by Gregory Leadbetter

    THE HISTORY OF SPIRITUALISM by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    THE DARKENED ROOM: WOMEN, POWER, AND SPIRITUALISM IN LATE VICTORIAN ENGLAND by Alex Owen

    THE KYBALION by Three Initiates

    LIVING WITH DJINNS: UNDERSTANDING AND DEALING WITH THE INVISIBLE IN CAIRO by Barbara Drieskens

    OZARK MAGIC AND FOLKLORE by Vance Randolf

    THE IDEA OF THE HOLY by Rudolf Otto

    THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE by Mircea Eliade

    THE LOVELORN GHOST AND THE MAGICAL MONK by Justin Thomas McDaniel

    SHAMANISM IN KOREAN CHRISTIANITY by Jang Nam Hyuck

    SPIRIT OF THE MOUNTAINS by David A. Mason

    KUT: HAPPINESS THROUGH RECIPROCITY by Hyun-key Kim Hogarth

    KOREAN SHAMANISM -MUISM by Dr. Kim Tae-kon & Dr. Chang Soo-kyung

    THE CATALPA BOW by Carmen Blacker

    THE DEMON’S SERMON ON THE MARTIAL ARTS by Issai Chozanshi

    OCCULT JAPAN: SHINTO, SHAMANISM, OR THE WAY OF THE GODS by Percival Lowell

    THE ESSENCE OF SHINTO: JAPAN’S SPIRITUAL HEART by Motohisa Yamakage

    THE JAPANESE ART OF REIKI by Bronwen & Frans Stiene

    • Andrew

      What if I don’t want to?

      • rachel

        I don’t feel as learned as many disinfo commenters appear to me to be. I feel intimidated by this fact, but after reading this article, that is so relevant to me right now, that I feel like just reading it is a synchronicity in itself, so I must say:

        Thanks, Daniel Gill. Thank you for being ridiculous.

        Thank, Disinfo. Thank you for having spell checker. I misspelled ridiculous.

        Thanks, Andrew. Thank you for reminding me of Ryan Gosling in your photo, and thank you for paying attention to Daniel Gill.
        Also, sorry for being stupid. It’s just that I’ve been drinking and I really like this website. I read a lot of comments from here, and I feel I actually gain insight from them…sometimes.

        • Calypso_1

          Don’t feel intimidated. To whatever degree you wish to learn, many will help you. The desire to learn, no mater what one’s ‘level’ drives many individuals.

          PS: We all use spell check.

          • Iuwus

            i dunt :D

          • Calypso_1

            Glad to see you back in the forum.

          • Iuwus

            I missed the beatings :’)

        • Simon Valentine

          and as for those of us who are not always provisioning insight, i know i’m one – well, i wish you well and hope the same !

        • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

          That’s cute, I’ve never seen a drunken confession of love of a website. :)

        • Daniel Gill

          Am I ridiculous or just open minded that other societies think rationally, believe rationally, and have something to teach?

          • rachel

            Admittedly, I could have put a sobriety filter to good use before I made that post. I’m very sorry that I said you were “being ridiculous”, but it had nothing to do with being open minded to other societies. I’m not a xenophobe, where did that even come from?

            In a nutshell, this article appealed to me because I was wondering if there was a collection of transcendental experiences described by people who leaned more toward atheism.

            I guess at the time, I saw your extensive list of mystical literature, and my drunken self got frustrated, because this appeared to be the exact opposite of what the article was about. Sometimes my drunken self forgets that we are all subjective beings. Oopsies!

          • Daniel Gill

            Summary of my babbles,

            Koreans have assimilated Christianity into their indigenous shamanic beliefs, so much so, that the infilling of the holy spirit is understood as ki. Korea has been an isolated society for many years, and shamans served the nobility during nostalgic dynasties. This nostalgia has lasted into modern times. Not kidding. My source is the work on Korean Christianity that I gave. And they channel this energy to the spirits, and are reciprocated by them.

            -S.Korea is a gnostic country-. That’s the best way I can describe it. Among the list of references I gave out, the Korean writing is the best. Followed by Rudolf Otto, Coleridge, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Ethnographies about Vietnam are also excellent.

            but, the Koreans have already syncretized those beliefs, into their understanding of Christianity and Shamanism.

            Such that you get television shows that have this

            Two screencaps from The Master’s Sun.

            That all of you ought to watch.

    • Hocketeer

      Superstition and the worship of it creates way too much noise. Take the Japanese language (and Korean) for example, they killed the tones and added a lot of grammar, which is mirrored in their spiritual practices. やばくない?Superstition is born out of a lousy shaman’s desperation, the more you can justify it via rhetoric and so-called logic the more plausible it seems to the gullible seeker. My question: why follow the path of a desperate liar, why not focus on the more honest & positive?

      • Daniel Gill

        I’ve said some really cracked shit according to some people but I don’t know what you’re trying to strike up.

        Korean Shamans work with ki. That’s the mechanics of what they’re doing. Just as the Victorian spiritualists are working with ectoplasm, as Dr. Wilhelm Reich worked with orgone, as yoga works with kundalini or prana, as Christians work with the Holy Spirit, its all the same thing.

        The Kybalion being the go to book on the way energy behaves.

        I assert the bold claim that asiatic or indian peoples are not idiotic, or insane, that when they say they know of the existence of a cosmic consciousness energy medium thing, that you can give them the benefit of the doubt, and i’d urge you all to seek out reiki ATTUNEMENT yourselves.

        Those of you who are skeptics, you’re coming from a fundamentally racist position. doubt and rational skepticism is acceptable, and encouraged, but dismissal is outright racist and ignorant , disrespectful of the Other’s ability to reason as you can

  • Iuwus

    I think a database of experience would be great, all the information in those accounts can be translated into bodily functions as far as I can see which would help our understanding of the process so we could take better care of ourselves and each other.

    Ok so, following on from a previous line of thought. If the assumption is true that awakening is as natural and normal a function as pissing or eating, and has been occuring for thousands of years, why is it seemingly so occulted from the medical profession at large (my experience of it anyway)?

  • trompe l’oiel

    Superstition is far too emotionally unrefined to serve the
    individual or the whole. For scientists to achieve this state of disbelief may play a large part in banishing superstitions and the fear and ignorance associated with them. Though, the practicality of mystical
    experiences that reaches beyond the realm of superstition and enters
    into the abode of genuine ecstasy, ‘rapture’ or liberation is empirical
    and deeply personal as an experiential phenomenon of individuation. Taking a step back, drying off, and interpreting what irrational and inexplicable experiences we as individuals have and learning to understand and draw conclusions through them, that is a true challenge of personal scientific inquiry.

    TASTE seems like a step in the right direction for science and philosophy to dance together once again, they’ve been soloing for so long, and now our vision is broad but blurry.

  • kowalityjesus

    Is this commonly-described state quantifiable as/indicative of “the transcendent unity of religions?”

  • Sergio Poalsky

    Anyone find the inability to be able to describe such experiences to people frustrating? Whats the best way for to make someone sort of “get it”? I just get weird looks and “oh thats nice” comments.

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