An extract of a chapter of my book " Clinical Psychology"- for those particularly searching after Spiritual Intelligence- SQ

Maslow’s peak experience points to an Altered State of Consciousness of a higher order (ASC’s)

In my writings I have indicated some of the ways in which ASCs can manifest positive psychological significance. Already we have seen hints that ASCs may also bear ontological significance, in that they may suggest the presence of another order (or orders) of being. Our task in here is to explore that possibility, and to examine some of the ways in which ASCs may act as indicators, which point toward other dimensions of being.

We may begin our examination by noting that persons who have experienced altered states of consciousness, or states of non-ordinary reality, often suggest or say outright that they have in some way transcended the ordinary world, that they have stepped outside of it, or see it from above, or discovered depths in the world that they have not ordinarily seen. This report is often taken, by unsympathetic ears, to indicate nothing more than the simplest sort of Freudian wish fulfillment; i.e., an instance of a wish being fulfilled by a type of hallucination. This view of the skeptic is not so much a result of what the actual data suggest, as it is a result of his world view which a priori simply has no room for such a report being true. The currently fashionable world view dose not allow for authentic ontological transcendence of the “”this-worldly” sphere of reality, since in the current world view the “this-worldly” sphere of reality is the only sphere of reality. Thus any claim to have transcended it would be delusory, would in fact be (in the current jargon) an “escape” from reality. If ordinary reality is the only reality, then the phrase “states of non-ordinary reality” is self-contradictory, and the struggle to transcend ordinary reality is destined to futility. The point here is that the skeptic’s inability to allow for authentic transcendence is not a result of the date, so much as it is a result of his attenuated world view which declares a priori that ontological transcendence is a metaphysical impossibility.

Here we offer some reflections on the notion of ontological transcendence, which may allow for its acceptance as at least a valid possibility. We shall see that this may require some willingness to see the universe as having dimensions or aspects which are not normally accessible to human consciousness, and not composed solely of what is evident to normal waking consciousness. It will require a willingness to sacrifice one’s dogmatic certitude that the reality of normal perception is the only reality, outside of which there exists only dream and illusion.

Philip Wheelwright, argues that man’s existence seems to point toward some kind of beyond, and he thus proposes a “liminal ontology”, a “metaphysics of the threshold”, whose basic proposition would be “we are never quite there, we are always and deviously on the verge of being there.” As he suggests, in an essay titled “Man’s Threshold Existence”,

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, furthermore, announces a theme common to other philosophers, that man is a bridge, not an end.

All of these are hinting at a “something more” in the universe, as aspect or dimension of things that somehow transcends the ordinary world, and is in some sense “more real” than the facts and events of the ordinary world. Relying on Huston Smith now, I wish to suggest this as a working definition of the term transcendence. “I propose to use ‘Transcendence’ to name the there with respect to value which we sense as encircling our present existence; the Value More that exceeds our current possession.”

Transcendence is the name for that More that human beings have often sensed, or have often felt a need for, which is broader or larger or fuller than the ordinary world, and in some sense lies “beyond” the threshold which normally bounds our existence.

What are some of the results of transcendence experiences of the sort instanced above? In the first place, it is likely that these are experiences of a very high order, of the sort Maslow terms “peak experiences”, in which the individual is most alive, most healthy, and at the peak of his capabilities. Maslow allows for gradations in peak experiences, and would fit this sort of experience high on the scale, perhaps as the intense most type of peak experience. Thus, the sorts of positive results that accrue as a result of peak experiences would also accrue as a result of transcendence experiences, since they are of the same order. These include therapeutic benefits of the following sort: positive changes in the self image, positive changes in interpersonal relationships, remission of neurotic symptoms (at least for a time), increased creativity, increased spontaneity and self-expression, and so on, in the realm of psychological improvement.

But what exactly is at work here? Maslow speaks of the matter from the perspective of a psychologist, but what is the larger context here, and how does it happen that these psychological benefits accrue? Smith suggests, in a larger perspective, that the effect of transcendence experiences is to “counter predicaments that are ingrained in the human situation; predicaments which, being not fully remediable, are constitutional.

………..now there is also a second category of transcendence experiences, which do in some way call into question the usual assumptions about the limits of being, and this sort of transcendence Smith terms ontological transcendence.

Ontological transcendence is of the sort which cannot accept as final the standard view of reality, the standard view which most people find suitable and within which most people are quite content to live. The mass of men are quite content to seek their transcendence in the this-worldly spheres of love, hope, and commitment to causes; so they do not find it necessary, do not find it somehow demanded of them, to seek beyond the limits of what most men accept as real. Those who do feel such a demand upon them, who do feel required to look beyond the this-worldly, begin to find themselves involved in the quest for ontological transcendence.

The example quoted at the beginning of this article is clearly not within the sphere of the this-worldly, and thus they are instances of ontological transcendence. Ontological transcendence, springing from a divine this-worldly discontent, opens into reservoirs of being and value which are not normally perceived in the universe. Ontological transcendence bears on realms or dimensions which clearly do not fit within the normally accepted bounds of reality. Ontological transcendence is of the sort which existentially calls these boundaries into question, and takes up a stand in the belief that there is a More in the cosmos which normal perception is quite blind to. For example, immortality in heaven after death would be an instance of ontological transcendence. An encounter with the absolute , or dissolution of the individual ego in the Nirvanic Void, would also instantiate ontological transcendence.

But these models for understanding ontological transcendence, the models of heaven, of a personal God, of Nirvana, and so on, are traditional models which have been worked and reworked for centuries. Rather than explore those models further, it will be more beneficial to ask whether there are any other ways of conceiving the possibility of ontological transcendence.

……now Bucke’s world view, though rather less well developed than Teilhard’s, is certainly consistent with it, and both represent important temporal models of authentic transcendence. Both allow room for a cosmos in which experiences of transcendence can be valid, and thus both can admit the authenticity of the data in a way which a more restricted world view cannot.

In fact now, we have three conceptual forms for understanding the possibility of valid transcendence, a spatial and two temporal forms, all three with a certain amount of evidence to back them up which disqualifies them from the pejorative category of “armchair fancies”. This-worldly transcendence, of course, does not require an enlarged world view for it accepts the standard view of reality and works within those limits; things generally are accepted to be the way they seem to be. Ontological transcendence, on the other hand, is not satisfied with the world as it seems, but claims that there must be larger dimensions of being, other regions of value that elude normal consciousness: things are not as they seem. Smith claims that both types of transcendence are equal in difficulty and in worth. “With respect to ontological Transcendence”, he says,

In neither case, Smith is saying, is the standard view of reality right: neither with respect to the physical complexity of things nor with respect to the ultimate limits of value in the cosmos. Or rather, instead of saying that the man in the street is wrong, let us say that his suppositions are right, but right only so far as they apply, namely to the this worldly. Likewise we do not say that Euclid’s geometry is wrong, only that it is limited to the macroworld of normal perception. In so far as Euclid, or Newtonian physics, or the man in the street, claims to have discovered the limits of reality, and claims that his suppositions apply to the whole of reality, just that far is he mistaken. For the world is vaster by far than they have imagined.

Now we have some conceptual forms, which would allow the possibility of valid transcendence experiences. But is that enough? Have we any hard evidence proving the existence of actual valid transcendence experiences? In other words, suppose we admit a world in which valid transcendence is a possibility, does it ever actually occur? Granted the possibility, is it ever an actuality?

In the attempt to answer this question we must first note that the quest for “hard evidence” is likely a mistaken quest, for Aristotle’s point at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics applies here too: in such matters the wise man seeks only as much certitude as the subject matter can bear, and here one would be mistaken to seek the same degree of certitude as he seeks n physics. W.T. Stace, in Mysticism and Philosophy, says it thus:

It should be emphasized that in so difficult a field we cannot expect “proofs”, “disproofs”, “refutations”, “certainties”. The mystic indeed does not argue. He has his inner subjective certainty. But this only raises a new and puzzling problem for the poor philosopher. At any rate, the utmost we can expect in this area is tentative hypotheses, reasonable opinions. And of course only nonscientists believe in the supposed certainty of science. Scientists know that their solutions are hypothetical only; and ours will doubtless be much more so.

So, even though we may not be able to find “hard” evidence for the actual occurrence of transcendence experiences, still we can look to certain suggestive data for hints. We can expect some of the data available to at least be suggestive for us, and lead us toward a reasonable opinion. My own opinion is that there are such hints available to us which are suggestive enough to allow a reasonable mind to hold that such transcendence experiences do actually occur. What sort of data would we look to for support of that opinion? It seems to me that, even discounting the reports of occult phenomena (psychokinesis, precognition, etc.), there is all the evidence of the great mystics who have had experiences of the transcendent, or have at least reported such experiences. There is, further, the vast wealth of data from the experiences that lesser mystics have reported (of the sort collected by James in his Varieties, and other similar collections such as Laski’s Ecstasy), I take these reports seriously, and think that it is not unreasonable to do so.

…and finally, it is quite likely that altered forms of perception would be necessary for these experiences of transcendence. Since normal consciousness seems able to perceive only the standard sort of reality, the aspects or dimensions of reality that lie well within the bounds of the ordinary, then it would very likely be necessary for some alteration to take place before other dimensions could be perceived. Altered states of consciousness, in other words, may well be necessary prerequisites for the perception of non-ordinary really. C.D. Broad expresses the matter thus:

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that there is an aspect of the world which remains altogether outside the ken of ordinary persons in their daily life. Then it seems very likely that some degree of mental and physical abnormality would be a necessary condition for getting sufficiently loosened from the object s of ordinary sense perception to some into cognitive contact with this aspect of reality.

Altered states of consciousness, of transcendence is ever to be made actual, would seem to be necessary prerequisites, and the ability to shake oneself loose from the normal modes of perception would then be ranked as a gift, or a skill for which not everyone has a talent.

Having concluded these reflections now, it can be said that there is at least some substantial argument in favor of the belief that ASCs can manifest ontological significance. ASCs, in other words, may justifiably be taken as constituting some evidence that there are other dimensions of being and value which transcend the ordinary world. The evidence is at least suggestive of the possibility of valid ontological transcendence.




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16th October 2006 From Sri Lanka, Kolonnawa

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