Epistemology in light of mysticism

In their neurological account of mystical experience (book/ article), Andrew Newberg and Eugene D’Aquili draw attention to a portion of the brain responsible for orienting the person in space. As you approach anything the angle of your perspective on it is constantly changing, and it takes a remarkable number of calculations to orient yourself to it. This portion of the brain makes all the world a three-dimensional grid with the person at the center and origin, and so it seems to have two effects: it recognizes all nature as dimensional in space and time, and defines this dimensionality in relation to the self. Newberg and D’Aquili’s brain scans of persons having mystical experience showed a suppression of activity in this area, allowing the mystics to experience a non-dimensional reality that was not defined in relation to themselves. The self, remaining what it was, merged into an absolute unity of all being, which was no longer seen as spatio-temporal.

Mystical experience is collectively though not distributively universal, and there might be, for all I know, those who stand to mystical reality the way tone deaf people stand to melodies or the color blind are to various shades.  But there does seem to be a great number of entities that we do not channel through the part of the brain that orients things dimensionally: laws of logic or science, ideas, the rules of a game, proper nouns as such, etc. all seem to be routed around the grid we place on the world. Drinking seems to blur the lines on the grid a bit too, and so falls somewhere on the declension of mystical experience (cf. the magisterial chapter XVII of Varieties of Religious Experience) Dreams, which play by their own logic of space and time, also suggest the mystical experience, which is one way to understand St. Thomas’s repeated appeals to dreams as intimations of mystical things.  When broadened to include all these senses, mystical experience is only at the summit of a set of experiences that seem even distributively universal.

So what does epistemology have to look like, given it has to take account of all this?


  1. Leo White said,

    May 27, 2013 at 6:11 am

    Maybe what Newberg interprets as a non-dimensional reality is an aspect of reality that we never get to focus on, because our consciousness of spatiality drowns it out.

  2. May 29, 2013 at 3:13 am

    I don’t think so: I appreciate this effort to explain the dimension of brain, but the problem is at the approach. The modern neurology can’t understand the mystic experience because they use an materialistic presupposition; instead, the mystical experience refers himself to a spiritualistic experience, that is not “controllable” with the observation at laboratory.

    PS: I reported your article in my blog, “La cittadella interiore” http://andreafiamma.blogspot.it/2013/05/epistemology-in-light-of-mysticism.html

  3. Daniela said,

    June 3, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Reblogged this on The Noah Project.

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