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Seeing: "Mystical experience" and the structure of consciousness: A re-evaluation of mystical experience: Its implication for physics-mysticism parallelism, psychotherapy and western philosophy

Parmenter, Gordon Brian (2000) Seeing: "Mystical experience" and the structure of consciousness: A re-evaluation of mystical experience: Its implication for physics-mysticism parallelism, psychotherapy and western philosophy. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The central message underlying this work is that "mystical experience" (seeing) is not an experience. It is an aspect of the structure of consciousness. As such, not only can it not be experienced, it cannot be the object of a religio-mystical, or philosophical, quest. This is because, being an aspect of the structure of consciousness, "mystical experience" is always with us. It is of our essence. The conceptual foundation that supports these assertions is provided by Gerald Edelman's evolutionary theory of consciousness within a naturalistic-materialistic interpretive framework. I develop this foundation in the Prolegomenon.

By identifying seeing ("mystical experience") with primary consciousness (an aspect of the structure of consciousness according to Edelman's theory), I show that when consciousness is conceived of as having a specific structure, the mystery of consciousness is, to that minute extent at least, pushed aside. This is because the structure has explanatory power when "mystical experience" (seeing) is identified with primary consciousness.

This identification is a radical re-evaluation of "mystical experience" as it is normally understood, namely as an experience. The need for this kind of fundamental re-thinking of what "mystical experience" is, is evident with physics-mysticism parallelism. In Part I, I show how the spuriousness of a subject-object ontology is behind the problematic nature of parallelism. At the same time, I show how the re-evaluation of "mystical experience" in terms of seeing can be a way to resolve the difficulties with parallelism caused by a subject-object ontology. Seeing has this resolving power because it obviates the need for the construing of an interface between physics and mysticism. I suggest that a more encompassing mode of inquiry be referred to as an ontological heuristic-hermeneutic. A nondual ontology is inherent to this hermeneutic.

Part II is concerned with the quest for "mystical experience." I ask: What is it that compels an individual to undertake the quest? In my response, I rely heavily on the heuristic ideas of the real sense-of-self as opposed to a false sense-of-self. I argue that a false sense-of-self is the consequence of child abuse, which I understand in very broad terms. I also speak of degrees of intractable emotional stress varying from neurosis to psychosis (schizophrenia and manic-depressive psychosis (bipolar disorder)). The notion of degrees of intractable emotional stress rests on the continuum view of "mental illness" and implies that the aetiology of neurosis is very likely implicated in the development of psychosis.

By bringing out the correspondence between the quest for "mystical experience" and the teasing out of the real sense-of-self by psychotherapy, I conclude in Part II that there is essentially no difference between mystical traditions and psychotherapy. I critically appraise the Buddha's quest for "mystical experience" and the nature of his enlightenment to substantiate this conclusion. Parts I and II are thus united by the removal of conceptual boundaries, the boundary removed in Part II broadening the field encompassed by an ontological heuristic-hermeneutic. It is noteworthy that this broadening could only take place subsequent to the establishment of a nondual ontology in Part I.

Discerning in Nietzsche's philosophy a distinct philosophical quest having a marked similarity with the quest for "mystical experience" (seeing), I demonstrate in Part III how my understanding of the motivation behind the quest for "mystical experience" can elucidate the key Nietzschean ideas of der Ubermensch and eternal return. Taking my treatment of Nietzsche as the point of departure, I then suggest in the Epilogue what the implications of the work as a whole might be for philosophy as it is generally understood. I point out that Nietzsche's philosophy fits comfortably within an ontological heuristic-hermeneutic.

The Dissertation may usefully be viewed from within the perspective of a kind of humanistic-hermeneutic discourse continuum with a very strong bias towards the hermeneutic polarity while the humanistic pole maintains an essential anchoring position.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Supervisor(s): Ruthrof, Horst and Booth, Michael
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