Friday, February 5, 2010

Is There A Way Out? Part Two

In the "Is There A Way Out" series I had wanted to talk a bit about transcendental psychological experiences. I would still like to look at some of these-well actually tto kind of keep various aspects of Gnostic thought/philosophy-in view during the whole series-to look at the question "Is there a way out?" in the light of this world/reality being a "Demiurgic" or fallen world of matter. Perhaps I am chasing down a wrong path? To many people, there really might not be a darn thing wrong with the world we "have." I think the description of the whys and hows if you will of how our world came to be in Gnostic thought are what fascinate me the most. A comment by the very intelligent and thoughtful Justin Russell under part one of this series reminded me not only of this aspect of my fascination -but also that perhaps NO philosophy, science or religion will ever even come close to describing all of reality. I think Kurt Godel "proved" something along these lines mathematically or using "logic" but I looked at the proof ages ago and didn't understand a bit of it (which is not surprising! although I did understand Cantor and transfinite numbers:-) I am using many sources and hope I don't get off-track or hard to understand.

The reason I would like to talk about Stanislav Grof's work in transcendental psychotherapy might not be obvious at first. I wanted to look at his work, not only because of the fascinating revelations and discoveries he had while working with people from all walks of life-but also to see if any discoveries he made give us any clues of why there is so much evil in the world-why our world is "fallen" and disjointed. This isn't, of course, to say that there isn't any good in the world-there is-and there is good, truth and beauty in enormous amounts on our little planet. It is just that with me -not only looking over all of history- but the amount of blood spilled in the century we got "done" with a little over ten years ago -the "Century of the Sun" so to speak -that there MUST be something that explains those extra touches of evil embodied in the horrors that befell hundreds of millions of people during that time ( I sure hope this century is different!).

From pages 30-32, Stanislav Grof explains some "essentials" about his work in his Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death And Transcendence In Psychotherapy, published in 1985: "The most important and obvious reason for limiting this discussion to the field of psychedelic research is my long-term scientific interest in the subject. Having conducted several thousand sessions with LSD and other mind-altering substances, and having myself experienced many psychedelic states, I have a degree of expertise concerning drug-induced phenomena that I lack in regard to other types of related experiences (note again that Grof is probably writing this in 1984 and has accumulated much more knowledge in other areas since then) Since 1954, when I first became interested in and familiar with psychedelic drugs, I have personally guided more than 3,000 sessions with LSD and have access to more than 2,000 records of sessions conducted by my colleagues, in Czechoslovakia and the United States. The subjects in these experiments where "normal" volunteers, various groups of psychiatric patients, and individuals dying of cancer. The nonpatient population consisted of psychiatrists and psychologists, scientists from various other disciplines, artists, philosophers and theologians, students, and psychiatric nurses. The patients with emotional disorders belonged to a variety of diagnostic categories, among them individuals with various forms of depression, psychoneurotics, alcoholics, narcotic drug addicts, sexual deviants, persons with psychiatric disorders, borderline psychotics, and schizophrenics.

...During the years of my clinical work with psychedelics, it has become increasingly obvious that neither the nature of the LSD experience nor the numerous observations made in the course of psycedelic therapy can be adequately explained in terms of the Newtonian-Cartesian, mechanistic approach to the universe and, more specifically, in terms of existing neurophysiological models of the brain. After years of conceptual struggle with confusion, I have concluded that the data from LSD research indicate an urgent need for a drastic revision of the existing paradigms for psychology, psychiatry, medicine, and possibly science in general. There is at present little doubt in my mind that our current understanding of the universe, of the nature of reality, and particularly of human beings, is superficial, incorrect and incomplete.

In what follows, I will briefly describe the most important observations from LSD psychotherapy that I consider to be serious challenges to contemporary psychiatric theory, to present medical beliefs, and go to the mechanistic model of the universe based on the views of Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes. Some of these observations are related to certain formal charactertistics of the psychedelic states, others to their content, and yet others to some extraordinary connections that seem to exist between them and the fabric of external reality.

(emphasis mine)

I emphasize again at this point that the following discussion applies not only to psychedelic states, but also to a variety of nonordinary states of consciousness, that occur spontaneously or are introduced by nondrug means. Thus, all the issues in question have general validity for the understanding of the human mind and disease.

Let me begin with a brief description of the formal characteristics of nonordinary states of consciousness. In psychedelic sessions and other types of unusual experiences, dramatic sequences of various kinds can be experienced with a sensory vividness, reality, and intensity that match or surpass the ordinary perception of the material world. Although the optical aspects of these sequences tend to be prominent for most people, quite realistic experiences can occur in all the other sensory areas. On occasion, powerful isolated sounds, human and animal voices, entire musical sequences, intense physical pain and other somatic sensations, as well as distinct tastes and smells can dominate the experience or play an important part in it.

Ideation can be influenced in the most profound way, and the intellect can create interpretations of reality quite different from the one that is characteristic of the individual in his or her ordinary state of consciousness. The description of the essential experiential elements of unusual states of consciousness would not be complete without mentioning an entire range of powerful emotions that are their standard components.

Many psychedelic experiences appear to have a general quality similar to those in everyday life, with the sequences occurring in three-dimensional space and unfolding along a linear time continuum. However, quite typically, additional dimensions and experiential alternatives are readily available. The psychedelic state has a multilevel and multidimensional quality, and the Newtonian-Cartesian sequences, if they occur, appear to be arbitarily teased out of a complex continuum of infinite possibilities.

(emphasis mine)

At the same time, they have all the characteristics that we associate with the perception of the material world of "objective reality."

There is more after this in the same section of Stan Grof's book that I want to put here next. I hope anyone stopping by will enjoy reading this, and once again appreciate the thoughtful and intelligent comments. All the best to anyone stopping by!


Autumnforest said...

Fantastic post. I have to admit that so long as we have human bodies and the chemical reactions within the brain caused by things like LSD and our tendency to use logic, we won't ever really know transcendance until we pass on. I remember my father dying when I was 16 and the pronounced him but continued to work on him. When they did bring him back, he said "I was near a fiord. (he was from Norway), my family was there, there were flowers that don't exist and colors that don't exist." He was quite happy. The fact is, his brain was in an anoxic state so what he was feeling was what other NDE sufferers feel, absolute relief and pure love and timelessness. We can't ever achieve that, even with drugs, as humans because we are only playing with brain chemistry. So long as we're in our mortal flesh, we'll never know it. That's just my guess. Hope you're doing well Dev. Got spring fever yet? My fruit trees are budding--they think it's time.

Middle Ditch said...

I was here before but then the phone rang and it was my youngest daughter informing me that I was to become a first time grandmother.

Fantastic read Devin. I will be back to read it again. There is so much to take in.

Devin said...

Autumnforest thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and comments!!
I am hoping the version of transcendence you are thinking of is what will happen-until then one could think of a million different possibilities- one thing I hope is that (this in regards to hauntings too) is that we dont have to come back here countless times for some reason or another-all the best to you my friend!!

Congratulations Monique- wonderful news !!!!!!!!
I hope you are doing great and appreciate your comment- no rush about reading any of this - i always intend to leave the blog up either way (whatever happens to me) unless of course they start charging for it:-)
all the best to you and congratulations again!!

Alex Robinson said...

Absolutely bloody marvellous Devin

"There is at present little doubt in my mind that our current understanding of the universe, of the nature of reality, and particularly of human beings, is superficial, incorrect and incomplete" - what music to the eyes & ears that is!!!

Fabulous post, this kind of info needs to be made available to as many hungry minds as possible.

Very best of all worlds to you :)

Devin said...

Alex-thanks so much for your kind words- really appreciate it - sorry took me so long to get to your comment- having connection probs lately at times- sometimes it isn't worth the frustration to stay on and cross fingers it stays good-there should be another article here in awhile if all goes well - like today haha- if not you know i am 'down' again
i will try to catch up with you also- all the best to you my friend!!xx

X. Dell said...

(1) If you had status, wealth, self-actualization, and all of what we might see as the good things of life, would you really want to think that we don't have the best world, or at least a good one? Everything you enjoy would seem to be predicated on that premise. If, for example, someone says that a better world entails th abolition of slavery, wouldn't that have a material (and psychological) impact on those who depend upon slavery for their wherewithal?

(2) I remember reading a discussion about the very postulation of Godel in Paranoia within Reason. I should have taken more time with it--for I can understand it, I was just too lazy to.

(3) For reasons I stated in the previous post (and trust me, I didn't read this post first), I find an irony to Grof's allusion to the Newtonian-Cartesian viewpoint as "mechanistic."

(4) I've often wondered if the dream state, or other states of awareness represented by disjunct imagery and symbolism, isn't closer to the empirical world (what most people think they mean when they use the term 'reality'). Everyone knows that our senses play tricks on our perceptions (e.g., an optical or aural illusion). Perhaps here the old Platonic notion that examination of self leads to a better understanding of the cosmos might apply.

Devin said...

Well first of all Xdell- let me say that i am so happy i didnt erase your comment!!
thanks for the link - i will check it out- rudy rucker had a page by page synopsis of Godel's proof in his book "Ifinity and the Mind" and I tried and tried to get it as i thought it was so philosophically important -but couldnt - as I first saw this in 1984 or 85 perhaps I could try to look again?

btw agree with number 3 in the above comment -
your #4 in this commnent is what i find so fascinating - as I am coming to believe this could be much closer than we know - and runs so counter to "common sense"
for a really deep look at these notions check out Alex Robison's work at too long in this place or aferrismoon's -both on my bloglist-
i am starting to wonder how deep the "reality as metaphor?" maybe reality goes-
I am very excited about the work they have done- but by no means do I want to think things are actually that way-
i think people like you and me can see something and say "coincidence my behind":-) whereas many of our fellow citizens dont have a prob with certain things -
but i think alex, aferrismoon and others are taking this whole idea to another level -
all the best to you my friend and thanks for giving me so much to think about- and having such a great set of comments- i will try to catch up with you this am!!

Hadrian said...


Thanks for the post. How can I reach you by e-mai or is only blog comments the way?

Devin said...

Hadrian - sorry i am so extremely late in publishing your comment !!
we had a death in the family recently and i havent been feeling very good in the last weeks - i am fine with you reaching me by my email - but to do it (if you come back and see this) could you send my another comment -it doesnt have to say anything and i can delete it - but it will give me your private email and i will email you with my private email then
sorry again about being so late -hopefully i will start feeling better soon
all the best to you!!

Hadrian said...

sorry of your news.

here we go.

Devin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
benjibopper said...

Hey Devin, so sorry to hear of the death in your family. I hope you are OK. My thoughts are with you.

Devin said...

Benji - I very much appreciate your thoughts and sympathy more than I can say!!
this has been a rough month between my aunt passing away and (to a much lesser degree as far as -well everything- catching this cold virus that simply refuses to go away- ) every time I think I am almost over it slams me down again - I hope to start doing something with at least one of my blogs as soon as I am better and to be better at keeping up with friends and their blogs
all the best in the world to you my friend!!