Idealist ontology, philosophy of science, cognition, reality, psychological
Now, collective conscious experience, egoless experience, philosophy of
mind, mind-brain relations, mind-matter relations, collective consciousness,
egolessness, spirituality, shamanism, science and religion, God.
Idealist Philosophy: What is Real ?
Conscious Experience Seen as Basic to All Ontology. An Overview
By Axel Randrup email@example.com
International Center for Interdisciplinary Psychiatric Research, CIRIP
Written 2000-2003. Electronic publication only.
Content and Temporal Extension of the Psychological Now
The Ontology of Consciousness
The Ontology of Nature Including Mind - Brain Relations
Individual and Collective Conscious Experience. The Ontology of Intersubjectivity
Collective Conscious Experience Across Time. The Ontology of History
Egoless Experience. The Ontology of Worlds Without an Ego
The Ontology of Worlds Comprising Spiritual Experiences
Religion. God, Rationality, Spirituality
The idealist attitude followed in this paper is based on the assumption
that only conscious experience in the Now is real. Conscious experience
in the Now is supposed to be known directly or intuitively, it can not be
explained. I think it constitutes the basis of all ontology. Consciousness
is conceived as the total of conscious experience in the Now, the ontology
of consciousness is thus derived directly from the basis. The ontology of
nature is derived more indirectly from the basis. Science is regarded as
a catalog of selected conscious experiences (observations), acknowledged
to be scientific and structured by means of concepts and theories (also
regarded as conscious experiences). Material objects are regarded as heuristic
concepts constructed from the immediate experiences in the Now and useful
for expressing observations within a certain domain with some of their mutual
relations. History is also regarded as a construct from conscious experiences
in the Now. Concepts of worlds without an ego are seen to be in harmony
with immediate egoless experiences. Worlds including spirituality are conceived
as based on immediate spiritual experiences together with other immediate
experiences. Idealist or immaterial philosophies have been criticized for
implying solipsism or "solipsism of the present moment". This
critique is countered by emphasizing the importance of intersubjectivity
for science and by introducing the more precise concepts of collective conscious
experience and collective conscious experience across time. Comprehensive
evidence supporting the heuristic value of these concepts is related.
I conclude that the idealist approach leads to a coherent comprehension
of natural science including mind-brain relations, while the mainstream
materialist approach entails contradictions and other problems for a coherent
understanding. The idealist approach and the notion of collective conscious
experience also facilitates cross-cultural studies and the understanding
Key-words : Idealist ontology; philosophy of science; cognition;
reality; psychological Now; collective conscious experience; collective
consciousness; egoless experience; egolessness; philosophy of mind; mind-brain
relations; mind-matter relations; spirituality; shamanism; science and
In preceding papers the author has tried to expound an idealist ontology
stating that only conscious experience in the Now is real. This challenges
the currently dominant materialist ontology in the natural sciences, nevertheless
it does maintain the methodological presupposition that all scientific research
- materialist, idealist, or dualist - rests on empirical observations from
which concepts and theories are derived (Randrup 1997, 1999, 2002).
In this ontology, or philosophy the immediate conscious experience in the
psychological Now is fundamental, and I shall therefore begin with this
topic and from that develop the ontology of consciousness, nature,
intersubjectivity, history. worlds without an ego, and worlds comprising
A number of time studies and psychological experiments indicate that
the psychological Now is experienced with a certain temporal extension and
therefore differs from the physical moment or point of time, which is regarded
as infinitesimal with zero duration.
Content and Temporal Extension of the Psychological Now
Thus the psychologist Rubin (1934) performed experiments with " two
very short sound stimuli in the outer physical world succeeding one another."
When the interval between the two sound stimuli was short, a fifth of a
second (in physical time), Rubin's immediate experience was:
Quite contrary to our general notion of time, the experience does not occur
one of the sounds is present and that the other belongs either to the just
expected future or to the immediate past. Either both of them are past or
them are future or both of them have the character of being present, although
they are experienced as a succession.
I find that Rubin's results stand out for their clarity and significance.
Searching the literature I have found no direct replication, continuation
or critique of Rubins work, but there are several authors who concur with
Rubin in assuming that the perceptual or experiential Now possesses extension.
Fraisse (1975) has, like Rubin performed many phenomenological observations
and experiments on the psychology of time, and he thinks that our perception
of change is characterized by the integration of successive stimuli in such
a way that they can be perceived with relative simultaneity (p. 12). He
also states that when he hears the tick-tock from a clock, the tick is not
yet part of his past, when he hears the tock, so the order of the tick and
the tock is perceived directly (pp. 72-73, 117).
Whitehead (1920, p. 69) thinks that "the ultimate terminus of awareness
is a duration with temporal thickness" and that "the present is
a wavering breadth of boundary" between the extremes of memory and
anticipation. Denbigh (1981, p. 17) thinks that the "specious present"
(or "perceptual present") gives to temporal awareness a certain
degree of "spread", and he quotes William James for asserting
that the perceptual present is not like a knife edge, but more like a saddle-back.
More recently Varela (1999, p. 119) has stated that "the very mode
of appearance of nowness is in the form of extension, and to speak of a
now-point obscures this fact". Hayward (1987) writes about relations
between the sciences and Buddhism, and he states that conscious experience
occurs as series of moments of finite duration (p. 168).
Within the extension of the Now there is room for a rich content including
both memories and anticipations, which can be seen as special modes of experience
in the Now. Memories and anticipations in the Now can of course, together
with the eperience of succession, form a basis for construction of concepts
of time. These concepts (also conscious experiences) can then become part
of the psychological Now. The philosopher Henri Bergson (1980) studied the
immediate experience of successions, and found that such experiences, for
instance the notes of a melody penetrate each other and form a whole (pp.
74-79). He contended that the time of science and of daily life is an abstraction
from these immediate experiences. I find that Bergson's views correspond
well with the description of the content of the Now by Gurwitsch and Arvidson,
which is related below. Also Buddhist and other Indian psychology have found
that physical time is an "abstraction", a "construction"
or a "conceptual fabrication" (Hayward 1987, pp. 166,169, Inada
1991, pp. 470-471, Mahadevan, 1992, p. 578). Nicholas of Cusa (15th century)
held similar views of the Now: "All time is comprised in the present
or 'now'..... time is only a methodological arrangement of the present.
The past and the future, in consequence, are the development of the present"
(quoted in Perry 1971, p. 840).
I think that other concepts, theories and observations of science are likewise
abstracted, abducted or constructed from the whole of the psychological
Now. The reading of a measuring instrumant can serve as an example: usually
only the position of the pointer is recorded, while its color and shape
together with many other features of the perceptual whole are ignored (Marchais
and Randrup 1991, p. 2).
The rich content and the structure of the Now has been studied extensively
by Gurwitsch (1985) followed by Arvidson (2000). Arvidson states: "At
each and every moment of experience, with few exceptions, there is a figure
and a ground, a focus of attention and a context for that focus". At
the periphery of this "thematic field" Arvidson thinks that there
is the contents of "marginal consciousness" (p. 3). In the succession
of moments a marginal item may move into the thematic field (p. 14). I concur
with these views, and I think they help to understand the way concepts and
theories are constructed from the whole of the psychological Now.
Strictly speaking the conscious content of the Now constitutes the only
sure basis of all our knowledge, and if we accept that the Now contains
both successions, memories, anticipations and focal or marginal awareness
of many items, this basis will be sufficient for construction of concepts
and theories, including theories about ontology. Concepts and theories are
also experienced in the Now, in the focus or the margin. The central importance
of the Now in the idealist position developed here indicates that further
scientific studies of the psychology of the Now will yield information of
fundamental significance. Studies by Sorenson (1998) of indigenous people
living in isolated enclaves around the world have revealed a kind of consciousness
focussed within a flux of sentient immediacy, where experience is not clearly
subdivided into separable components. I expect that further studies of this
kind of consciousness, "preconquest consciousness" will contribute
significantly to the knowledge of immediate experience in the Now. The change
of preconquest consciousness under foreign influence may yield material
for understanding the process of extraction of separable components from
the immediate experience in the Now and the formation of concepts and theories.
In the English scientific and philosophic literature the term "consciousness"
is used with several very different meanings. Here are some examples showing
the span of the variation:
The Ontology of Consciousness
"Consciousness is a neurological system like any other, with functions
such as the long-term direction of behavior ... " (Bridgeman 1980)
"Consciousness ... is best regarded as an aspect of the system's behaviour,
the latter admitting of both overt and covert dimensions." (Cotterill
2001, p. 13)
"Consciousness is information" (Goldberg 1996, pp. 12, 32)
The universe is fundamentally a great mind. Consciousness is seen as primary,
and matter as a projection of consciousness (Orme-Johnson, Zimmerman and
Wuthnow (1976, p. 60) proposes that consciousness may be defined "as
the ongoing process of constructing reality out of symbols and experience."
This is an example of functionalism which in general views consciousness
as a brain process or mode of functioning (Velmans 1990, p. 79). Wuthnow
(p. 65) also thinks that consciousness "needs to be recognized as not
simply a psychological phenomenon, but as a process linked in important
ways to the functioning of society."
"...the most important thing about consciousness is that it's a social
attribute" (Freeman and Burns 1996, p. 180).
Brown (1977, p. 150) thinks that "consciousness is a manifestation
of both the achieved cognitive level and the full series of cognitive levels
at a given moment in psychological time."
At a study week on brain and conscious experience the Vatican Academy of
Science expressed this view: "As to the further meaning of the term
"consciousness" the Study Week intends that it strictly designates
the psychophysiological concept of perceptual capacity, of awareness of
perception, and the ability to act and react accordingly." (quoted
in Uttal 1978, p. 7).
"An awareness of awareness of self and environment in time"
is suggested as a definition of consciousness by Strehler (1991, p. 45).
"..... by focusing the attention on the sheer clarity and the
sheer cognizance [the event of knowing] of experience, one attends
to the defining characteristics of consciousness alone, as opposed to the
qualities of other objects of consciousness. (Wallace 1999, p. 183).
Antony (2001, p. 34) relates a view of consciousness from the beginning
of the twentieth century. "Any contents of consciousness ... are not
parts or features of consciousness, but simply what consciousness is conscious
Woodhouse (1997, p. 256) writes: "The sense of consciousness with which
I will begin and subsequently develop is that of awareness per se, irrespective
of the objects or contents of awareness ... this fundamental sense is at
bottom simple and indefinable, and we are forced to rely, in part, on each
person's intuitive underdstanding of what it means to be conscious."
Consciousness is a private perceptual space-time system, manifested as an
orderly manifold of percepts. (Kuhlenbeck 1961, p. 37).
Here I will understand consciousness as the total of conscious experience
in the Now (individual, collective or egoless, see below), immediate
experience as well as constructs, concepts and theories. Conscious experience
(or just experience) is supposed to be known directly or intuitively, it
can not be explained. I think it constitutes the given basis of all ontology.
The ontology of consciousness is then derived directly from this basis.
I believe that the word "consciousness" is today often used in
the sense of awareness per se separated from its content (as described by
Wallace, by Antony, and by Woodhouse above). In this sense consciousness
is a partition or construction from the direct experience. The ontology
of consciousness understood in this way is derived from the immediate experience
too, but less directly. This also applies to the ontology of consciousness
understood in all the other ways reported above.
When we go to other cultures and languages the ambiguities in the understanding
of consciousness become still greater. Thus in French the word "conscience"
can often be translated adequately by "consciousness", but in
certain contexts it corresponds to English "conscience". Further,
the French word "connaissance" corresponds to English "consciousness"
in certain contexts, while it most often corresponds to "knowledge".
In Danish the term "bevidsthed" corresponds quite well with English
"consciousness". Wilkes (1988) writes about the history of the
English term "conscious(ness)" and states that it arrives late
in its present (range of) sense(s). The term "consciousness" with
a recognizabble modern meaning did not appear until 1678. Earlier "conscious"
referred to"shared knowledge", while the term "inwit"
had some overlap with today's term "consciousness" Wilkes also
writes about the Ancient Greek, the Chinese, and the Croatian languages.
She thinks that there is no generally adequate translation for "consciousness"
or "mind" in these languages, but is not denying that there are
specific contexts in which the English terms are translated perfectly by
terms such as psyche, sophia, nous, metanoia, or aistesis in Greek, yishi
in Chinese, and duh or um in Croatian. From Israel I have been informed
that it is difficult to give a good translation of the English word "mind"
in Hebrew, since there are 5 - 6 possible words, each of them with a special
shade (Miriam Schwarz 1982, personal communication, ).
It thus seems that it is not impossible to learn from other cultures about
concepts of consciousnes and the ontology of consciousness, but great care
will be necessary, because of the linguistic and general cultural differences.
This applies to what I write in the following sections about Chinese, Buddhist,
Japanese and other foreign views. I rely on texts written in English or
Danish by authors with insight in the respective cultures.
The Ontology of Nature Including Mind- Brain Relations
The dominant ontology of the Western scientific culture is materialist
realism which assumes that what scientific theories describe is a material
world existing independent of human consciousness and cognition. This view
has proved useful and productive within a certain, large domain of the study
of nature, but it has been contested by many philosophers (Knight 2001;
Randrup 1997, with references), and a number of scientific findings made
in the 20th century have been difficult to accomodate in this ontology.
neuropsychology assumed from the beginning, like all biology, the existence
of an external world independent of the human observer. The studies in this
discipline led, however, to the conflicting result, that all our cognitions,
including the assumption of an external world, must depend on the cognitive
apparatus in our brain. The same contradiction has emerged in the discipline
evolutionary epistemology (the study of cognition in the context of biological
evolution) and has been discussed within this discipline, during later years
in the journal Evolution and Cognition. Other examples of contradictions
and problems consequential to the assumption of a material world "out
there" are found within the disciplines second order cybernetics, statistics,
and physics. (Randrup 1997 and submitted).
Doubts about the materialist ontology (or realism) have been expressed by
various physicists. Thus Laszlo (1996, p. 32) writes: "As of today
the mainstream theorists of the quantum world have not succeeded in giving
an unambigous answer to the question, 'what is matter?' ". And Barrow
(1988, p.16) states: "It appears that science is best done by believing
that realism is true, even if in fact it isn't" . The newer theories
involving superstrings and supermembranes have made the doubts still more
disturbing. These theoretical entities, extremely small, are believed to
be fundamental constituents of matter, but direct effects of them can not
be assessed experimentally, and the belief in their existence rests on the
usefulness of the theories in which they are embedded. They may therefore
be conceived as heuristic theoretical concepts rather than pieces of matter,
and the superstring theories have been regarded as mathematical philosophy
rather than physics (Brown 1991, Nathan 2000).
A clear and radical position was taken by Lindsay and Margenau (1949, p.
1) who begin their book "Foundations of Physics" with the statement:
"Physics is concerned with a certain portion of human experience".
This expresses an idealist conception of physics, and at the same time an
extension of the usual conceptions of consciousness to embrace also the
domain of physics. These authors find that the belief in a real material
world behind our senseperceptions may tend to encourage too close adherence
to reasonably successful physical theories with too small allowance for
their necessary revision to meet the demands of new experience (p. 3).
In the idealist ontology proposed here, science is regarded as a catalog
of selected conscious experiences (observations) acknowledged to be scientific
and structured by means of concepts and theories which are regarded as conscious
experiences too. Material objects are thus regarded as heuristic concepts
useful for expressing observations within a certain domain with some of
their mutual relations. This reinterpretation of materialist objects allows
a direct understanding and use of traditional scientific theories without
accepting their ontology (Marshall 2001, p. 60, Randrup 1997, section 4).
The idealist ontology emphasizes the role of the evidence in science and
is particularly open to new theories and to the application of more than
one theory and set of concepts to a domain of observations (Lindsay and
Margenau 1949, pp. 1-3, Randrup 1992, 1994, 1997b, Wallace 1996, pp. 25-27,
The idealist ontology of nature also readily accomodates the intense nature
experiences known as nature spirituality (Randrup 1997). These intense,
direct nature-experiences are felt by the experient to be essential and
important, indicating that they must be real and that nature primarily is
an experience. These experiences are thus felt to be in conflict with the
materialist view that nature exists separated from and independent of the
"observer". Also on more secular ground many people resist the
alienation from nature entailed by strict materialist realism, and tend
to retain naive (or direct) realism, where material nature is believed to
be as perceived.
The mind-body or mind-brain problem is now often called "the hard problem",
meaning that it is hard to understand how a material brain can produce consciousness.
I believe that the hardness of the problem is a direct implication of the
materialist ontology, and that therefore the problem cannot be "solved"
as long as this ontology is applied. Materialist realism is the problem.
(Very recently Marshall (2001, p. 60) has expressed similar views on the
hardness of the mind-brain problem). With the idealist ontology the mind-brain
relations are relations between conscious experiences (observations) constituting
the material brain (here seen as a heuristic concept) and other conscious
experiences. It is readily understood that such relations are possible,
and they can be studied in detail by comparing the results from neurophysiology
and from attention to conscious experiences.
In a number of non-Western cultures and belief systems we encounter conceptions
of the world and the human which are very different from the dominant conceptions
of contemporary Western science. Clearly those cultures have made different
extractions and constructions from their immediate experiences in the psychological
Writing on East Asian thought Tu (1980) gives a clear account of such differences.
He states that according to East Asian thought it is fallacious to define
human nature merely in terms of biological, psychological or sociological
structures and functions because, viewed holistically a more comprehensive
grasp of its many-sidedness is required. The uniqueness of being human is
an ethicoreligious question; Ch'an rejects the artificial dichotomy between
the body and the enlightened mind (pp. 167, 172 and 173). Tu also states
that human beings are thought to have the potential power and insight to
penetrate the things-in-themselves (this is in direct opposition to the
Kantian view of the unknowable "Ding an sich") and that humanity
forms an inseparable unity with heaven, earth and the myriad things (in
contrast to the view of a material world separate from the human mind) (p.169).
At the 8th World Congress of Psychiatry Wig (1990) emphasized the need for
a truly international diagnostic system in psychiatry, acceptable also in
the developing countries. As one of the obstacles he mentioned conceptual
bias, i.a. the body-mind dichotomy.
Stanner (1971) gives an account of Aboriginal Australian beliefs and conceptions.
He states that our contrast of body versus spirit is not there and the whole
notion of the person is enlarged. The Australians "enfold into some
kind of oneness the notions of body, spirit, ghost, shadow, spirit-site,
and totem". The Australians can also conceive that "man, society
and nature and past, present, and future are at one".
Werblowsky (1971, p. 37) writes about Jewish thinking. Distinction between
body and soul(s) occurs, but the essential feature of rabbinic anthropology
was not the opposition body-soul, but the doctrine of the two inclinations,
the good yeser and the evil yeser. This dichotomy is still fundamental in
contemporary Jewish thinking.
Purely idealist ontologies have been developed by schools within Buddhism.
Thus Wayman (1971, p. 426) writes about "the idealistic standpoint
of the Vijnaptimatra school by which there is no external object independent
of consciousness". And Hsu (1990) has written a book about the "theory
of Pure Consciousness considered one of the subjective and 'uncompromising'
doctrines of idealism" (p.121). The teory of Pure Consciousness belonged
to the Laksana school, otherwise also called the Yogacara school (p. 81),
and it was transmitted by Xuan Zang to China where it flourished (p. 111).
Okuyama (1994, p. 69) has written about the "Mind-Only" doctrine
of the Yogacara school: "The name Mind- Only came from their strong
belief that all is mind and there is no real world.....outside world is
thought as our illusion created inside of our mind". Lindtner (1998,
p.10) write in a similar way about the ontology of the Yogacara school:
"All the universe consists of consciousness only" (translated
from Danish by the present author). Hollenback (1996, pp.104-105) refers
to the Tibetan treatise "The Yoga of Knowing the Mind, the Seeing of
Reality" inspired by Yogacara teachings. In this treatise it is claimed
that the phenomenal world is only a mental construct, a creation of our
minds. The only reality is mind - all else is an illusory fabrication of
According to Wallace (1999, p. 176) the following declaration is attributed
to the Buddha himself: "All phenomena are preceded by the mind. When
the mind is comprehended, all phenomena are comprehended." It is interesting
to compare this declaration with the intent of contemporary physicists to
construct a "theory of everything" on a materialist basis.
This Buddhist idealism accords with more ancient traditions of the East
which assert "that the universe is fundamentally a great mind, an infinite
field of consciousness at the basis of our mind, far from being a metaphysical
notion lying outside the range of human experience.The great mind is also
seen as the basis of our bodies and all of material existence" (Orme-Johnson,
Zimmerman and Hawkins 1997).
The idealist ontology proposed here will therefore facilitate cross-cultural
studies of nature, including mind-brain relations.
Individual and Collective Conscious Experience.
The Ontology of Intersubjectivity
Immaterialist views such as the idealism proposed here, phenomenalism,
and radical constructivism have been met with the objection that they are
based entirely on private (individual) experiences. Thus Hirst (1959, pp.94-95)
states that material objects are public, while sense data are private to
the percipient, and he asks how sets of statements about these private sense
data can give the meaning of a statement about a public object.. Likewise
it has been criticized that the immaterialist views are kinds of solipsism
(the idea that the world has no existence outside the thinker's subjective
mind) or may lead to solipsism (Olsen 1986, p. 364, Russell 1953, p. 623,
Von Foerster 1984, pp. 59-60, Von Glasersfeld 1988, p. 86, Watzlawick 1984,
p. 15). Whitehead (1978, p. 152) states that if experience be not based
upon an objective content, there can be no escape from a solipsist subjectivism,
and he criticizes the philosophers Hume and Locke for failing to provide
experience with an objective content. He also states that with Kant's "apparent"
objective content there can be no real escape from a solipsist subjectivism.
It seems to me, however, that this critique is untenable. It is based on
the presumption that conscious experiences are always individual, but it
can be contended that this presumption is far from sure. It ignores the
phenomenon of intersubjectivity which is important in science, also in mainstream
science, as well as the logically possible more precise concept collective
In order to be recognized as scientific, an observation has to be confirmed
by several scientists - become intersubjective. A new observation or concept
may originate with one person, then the scientific community will work to
test, if intersubjectivity can be obtained. In accordance with the assumption
that consciousness is always individual, each person having his own experiences
separated from those of other persons, an intersubjective observation is
often conceived of as the same observation or experience distributed over
different individual minds or consciousnesses. If, for instance, two persons
together are reading a meter with digital display, it is assumed in scientific
work that they read exactly the same value, 7.6 for example.
I think, however, that it is also possible to regard an intersubjective
observation or concept as one collective experience with the whole group
of persons involved as the subject, the We. Logically both interpretations
seem equally possible. They both contradict solipsism, but I prefer the
notion of collective consciousness finding that in several contexts it has
the greater heuristic value. In the following I shall write in more detail
about collective conscious experience and give evidence for the heuristic
value of this notion.
Collective conscious experiences will of course be related to neurophysiologic
processes in all the brains of the persons involved ( brains and persons,
including the "I" are of course here seen as heuristic structures
in the catalog of scientific observations), while neurophysiology usually
studies conscious experiences in association with one brain only. Here I
believe there is an extended domain for further experimental research. I
think it will be possible to study relations between changes in two or more
brains associated with collective experiences and with processes leading
to collective experiences.
Some conscious experiences, such as intersubjective scientific observations
and concepts, are readily seen to be shared with a collective of persons,
while other experiences appear to be more individual; sometimes I feel that
experiences I have are not shared or only partly shared by persons with
whom I communicate. This feeling may be reciprocal and even shared, so it
forms a known and directly experienced part of a common collective consciousness.
This feeling may also give rise to a belief that the other person has individual
experiences different from mine, and even give rise to thoughts about the
nature of these experiences. Such thoughts are, however, only conjectural,
we cannot know the contents of other individual minds, but I think we know
and experience directly the collective experiences. This I regard as an
answer to the much discussed problem of "other minds", thoughts
about the complete content of another mind remain conjectural, but what
we share collectively we can and do know by direct experience. I also regard
this view as the beginning of an approach to another much discussed problem,
that of animal mind (Randrup submitted a).
The boundary between individual and collective consciousness is, however,
blurred. If we talk together about our experiences, the intersubjective
or collective part will be expanded. This aspect of intersubjectivity has
been studied thoroughly by the phenomenological school of psychology at
Copenhagen University (Rubin, Tranekjær Rasmussen, From). Tranekjær
Rasmussen (1968, chapter 3, with references) writes that through communication
it is possible to make certain conscious experiences "intersubjectively
transportable" within a group of people. A set of intersubjectively
transportable experiences he calls a recursive basis. Such recursive bases
are established within scientific disciplines (technical languages), but
Tranekjær Rasmussen thinks that within the disciplines little has
been done to state the recursive bases explicitly, and he thinks that working
to accomplish this will be an important task for both epistemology and pedagogics.
Obtaining intersubjectivity in psychology/psychiatry aided by communication
between scientists has been described recently by Marchais (2000, pp. 124-125)
and by Marchais, Grize, and Randrup (1995, p. 371). I think that carefully
established recursive bases can be regarded as collective consciousness
within a group of persons. Since recursive bases in science can be quite
comprehensive, we may envisage that scientists, particularly scientists
within one discipline, have a significant part of their consciousness in
common, a collective consciousness.
Indeed, knowledge generally and many concepts such as "eleven,"
"energy," and even "solipsism" cannot be individual
at all, because from the beginning they are shaped by communication and
education. This view is supported by several reflections in the literature.
Thus Jørgensen (1963, p. 176) describes in detail how two persons
can arrive at common names of certain phenomena such as "head",
"arm", "green" etc. by making observations together
and communicate about the names. He contends that originally we have all
learned the names of things and their properties in this way; in science
further education and communication has lead to the technical terms. In
a personal letter of March 20, 1999 Pierre Marchais asserted that the number
5 is an educational, not a subjective phenomenon, an example of collective
knowledge. He told me that the 5 exists in me only because I have been taught
arithmetic. Wautischer (1998, p. 12) maintains that in most cultures knowledge
is seen as belonging to a group of people rather than being the result of
individual effort. Likewise Lutz (1992, p. 72) regards psychological and
anthropological thought systems as developing in a sociocultural context
and as constructed in interaction with that context. She also finds an essential
similarity between the cultural processes which structure academic psychology
and anthropology and those which structure other forms of ethnopsychology
and ethnoanthropology. Thornton (1996) states that language is an irreducibly
public form of life which is encountered in specifically social contexts,
and since a solipsist requires a language, Thornton sees solipsism as an
inherently incoherent theory. Allwood (1997) writes in a similar vein; he
regards dialogue as collective thinking and contends that "language
is an instrument for (collective) activation of information (or thinking)".
Artigiani (1996) proposes an hypothesis defining mind as an emergent attribute
of complex social systems. He thinks that mind becomes the experience of
brains in social networking "computing" environmental flows released
by cooperative actions.
Jung has written comprehensively about the collective unconscious. This
might be regarded as something different from collective conscious experience,
but the Jungian analyst Bernstein writes "....the collective unconscious
which clearly implies a collective conscious" (Bernstein 1992, p. 25).
And Bernstein (2000) has reported examples of directly felt collective conscious
experiences. LikewiseYoung-Eisendrath and Hill (1992) think that Jung's
later theory of archetypes and self is a constructivist model of subjectivity
that accounts for the collective or shared organization of affective-imaginal
life. Constructivism they think reveals the impossibility of mental separatism
and recognizes the shared nature of mental processes that arise within an
In the literature several authors have discussed collective memory. Thus
Bryld andWarring (1998) have written a book about the Danish collective
memory of the German occupation 1940-1945. They describe the formation of
this collective memory during the years after the war, influenced by the
need of the the Danish people to regard themselves as resistance heroes
and not as collaborators. Halbwachs (1975) has written a comprehensive general
treatise about the social frames of memory. He argues that the notion of
individual memory is insufficient and needs to be supplemented by group
memory. Halbwachs employs terms such as "collective perception",
"collective representations", "collective experience",
"collective reflections", "collective thought", and
"collective memories". I think that this can be seen as something
like the collective conscious experience, I am describing here.
Living and acting together can enhance intersubjectivity and collective
experience. The Danish philosopher and psychologist Jørgensen has
discussed this in some detail (1963, chapter 7). He writes about "person-identification,"
i.e., identification with another person, and distinguishes between emotive
and conative forms. The former refers to the catching effect of emotional
states and expressions, and the latter refers to situations where persons
act together to reach the same goal. More recently Vaughan (1995) wrote
in a similar way about emotive identification:
The soul that empathetically identifies with both the pain and the joy of
begins to see that in the inner world we are not separated from each other.
and joy, no less than pain and sorrow, are shared, collective experiences.
And in a recent special issue of the journal ReVision (Rothberg and
Masters, 1998) several authors have given examples of collective and egoless
consciousness in couples living and acting together in intimate relationships.
Some excerpts from this special issue follow:
..... they felt they were ..... one soul residing in two bodies. (p. 8).
Also, a deep spiritual bond - which may be felt during the most routine
activities and even far away - may develop. Robert Bly uses the metaphor
the "third body" as a way of describing the transpersonal dimension
a couple. It is the "soul" of the couple as one respondent expressed
it (p. 23).
Holding to a sense of self and to the bond feels at times to be overwhelming.
Repeated dancing back and forth - now self, now disappearing, wave to particle
and back..... separateness and union..... (p.9).
These examples show directly experienced, lived collective consciousness;
it is also possible to understand collective conscious experience conceptually
as described above in this section. The last example given shows difficulties
with reconciling the individual and the collective. Personally I have experienced
such difficulties too, a temporary fear of losing myself. But these difficulties
have not been serious for me, after all the collective experience is or
becomes as familiar as the individual experience. When an experience moves
from individual to collective (by communication for example), my immediate
feeling is that the subject changes from I to We, while the rest of the
experience remains the same. In certain cases the subject (I as well as
We) vanishes altogether as described below in the section on egoless experience.
A sudden change from experienced subject to no subject is particularly clearly
described in the report by Austin quoted in that section.
It seems probable that living and acting closely together in smaller family
and other groups has contributed to the experience and concepts of collective
consciousness encountered in various non-Western cultures. In these cultures
collective and relational features of humans and their minds are emphasized
at least as much as individual features. I think this yields significant
evidence supporting the heuristic value of the concept of collective consciousness
for cross-cultural studies, and I shall relate some examples of this evidence.
I have had some contact with Japanese psychiatry and shall quote
psychiatrist Okuyama, who has practiced both in Japan and in the United
States. She writes about the three senses of self among the Japanese: the
collective, the social, and the individual sense. Of these, the collective
sense is seen as the most important and fundamental one. Okuyama states
Japanese people commonly think that the self exists only in relationships
others... our mind is thought to exist in a field of relationships. The
cannot be considered separate from the relationship field nor having as
boundary, as Western people imagine.....one of the conditions to be an adult
is the ability to feel somebody else's or the group's feelings. (Okuyama
Arisaka (2001) writes in the same vein describing the Japanese philosopher
Watsuji's views: what is primary in human relation is not the atomically
separated "individuals", but rather what is generated "in-between"
such individuals as a result of interaction.
"My being conscious of you is intertwined with your being conscious
of me.... in
the relation of Being-between the consciousness of the participants are
permeated through one another's" (quote from Watsuji 1996 given by
2001, p 200).
Roland (1988) has written a comprehensive treatise on the self in India
and Japan. He emphasizes the sense of we-ness or we-self and
partial merger between individuals in these cultures, and he stresses the
contrast with the "individualistic I-self - the predominant experiential
self of Westerners." (pp. 196, 224-225, 285).
Orme-Johnson, Zimmerman and Hawkins (1997) describe Maharishi's Vedic psychology
which is based on the ancient Vedic tradition of India and related
to other ancient traditions in the East. According to this psychology,
collective consciousness is the wholeness of consciousness of an entire
group that arises from the individuals that comprise the group. Each level
of society - family, community, city, state or province, nation, and the
world - has a corresponding collective consciousness.
Wu (1998) writes about togetherness which he regards as fundamental. "Actuality
is first organic togetherness.....before being analyzed into units and indviduals"
(p.11). He finds that this view agrees with Chinese philosophy but
not with Western analytic thinking.
The Senegalese philosopher Ndaw (1983) has written a comprehensive doctoral
thesis about African thought. He emphasizes that in African cultures
such as the Bambara and the Dogon the conception of the person is more social
than individual. The individual is conceived as a center of relations.The
person in Africa is not defined in opposition to society, but society is
seen as constitutive of the person. Man is conceived as indissociable from
the group and in exact correspondence with the universe. (Ndaw 1983, chapter
3). In agreement with this Harris (1997) writes about competing core values
in African American communities, individualism rooted in European and Euro-American
conceptions and African-centered value rooted in collective consciousness.
Building on American Indian cultures Rÿser (1998) states that
humans and other peoples - including plants, minerals, fire, winds, and
animals - share a common consciousness, a common consciousness in the universe.
Singleness of consciousness he regards as always temporary and fleeting
while collective consciousness is the permanent and perpetual condition
of things. Rÿser's text is written in English and he uses the word
"consciousness", probably with a meaning which has something to
do with the concept of consciousness followed by me (see the section on
Sorenson (1998) has studied indigenous people living in isolated enclaves
around the world more or less "untouched" by dominant, conquering
cultures. In these people he found a state of mind which he calls Preconquest
Consciousness. One of the characteristics of this consciousness is an
empathetic, integrative, intuitive rapport between individuals. Sorenson
found their way of life to be simultaneously individualistic and collective.
each person constantly enlivening the others by a ceaseless, spirited, individualistic
input into a unified at-oneness. He felt strongly that this way of life
was very different from the ways of Western cultures, he was used to, and
even difficult to describe in the English language. The difference was also
clearly seen in some cases where a rapid collapse of preconquest consciousness
(sometimes within one week) occurred after contact with dominant cultures.
These non-Western views are difficult or rather impossible to understand
on the background of a strictly individual concept of conscious experience.
If on the other hand collective consciousness is conceived intellectually
and experienced directly on the basis of scientific activity as described
above, this will open opportunities for understanding the non-Western views
and thus be helpful in cross-cultural studies.
Rosenstand's views on collective and individual self provides further help
for cross-cultural understanding. She thinks that "We all know that
"I am me", even if we don't use words such as "self"
or "I". But some cultures consider this knowledge of minor importance"
(Rosenstand 2002, p 251).
In the literature there are many other descriptions of collective features
in a number of cultures, indeed it seems that Western individualism is an
exceptional or unique phenomenon among the world's cultures, past and present
(Morris 1972, Rosenstand 2002, pp. 240-251). In recent years, however, experiences
with networks of computers and of neurons (biological, artificial) have
suggested also to some Western authors a more collective concept of brain,
mind and conscious experiences.
Thus Freeman, author of the book "Societies of Brains" (1995)
concludes that "brains are preeminently social in nature" and
that "the most important thing about consciousness is thst it's a social
attribute." (Freeman and Burns 1996, pp. 178, 180). Likewise Huberman
(1989) in his paper entitled "The Collective Brain" states that
intelligence is not restricted to the single brain, but also appears in
the workings of many human organizations and scientific communities. He
describes distributed intelligence and computational ecosystems, the agents
of which operate concurrently with no central control, incomplete and sometimes
inconsistent and delayed information, and with a high degree of communication.
He finds many of these features also in networks of computers. Personally
I find that there is comprehensive communication inside each brain as well
as between brains. Inside a brain the communication between neurons is mediated
by transmitter substances such as dopamine, actylcholine etc., and between
brains it is mediated mainly by sound and light waves. But I think that
it is not the nature of the mediating substances, but rather the information
content of the communication that is important for the working of brains
and for the relations between brains and consciousness. And the information
content can be very large in the communication between brains as well as
in communications within a brain.
Experiences with the Internet have given rise to new thoughts about interaction
and collectivity. Thus Gackenbach, Guthrie and Karpen (1998) find that the
most important characteristic of the Internet is its emergent collective
properties, and de Kerckhove (1995) contends that the real nature of the
Internet is to act as a forum for collective memory and imagination. He
also thinks that on-line communications have created a new kind of permanence,
a new stability of mind, a collective mind, in which one plugs in or from
which one pulls out, but without affecting the integrity of the structure
other than by direct contribution.
Surfing, e-mailing and chatting on the Internet have given rise to new psychological
phenomena. Particularly Suler (1999) who created the word "cyberpsychology"
has published comprehensive studies of these phenomena. Among other results
he reports that
.....users often describe how their computer is an extension of their mind
personality - a "space" that reflects their tastes, attitudes,
and interests. In
psychoanalytic terms, computers and cyberspace may become a type of
"transitional space" that is an extension of the individual's
intrapsychic world. It
may be experienced as an intermediate zone between self and other that is
self and part other. As they read on their screen the e-mail, newsgroup,
message written by an internet comrade, some people feel as if their mind
merged or blended with that of the other.
I conclude that the notion of collective consciousness is well founded
in the available evidence. Its heuristic value is that it admits of
a more precise account of the ontology of intersubjectivity, facilitates
cross cultural studies, and strongly contradicts that solipsism should be
a consequence of immaterial world views.
Whitehead (1978, p. 81), however, also writes about "solipsism of the
present moment" which would mean that only present experience exists.
He thinks that this type of solipsism can only be avoided if something more
than presentational immediacy is included in direct perception. The Danish
philosopher Iversen (1917, pp. 369-372) gave up, when he contemplated the
solipsism of the present moment. He believed that he had then reached "rock
bottom" and that there was nothing further to say. This he illustrated
by making a hole of about ten lines in his text, before he continued on
other, less stringent conditions. Iversen made a strong impression on me
when I read his treatise in high school, but now I think, Iversen's problem
has been solved. The solution is given above in the section on the psychological
Now and in the following section about collective conscious experience across
time: the past and the future with their content are constructs from the
immediate experience in the Now. These constructs are also experienced in
Collective Conscious Experience Across Time.
The Ontology of History
In Western cultures time is usually conceived as linear, the past and
the future separated from the present. But the conception of time and the
attitude to the past and the future is and was different in many other cultures,
past and present. There exists a comprehensive literature on this, for recent
reviews reference can be made to Gell (1992), Munn (1992), Vatsyayan (1996)
and Withrow (1988). In the following some specific examples of time concepts
will be given..
Nakamura (1991) emphasizes that the Indian conception of time is very different
from that in the West. Time is conceived statically rather than dynamically.
It is recognized in India that the things of this world are always movng
and changing, but the substance of things is seen as basically unchanging,
its underlying reality unaffected by the ceaseless flux. The Indian directs
our attention not to the flow of water but to the river itself, the unchanging
universal. Nakamura thinks that the static conception of time permeates
Indian thought. Other authors use the word "timelessness"
instead of "static time", for example Mahadevan (1992) who writes
that timeless Brahman is the source of all orders of creation and that time
is the channel through which it is possible to return to this source. Through
meditation on time, one gets beyond time to the eternal Absolute (p. 549).
Gell (1992, pp. 71-72) quoting Geertz describe Balinese time as "a
motionless present, a vectorless now". He thinks that this does not
mean that the Balinese are living in a different kind of time from ourselves,
but that they refuse to regard as salient certain aspects of temporal reality
which we regard as much more important, such as the cumulative effects of
Hall and Hall (1990) write about monochronic and polychronic time.
Monochronic time corresponds with paying attention to and doing only one
thing at a time, while polychronic time corresponds with being involved
in many things at once. The cultures of the United States, Switzerland Germany,
and Scandinavia adhere to monochronic time, while the Mediterranian peoples
follow polychronic time. Like oil and water the two systems do not mix,
so for performing international business it is essential to know about the
Cyclic concepts of time are found in various cultures, for instance
in the ancient Greek culture. Rÿser (1998) describes this view: "As
time proceeds around the circle, one encounters the past and repeats the
transactions and events as the present." Rÿser also thinks that
this cyclical reality proved quite adequate for the social, economical,
and political life in antiquity around the Mediterranean and throughout
Africa. Williams (1986, p. 30) judges that the Yolngu (Northern Territory
of Australia) perceive time as circular, so that from any particular time,
what is past may be future, and what is future may be past. And she quotes
a personal communication by von Sturmer: "Aborigines read life backwards
and forwards. We read it forward." She also states that for the Yolngu
time is in some contexts both cyclical and circular, though this does not
preclude a certain kind of lineal causality (Williams (1986,p. 28).
In the Jewish way of thinking, as described by Steinsaltz (1980, chapter
4), time is seen like a spiral or a helix rising up from creation.
Time is seen as a process, in which past, present, and future are bound
to each other as a harmonization of two motions: progress forward and a
countermotion backward, encircling and returning. There is always a certain
return to the past, a constant reversion to basic patterns of the past,
although it is never possible to have a precise counterpart of any moment
of the time.
Also in the Bantu culture time is conceived like a spiral. Each season and
each new generation return on the same vertical of the spiral, but at a
higher level (Kagame 1976). The Mayan concept of time is often described
as cyclical, but Rÿser (1998) finds it more correct to shift the symbolism
from a circle to a spiral.
Berndt (1974, p. 8) reports that with the Aboroginal Australians mythological
or sacred time exists alongside secular time but not identical
with it. The Aborigines recognize both kinds of time as equally real, as
applying in different, although overlapping, sociocultural situations. Berndt
and Berndt (1964, pp. 187-188) write that for the Aborigines the beings
said to have been present at the beginning of things still continue to exist.
In one sense the past is still here, in the present, and is part of the
future as well. But the Aborigines also recognize various time categories
in connection with their everyday activities: days and nights, moons, the
sequence or cycle of seasons. Mowaljarlai (Mowaljarlai and Malnic 1993,
pp. 67-68) explains that when you are in an ancient state of mind, time
stands still, because your mind is in a state where time does not count.
Ancient time is no time.
More, comprehensive evidence for experience being regarded as existing in
both past and present has emerged from several studies of the Australian
Aboriginal culture. Thus Elkin (1964, p. 210) states:
In those rituals we were "in the Dreaming". We were not just
commemorating or re-enacting the past. Whatever happened in the
mythic past was happening now, and there is no doubt that the men
were "carried away" by the experience.
This statement by Elkin is particularly clear and explicit, but it is substantiated
by several other reports about past events reoccurring in the present during
rituals and ceremonies in the Australian culture (Berndt 1974, pp. 27-28,
Berndt and Berndt 1964, pp. 226-227, Hume 1999, pp. 9 -10, Isaacs 1992,
p. 34, Strehlow 1968, pp. 29-30 and 1971, p. 611) .
Also in other cultures than the Australian ritual time may differ from secular
time. Thus Silverman (1997) writes about the Eastern Iatmul, New Guinea:
Although Eastern Iatmul time can be incremental and linear, the naming
system and totemic identifications seem to merge the present and the past.
To some degree, so does the cyclical temporality of the kinship system.
form of time is also present in Eastern Iatmul rituals such as curing rites
which often enact primordial events as if they were occuring in the present.
And Lancaster ( 1993, p. 2) writes about the Jewish culture that time for
sacred history is not the everyday passing time of literal history, but
that mysterious dimension of time which is eternally present. He thinks
that while literal history may satisfy the rational mind there are deeper
dimensions to the psyche for which sacred history can provide an equally
satisfying picture of the way things really are.
Like some other people the Australians believe in reincarnation..
It is the soul or spirit (which would include what is here called consciousness)
of the deceased which is believed to reappear in a person living in the
present. This can of course be seen as an example of the past appearing
in the present and as an extreme example of consciousness shared across
time. Australian conceptions of reincarnation are described by several authors.
Strehlow (1971, pp. 615-617) relates how an ancestral supernatural being
can become reincarnated into the unborn child of a pregnant woman. This
may happen while she (or, in some areas, her husband) is experiencing a
dream-vision of the future child brought on by the supernatural being who
is seeking rebirth. Strehlow also reports that in sacred ritual totemic
ancestors are represented by their human reincarnations (1971, pp. 611 and
619-620). Berndt (1974, p. 28) states that during the process of initiation,
a father could take his son away to a secret place and sing into him the
spirit-double of his own assistant totem. In this way that totem spirit
merges with the youth's own spirit. Isaacs (1992, p. 230) relates that the
Walbiri people of the central desert believe that there are secret caves
containing hidden 'Dreaming' stones which are storehouses of disembodied
spirits who may enter a woman again and so be reborn. After death the spirit
returns to the cave and remains there until the same process is repeated,
but this time the spirit becomes a child of the opposite sex to its previous
incarnation. Williams (1986, p. 30) writes in a similar way about reincarnation
of the souls of the Yolngu who live in the Northern Territory of Australia.
In a more general way it has been stated by several anthropologists
that for the Australians the past underlies and is within the present.
Thus Stanner (1971, p. 289) writes that
Although the Dreaming conjures up the notion of a sacred heroic time of
infinitely remote past, such a time is also, in a sense, still part of the
One cannot "fix" The Dreaming in time: it was , and is,
Elkin (1964, pp. 231-236) maintains that for the Aborigines the past is
present, here and now. The present is the past latent and potential now.
Through ritual and behaviour it is realized. History there is, but it is
the myth of that which is behind or within, rather than before the present.
Experiences and conceptions of the past in the present are also reported
from other cultures, particularly in connection with ritual. Overviews have
been published by Bloch (1977) and Hvidtfeldt (1961). Hvidtfeldt thinks
that our own conception of events is like pearls on a string, while in many
other cultures events are seen as a heap of pearls from which one can draw
now one pearl and now another, view it closely, and put it back. History
is in the past but also present, it is lived and relived in the cult. History
is future too, it will be relived as long as the world exists.
In spite of the West's assumed separation of the past from the present,
parts of the past are believed to exist in the present, also in the West.
This applies to material objects; in particular more abstract objects of
physics such as electrons and quarks are believed to be exactly the same
as they were fifty years ago and even billions of years ago. Also artefacts
such as stone tools uncovered by archeology are supposed to be the same
as when they were used in the past.
With the idealist ontology the materialist entities and events in history
may be regarded as heuristic concepts, just like the material things in
the present. Time itself may also be regarded as a heuristic concept useful
for further ordering of our conscious experiences in the Now. I suppose
that the different conceptions of time in various cultures are and have
been useful in this way. This goes for the concepts of time in physics too;
thus in modern physics the idea of static time is sometimes entertained
and regarded as useful, in particular in association with relativity theory
and cosmology ( Einstein and Infeld 1963, chapter 3, section on space time
continuum, Hawking 1988, chapter 8). Hawking describes the theory of imaginary
time, a spatial and therefore static dimension, and states that like other
theories in physics, it is a mathematical model for describing our observations.
He finds that it is meaningless to ask whether the usual or the imaginary
time is the correct or real one, the question is, which description is the
most useful (Hawking 1988, chapter 8). It may be added here that both of
these concepts of time express structures in the catalog of scientific observations
useful in different domains. We are aware of this catalog in the Now, in
the focus and in the margin.
Hawking's views are of course in complete agreement with the idealist ontology
of matter and time advocated here and in a previous paper (Randrup 2002).
It is also in agreement with this ontology that in historical science history
has often been altered with the advent of new evidence. Thus the conception
of the electron has changed during this century, and in each period it has
been assumed that electrons existed in the past exactly as they were in
the actual conception. Another example: very recently the age of Copenhagen
city has been raised due to new archeological finds; according to what the
historians now state, the one mile long coffee table, which was arranged
in 1967 to celebrate the 800 th anniversary of Copenhagen, was held about
100 years too late (Gautier, Skaarup, Gabrielsen, Kristiansen, and Ejlersen
1999). These historians also say that until quite recently the historical
topography of Copenhagen was built on learned constructions which over the
years had acquired almost mythical character; data were not separated from
interpretations (p. 38). Lowenthal (1985, chapter 6) has written more generally
about changing the past.
The historian Collingwood (1993) thinks that also thoughts from history
can appear in the present. He sees the task of history as re-enactment of
past experience, more specifically rethinking of past thought. He thinks
that he can re-enact in his own mind the very same thoughts that were thought
by persons in the past. This can of course be regarded as collective conscious
experiences across time. Collingwood gives examples and arguments to support
his idea of history. In order to be sure that he really thinks the same
thought that occurred in the past, he considers all the evidence relevant
to the past thinker and the specific thought in question. As an elaborate
example he scrutinizes the thinking of a certain emperor about an edict
in the Theodosian Code (p.283). Collingwood's idea of history has aroused
much interest among historians and has been widely discussed since its first
publications in 1928 and 1946 (Collingwood 1993, editor's introduction,
Dray 1995, Mann 1998). In religious or artistic context a few other Western
authors have written about sharing experiences with historical persons (Csikszentmihalyi
and Csikszentmihalyi 1988, pp. 237-239, Lansky 1999, Schutz 1964, pp.171-175).
On a biological and evolutionary background Sheets-Johnstone (1990, p.352-362)
also considers re-enactment of past experience. She uses a method called
hermeneutical phenomenology and thinks that by this means "we might
accede, and in the closest possible way, to the actual experiences of the
By writing about re-enactment of past thought Collingwood (and Sheets-Johnstone)
seem to regard the thoughts in history as fixed facts that existed in the
past. This is in agreement with the usual Western linear conception of time.
But it is also possible to assume that the historian gradually develops
thoughts, about the emperor and the edict mentioned above for example, that
fit the historical evidence (here seen as conscious experiences in the Now)
and therefore may be seen as shared with a historical person such as the
emperor (here seen as a construct based on historical evidence). Such sharing
would be parallel to the development of collective consciousness with contemporaries
by communication as described in the preceding section.
This interpretaton of Collingwood's work has much in common with some newer
trends in the methodology of historical science. Thus van Veuren (2000)
writes that the post-modernist view of history is anti-realist and skepticist:
history is non-referential. We can never "really know" the past.
When we study the past we move in a closed circuit of stories/readings/accounts
out of which we cannot get to check if they correspond to the past "as
Egoless Experience.The Ontology of Worlds Without an Ego
Egoless consciousness differs from both individual and collective consciousness.
In egoless experiences the subject, the I as well as the We, is ignored
or forgotten. In the literature there are many descriptions of egoless experiences
occurring in both secular and spiritual states of mind.
Csikszentmihalyi (1997, Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi 1988) has
made psychological studies of engagement with everyday life. He has heard
artists, athletes, composers, dancers, scientists, and people from all walks
of life describe how it feels when they are doing things that are worth
doing for their own sake, and he reports that in these descriptions his
informants used terms that are interchangeable in their minutest details.
This unanimity suggested to Csikszentmihalyi that the descriptions are of
a very specific experiential state to which he has given the name "flow".
The main dimensions of flow are described as intense involvement, deep concentration,
clarity of goals and feedback, loss of a sense of time, lack of self-consciousness
and transcendence of a sense of self (Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi
1988, p. 365).
The egoless feature of the flow state is described in more detail several
times in the book edited by Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi (1988):
"Because of the deep concentration on the activity at hand, the person
in flow ... loses temporarily the awareness of self that in normal life
often intrudes in consciousness ... In flow the self is fully functioning,
but not aware of itself doing it ... " (p. 33). "An activity that
fosters a merging of action and awareness with a centering of attention
on a limited stimulus field will lead inevitably to a loss of the ego construct,
a loss of awareness of the 'I' as actor." (p.223). Referring to cruising
in a sailboat: "... the oneness with the natural environment allows
for a loss of ego boundaries ... Occasionally, especially in storm conditions,
a total loss of ego occurs ... " (p. 231).
In agreement with this the physicist Mach (1914, chapter I, section 12)
wrote that during absorption in some idea the ego may be partially or wholly
Personally I remember a clearly egoless secular experience: the process
of finishing a manuscript was experienced as that which existed, and when
this process was finally completed, an experience like throwing up occurred
as the beginning of the reappearance and separation of the manuscript and
I as two entities. I think this was an example of the flow experience. Another
detailed description of a secular egoless experience is reported by the
gestalt psychologist Koffka (1963, pp. 323 f).
In reports of experiences regarded as spiritual or mystical dissolution
of all ego boundaries and forgetfulness of the ego are often mentioned,
and also a general feeling of unity including fading or complete disappearance
of the boundary between subject and object (Randrup 1999, with references).
Austin (2000, p. 215, 2000 a) reports a personal experience which appeared
suddenly and unexpectedly, when he was on the surface platform of the London
And despite the other qualities infusing it, the purely optical aspects
scene are no different from the way they were a split second before.
pale- gray sky, no bluer; the light, no brighter; the detail, no finer-grained
But there is no viewer. The scene is utterly empty, stripped of every
extension of an I-Me- Mine. Vanished in one split second is the familiar
sense thatthis person is viewing an ordinary city scene. The new
proceeds impersonally, no pausing to register the ... paradox that no human
subject is "doing" it.
This experience continued for a few seconds. Then followed a second wave
where a distant quasi-person was being ever so remotely inferred. This second
wave lasted another three to five seconds followed by a third wave. In this
some kind of diminutive subjective I seemed to exist off in the background,
because something vague was responding with faint discriminations. After
another three to five seconds a growing, self-referent awareness entered.
It discovered that it had a physical center inside the bodily self of that
vaguely familiar person who was now standing on the platform. A little later
a thoughtful I boarded the next subway train.
Austin's detailed report shows the complete disappearance of the ego and
its gradual return. Other reports emphasize unity with environment . Thus
Smith reports an incidence of "cosmic consciousness" (CC):
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,
"thing" would be misleading - it would be an equally correct description
say that there was "nothing" as to say that there was "everything".
that subject merged with object might be almost adequate as a description
the entrance into CC, but during CC there was neither "subject"
"object"...... just a timeless unitary state of being (Smith and
Tart 1998, p.
These are direct experiences of the environment or the universe without
the ego in the usual central position. It is, however, also possible to
think of the world decentered from the ego or even with another ego
as the center. The change from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican view of the
planetary system is an example of such decentering. Since then, science
has continued the decentering process and developed an "objective"
The decentered world of science is, however, as mentioned above, most often
considered as a material world projected "out there" and separate
from the human mind. This makes it difficult to place consciousness in the
scientific picture. In contrast, an egoless experience of the world (perceived
or conceived) is still a conscious experience and avoids the dichotomy between
the material and the mental. On such a monistic background, worldviews centered
on an ego, centered on a collective, or completely decentered (egoless)
are not in conflict, but can be seen as different structures in the same
catalog of conscious experiences. It is known that there can be more than
one structure in a system of elements, for example, in ambiguous figures.
These are perceived in two or more alternating gestalts, only one at a time,
but in thought it can be conceived that the two or more structures or gestalts
exist simultaneously in the figure (Burling 1964, Gregory 1998, chapter
10, Randrup 1992). This point is also illustrated by the following anecdote
quoted from Randrup, Munkvad and Fog (1982): A visitor to Florida wanted
to mail a baby turtle to his son at camp. The clerk in the Post Office read
the regulations aloud: "Well", he said "Dogs is dogs and
cats is dogs, squirrels in cages is birds - - and baby turtles is insects"
For postal purposes this alternative structure was preferred to the usual
Linnean structure in zoology.
In some cases egoless experiences are not only without ego but also without
other content such as perceptions, thoughts etc. This is called pure consciousness,
contentless consciousness, experience of nothingness, emptiness or void
etc.. There are many descriptions of this type of experience in the literature
from Indian, Jewish and other sources. The descriptions differ to some extent,
the nothingness seems to be more or less complete, but surely these experiences
lack many details known from ordinary, daily experiences; see further below.
Lancaster (2000, p. 237) quoting Sullivan gives a clear example of a contentless
experience which followed a road accident:
There was something, and the something was not the nothing (of total
unconsciousness). The nearest label for the something might possibly
'awareness', but that could be misleading, since any awareness I'd ever
before the accident was my awareness, my awareness of one thing or
another. In contrast, this something ..... had no I as its
subject and no
content as its object. It just was.
Lancaster adds that he sees no reason to contradict the direct evidence
of such experiences and that seemingly contentless conscious states need
to be incorporated within a meaningful psychology of consciousness.
This egoless experience of Sullivan clearly differs from the expereience
of Austin reported above, where the optical details of the scene he saw
were unchanged, only the ego, the viewer was lacking.
Much information on pure consciousness is collected in a book on the topic
edited by Forman (1990). In this book Griffiths (1990) writes on pure consciousness
in Indian Buddhism. He describes the ascent through a series of altered
states of consciousness or spheres with varying degrees of nothingness.
These spheres are thought of as both cosmic realms, locatable in space,
and as psychological conditions (p. 81). The immediate conscious experience
and the world view are thus harmonized or unified.
Also Hayward (1987) has written about emptiness in Buddhism. His exposition
is based on the term shunyata from the Mahayana school of Buddhism (p. 203).
This term has been variously translated as emptiness, void, nothingness
and openness. According to Hayward shunyata means empty of concept, of mental
fabrication or projection, it means what is, free from concept. Emptiness
can not be elucidated in words and concepts, it can be pointed to only as
direct experience. Emptiness is also seen as a mark or characteristic of
every phenomenon, the ground of all phenomena. It is therefore both a direct
experience and a world view. The full experience of shunyata is said to
be one of great joy, because at the same time as realizing emptiness of
conceptions, there is awareness of complete purity (p. 217). To me this
means that shunyata is not completely empty, since it contains the experience
of both joy and purity.
Wallace (1999, p. 183) writes about attainment of the samatha state in Buddhist
tradition by means of a certain technique: "Bringing no thoughts to
mind, one lets the mind remain like a cloudless sky, clear, empty, and evenly
devoid of grasping onto any kind of object." Samatha is characterized
by joy, clarity and non-conceptuality.
Orme-Johnson, Zimmerman and Hawkins (1997) have given a very clear account
of Maharishi's Vedic psychology which is based on the ancient Vedic tradition
of India.. By means of a special meditation technique it is possible to
reach a state of pure awareness or transcendental consciousness. In this
state consciousness is all by itself, without any object other than itself
to be aware of. The mind settles down to a state of no activity, but with
full awareness. In the Vedic psychology consciousness is seen as primary,
and matter as a projection of consciousness. The cosmic psyche, a field
of pure consciousness, is described as an undifferentiated wholeness which
gives rise to the infinite diversity of creation. The cosmic psyche is regarded
as the source of all existence, the ultimate reality. It is also seen as
the basis of the individual mind. At the pinnacle of human development,
unity consciousness, the individual is regarded as a fully integrated expression
of the cosmic psyche. Thus the world view and the direct experience is harmonized
in Vedic psychology.
Egolessness and nothingness are also important elements of Jewish mysticism,
both as direct experience and in the conception of the world.. There is
a tradition of gradual contemplative ascent to higher planes. At a high
plane the mystic no longer differentiates one thing from another. Conceptual
thought, with all its distinctions and connections, dissolves; awareness
of the self disappears. Fortune (1995, p. 107) reports that at the one occasion,
when she touched the edge of the highest level, keter, of the tree of life,
it appeared as a glaring white light in which all thought vanished completely.
Keter is also seen as the totality of all existence. Since God's being or
essence is believed to be incomprehensible and ineffable, He is described
as nothing. God is greater than any thing one can imagine, like no thing.
To many mystics creation of the world out of nothing means just creation
out of God. This nothing from which everything has sprung is not a mere
negation; only to us does it present no attributes, because it is beyond
the reach of intellectual knowledge. In truth, however, this nothing is
infinitely more real than all other reality. So in Jewish mysticism the
direct experience and the world view are united.While ascending to higher
planes of consciousness the mystic strives to get close to God or nothingness.
Some believe it is possible for man to ascend to absorption in God with
complete elimination of individuality and with no possibility for returning,
but on this point opinions are divided among Jewish scholars. Among a number
of important sources describing egolessness and nothingness in Jewish mysticism
are Fortune (1995), Idel (1988), Matt (1990), Scholem (1955), and Winther
The Ontology of Worlds Comprising Spiritual Experiences
In the international discourse the word "spirituality" is
used with many different meanings. My personal understanding of nature-spirituality
appears from a private letter written July 7, 1994: "This morning,
when I went into my garden (about 10 minutes ago), I had what I now call
a spiritual experience. I experienced the garden (the trees, the grass etc.)
clearly more intensely than at other occasions, when I also loved the garden.
This time I experienced "the eternal now" as well, and immediately
after I thought that the felt importance and intensity of my experience
was more essential than its duration and its position in the ordinary time."
I also remember having experienced entropy, a more abstract, theoretical
entity of nature, in this spiritual way.
This description accords with two other descriptions from the literature,
which seem to report immediate experiences, independent of any structured
religious or philosophical conviction. One is from the autobiography "The
Story of my Heart" by Richard Jefferies (1848 - 1887) who was a writer,
in his own time regarded as an atheist.
With all the intensity of feeling which exalted me,all the intense communion
held with the earth, the sun and the sky, the stars hidden by the light,
ocean - in no manner can the thrilling depth of these feelings be written
these I prayed.... (Jefferies 1910, p. 6)
The second description is from the partially autobiographic book "Where
the Spirits Ride the Wind" by Felicitas Goodman.
Very soon I discovered all on my own what being an adult apparently meant,
and confided it to my diary: "The magic time is over". For all
of a sudden
and without the slightest warning, I realized that I could no longer
effortlessly call up what in my terms was magic: that change in me that
so deliciously exciting and as if I were opening a door, imparting a special
hue to whatever I chose. I noticed the curious impediment first with the
fresh, crunchy snow which fell right after my birthday. It was nice, but
could not make it glow ( Goodman 1990, p. 3)
Later in life Felicitas Goodman regained her "magic", when she
studied shamanism both by anthropological methods and by own experiences.
I regard these three experiences as examples of nature spirituality, but
Pierre Marchais (1997, 1999, 2000, personal communications 1994-1999) while
recognizing the occurrence of this kind of experiences prefers to name them
"exceptional intuitive experiences". For Marchais "authentic
spirituality" is an act of faith, a part of religion, particularly
the Judeo-Christian religions. He characterizes the former type of experiences,
and also East Asian mysticism and transcendence with the French word "supranaturel",
while the "authentic spirituality" is characterized by the word
"surnaturel". This distinction between supranaturel and surnaturel
is fundamental in his view.
Evelyn Underhill (1955, p. 191) distinguishes less sharply between nature
experiences and religious faith:
Such use of visible nature as the stuff of ontological perceptions the medium
whereby the self reaches out to the Absolute, is not rare in the history
mysticism. The mysterious vitality of trees, the silent magic of the forest,
the strange and steady cycle of its life, possess in a peculiar degree this
power of unleashing the human soul ..... The flowery garment of the world
is for some mystics a medium of ineffable perception, a source of exalted
joy, the veritable clothing of God.
This view is supported by quotations from several European mystics (pp.
For Pierre Marchais the meaning of the word "spirituality" is
therefore more restricted than it is for me (and for Underhill). Marchais
and I have had prolonged exchange on these issues and have come to agree
on much, also that even though the terms may differ ("nature spirituality"
versus "exceptional intuitive experiences" for instance) it is
possible to agree on the phenomena.
But Marchais and I still differ with respect to the Perennial Philosophy.
This philosophy is based on a broad sense of the word spirituality comprising
both nature spirituality, East Asian mysticism, shamanistic transcendence,
and experiences embedded in Judeo-Christian religions. It assumes that there
is a similarity or common core to all experiences of spirituality (understood
in this broad sense) across cultures and across the ages. It does not regard
the distinction of Marchais between the supranaturel and the surnaturel
as important and is therefore not accepted by him. I, on the other hand,
tend to agree with the perennialists, although I admit that since spiritual
experiences are often felt as ineffable, transverbal, it is difficult to
discuss the idea of the Perennial Philosophy in words. My positive attitude
to this philosophy therefore rests on intuition more than on reason (Randrup
In the special integration group Spirituality and Systems within the International
Society for the Systems Sciences the Perennial Philosophy is widely accepted,
and on this basis it seems possible that some intersubjectivity might be
obtained through communication. Since 1991 such communication has been performed
at annual meetings in this group (Randrup 1997a). The exchange has lead
to better understanding of both differences and similarities between the
participants, and the exchange is still going on. For me personally the
direct communication with colleagues from other cultures (Japanese, Indian,
American Indian, Aboriginal Australian etc.) has been particularly illuminating.
In the group we have abstained from attempts to define spirituality, but
rather try to understand it by means of the examples presented at our meetings.
Based on all these experiences and exchanges I think that the immediate
spiritual experience is the foundation of all spiritual beliefs
and their ontology. This applies to occidental and oriental
religions, Aboriginal Australian belief systems, shamanism etc.
Shamanism is described in various ways, but Wautischer (1989) finds that
shamanic experiences are intersubjectively accessible. These experiences
often involve a certain state of mind in which a journey to another world
or reality may be experienced. Anthropologist Michael Harner, a pioneer
of neo-shamanism has written about the ontology of this other world:
In shamanic experience, when one is in non-ordinary reality things
will seem quite as material as they are here. One feels the
coldness or warmth of the air, the hardness or smoothness of a
rock; one perceives colors, sounds, odors and so forth. All the
phenomena that characterize the so-called material world will
appear just as real and material there as they do here if it is an
extremely clear shamanic journey (Harner 1987, p. 4).
Harner goes on stating that the shaman does not regard these non-ordinary
phenomena as a projection of his own mind, but rather as another reality
which exists independently of that mind. Harner's own view on the ontology
of this "other reality" is more cautious as expressed later in
the same paper (p. 15): "As a person who has followed the path of shamanism
for a long time, I am inclined to think that there is more to the
universe than the human mind". (Italics by the present author).
These two views, the alternate world as an independent external reality
or as a mental projection are described and discussed in the literature
by several authors (Peters 1989, p. 118, Peters and Price-Williams 1980,
pp. 405-406, Turner 1992, Vaughan 1995, p. 7, Walsh 1989, pp. 30-31, Wautischer
1989, Wiebe 2000). This problem is completely parallel to the problem about
the ontology of the material world in modern science: does it exist independentally
"out there", or is it rather a mental projection or heuristic
concept based on regularities in the occurrence of the immediate experiences
? In science the view of an external material reality has run into contradictions
as described above. An idealist ontology based on conscious experiences
seems to be a more viable alternative, but this does not mean that we can
control the processes of sense experiences at will (Berger and Luckman 1966,
Introduction, p. 1, Diettrich !995, pp. 96, 103-105, Randrup submitted)
and the same seems to be true for shamanic experiences. The shamanic world
view as well as the scientific can be seen as mental constructs useful for
structuring the immediate experiences in the Now.
Religion. God, Rationality, Spirituality
Turning to the religions more familiar in the West we may say, rationally
that God can be seen as a something (or a nothing) which brings coherence
to both sensory and spiritual experiences and to the felt urges to behave
ethically. Even fear of God may be seen as fear of performing something
unethical which may harm family, society, nature, and oneself.
All this is a rational account, but religion is rather experienced or known
in an intuitive-spiritual mode. Spiritual experiences are usually regarded
as mainly ineffable, beyond words, but it may be said that spiritually God
is imagined either as like a person or in a more abstract way. It seems
to me that my rational account above agrees with the abstract spiritual
imagination of God, as well as rationality can ever agree with spirituality.
This suggests that there is a difference but no principal conflict between
science and religion. When these things dawned to me, it was felt as a great
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