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Demystifying Consciousness With Mysticism? Cognitive Science and Mystical Traditions

Author(s): Sebastjan Vörös

Journal: Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems
ISSN 1334-4684

Volume: 11;
Issue: 4;
Start page: 391;
Date: 2013;
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Keywords: mysticism | philosophy of (cognitive) science | phenomenology | consciousness | epistemology

The article considers whether, and how, current scientific studies of consciousness might benefit from insights of mystical traditions. Although considerable effort has been expanded towards introducing mysticism into mainstream cognitive science, the topic is still controversial, not least because of the multifariousness of meaning associated with the term (from “illogical thinking” through “visions” and “raptures” to “paranormal” and “psychopathological phenomena”). In the context of the present article, mysticism is defined as a set of practices, beliefs, values etc. developed within a given religious tradition to help the practitioner realize the experiential and existential transformations associated with mystical experiences, i.e. experiences characterized by the breakdown of the subject-object dichotomy. It is then examined in which areas mysticism so defined might provide beneficial for consciousness studies; broadly, three such areas are identified: phenomenological research (mysticism as a repository of unique experiential material and practical know-how for rigorous phenomenological analyses), the problem of the self (mysticism as a repository of experiential-existential insights into one’s fundamental selflessness), and the so-called hard problem of consciousness (mysticism as a unique experiential-existential answer to the mind-body problem). It is contended that, contrary to popular belief, cognitive science could benefit from insights and practices found in mystical traditions, especially by way of grounding its findings in the lived experience and thereby (potentially) demystifying some of its self-imposed abstract conundrums.
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