© Huw Powell printed 7 August 2022
In my exposition of various sorts of transcendental experience on this site, I wish to make three distinctions as to the type and sort of exploration I make of them:
1. My direct observations are stories. While at their clearest they may seem compelling true or accurate, in reality they are never free of the shackles of subjectivity - which is at its most obvious when you remember that they are not duplicable, I was the only witness, and my account is the only description available. It will pay to think of perhaps a song or poem, let us say about a good love gone bad. It is a story, one that I am telling, and it is only part of the story, even only a part of the side that I know of it. It has been tailored to create an effect - the story may have been altered just because a certain word rhymed better that the "true" one! Whether I would choose to admit it or not, my stories are subjective, biased and personal, no matter how I might try to make them otherwise. So let us assume that I cannot.
The best ones, that perhaps have some meaning (or "moral") that can be enjoyed by the reader, might qualify as fables. Fables are stories told for efect or for a reason, perhaps to teach. They are not true. If one or more were to be repeated by many people over time, and perhaps even taken as some sort of literal or allegorical truth, they would be myths. Myths are useful (hopefully), ingrained, cultural artifacts that a people use to better survive their environment.
2. I do attempt to draw parallels between my stories and those of others, by allowing for our subjective prejudices and backgrounds and looking for common themes in what we are saying has happened to us. This is in an effort to determine if there is "something" that we are all describing that does, behind all the non-reproducibility and subjectiveness, have some common, predictable elements or nature.
I try to filter these out in the same way any science must. Just because a feather and brick fall at different rates does not mean gravity works differently on them (though it might). An understanding of aerodynamics and friction, however, is all that is required to explain this apparent discrepancy with a constant acceleration due to gravity imparted on all masses. By reducing or eliminating the spurious aspects of the information, the data, it may be possible to discern actual, explainable phenomena behind them.
3. If there is some common nature behind these descriptions, of course, it may all come down to brain states, conditions of various lobes being hyper- or hypo-active, resulting in an altered sense of consciousness, with no observational validity (ie, under these conditions, the subject is not "observing" anything, merely experiencing a specifically predictable brain state).
It is possible, however, that these conditions are not the entire cause of what is experienced, merely necessary for the experience. One could argue in a world of people with closed eyes that having ones eyes open results in predictable and subjective brain responses, or slowly come to understand that these responses do carry a useful correspondence to objects that are accessible to other forms of investigation. This analogy is not meant to imply that those who do not think there is a "reality" observed, however subjectively, in transcendental states need to "open their eyes!" It is just an attempt to describe what I mean. it might also be found that the brain patterns produced by "open eyes" are random, or phantasmal, and have no bearing on external reality - that their only "truth" is in the brain of the observer.
If there is, however, any greater truth (truth here means information about the universe), it would be nice if we could figure out a way to understand some of it. It could be that the subjectivity is so great that coming to any generalizable understanding of it is impossible. (Remember, it could also completely be the case that they are only the result of an unbalanced brain state and convery no information about the world) But, perhaps there is some part of the universe that is more readily observed under these conditions, in which case it should at some point in this research become definable, and possibly even measureable or observable with artificial devices (much as we extend our eyesight with telescopes and measuring devices sensitive to forms of light energy that are not observable to humans, such as infrared, ultraviolet, or radio waves).
To get to that stage, we must carefully set aside all aspects of descriptions by subjects of these states which simply repeat their cultural or religious prejudices. We must account for the differences between dementia, hallucination, and what we might decide are actually some sort of actual observation of the universe. We must be very careful not to allow our own prejudices to allow certain types of clouded vision to get past our filter because they match our expectations or pre-existing belief systems.
There is no way at this point in time to be certain which outcome will prevail - if one ever does. We may discover that these states, which are certainly intense and often pleasurable or enlightening, are merely the result of brain chemistry and function (or dysfunction), and can be duplicated with appropriate drugs or physical devices. This does not take away their "personal meaning," any more than creating a drug or device which creates "artificial" orgasms would take away the pleasure or meaning of the orgasm to the individual experiencing it. It merely could mean, at this extreme, that nothing useful about the universe is being observed or experienced under these conditions.
At the other extreme, we may find that there is some truth to it, that the transcendental state has meaning beyond its purely subjective side - that we find out something repeatable and true about the universe under these conditions, however difficult it may be to discern that truth when the entire contents of our minds serves to cloud our vision.