The Empirical Study of Mystical Experience


Part 1: The "M" Scale

 photo ecstasy_zpsc471511b.jpg
Bernini's "Ecstasy of St. Teresa"
Even though St. Teresa was a great mystic of the Christian faith
and she had visions like this one, visions are not part of mystical
experience per se.

This article is a summary my book, the Trace of God by Joseph Hinman (available on Amazon). I recently posted essays showing that the true Christian concept of Supernatural is mystical experience nothing more. Now I show mystical experience is empirical, thus SN is empirical. I wrote this for an academic conference,  it was accepted. I posted it in two parts that's I'm uniting them here.



The argument from religious experience is deemed too subjective to be of any real interest to rationally minded skeptics. Yet over the last 50 years, a huge body of empirical scientific work has emerged in peer reviewed journals that strengthens the case for religious experience as a God argument. Unfortunately, this body of work is largely confined to psychology of religion and is virtually unknown to theology or even religious studies. In this paper I examine the research methods used in this body of work, particular attention to the mysticism scale developed by Ralph Hood Jr. (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga). I then apply the findings to an argument from religious experience. After demonstrating how the data supports the argument I will deal with two major issues: (1) Is an argument based upon the universal nature of these experiences appropriately Christian, or does it undermine a Christian witness by implying a unilateralist perspective? (2) Do counter causality arguments based upon brain chemistry and structure disprove the argument? Finally, I present “six tie breakers” that warrant decision in answer to the brain structure argument.


In 1948 The British Broadcasting Corporation aired a radio debate between the celebrated philosopher Bertrand Russell (atheist) and the author of a famous and voluminous History of Philosophy, Frederick Copleston S. J., (Christian), concerning the existence of God. [1] Most of the debate centered on issues such as necessary being. Copleston also advanced the moral argument but he gave passing mention to religious experience, specifically the kind of experience called “mystical.”Copleston admitted that the argument was subjective and he couched his appeal on an abductive basis, the best explanation for the feeling is God. Russell intimated that it was the lack of an objective referent that made the argument “rather private.”[2] After that the argument languished in the nether word of “not one of the five proofs.” Critics and apologists have dismissed it for the same reason. In the 1980s Caroline Franks Davis made an excellent attempt at bringing empirical data to the argument, but more and better studies have been done since her book.[3 ] William Alston Wrote a brilliant work on mystical experience as a logical basis for belief, but he did not tap into the studies that Davis used.[4] The argument continues to be on the back burner in apologetcs, but not because there is no concrete data. There is now a huge body of academic research from peer reviewed journals that makes an empirical basis for the argument possible. 


In this article I will discuss the studies and their methodologies, then construct an argument designed to warrant conclusion in favor of the reality of God using this data. The argument makes claims based upon and discuss the scientific basis for the data, answering the major objection that might be lanced against any or all of the arguments from scientific quarters. What makes these arguments ground breaking is that these studies have been largely well known in psychology of religion and are virtually unknown to those who would want to make use of them for apologetic purposes. These arguments are not specific to any particular religious tradition. This argument is not meant to prove the existence of God but to establish that belief in God is rationally warranted. Nor is it intended to prove the Christian God. It seeks only to establish that belief in some notion of God, perhaps the Christian God, is rational and backed by empirical data.  

In speaking of “mystical experience” we are not talking about visions or voices. We are not talking about miracles or God speaking to people. We are talking about “the sense of the numinous,” a sense of presence, of all pervasive and overwhelming love, and a sense of undifferentiated unity of all things. Those constitute two different kinds of experience both termed mystical.” The claim is often made that this is an unmediated experience of reality. The veil is taken back on the thing behind the facade of “reality” is experienced directly. The notion of an unmediated experience is debatable and not essential to an understanding of the experience. Mystical experiences come in two media:, introvertive and extrovertive. Intorovertive experiences are without time and space; they are not keyed to any external landmark or visual que. They seem to be beyond word, thought, or image. Extrovertive experiences are often keyed to a land mark and seem like projecting a sense onto the image of nature. [5] For example the sense that God is pervading the physical space in nature around which one views a scene in nature. Or a sense that all the natural landscape around forms some sort of whole that’s meaningful and indicative as an understanding of all reality. Introvertive mystical experience has been identified as “pure consciousness.” This kind of experience lacks content and can’t be tied to a cultural construct or personal influence. [6] While it is the case that these kinds of experiences are interpreted in various ways, and it is the case that various theological explanations tailored to a given tradition are advanced for these, as many as there are mystics to have them, the real diversity comes not from the experience but from the explanations attached to the experiences.[7]Much of the discussion about common core is tied to the texts of a given literature. There are various bodies of mystical literature, the important one for our purposes is the empirical. This is a measurement based empirical scientific corpus such as the work of Hood.


The “M” Scale

....Many names loom large in that body of literature; Greeley, Maslow, Wuthnow, Nobel, Lukoff and Lu, all major researchers whose studies form the bulwark of the corpus in the field. But perhaps the major researcher in researcher is Ralph Hood Jr., since his Mysticism Scale (or “M scale”) has become the standard control mechanism for determining the genuineness as truly mystical experience for a given subject. There two other scales such as a specific question by Greeley (1974) and the State of Consciousness Inventory by Alexander (1982; Alexander, Boyer, & Alexander, 1987) [8] This is a 32 item questionnaire that is scored in a particular way. Hood's M. Scale is designed to test the veracity of the theories of Philosopher W.T Stace, who advanced the “common core” theory of mystical experience[9] That theory argued for the universal nature of such experiences.. In other words, if actual modern mystics around the world experience the things Stace thought they do, in the way Stace thought they experienced them (see the five point list above) they would answer certain questions in a certain way [10] Hood’s work in the M scale is becoming the standard operating procedure for study of mystical and religious experiences. It hasn’t yet been understood by everyone so we find that people evoking religious experience by manipulating stimulation of the brain don’t use any sort of control, such as the M scale, for establishing a valid mystical experience. Thus they can’t prove they are evoking real mystical experiences.[11] Dale Caird said that “research into mystical experience has been greatly facilitated” [12] by Hood’s M scale. Caird did one of the studies that validated the M scale. Burris (1999) has shown that the M scale is the most commonly used measurement for the study of mysticism. [13]


The M scale enables us to determine the validity of a mystical experience among contemporary people. In other words, did someone have a “real mystical experience” or are they just carried away by the idea of having one? [14] There are two major versions of the M scale, what is called “two factor” solution and a “three factor solution.” The two factors are items assessing an experience of unity (questions such as “have you had an experience of unity?”) and items refereeing to religious and knowledge claims. In other words questions such as “did you experience God’s presence?” Or did you experience God’s love?” In each section there are two positively worded and two negatively worded items. [15] The problem with the two factor analysis is that it tried to be neutral with Language, according to Hood himself. It spoke of “experience of ultimate reality” but with no indication that ultimate reality means reality of God. As Hood puts it, “no language is neutral"[16] One group might want ultimate reality defined as “Christ” while others who are not in a Christian tradition might eschew such a move. In response to this problem Hood and Williamson, around 2000, developed what they termed “the three factor solution.” They made two additional versions of the scale one made reference where appropriate to “God” or “Christ.” They had a “God” version and a “Christ” version and both were given to Christian relevant samples. The scales were “factor analyzed,” they weighed each difference as a factor such as it’s mention of God or mention of Christ. In this factor analysis, where the scale referred to “God,” “Christ” or simply “reality” the “factor structures were identical.” That is the respondents saw “God,” “Christ” and “ultimate reality” as coterminou. That means Christians who have mystical experience understand God, Christ, and Reality as referring to the same things. [17]


All three versions matched Stace’s phenomenologically derived theory. “For all three intervertive, extrovertive and interpirative factors emerged.” [18] Respondents were answering in ways indicative of having both types of mystical experience and deriving interpretive experiences from it, they understood their experiences in light of theological understanding. The only exception was that the introvertive factors contained the emergence of ineffability because there was no content to analyze. Of course where the scale has been validated the same technique was used and tailored to the tradition of the respondent. Buddhists got a version applicable to Buddhists and Muslims got one appropriate to Islam, and so on. The same kinds of factors emerged. This demonstrates that mystical experiences are the same minus the details of the tradition, such as specific references to names. In other words Buddhists recognize Buddha mind as ultimate reality, while Vedantists recognize Brahmin as ultimate reality, Christians recognize Jesus as Ultimate reality, Muslims recognize Allah as ultimate reality, but all say they experience ultimate reality. This is a good indication that the same basic reality stands behind this experience, or to say it another way they are all experiences of the same reality.


Hood wrote a Text book with Bernard Spilka. [19] They point three major assumptions of the common core theory that flow out of Stace’s work: 


(1) Mystical experience is universal and identical in phenomenological terms.

(2) Core Categories are not always essential in every experience, there are borderline cases.

(3) Interovertive and extrovertive are distinct forms, the former is an experience of unity devoid of content, the latter is unity in diversity with content.


The M scale reflects these observations and in so doing validates Stace’s findings. Hood and Spilka (et al) then go on to argue that empirical research supports a common core/perennialist conceptualization of mysticism and it’s interpretation.

The three factor solution, stated above, allows a greater range of interpretation of experience, either religious or not religious. This greater range supports Stace’s finding that a single experience may be interpreted in different ways. [20] The three factor solution thus fit Stace’s common core theory. One of the persistent problems of the M scale is the neutrality of language, especially with respect to religious language. For example the scale asks about union with “ultimate reality” not “union with God.” Thus there’s a problem in understanding that ultimate reality really means God, or unify two different descriptions one about God and one about reality. [21] There is really no such thing as “neutral” language. In the attempt to be neutral non neutral people will be offended. On the one had the common core idea will be seen as “new age” on the other identification with a particular tradition will be off putting for secularists and people of other traditions. Measurement scales must sort out the distinctions. Individuals demand interpretation of experiences, so the issue will be forced despite the best attempts to avoid it. In dealing with William James and his interpreters it seems clear that some form of transformation will be reflected in the discussion of experiences. In other words the experiences have to be filtered through cultural constructs and human assumptions of religious and other kinds of thought traditions in order to communicate them to people. Nevertheless experiences may share the same functionality in description. Christians may want the experiences they have that would otherwise be termed “ultimate reality” to be identified with Christ, while Muslims identify with Allah and atheist with “void.” The expressed is important as the “social construction of experience” but differently expressed experiences can have similar structures. Hood and Williamson designed the three factor analysis to avoid these problems of language. [22]This is a passage from my own work, The Trace of God :[23]

In a series of empirical measurement based studies employing the Mysticism scale introvertive mysticism emerges both as a distinct factor in exploratory analytic studies [24] and also as a confirming factor analysis in cultures as diverse as the United States and Iran; not only in exploratory factor analytic studies (Hood & Williamson, 2000) but also in confirmatory factor analyses in such diverse cultures as the United States and Iran (Hood, Ghornbani, Watson, Ghramaleki, Bing, Davison, Morris, & Williamson. (2001).[25] In other words, the form of mysticism that is usually said to be beyond description and beyond images, as opposed to that found in connection with images of the natural world, is seen through reflection of data derived form the M scale and as supporting factors in other relations. Scholars supporting the unity thesis (the mystical sense of undifferentiated unity—everything is “one”) have conducted interviews with mystics in other traditions about the nature of their introvertive mystical experiences. These discussions reveal that differences in expression that might be taken as linguistics culturally constructed are essentially indicative of the same experiences. The mystics recognize their experiences even in the expression of other traditions and other cultures. These parishioners represent different forms of Zen and Yoga.[26] Scholars conducting literature searches independently of other studies, who sought common experience between different traditions, have found commonalities. Brainaid, found commonality between cultures as diverse as Advanita-Vendanta Hinduism, and Madhmika Buddhism, and Nicene Christianity; Brainaid’s work supports conclusions by Loy with respect to the types of Hinduism and Buddhism.[27]

The upshot of this work by Hood is two fold: on the one had it means there is a pragmatic way to control for the understanding of what is a mystical experience and what is not. Using Stace as a guide we find that modern “mystics” around the world are having Stace-like experiences. Thus Stace’s view makes a good indication of what is and what is not a mystical experience. That means we can study the effects of having it. Of course Stace drew conclusions from his own survey vof literature of the great mystics. Now other scales have been attempted and none of them had the kind of verification that the M scale does, but taken together the whole body of work for the last fifty years or so (since Abraham Maslow) shows that religious experience of the “mystical” sort is very good for us. People who have such experiences tend to find positive, dramatic, transformation in terms of outlook, mental health and even physical health.

Over the years numerous claims have been made about the nature of spiritual/mystical and Maslow's “peak experiences”, and about their consequences. Wuthnow (1978) set out to explore findings regarding peak experiences from a systematic random sample of 1000 persons and found that peak experiences are common to a wide cross-section of people, and that one in two has experienced contact with the holy or sacred, more than eight in ten have been moved deeply by the beauty of nature and four in ten have experienced being in harmony with the universe. Of these, more than half in each have had peak experiences which have had deep and lasting effects on their lives. Peakers are more likely also, to say they value working for social change, helping to solve social problems, and helping people in need. Wuthnow stressed the therapeutic value of these experiences and also the need to study the social significance of these experiences in bringing about a world in which problems such as social disintegration, prejudice and poverty can be eradicated. Savage et al., (1995) provided clinical evidence to suggest that peakers produce greater feelings of self-confidence and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Mogar's (1965) research also tended to confirm these findings.[ 28]


The body of work to which I refer consists of about 200 studies (one could say 300 but let’s be conservative). [29]A huge part of that (about 50) is taken up with the prolific work of Ralph Hood. Not all of these studies use the M scale but it has become standard since the 90s. The body of work here discussed stretches back to the 1960s and the studies of Abraham Maslow. The study of mental health aspects has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades. Since the deployment of the three part solution of the M scale the studies have been more empirical and better controlled. The effects and their transformative qualities could be understood as rational warrant for belief in God, I have so argued in The Trace of God. [30] 

for sources see below part 2



Part 2: Brain Structure Objection To Uiversal Mystical Experience Argument



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The major objection to the universality argument stems from a vast movement that has arisen just since the turn of the century, the rapidly expanding field of Neuro-theology (or Cognative Science of Religion):






In recent years a number of books have been published in the United States which argue that religious experiences and activities can be measured as neural activity in the brain...these theories purport to explain why there are common patterns of religious behavior and experience across culture which are observable in the field of comparative religion..Most such theories assert that as our understanding the brains activities develop through exploration of its underlying structures and mechanisms so the origin of religious experiences and ritual behavior will be revealed...These theorioes purport to explain why there are common paterns of religious behaviors and experience across cultures.[1]


R. Joseph states, “that The brain underlies all experience of living human beings is an absolute statement It subsumes all religious phenomena and all mystical experiences including hyper lucid visionary experiences, trance states, contemplating God and the experience of unitary absorption.”[2] Since religious experience is linked to brain chemistry it must be the result of brain chemistry, thus there’s no reason to assume it’s indicative of any sort of supernatural causation. This view has become standard in the scientific community. Tiger and McGuire state:



Religion as a process generates remarkable action, countless events, numberless provocative artifacts. Yet what factual phenomenon except perhaps slips of ancient holy paper underlies and animates one of the most influential and durable of human endeavors? We've an answer. Shivers in the moist tissue of the brain confect cathedrals our proposal is that all religions differ but all share two destinies: they are the product of the human brain. They endure because of the strong influence of the product of the human brain. The brain is a sturdy organ ith common characteristics everywhere. A neurosurgeon can work confidently on a vatican patient and another in mecca. Same tissue, same mechinisms. One such mechinnism is a readiness to generate religions.[3]



Skeptics argue that the experiences have a commonality because they are all produced by human brain structure. In other words the names from the various religions are the constructs but the experiences that unite the subjects and that transcend the individual cultural filters are the same because they are products of a shared structure that of the human brain. Ilkka Pyysiäinen and Marc Hauser state the argument:

Considerable debate has surrounded the question of the origins and evolution of religion. One proposal views religion as an adaptation for cooperation, whereas an alternative proposal views religion as a by-product of evolved, non-religious, cognitive functions. We critically evaluate each approach, explore the link between religion and morality in particular, and argue that recent empirical work in moral psychology provides stronger support for the by-product approach. Specifically, despite differences in religious background, individuals show no difference in the pattern of their moral judgments for unfamiliar moral scenarios. These findings suggest that religion evolved from pre-existing cognitive functions, but that it may then have been subject to selection, creating an adaptively designed system for solving the problem of cooperation.[4]



In other words, the discussion about origins of religion there are two genetic choices, a specific gene, or spandrels. The weight of the evidence, according to Pyysiäinen and Marc Hauser, leans toward the latter (spandrels: pre-existing cognitive functions based upon combined genetic functions from other areas). The deeper level of complexity comes with the finding that religion evolved from spandrels and yet it is still subject to adaptation manifesting in a system for cooperation (religion). What their findings really suggest is that moral motions are more basic than religious doctrine and that moral decision making transcends social structure or organization. Religion is perpetuated because its conducive to cooperation but there is an underlying sense or moral motion that's tied to the specific religious affiliation. Moral reasoning is not the same as mystical experience. Religious experience is a passive apprehension and moral decision making is an active use of deductive reasoning. Moreover, in finding religion is not original adaptation they are really negating the brain structure argument for uniformity of religious experiences. Their findings show that moral decisions transcended the religious background, thus the religious symbols, ideas, and presumably experiences are not reducible to moral motions since the latter transcends the former.[5] If religious experiences are of the same nature because of the state of human brain structure we should expect to find a conformation between moral motions religious experience. Frederick Schleiermacher argued that religious religion is more than just enhanced ethical thinking.[6] This has led to the widely accepted theory of the religious a priori. Religion is understood as it's on discipline separate from ethics. The a priori is seen as a “special for of awareness which exists alongside the cognitive, moral and aesthetic forms of awareness and is not explicable by reference to them.” [7]

As an argument about the origin of religion, the genetic aspects would only be the proximate cause. It doesn't rule out a distal cause in the divine. As an argument about the origin of religion, the genetic aspects would only be the proximate cause. It doesn't rule out a distal cause in the divine. Andrew Newberg, one of the pioneers in researching neural activity of religious experience and God talk tells us that none of the research disproves God, nor could it:


…Tracing spiritual experience to neurological behavior does not disprove its realness. If God does exist, for example, and if He appeared to you in some incarnation, you would have no way of experiencing His presence, except as part of a neurologically generated rendition of reality. You would need auditory processing to hear his voice, visual processing to see His face, and cognitive processing to make sense of his message. Even if he spoke to you mystically, without words, you would need cognitive functions to comprehend his meaning, and input form the brain’s emotional centers to fill you with rapture and awe. Neurology makes it clear: there is no other way for God to get into your head except through the brain’s neural pathways. Correspondingly, God cannot exist as a concept or as reality anyplace else but in your mind. In this sense, both spiritual experiences and experiences of a more ordinary material nature are made real to the mind in the very same way—through the processing powers of the brain and the cognitive functions of the mind. Whatever the ultimate nature of spiritual experience might be—weather it is in fact an actual perception of spiritual reality—or merely an interpretation of sheer neurological function—all that is meaningful in human spirituality happens in the mind. In other words, the mind is mystical by default.[8]



Just being connected to brain chemistry is not enough to disprove the universal experience argument.

The problem with the brain structure argument is that even though we all have human brain structure we don’t all have the same kinds of experiences. We can’t assume that universal experiences come from brain structure alone. First, not everyone has mystical experience. Even though the incidence rates are high they are not 100%. We all have human brain structure but not all have these experiences. Secondly, even among those who do there are varying degrees of the experience. William James saw it as a continuum and Robert Wuthnow, one of the early researchers who did a modern scientific study on the phenomenon also theorized that there is a continuum upon which degree of experience varies.[9] If the brain structure argument was true then we should expect to always have the same experience; we should have the same culture. We have differing experiences and even our perceptions of the same phenomena vary. Yet the experience of mystical phenomena is not identical since it is filtered through cultural constructs and translated into the doctrinal understanding of traditions that the experiencers identify as their own.

The brain Structure argument is based upon the same premises reductionists take to the topic of consciousness and brain/mind. They assume that any subjective experience is ultimately the result of brain chemistry. There really is no reason to assume this other than the fact that brain chemistry plays a role in our perceptions. There’s no basis for the assumption that any mental phenomena must originate in brain chemistry alone. In those arguments a sense usually emerges that any involvement with the natural cancels the supernatural. I suggest that this is the ersatz version of supernature. The alien realm, juxtaposed to the natural realm and brought in as a counter to naturalism, this is the false concept of Supernatural that Eugene R, Fairweather spoke about.[10] The original concept of supernature is that of the ground and end of the natural. Thus it would be involved with nature. The ground/end of nature is the ontology of supernature and pragmatic working out of the phenomenon would be the power of God to lift human nature to a higher level, as discussed by Fairweather and aslo Mathias Joseph Scheeben.[11] How can human nature be elevated without supernature being involved with the realm of nature? Thus, if it is true that bonafide experiences of God are mediated by brain chemistry, then the fact that supernature works through evolutionary processes and physiological realities such as brain chemistry is hardly surprising.

Some studies have explored questions about brain function and the texture or mechanics of mystical experience. Van Elk et al explore the hypothesis that the sensation of supernatural presence is an adaptation from the need to over-detect presences of predictors in the jungle. There findings did not coroborate that hypothesis. He does makes the statement that it otherwise lacks empirical proof.[12] In other words if one sets out on a jungle trail, and there is darkness, sensing a predictor and turning back from the trek would be helpful. If the sensation was wrong and there was no predictor the mistake of being wrong would be less graven that of being right but ignoring the sense. Thus, the sensation of presence is selected for. This might be used by a skeptic to answer the argument from mystical experience. Elk has five experiments that that seek to explore weather processing concepts about supernatural agents enhances detection in the environment.

Participants were presented with point light stimuli representing kinds of biological motion, or with pictures of faces embedded in a noise mask. Participants were asked to indicate if the stimuli represented a human agent or not. In each case they used three “primes,” one for supernatural, one ofr human, one for animal. They found that supernatural primes facilitated better agent detection.[13] So the argument is that the perceived presence of agents in threatening situations and tendencies to anthropomorphizing leads stronger belief in ghosts, demons, angels, gods and other “supernatural” agency.[14] They point to a body of work consisting of several studies showing that particular paranormal beliefs are a reliable predictor of illusory perceptions of faces and agency detection. These studies include Willard and Norenzayan (2013), Reikki et. al. (2013), and Petrican and Burris (2012).[15] “although these studies provide tentative support for the relation between agency detection and supernatural beliefs, the notion that reigious beliefs are a byproduct of perceptual biases to detect patterns and agency has been challenge by several authors...” (Bulbulia, 2004, Lisdorf 2007, and McKay and Efferson, 2010).[16]

While it may be true that some aspects of mystical experience are genetically related, and may be related to agent detection, that is no proof that mystical experience originates wholly within a naturalistic and genetic framework. First, because these studies only demonstrate a correlation between supernatural beliefs and agency detection. There is no attempt to establish the direction of a causal relationship. If there is a connection between supernatural and agent detection it could as easily be that awareness of supernatural concepts makes one more sensitive to agent detection. Secondly, of course just being genetically related doesn't reduce the phenomenon wholly to genetic endowments. Thirdly, there is a lot more to mystical experience than agent detection. Both involve sensing a presence beyond that point the differences are immense. I am not even sure that facial recognition and sensing a predator are similar enough to count for anything. In sensing being observed one is not usually aware of visual ques as one would be in facial recognition. There's no guarantee that the quality of the sensing is the same. Feeling the divine presence is much more august and involves levels and textures. Such an experience is, overall, positive, life changing, transformational (even noetic) but merely feeling one is being observed could be creepy, negative, or even trivial. The vast differences can be spelled out in the tiebreakers I discuss in The Trace of God.


Tibreakers


If supernature manifests itself in the natural realm through brain chemistry then the conclusion that this is somehow indicative of the divine could go either way. We can’t rule out the divine or supernatural just because it involves the natural realm. What then is the real distinguishing feature that tells us this is inductive of something other than nature? That’s where I introduce the “tie breakers.” There are aspects of the situation that indicate the effects of having the experience could not be produced by nature unaided:


(1) The transformative effects



The experience is good for us. It changes the experiencer across the board. These effects are well documented by that huge body of empirical research. They include self actualization, therapeutic effects that actually enhance healing form mental problems, less depression better mental outlook and so on. Summarizing the results of two of the major studies:



This is not merely a list of warm fuzzies. The results represent actual life transformation and change of world view. The results are dramatic and positive; well grounded psychological health, a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life, overcoming fear of death and overcoming physical addictions. Examples, Patricia Ryan's study finds that abuse victims often come to view God in more cosmic and impersonal terms. Or they become embittered and turn away from God, victims of childhood trauma and abuse often report that they felt the abuser was trying to destroy their soul and that this was the one inviolable core that could not be destroyed. This sense was related to mystical experience.[17] Loretta Do Rozario studied patients who were either dying or in chronic pain. She found that mystical experience elevated the sense of illness and pain to a level of the “universal search for meaning and self transcendence.” The subjects reported that the experience ot only enabled them to cope with pain and fear of death but also enabled them to experience joy within the hardship.[18]


Skeptics often advance the placebo argument, but it is neutralized because Placebos require expectation and a large portion of mystical experience is not expected. It’s not something people usually set out to have. Without being able to argue for placebo effect there is really no way to account for the transformational effects.[19] Moreover, while placebo get's used against any claim about the mind there's actually a much more narrow range to which it rightly applies.





...People frequently expand the concept of the placebo effect very broady to include just about every conceivable sort of beneficial, biological, social or human interaction that doesn't involve some drug well known to the pharmacopeia. The concept of placebo has been expanded much more broadly than this. Some attribute the effects of various alternative medical systems such as homeopathy or chiropractic to placebo effect. Others have described studies that show the positive effects of enhanced communication, such as Egbert's as the ploaebo response without the placebo.[20]



Thus the burden of proof is upon the skeptic to prove that placebo even applies to religious experience.


(2) Noetic aspects to the experiences


These are not informational but there is a sense in which the mystic feels that he has learned soemthing about the universe as a result of the experience. This usually is on the order of “God loves me” or “all is one.”


(3) The experience contains


the sense of the numinous or sense of the holy.

This is closely related to the Noetic sense and they clearly overlap but there is a distinction. The snse of the Holy could be more general and gives the sense that some unique and special aspect of reality exists. Some noetic qualities might be considered doctrinal in nature. “all is one” is a doctrinal statement. While I don't advocate using mystical experience to shape doctrine, because the shaping of doctrine in the Christian tradition revolves around pre given principles in revelatory texts, the nature of these qualities indicates more is going on than just misfire of some neuron.


(4) why positive?


These experiences are never negative. The only negativity associated with mystical experience is the sense of the mysterium tremendum, the highly serious nature of the Holy. That is not a lasting negative effect. If this is nothing more than brain chemistry and it’s just some sort of misfire where the brain just forgets to connect the sense of self to the part that says “I am not the world,” why is it so positive, transformative, vital? It’s not often that such a positive experience results form a biological accident.


(5) bad evolutionary theory


Mystical experience has not been tied to gene frequency. So the argument about adaptation has to rest upon the intermediaries that it provides, such as surviving long winters so one can have gene frequency. Yet all of those kinds of experiences flaunt the explanatory gap of consciousness. Why should we develop a mystically based sense of the world to get through hard long winter when we could more easily develop a brain circuiting that ignores boredom? Then this adaptation that is only there because it enabled us to get through being snowed in has such an amazing array of other effects such as life transformation and better mental health, and leads to the development of such complex fantasisms of errors as religious belief and organized religion. It’s so inefficient. Surely survival of the fittest should take the course of least resistance?


(6) Navigation in life


Mystical experiences enable navigation in life, these experiences and their effects enable us to get through and to set our sights on higher idealistic concepts and ways of life. They provide a sense of self actualization, authentication, and enable the subjects to bear up in the face of adversity. Rozario writes about those in her study who suffered chronic pain or were dying: “The inner awareness of wholeness despite the odds points to an explicit experience of life which can transcend form and matter. This experience of wholeness or consciousness extends and challenges the view of disability and illness as only a myth making and revaluing opportunity in the lives of people.”[21] Gackenback, writes:


These states of being also result in behavioral and health changes. Ludwig (1985) found that 14% of people claiming spontaneous remission from alcoholism was due to mystical experiences while Richards (1978) found with cancer patients treated in a hallucinogenic drug-assisted therapy who reported mystical experiences improved significantly more on a measure of self-actualization than those who also had the drug but did not have a mystical experience. In terms of the Vedic Psychology group they report a wide range of positive behavioral results from the practice of meditation and as outlined above go to great pains to show that it is the transcendence aspect of that practice that is primarily responsible for the changes. Thus improved performance in many areas of society have been reported including education and business as well as personal health states (reviewed and summarized in Alexander et al., 1990). Specifically, the Vedic Psychology group have found that mystical experiences were associated with "refined sensory threshold and enhanced mind-body coordination (p. 115; Alexander et al., 1987).[22]


sources


part 1

[1] Broadcast in 1948 on the Third Program of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Published in Humanitas (Manchester) and reprinted in Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1957). chapter 13.




[2] Ibid.




[3] Caroline Franks Davis, The Evidential Force of Religious experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989 no page indicated.




[4] William P. Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991.



[5] Walter T.Stace, The Teachings of the Mystics, (New York:The New American Library, 1960).15-18



[6] Ralph Hood Jr. “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism.” In Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion. Patrick Mcnamara ed. West Port CT: Prager Publications, 2006, 119-235., 127.


[7] Ibid.




[8] Jayne Gackenback, “Pure Cobciousness. Mystical Experiences.” Childhood Transpersonal Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: Literature Review and Theoretical Integration, Spirit Watch, online resource, URL: 

http://www.sawka.com/spiritwatch/cehsc/ipure.htm accessed 3/32016.




[9] Walter T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, New York: Macmillan,1961,44.


[10] Ibid, 128



.

[11] John Hick, The New Frontier Of Religion and Science: Religious Experiejhce, Neuroscience, and The Transcendent. UK: Palgrave: Macmillan, 2006, 66.



He does not mention the M scasle per se but shows that they do not use a standard and some use slip shod criteria for evaluation.



[12] Dale Caird, “The structure of Hood's Mysticism Scale: A factor analytic study.”journal for the Scientific study of religion 1988, 27 (1) 122-126

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[13] Burris (1999) quoted in Hood, op, cit., 128


[14] Hood, ibid, 128


[15] bid. 


[16] Ibid, 129


[17] Ibid.


[18] Ibid, 129


[19] Bernard Spilka, Ralph Hood Jr., Bruce Hunsberger, Richard Gorwuch. The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. New York, London: the Guildford Press, 2003.


[20] Ibid, 323


[21] Ibid\


[22] Ibid, Hood in McNamara. 


[23] Hinman, Trace ...op. Cit., 168 fn72-75.


[24] Ralph Hood Jr., W.P. Williamson. “An empirical test of the unity thesis: The structure of mystical descriptors in various faith samples.” Journal of Christianity and Psychology, 19, (2000) 222-244.


[25] R.W. Hood, Jr., N.Ghorbani, P.J. Waston, et al “Dimensions of the Mysticism Scale: Confirming the Three Factor Structure in the United States and Iran.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40 (2001) 691-705.


[26] R.K.C. Forman, Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness. Albany: State University of New York Press, (1999) 20-30. 


[27] F.S. Brainard, Reality and Mystical Experience, Unvisited Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. (2000). See also D.Loy, Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy. Amherst, New York: Humanities Press.


[28] Krishna K. Mohan, “Spirituality and Wellbeing: an Overview.” An Article based upon a Presentation made during the Second International Conference on Integral Psychology, held at Pondicherry India 4-7 January 2001, published in hard copy, Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.On line copy website of the India Psychology Institute. Site visited 9/3/12. URL:http://www.ipi.org.in/texts/ip2/ip2-4.5-.php Accessed 2/7/2016


[29]Bibliogrophies from which I took the studies include Voyle. LL, Mohan, Franks. gackenback


[30] Hinman, Trace...op. Cit., this is the gist of all of chapter 2, 61-135,especially 92-107.



part 2
[1] George D. Chryssides and Ron Geives, The Study of Religion an Introduction to key ideas and methods. London, New Deli, New york: Bloomsbury, 2nd ed. 2007, 59-60.
Chryssides is a research fellow with the University of Birmingham. He has an MA in Philosophy and D Phil in systematic theology from University of Glasgow. Among the books he mentions as examples of the trend are Why God Wont Go Away, by E. Aquili andAndrew Newberg(1999) , and Nuero-Theology by R. Joseph (2003)


[2]  R. Joseph, Nuero-Theology:Brain, Science, Spirituality, Religious Experience. University Pr; 2nd edition (May 15, 2003) 22.


[3]Lionel Tiger and Michael McGuire, God's Brain, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010. 11.
[4] Ilkka Pyysiäinen and Marc Hauser, "The Origins of Religion: Evolved Adaption or by Product." Science Direct: Trends in Cognitive Science, Volume 14, Issue 3, (March 2010), 104-109.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364661309002897


[5]Ibid,. 105=106.


[6]Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, Hugh S. Pyper. The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought:Intellectual, Spiritual and Moral Horizons of Christianity, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000, 483
In the Trace of God I do two chapters defending Schleiermacher's notion and the religious a priori against reductionist based attacks by philosopher yne Proudfoot. (Hinman, Trace...op. Cit., 179-241).


[7]David Pailin, “The Religious a priori,” Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, Louisville Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, Alan Richardson and John Bowden, ed.,1983, 498.

[8]Andrew NewbergWhy God Won’t God AwayBrain Science and the Biology of Belief. (New York, Ballentine Books), 2001, 37.
[9]Robert Wuthnow, “Peak Experieces, Some Empirical Tests,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 183 (1978) 61-62.

[10]Eugene R. Fairweather, “Christianity and the Supernatural,” in New Theology no.1. New York: Macmillian, Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman ed. 1964. 235-256

[11]Mathias Joseph Scheeben in Fairweather, Ibid.

[12]Michiel Elk, Bastiaan T. Rutjens, Joop van der Pligt,& Frenk van Harrveled (2016) Priming of Supernatural agent concepts and agency detection, Religion, Brain and Behavior, 6:1, 4-33, DOL: 10.1080/2153599X.2014.93344

[13]Ibid., 4

[14]Ibid., 5.

[15]Ibid., 5. A.K. Willard and A. Norenzayan, “Cognative Biases Explain Religious Belief and belief in life's purpose,” Cognition 129 (2013), 379-391. T. Reikki, M.Litterman, et. al. “Paranormal and religious believers are more prone to illusary face perception than skeptics and none believers.” applied cognitive psychology 27 (2013) 150-155, and R. Petrican and C.T. Burris, “Am I a Stone? Over attribution of agency and Religious Orientation,” Religion and Spirituality 4 (2012), 312-323.

[16]Ibid., 6. J. Bulbulia, “The Cognitive and Evolutionary Psychology of Religion,” Biology and Philosophy 19, (2004) 655-686, A. Lisdorf, “What's HIDD'n in the HADD,” Journal of Cognition and Culture 7, (2007), 341-353, and R. McKay and C. Efferson, “Subtitles of Error Management,” Evolution and Human Behavior, 31 (5)(2010) 309-319.

[17]Patricia L. Ryan, “Spirituality Among Adult Survivors of Childhood Violence: a Literary Review.” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 30, no. 1, (1998) 43.

[18]Loretta Do Rozario, “Spirituality in the Lives of People With Disability and Chronic Illness: A Creative Paradigm of Wholness and Reconstitution.” Disability and Rehabilitation: An International and Multidisciplinary Journal, Vol. 19, no. 10, (1997) 427.

[19]Hinman, Trace...Op cit., 291.

[20]Daiel E. Morman, ayne B. Jonas, “Deconstructing the Placebo Effect and Finding the Meaning Response.” Annuals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 136, issue 6, (19 March 2002), 471-476. Dr. Moreman is an anthropologist at University of Michigan.

[21]Rozario, op.cit. 102.

[22]Jayne Gackenback,Transpersonal Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: Literature Review and Theoretical Integration. Unpublished paper (1992) Online resouirce
http://www.sawka.com/spiritwatch/cehsc/ipure.htm 
accessed 1/19/16.
 this issue relates directly to my book
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