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What does mysticism have to teach us about consciousness?

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One of the most exciting aspects of this journal, of which I am proud to be an executive editor, is that it has become a venue in which so many distinct fields can interact on a single question, that of consciousness. I know of no other question, or journal, which has brought together so many voices, from so many fields, to swirl around a single topic. It is exciting both to provide a forum and to be a part of this debate. In this article I would like to bring the findings of my somewhat unusual but increasingly accepted field -- mysticism-- to the discussion, for I think they may offer some helpful insights about consciousness. Why? When a biologist seeks to understand a complex phenomenon, one key strategy is to look to at it in its simplest form. Probably the most famous is the humble bacterium E. coli. Its simple gene structure has allowed us to understand much of the gene functioning of complex species. Similarly many biologists have turned to the ‘memory’ of the simple sea slug to understand our own more kaleidoscopic memory. Freud and Durkheim both used totemism, which they construed as the simplest form of religion, to understand the complexities of religious life. The methodological principle is: to understand something complex turn to its simple forms.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Program in Religion, Hunter College, CUNY, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA., Email:

Publication date: 1998-01-01

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