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On the relationship between cognitive models and spiritual maps. Evidence from Hebrew language mysticism

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Abstract:

It is suggested that the impetus to generate models is probably the most fundamental point of connection between mysticism and psychology. In their concern with the relation between ‘unseen’ realms and the ‘seen’, mystical maps parallel cognitive models of the relation between ‘unconscious’ and ‘conscious’ processes. The map or model constitutes an explanation employing terms current within the respective canon. The case of language mysticism is examined to illustrate the premise that cognitive models may benefit from an understanding of the kinds of experiences gained, and explanatory concepts advanced, within mystical traditions. Language mysticism is of particular interest on account of the central role thought to be played by language in relation to self and the individual's construction of reality. The discussion focuses on traditions of language mysticism within Judaism, in which emphasis is placed on (i) the deconstruction of language into primary elements and (ii) the overarching significance of the divine Name. Analysis of the detailed techniques used suggests ways in which multiple associations to any given word/concept were consciously explored in an altered state. It appears that these mystics were consciously engaging with what are normally preconscious cognitive processes, whereby schematic associations to sensory images or thoughts are activated. The testimony from their writings implies that these mystics experienced distortions of the sense of self (‘I’), which may suggest that, in the normal state, ‘I’ is constructed in relation to the preconscious system of associations. Moreover, an important feature of Hebrew language mysticism is its emphasis on embodiment -- specific associations were deemed to exist between the letters and each structure of the body. Implications, first, for the relationship between language and self, and, second, for the role of embodiment in relation to self are discussed. The importance of the continual emphasis on the Name of God throughout the linguistic practices may have provided a means for effectively replacing the cognitive indexing function hypothesized here to be normally played by ‘I’ with a more transpersonal cognitive index, especially in relation to memory.

Keywords: Consciousness; Jewish mysticism; language; mysticism; preconscious processing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Liverpool JMU, Henry Cotton Campus, Webster Street, Liverpool L3 2ET, UK.

Publication date: November 1, 2000

imp/jcs/2000/00000007/F0020011/1063
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