The study of non-ordinary states of consciousness is quickly becoming an established area of scientific and philosophical inquiry. Yet, all the enthusiasm about finding out what these non-ordinary states are somehow obfuscates much bigger, important, and urgent questions: What as-of-yet unknown aspects of reality do they give us access to? And what significance do those hold for the human adventure in space-time?
In this article, I’d like to make a call-to-arms of sorts: A call for a structured, systematic, and rational inquiry into nature through non-ordinary states of consciousness, next to the now established investigation of non-ordinary states of consciousness.
What Can We Really Know?
Our Western civilisation is justifiably proud of its cultural, social, scientific, and technological achievements. Western values now pervade nearly all cultures on Earth, and Western-created technology has become an integral part of human activity. We look back at our historical past with the patronising attitude of an adult looking at a child: We have absolutely no doubt that we now know a lot more than we knew then and smile, full of hubris, at the naiveté of our ancestors. Unlike them, we now understand what nature is all about; we know who we are and what is going on; we even acquired a large measure of control, through our Faustian technology, of the forces and mechanisms underlying nature. The present is seen as the highest point ever reached in the historical mountain humanity has been climbing for about two hundred thousand years. Kings of the hill, we see ourselves.
But are we, really? Do we really know what is going on? Or have we been caught in an invisible web of self-referential epistemic trappings?
Allow me to explain what I mean here. The currently accepted view in neuroscience is that the ordinary, waking reality we experience every day is in fact a brain-constructed ‘hallucination’ analogous in nearly every way to a dream. Indeed, the same neuronal mechanisms underlie our experience of dreams and of waking reality.
The difference between the waking hallucination you live your daily life in, on the one hand, and your dreamed-up hallucination during sleep, on the other hand, is merely this: The former is believed to be modulated by electromagnetic signals emanating from a supposed external reality that we can never have direct access to, for we’re irremediably locked into our brain-generated hallucination.1 It is this abstract, assumed external reality that, supposedly, explains why our waking experiences seem to be shared with other individuals, while our nightly dreams are highly individual and idiosyncratic.
There is, in my view, a better hypothesis to explain this synchronisation of our experiences during waking states, without the need to postulate an entire, forever inaccessible, external universe.2 But this is beyond the scope of this article, whose conclusions should hold anyway, whichever hypothesis is true. What I want to stress here is that, whichever the case, what we experience in our lives every day is not reality as such, but a kind of brain-constructed ‘copy’ of reality. The original is supposedly an amorphous, colourless, soundless, tasteless realm of abstract energy fields.
The question, of course, is whether we have any reason to believe that the copy is perfect. Assuming that Darwin’s theory of evolution is correct in its more essential aspects, we have to ask ourselves whether evolution would have favoured a brain that created a complete internal copy of reality, capturing in it all aspects of relevance for our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of nature. Furthermore, we have to ask ourselves whether evolution would have favoured a brain that, whatever part of reality it did capture in its internal copy, copied them without significant distortions that could throw us completely off track as far as putting together an accurate worldview. The answer to both questions is no. Read more…