Posts Tagged ‘consciousness’


Still in pursuit of my publicly declared goal (why didn’t I just keep quiet?) of deepening my understanding of interconnectedness, at least in part by reading about and practising mindfulness, I discovered a gem of a book – The Practical Science of Buddha’s Brain. It pulls together psychology evidence to shed light on the way that Buddhist processes achieve their efficacy.

I may have been subliminally steered towards the book after moving onto Williams and Penman’s Befriending meditation (page 195), which warmly reminded me of my early days of meditating. I learnt how to follow the breath at the Buddhist Centre in Eccleston Square, London, in the early 80s. At the end of each meditation, as I read at the time, you finished by bowing and wishing that the fruits of your meditation be of benefit to all living beings – a very similar process.

Whatever it was that primed me, as soon as I saw this book on the shelf I had to buy it, and I’m glad I did.

Mind and Brain

The avowed aim of Hanson and Mendius’s book (page 10) is to explore ‘the relationship between the mind and brain, especially regarding conscious experience.’ They feel that this question is as important as what caused the big bang or what the unified theory integrating quantum mechanics and general relativity will look like. I’m inclined to agree with them, but then I’m biased.

They begin by clarifying the exact nature of their debt to Buddhism, which does not extend as far as accepting the existence of a transcendental realm as part of their model (page 11):

. . . with a deep bow to the transcendental, we will stay within the frame of Western science and see what modern neuropsychology, informed by contemplative practice, offers in the way of effective methods for experiencing greater happiness, love and wisdom.

Their loss, sadly, but what they do manage to achieve is well worth reading, as it explores accessibly but in reasonable detail what happens in the brain that accounts for the powerful effects of meditation.

In this post I don’t plan to mention every example of that as there are other issues I wish to focus on. However, it is worth sharing their summary to give the flavour of what they do in this respect (page 16):

It’s impossible to change the past or the present: you can only accept all that as it is. But you can tend to the causes of a better future. Most of the ways you do this are small and humble. To use examples from later in this book, you could take a very full inhalation in a tense meeting to force a long exhalation, thus activating the calming parasympathetic nervous system. (PNS). Or, when remembering an upsetting experience, recall the feeling of being with someone who loves you – which will gradually infuse the upsetting memory with a positive feeling. Or, to steady the mind, deliberately prolonging feelings of happiness as this will increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which will help your attention stay focused.

The Negativity Bias

Buddha BrainWhat I want to focus on now are one or two of the valuable insights they convey as they go along. The first, concerning our evolutionary heritage, helps to clarify why meditation is both so valuable and yet so difficult for most of us. I will also deal with their treatment of a pet theme of mine later.

The first of these insights is derived from our evolutionary history (page 26):

. . . . to motivate animals, including ourselves, to follow [survival] strategies and pass on their genes, neural networks evolved to create pain and distress under certain conditions: when separations break down, stability is shaken, opportunities disappoint, and threats loom.

They explain slightly later not only why this was so but one of its most unwelcome correlates (pages 40-41):

. . . it’s the negative experiences, not the positive ones, that have generally had the most impact on survival. . . . . The brain typically detects negative information faster than positive information. . . . . Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.

The consequences of this are not by any means simply confined to life threatening situations for us modern human beings (ibid):

. . . . In relationships, it typically takes about five positive interactions to overcome the effects of a single negative one (Gottman 1995).

Also this bias towards negativity determines the scenarios with which our imagination mesmerises us constantly (pages 44-45):

[Mini movies run in our heads] and . . . . keep us stuck by their simplistic view of the past and by their defining out of existence real possibilities for the future, such as new ways to reach out to others or dream big dreams. Their beliefs are the bars of an invisible cage, trapping you in a life that’s smaller than the one you could actually have.

Effectively they are asserting the same insight as is attributed to Montaigne and Mark Twain: ‘There were many terrible things in my life and most of them never happened.’

They describe a kind of three-legged stool upon which we can sit to remain grounded, but doing so is by no means easy as it entails going against the flow of our evolutionary heritage (page 46 – my italics pick out the legs of the stool):

Virtue restrains emotional reactions that worked well on the Serengeti, mindfulness decreases external vigilance, and wisdom cuts through beliefs that once helped us survive. It goes against the evolutionary template to undo the causes of suffering, to feel one with all things, to flow with the changing moment, and to remain unmoved by pleasant and unpleasant like.

The effects of this negative bias upon memory are particularly debilitating (page 68):

. . . even when positive experiences outnumber negative ones, the pile of negative implicit memories naturally grows faster. Then the background feeling that what it feels like to be you can become undeservedly glum and pessimistic.

We need to make a conscious and sustained effort to cut against the grain of that bias – shades of Schwartz et al again here from earlier posts on this blog (page 73-75:

To gradually replace negative implicit memories with positive ones, just make the positive aspects of your experience prominent and relatively intense in the foreground of your awareness while simultaneously placing the negative material in the background. . . . . Given the negativity bias of the brain, it takes an active effort to internalize positive experiences and heal negative ones.

The Wolf of Love

wolf of love

For the source of this image see link

Readers of this blog will know that I have explored the importance of our widening our compass of compassion if the problems currently confronting humanity are to have any hope of being resolved. It will therefore come as no surprise to them that one of the strong appeals of this book is precisely because of the emphasis the authors place on this very point, but in their own very telling fashion (page 122):

I heard a story once about a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered: “In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.”

They spell out the implications (page 131):

The wolf of love sees a vast horizon, with all beings included in the circle of “us.” That circle shrinks down for the wolf of hate, so that only the nation, or tribe, or friends and family – or, in the extreme, only the individual self – is held as “us,” surrounded by threatening masses of “them.”

And the drastic consequences (page 132):

As soon as you place anyone outside of the circle of “us,” the mind/brain automatically begins to devalue that person and justify poor treatment of him.

And then the music to my ears, in terms of my immediate aims of the moment. They assert (page 169):

…[that] everything is connected to everything else, that “us” is the whole wide world – that, in a deep sense, the entire planet is your home and the people on it are your extended family.

Their concept of self, which they move on to discuss, is worthy of consideration also, but I’ll keep that for a separate post probably next week.

What about their practice?

I’ve only really tried one of their exercises but it has proved interesting.

I recorded a guided meditation concerning how to become aware of awareness in itself based on the suggestions below.

Buddha Meds 01

Buddha Meds 02

The very first time I used it, and only to test it rather than seriously, I ended up with tingles down the spine every time I heard my recorded self speak of focusing on being aware of awareness itself. And, even though I still find it hard to achieve that kind of consciousness with any consistency, there is still the same kind of energy circulating when I use this exercise at those same points, so something is happening.

I am hoping to use it for a while on a daily basis to see if I can stabilise my connection with this kind of consciousness. It will be a major breakthrough if I can.

If all their other exercises in this book prove equally fruitful, I could be drawing on it for a long time, even though it refuses to be drawn into a deeper consideration of the transcendent.

Just to close on something else important, what I have already found really useful is their page (184) of suggestions to help me hold mindfulness more effectively in mind.

Mindful Eye v2

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Narcissus by Caravaggio

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Last week I republished a sequence of posts looking at Dabrowski’s Theory of Personal Disintegration (TPD). Because this sequence picks up on those themes from the perspective of a different writer, I thought it worthwhile republishing these as well so that all the related posts have been reblogged close together. There are four posts in this sequence. The first came out on Tuesday, the second on Wednesday, and the third yesterday. This is the last.  

The Risk of Stagnation

As we have seen in the previous post, conflicts and discomforts begin to make our existing level of consciousness unsatisfactory. This drives us to look for ways beyond that dissonance. This can move us to a higher level of understanding, a more effective model of reality. However, if our level of understanding is one that our culture values discomfort with it may be harder to come by and we can get stuck.

Both Achievement and Affiliative levels of consciousness have a significant value for our societies (pages 145 & 153):

… Prestige-seeking self-oriented traits are admired and rewarded in capitalistic cultures.… a number of studies have shown that many highly narcissistic individuals are successful and valued members of capitalistic societies… They are especially rewarded in business organisations…

Despite the . . . cultural biases against intuition and right-hemispheric processing, a strong bias for aspects of Affiliative consciousness exists as well. The desire to help others, sustain intimate relationships, and be uncritical of others’ differences has historically commanded great respect in western cultures.

All Is Not Lost

At the end of their road also lies an inadequacy in the paradigm that creates discontent (page 158):

Authentic consciousness resolves both the Achievement and Affiliation dilemmas using a synergistic blend of both solutions this is greater than the sum of its parts. If love will not conquer all and power does not obtain the more important things in life, the Authentic resolution is fulfilling one’s own personal mission and supporting the personal growth of others along the way.

According to Wade (page 159) ‘Authentic consciousness represents the height of most conventional developmental theory.’ I think we would need to include Dabrowski’s TPD in that list, as his thinking about development appears to stop at the level of authenticity.

For Wade, and, I must admit for me also, this is where it all begins to get really interesting. Wade nails the core of that interest when she writes (page 162):

The most significant shift in this arena is disappearance of the fear of death . . . ., closely associated with the marked drop in neurotic behaviour. The ego is at last secure. This is a paradox of ego maturity: just as the person reaches the peak of self-expression, he also becomes receptive to letting the self go.

The Shift from Dissonance to Autonomy

At this level much of the earlier dissonance fades away: motivation is far more an autonomous choice than a flight from conflict. People at this level tend, as Dabrowski also describes it, to identify with higher values conducive to compassion (page 163-164):

Authentic people identify not with a particular group or society, but with the human race. . . . . The authentic person pursues what he desires, but never at the expense of others, and in such a manner that serves the greater good, not his alone.

There is a beautiful first person description of how this feels (page 165):

This is how life will be. I must be wholehearted while tentative, fight for my values, yet respect others, believe my deepest values right yet be ready to learn. I see that I shall be retracing this whole journey over and over – but, I hope, more wisely.

As well as being value-driven, people at this level are more flexible and less phased by dissonance (page 168):

Authentic subjects are more likely to change their behaviour to conform to their beliefs once they are aware of the inconsistency. People functioning at the Authentic level adapt more easily than others because they are more open to, and less defended against, dystonic information.

And so autonomous choice, not compulsion by dissonance, is the driver at this level (page 171-172):

At earlier levels, change comes about through exterior events’ impinging painfully on the individual and creating a sort of tension. But from the Authentic stage onward, change appears to be driven internally, as a matter of will and a result of tensions caused by increasing internal activity.


Tintern Abbey

Glimmerings of Transcendence

Whether there is a ‘sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused’ is an interesting question. Wade addresses this (page 172):

Conviction of an uncertain but presumably meaningful existence is often initially linked to an agnostic or completely nontheistic stance, but it incorporates a belief – often quite vague – in some existence beyond the physical plane . . . . Exactly what this may be, or whether it exists at all, is unknown to the Authentic person and unimportant as a motivator, though death is tentatively construed as a transition to some other kind of existence.

In the end, a person at this level comes to realise that their ego is simply a construct. Anxiety sets in. The Ground of Being may even break through ‘in the form of transcendent events.’ When it does (page 174):

. . . The ego is caught in another dilemma: it is irresistibly drawn to the Dynamic Ground at the same time that it is afraid of being engulfed and destroyed.

We are on the cusp of Transcendent consciousness.

That would need another series of posts altogether to deal with adequately. It is probably best to end this consideration of the dissonance that has driven transitions from one level of consciousness to the next with a sense of what her conclusions on this matter are at the end of the book. On page 265 she summarises it:

Below the Authentic level, change seems to be driven exclusively by external events causing sufficient suffering for movement [to take place]. Transition is much easier by the time the individual has arrived at the level of Authentic consciousness, because egoic survival is not threatened in the least. . . . Authentic people are open to critical input and, if faced with the fact that their behaviour is not in accord with their beliefs, will tend to change their behaviour. Thus from the Authentic level on, change is driven by the will, not by environmental events, though it may be assisted by others (e.g. a spirit guide or grace).

With this I think Dabrowski would be in complete agreement, except for the mention of ‘grace.’ It is interesting to find such close correspondence on key points between such otherwise diverse viewpoints. It has made this process of revisiting Jenny Wade’s book after all these years a most worthwhile exercise for me, at least. Heaven knows whether anyone else will feel the same.

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Dabrowski's TPD diagram

Last week I republished a sequence of posts looking at Dabrowski’s Theory of Personal Disintegration (TPD). Because this sequence picks up on those themes from the perspective of a different writer, I thought it worthwhile republishing these as well so that all the related posts have been reblogged close together. There are four posts in this sequence. The first came out on Tuesday and the second yesterday. The last will be published tomorrow.   

The two previous posts have given a brief overview of Jenny Wade’s thesis and looked at her treatment of near-death experiences and lateralisation.  At last we have reached the core theme of her brilliant book, Changes of Mind.

Transitions between Levels

This theme relates strongly to one of my most recent preoccupations: Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration. He speaks of five levels of personality development[1] (see diagram above from my earlier post on the subject). To oversimplify for present purposes, we move from an overly conformist self-gratifying level through conflict to increasingly autonomous levels where we strive to enact our ideals rather than indulge our desires. Authenticity and empathy become increasingly influential states of mind. He is though more concerned with creativity than mysticism and, as far as I can tell, he has little or nothing to say about transcendence.

From Wade’s point of view he joins the many others whose theory of development stops too soon, probably at her Authentic level (see next post).

The two theories begin at different points. Dabrowski, in the treatments I have so far read of his theory, does not include prenatal and infantile stages. He seems to be concerned with adult functioning and his Level One conflates Wade’s Achievement and Conformist levels. Also, whereas she tracks in detail subsequent developments towards the autonomy he sees as becoming increasingly evident through his Levels Two to Four, he seems to leave it as simply something that occurs if the challenges of inner conflict are met, without specifying what kinds of challenges might be typical of various developmental levels.

I think, therefore, Wade complements his thinking in an important way and would like to spend some time outlining some of the details in her model to illustrate this.

The Driver of Dissonance

Wade contributes, thanks to her close examination of many thinkers including Piaget, Kohlberg, and Wilber amongst others, a crucial conceptualIMG_0493 clarification at each stage. Whereas it seems to me from the secondary sources that Dabrowski contents himself with using words like ‘suffering’ and ‘conflict’ to give a catchall description of what in general goes on, Wade is far more precise. Even in childhood states of consciousness, whether they have persisted into adulthood or not, she detects specific conflicts that trigger development. Take for example her description of the move upwards from Naïve to Egocentric Consciousness (page 94):

The essentials – corroborated by anthropological research and theory – are that the individual’s needs fail to be met consistently enough by the environment, creating a conflict that simultaneously gives birth to the self-encapsulated ego and the fear that it can be destroyed. In both children and adults, this seems to occur through exposure to information that cannot be assimilated at their present level of functioning.

In Naïve Consciousness the individual feels safely embodied in their context. When they feel exposed to danger by a separation from that context, the dissonance begins to operate that will drive them to a different level of understanding.

She is clear though that this same basic principle applies across many stages of development (ibid.):

In essence, cognitive conflict results from repeated exchanges that cannot be resolved using resources and solutions available to the present developmental level. The problem does not go away, the motivation to solve it remains strong, and yet the individual’s resources are not competent to resolve the dilemma.

She uses Kuhn’s terminology in saying ‘the limits of a paradigm [have been] reached.’

Where Dissonance Might Be Elusive

Dissonance at the Egocentric level is harder to come by (page 106):

Cleckly and Smith point out that lots of people function primarily at the Egocentric level in modern society, many of them rather successfully.

How, then, is a desire for a transition to the conformist level created? One possibility is particularly intriguing (page 117):

[Many researchers converge on the belief] that socialisation results from the certainty, as opposed to the possibility, of one’s own death.

Clearly, such a fear would seem to be enough to derail all but the most intransigent of narcissists. Conformist awareness (ibid.) ‘is thought to represent the mainstream consciousness in civilised cultures, and it is tellingly labelled institutional, conventional, traditional, and conformist – the designation used here.’

Not surprisingly, dissonance at this level is even harder to come by than at the Egocentric level (page 130):

Transition from the Conformist stage is usually very difficult, because the individual is in a fairly stable equilibrium with his social environment and will tend to rationalise away information that does not align with his worldview or self image. When sufficient cognitive dissonance arises, however, change to the next stage no longer follows the invariant pattern of most developmental theories: instead, two paths are available.


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference. (Robert Frost)

A Fork in the Path

In effect, the path forks between Achievement and Affiliative Consciousness. There is no clear consensus about exactly what triggers the shift towards either of these higher levels. There is a sense that the exact direction may be partly determined by gender (page 132), women moving towards the Affiliative option and men the Achievement one.

This is one choice point at which I feel Dabrowski may be the more illuminating of the two about the possible trigger. He is clear that a conflict between what a person feels ought to be the case and what they see is the case precipitates a shift from conformity towards autonomy. Wade (page 148) quotes the view that a transition ‘occurs when a dramatic life event destroys faith in established authority.” She amplifies on this later (page 156-157):

When forced to acknowledge that the rules do not work, evolving Conformists will choose either the Achievement solution, “get it while you can” or the Affiliative solution, “love conquers all,” depending upon predisposition and compelling environmental factors.

Dabrowski is also clear that this sense of ‘what is’ conflicting with ‘what ought to be’ may be relatively rare, something with which Wade clearly agrees (page 133):

Researchers have observed that, comparatively, very few adults even in industrialised societies function consistently above the Conformist level.

She accepts that this may be in part because developmentalists do not have the tools to study this level and/or the database may be too poor to contain such information. My own sense is that such states of mind, in terms of stepping up to either Affiliative or Achievement levels, while they may not constitute a majority in any population, in advanced Western societies will not be all that rare. People going beyond these next two levels, however, will be much thinner on the ground. It is more likely to be absence of evidence rather than evidence of absence that is at work concerning the frequency with which people pass beyond conformism. A closer look at what might follow must wait until next time.


[1]. It is perhaps worth mentioning that these are not the only theories that focus on levels of personality development. Ken Wilber refers to several in his book (page 5) – A Theory of Everything. He includes the well-known, such as Abraham Maslow, but also others who are less famous such as Clare Graves. He feels their theories are not contradictory and are rooted in good evidence for the most part.

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Levels of Consciousness 2

Last week I republished a sequence of posts looking at Dabrowski’s Theory of Personal Disintegration (TPD). Because this sequence picks up on those themes from the perspective of a different writer, I thought it worthwhile republishing these as well so that all the related posts have been reblogged close together. There are four posts in this sequence. The first came out yesterday. The third will be published on Saturday and the last on Sunday.   

This re-exploration of Jenny Wade’s book, Changes of Mind, began with a brisk review of her overall perspective followed by a summary of her views on near-death experiences. Before we come to transitions between levels of consciousness, the topic that is closer to the core of her overall purpose, her sense of how the different hemispheres of the brain influence the realisation of different levels of consciousness deserves a look.


Perhaps I should clarify at this point that she is concerned to unwrap the mysteries surrounding human consciousness at least in terms of how it develops and to define more adequately the different stages of that development. When I come to discuss the specifics of this it will be obvious that there are implications for what we term personality or character in the individual and what we term culture or society at the level of aggregates of people. This is very much a concern of McGilchrist as well in his masterly treatment of the subject in The Master and his Emissary.

IMG_0493Her Sixth Level of development is called Affiliative Consciousness. It is one of two stages of development that are open to somebody who has reached what she calls the conformist level of consciousness. All that needs to be said for now is that the choice at that stage, as she sees it, lies between Achievement Consciousness and Affiliative Consciousness (page 147). Achievement consciousness resolves the problems of the conformity level by working on the thesis that you “get it while you can,” whereas Affiliative Consciousness believes that “love conquers all.” We will be exploring the transition aspect in more detail later.

As she unpacks the characteristics of Affiliative Consciousness the lateralisation links becomes clear (page 151: ‘. . . ‘ indicates here and below I have deleted her references):

People at the Affiliative level mainly grasp similarities and patterns rather than differences . . . . In part, the emphasis on similarities comes from the need to avoid conflicts that might threaten their sense of community, but it is coupled with a holistic worldview and indifference to the passage of time characteristic of right hemisphere dominance . . . .

In the same way as McGilchirst does, she feels (page 152) that our culture is biased against right-hemisphere processing. As a result is tends to denigrate this level of consciousness:

The bias against right brain processing has created – and perpetuated – confusion between Naïve and Affiliative consciousness.

Naïve Consciousness, Level Two, is characteristic of early childhood in her classification of levels. It is clearly an insult to see Affiliative Consciousness as a regression to such a state and I find her linking of this to our culture’s disparagement of right-brain functioning completely plausible.

She does not contend, though, that Affiliative Consciousness is without drawbacks (page 153):

Affiliative consciousness is not all sweetness and light, however. Turning now to what may legitimately be considered drawbacks of right-brain processing, Affiliative people often do not perceive inharmonious elements indicative of negative emotions and difference, particularly anger. . . .  They avoid conflict and confrontation. . .  Right-brain-dominant people tend to be much less verbal in response to stress then left-brain-dominant people, more prone to deny problems, hold in hostility, and develop an appeasing ‘peace at any price’ approach to personal conflict.

So, not completely satisfactory then. What she feels is better is a balance between the two hemispheres. Achievement Consciousness is the more left-brain mode and is definitely not without its problems either, as its motif is ‘get it while you can’ (page 147). To do this it figures out ‘the “rules of the game” in order to “cut corners”, “play the angles,” increase [its] “odds” and gain an advantage over less able . . . . members.’ Not a prescription for the ideal personality, then, either.

Balancing these two aspects moves the person to the level of Authentic Consciousness (page 157):

Authentic consciousness requires access to the non-dominant hemisphere, but not exchanging one hemisphere’s orientation for the other’s. It is “whole brain” thinking, in which both hemispheres organise consciousness, suggesting some entrainment of EEG patterns across the neocortex.

McGilchrist would wholeheartedly agree that this is a huge step forward (see YouTube video below). In The Master and His Emissary he wrote (page 203):

[T]he rational workings of the left hemisphere . . . should be subject to the intuitive wisdom of the right hemisphere.

The next stage after this is Transcendent consciousness, the last one before Unity consciousness. At this stage the synchrony of the two halves of the brain goes beyond intermittent entrainment (page 198):

During meditation, EEG measurements show that both hemispheres slow from beta level activity to alpha and theta waves. Theta is the characteristic brain wave pattern of long-term meditators. Not only does synchronisation of brain waves occur between hemispheres in advanced states, but this entrainment forms harmonic patterns called hypersynchrony.

The exact relationship between the hemispheres is not clear at the Unity level (page 260):

It is not know whether people with Unity consciousness have significantly different brainwave patterns than those at the high end of Transcendent consciousness, especially concerning hemispheric influence…

The Transcendent level can be reached via the Authentic level from either Achievement or Affiliative levels of consciousness provided sufficient degrees of dissatisfaction are there to spur us on, but that issue needs to wait until next time. This is the aspect to which she has, in my view, made her most telling contribution.

McGilchrist RSA Version

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Levels of Consciousness

Last week I republished a sequence of posts looking at Dabrowski’s Theory of Personal Disintegration (TPD). Because this next sequence picks up on those themes from the perspective of a different writer, I thought it worthwhile republishing these as well so that all the related posts have been reblogged close together. There are four posts in this sequence. The second will be published tomorrow and the other two on Saturday and Sunday.   

When I first read Jenny Wade’s book, Changes of Mind, I was carried away when she hypothesises that the highest possible stage of the development of human consciousness is Unity Consciousness. As ‘unity’ is a Bahá’í mantra, this was enough in itself to guarantee my complete attention and disarm my disagreements.

But there was more. This level of development was the last of nine. In Arabic numerology nine is the numerical value of the word at the core of the name of this Revelation: ‘Bahá.’ I was entranced. I wrote ‘Brilliant!’ inside the front flyleaf after I’d finished the book.

Because my recent reading of Dabrowski (see three earlier posts) has sensitised me to the possibility of categorising levels of consciousness and perhaps even character development, I decided to re-read her book.

I have decided this time round that it is brilliant (for different reasons though) but flawed.

Still brilliant after all these years

Why do I think this? My reasons fall into three main groups for present purposes: near death experiences, lateralisation of brain function, and the IMG_0493drivers of transitions from one level to the next.

The first topic is, in my view her weakest, and why I feel the book is flawed. Her treatment of this topic does not stand up well after reading Mark Fox’s thorough examination of the issues.

Her reflections on lateralisation and its relationship with the development of consciousness are intriguing and will probably prompt me to revisit Iain McGilchrist to check them out more thoroughly, but as it stands I resonate strongly to what she says. She maps out her levels of consciousness against the back drop of lateralisation and mounts a compelling argument for the value but extreme difficulty of achieving a proper balance in our lives between the operation of the two hemispheres of the brain. But more of that in the next post.

Her most interesting observations to me at present relate to the way that her model maps closely onto Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration in key respects. She analyses, in a more close-grained fashion than Dabrowski, which kind of conflict and discomfort spurs us to move up from the comfort zone of our present level of consciousness to the next step up the ladder of awareness.


David Bohm

It is probably only fair to add that I am completely incapable of properly evaluating the foundation of her thesis in Bohm’s work on the implicate order as I simply do not understand Bohm’s thinking well enough. You may well wish to stop reading at this point if you feel I have totally disqualified myself from commenting on her other lines of thought.

My simple summary of what I think she means in terms of Bohm is this. There is a hidden order and a visible one. Both are inextricably intertwined. The visible, or perhaps more accurately, the accessible order is the material world as we commonly experience it. The hidden order (though transcendent, timeless and placeless) is also expressed in and through the physical world here and now. Our highest self exists fully realised already in the hidden order but remains invisible to almost all of us. The purpose of our lives is to come to a realisation and expression of and identification with that self, consciously in the visible order. When we do so all ego and desire will fall away, and self in any sense we currently understand it fades away completely. If we fail, in her view we are reincarnated again to have another go. Moving up the levels of consciousness is primarily about cleansing the lens of perception so that we can experience in its true nature what is currently hidden from us.

For those of you who have continued reading, we need to look slightly more closely at the first of the themes I mentioned, and later at the other two in even greater detail.

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs):

One of the key problems here is that she fails to recognise, from the evidence available to her at the time, that NDE-type experiences are not uniquely linked to close encounters with death as she contends (page 324) on the basis of evidence drawn from Morse. Fox’s access to the RERC data enabled him to recognise the common elements between so-called NDE experiences and other mystical and spiritual states where there was neither a threat to life nor any kind of trauma. She does though accept (page 239), but more cautiously than Fox, that ‘near-death consciousness . . . appears to share some characteristics of Transcendent consciousness.’

She also rather too uncritically accepts a long list of core elements (pages 225-226), something about which Fox’s critical re-examination has caused me to be rather more sceptical.

Given that NDEs are very much secondary to her main thesis and her treatment of the issue covers a mere 24 pages out of her total of 341, it is perhaps not too surprising that it falls short of Fox’s focused and thorough treatment.

It certainly does not seriously blemish the overall case she is seeking to make. More of that next time.

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Dr Penny Sartori (for source of image see link)

I recently read yet another book about NDEs –  The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences: How Understanding NDEs Can Help Us Live More Fully by Dr Penny Sartori.

Much of it covered very familiar ground and I won’t be dwelling on those aspects in detail here as I have dealt with such things as the basic elements and the implications for consciousness elsewhere. I want to look at what the book seems to add to our understanding of this contentious area of investigation.

Some of what she writes simply adds to my understanding of aspects which have been well-researched already. For example, previous studies, such as those of Ken Ring, have rightly emphasised the impact that an NDE can have on someone’s subsequent pattern of life, often radically altering a person’s priorities, shifting them from the material towards the moral/spiritual. What Sartori includes is some concrete evidence that supports the idea, which writers such as Eben Alexander put forward, that genuine knowledge beyond the person’s previous capacity can be acquired during an NDE. One example (Kindle location 325) describes a presentation at an NDE conference of the NDE experienced by someone called Rajaa:

During the conference a video recording of an interview with Rajaa’s university professor was broadcast. He stated how puzzled he was about Rajaa’s level of knowledge of quantum physics. The knowledge and understanding that she has cannot be acquired by attending an accelerated course or reading lots of books about quantum physics. What I found particularly intriguing was that he said that not even he understood some of what Rajaa was writing about but her work had since been confirmed by recent papers that had been published in physics journals.

Because she is a nurse by profession she is particularly interested in the clinical implications of the NDE. This gives her treatment of the subject a specially valuable slant.

She gives a clear account of the challenges the experience can present in its aftermath. She feels that ‘six major challenges that the NDErs [are] faced with’ have been identified (697). She lists them as (698):

• Processing a radical shift in reality
• Accepting the return to life
• Sharing the experience
• Integrating new spiritual values with earthly expectations
• Adjusting to heightened sensitivities and supernatural gifts
• Finding and living one’s purpose.

As will become clear later the attitude of important others is of particular significance in helping people comes to terms with these challenges. NDEs may be particularly testing for children (1464):

Connecting with unconditional transcendent love, then returning to life was confusing for many childhood NDErs. Many children reported that they wanted to return to where they were and would even attempt suicide to get there. Suicide in this case is not a means of self-harm but a means to return to that wonderful place of love.


In her own practice as a nurse she was challenged by the way that clinical teams managed death and dying and by accounts of NDEs that she met en route. She watched as four members of staff, intent on saving the life of an elderly woman who was certain to die soon, mounted a massively invasive mechanical campaign to prevent the inevitable, only to prolong her suffering to no useful purpose whatsoever.

She decided to embark upon her own investigation of NDEs. It was a demanding exercise to undertake given her duties as a nurse at the time (2605-8):

After the first year I had interviewed 243 patients but only two reported an NDE (0.8 per cent) and two reported an OBE (0.8 per cent). . . . . So by the by the end of the five years, out of 39 patients who survived cardiac arrest, seven reported an NDE (17.9 per cent). . . . . in total, during the five years, 15 patients reported an NDE and there were eight reports of OBE-type experiences.

She argues strongly against NDEs as some form of wish fulfilment, partly on the grounds that these experiences do not conform to expectations and are sometimes decidedly unpleasant. One ‘was so terrifying for the patient that I had to terminate the interview.’ She adds (2725):

Such experiences are hardly the outcome of wish fulfilment. Further to this, some patients met dead relatives they did not expect to see and some had unexpected reactions from these relatives while others did not experience what they had expected. It seems that expectations were not met and some unexpected factors arose.

She quotes Bruce Greyson’s pithy summary of the situation as far as systematic investigation is concerned (2786):

It is interesting to note Professor Bruce Greyson’s comment: ‘Why is it that scientists who have done the most near-death research believe the mind is not exclusively housed in the brain, whereas those who regard NDEs as hallucinations by and large have not conducted any studies of the phenomena at all?’

She dismisses the contention that NDEs are drug induced on the basis of considerable evidence to the contrary, for example (2807-9):

Interestingly, when drug administration is considered in the hallucination group, out of the 12 patients who reported bizarre hallucinations, 11 (almost 92 per cent) of them received both painkilling and sedative drugs. This appears to suggest that drugs greatly contribute to confusional, bizarre hallucinations . . . . which are in stark contrast to the clear, lucid, well-structured NDEs that were reported. 


For source of image see link

She then moves into an area of particular practical interest to me given my involvement in NHS Chaplaincy.

She begins by explaining that, in general (2967), ‘spiritual aspects of patient care are an area which is greatly lacking for many reasons, such as lack of confidence or experience, or lack of continuity of care, but probably the biggest factor is excessive workloads and resultant lack of time and nurses.’  She is clear that (2970) ‘addressing spiritual needs of patients and treating patients holistically has the potential to accelerate healing and recovery, reduce medication and resources required and so reduce the hospital stay’ and that (2973) ‘[c]aring for patients’ spiritual needs could also prompt healthcare workers to explore their own spiritual needs.’

She makes the same point (2977) as the recent Horizon programme on the placebo effect also demonstrated experimentally, ‘Drawing on the latest research of the effect of positive emotions on health, it has been shown how feelings of wellbeing and love can greatly enhance recovery and healing.’

What has this to do with NDEs? Quite a great deal as it turns out. First of all these experiences are usually wrongly categorised (2987):

NDEs are often misdiagnosed as post-traumatic stress or a dissociative disorder, despite the literature warning against this, and they are categorized into conventional diagnostic illnesses that are not appropriate for NDEs.

There is widespread ignorance amongst health staff which adversely affects the care they provide (3003):

Despite NDEs being highly popularized in the media, healthcare workers still lack the knowledge to provide the level of care that these patients require.

She argues for the importance of a more understanding approach (3032):

Caregivers should not discredit NDE/end-of-life experiences because they are at variance with their own worldview but should encourage the person to use it in a positive way and see it as a gift. Although as nurses we are trained to ‘correct’ hallucinations, it is most important that NDEs are not treated in this way but listened to.

She unpacks why this matters (3040):

NDEs are still regarded by some people as hallucinations and many try to explain them away as being due to drugs or lack of oxygen. This is not a criticism; when NDEs are taken at surface value these appear to be very rational, plausible explanations – in fact, these were my own initial reactions to NDEs. Research in the clinical area is now showing these factors to be inadequate explanations and such a response can be detrimental to the NDEr understanding and integrating their experience.

This can lead to long term negative consequences as the patient retreats into silence about the whole experience, questions his or her rationality and suffers from a feeling of alienation.

The next post will go into more detail about what the book reveals of the implications and the aftermath of an NDE.

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A Chamber of a Different Kind v2For the source of the image see link.

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