A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment

Is science ready to take on the search for the source of our most uncanny experiences?  Can mystical experiences be glimpses into higher states of consciousness?

My skepticism is not closed-minded. I am open to the possibility science and reason don’t yet have answers to the mysteries of consciousness or so-called “spirituality”. But, that doesn’t mean we should jump to conclusions that these mysterious experiences are supernatural, divine, or god-induced, which just shuts down further exploration and raises more questions. We need more rational, open, and non-dogmatic dialogue, research, and scientific investigation about such experiences. This is perhaps one of the primary purposes of this website: to explore the boundaries between mysticism and science. 

In this article, highlighted below, is a rationalist’s plea for more dialogue about mysticism.


Hard core atheist, Barbara Ehrenreich, in a New York Times article, shares her “uncanny” mystical experience and how she grapples with explaining it to others:

“It took an inexcusably long time for me to figure out that what had happened to me was part of a widespread category of human experience… Of course all such experiences [have historically] been seen [by psychiatrists] as symptoms of one sort or another: The shaman was simply the local schizophrenic, Saint Teresa of Avila a clear hysteric. The Delphic oracles may have been inhaling intoxicants; all of the great Christian mystics showed clear signs of temporal lobe epilepsy. A recent paper from Harvard Medical School proposes that the revelations experienced by Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Paul can all be attributed to ‘primary or mood-disorder-associated psychotic disorders’. I suspect we would have more reports of uncanny experiences from ordinary, rational people if it were not for the fear of being judged insane or at least unstable.

An alternative to the insanity explanation would be that such experiences do represent some sort of encounter. If mystical experiences represent some sort of an encounter, as they have commonly been described, is it possible to find out what they are encounters with? Science could continue to dismiss mystical experiences as mental phenomena, internal to ourselves, but the merest chance that they may represent some sort of contact or encounter justifies investigation. We need more data and more subjective accounts. But we also need a neuroscience bold enough to go beyond the observation that we are “wired” for transcendent experience; the real challenge is to figure out what happens when those wires connect. Is science ready to take on the search for the source of our most uncanny experiences?

Fortunately, science itself has been changing. There is no evidence for a God or gods, least of all caring ones, but our mystical experiences give us tantalizing glimpses of other forms of consciousness, which may be beings of some kind, ordinarily invisible to us and our instruments. Or it could be that the universe is itself pulsing with a kind of life, and capable of bursting into something that looks to us momentarily like the flame”.

Read the full article A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment – NYTimes.com.

Visit the author’s website: Barbara Ehrenreich


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