What is Real ?

Conscious Experience Seen as Basic to Ontology
An Overview
Axel Randrup
International Center for Interdisciplinary Psychiatric Research (CIRIP)
arandrup@mobilixnet.dk Written 2000-2002.
From: http://cogprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/archive/00002660/01/reality.html


The idealist attitude followed in this paper is based on the assumption that only conscious experience in the Now is real. Conscious experience in the Now is supposed to be known directly or intuitively, it can not be explained. I think it constitutes the basis of all ontology. Consciousness is conceived as the total of conscious experience in the Now, the ontology of consciousness is thus derived directly from the basis. The ontology of nature is derived more indirectly from the basis. Science is regarded as a catalog of selected conscious experiences (observations), acknowledged to be scientific and structured by means of concepts and theories (also regarded as conscious experiences). Material objects are regarded as heuristic concepts constructed from the immediate experiences in the Now and useful for expressing observations within a certain domain with some of their mutual relations. History is also regarded as a construct from conscious experiences in the Now. Concepts of worlds without an ego are seen to be in harmony with immediate egoless experiences. Worlds including spirituality are conceived as based on immediate spiritual experiences together with other immediate experiences. Idealist or immaterial philosophies have been criticized for implying solipsism or "solipsism of the present moment". This critique is countered by emphasizing the importance of intersubjectivity for science and by introducing the more precise concepts of collective conscious experience and collective conscious experience across time. Comprehensive evidence supporting the heuristic value of these concepts is related. I conclude that the idealist approach leads to a coherent comprehension of natural science including mind-brain relations, while the mainstream materialist approach entails contradictions.and other problems for a coherent understanding. The idealist approach and the notion of collective conscious experience also facilitates cross-cultural studies and the underestanding of intersubjectivity.

Key-words : Idealist philosophy; ontology of: consciousness, nature, and history; intersubjectivity; collective conscious experience; egolessness; spirituality; mind-brain relations.


In preceding papers the author has tried to expound an idealist ontology stating that only conscious experience in the Now is real. This challenges the currently dominant materialist ontology in the natural sciences, nevertheless it does maintain the methodological presupposition that all scientific research - materialist, idealist, or dualist - rests on empirical observations from which concepts and theories are derived (Randrup 1997, 1999, 2002).

In this ontology, or philosophy the immediate conscious experience in the psychological Now is fundamental, and I shall therefore begin with this topic and from that develop the ontology of consciousness, nature, intersubjectivity, history. worlds without an ego, and worlds comprising spiritual experiences.

Content and Temporal Extension of the Psychological Now

A number of time studies and psychological experiments indicate that the psychological Now is experienced with a certain temporal extension and therefore differs from the physical moment or point of time, which is regarded as infinitesimal with zero duration.

Thus the psychologist Rubin (1934) performed experiments with " two very short sound stimuli in the outer physical world succeeding one another." When the interval between the two sound stimuli was short, a fifth of a second (in physical time), Rubin's immediate experience was:

Quite contrary to our general notion of time, the experience does not occur that one of the sounds is present and that the other belongs either to the just expected future or to the immediate past. Either both of them are past or both of them are future or both of them have the character of being present, although they are experienced as a succession.

I find that Rubin's results stand out for their clarity and significance. Searching the literature I have found no direct replication, continuation or critique of Rubins work, but there are several authors who concur with Rubin in assuming that the perceptual or experiential Now possesses extension. Fraisse (1975) has, like Rubin performed many phenomenological observations and experiments on the psychology of time, and he thinks that our perception of change is characterized by the integration of successive stimuli in such a way that they can be perceived with relative simultaneity (p. 12). He also states that when he hears the tick-tock from a clock, the tick is not yet part of his past, when he hears the tock, so the order of the tick and the tock is perceived directly (pp. 72-73, 117).

Whitehead (1920, p. 69) thinks that "the ultimate terminus of awareness is a duration with temporal thickness" and that "the present is a wavering breadth of boundary" between the extremes of memory and anticipation. Denbigh (1981, p. 17) thinks that the "specious present" (or "perceptual present") gives to temporal awareness a certain degree of "spread", and he quotes William James for asserting that the perceptual present is not like a knife edge, but more like a saddle-back. More recently Varela (1999, p. 119) has stated that "the very mode of appearance of nowness is in the form of extension, and to speak of a now-point obscures this fact". Hayward (1987) writes about relations between the sciences and Buddhism, and he states that conscious experience occurs as series of moments of finite duration (p. 168).

Within the extension of the Now there is room for a rich content including both memories and anticipations, which can be seen as special modes of experience in the Now. Memories and anticipations in the Now can of course, together with the eperience of succession, form a basis for construction of concepts of time. These concepts (also conscious experiences) can then become part of the psychological Now. The philosopher Henri Bergson (1980) studied the immediate experience of successions, and found that such experiences, for instance the notes of a melody penetrate each other and form a whole (pp. 74-79). He contended that the time of science and of daily life is an abstraction from these immediate experiences. I find that Bergson's views correspond well with the description of the content of the Now by Gurwitsch and Arvidson, which is related below. Also Buddhist and other Indian psychology have found that physical time is an "abstraction", a "construction" or a "conceptual fabrication" (Hayward 1987, pp. 166,169, Inada 1991, pp. 470-471, Mahadevan, 1992, p. 578). Nicholas of Cusa (15th century) held similar views of the Now: "All time is comprised in the present or 'now'..... time is only a methodological arrangement of the present. The past and the future, in consequence, are the development of the present" (quoted in Perry 1971, p. 840).

I think that other concepts, theories and observations of science are likewise abstracted, abducted or constructed from the whole of the psychological Now. The reading of a measuring instrumant can serve as an example: usually only the position of the pointer is recorded, while its color and shape together with many other features of the perceptual whole are ignored (Marchais and Randrup 1991, p. 2).

The rich content and the structure of the Now has been studied extensively by Gurwitsch (1985) followed by Arvidson (2000). Arvidson states: "At each and every moment of experience, with few exceptions, there is a figure and a ground, a focus of attention and a context for that focus". At the periphery of this "thematic field" Arvidson thinks that there is the contents of "marginal consciousness" (p. 3). In the succession of moments a marginal item may move into the thematic field (p. 14). I concur with these views, and I think they help to understand the way concepts and theories are constructed from the whole of the psychological Now.

Strictly speaking the conscious content of the Now constitutes the only sure basis of all our knowledge, and if we accept that the Now contains both successions, memories, anticipations and focal or marginal awareness of many items, this basis will be sufficient for construction of concepts and theories, including theories about ontology. Concepts and theories are also experienced in the Now, in the focus or the margin. The central importance of the Now in the idealist position developed here indicates that further scientific studies of the psychology of the Now will yield information of fundamental significance. Studies by Sorenson (1998) of indigenous people living in isolated enclaves around the world have revealed a kind of consciousness focussed within a flux of sentient immediacy, where experience is not clearly subdivided into separable components. I expect that further studies of this kind of consciousness, "preconquest consciousness" will contribute significantly to the knowledge of immediate experience in the Now. The change of preconquest consciousness under foreign influence may yield material for understanding the process of extraction of separable components from the immediate experience in the Now and the formation of concepts and theories.

The Ontology of Consciousness

In the English scientific and philosophic literature the term "consciousness" is used with several very different meanings. Here are some examples showing the span of the variation:

"Consciousness is a neurological system like any other, with functions such as the long-term direction of behavior ... " (Bridgeman 1980)

"Consciousness ... is best regarded as an aspect of the system's behaviour, the latter admitting of both overt and covert dimensions." (Cotterill 2001, p. 13)

"Consciousness is information" (Goldberg 1996, pp. 12, 32)

The universe is fundamentally a great mind. Consciousness is seen as primary, and matter as a projection of consciousness (Orme-Johnson, Zimmerman and Hawkins 1997).

Wuthnow (1976, p. 60) proposes that consciousness may be defined "as the ongoing process of constructing reality out of symbols and experience." This is an example of functionalism which in general views consciousness as a brain process or mode of functioning (Velmans 1990, p. 79). Wuthnow (p. 65) also thinks that consciousness "needs to be recognized as not simply a psychological phenomenon, but as a process linked in important ways to the functioning of society."

"...the most important thing about consciousness is that it's a social attribute" (Freeman and Burns 1996, p. 180).

Brown (1977, p. 150) thinks that "consciousness is a manifestation of both the achieved cognitive level and the full series of cognitive levels at a given moment in psychological time."

At a study week on brain and conscious experience the Vatican Academy of Science expressed this view: "As to the further meaning of the term "consciousness" the Study Week intends that it strictly designates the psychophysiological concept of perceptual capacity, of awareness of perception, and the ability to act and react accordingly." (quoted in Uttal 1978, p. 7).

"An awareness of awareness of self and environment in time" is suggested as a definition of consciousness by Strehler (1991, p. 45).

"..... by focusing the attention on the sheer clarity and the sheer cognizance [the event of knowing] of experience, one attends to the defining characteristics of consciousness alone, as opposed to the qualities of other objects of consciousness. (Wallace 1999, p. 183).

Antony (2001, p. 34) relates a view of consciousness from the beginning of the twentieth century. "Any contents of consciousness ... are not parts or features of consciousness, but simply what consciousness is conscious of ."

Woodhouse (1997, p. 256) writes: "The sense of consciousness with which I will begin and subsequently develop is that of awareness per se, irrespective of the objects or contents of awareness ... this fundamental sense is at bottom simple and indefinable, and we are forced to rely, in part, on each person's intuitive underdstanding of what it means to be conscious."

Consciousness is a private perceptual space-time system, manifested as an orderly manifold of percepts. (Kuhlenbeck 1961, p. 37).

Here I will understand consciousness as the total of conscious experience in the Now (individual, collective or egoless, see below), immediate experience as well as constructs, concepts and theories. Conscious experience (or just experience) is supposed to be known directly or intuitively, it can not be explained. I think it constitutes the given basis of all ontology. The ontology of consciousness is then derived directly from this basis.

I believe that the word "consciousness" is today often used in the sense of awareness per se separated from its content (as described by Wallace, by Antony, and by Woodhouse above). In this sense consciousness is a partition or construction from the direct experience. The ontology of consciousness understood in this way is derived from the immediate experience too, but less directly. This also applies to the ontology of consciousness understood in all the other ways reported above.

When we go to other cultures and languages the ambiguities in the understanding of consciousness become still greater. Thus in French the word "conscience" can often be translated adequately by "consciousness", but in certain contexts it corresponds to English "conscience". Further, the French word "connaissance" corresponds to English "consciousness" in certain contexts, while it most often corresponds to "knowledge". In Danish the term "bevidsthed" corresponds quite well with English "consciousness". Wilkes (1988) writes about the history of the English term "conscious(ness)" and states that it arrives late in its present (range of) sense(s). The term "consciousness" with a recognizabble modern meaning did not appear until 1678. Earlier "conscious" referred to"shared knowledge", while the term "inwit" had some overlap with today's term "consciousness" Wilkes also writes about the Ancient Greek, the Chinese, and the Croatian languages. She thinks that there is no generally adequate translation for "consciousness" or "mind" in these languages, but is not denying that there are specific contexts in which the English terms are translated perfectly by terms such as psyche, sophia, nous, metanoia, or aistesis in Greek, yishi in Chinese, and duh or um in Croatian. From Israel I have been informed that it is difficult to give a good translation of the English word "mind" in Hebrew, since there are 5 - 6 possible words, each of them with a special shade (Miriam Schwarz 1982, personal communication, ).

It thus seems that it is not impossible to learn from other cultures about concepts of consciousnes and the ontology of consciousness, but great care will be necessary, because of the linguistic and general cultural differences. This applies to what I write in the following sections about Chinese, Buddhist, Japanese and other foreign views. I rely on texts written in English or Danish by authors with insight in the respective cultures.

The Ontology of Nature Including Mind - Brain Relations

The dominant ontology of the Western scientific culture is materialist realism which assumes that what scientific theories describe is a material world existing independent of human consciousness and cognition. This view has proved useful and productive within a certain, large domain of the study of nature, but it has been contested by many philosophers (Knight 2001; Randrup 1997, with references), and a number of scientific findings made in the 20th century have been difficult to accomodate in this ontology. Thus neuropsychologists now contend that our cognitive capacities and therefore also our cognitions depend on our brain, and this contradicts the assumption that nature as described by science should be basically independent of human cognition. The same contradiction appears in the study of evolution and cognition (evolutionary epistemology) and has been discussed within this discipline. Other examples of contradictions and problems consequential to the assumption of a world "out there" are found within the disciplines second order cybernetics, statistics, and physics (Randrup 1997 and submitted).

Doubts about the materialist ontology (or realism) have been expressed by various physicists. Thus Laszlo (1996, p. 32) writes: "As of today the mainstream theorists of the quantum world have not succeeded in giving an unambigous answer to the question, 'what is matter?' ". And Barrow (1988, p.16) states: "It appears that science is best done by believing that realism is true, even if in fact it isn't" . The newer theories involving superstrings and supermembranes have made the doubts still more disturbing. These theoretical entities, extremely small, are believed to be fundamental constituents of matter, but direct effects of them can not be assessed experimentally, and the belief in their existence rests on the usefulness of the theories in which they are embedded. They may therefore be conceived as heuristic theoretical concepts rather than pieces of matter, and the superstring theories have been regarded as mathematical philosophy rather than physics (Brown 1991, Nathan 2000).

A clear and radical position was taken by Lindsay and Margenau (1949, p. 1) who begin their book "Foundations of Physics" with the statement: "Physics is concerned with a certain portion of human experience". This expresses an idealist conception of physics, and at the same time an extension of the usual conceptions of consciousness to embrace also the domain of physics. These authors find that the belief in a real material world behind our senseperceptions may tend to encourage too close adherence to reasonably successful physical theories with too small allowance for their necessary revision to meet the demands of new experience (p. 3).

In the idealist ontology proposed here, science is regarded as a catalog of selected conscious experiences (observations) acknowledged to be scientific and structured by means of concepts and theories (also regarded as conscious experiences). Material objects are thus regarded as heuristic concepts useful for expressing observations within a certain domain with some of their mutual relations. This reinterpretation of materialist objects allows a direct understanding and use of traditional scientific theories without accepting their ontology (Marshall 2001, p. 60, Randrup 1997, section 4). The idealist ontology emphasizes the role of the evidence in science and is particularly open to new theories and to the application of more than one theory and set of concepts to a domain of observations (Lindsay and Margenau 1949, pp. 1-3, Randrup 1992, 1994, 1997b, Wallace 1996, pp. 25-27, 113-114,148-150, 190).

The idealist ontology of nature also readily accomodates the intense nature experiences known as nature spirituality (Randrup 1997). These intense, direct nature-experiences are felt by the experient to be essential and important, indicating that they must be real and that nature primarily is an experience. These experiences are thus felt to be in conflict with the materialist view that nature exists separated from and independent of the "observer". Also on more secular ground many people resist the alienation from nature entailed by strict materialist realism, and tend to retain naive (or direct) realism, where material nature is believed to be as perceived. The mind-body or mind-brain problem is now often called "the hard problem", meaning that it is hard to understand how a material brain can produce consciousness. I believe that the hardness of the problem is a direct implication of the materialist ontology, and that therefore the problem cannot be "solved" as long as this ontology is applied. Materialist realism is the problem. (Very recently Marshall (2001, p. 60) has expressed similar views on the hardness of the mind-brain problem). With the idealist ontology the mind-brain relations are relations between conscious experiences (observations) constituting the material brain (here seen as a heuristic concept) and other conscious experiences. It is readily understood that such relations are possible, and they can be studied in detail by comparing the results from neurophysiology and from attention to conscious experiences.

In a number of non-Western cultures and belief systems we encounter conceptions of the world and the human which are very different from the dominant conceptions of contemporary Western science. Clearly those cultures have made different extractions and constructions from their immediate experiences in the psychological Now.

Writing on East Asian thought Tu (1980) gives a clear account of such differences. He states that according to East Asian thought it is fallacious to define human nature merely in terms of biological, psychological or sociological structures and functions because, viewed holistically a more comprehensive grasp of its many-sidedness is required. The uniqueness of being human is an ethicoreligious question; Ch'an rejects the artificial dichotomy between the body and the enlightened mind (pp. 167, 172 and 173). Tu also states that human beings are thought to have the potential power and insight to penetrate the things-in-themselves (this is in direct opposition to the Kantian view of the unknowable "Ding an sich") and that humanity forms an inseparable unity with heaven, earth and the myriad things (in contrast to the view of a material world separate from the human mind) (p.169).

At the 8th World Congress of Psychiatry Wig (1990) emphasized the need for a truly international diagnostic system in psychiatry, acceptable also in the developing countries. As one of the obstacles he mentioned conceptual bias, i.a. the body-mind dichotomy.

Stanner (1971) gives an account of Aboriginal Australian beliefs and conceptions. He states that our contrast of body versus spirit is not there and the whole notion of the person is enlarged. The Australians "enfold into some kind of oneness the notions of body, spirit, ghost, shadow, spirit-site, and totem". The Australians can also conceive that "man, society and nature and past, present, and future are at one".

Werblowsky (1971, p. 37) writes about Jewish thinking. Distinction between body and soul(s) occurs, but the essential feature of rabbinic anthropology was not the opposition body-soul, but the doctrine of the two inclinations, the good yeser and the evil yeser. This dichotomy is still fundamental in contemporary Jewish thinking.

Purely idealist ontologies have been developed by schools within Buddhism. Thus Wayman (1971, p. 426) writes about "the idealistic standpoint of the Vijnaptimatra school by which there is no external object independent of consciousness". And Hsu (1990) has written a book about the "theory of Pure Consciousness considered one of the subjective and 'uncompromising' doctrines of idealism" (p.121). The teory of Pure Consciousness belonged to the Laksana school, otherwise also called the Yogacara school (p. 81), and it was transmitted by Xuan Zang to China where it flourished (p. 111). Okuyama (1994, p. 69) has written about the "Mind-Only" doctrine of the Yogacara school: "The name Mind- Only came from their strong belief that all is mind and there is no real world.....outside world is thought as our illusion created inside of our mind". Lindtner (1998, p.10) write in a similar way about the ontology of the Yogacara school: "All the universe consists of consciousness only" (translated from Danish by the present author). Hollenback (1996, pp.104-105) refers to the Tibetan treatise "The Yoga of Knowing the Mind, the Seeing of Reality" inspired by Yogacara teachings. In this treatise it is claimed that the phenomenal world is only a mental construct, a creation of our minds. The only reality is mind - all else is an illusory fabrication of mind.

According to Wallace (1999, p. 176) the following declaration is attributed to the Buddha himself: "All phenomena are preceded by the mind. When the mind is comprehended, all phenomena are comprehended." It is interesting to compare this declaration with the intent of contemporary physicists to construct a "theory of everything" on a materialist basis.

This Buddhist idealism accords with more ancient traditions of the East which assert "that the universe is fundamentally a great mind, an infinite field of consciousness at the basis of our mind, far from being a metaphysical notion lying outside the range of human experience.The great mind is also seen as the basis of our bodies and all of material existence" (Orme-Johnson, Zimmerman and Hawkins 1997).

The idealist ontology proposed here will therefore facilitate cross-cultural studies of nature, including mind-brain relations.

Individual and Collective Conscious Experience. The Ontology of Intersubjectivity

Immaterialist views such as the idealism proposed here, phenomenalism, and radical constructivism have been met with the objection that they are based entirely on private (individual) experiences. Thus Hirst (1959, pp.94-95) states that material objects are public, while sense data are private to the percipient, and he asks how sets of statements about these private sense data can give the meaning of a statement about a public object.. Likewise it has been criticized that the immaterialist views are kinds of solipsism (the idea that the world has no existence outside the thinker's subjective mind) or may lead to solipsism (Olsen 1986, p. 364, Russell 1953, p. 623, Von Foerster 1984, pp. 59-60, Von Glasersfeld 1988, p. 86, Watzlawick 1984, p. 15). Whitehead (1978, p. 152) states that if experience be not based upon an objective content, there can be no escape from a solipsist subjectivism, and he criticizes the philosophers Hume and Locke for failing to provide experience with an objective content. He also states that with Kant's "apparent" objective content there can be no real escape from a solipsist subjectivism.

It seems to me, however, that this critique is untenable. It is based on the presumption that conscious experiences are always individual, but it can be contended that this presumption is far from sure. It ignores the phenomenon of intersubjectivity which is important in science, also in mainstream science, as well as the logically possible more precise concept collective conscious experience.

In order to be recognized as scientific, an observation has to be confirmed by several scientists - become intersubjective. A new observation or concept may originate with one person, then the scientific community will work to test, if intersubjectivity can be obtained. In accordance with the assumption that consciousness is always individual, each person having his own experiences separated from those of other persons, an intersubjective observation is often conceived of as the same observation or experience distributed over different individual minds or consciousnesses. If, for instance, two persons together are reading a meter with digital display, it is assumed in scientific work that they read exactly the same value, 7.6 for example.

I think, however, that it is also possible to regard an intersubjective observation or concept as one collective experience with the whole group of persons involved as the subject, the We. Logically both interpretations seem equally possible. They both contradict solipsism, but I regard the notion of collective consciousness as the more precise one, and find that in several contexts it has the greater heuristic value. In the following I shall write in more detail about collective conscious experience and give evidence for the heuristic value of this notion.

Collective conscious experiences will of course be related to neurophysiologic processes in all the brains of the persons involved ( brains and persons, including the "I" are of course here seen as heuristic structures in the catalog of scientific observations), while neurophysiology usually studies conscious experiences in association with one brain only. Here I believe there is an extended domain for further experimental research. I think it will be possible to study relations between changes in two or more brains associated with collective experiences and with processes leading to collective experiences.

Some conscious experiences, such as intersubjective scientific observations and concepts, are readily seen to be shared with a collective of persons, while other experiences appear to be more individual; sometimes I feel that experiences I have are not shared or only partly shared by persons with whom I communicate. This feeling may be reciprocal and even shared, so it forms a known and directly experienced part of a common collective consciousness. This feeling may also give rise to a belief that the other person has individual experiences different from mine, and even give rise to thoughts about the nature of these experiences. Such thoughts are, however, only conjectural, we cannot know the contents of other individual minds, but I think we know and experience directly the collective experiences. This I regard as an answer to the much discussed problem of "other minds", thoughts about the complete content of another mind remain conjectural, but what we share collectively we can and do know by direct experience. I also regard this view as the beginning of an approach to another much discussed problem, that of animal mind (Randrup submitted a).

The boundary between individual and collective consciousness is, however, blurred. If we talk together about our experiences, the intersubjective or collective part will be expanded. This aspect of intersubjectivity has been studied thoroughly by the phenomenological school of psychology at Copenhagen University (Rubin, Tranekjær Rasmussen, From). Tranekjær Rasmussen (1968, chapter 3, with references) writes that through communication it is possible to make certain conscious experiences "intersubjectively transportable" within a group of people. A set of intersubjectively transportable experiences he calls a recursive basis. Such recursive bases are established within scientific disciplines (technical languages), but Tranekjær Rasmussen thinks that within the disciplines little has been done to state the recursive bases explicitly, and he thinks that working to accomplish this will be an important task for both epistemology and pedagogics. Obtaining intersubjectivity in psychology/psychiatry aided by communication between scientists has been described recently by Marchais (2000, pp. 124-125) and by Marchais, Grize, and Randrup (1995, p. 371). I think that carefully established recursive bases can be regarded as collective consciousness within a group of persons. Since recursive bases in science can be quite comprehensive, we may envisage that scientists, particularly scientists within one discipline, have a significant part of their consciousness in common, a collective consciousness.

Indeed, knowledge generally and many concepts such as "eleven," "energy," and even "solipsism" cannot be individual at all, because from the beginning they are shaped by communication and education. This view is supported by several reflections in the literature. Thus Jørgensen (1963, p. 176) describes in detail how two persons can arrive at common names of certain phenomena such as "head", "arm", "green" etc. by making observations together and communicate about the names. He contends that originally we have all learned the names of things and their properties in this way; in science further education and communication has lead to the technical terms. In a personal letter of March 20, 1999 Pierre Marchais asserted that the number 5 is an educational, not a subjective phenomenon, an example of collective knowledge. He told me that the 5 exists in me only because I have been taught arithmetic. Wautischer (1998, p. 12) maintains that in most cultures knowledge is seen as belonging to a group of people rather than being the result of individual effort. Likewise Lutz (1992, p. 72) regards psychological and anthropological thought systems as developing in a sociocultural context and as constructed in interaction with that context. She also finds an essential similarity between the cultural processes which structure academic psychology and anthropology and those which structure other forms of ethnopsychology and ethnoanthropology. Thornton (1996) states that language is an irreducibly public form of life which is encountered in specifically social contexts, and since a solipsist requires a language, Thornton sees solipsism as an inherently incoherent theory. Allwood (1997) writes in a similar vein; he regards dialogue as collective thinking and contends that "language is an instrument for (collective) activation of information (or thinking)". Artigiani (1996) proposes an hypothesis defining mind as an emergent attribute of complex social systems. He thinks that mind becomes the experience of brains in social networking "computing" environmental flows released by cooperative actions.

Jung has written comprehensively about the collective unconscious. This might be regarded as something different from collective conscious experience, but the Jungian analyst Bernstein writes "....the collective unconscious which clearly implies a collective conscious" (Bernstein 1992, p. 25). And Bernstein (2000) has reported examples of directly felt collective conscious experiences. LikewiseYoung-Eisendrath and Hill (1992) think that Jung's later theory of archetypes and self is a constructivist model of subjectivity that accounts for the collective or shared organization of affective-imaginal life. Constructivism they think reveals the impossibility of mental separatism and recognizes the shared nature of mental processes that arise within an interpersonal field.

In the literature several authors have discussed collective memory. Thus Bryld andWarring (1998) have written a book about the Danish collective memory of the German occupation 1940-1945. They describe the formation of this collective memory during the years after the war, influenced by the need of the the Danish people to regard themselves as resistance heroes and not as collaborators. Halbwachs (1975) has written a comprehensive general treatise about the social frames of memory. He argues that the notion of individual memory is insufficient and needs to be supplemented by group memory. Halbwachs employs terms such as "collective perception", "collective representations", "collective experience", "collective reflections", "collective thought", and "collective memories". I think that this can be seen as something like the collective conscious experience, I am describing here.

Living and acting together can enhance intersubjectivity and collective experience. The Danish philosopher and psychologist Jørgensen has discussed this in some detail (1963, chapter 7). He writes about "person-identification," i.e., identification with another person, and distinguishes between emotive and conative forms. The former refers to the catching effect of emotional states and expressions, and the latter refers to situations where persons act together to reach the same goal. More recently Vaughan (1995) wrote in a similar way about emotive identification:

The soul that empathetically identifies with both the pain and the joy of others begins to see that in the inner world we are not separated from each other. Peace and joy, no less than pain and sorrow, are shared, collective experiences. (p. 5).

And in a recent special issue of the journal ReVision (Rothberg and Masters, 1998) several authors have given examples of collective and egoless consciousness in couples living and acting together in intimate relationships. Some excerpts from this special issue follow:

..... they felt they were ..... one soul residing in two bodies. (p. 8).

Also, a deep spiritual bond - which may be felt during the most routine activities and even far away - may develop. Robert Bly uses the metaphor of the "third body" as a way of describing the transpersonal dimension that unites a couple. It is the "soul" of the couple as one respondent expressed it (p. 23).

Holding to a sense of self and to the bond feels at times to be overwhelming. Repeated dancing back and forth - now self, now disappearing, wave to particle and back..... separateness and union..... (p.9).

These examples show directly experienced, lived collective consciousness; it is also possible to understand collective conscious experience conceptually as described above in this section. The last example given shows difficulties with reconciling the individual and the collective. Personally I have experienced such difficulties too, a temporary fear of losing myself. But these difficulties have not been serious for me, after all the collective experience is or becomes as familiar as the individual experience. When an experience moves from individual to collective (by communication for example), my immediate feeling is that the subject changes from I to We, while the rest of the experience remains the same. In certain cases the subject (I as well as We) vanishes altogether as described below in the section on egoless experience. A sudden change from experienced subject to no subject is particularly clearly described in the report by Austin quoted in that section.

It seems probable that living and acting closely together in smaller family and other groups has contributed to the experience and concepts of collective consciousness encountered in various non-Western cultures. In these cultures collective and relational features of humans and their minds are emphasized at least as much as individual features. I think this yields significant evidence supporting the heuristic value of the concept of collective consciousness for cross-cultural studies, and I shall relate some examples of this evidence.

I have had some contact with Japanese psychiatry and shall quote psychiatrist Okuyama, who has practiced both in Japan and in the United States. She writes about the three senses of self among the Japanese: the collective, the social, and the individual sense. Of these, the collective sense is seen as the most important and fundamental one. Okuyama states explicitly:

Japanese people commonly think that the self exists only in relationships with others... our mind is thought to exist in a field of relationships. The self cannot be considered separate from the relationship field nor having as clear a boundary, as Western people imagine.....one of the conditions to be an adult is the ability to feel somebody else's or the group's feelings. (Okuyama 1993, p. 29).

Arisaka (2001) writes in the same vein describing the Japanese philosopher Watsuji's views: what is primary in human relation is not the atomically separated "individuals", but rather what is generated "in-between" such individuals as a result of interaction.

"My being conscious of you is intertwined with your being conscious of me.... in the relation of Being-between the consciousness of the participants are mutually permeated through one another's" (quote from Watsuji 1996 given by Arisaka 2001, p 200).

Roland (1988) has written a comprehensive treatise on the self in India and Japan. He emphasizes the sense of we-ness or we-self and partial merger between individuals in these cultures, and he stresses the contrast with the "individualistic I-self - the predominant experiential self of Westerners." (pp. 196, 224-225, 285).

Orme-Johnson, Zimmerman and Hawkins (1997) describe Maharishi's Vedic psychology which is based on the ancient Vedic tradition of India and related to other ancient traditions in the East. According to this psychology, collective consciousness is the wholeness of consciousness of an entire group that arises from the individuals that comprise the group. Each level of society - family, community, city, state or province, nation, and the world - has a corresponding collective consciousness.

Wu (1998) writes about togetherness which he regards as fundamental. "Actuality is first organic togetherness.....before being analyzed into units and indviduals" (p.11). He finds that this view agrees with Chinese philosophy but not with Western analytic thinking.

The Senegalese philosopher Ndaw (1983) has written a comprehensive doctoral thesis about African thought. He emphasizes that in African cultures such as the Bambara and the Dogon the conception of the person is more social than individual. The individual is conceived as a center of relations.The person in Africa is not defined in opposition to society, but society is seen as constitutive of the person. Man is conceived as indissociable from the group and in exact correspondence with the universe. (Ndaw 1983, chapter 3). In agreement with this Harris (1997) writes about competing core values in African American communities, individualism rooted in European and Euro-American conceptions and African-centered value rooted in collective consciousness.

Building on American Indian cultures Rÿser (1998) states that humans and other peoples - including plants, minerals, fire, winds, and animals - share a common consciousness, a common consciousness in the universe. Singleness of consciousness he regards as always temporary and fleeting while collective consciousness is the permanent and perpetual condition of things. Rÿser's text is written in English and he uses the word "consciousness", probably with a meaning which has something to do with the concept of consciousness followed by me (see the section on consciousness above).

Sorenson (1998) has studied indigenous people living in isolated enclaves around the world more or less "untouched" by dominant, conquering cultures. In these people he found a state of mind which he calls Preconquest Consciousness. One of the characteristics of this consciousness is an empathetic, integrative, intuitive rapport between individuals. Sorenson found their way of life to be simultaneously individualistic and collective. each person constantly enlivening the others by a ceaseless, spirited, individualistic input into a unified at-oneness. He felt strongly that this way of life was very different from the ways of Western cultures, he was used to, and even difficult to describe in the English language. The difference was also clearly seen in some cases where a rapid collapse of preconquest consciousness (sometimes within one week) occurred after contact with dominant cultures.

These non-Westernviews are difficult or rather impossible to understand on the background of a strictly individual concept of conscious experience. If on the other hand collective consciousness is conceived intellectually and experienced directly on the basis of scientific activity as described above, this will open opportunities for understanding the non-Western views and thus be helpful in cross-cultural studies.

Rosenstand's views on collective and individual self provides further help for cross-cultural understanding. She thinks that "We all know that "I am me", even if we don't use words such as "self" or "I". But some cultures consider this knowledge of minor importance" (Rosenstand 2002, p 251).

In the literature there are many other descriptions of collective features in a number of cultures, indeed it seems that Western individualism is an exceptional or unique phenomenon among the world's cultures, past and present (Morris 1972, Rosenstand 2002, pp. 240-251). In recent years, however, experiences with networks of computers and of neurons (biological, artificial) have suggested also to some Western authors a more collective concept of brain, mind and conscious experiences.

Thus Freeman, author of the book "Societies of Brains" (1995) concludes that "brains are preeminently social in nature" and that "the most important thing about consciousness is thst it's a social attribute." (Freeman and Burns 1996, pp. 178, 180). Likewise Huberman (1989) in his paper entitled "The Collective Brain" states that intelligence is not restricted to the single brain, but also appears in the workings of many human organizations and scientific communities. He describes distributed intelligence and computational ecosystems, the agents of which operate concurrently with no central control, incomplete and sometimes inconsistent and delayed information, and with a high degree of communication. He finds many of these features also in networks of computers. Personally I find that there is comprehensive communication inside each brain as well as between brains. Inside a brain the communication between neurons is mediated by transmitter substances such as dopamine, actylcholine etc., and between brains it is mediated mainly by sound and light waves. But I think that it is not the nature of the mediating substances, but rather the information content of the communication that is important for the working of brains and for the relations between brains and consciousness. And the information content can be very large in the communication between brains as well as in communications within a brain.

Experiences with the Internet have given rise to new thoughts about interaction and collectivity. Thus Gackenbach, Guthrie and Karpen (1998) find that the most important characteristic of the Internet is its emergent collective properties, and de Kerckhove (1995) contends that the real nature of the Internet is to act as a forum for collective memory and imagination. He also thinks that on-line communications have created a new kind of permanence, a new stability of mind, a collective mind, in which one plugs in or from which one pulls out, but without affecting the integrity of the structure other than by direct contribution.

Surfing, e-mailing and chatting on the Internet have given rise to new psychological phenomena. Particularly Suler (1999) who created the word "cyberpsychology" has published comprehensive studies of these phenomena. Among other results he reports that

.....users often describe how their computer is an extension of their mind and personality - a "space" that reflects their tastes, attitudes, and interests. In psychoanalytic terms, computers and cyberspace may become a type of " transitional space" that is an extension of the individual's intrapsychic world. It may be experienced as an intermediate zone between self and other that is part self and part other. As they read on their screen the e-mail, newsgroup, or chat message written by an internet comrade, some people feel as if their mind is merged or blended with that of the other.

I conclude that the notion of collective consciousness is well founded in the available evidence. Its heuristic value is that it admits of a more precise account of the ontology of intersubjectivity, facilitates cross cultural studies, and strongly contradicts that solipsism should be a consequence of immaterial world views.

Whitehead (1978, p. 81), however, also writes about "solipsism of the present moment" which would mean that only present experience exists. He thinks that this type of solipsism can only be avoided if something more than presentational immediacy is included in direct perception. The Danish philosopher Iversen (1917, pp. 369-372) gave up, when he contemplated the solipsism of the present moment. He believed that he had then reached "rock bottom" and that there was nothing further to say. This he illustrated by making a hole of about ten lines in his text, before he continued on other, less stringent conditions. Iversen made a strong impression on me when I read his treatise in high school, but now I think, Iversen's problem has been solved. The solution is given above in the section on the psychological Now and in the following section about collective conscious experience across time: the past and the future with their content are constructs from the immediate experience in the Now. These constructs are also experienced in the Now.

Collective Conscious Experience Across Time. The Ontology of History

In Western cultures time is usually conceived as linear, the past and the future separated from the present. But the conception of time and the attitude to the past and the future is and was different in many other cultures, past and present. There exists a comprehensive literature on this, for recent reviews reference can be made to Gell (1992), Munn (1992), Vatsyayan (1996) and Withrow (1988). In the following some specific examples of time concepts will be given..

Nakamura (1991) emphasizes that the Indian conception of time is very different from that in the West. Time is conceived statically rather than dynamically. It is recognized in India that the things of this world are always movng and changing, but the substance of things is seen as basically unchanging, its underlying reality unaffected by the ceaseless flux. The Indian directs our attention not to the flow of water but to the river itself, the unchanging universal. Nakamura thinks that the static conception of time permeates Indian thought. Other authors use the word "timelessness" instead of "static time", for example Mahadevan (1992) who writes that timeless Brahman is the source of all orders of creation and that time is the channel through which it is possible to return to this source. Through meditation on time, one gets beyond time to the eternal Absolute (p. 549). Gell (1992, pp. 71-72) quoting Geertz describe Balinese time as "a motionless present, a vectorless now". He thinks that this does not mean that the Balinese are living in a different kind of time from ourselves, but that they refuse to regard as salient certain aspects of temporal reality which we regard as much more important, such as the cumulative effects of historical time.

Hall and Hall (1990) write about monochronic and polychronic time. Monochronic time corresponds with paying attention to and doing only one thing at a time, while polychronic time corresponds with being involved in many things at once. The cultures of the United States, Switzerland Germany, and Scandinavia adhere to monochronic time, while the Mediterranian peoples follow polychronic time. Like oil and water the two systems do not mix, so for performing international business it is essential to know about the difference.

Cyclic concepts of time are found in various cultures, for instance in the ancient Greek culture. Rÿser (1998) describes this view: "As time proceeds around the circle, one encounters the past and repeats the transactions and events as the present." Rÿser also thinks that this cyclical reality proved quite adequate for the social, economical, and political life in antiquity around the Mediterranean and throughout Africa. Williams (1986, p. 30) judges that the Yolngu (Northern Territory of Australia) perceive time as circular, so that from any particular time, what is past may be future, and what is future may be past. And she quotes a personal communication by von Sturmer: "Aborigines read life backwards and forwards. We read it forward." She also states that for the Yolngu time is in some contexts both cyclical and circular, though this does not preclude a certain kind of lineal causality (Williams (1986,p. 28).

In the Jewish way of thinking, as described by Steinsaltz (1980, chapter 4), time is seen like a spiral or a helix rising up from creation. Time is seen as a process, in which past, present, and future are bound to each other as a harmonization of two motions: progress forward and a countermotion backward, encircling and returning. There is always a certain return to the past, a constant reversion to basic patterns of the past, although it is never possible to have a precise counterpart of any moment of the time. Also in the Bantu culture time is conceived like a spiral. Each season and each new generation return on the same vertical of the spiral, but at a higher level (Kagame 1976). The Mayan concept of time is often described as cyclical, but Rÿser (1998) finds it more correct to shift the symbolism from a circle to a spiral.

Berndt (1974, p. 8) reports that with the Aboroginal Australians mythological orsacred time exists alongside secular time but not identical with it. The Aborigines recognize both kinds of time as equally real, as applying in different, although overlapping, sociocultural situations. Berndt and Berndt (1964, pp. 187-188) write that for the Aborigines the beings said to have been present at the beginning of things still continue to exist. In one sense the past is still here, in the present, and is part of the future as well. But the Aborigines also recognize various time categories in connection with their everyday activities: days and nights, moons, the sequence or cycle of seasons. Mowaljarlai (Mowaljarlai and Malnic 1993, pp. 67-68) explains that when you are in an ancient state of mind, time stands still, because your mind is in a state where time does not count. Ancient time is no time.

More, comprehensive evidence for experience being regarded as existing in both past and present has emerged from several studies of the Australian Aboriginal culture. Thus Elkin (1964, p. 210) states:

In those rituals we were "in the Dreaming". We were not just commemorating or re-enacting the past. Whatever happened in the mythic past was happening now, and there is no doubt that the men were "carried away" by the experience.

This statement by Elkin is particularly clear and explicit, but it is substantiated by several other reports about past events reoccurring in the present during rituals and ceremonies in the Australian culture (Berndt 1974, pp. 27-28, Berndt and Berndt 1964, pp. 226-227, Hume 1999, pp. 9 -10, Isaacs 1992, p. 34, Strehlow 1968, pp. 29-30 and 1971, p. 611) .

Also in other cultures than the Australian ritual time may differ from secular time. Thus Silverman (1997) writes about the Eastern Iatmul, New Guinea:

Although Eastern Iatmul time can be incremental and linear, the naming system and totemic identifications seem to merge the present and the past. To some degree, so does the cyclical temporality of the kinship system. This form of time is also present in Eastern Iatmul rituals such as curing rites which often enact primordial events as if they were occuring in the present.

And Lancaster ( 1993, p. 2) writes about the Jewish culture that time for sacred history is not the everyday passing time of literal history, but that mysterious dimension of time which is eternally present. He thinks that while literal history may satisfy the rational mind there are deeper dimensions to the psyche for which sacred history can provide an equally satisfying picture of the way things really are.

Like some other people the Australians believe in reincarnation. It is the soul or spirit (which would include what is here called consciousness) of the deceased which is believed to reappear in a person living in the present. This can of course be seen as an example of the past appearing in the present and as an extreme example of consciousness shared across time. Australian conceptions of reincarnation are described by several authors. Strehlow (1971, pp. 615-617) relates how an ancestral supernatural being can become reincarnated into the unborn child of a pregnant woman. This may happen while she (or, in some areas, her husband) is experiencing a dream-vision of the future child brought on by the supernatural being who is seeking rebirth. Strehlow also reports that in sacred ritual totemic ancestors are represented by their human reincarnations (1971, pp. 611 and 619-620). Berndt (1974, p. 28) states that during the process of initiation, a father could take his son away to a secret place and sing into him the spirit-double of his own assistant totem. In this way that totem spirit merges with the youth's own spirit. Isaacs (1992, p. 230) relates that the Walbiri people of the central desert believe that there are secret caves containing hidden 'Dreaming' stones which are storehouses of disembodied spirits who may enter a woman again and so be reborn. After death the spirit returns to the cave and remains there until the same process is repeated, but this time the spirit becomes a child of the opposite sex to its previous incarnation. Williams (1986, p. 30) writes in a similar way about reincarnation of the souls of the Yolngu who live in the Northern Territory of Australia.

In a more general way it has been stated by several anthropologists that for the Australians the past underlies and is within the present. Thus Stanner (1971, p. 289) writes that

Although the Dreaming conjures up the notion of a sacred heroic time of the infinitely remote past, such a time is also, in a sense, still part of the present. One cannot "fix" The Dreaming in time: it was , and is, everywhen.

Elkin (1964, pp. 231-236) maintains that for the Aborigines the past is present, here and now. The present is the past latent and potential now. Through ritual and behaviour it is realized. History there is, but it is the myth of that which is behind or within, rather than before the present. Experiences and conceptions of the past in the present are also reported from other cultures, particularly in connection with ritual. Overviews have been published by Bloch (1977) and Hvidtfeldt (1961). Hvidtfeldt thinks that our own conception of events is like pearls on a string, while in many other cultures events are seen as a heap of pearls from which one can draw now one pearl and now another, view it closely, and put it back. History is in the past but also present, it is lived and relived in the cult. History is future too, it will be relived as long as the world exists.

In spite of the West's assumed separation of the past from the present, parts of the past are believed to exist in the present, also in the West. This applies to material objects; in particular more abstract objects of physics such as electrons and quarks are believed to be exactly the same as they were fifty years ago and even billions of years ago. Also artefacts such as stone tools uncovered by archeology are supposed to be the same as when they were used in the past.

With the idealist ontology the materialist entities and events in history may be regarded as heuristic concepts, just like the material things in the present. Time itself may also be regarded as a heuristic concept useful for further ordering of our conscious experiences in the Now. I suppose that the different conceptions of time in various cultures are and have been useful in this way. This goes for the concepts of time in physics too; thus in modern physics the idea of static time is sometimes entertained and regarded as useful, in particular in association with relativity theory and cosmology ( Einstein and Infeld 1963, chapter 3, section on space time continuum, Hawking 1988, chapter 8). Hawking describes the theory of imaginary time, a spatial and therefore static dimension, and states that like other theories in physics, it is a mathematical model for describing our observations. He finds that it is meaningless to ask whether the usual or the imaginary time is the correct or real one, the question is, which description is the most useful (Hawking 1988, chapter 8). It may be added here that both of these concepts of time express structures in the catalog of scientific observations useful in different domains. We are aware of this catalog in the Now, in the focus and in the margin.

Hawking's views are of course in complete agreement with the idealist ontology of matter and time advocated here and in a previous paper (Randrup 2002). It is also in agreement with this ontology that in historical science history has often been altered with the advent of new evidence. Thus the conception of the electron has changed during this century, and in each period it has been assumed that electrons existed in the past exactly as they were in the actual conception. Another example: very recently the age of Copenhagen city has been raised due to new archeological finds; according to what the historians now state, the one mile long coffee table, which was arranged in 1967 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Copenhagen, was held about 100 years too late (Gautier, Skaarup, Gabrielsen, Kristiansen, and Ejlersen 1999). These historians also say that until quite recently the historical topography of Copenhagen was built on learned constructions which over the years had acquired almost mythical character; data were not separated from interpretations (p. 38). Lowenthal (1985, chapter 6) has written more generally about changing the past.

The historian Collingwood (1993) thinks that also thoughts from history can appear in the present. He sees the task of history as re-enactment of past experience, more specifically rethinking of past thought. He thinks that he can re-enact in his own mind the very same thoughts that were thought by persons in the past. This can of course be regarded as collective conscious experiences across time. Collingwood gives examples and arguments to support his idea of history. In order to be sure that he really thinks the same thought that occurred in the past, he considers all the evidence relevant to the past thinker and the specific thought in question. As an elaborate example he scrutinizes the thinking of a certain emperor about an edict in the Theodosian Code (p.283). Collingwood's idea of history has aroused much interest among historians and has been widely discussed since its first publications in 1928 and 1946 (Collingwood 1993, editor's introduction, Dray 1995, Mann 1998). In religious or artistic context a few other Western authors have written about sharing experiences with historical persons (Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi 1988, pp. 237-239, Lansky 1999, Schutz 1964, pp.171-175).

On a biological and evolutionary background Sheets-Johnstone (1990, p.352-362) also considers re-enactment of past experience. She uses a method called hermeneutical phenomenology and thinks that by this means "we might accede, and in the closest possible way, to the actual experiences of the ancestral hominids."

By writing about re-enactment of past thought Collingwood (and Sheets-Johnstone) seem to regard the thoughts in history as fixed facts that existed in the past. This is in agreement with the usual Western linear conception of time. But it is also possible to assume that the historian gradually develops thoughts, about the emperor and the edict mentioned above for example, that fit the historical evidence (here seen as conscious experiences in the Now) and therefore may be seen as shared with a historical person such as the emperor (here seen as a construct based on historical evidence). Such sharing would be parallel to the development of collective consciousness with contemporaries by communication as described in the preceding section.

This interpretaton of Collingwood's work has much in common with some newer trends in the methodology of historical science. Thus van Veuren (2000) writes that the post-modernist view of history is anti-realist and skepticist: history is non-referential. We can never "really know" the past. When we study the past we move in a closed circuit of stories/readings/accounts out of which we cannot get to check if they correspond to the past "as such".

Egoless Experience.The Ontology of Worlds Without an Ego

Egoless consciousness differs from both individual and collective consciousness. In egoless experiences the subject, the I as well as the We, is ignored or forgotten. In the literature there are many descriptions of egoless experiences occurring in both secular and spiritual states of mind.

Csikszentmihalyi (1997, Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi 1988) has made psychological studies of engagement with everyday life. He has heard artists, athletes, composers, dancers, scientists, and people from all walks of life describe how it feels when they are doing things that are worth doing for their own sake, and he reports that in these descriptions his informants used terms that are interchangeable in their minutest details. This unanimity suggested to Csikszentmihalyi that the descriptions are of a very specific experiential state to which he has given the name "flow". The main dimensions of flow are described as intense involvement, deep concentration, clarity of goals and feedback, loss of a sense of time, lack of self-consciousness and transcendence of a sense of self (Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi 1988, p. 365).

The egoless feature of the flow state is described in more detail several times in the book edited by Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi (1988): "Because of the deep concentration on the activity at hand, the person in flow ... loses temporarily the awareness of self that in normal life often intrudes in consciousness ... In flow the self is fully functioning, but not aware of itself doing it ... " (p. 33). "An activity that fosters a merging of action and awareness with a centering of attention on a limited stimulus field will lead inevitably to a loss of the ego construct, a loss of awareness of the 'I' as actor." (p.223). Referring to cruising in a sailboat: "... the oneness with the natural environment allows for a loss of ego boundaries ... Occasionally, especially in storm conditions, a total loss of ego occurs ... " (p. 231).

In agreement with this the physicist Mach (1914, chapter I, section 12) wrote that during absorption in some idea the ego may be partially or wholly absent.

Personally I remember a clearly egoless secular experience: the process of finishing a manuscript was experienced as that which existed, and when this process was finally completed, an experience like throwing up occurred as the beginning of the reappearance and separation of the manuscript and I as two entities. I think this was an example of the flow experience. Another detailed description of a secular egoless experience is reported by the gestalt psychologist Koffka (1963, pp. 323 f).

In reports of experiences regarded as spiritual or mystical dissolution of all ego boundaries and forgetfulness of the ego are often mentioned, and also a general feeling of unity including fading or complete disappearance of the boundary between subject and object (Randrup 1999, with references).

Austin (2000, p. 215, 2000 a) reports a personal experience which appeared suddenly and unexpectedly, when he was on the surface platform of the London subway:

And despite the other qualities infusing it, the purely optical aspects of the scene are no different from the way they were a split second before. The pale- gray sky, no bluer; the light, no brighter; the detail, no finer-grained ... But there is no viewer. The scene is utterly empty, stripped of every last extension of an I-Me- Mine. Vanished in one split second is the familiar sense thatthis person is viewing an ordinary city scene. The new viewing proceeds impersonally, no pausing to register the ... paradox that no human subject is "doing" it.

This experience continued for a few seconds. Then followed a second wave where a distant quasi-person was being ever so remotely inferred. This second wave lasted another three to five seconds followed by a third wave. In this some kind of diminutive subjective I seemed to exist off in the background, because something vague was responding with faint discriminations. After another three to five seconds a growing, self-referent awareness entered. It discovered that it had a physical center inside the bodily self of that vaguely familiar person who was now standing on the platform. A little later a thoughtful I boarded the next subway train.

Austin's detailed report shows the complete disappearance of the ego and its gradual return. Other reports emphasize unity with environment . Thus Smith reports an incidence of "cosmic consciousness" (CC):

At this point I merged with the light and everything, including myself, became one unified whole. There was no separation between myself and the rest of the universe. In fact to say that there was a universe, a self, or any " thing" would be misleading - it would be an equally correct description to say that there was "nothing" as to say that there was "everything". To say that subject merged with object might be almost adequate as a description of the entrance into CC, but during CC there was neither "subject" nor " object"...... just a timeless unitary state of being (Smith and Tart 1998, p. 100).

These are direct experiences of the environment or the universe without the ego in the usual central position. It is, however, also possible to think of the world decentered from the ego or even with another ego as the center. The change from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican view of the planetary system is an example of such decentering. Since then, science has continued the decentering process and developed an "objective" world view.

The decentered world of science is, however, as mentioned above, most often considered as a material world projected "out there" and separate from the human mind. This makes it difficult to place consciousness in the scientific picture. In contrast, an egoless experience of the world (perceived or conceived) is still a conscious experience and avoids the dichotomy between the material and the mental. On such a monistic background, worldviews centered on an ego, centered on a collective, or completely decentered (egoless) are not in conflict, but can be seen as different structures in the same catalog of conscious experiences. It is known that there can be more than one structure in a system of elements, for example, in ambiguous figures. These are perceived in two or more alternating gestalts, only one at a time, but in thought it can be conceived that the two or more structures or gestalts exist simultaneously in the figure (Burling 1964, Gregory 1998, chapter 10, Randrup 1992). This point is also illustrated by the following anecdote quoted from Randrup, Munkvad and Fog (1982): A visitor to Florida wanted to mail a baby turtle to his son at camp. The clerk in the Post Office read the regulations aloud: "Well", he said "Dogs is dogs and cats is dogs, squirrels in cages is birds - - and baby turtles is insects" For postal purposes this alternative structure was preferred to the usual Linnean structure in zoology.

In some cases egoless experiences are not only without ego but also without other content such as perceptions, thoughts etc. This is called pure consciousness, contentless consciousness, experience of nothingness, emptiness or void etc.. There are many descriptions of this type of experience in the literature from Indian, Jewish and other sources. The descriptions differ to some extent, the nothingness seems to be more or less complete, but surely these experiences lack many details known from ordinary, daily experiences. Lancaster (2000, p. 237) quoting Sullivan gives a clear example of a contentless experience which followed a road accident:

There was something, and the something was not the nothing (of total unconsciousness). The nearest label for the something might possibly be 'awareness', but that could be misleading, since any awareness I'd ever had before the accident was my awareness, my awareness of one thing or another. In contrast, this something ..... had no I as its subject and no content as its object. It just was. Lancaster adds that he sees no reason to contradict the direct evidence of such experiences and that seemingly contentless conscious states need to be incorporated within a meaningful psychology of consciousness.

This egoless experience of Sullivan clearly differs from the expereience of Austin reported above, where the optical details of the scene he saw were unchanged, only the ego, the viewer was lacking.

Much information on pure consciousness is collected in a book on the topic edited by Forman (1990). In this book Griffiths (1990) writes on pure consciousness in Indian Buddhism. He describes the ascent through a series of altered states of consciousness or spheres with varying degrees of nothingness. These spheres are thought of as both cosmic realms, locatable in space, and as psychological conditions (p. 81). The immediate conscious experience and the world view are thus harmonized or unified.

Also Hayward (1987) has written about emptiness in Buddhism. His exposition is based on the term shunyata from the Mahayana school of Buddhism (p. 203). This term has been variously translated as emptiness, void, nothingness and openness. According to Hayward shunyata means empty of concept, of mental fabrication or projection, it means what is, free from concept. Emptiness can not be elucidated in words and concepts, it can be pointed to only as direct experience. Emptiness is also seen as a mark or characteristic of every phenomenon, the ground of all phenomena. It is therefore both a direct experience and a world view. The full experience of shunyata is said to be one of great joy, because at the same time as realizing emptiness of conceptions, there is awareness of complete purity (p. 217). To me this means that shunyata is not completely empty, since it contains the experience of both joy and purity.

Wallace (1999, p. 183) writes about attainment of the samatha state in Buddhist tradition by means of a certain technique: "Bringing no thoughts to mind, one lets the mind remain like a cloudless sky, clear, empty, and evenly devoid of grasping onto any kind of object." Samatha is characterized by joy, clarity and non-conceptuality.

Orme-Johnson, Zimmerman and Hawkins (1997) have given a very clear account of Maharishi's Vedic psychology which is based on the ancient Vedic tradition of India.. By means of a special meditation technique it is possible to reach a state of pure awareness or transcendental consciousness. In this state consciousness is all by itself, without any object other than itself to be aware of. The mind settles down to a state of no activity, but with full awareness. In the Vedic psychology consciousness is seen as primary, and matter as a projection of consciousness. The cosmic psyche, a field of pure consciousness, is described as an undifferentiated wholeness which gives rise to the infinite diversity of creation. The cosmic psyche is regarded as the source of all existence, the ultimate reality. It is also seen as the basis of the individual mind. At the pinnacle of human development, unity consciousness, the individual is regarded as a fully integrated expression of the cosmic psyche. Thus the world view and the direct experience is harmonized in Vedic psychology.

Egolessness and nothingness are also important elements of Jewish mysticism, both as direct experience and in the conception of the world.. There is a tradition of gradual contemplative ascent to higher planes. At a high plane the mystic no longer differentiates one thing from another. Conceptual thought, with all its distinctions and connections, dissolves; awareness of the self disappears. Fortune (1995, p. 107) reports that at the one occasion, when she touched the edge of the highest level, keter, of the tree of life, it appeared as a glaring white light in which all thought vanished completely. Keter is also seen as the totality of all existence. Since God's being or essence is believed to be incomprehensible and ineffable, He is described as nothing. God is greater than any thing one can imagine, like no thing. To many mystics creation of the world out of nothing means just creation out of God. This nothing from which everything has sprung is not a mere negation; only to us does it present no attributes, because it is beyond the reach of intellectual knowledge. In truth, however, this nothing is infinitely more real than all other reality. So in Jewish mysticism the direct experience and the world view are united.While ascending to higher planes of consciousness the mystic strives to get close to God or nothingness. Some believe it is possible for man to ascend to absorption in God with complete elimination of individuality and with no possibility for returning, but on this point opinions are divided among Jewish scholars. Among a number of important sources describing egolessness and nothingness in Jewish mysticism are Fortune (1995), Idel (1988), Matt (1990), Scholem (1955), and Winther (1986, 2001).

The Ontology of Worlds Comprising Spiritual Experiences

In the international discourse the word "spirituality" is used with many different meanings. My personal understanding of nature-spirituality appears from a private letter written July 7, 1994: "This morning, when I went into my garden (about 10 minutes ago), I had what I now call a spiritual experience. I experienced the garden (the trees, the grass etc.) clearly more intensely than at other occasions, when I also loved the garden. This time I experienced "the eternal now" as well, and immediately after I thought that the felt importance and intensity of my experience was more essential than its duration and its position in the ordinary time." I also remember having experienced entropy, a more abstract, theoretical entity of nature, in this spiritual way.

This description accords with two other descriptions from the literature, which seem to report immediate experiences, independent of any structured religious or philosophical conviction. One is from the autobiography "The Story of my Heart" by Richard Jefferies (1848 - 1887) who was a writer, in his own time regarded as an atheist.

With all the intensity of feeling which exalted me,all the intense communion I held with the earth, the sun and the sky, the stars hidden by the light, with the ocean - in no manner can the thrilling depth of these feelings be written - with these I prayed.... (Jefferies 1910, p. 6)

The second description is from the partially autobiographic book "Where the Spirits Ride the Wind" by Felicitas Goodman.

Very soon I discovered all on my own what being an adult apparently meant, and confided it to my diary: "The magic time is over". For all of a sudden and without the slightest warning, I realized that I could no longer effortlessly call up what in my terms was magic: that change in me that was so deliciously exciting and as if I were opening a door, imparting a special hue to whatever I chose. I noticed the curious impediment first with the fresh, crunchy snow which fell right after my birthday. It was nice, but I could not make it glow ( Goodman 1990, p. 3) Later in life Felicitas Goodman regained her "magic", when she studied shamanism both by anthropological methods and by own experiences.

I regard these three experiences as examples of nature spirituality, but Pierre Marchais (1997, 1999, 2000, personal communications 1994-1999) while recognizing the occurrence of this kind of experiences prefers to name them "exceptional intuitive experiences". For Marchais "authentic spirituality" is an act of faith, a part of religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian religions. He characterizes the former type of experiences, and also East Asian mysticism and transcendence with the French word "supranaturel", while the "authentic spirituality" is characterized by the word "surnaturel". This distinction between supranaturel and surnaturel is fundamental in his view.

Evelyn Underhill (1955, p. 191) distinguishes less sharply between nature experiences and religious faith:

Such use of visible nature as the stuff of ontological perceptions the medium whereby the self reaches out to the Absolute, is not rare in the history of mysticism. The mysterious vitality of trees, the silent magic of the forest, the strange and steady cycle of its life, possess in a peculiar degree this power of unleashing the human soul ..... The flowery garment of the world is for some mystics a medium of ineffable perception, a source of exalted joy, the veritable clothing of God. This view is supported by quotations from several European mystics (pp. 190-196).

For Pierre Marchais the meaning of the word "spirituality" is therefore more restricted than it is for me (and for Underhill). Marchais and I have had prolonged exchange on these issues and have come to agree on much, also that even though the terms may differ ("nature spirituality" versus "exceptional intuitive experiences" for instance) it is possible to agree on the phenomena.

But Marchais and I still differ with respect to the Perennial Philosophy. This philosophy is based on a broad sense of the word spirituality comprising both nature spirituality, East Asian mysticism, shamanistic transcendence, and experiences embedded in Judeo-Christian religions. It assumes that there is a similarity or common core to all experiences of spirituality (understood in this broad sense) across cultures and across the ages. It does not regard the distinction of Marchais between the supranaturel and the surnaturel as important and is therefore not accepted by him. I, on the other hand, tend to agree with the perennialists, although I admit that since spiritual experiences are often felt as ineffable, transverbal, it is difficult to discuss the idea of the Perennial Philosophy in words. My positive attitude to this philosophy therefore rests on intuition more than on reason (Randrup 1998).

In the special integration group Spirituality and Systems within the International Society for the Systems Sciences the Perennial Philosophy is widely accepted, and on this basis it seems possible that some intersubjectivity might be obtained through communication. Since 1991 such communication has been performed at annual meetings in this group (Randrup 1997a). The exchange has lead to better understanding of both differences and similarities between the participants, and the exchange is still going on. For me personally the direct communication with colleagues from other cultures (Japanese, Indian, American Indian, Aboriginal Australian etc.) has been particularly illuminating. In the group we have abstained from attempts to define spirituality, but rather try to understand it by means of the examples presented at our meetings.

Based on all these experiences and exchanges I think that the immediate spiritual experience is the foundation of all spiritual beliefs and their ontology. This applies to occidental and oriental religions, Aboriginal Australian belief systems, shamanism etc.

Shamanism is described in various ways, but Wautischer (1989) finds that shamanic experiences are intersubjectively accessible. These experiences often involve a certain state of mind in which a journey to another world or reality may be experienced. Anthropologist Michael Harner, a pioneer of neo-shamanism has written about the ontology of this other world:

In shamanic experience, when one is in non-ordinary reality things will seem quite as material as they are here. One feels the coldness or warmth of the air, the hardness or smoothness of a rock; one perceives colors, sounds, odors and so forth. All the phenomena that characterize the so-called material world will appear just as real and material there as they do here if it is an extremely clear shamanic journey (Harner 1987, p. 4).

Harner goes on stating that the shaman does not regard these non-ordinary phenomena as a projection of his own mind, but rather as another reality which exists independently of that mind. Harner's own view on the ontology of this "other reality" is more cautious as expressed later in the same paper (p. 15): "As a person who has followed the path of shamanism for a long time, I am inclined to think that there is more to the universe than the human mind". (Italics by the present author).

These two views, the alternate world as an independent external reality or as a mental projection are described and discussed in the literature by several authors (Peters 1989, p. 118, Peters and Price-Williams 1980, pp. 405-406, Turner 1992, Vaughan 1995, p. 7, Walsh 1989, pp. 30-31, Wautischer 1989, Wiebe 2000). This problem is completely parallel to the problem about the ontology of the material world in modern science: does it exist independentally "out there", or is it rather a mental projection or heuristic concept based on regularities in the occurrence of the immediate experiences ? In science the view of an external material reality has run into contradictions as described above. An idealist ontology based on conscious experiences seems to be a more viable alternative, but this does not mean that we can control the processes of sense experiences at will (Berger and Luckman 1966, Introduction, p. 1, Diettrich !995, pp. 96, 103-105, Randrup submitted) and the same seems to be true for shamanic experiences. The shamanic world view as well as the scientific can be seen as mental constructs useful for structuring the immediate experiences in the Now.

Turning to the religions more familiar in the West we may say, rationally that God can be seen as a something (or a nothing) which brings coherence to both sensory and spiritual experiences and to the felt urges to behave ethically. Even fear of God may be seen as fear of performing something unethical which may harm family, society, nature, and oneself.

All this is a rational account, but religion is rather experienced or known in an intuitive-spiritual mode. Spiritual experiences are usually regarded as mainly ineffable, beyond words, but it may be said that spiritually God is imagined either as like a person or in a more abstract way. It seems to me that my rational account above agrees with the abstract spiritual imagination of God, as well as rationality can ever agree with spirituality. This suggests that there is a difference but no principal conflict between science and religion. When these things dawned to me, it was felt as a great relief.


The content of this paper is influenced by prolonged exchange in the Spirituality and Systems group of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (Randrup 1997a) and in the Center for Interdisciplinary Research, CIRIP (Marchais and Randrup 1993), in particular with Pierre Marchais, Elaine Smith, Søren Brier, Grethe Sørensen, and Lin Waddell.


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