Dr. Charles T. Tart on March 18th, 2011

Some interesting correspondence on world views, altered states, animism, materialism, suppression of the bright shadow, Dismissive Materialism, etc. that, with Matt Colborn’s permission, I’m sharing.

3-17-11

Hi Charles —

I’ve just been doing some corrections to the manuscript of my book Pluralism and the Mind and as a result been thinking a lot about different worldviews; specifically between the difference between materialist worldviews and animist ones. And it struck me — are there altered states that are associated with a particular world-view? Or conversely, does a particular state of consciousness maybe *produce and sustain* a given worldview?

Now, I’m sure these thoughts are not original; in fact, if you could direct me to any author who’s had similar thoughts (including yourself), I’d be very grateful. But the main reason I wonder it is from personal experience. When I was a kid — up to the age of about eleven or twelve — I lived in what I’d now call a thoroughly animistic reality. I remember, for example, accepting ghosts as real but somehow continuous with the rest of nature, if scary. I remember experiencing nature as alive and immanent. And whilst I still experience similar feelings, they’re very muted compared to before.  It’s as if what I experience now is a mere dream or fragment of a former reality (although meditation can enhance them). I suppose lots of adults feel this way!

Anyway — I have also realized that analytical, intellectual thought can kill these feelings, or at least mute them; and I wonder whether the main difference between ‘believers’ and ‘skeptics’ is essentially that they really do live in different worlds from one another. When I go into town and watch shoppers, too, I wonder whether consumerism doesn’t require/generate a particular state of (un)consciousness.

Sadly, I had to excise the chapter on altered states due to space, but once I’ve finally handed in this book, I wish to write a paper on just this topic: the Link between altered states and worldviews. I would be grateful if you could direct me to any reference you think may be useful.

Sorry if this seems a little rambling — these ideas are in the formative stage, and so are not rigorous!

BTW: I recently bought, read and enjoyed your book, The end of materialism. I especially enjoyed the bit on the Western Creed. I must admit to have found it a little depressing to plough through so many neuroscientific papers that just seem to reinforce materialism.

One book in particular annoyed me a little — Thomas Metzinger’s ego tunnel. In this, he used recent work on the neural mechanisms of OBEs as evidence for a materialist view of the self. He totally ignored evidence for psi functioning in OBEs! Have you read this book?

Finally, I thought you might enjoy my new blog on consciousness. I plan to put a review of your book on it in the near future.

http://mattonconsciousness.blogspot.com/

Many thanks for your attention,

Yours,

Matt Colborn.

My response:

Dear Matt,               Date Composed: March 18, 2011

>– are there altered states that are associated with a particular world-view? Or conversely, does a particular state of consciousness maybe *produce and sustain* a given worldview?<

That’s more difficult to answer than I would like.  On the one hand, I could note that drug-induced states with a substance like ayahuasca are reported to be full of snakes and panthers and other jungle animals, in god-like intensity, so that would conduce to animism.  On the other hand, that particular drug. mostly taken by people as part of their religious ceremonies, live in jungle covered countries…..

When I extensively researched hypnosis years ago, it was clear that I could probably induce almost any kind of experience with great reality, perhaps even greater than normal reality, but I felt it would be unethical to do this with spiritual experiences, so did not.  But it was an example of how an altered state of consciousness (ASC), and perhaps most altered states, can be programmed or biased to produce particular experiences, so you could in general (a) take people dissatisfied with the comprehensiveness of their ordinary world view, (b) give them some kind of altered state which would appear through novelty alone, as well as whatever inherent properties the state had, to (c) be a “higher” view of reality, and thus (d) give pseudo-validation to whatever beliefs you wanted.

I make this point a lot in my States of Consciousness book (not my Altered States of Consciousness book), describing my systems approach to ASCs and their induction.  It’s not enough to know the particular, overt procedures and suggestions in inducing an ASC, you’ve got to know the covert expectations and demands that further shape the state.

Does this mean we are forever stuck in our subjectivity and cultural conditioning, even in altered states?  I don’t think so, as we can apply the methods of essential science (not scientism with its commitment to materialism) to see what is an artifact, what is more basic.  We certainly haven’t done that yet, of course.

> Or conversely, does a particular state of consciousness maybe *produce and sustain* a given worldview?<

Yes, that’s a good way of expressing it.  “Ordinary” consciousness “contains” and/or creates a world view.  It’s accurate enough most of the time that we survive and prosper, but it can distort perception, thought and feeling quite a bit too…..

> But the main reason I wonder it is from personal experience. When I was a kid — up to the age of about eleven or twelve — I lived in what I’d now call a thoroughly animistic reality. I remember, for example, accepting ghosts as real but somehow continuous with the rest of nature, if scary. I remember experiencing nature as alive and immanent. And whilst I still experience similar feelings, they’re very muted compared to before.<

One of my students, Craig Schlarb, did his dissertation at ITP a few years ago on the suppression of the “bright shadow.”  Not shadow in the sense of Jung’s idea of the nasty parts of ourselves we don’t want to acknowledge, but some kids have fabulous mystical experiences – and no cultural support for them but, more likely, cultural antagonism against them, so they have to suppress a major part of themselves.  Sad, probably a lot more common than we think, and similar to what you report.

> Anyway — I have also realized that analytical, intellectual thought can kill these feelings, or at least mute them; and I wonder whether the main difference between ‘believers’ and ‘skeptics’ is essentially that they really do live in different worlds from one another. When I go into town and watch shoppers, too, I wonde whether consumerism doesn’t require/generate a particular state of (un)consciousness.<

Indeed!  I usually conceptualize it now that we live in a biological-psychological virtual reality (see paper on my website) which is partly a useful reflection of the actual world around us and strongly a set of habits on how things are to be perceived and interpreted…..Although we are so used to it that it seems “natural,” we are working away all the time constructing, adjusting, and reinforcing this virtual reality.

> In this, he used recent work on the neural mechanisms of OBEs as evidence for a materialist view of the self. He totally ignored evidence for psi functioning in OBEs! Have you read this book?<

No, and I won’t waste my time reading it.  These folks, these fervent materialists, drive my crazy!  They take one or two aspects of OBEs or NDEs, act as if they are the whole, and thus have explained them AWAY!  Like somebody has a weird, distorted body image when their brain is stimulated and they say this is THE explanation of OBEs…..It would be like my claiming that I understand how high air pressure inflates tires, and so I now know EVERYTHING of importance about automobiles…     ;-(

> Finally, I thought you might enjoy my new blog on consciousness. I plan to put a review of your book on it in the near future.<

Thanks.  If you do review The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together, though, remember it is not a technical philosophical book about the philosophy of materialism, it’s about the psychological syndrome of what I call (but forgot to put in the book by this catchy name) Dismissive Materialism, an emotional as well as intellectual commitment that justifies just ignoring or explaining away with fallacious logic any spiritual stuff that makes Believers in Dismissive Materialism uncomfortable….

Very thought provoking ideas you’ve put out here.  Do you mind if I quote you and my responses in my blog?  Would you prefer anonymity, or can I use your real name?

Good luck on your book!

Charles T. Tart

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One Response to “World Views, Animism, Dismissive Materialism”

  1. Puny Human says:

    for Matt: I’m also interested in the work of intelligent plants (I call them green people) and the ability to see and hear the animist reality. I believe that one reason these plants and fungi are illegal is that they help us see beyond contemporary ordinary reality and into the animist reality. I live in both worlds, but find it very difficult, and sometimes I’m captured by what I call dominator reality after many days working in a building with no windows.

    for Charles: delighted to have stumbled on your blog while searching animism. Looking forward to reading back posts. You are cordially invited to visit my blogs. Perhaps you will enjoy my art as well as the posts.
    Best wishes,
    Puny
    http://www.thenewanimist.blogspot.com
    http://www.charlieandthegodsoflove.blogspot.com

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