The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 5

The Experiential Self - 5.3.8
[table of contents]  [previous]  [next]


3.Support From Unexpected Quarters

[8] Further support for my contention that unprojected consciousness and the self are identical can be drawn from an altogether different quarter. I shall argue that the theory is corroborated by certain of its deductive consequences. These give rise to expectations which appear to be borne out by experience. Earlier I mentioned the logical possibility of a form of consciousness that I described as a homogeneous consciousness. 141 A homogeneous consciousness was said to be one in which a total temporary state of consciousness consisted of one element and one element only. I spoke of such an element pervading the whole of consciousness, and blotting out all other elements, but I did not commit myself on the question whether such a form of consciousness ever actually occurred, and it is not necessary to my argument that I do so now. My argument is based on the fact that people have claimed to experience a homogeneous consciousness. I shall attempt to show that the descriptions that are given of alleged experiences of a homogeneous consciousness are the descriptions we would expect

-page 170-

to receive if my theory were true. In other words, they can be deduced from the theory.

A homogeneous consciousness would, by definition, be a consciousness lacking an unprojected consciousness; i.e. it would not be polarized as a normal consciousness is. It follows from the theory that the single element of a homogeneous consciousness could not be the object of attention. It can further be inferred that if there were such a homogeneous consciousness it would be characterized as a form of consciousness from which the presence of the self had entirely vanished. This inference follows logically from the identification of the self with unprojected consciousness: if no unprojected consciousness, then no self. Were such a homogeneous consciousness to exist, its existence could not be reported first-hand at the time, for to report the occurrence of the state would of necessity mean that a self must be aware concurrently of the state, and this would entail the existence of unprojected consciousness, which, ex hypothesi, does not exist. The only first-hand evidence of the existence of a homogeneous consciousness would come from the subject's memory of normal consciousness returning in the wake of some indescribable state of consciousness.

My theory would lead us to expect such a person to say that he had some dim recollection of a form of experience in which awareness of self was completely absent. In other words it would be described as being like having an ownerless experience. Moreover, an inability to characterize the experience more definitely would be connected with the subjectless character of the experience. Now it so happens that Ribot raises the question of the possible existence of a homogeneous consciousness, and concludes that it is realized in some rare types of mystical experience:

Do there really exist cases of absolute monoideism, in which consciousness is reduced to a sole and single state entirely occupying it, and in which the mechanism of association is totally arrested? In our opinion, this we meet in only a few, very rare cases of ecstasy, ... 142

Furthermore, the example Ribot instances, as a case of such ecstasy, is St Theresa's mystical union with God. He traces the seven stations of prayer, or meditation, through which St Theresa says we must pass before we reach the highest stage of ecstasy,

-page 171-

which is union with God, and points out that each stage advances to a greater concentration of consciousness than the preceding stage, until ultimately consciousness reaches a single homogeneous state, which he calls 'absolute monoideism'. As he says, 'God has now descended into the substance of the soul, and become one with it.' 143 But it is precisely when the soul has attained this union with God, that mystics claim that all consciousness of self is lost. Indeed some mystics carry their claim to the point of paradox and say that they become God during their mystical encounter.

Ribot points out that such supreme mystical consummations happen extremely rarely. 'The greatest mystics alone,' he says, 'have attained, by a still stronger effort, to absolute monoideism.' There is reason to believe, therefore, that those instances of mystical experience that reach the state of absolute monoidelsm are also the ones in which the mystic is likely to claim that his self was annihilated in the encounter. I should not neglect to point out that mystical experience is a subject about which authorities disagree. Some contest the preponderant opinion that the self is transcended in the highest types of mystical experience. There is also reason to doubt that all mystical experiences are of one type and that they are all equally describable in terms of an approach to a state of absolute monoideism. The point I am trying to make, however, is that whether or not the claims are accurate, and whether or not they are true, it would be not only intelligible but a logical consequence of my view that a certain type of mystical experience (the highest state of ecstasy) would have to be described in terms of a loss of self-identity. Thus in terms of a theory fitting the facts we have here an unusual set of possible facts which the theory fits. I mention them as an interesting side-light to the theory.

[table of contents]  [previous]  [next]


Footnotes

141. See above, p. 105.
back to text

142. The Psychology of Attention, p. 10.
back to text

143. Ibid., p. 100.
back to text