Letter to Dr. Melvin Morse on Citing Julian Jaynes, and on Additional Examples of Ecstatic Unions with God

In a book on near-death experiences (NDEs), "Closer to the Light," by Melvin Morse, M.D., with Paul Perry. Villard Books, NewYork, NY 10022, the bicameral mind hypothesis is called in as an explanatorytool.

I objected to this use of this material in a letter to Dr. Morse, and added in a discussion of Christian mystical experience.  He replied saying he appreciated the insight.  What I said to Doctor Morse was (the several explanatory NOTEs in parentheses were not part ofthe original letter, any parenthetical note that does not say NOTE, however, was part of the original letter):

The Bicameral Mind discussion.

Reading this part I felt you had done well in drawingthe comparison of the NDE with the ancient Egyptians' self-induced revelatory experience in which they became possessed of/by the God. But I thoughtyour invocation of the bicameral mind theory here detracted from your overallcredibility. The reason I felt this is because the section was self-contradictory:it was because there was a formal written communication system that wehave the knowledge of these times that we do, thus saying the bicameralmind waned as speech and the written word waxed seemed an unsupported assertion.

From a physical standpoint the bicameral mind theory falters because we are talking about fellow Homo-Sapiens, with all the physicaldevelopment we come into the world with. To suggest an important evolutionarydevelopment occurred -in the most complex physical organ -without any species-survival implications -in such a recent time is incredible. (NOTE: I have sincerecognized that this evolutionary step was a minor one in Jaynes' discussions,see below.)

And from a psychological perspective, how is the Egyptian that has experienced God through the NDE and then finds himself in-spired (literally) by the God thereafter any different from the Mormon Prophetor the Catholic Pope feeling the inspiration of and speaking for the Godthey represent on earth? A study of the Radical Reformation makes thisinteresting comment about these 16th Century seekers after God: "The Radicalsof the Reformation shared with their age a tremendous thirst for God. Atthe same time, they insisted on a direct, unmediated appropriation of thedivine. . . . the Radicals harked back to a mystical union with the divinebased on the immanence of God in the human soul." ("The Spirituality ofthe Radical Reformation," Timothy George, Chapter 15 in: "Christian SpiritualityII" Crossroad Publishing, NY 1989, page 336).  (NOTE: I now realizethat Jaynes saw these modern phenomena as throwbacks or reversionisms toa more primitive or less conscious way of being, and would have suggestedI was making his point rather than refuting it.  But if this is so,the ability to read and write is clearly unrelated to bicamerality, callinginto question a very central paradigm of the theory [see TheBicameral Mind page for a quick explanation of the theory]).

They (the Radical Reformers of the early 16th Century) also had prophets among them. Finally, how is the New Testament leaderPaul, whose inspiration and call followed an NDE-like experience, differentfrom these Egytian leaders when he says the evil he does is his, but thegood he does is God in him, and not his? Your analysis was interesting,but somewhat reductionist because you inserted the bicameral mind theoryas a facile explanation for a more complex phenomenon. Below I'll givesome other examples that parallel the Egyptian experience you describeas bicameral. I believe what you describe is a phenomenon observable inmodern times wherever there are faithful believers looking fervently enoughfor spiritual power to be granted them by their God.

(NOTE:  I recognize now that this challenge to Jaynes was a weak one.  The stronger challenge is the very few examples ofwritten works available that date from the dawn of writing, giving thewhole idea a very weak and questionable factual-historical basis. I attempt to make this point more pointedly on the Mysticism,Good or Evil? page.)

You didn't use the literature of Christian Mysticism.

You did a very good job of combing the literature fortypes of the NDE phenomenon. I learned a few things. But you missed oneof my personal favorite genres: Christian Mysticism. There is a lot inthe literature on this phenomenon that is unrelatable to your NDEs, butthere are some nuggets that suggest a similar experience - and some thatfit the bicameral model you cite. Although the literature is somewhat large,I'll cite here a few lines from a collection made by Martin Buber in his"Ecstatic Confessions, the Heart of Mysticism" (Harper & Row 1985):

Pages 37 & 38: Symeon the New Theologian (ca. 970-1040)

. . . you may light a fire from fire, and you receivethe whole fire, yet the fire remains undiminished and undivided as before.Nevertheless what is transmitted separates itself from the first, and assomething physical it goes into several lights. But this is something spiritual,immeasurable, inseparable, and inexhaustible. For in giving itself it doesnot divide into many, but remains undivided, and is in me, and breaks forthin my poor heart like a sun or the round disk of the sun, like a light,for it is a light. . . .

I know that I am also joined to thy divinity and havebecome thy body most pure, a shining limb, a limb truly holy that gleamsfar and wide. I gaze upon beauty, I gaze upon splendor, I behold the lightof thy mercy and stare into the inexplicable lightning, and am beside myselfwhen I note what I have been and what -O wonder- I have become: . . . .

(Does this not sound like your Egyptian priests encountering the light and receiving the God within, and becoming the God?)

Pages 43 & 44: Hildegard von Bingen (1099-1179)

But from my childhood, since before I grew strong in bones and nerves and veins, I have constantly beheld this vision in my soul until the present time, when I am more than seventy years old. And my soul ascends in this vision, as God wills, to the height of the firmament and into the exchange of various airs and extends itself to many different peoples who live far from me in distant lands and spaces. . . .

The light I see is not local; it is far, far brighterthan the cloud that carries the sun. And I cannot see depth or length orbreadth in it. And it is called for me the shadow of the living light.And as sun, moon and stars are reflected in the water, so in this lightthe images of the writings and the speech and the forces and many worksof men shine forth to me. . . .

I can by no means make out the form of this light, just as I cannot completely gaze at the sun's disk. In this light, however,I sometimes and not often see another light, which is called for me theliving light, and when and in what manner I see this, I do not know howto say. And when I gaze on it, all sadness and all need are snatched awayfrom me, . . . . And what I see and hear in that vision, my soul drawsup as from a spring that still remains full and unexhausted. But at notime is my soul bereft of the light that is called the shadow of the livinglight. And I see it as I see in a bright cloud the firmament without stars.And therein I see what I often speak and what I answer when I am askedabout the lightning flashes of that living light.

(It was this story of a woman who walked in this light from childhood on, and who describes a light within that light and howit affects her, that caused me to remember Buber's little book while reading yours. Her use of the lesser light as a source of knowledge and communication is interesting, as is the description of the one light as a reflection-emanation perhaps?- of the other)

Page 82: Sofia von Klingnau (13th or 14th century)

The soul is so entirely spiritual a thing that one can not really compare it to any physical thing. But because you desire itso much, I will give you a parable which may help you understand a littlehow its form and shape was. It was a round, beautiful, and illuminatinglight, like the sun, and was of a gold-colored red, and this light wasso immeasurably beautiful and blissful that I could not compare it withanything else. For if all the stars in the sky were as big and beautifulas the sun, all their splendor could not compare with the beauty my soulhad. And it seemed to me that a splendor went out from me that illuminatedthe whole world, and a blissful day dawned over the whole earth. And inthis light which was my soul, I saw God blissfully shining, as a beautifullight shines out of a beautiful radiant lamp, and I saw that he nestledup to my soul so lovingly and so kind that he was wholly united with itand it with him. . . .

And now, when I was in the best and highest joy, my soul began to sink down again, as God willed, until it hovered over the body,which was lying beside the bed like a corpse, and it was granted a delay,so that it did not have to reenter the body immediately, but had to hovera considerable time over the body, until it had well seen how ugly andill-formed the body was. . . . And very soon the soul turned its gaze fromthe body and gazed on itself. And when it saw itself again and found itselfso beautiful and noble and dignified, in contrast to the body, it hoveredover it, . . . And just as it was feeling happiest and enjoying itselfand God, with whom it saw itself united, it went back into the body, withoutknowing how. . . . And this grace lasted in me for eight days, and whenI came to myself again and became aware that a living spirit was in me,I stood up and was the most joyful person, so it seemed to me, on the wholeearth.

(A classic NDE it appears, with the recurring theme that the light that is seen is infused with -in contact with -and one with God)

Pages 96 & 97: Gerlach Peters (1378-1411)

Thanks be to you, you my light, my eternal light, younever- diminished light, you highest and immutable good, before whose countenance I stand, a poor and paltry slave. Thanks be to you! Now I see; I see thelight that shines in the darkness.

And what do you see in this light? I see how mightilyyou love me; and that when I remain in you, it is as impossible that youshould not be attached to me at all times, in all places and on all occasions,as it is impossible that I should ever be detached from you. . . . I, byyour grace, enjoy you in me and me in you. And if I love myself so, thenI love nothing other than you, for you are in me and I am in you as onesingle thing that has come into being through union and can never be dividedto all eternity. . .. I am unconcerned about myself and tranquil in allthat may befall me. . . .

(This reiterates the theme of the light being the bond between the soul and God, and the peace and tranquility of having cometo see and know this light)

Pages 119: Armelle Nicolas (1606-1671)

Then I threw myself down on the floor, because I could no longer hold or carry myself, so extreme was the distress to which Ihad been brought. And in the same moment God let a ray of his divine lightshine into the depth of my heart; through this ray he revealed himselfto me and let me know clearly that he whom I had so desired was enteringinto me and taking full possession of me. When this grace occurred to me,I felt myself wholly clothed and surrounded as with a light. In the beginningterror came over me, but it lasted only a moment, for immediately my heartwas again placed in surety and so changed that I no longer knew myself,and I felt such a contentment of all desires that I did not know whetherI was on earth or in heaven. I remained for some time motionless as a statue,so that I could not move. And from this time on all the faculties of mysoul were so fulfilled and contented, and in all my sense was such a greatpeace, that I could in no way doubt that God had now intimately unitedhimself with me, as had been my fervent wish up till then. And this truthwas as infallibly certain in me as if I had seen it with my own eyes, forthe light that was then communicated to me far surpassed all that may beseen with the eyes.

(I added this one because it recalls your Egyptian examples: she entered this state by tormenting and afflicting herself psychicallyand physically -as so many mystics have done- with the fervent hope ofthus being brought into union with God)

Pages 154-156: Sister Katrei (by her confessor, long thought to be Meister Eckhart by some)

. . . God draws her into a divine light, so that she imagines she is one with God, and so she is, as long as this lasts. Then the divine feeling bounds back, and she is thrown back into herself. . . .

(Her not being able to sustain this state creates terrible turmoil in her and she tries harder . . .)

Then she went so far that she forgot everything that ever acquired a name and was drawn so far out of herself and all created things that she had to be carried out of the church and lay till the third day,and they thought she was certainly dead. The confessor said: "I do notbelieve that she is dead." Know that, had it not been for the confessor,she would have been buried. They tried every means of determining whetherthe soul was still in the body, but could not find out. They said: "Certainlyshe is dead. The confessor said: "Certainly she is not dead."

On the third day the daughter comes to herself again and says, "Alas, poor me, am I here again?" The confessor comes to her immediately and says to her, "Let me enjoy divine faithfulness; reveal to me what you have experienced." She said: "God knows I cannot. What I have experienced no one can put into words." He said: "Have you now all you desire?" Shesaid: "Yes, I am confirmed."

(Although she cannot describe her experience, she does teach her confessor a few things about the soul and God such as:)

"You should know that all that is put into words and presented to people with images is nothing but a stimulus to God. Know that in Godthere is nothing but God. Know that no soul can enter into God unless itfirst becomes God just as it was before it was created. You should know,that whoever contents himself with what can be put into words -God is aword, the kingdom of heaven is also a word- whoever does not want to gofurther with the faculties of the soul, with knowledge and love, than everbecame word, ought rightfully to be called an unbeliever. What can be putinto words is grasped with the lower faculties of the soul, but the higherfaculties of the soul are not content with this; they press on, furtherand further, until they come before the source from which the soul flowed.But you should know that no faculty of the soul is able to enter the source.. . . When the soul stands in its majesty before the source, above allcreated things, the might of the soul penetrates the source, and all thefaculties of the soul remain outside. . . . So it stands, as one, in theOne, . . . . So you should know that as long as the good person lives intime, his soul has a constant progression in eternity. That is why goodpeople cherish life."

(This is quite an intricate picture of the metaphysics of the soul, and its relation to God, but I really like its flavor: ittells you to cherish life and yet also to live detached from material thingsand intellectual concepts -as ends in themselves- so as to allow your soul'sfaculties to draw you toward God while you sojourn on Earth.)

The mystics cited by Buber, and many others, report visions that confirm their beliefs -usually, except in the case of Sister Katreiand a number of others whose orthodoxy was questioned, and whose selvesand/or stories became the object of search-and-destroy missions.

If some of Buber's mystics are describing true visions of the Light also seen in NDEs, then that Light has a remarkable flexibility in the symbolism it uses to communicate. For example, in Buber's collection some unions of souls (feminine) with God describe God as a beautiful young male lover. One of the men cited by Buber seemed to have difficulties with this and so his love-experience, his union with God, was with the Old Testament's Lady Wisdom, reminiscent of Francis of Assisi being loved and embracedby God in the form of Lady Poverty. The point being that personal expectations put an identifier on the Presence within the Light that comforts and fortifies and enlightens the soul. Some of the mystics even speak of the changingforms God took in different appearances, a favorite theme of some of thevery earliest Christian mystics to whom Christ appeared as a young man,an old beggar, etc. Perhaps there is something to this, and a crossculturalsampling of NDEs might provide important additional insight.

Buber cites some non-Christian sources also, and their accounts are similar in terms of their experiencing oneness with God. One person, Ramakrishna, had visions of and/or ecstatic unions with Kali, Krishna, and Christ (pages 13-15). Perhaps Buber's book is a good indicator of what you'll find in looking at the subject of cross- cultural influences onthe experience of the Divine within the NDE.

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