Friday, May 25, 2012

The Experience of Oneness

I made a minor change to my web page on Varieties of Mystical Experiences in the section Kensho and Kundalini. I added a link to a web page by Christine Farrenkopf discussing scientific research on the changes in brain activity that occur when meditators experience a sense of oneness sometimes referred to as a nondual state. (UPDATE: I changed the link on my web site to go to this post.)

From Farrenkopf's web report:

The "peak" of meditation is clearly a subjective state, with each individual attaining it in different manners and having different time requirements. However, the sensation and meaning behind this moment is consistent among all who reach it. At the peak, the subjects indicate that they lose their sense of individual existence and feel inextricably bound with the universe. "There [are] no discrete objects or beings, no sense of space or the passage of time, no line between the self and the rest of the universe" (Newberg 119).


The subjects then meditated. When they reached the peak, they pulled on a string attached at one end to their finger and at the other to Dr. Newberg.2 This was the cue for Newberg to inject the radioactive tracer into the IV connected to the subject. Because the tracer almost instantly "locks" onto parts of the brain to indicate their activity levels, the SPECT gives a picture of the brain essentially at that peak moment (Newberg 3). The results revealed a marked decrease in the activity of the posterior, superior parietal lobe and a marked increase in the activity of the prefrontal cortex, predominantly on the right side of the brain (Newberg 6). Such changes in activity levels demonstrated that something was going on in the brain in terms of spiritual experience. The next step was to look at what these particular parts of the brain do. Studies of damage suffered to a region of the brain have enabled us to draw conclusions about its role by observing loss of function.

It has been concluded that the posterior, superior parietal lobe is involved in both the creation of a three-dimensional sense of self and an individual's ability to navigate through physical space (Journal 216). The region of the lobe in the left hemisphere of the brain allows for a person to conceive of the physical boundaries of his body (Newberg 28). It responds to proprioceptive stimuli, most importantly the movement of limbs. The region of the lobe in the right hemisphere creates the perception of the matrix through which we move.

From a subjective point of view, when in the nondual state, it seems like the self disappears and the experiencer becomes "one with everything". From an objective point of view, research on meditators shows that the experience is due to a decrease in activity of the posterior, superior parietal lobe in the brain. These results are consistent with other research which shows that region of the brain is responsible for the sense of self. At first glance, this may seem like a materialist explanation for the experience of oneness, but it is consistent with hypothesis that consciousness is non physical and the brain acts as a filter of consciousness. It indicates that the sense of self is not an objective fact. The sense of self is a subjective opinion, an illusion, produced by the brain.

It is also interesting that people who have near death experiences also report a sense of oneness which suggests the experience of oneness is a real experience of our true nature when we are not constrained by the physical brain. Whatever the explanation, the experience of oneness does show that the sense of self and separateness we consider to be our normal reality is merely a subjective opinion.

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