Eugene d’Aquili and Andrew B. Newberg. The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999. Paperback, 228 pp.
The biological foundation of mystical experiencing is a hot topic. Eugene d’Aquili, the senior and principal author of The Mystical Mind, researched the connection between brain and religio-mystical states of consciousness, for nearly a quarter of a century. He passed away prior to the book’s publication but, in the form of the present publication, has left a rich legacy of facts and speculations.
In this groundbreaking study, the authors argue that brain and mind are two ways of looking at one and the same reality. Therefore, when speaking about mystical states of mind, they also logically speak of the mystical brain. They further argue that the mind utilizes seven “cognitive operators”: the holistic, reductionist, causal, abstractive, binary, quantitative, and emotion value operators. These operators process all input into the brain/mind, whether sensory, cognitive, or emotional and provide the basis for a response. The authors call the input-processing-output loop the “empiric modification cycle” (EMC).
The mystical states of mind, according to them, are real from a neuropsychological perspective. They are super-real when viewed from the ordinary mind’s “baseline reality.” The experience of absolutely unitary being (AUB), or what the authors also qualify as God, is the experience of a privileged few, while other hyperlucid states are the domain of many mystics.
The mystical brain necessarily also is a religious brain, and the authors have many fascinating things to say about religion, ritual, and myth. But personally I have found their discussion most intriguing and encouraging in regard to the highest mystical state of pure consciousness, for which they claim to have found even experimental evidence.
D’Aquili and Newberg boldly suggest that neuroscience forms a valid basis for neurotheology. In their own words, the testimony of mystics can no longer be dismissed as merely “silly imaginings of religious nuts.” Their neurotheology, in turn, can be used to construct what they call a “ megatheology,” that is, a universal grammar of theology.
Even though the subject matter tackled in this book is quite complex, the authors’ lucid writing style makes it possible for a layperson to follow their scientific arguments and emerge with a much richer understanding of the brain/mind problem.