Consciousness Beyond the Brain
Spirituality is an important dimension of the human experience.
The All is mind; the Universe is mental.
— The Kybalion
The old sages and shamans have always understood that there is a world beyond the self, and that all people across all dimensions, share this world. The individual is part of their environment and they can’t be observed separately. Even the one who does the observation can’t observe without recognizing that they themselves are part of an environment. Environment may be geographical, cultural, and even spiritual. One might wonder, then, whether the world is an extension of the individual, or the individual is an extension of the world. It’s the same thing. The individual is the environment, and the environment is the individual.
We have always assumed that individual consciousness is what makes us distinct from another person. The materialist paradigm has convinced us that everything can be reduced to the interactions of matter. So, since consciousness comes from the brain, and the brain is housed in a person’s body, and a person only has one body, then it follows that my consciousness is separate from yours. But the truth is that consciousness is shared. The brain is simply a receiver of this consciousness “signal”, and we are only watching one channel at a time.
The Materialist Paradigm
- Consciousness emerges from the brain, as a product of electrochemical reactions.
- Altered states of consciousness are a product of chemical imbalances in the brain, and must only be treated biologically.
- Upon death, the brain dies, and with it consciousness is extinguished.
The Transpersonal World View
- Consciousness is fundamental to the universe. The brain receives consciousness like a television set receives the broadcast signal.
- There are other levels of non-physical reality and altered states are different “channels”
- The body temporarily houses individual consciousness and upon death it returns to larger consciousness.
Paranormal phenomena, among which are spirit possessions, trance states, telepathy, and psychokinesis, can be explained through a transpersonal lens. Often, people who intuitively follow this world view interpret these phenomena as spiritual experiences because of the feeling of unity with one’s environment. To better explain this, we can use the metaphor of eggs. The materialist paradigm sees people as hard-boiled eggs, distinct from one another. The transpersonal world view, on the other hand, sees individuals like eggs fried in a pan: the yolks are separate, but the whites touch. It’s hard to tell where one person ends and another begins.¹
The transpersonal world view has possible applications in scientific research and psychotherapy. When a scientist comes from a purely materialist paradigm, they are immediately limited by what science already knows about the world. Previous experimental research in the field of parapsychology has shown that paranormal phenomena, though rare, do exist. Yet, there is a continued bias towards quantitative sciences. For example, people would be more likely to trust a neuroscience study than a parapsychology study, despite them applying the same scientific rigor.² A reliance on measurements removes the nuance and complexity of the human experience.
Spirituality is an important dimension of the human experience. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, whose goal is self-enlightenment, the goal of transpersonal psychotherapy is collective transcendence. The transpersonal world view destigmatizes altered states of consciousness and creates a bridge between modern treatments and traditional healing. A holistic approach to healing takes care of the mind, body, and spirit.
¹Bulatao, J.C. (1992). Phenomena and their interpretation. Ateneo de Manila University Press.
²Butzer, B. (2020). Bias in the evaluation of psychology studies: A comparison of parapsychology versus neuroscience. Explore, 16(6), 382–391.