Saturday, July 18, 2009

To The Goddess Sophia

In a response to my initial contentions with respect to Hood's Mysticism Scale and Joe Hinman's reliance on it, Jeff at Sophie's Ladder has taken the time to provide something of a substantial response. Here is the first part of my reply, beginning with two correction.

First, I don't think that the m-scale is useless because it has nothing to do with neurology or cannot identify what's happening in the brain. I think that its conclusions are irrelevant to neurological research. And any criticism of such research based on a reliance on the m-scale is misguided. The m-scale has provided us with a means of giving words to what Hood, Stace and other religious psychologists call an ineffable experience. And it provides empirical data for quantitative studies on self-representation and identification (for example).

While Stace maintained that the proximate cause of the experience is irrelevant (and I agree to some extent as does Hood), we should recognize the particularly constrained aspects of the experience that researchers are trying to reveal. For example, items 3, 6, 8, 12 etc. on the scale (the items Hood identifies as "Introvertive Mysticism") deal with the a-spaciotemporality and ineffability of the "mystical experience". Item 12 on the scale says: I have had an experience in which I realized the oneness of myself with all things.

This particular sensation isn't unique to people having mystical experiences as defined by the m-scale. Astronauts have described the same sensation while leaving the Earth's atmosphere and entering space "proper". Jill Bolte Taylor described the same sensation while suffering from a stroke. Now, this is not a criticism in and of itself. But the fact that this introverted mysticism occurs outside of the "mystical experience" as described by the m-scale suggests that further study is required that goes beyond the m-scale. In fact, it also suggests that one doesn't need the m-scale to validate any particular component of its whole. And it is more than plausible that human neurology: demarcating and processing stimuli or being systematically reoriented triggers this sensation.

Second, and this will be short, I did not assert that predictability inferred or infers cause. In fact, I made sure to highlight that certain neurological activity predictably correlate with an introvertive mysticism. And this specific sensation can be replicated by instigating this neural activity.

Now to my first contention: Hood has defined “mysticism” as “the enigmatic” in his unity thesis, citing the etymological development of the word “mysticism”, stemming from the Greek verb: to close to the modern incarnation of “mysterious” or “the enigmatic”. It's important to recognize that he's not referring to something “out there” or “in us” that in and of itself has some divine or special quality—outside of an introverted and extroverted universality (common core).

So, I don't think a mystical experience is mystical in the sense that people like Joe use the word. And that's why I assert that there really is no way to tell if the experience is mystical to begin with. I believe that there is a kind of “pseudoconflation” occurring in which the first two factors: the introvertive and extrovertive aspects) of the experience, which are a part of Stace's common core thesis, and the interpretative factor are being mashed together.

The items on the scale that deal with the interpretative elements of the experience are themselves inducted into subjective language. Hood acknowledges that the interpretative factor is not intersubjective and doesn't carry over across cultures. And common sense would tell us this is true as well. To the Jew he uses “G-d”, to the Wiccan “nature”, and explicitly refers to the religious, affective and noetic subfactors (or contextualized results of the experience) as comprising the third factor in the three-factor m-scale analysis. But the third factor isn't a part of the common core, which is what the scale does validate. So the purpose of the scale is not to show that a religious experience has occurred, as Jeff writes and Joe assumes.

It is to validate Stace's common core thesis and provide empirical data for and verification of Hood's unity thesis: the Jamesian view that there is little diversity among mysticisms if one focuses on experience rather than its interpretation (1). So, simply put, the mysticism scaleverifies the common core. That is, “the enigmatic” experience is experienced everywhere with little variation. But it does not validate the third factor, whether the experience is religious, noetic or affective.

So, the m-scale provides us with a set of worded characteristics for the ineffable experience that Hood and Stace call mystic. Neurologists can study these characteristics freely without having to study the totality of the experience and being bogged down by whether they're truly replicating the whole experience or not. So it doesn't matter if they can't be sure if they're replicating the experience in its whole. They're trying to mimic various components of the experience and find their cause (being what the second part will deal with).

Works Cited

1) Hood, Ralph. Conceptual and Empirical Consequences of the Unity Thesis

Works Considered

Lazar, Aryeh. Cultural Influences on Religious Experience and Motivation

Hood, Ralph. Conceptual and Empirical Consequences of the Unity Thesis


  1. The bottom line for me remains that I agree with you that "there really is no way to tell if the experience is mystical to begin with." How then, can one claim or demonstrate that X causes Y, in the case where Y must remain unconfirmed? Hopefully, in your second section you will show how this can be done, without assuming that the experience is physical.

  2. Yes of course you can tell that. All you are doing is re-labeling. Labeling is merely a trick of reduction.It's not a valid logical argument. You are merely saying "I don't wish to believe in the mystical so I will say this it is not it."

    by any valid measure of the term the M scale demonstrates a distinction between the phenomena universally described and that which is not included in the description.