“It is undeniable that human beings in all times and cultures have been hardwired for spiritual experiences – some of course more than others. But is this proof of any of the multiple metaphysical belief systems that we tend, I would suggest, to superimpose onto the experience? The central difficulty here is that the altered state of a spiritual experience is so convincing (and so important, beautiful and meaningful in its own right) and we are so suggestible during and afterward, that it is almost ubiquitous to be convinced that the experience is undeniable (or at the very least strong) proof of whatever belief system the ensuing interpretation is coming from – when in actuality it is nothing of the sort!

Humans love to go into altered states. There is not a culture in the history of the planet that has not come up with some way of fermenting, drinking, eating, fasting, dancing, sweating, drumming, smoking, snorting, chanting, breathing, meditating, stretching, sensory depriving or sensory overloading its way into altered states of consciousness. In addition some people have more labile neurophysiology than others – be they epileptic, hypo-glycemic, bipolar, schizophrenic or merely garden-variety creative, empathic types with thin ego-boundaries.

Thankfully we have developed an ever-deepening understanding of some of the more extreme dysfunctions of the brain and have ways of diagnosing and treating these problems that are more effective than ever before. One cannot help but be curious about the similarities between say religious and schizophrenic statements about reality and wonder how much of the difference is one of degree, and to what extent the vocabulary of experience being used is coming from the same part of the brain.

It is undeniable that to both the person in the grips of an ardent religious conversion and the clinically insane the novel and metaphysical revelations being described are not only convincing but are held as extremely important, often not only for the individual in the grip of the experience, but for all of humanity. I want to suggest that this is an extreme form of an activity of our physiology and its related interior – the psyche, that at its best can be positively transformational, healing and creative and at its worse can be fundamentalist, violent and crazy.”

(via Julian Walker’s Blog)