Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (1901) is a book written by Richard Maurice Bucke, a Canadian psychiatrist. In this book, he explored the concept of Cosmic Consciousness, which he defined as "a higher form of consciousness than that possessed by the ordinary man."
Forms of consciousness
In Cosmic Consciousness, Bucke stated that he discerned three forms, or degrees, of consciousness:
- Simple consciousness, possessed by both animals and mankind
- Self-consciousness, possessed by mankind, encompassing thought, reason, and imagination
- Cosmic consciousness, a consciousness of the life and order of the universe which is possessed by few men at present. It is a further stage of human evolution which will be reached by all humanity in the future.
According to Bucke,
This consciousness shows the cosmos to consist not of dead matter governed by unconscious, rigid, and unintending law; it shows it on the contrary as entirely immaterial, entirely spiritual and entirely alive; it shows that death is an absurdity, that everyone and everything has eternal life; it shows that the universe is God and that God is the universe, and that no evil ever did or ever will enter into it; a great deal of this is, of course, from the point of view of self consciousness, absurd; it is nevertheless undoubtedly true.
Moores said that Bucke's cosmic consciousness is an interconnected way of seeing things "which is more of an intuitive knowing than it is a factual understanding." Moores pointed out that, for scholars of the purist camp, the experience of cosmic consciousness is incomplete without the element of love, "which is the foundation of mystical consciousness":
Mysticism, then, is the perception of the universe and all of its seemingly disparate entities existing in a unified whole bound together by love.
Juan A. Herrero Brasas said that Bucke's cosmic consciousness refers to the evolution of the intellect, and not to "the ineffable revelation of hidden truths." According to Brasas, it was William James who equated Bucke's cosmic consciousness with mystical experience or mystical consciousness.
Bucke identified only male examples of cosmic consciousness. He believed that women were not likely to have it. (However, there are some women amongst the 'additional cases' listed in the second half of the book.)
Both Bucke and James argue that all religions, no matter how seemingly different, have a common core; both believe that it is possible to identify this core by stripping away institutional accretions of dogma and ritual and focusing on individual experience; and both identify mystical illumination as the foundation of all religious experience.
James popularized the concept of religious experience,[note 1] which he explored in The Varieties of Religious Experience. He saw mysticism as a distinctive experience which supplies knowledge of the transcendental. He considered the "personal religion" to be "more fundamental than either theology or ecclesiasticism", and states:
In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed. In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which bring it about that the mystical classics have, as been said, neither birthday not native land.
Regarding cosmic consciousness, William James, in his essay The Confidences of a "Psychical Researcher," wrote:
What again, are the relations between the cosmic consciousness and matter? ... So that our ordinary human experience, on its material as well as on its mental side, would appear to be only an extract from the larger psycho-physical world?
James understood "cosmic consciousness" to be a collective consciousness, a "larger reservoir of consciousness," which manifests itself in the minds of men and remains intact after the dissolution of the individual. It may "retain traces of the life history of its individual emanation."
- Animal, brutish self-awareness
- Sensual consciousness
- Higher self-consciousness
In Schleiermacher's theology, higher consciousness "is the part of the human being that is capable of transcending animal instincts." It is the "point of contact with God" and the essence of being human.
When higher consciousness is present, people are not alienated from God by their instincts. The relation between higher and lower consciousness is akin to St. Paul's "struggle of the spirit to overcome the flesh." Higher consciousness establishes a distinction between the natural and the spiritual sides of human beings.
The concept of religious experience was used by Schleiermacher and by Albert Ritschl to defend religion against scientific and secular criticism and to defend the belief that moral and religious experiences justify religious beliefs.
Wayne Proudfoot (1939 – ), a 20th-century theologian, traced the roots of the notion of religious experience to Schleiermacher, who had argued that religion is based on a feeling of the infinite.
All this seems to force upon us an interpretation of Hegel that would understand his term "min"' as some kind of cosmic consciousness; not, of course, a traditional conception of God as a being separate from the universe, but rather as something more akin to those eastern philosophies that insist that All is One.
Others who have used the concept of cosmic consciousness, as introduced by Bucke in 1901, include Albert Einstein, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Alan Watts.
- Bucke 2009, p. 1-3.
- Bucke 2009, p. 19–82, Parts II-III.
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- Moores 2006, p. 33.
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