Monday, October 23, 2006

WJ on Mysticism (Quote)

a la Betsy Bonner...

"But with the memories, concepts, and conational [sic] states, the case is different. Nobody knows exactly how far we are 'marginally' conscious of these at ordinary times, or how far beyond the 'margin' of our present thought trans-marginal consciousness of them may exist. There is at any rate no definite bound set between what is central and what is marginal in consciousness, and the margin itself has no definite bound *a parte foris*. It is like the field of vision, which the slightest movement of the eye will extend, revealing objects that always stood there to be known. My hypothesis is that a movement of the threshhold downwards will similarly bring a mass of subconscious memories, conceptions, emotional feelings, and perception of relation, etc. into view all at once; and that if this enlargement of the nimbus that surrounds the sensational present is vast enough, while no one of the items it contains attracts our attention singly, we shall have the conditions fulfilled for a kind of consciousness in all essential respects like that termed mystical....

In each of the three cases, the experience broke in abruptly upon a perfectly commonplace situation and lasted perhaps less than two minutes. In one instance I was engaged in conversation, but I doubt whether the interlocuter noticed my abstraction. What happened each time was that I seemed all at once to be reminded of a past experience; and this reminiscence, ere I could conceive or name it distinctly, developed into something further that belonged with it, this in turn into something further still, and so on, until the process faded out, leaving me amazed at the sudden vision of increasing ranges of distant fact of which I could give no articulate account. The mode of consciousness was perceptual, not conceptual--the field expanding so fast that there seemed no time for conception or identification to get in its work. There was a strongly exciting sense that my knowledge of past (or present?) reality was enlarging pulse by pulse, but so rapidly that my intellectual process could not keep up the pace. The *content* was thus entirely lost to retrospection--it sank into the limbo into which dreams vanish as we gradually awake. The feeling--I won't call it belief--that I had had a sudden *opening*, had seen through a window, as it were, distant realities that incomprehensibly belonged with my own life, was so acute that I can not shake it off to-day."

from William James' "A Suggestion About Mysticism"

No comments: