The “Animal” Nature Of “Spiritual” Experiences

One of the implications of tracing “out of body experiences” and “going into the light” experiences to their neurological causes is the clarification that the sorts of amazing experiences long called “spiritual” and “transcendent” are deeply animal, and as such, likely shared with other animals:

out-of-body experiences in humans are likely caused by the brain’s arousal system, which regulates different states of consciousness.

“In humans, we know that if we disrupt the (brain) region where vision, sense of motion, orientation in the Earth’s gravitational field, and knowing the position of our body all come together, then out-of-body experiences can be caused literally by the flip of a switch,” he said. “There is absolutely no reason to believe it is any different for a dog, cat, or primate’s brain.”

Other mammals also probably have near-death experiences comparable to those reported by certain humans, he believes. Such people often say they saw a light and felt as though they were moving down a tunnel.

The tunnel phenomenon “is caused by the eye’s susceptibility to the low blood flow that occurs with fainting or cardiac arrest,” he said. “As blood flow diminishes, vision fails peripherally first. There is no reason to believe that other animals are any different from us.”

Nelson added, “What they make of the tunnel is another matter.”

“Spiritual” experiences are valuable insofar as they are pleasant and insofar as they become ways to feel things which are true—that the world of which we are a part and by which we are constituted is wonderfully impressive and beautiful, that consciousness and the living bodies we inhabit that make deliriously pleasant things for which we should feel extremely lucky possible for us, etc.

But they should not confuse us into imagining ourselves that our being is inherently a bodily, “animal” sort.  Instead they should make us appreciate our very bodily, very animal being and oppose the slander and denigration of this world, these bodies, and the offerings of earthly experience which has been foist on us by millennia of religious encouragement toward misanthropic, anti-natural hatred of the body and its mind.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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