Bob Nichols's Reviews > Cosmic Consciousness

Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Maurice Bucke
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Mar 08, 2012

it was ok

Bucke's book is an interesting attempt to tie evolutionary theory to expanded states of consciousness (that James also noted in his "Varieties of Religious Experience"). Bucke's thesis is that life has moved from simple (animal) consciousness to self-consciousness (human reflective), and is now moving toward cosmic consciousness. The latter, at this time exhibited by only a few individuals who he references, is characterized by a feeling of living in eternity now and by moral elevation. There's a strong religious overtone associated with this consciousness and experience of "Brahmic Splendor."

Bucke attempts to make a bit of science about this by saying that this expansion of consciousness, which is really a phenomenon quite different than human self-consciousness (i.e., not its extension), occurs more in men than women, in ones later 20s to early 40s, during the spring and summer months, and is more characteristic of Aryan races (Bushmen and native Austrailians are not capable). This cosmic state is not supernatural or supernormal (at end of the book he indicates that if he had more time and room he would have explored miracles, and sensible connections with others and perhaps higher spirits, and cases where man directs powers outside of himself). Rather, Bucke is outlining the psychogenesis of humankind where, in time, this cosmic capacity will form a new race of people that will "possess the earth."

Somehow, the idea of moral and cosmic elevation seems inconsistent with supernova explosions. Looking from the perspective of modern cosmology such as it might be understood (e.g., humans as part of earth; earth as part of the solar system; sun as part of a moderate sized galaxy; our galaxy part of a cluster of galaxies; that cluster part of a super cluster of galaxies; etc.), it is not that hard to wonder whether there might be some alternative explanations to the phenomena that Bucke puts forward. Does the "love thy neighbor" principle that Bucke sees in some of his examples refer to human kind or to just one's tribe? Bucke quotes extensively from Buddhist literature but at least one historian (Durant) argues that Buddha himself was not involved with another world as opposed to those who followed him and developed the canonical literature (e.g., "His conception of religion was purely ethical; he cared everything about conduct, nothing about...metaphysics or theology." "...what is Nirvana? It is difficult to find an erroneous answer to this question; for the Master left the point obscure, and his followers have given the word every meaning under the sun."). More than a few others have claimed cosmic visions but were dismissed as nutcases, so why one and not another? Exactly what kind of visionary was Plotinus? Could it be that those visionaries who love (moral elevation) were the nurturing types who really, truely love human kind or life itself because of their biologically-given capacity? Do people create their leaders because of their need for father figures ("saviors")? Whitman, one follower Bucke quotes, could hear the grass grow and the leaves leaf. Such were his powers, as seen by revering followers.

At the end of the book, Bucke talks about the perspective of inducing such consciousness by artificial means (e.g., alcohol, drugs). This might be a clue as to the right line of question to pursue. What, biochemically, explains expansive cosmic states? Bucke talks about levitation as an example of the type of phenomenon that seems related to cosmic consciousness. I think such a phenomenon as that (along with ghosts and spirits) is widespread and wonder how it might be explained by alternatives other than the one put forward by Bucke.
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