Ways of Knowing: Science and Mysticism Today

Edited by Chris Clarke

Published by Imprint Academic, May 2005, ISBN 1 84540 012 7  £17.45

Overview by Author (see also introductory chapter)

(Click on author's name for brief biographical information and chapter summary - or scroll down)


Subject of Chapter

June Boyce-Tillman

Professor of Applied Music

Validating subjugated ways of knowing.

John Holt

Writer, artist, cultural theorist. Founder of A.I.M. (Artists in Mind).

Creativity as the immune system of the mind

Jennifer Elam

Writer and psychologist

Mystical Experience as a Way of Knowing

Isabel Clarke

Clinical Psychologist

Interacting Cognitive Subsystems – the twofold mind

Douglas Watt


Attachment Mechanisms and the Bridging of Science and Religion

Lyn Andrews

Teacher and mystic

Mysticism and Integral Consciousness

Jorge Ferrer

Associate Professor of East-West Studies

Revisioning Transpersonal Theory

Rodney Bomford

Anglican Priest.

Matte Blanco's symmetric logic and mystical theology

Chris Clarke

Professor of Mathematics

Logic and paradox in science  and in life

Neil Douglas-Klotz

Scholar of Mysticism and Sufi Murshid

The Mysticism of ‘Ordinary’ and ‘Extra-ordinary’ Life in Sufism

David Abram

Cultural Ecologist

The sensory world as the ground of knowing.

Anne Primavesi


Awareness and attention: is there knowledge beyond the sensory?



Chapter Summary, including biographical information






Unconventional Wisdom

June Boyce-Tillman is Professor of Applied Music at King Alfred's College, Winchester. She pioneered work in introducing composing activities into the classroom and the results of this research have been translated into Dutch, Japanese, Portuguese and Polish. She has a particular interest in Music and Theology including Religious Education and regularly writes and takes workshops linking these areas together.  She has done pioneering work in Interfaith dialogue, writing articles and speaking on interfaith and intercultural links in Britain and abroad. Her most recent publications are in the areas of music, healing and spirituality and the  medieval abbess, Hildegard of Bingen. She is currently working on a book on gender issues in liturgical music related to Wisdom theology. She is Chair of the Alister Hardy Research Committee.


This will examine ways of knowing that have not been validated by the dominant culture drawing on the work of Michel Foucault.  It will look at the need for balance within the self and within the wider society between the valuing of such areas as process/product, challenge/nurture, the individual/the community and the embodied/the disembodied.  It will see how particular dominant value systems pushed to extremes turn sour but how in right relationship with those value systems which are subjugated they retain their integrity.  It looks towards a genuinely inclusive society in which various ways of knowing are valued.




Creativity as the immune system of the mind and the source of the mythic

John Holt was a lecturer in the School of Fine Art, Art History and Cultural Analysis at Leeds University and then Fellow in Art and Design at Loughborough University. Artist, cultural activist and writer on cultural and metaphysical thought, particularly in the fields of marginalised peoples and the nature of the “outsider”. He has written, from practical experience, on Native American and Aboriginal culture, the arts of South Asia and the status of those defined as “mentally ill”. His work on the possibility of transformation through creativity led to him founding A.I.M. (Artists in Mind) a charitable organisation set up to promote and explore creativity in those in emotional and spiritual crisis. He has developed theories connecting creativity which explores the capacity that creativity is an aspect of mind which can heal and illuminate an individual’s understanding of self and the world.

The Chapter traces the author’s personal journey of discovery, which he summarises as follows:

I have always  been concerned with the elitist status of both the arts and academic life. My particular research was in areas of what can be identified as being towards the “other”, the “marginalised”, the “outsider”, and, it would seem, the “unforgiven”. Writing articles and organising tours of artists and works by non Western artists and scholars, I was drawn to the spiritual and political in both the sacred traditions and the struggle for cultural survival, aspects which so often merged in a desperate longing for “self determination”.

I  began to take students into Rampton Secure Hospital. Rampton together with Ashworth and Broadmoor had previous connotations of being places for the “criminally insane”. Here truly were the “unforgiven”. The symbolism within the creative work produced by such artist-patients in these institutions reveals linguistic metaphors of recollections and memories in which the patient-artist is searching for a deeper understanding of her/his psychic experiences and relationship with an often torrid and abusive past. In many ways this is, in an intense and concentrated way what all artists intend in constructing visual language as a means of discovering meaning and reality in their perception of the world. This linguistic bridge between worlds which is open to anyone is I believe mythological in outcome. The personal myth, given status can become the collective myth which guides and illuminates a whole culture, if only given a chance. That the so called “mentally ill” are seen as deranged and delusional deters us from understanding aspects of vision as valid spiritual insights.    

I have a developing concept that “creativity is the immune system of the mind”, that creativity has a natural tendency, an inclination, when stimulated and encouraged towards a heightened sense of “self-realisation” in the individual. This is, I believe a process of clarification of the relationship between self and the world, (e.g. self and body, self and environment, self and God etc.), and that this need manifests in diverse ways through the construction of language and symbols. The capacity to construct a symbolic language which clarifies and externalises perceptions of self is particularly evidenced when people are in a spiritual and emotional crisis either individually or collectively. This process is perceived as a mythological process, advocating the construction of sanctuaries in which individuals and groups can explore their relationships with the world (knowledge) without analytical judgement or censorship.


Soul's Sanctuary:  Mystical Experience as a Way of Knowing

Jennifer Elam is a licensed psychologist who has taught at the college level, worked in residential treatment, and worked in schools with students aged preschool through adult. As a Cadbury scholar at Pendle Hill she listened to many people’s stories of their experiences of God and recorded about one hundred of them. many of which came to influence the paintings that she was creating. She presently leads art retreats, facilitates programs at the Listening Center in Springfield, Pennsylvania, works as a psychologist, and makes time to write and paint. Her heart’s desire now is to enjoy ordinary life.

The chapter analyses the way in which repression has grown within our societies as a result of the partition of knowing between a science and an institutionalised religion which both cut out the Spirit. Those who are open to Spirit are labelled as “abnormal” and a continually narrowing definition of “normal” has evolved that has supported major changes in our political, economic, and psychological realities. We have moved from educating children from a basic of valuing democratic principles to educating them to be unquestioning consumers. We have supported a move from valuing equality toward massive resources being placed into the hands of a few and the profit motive as the guiding principle. The shift to a more narrow definition of normal underlies the creation of greater realm of deviance; pathology and criminality increases as our tolerance and acceptance of differences decreases. Intolerance and the profit motive have united in the recent past to usher in despair as the modus operandi; it is time for a different way of knowing to emerge.

She explores how the valuing of mystical experience as a way of knowing can shift reality in major ways. That of the Universal within each person connects with the larger Reality of which we are all a part. No longer can the profit motive be the bottom line. No longer does reality lie in the shadow world of changing appearances but in the seeking of eternal truths. The valuing of diversity, reflection and personal stories can have major impact on psychology and education. The box of our Reality becomes bigger and can hold more of us; souls expand. Connection with the Creation Spirit (creativity in a broad sense) serves as the bridge between individuals and the divine/universal/God; a language is provided. War becomes impossible. The profit motive must bow down and take its rightful place.






Attachment Mechanisms and the Bridging of Science and Religion:

The Challenges of Anthropomorphism and Sect-ism

Douglas Watt has been a clinical neuropsychologist for roughly 18 years after graduating from Boston College and Harvard University for his Ph.D. and B.A. He has directed Psychology and  Neuropsychology departments in two teaching hospitals in the Boston area and is currently Instructor in Neuropsychology, Boston University School of Medicine.  He has had a passionate long-term interest in virtually any and all perspectives on emotion, and believes that only through interdisciplinary work that any real progress will be made in clarifying the deep mandates of emotion as part of our evolutionary heritage.

This chapter attempts to connect science and religion by critically dismantling fundamentalist notions about faith as anthropomorphic.  Anthropomorphic notions of God as a person obscure potential bridges between mysticism and what science is now revealing about nature as a recursive hierarchy of emergent properties, but anthropomorphisms also provide insights into the underlying attachment mechanisms informing much of religious searching. Attachment is seen as a biological mandate for hominid brains, the source of our deepest comforts and joys, and the loss of which drives our deepest pains and sorrows.  Comparative religious studies have often times been hampered by attention primarily to the cognitive forms of various religions, with relatively little attention to these underlying affective themes, which this talk tries to summarize the terms of a fundamental affective common ground for religious and spiritual searching that is derivative of basic attachment mechanisms.  Reverence and awe, as a finite if powerful hominid brain confronts an infinite natural world, are argued to be the affective core of spirituality.  Those deeply interested in spiritual perspectives have throughout the ages been often torn between deep hope and equally deep worry.  This perhaps has never been more true, given that we are now perched on a precipice of an unprecedented ecological disaster reflective of the deep failure of traditional faiths in a technological age in which nature is seen as an "object" to be manipulated and mastered instead of "the ground of being".  A reverence for the mysteries of nature and appreciation for what science is now revealing in terms of a hierarchy of emergent properties (as opposed to positivistic scientism) are argued to be deeply compatible with the core of religious mysticism, emphasizing the "oneness of all things".  Recent scientific findings showing a frightening rate of increasing ex-speciation and impending loss of vast biological diversity argue that time is short for those from humanistic traditions and perspectives to slow a frightening geopolitical momentum towards disaster.  This momentum is driven in part by harsh in group/out group distinctions that human beings seem to excel at, a tendency mirrored in and reinforced by religious "sect-ism".  Deeper appreciation for the underlying affective themes in religious searching, vs. the current much more divisive focus on the cognitive forms, is seen as one potential antidote.



“There is a crack in everything: that’s where the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen):  a cognitive science based exploration of the two ways of knowing.

Isabel Clarke is a Clinical Psychologist, currently working for the NHS Community Trust in Southampton. Her work is evenly divided between outpatient therapy and input to an inpatient and community psychiatric rehabilitation service where the client group predominantly  have received a diagnosis of chronic psychosis.  She originally studied History at Cambridge, graduating in 1968 . She is a lifelong practicing Anglican, and active in the Association for Creation Spirituality (Greenspirit).  She edited a book, Psychosis and Spirituality: Exploring the New Frontier, published by Whurr in 2001, and has organised two conferences on this theme, both held in or near Winchester, in 2000 and 2001.

This chapter takes as its starting point the fragility of the human psyche, and the persisting gap between ideal and reality.  It suggests that this gap is written deep in the make up of the human brain – the bridge between the advanced primate and the language using human is just that; a bridge.  Furthermore it is a bridge that is not always passable.  Cognitive science is used to explain how the mystical quality of experience which is the subject of much of this volume represents one side of the gulf in this inner landscape, temporarily disconnected from the other, whereas the more familiar quality of everyday experience is the two sides of the gulf well connected by the bridge.  Viewed like this, it is apparent that we are not talking about two different realities or dimensions, but about a whole that is apprehended partially by the limited instrument of the human mind, operating in different ways.  These two ways of operating give us the basis for two ways of knowing; the analytical and logical in the conventional sense, and the other which is riven with paradox, relational and without clear boundaries.  The one is cool and sensible.  The other, deep and mysterious, wonderful and terrible.  Our society tries to ignore this other way of knowing in its elevation of mechanistic science and technology, or harness it to the needs of the market through advertising and alcohol.  The “transliminal” as I prefer to call it, knows no such restraints.  It seeps back in fundamentalism, drugs and cults if it is not embraced in more wholesome ways.




Ways of Knowing and the Quest for Integration

Lyn Andrews is a school teacher whose life was transformed by a profound spontaneous mystical experience. Her chapter was invited not only for the importance of the integrated vision of the world that she expounds, and which has important practical implications for her own life, but also for her engaging account of the way she worked to make sense of her personal experience.

Lyn Andrews describes from a personal perspective her own spontaneous mystical experiences, and their background, arguing that mysticism is related to increasing self awareness and subtle changes in consciousness, which together, might be partly or wholly responsible for the different ways of knowing, and thus paradox. Her approach is distinctive for the way in which her experience gives her a way of integrating many of the aspects of science and mystical insight that are described here into a greater whole in which many of the paradoxes are understood to be the creative, integrative nature of reality. She examines in the light of this the distinctions between hierarchical and evolutionary aspects of integration, and the relationship between splitting and integration as seen through the literature that relates most closely to her own experience.






Spiritual Knowing: A Participatory Understanding

Jorge N Ferrer is Associate Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, and Adjunct Faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Palo Alto. Formerly a fellow of "La Caixa" Foundation, a research fellow of the Catalonian Council, and an ERASMUS scholar at the University of Wales (United Kingdom), he is the author of Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality (SUNY Press, 2002) and editor of a monograph of the journal ReVision on New Horizons in Contemporary Spirituality. In 2000, he received the Presidential Award from the Fetzer Institute for his seminal work on consciousness studies

Both contextualism (in its post-modern sense) and absolute realism depend on the basic splitting of the world into “subjective” and “objective” on which both the Cartesian and Kantian philosophical traditions are based. We can replace this split by an understanding of ourselves and the world in terms of participation. In this picture, spiritual knowing is a participatory event: It can involve the creative participation of not only our minds, but also our hearts, bodies, souls, and most vital essence. In this chapter, I describe these basic features of spiritual knowing, and show how a participatory understanding offers new perspectives for our approach to interreligious relations, spiritual epistemology, and the very idea of spiritual liberation. Finally, against the modern anxiety that tells us that if we cannot find universal truths we are doomed to fall into a self-contradictory vulgar relativism, I argue that the participatory vision paves a middle way between the extremes of absolutism and relativism. Though I stress the plurality of spiritual worlds and truths, I argue also that the participatory vision also brings forth a more relaxed and fertile spiritual universalism that passionately embraces the variety of ways in which we can cultivate and embody the sacred in the world. 




Ignacio Matte Blanco and the Logic of God

Rodney Bomford studied Mathematics at Oxford and subsequently theology at Oxford, Mirfield seminary and Union Seminary, New York, specialising in Philosophy of Religion.  He was ordained in the Church of England and from 1977 to 2001 was Vicar of St Giles' church, Camberwell.   He was a founding member of the London Bi-logic group which for nearly 20 years has pursued the thinking of the psycho-analyst Ignacio Matte Blanco and is now part of an international network.  In his book, The Symmetry of God, he has tried to integrate Matte Blanco's insights and the neo-Platonic tradition of Christian mystical theology.  In 2001 he spent a term as a Visiting Fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford, and  then took early retirement to develop the same line of study.

The psycho-analyst Ignacio Matte Blanco’s concept of two logics in the human mind will be described.  Of these, one is the classical logic prevalent in conscious thinking, the other is the logic of the unconscious which is often in contradiction to the first logic. Matte Blanco called this symmetric logic.  The co-existence of the two logics explains many anomalies in human thinking, particularly when thought is influenced by the emotions.  In the depth of the unconscious symmetric logic is paramount and the thinking – or absence of it – that results is closely parallel to the writings of some mystical theologians, particularly those in the neo-Platonic tradition.


Matte Blanco was deeply interested in the work of Nicolas of Cusa and his concept of God as both the Absolute Maximum and Absolute Minimum will be discussed.  This concept will be explored in relation to symmetric logic.  A concept of God will be derived from this whereby God may be seen both as the nothingness at the depth of the Unconscious and also as the whole universe when seen from the perspective of symmetric logic – God as Nothing and God as All things.   This is not, as it might seem, a simple pantheistic notion, since symmetric logic is essentially uniting, and in the limit everything is seen as one.  It will be claimed that this too was the vision of Nicolas of Cusa and that this concept is compatible with orthodox Christian doctrine.




The logic of “both/and”

Chris Clarke was Professor of Applied Mathematics and Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, where he is now a Visiting Professor. He has published 3 books on General Relativity and papers on relativity, astrophysics, cosmology, the foundations of quantum theory, biomagnetic imaging, the physics of consciousness and ecotheology. He has been a member of the York Diocesan Synod (Church of England), chair of the council of the Scientific and Medical Network and chair of the council of GreenSpirit.

The paradoxical language in which mystical experience is often expressed seems to set it apart from the world of science; and yet a central branch of science has itself produced an alternative logic that seems full of paradox: quantum logic. This chapter first surveys the role that logic has played in Western thought, and then explains the relation between quantum logic and the bilogic that is related to mystical experience, using a recently developed framework that includes both of these. Although they are “context dependent” in a formal sense, this does not commit them to contextualism, in the sense of Ferrer’s work. The chapter ends with an exploration of the way in which these logics strengthen the movement indicated by other chapters, towards an open, creative, participative engagement with the world, without thereby being bound by relativism.







“Ordinary” and “Extra-ordinary” Ways of Knowing in Middle Eastern Mysticism

Neil Douglas-Klotz is co-chair of the Mysticism Group of the American Academy of religion (www.eial.org/AARMysticismHome.htm) and co-directs the Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Learning in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is an independent scholar of religious studies, spirituality, and psychology, and author of several books, including Prayers of the Cosmos (1990), Desert Wisdom (1995), The Hidden Gospel (1999), The Genesis Meditations: A Shared Practice of Peace for Christians, Jews and Muslims (2003) and a re-edited edition of Lex Hixon’s Heart of the Qur’an (2003). He  holds a Ph.D. in religious studies and psychology from Union Institute University and taught these subjects for ten years at Holy Names College in California. He has followed the practices of the Sufi path since 1976 and was recognized as a senior teacher (murshid) in this tradition in 1993. He sits on the Advisory Board of the International Association of Sufism (www.ias.org).

This chapter first examines the epistemologies inherent in ancient Semitic languages and suggests that classical ways of knowledge and interpretation involved in attempting to understand and/or evaluate spiritual experiences in the Bible, Qur’an and the other literature of Middle Eastern spiritual traditions may be inappropriate to them. This argument draws on the psycholinguistic work of Boman (1960) on Semitic languages, of Bergson (1913) on non-Western ways of construing time and space and of Reason and Rowan (1981) on ways of constructing new paradigm inquiry strategies. This leads to the author’s formulation of a “hermeneutics of indeterminacy” (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002) as a way of reading Biblical and Quranic texts that arise from spiritual experiences and a way of  understanding transliminal states of consciousness today (referencing Clarke (2000) on “spiritual” and “psychotic” experiences).

The chapter then proceeds from the general to the particular by investigating the ways in which various classical Sufi writers attempted to articulate the relation of ‘ordinary’ to ‘non-ordinary’ states of awareness. In this regard, it compares classical Sufi descriptions of a mystical state (hal) and mystical station (maqam) with modern and post-modern concerns about a “mysticism of everyday life.” The experience of a hal denotes a state of grace that descends upon a Sufi practitioner, but which is only temporary and facilitates a new “station” in life that represents the ability to bring a visionary state into everyday life (Nasr 1991, Schimmel 1975, Ernst 1997). This functional dialectic can be usefully compared to various concepts of in the writings of humanistic psychology (Maslow 1968, 1993; Reich 1948, 1949). In both the classical Sufi terminology and practice, as well as that in the evolving theories of humanistic psychology, one finds the attempt to contextualize “everyday life” itself within a mystical framework, that is, not only is there a mysticism of everyday life, but everyday life itself is seen in an extra-ordinary way, as a type of mysticism in itself.


The Eclipse of the Sensuous

David Abram, cultural ecologist and philosopher, is the author of  The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World (Vintage, 1997), for which he received, among other awards, the Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction. An accomplished slight-of-hand magician who has lived with indigenous sorcerors in Indonesia, Nepal, and the Americas, his writings have appeared both in academic journals and in such publications as The Ecologist, Tikkun, Orion, Wild Earth, Resurgence, Parabola, and Environmental Ethics, as well as in a host of anthologies. David Abram lectures and teaches widely on several continents; he has also been named by The Utne Reader as one of a hundred leading visionaries currently transforming the world.

This chapter introduces a radical new dimension into the whole discussion in arguing powerfully that we can make sense of the confusion of different landscapes, different worlds, which now confronts us, by finding a rich and fertile common ground from which they all spring. What a boon it would be to discover a specific scape that lies at the heart of all these others. For if there is such a secret world among all these—if there is a specific realm that provides the soil and support for all these others—then that primordial zone would somehow contain, hidden within its fertile topology, a gateway onto each of these other landscapes. The chapter proceeds to find this ground as none other than the sensorial terrain of tastes and textures and ever-shifting shadows in which we find ourselves bodily immersed. From here there unfolds the liberating consequences for our lives of this vision of the core ground of all ways of knowing.


Awareness and Attention

Anne Primavesi is a Fellow of the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion, Birkbeck, London, and of the Westar Institute for the Advancement of Religious Literacy, Santa Rosa, California. Formerly Research Fellow in Environmental Theology, University of Bristol, her publications on theology and science include Sacred Gaia: Holistic theology and earth system science (Routledge 2000), and most recently, Gaia's Gift: Earth, ourselves and God after Copernicus (Routledge 2003).

This paper defines particular aspects of awareness and attention and suggests that the interaction between them functions as a prerequisite for knowledge of any kind, including that which we call scientific or mystical. As such, it signals a non-hierarchical approach to human ways of knowing and, as implicitly prelinguistic, allows for paradoxical expressions of what is known.

The interaction between awareness and attention will be discussed under the following headings: