Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Psychiatry, the Mystical, and the Paranormal

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Psychiatry, the Mystical, and the Paranormal

Article excerpt

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. "Our greatest blessings," [says Socrates,] "come to us by way of madness, provided the madness is given us by divine gift." Plato, Phaedrus 244A. (E. R. Dodds, 1951, p. 64)

I understand psychiatry to be that branch of medicine that deals with mental disturbance and its treatment by drugs and psychotherapy. (I further understand that clinical parapsychology is that aspect of psychical research that deals with psychiatric issues inasmuch as they are related to belief in, and alleged experience of, the paranormal.) Though I have no formal training in psychiatry, my qualifications to speak about it are several: I have taken counseling and psychotherapy as part of my Honours degree in psychology; I have some background in psychoanalysis and abnormal psychology; and, in addition to my professional qualifications, I have severe bipolar disorder, experience of which I believe affords me a number of insights into discussion of this particular mental condition. I would suggest that this background has equipped me well to do research specifically in the area of bipolar disorder, and I have four publications on this topic, one in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology and two in coauthorship with my then-psychiatrist, Darryl Bassett (Lange, Thalbourne, Houran, & Lester, 2002; Thalbourne & Bassett, 1998; Thalbourne, Delin, & Bassett, 1994; Thalbourne & Houran, 2005). I have a number of publications in which experience of mania, depression, schizotypy, and dissociation were measured by questionnaire (1) and related to each other and to other variables (e.g., Thalbourne & Delin, 1994). It is on two of these other variables that I would like to concentrate in this paper, namely, mystical experience and belief in, and alleged experience of, the paranormal. I have carefully defined these two concepts and will give those definitions.


   First, mystical experience is:

   An experience which ... consists of a majority of the following
   features: it tends to be sudden in onset, joyful, and difficult to
   verbalize; it involves a sense of perceiving the purpose of
   existence; an insight into "the harmony of things; (2)" a perception
   of an ultimate unity--of oneness; transcendence of the ego; an
   utter conviction of immortality; and it tends to be temporary,
   authoritative and to be attributed supreme value. Some people
   interpret the mystical experience as an experience of unity with
   God. (Thalbourne, 2003, pp. 74-75)

Perhaps the most famous account of mystical experience was given by the Canadian psychiatrist--or alienist as he was called then--Richard Maurice Bucke. The following quote is from Bucke's book Cosmic Consciousness (Bucke, 1901/1969). Note that the author speaks of himself in the third person:

   It was in the early spring, at the beginning of his thirty-sixth
   year. He and two friends had spent the evening reading Wordsworth,
   Shelley, Keats, Browning, and especially Whitman. They parted at
   midnight, and he had a long drive in a hansom (it was in an English
   city). His mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images
   and emotions called up by the reading and talk of the evening, was
   calm and peaceful. He was in a state of quiet, almost passive
   enjoyment. All at once, without warning of any kind, he found
   himself wrapped around as it were by a flame-colored cloud. For an
   instant he thought of fire, some sudden conflagration in the great
   city; the next, he knew that the light was within himself. Directly
   afterwards came upon him a sense of exultation, of immense
   joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual
   illumination quite impossible to describe. Into his brain streamed
   one momentary lightening-flash of the Brahmic Splendor which has
   ever since lightened his life; upon his heart fell one drop of
   Brahmic Bliss, leaving thenceforward for always an aftertaste of
   heaven. … 
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