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Scientists find new evidence of higher states of consciousness

Enlightenment Today    Translate This Article
20 October 2005

At the end of the 19th century, Canadian physician Richard Bucke described a level of human development he called 'cosmic consciousness.' Dr. Bucke wrote about a state of 'enlightenment or illumination,' an experience of 'eternal life' paired with 'an indescribable feeling of elevation, elation, and joyousness.'

In Bucke's day, the main obstacle to researching Cosmic Consciousness was the rarity of individuals who had actually achieved it. Today, scientists are fortunate to have access to the very resource Dr. Bucke lacked—a pool of subjects experiencing inner unboundedness at the same time they are active in everyday life.

A study published in the November 2002 issue of Biological Psychology reports the findings of a research team led by Dr. Fred Travis, now director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. Dr. Travis's team was able to quantify the experience of Cosmic Consciousness using advanced electroencephalograph (EEG) technology.

The Physiology of Consciousness

Scientists have been measuring the objective parameters of higher states of consciousness for the past three decades. In 1970 at UCLA, Dr. Robert Keith Wallace found that physical signs of deep rest-such as decreased respiration, higher basal skin resistance, and lower metabolic rate-corresponded with inner experiences of heightened awareness when subjects practiced the Transcendental Meditation® technique. Dr. Wallace used the term 'restful alertness' to describe this unique experience of settled physical functioning together with fully awake consciousness.

Later research extended these findings, utilizing EEG technology to measure electrical impulses from the brain. Looking at the brain waves charted by an EEG machine, scientists were able to identify specific patterns, each corresponding to a style of brain activity.

In contrast to the drowsy, disorganized neural activity of sleep, the orderly EEG patterns found during the TM technique indicated harmony, or coherence, between regions of the brain. These EEG patterns and Dr. Wallace's findings allowed scientists to speak of a fourth major state of consciousness, a Transcendental Consciousness distinct from waking, dreaming, and sleeping.

Transcendence and Activity

Dr. Travis's team recently broke new ground using EEG technology to study a more advanced state of consciousness-one where the silent, unbounded awareness of Transcendental Consciousness is experienced along with the waking, dreaming and sleep states.

Virtually every world tradition has described a state where infinite awareness, or pure consciousness, coexists with activity. The American poet Walt Whitman recorded such an experience in his 'Song of Myself': 'Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am, / Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary, / . . . Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it.'

Dr. Bucke based his study on the experiences of Whitman and others-experiences that were often fleeting and intermittent, reported by subjects who were remote from him in space and time. 'Only a personal experience of it,' Bucke wrote, 'or a prolonged study of men who have passed into the new life, will enable us to realize what this actually is.'

Today, more and more people who practice the Transcendental Meditation program are reporting this experience of a continuum of silent pure awareness along with the changing values of their daily lives.

Dr. Travis and his fellow researchers—Boston College professor Dr. Joe Tecce, longtime brain researcher Dr. Alarik Arenander and pioneering physiologist Dr. Wallace—had access to several such individuals for their study. Using the most modern scientific equipment and methods, they were able to study these subjects in a laboratory environment.

Measuring Integration

The researchers wanted to study brain wave patterns during activity, so they asked a group of seventeen subjects who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique and two control groups to perform simple tasks in which they responded to a sound by pressing a computer key. They also performed decision-based tasks that required them to quickly judge the larger of two images on a computer screen.

By measuring the subjects' response time and looking at their EEG patterns during the tasks, the researchers could determine how hard the brain was struggling to respond, how coherently it was functioning, and whether a subject's overall efficiency in the action corresponded with the coherent EEG patterns found during Transcendental Consciousness.

The researchers developed an 'integration scale,' a set of criteria to measure how brain activity changes when subjects are beginning to integrate Transcendental Consciousness into daily life. Dr. Travis concluded that the subjects who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique demonstrated 'an innate capacity to function at much higher levels, where mental processes become very calm, precise, and efficient-without common anxieties, frustrations or unhappiness.'

Now in the 21st century, the Transcendental Meditation technique has opened a reliable door for the development of 'enlightenment or illumination.' And modern science has given us the technology to prove it's real.

Copyright 2005, Enlightenment Today

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