There is a conference that is held in Tuscon, Arizona in April 2016 that focuses on the science of consciousness. How cool is that???
I will be doing a poster presentation in Arizona this year, highlighting some work I am doing with Brianna Morseth. Brianna is a fellow Mac alum and currently studies neurophilosophy at UCSB’s META lab. Brianna is very interested in the concept of ego death and asked if I would consider working on an open-ended project with her that we could present in Arizona. We’re very excited to open-source our work and will start by sharing the abstract that we submitted 🙂
The Varieties of Selfless Experience: Theological, Neurological, and Ecological Phenomenologies of Ego Death
What is it like to be a conscious, living, breathing self? Moreover, what is it like to lose this sense-of-self through either bodily or ego death? Philosopher David Chalmers states of consciousness that it is “the thing we know about more directly than we know about anything in the world.” This immediate sense-of-self is shared and experienced by us all, as is the eventual fate of biological death. Yet how one relates to death, selflessness, and one’s own mortality encompass much more varied and unique experiences.
Long have sages, mystics, and saints encouraged practices that culminate in self-transcendence: meditation, prayer, fasting, and other undertakings that alter one’s state of consciousness and may even lead to the experience of ego death. Only recently have these topics entered any realm of empirical research. We reviewed existing literature and conducted an interview-based, international survey to further elucidate a basic background of these topics.
Using a mixed-methods approach combining qualitative and quantitative data, we compare and contrast the direct experiences of selflessness and ego death among over one hundred participants from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds. Analysis reveals three phenomenological contexts in which ego death experiences are likely to manifest: meditation and other contemplative practices, immersion in and unification with nature, and consumption of hallucinogenic substances that alter the chemical constituents of the nervous system. In this work we articulate these experiences and extrapolate toward an operational definition of ego death. We then broaden the discussion to address how ego death is contextualized in different traditions, approach an understanding of the underlying neurological processes, and critically examine the philosophical implications of ego death for free will, the criminal justice system, and environmental ethics.