Drunkenness as a Mystical Experience

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In connection to my post last month, here is the William James (19th Century philosopher, psychologist, and brother of Henry James) in his great study of religious experience ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’, categorising drunkenness as an important kind of mystical experience. I knew I had an excuse!

“The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to simulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes. It is in fact the greater exciter of the Yes function in man. It brings its votary from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core. It makes him for the moment one with truth. Not through mere perversity do men run after it. To the poor and the unlettered it stands in the place of symphony concerts and of literature; and it is part of the deeper mystery and tragedy of life that whiffs and gleams of something that we immediately recognise as excellent should be vouchsafed to so many of us only in the fleeting phases of what in its totality is so degrading a poisoning. The drunken consciousness is one bit of mystic consciousness, and our total opinion of it must find its place in our opinion of that larger whole.”

The Author

I am a philosopher and consciousness researcher at Durham University, UK. My research focuses on how to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview.

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