restricted access The Application of Nondual Epistemology to Anomalous Experience in Psychosis
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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 9.4 (2002) 353-358

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The Application of Nondual Epistemology to Anomalous Experience in Psychosis

Caroline Brett

THE COMMENTARIES PROVIDED by Marzanski and Bratton, and McGhee have drawn my attention to several ways in which my analysis could benefit from clarification or supplementation, and the range of the specific phenomena to which it can be applied. Since writing this paper nearly 3 years ago, my own views of the area have developed, and in some aspects, shifted; nevertheless, within this response I shall comment on the specific aspects of the original paper that I feel may have been misunderstood or overlooked by the commentators, and those aspects that benefit from the broader perspective they provided.

To clarify the direction of the original paper: I would describe it as an attempt to make a deeper examination of processes involved in some kinds of anomalous experience than is provided by the "cognitive problem-solving model"; in other words, to supplement rather than challenge or undermine this perspective. Moreover, the focus is intended to be more on identifying the point at which the experience, or the response to the experience (more on the relation between these two below) becomes pathological, than on cleanly distinguishing a psychotic state from a mystical one. However, because I do use these terms contrastively throughout the paper, I concede that these aims become blurred and may in fact be indistinguishable.

Third, the paper concerns only a relatively narrow arena of both mystical and psychotic phenomenology, selected for the purpose of a tight conceptual analysis and comparability, and possibly suffers a lack of generalizability or scope of application as a result. Most notably, I leave aside the paranoid or persecutory interpretative framework often seen as paradigmatic of the psychotic state (although a brief mention of how emotionally relevant themes may arise out of anomalous cognition is included), focussing instead on the more "Schneiderian" aspects of psychotic phenomenology, in which there is a self-observed alteration of normal experience. 1 It may be an important point of contrast that I do not specifically focus on "hallucinations, voices, and visions" as described by McGhee and, to an extent, Jackson and Fulford. It may also be worth [End Page 353] flagging up the fact that I do not focus on "delusional beliefs" at all, instead choosing to focus on the "delusional mood," which notably does not involve crystallized delusions as such. As a result, the main aim is not to compare two descriptively defined states of mind, as seems to be suggested by McGhee in his commentary, but rather to see to what extent a certain form of experience can be understood within a particular epistemological structure, and the implications of this.

Further to this issue, Marzanski and Bratton raise an objection to a view in which a common core of mystical experience is posited; one which could be identified interculturally and independently of "the language and tradition in which the self is formed." They make an important point that the perspective gained by applying the epistemology of Zen Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta may have no authority in helping to understand the locus of pathology in anomalous experiences that have occurred in an individual who is not established in these cultures or traditions or for a person who does not accept these epistemologies in the first place. The issue of the existence of some core mystical experiences that are translated into religious experiences in different cultures is a matter of comparative religion and theology, and outside the scope of this paper (although my own opinion is that such a core exists). In the absence of any argument to support this opinion, it must be conceded that this may severely limit the applicability of my analysis, especially if irreconcilable differences are thought to exist between the epistemologies of, for example, theistic and monistic philosophies. However, I would suggest that whatever wisdom can be gleaned from the various spiritual doctrines in existence around the world with regard to unusual and/or distressing states of mind should be absorbed where...