REPLY TO READ'S POINT ON REVELATION
Read, Dwight ANTHRO (Read@ANTHRO.SSCNET.UCLA.EDU)
Wed, 19 Jan 1994 09:37:00 PST
" BUT READ MISSES THE POINT. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN REVELATION AND INSIGHT
IS NOT ONLY THAT INSIGHT IS THE RESULT OF A COGNITIVE PROCESS OCCURRING
SUBCONSCIOUSLY BUT THAT REVELATION IS SOMETHING AS YET NOT EXPLAINABLE. . .
Just what occurs in the brain to produce this state is one question to
explore. But we can also learn something from the ways in which people react
to and use this experience."
Perhaps--but I think I was choosing to only reply to one part of Brown's
Certainly there is a difference between what we call "insight" and
what we call "revelation" as our emic categorization suggests. But what is
revelation if not a "cognitive process" (that is, if "cognitive
process" is a way to refer to the operation of the brain then revelation is
also a cognitive process) ? Revelation may involve different aspects of the
brain's operating, and likely is not identical, at the level of the operation
of the brain, with what we call insight, but that does not necessarily make
it more problematic than, say, trying to understand how the brain, say, can
learn and work with languages.
That we might wish to study how the phenomenon we call revelation is embedded
culturally and how both individually and culturally this phenomenon affects
and is affected by both individuals and culture is laudable and certainly a
useful area of study. But one should not confound studies of how phenomena
that arise at another level (e.g., phenomena that are biological/material in
origin) are embedded culturally with studies of the phenomena itself.
I suspect that revelation seems more problematic by virtue of the fact that
it produces strong mental sensations that have all teh appearance of reality
to the person receiving the revelation. This raises the problem of our use
of "experience" as the arbiter of objectivity--but that takes us off in a
tangent to this post. I recall a math professor I had as an undergraduate
commenting once on the revelations he had about mathematical truths while
high on (marijuana?, lsd?--this was the /60's). As it happened, he wrote
down the revelations and when he was no longer high he read through what he
wrote and found it all to be nonsense (math is no nonsense stuff and you
can't use a clever phrase to create the illusion of profundity. It's either
there or it isn't.) So here is one anecdote that demonstrates that however
much the revelation appeared to be reality, truth, etc., demonstrably it was
not that at all but merely an illusion of reality, truth, etc. created by the
drug induced state.