By Lynnea Urania Stuart
Author’s note: this article is related to a previous article here in TransMusePlanet Magazine. See “A Message in an E-Mail: The Heart of the Struggle for the Transgender Soul” by Lynnea Urania Stuart, posted September 16, 2017. Click here to access it.
He probably never thought about what billiard balls might eventually set into motion. David Hume (1711-1776) didn’t care about religion and his probable exposure to anything transgender may have been restricted to socially accepted performances in Scottish theater and talk about molly houses in the local pub. Ironically, his atheism would spark a re-evaluation of spiritual experience as explored today in laboratories and temples alike. Just as ironically, the current reassertion of trans spiritualities cannot help but contribute to this exploratory milieu. This current of re-evaluation represents yet another theater of the struggle for the transgender soul apart from dogmatism: the crisis within when faced with spiritual awakening.
SCIENCE ALMOST DERAILED
Hume came along during a heady time in science. Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and Gottfried Leibnitz (1646-1716) had introduced Calculus. Newton had proposed his Laws of Gravitation in the Principia (1687). The sciences were beginning to blossom. But Hume made an important observation, illustrating it through the collision of billiard balls, and this observation nearly turned science completely on its head.
Observe carefully the collision of those billiard balls. Do we see the cause of the collision? Look closely. Newton might have spoken of forces, but did we see those forces in play?
No we didn’t. Those forces were surmised as a result of theory, even if they may have had predictive results. Could those actions observed correlate to any knowledge about them before the fact (called “a priori”)? Do we have the right to call laws of motion “universal laws”? Or might those observations be skewed at another time? Hume denied we could know these events for certain a priori. All we might claim to know must be after the fact, after each time of observation (called “a posteriori”, an idea without sexual implications). Of course, Hume didn’t have anything spiritual in mind. He wasn’t even concerned with metaphysics. His argument was a purely epistemological one as an empiricist. But it was an argument with far reaching implications.1
Hume’s idea, called Hume’s Fork, divided possible knowledge claims into relations of ideas and matters of fact. Relations of ideas can be known independently of what’s observed. Matters of fact can only be known from what’s observed and only in the context of what was observed for that time and could not be relied upon in any other.2
So if we can’t be certain about universal laws, how can we claim to have a science? That would be answered by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) when he proposed the Transcendental Aesthetic in Critique of Pure Reason after being awakened by Hume’s writings about causation. He revisited what happens on the side of the human mind past the veil of perception.
The veil of perception, a fundamental concept in philosophy, might be described in terms of a person stuck in an office with an errand runner between him and another office. The person stuck in his office cannot know what’s happening in the other office except through what that errand runner tells him. By analogy, the man stuck in his office is like the individual locked inside the confines of his brain with his senses acting like the errand runner. The office about which the errand runner reports is by analogy, the outside world. We can’t accept with absolute certainty that we can take those sense impressions at face value.
Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic addressed what we can know a priori, building upon Hume’s relations of ideas, being himself very interested in universality. He described general affection of the mind (Gemüth – see the diagram in the featured image) that exercises a receptivity of the mind through the senses (Vorstellungen) which in turn supplies intuitions for the mind (Anschauungen), and forms a seed of thought through understanding (Verstand). These empiric impressions of the world occur a posteriori. This process also produces forms or conceptions (Begriffe) from thought. These thoughts are returned to Gemüth a priori.3 As a result Kant claimed that we can reliably know a priori that if we knock the supporting pillars away from a house the whole structure will catastrophically crash.4
Upon this, Kant continued to examine various areas of thought to which this a priori knowledge may be applied. From this came Categories of Understanding in Judgments5 and the closely related Categories of Pure Concepts of Understanding.6 Through these ideas, science moved onwards and quit feeling the hot breath of logical deconstruction due to extreme empiricism.
A GLARING PHENOMENOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE
Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic also provided the grist for the later phenomenological theories of Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and his student Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), particularly regarding intentionality (Husserl) and temporality (Heidegger). But Husserl would understand something subtle but significant about those forms to which Kant referred. The forms don’t match observation 100%. He took extra steps to articulate it.
In the beginning Husserl considered what’s given to consciousness in terms of Kant’s impressions supplied by as a “manifold of appearances” developed from the “thing-in-itself” as received by the affection of the mind. The “manifold of appearances” for Husserl consisted of objects of consciousness separate from its total reality.7
This difference between a priori forms developed in the mind and a posteriori impressions from empiric observations could be dramatized in an exercise commonly taught in preparation for astral projection from either REM or trance states:
Stand in front of a full length mirror, naked, with a strong light behind you (most who do astral projection do so unclothed or “skyclad”). The image you see will be shadowy. Use that image to form an image of your body in your mind. Do this repeatedly for a long while. Notice the shift between your mental image and the image you see in the mirror. Notice also shifts in your awareness between the 2 images.8
The effect may seem a bit disorienting, and in fact other exercises for these practices get even more disorienting than that. The important thing in this regard is to recognize the difference between the fact observed a posteriori (the actual view of one’s body in a mirror) and the form returned a priori (the mental image of one’s body). These differences have been addressed variously by different authors on dreaming practices including Carlos Castaneda who spoke of the synchronizing these disparate images in terms of “completing the energy body.”9 The same disparities also arise when comparing images recalled during episodes of astral travel as a dreaming phenomenon and examination of a target area thereafter. Few astral experiences resemble fact in beginning attempts. Even experienced practitioners encounter differences. Comparable disparities have also been noted for remote viewers who form mental images of a target without any sensation of separation from the physical body, judging by comparisons of sketches with photos of targets.10
For transpeople, the preceding exercise has raised an extra issue specific to gender identity when engaged during early transition. A transwoman may see a predominantly male body in that mirror, but the initial mental image thereof may be completely female, coming across in a flash till the mind reworks that image (vice versa in the case of a transman). It could also happen that since that flash of a mental image is perceived as female, the participant may prefer for that mental image to remain so. That feminine image may become accepted as regular projected image of the astral body before a transwoman experiences any sensation of her consciousness being transferred from her physical body to that energy body.
Episodes like these can accompany a more general spiritual awakening. The internal image of an astral body, described by various authors as a kind of “soul” impacts that experience of awakening. It reaches beyond epistemology, entering the realm of philosophical psychology.
NOESIS AND LUCIDITY
In Husserl’s Theory of Intentionality, noema consists of content types as ideal and timeless components. Noesis, is an act of thinking and ruminating. A noematic moment will correspond to a noetic moment. The 2 always happen in relation to one another.11
But a noematic-noetic moment may or may not happen when you expect it. Noematic structures develop out of the body of forms derived from impressions. But noesis pertains to what someone consciously does with noemata. Without such a corresponding moment, intentionality doesn’t happen.
Perhaps a delay in a noematic-noetic moment may be best illustrated in terms of dreams and dreaming, the former as passive experiences, and the latter as an intentional art. A mundane dream represents a purely noematic action because it goes no farther than the preconscious while the dreamer remains asleep. The noetic response to that action doesn’t happen till the dreamer wakes up and recalls the dream. Noesis demands conscious interaction and that doesn’t happen in a mundane dream.
But this changes entirely when a dreamer gains lucidity. Only through lucidity does the noematic-noetic moment happen within the dream. When that takes place, the effect can become literally life-changing, generating deep personal inspiration and awakening to natural innocence while forcing a crisis in which the dreamer must think through new modal realities when others may condemn them.
Here’s a description of the lucid dream experience to readers who either haven’t encountered the phenomenon or haven’t known that sleep labs have studied it. In fact it has become a subject for serious scientific inquiry since the 1980’s:
“I run away from a charging dinosaur then realize an incongruity. Dinosaurs are extinct. Therefore I must be dreaming. I declare this realization, saying, “I’m dreaming!” As I repeat the entire character of the dream changes. The dream becomes incredibly lifelike and clear. The dreamscape becomes strangely luminous. I have greater interest to explore the dreamscape. I step aside and watch the dinosaur charge past me, knowing I’m no longer bound by the dream. I do so, freely and rationally examining various components of the dream. The lifelike clarity of the dream is so intense that it’s as if I had stepped into a 2-dimensional flat screen television and actually live what’s on the other side in 3 dimensions.” 12
Though many Conservative religious circles condemn lucid dreaming as “demonic”, as they do dream phenomena generally, the vast majority who experience lucid dreaming have no occult ties. Lucid dreaming occurs with people of all religions, typically by accident, though some prefer to suppress lucid dreams because of learned dogmatic fears of what they don’t understand. But the perceptions of changes endemic to lucid dreams are really tied to a physiological event in which portions of the brain that had been off line while sleeping switch on during REM sleep. “REM” refers to the stage of sleep characterized by rapid eye movements and dreams have been most commonly noted at this stage, though dreams do occur at other times.
A NEUROLOGY OF SPIRITUALITIES
Of special interest concerning those brain structures coming online during lucid dream episodes is the frontal lobe of the brain. This area is normally off during REM but springs into activity during Lucid REM episodes. Elisa Filevich of the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development announced in a January 2015 press release that their MRI scans demonstrated how participants in a study who reported highly lucid during dreams had larger anterior prefrontal cortexes. This area of the brain also controls conscious cognitive processes and plays an important role in self-reflection.13
Another researcher who noted this action of the anterior prefrontal cortexes is Dr. Andrew Newberg, author of The Metaphysical Mind: Probing the Biology of Philosophical Thought. He cited that practices of concentration either through prayer or mantra based meditation tend to activate this part of the brain. It also has a role in directing attention, modulating behavior, and expression of language. Conversely, when one surrenders the will as in mediumistic trance or speaking in tongues, activity decreases in the frontal lobes and increases in the thalamus where flow of sensory information to much of the brain is regulated.14
Dr. Newberg noted in a study of Buddhist monks an experiment in which during experiences of high ecstasy in meditative trance they would pull a kite string, triggering injection of a tracer dye for brain scan. He told the BBC in 2002:
“There was an increase in activity in the front part of the brain, the area that is activated when anyone focuses attention on a particular task… In addition, a notable decrease in activity in the back part of the brain, or parietal lobe, recognised [sic] as the area responsible for orientation, reinforced the general suggestion that meditation leads to a lack of spatial awareness… During meditation, people have a loss of the sense of self and frequently experience a sense of no space and time and that was exactly what we saw.”15
Brick Johnstone, Professor of Health Psychology at the School of Health Professions at the University of Missouri, declared in 2012 that many parts of the brain are involved in spirituality. He noted concerning impairment of the right side of the brain:
“Since our research shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual, this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self. This is consistent with many religious texts that suggest people should concentrate on the well-being of others rather than on themselves.”16
This stands as a warning for many transgender people whose construction of the self can swallow them up in self-obsession. Reasonably, anyone who transitions also needs to balance the experience of reconstruction of life consistent with construction of the self through charitable service to others.
It’s more than just an issue of spirituality. It’s an issue of health and well being. It also can build communities. It would also be a reasonable conjecture based upon that warrant for service to others that those transpeople engaged in such activities should be less prone to suicide. Future surveys including those on the order of the U.S. Transgender Survey should examine this, and if confirmed, should be made an integral part of regimens designed to sustain mental health.
The link of the anterior frontal lobes to spirituality, lucid dreaming, and higher thinking comparable to the action of noesis upon noemata seems to be more than just a modern consideration. Consider the work of a genius from long ago.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonorotti Simoni (1475-1564), Renaissance sculptor, painter, and one of the most brilliant artists of all time, painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in The Vatican. His work, the subject of many books, articles, and television programs, even the motion picture The Agony and the Ecstasy, features numerous scenes from the Bible. Perhaps the most inspiring of all is a central depiction of the Creation of Adam (see featured image, upper left hand corner).
In this image, an anthropomorphic depiction of God the Creator, reaches outward to touch the hand of Adam to deliver a spark of life. But that touch seems to represent much more. Not a few people have commented about the God figure, wrapped in his shadowy cloak and accompanied by other spirits to witness this crowning act of creation. To some the cloak and entourage represents a womb. But to most it vividly takes the form of a brain viewed from the side, the pituitary gland and brainstem clearly visible. God reaches out through the frontal lobe of a brain to give life to Adam.
He painted this scene centuries before the invention of MRI and PET scans. How did Michelangelo connect the frontal lobe of the brain with the making of Adam as a living soul? Or did he connect them?
He may not need to have consciously done so. Artists often experience very close connections with their faculties of dreaming and meditation. The detail of Michelangelo’s work suggests that his degree of exact representation of conceived impressions gave him a higher level of technical insight than most artists. The dynamism of his work suggests enhanced noematic-noetic moments leading to thematic insight, even extending to the underlying geometry that governed his compositions. But the genius of the Creation of Adam suggests more than technicalities in art, extending to archetypes like those described through the work of Carl Jung (1875-1961).17
Might Michelangelo’s dreaming proclivities have led him, even unconsciously to the dynamism of his composition? The similarity of God’s cloak to the brain in the Creation of Adam may have emerged through Michelangelo’s dream mechanisms as a structural archetype, the mind unveiling an insight of itself to the world as the inner genius with whom every artist craves to connect.
Some of us who are transgender and with Abrahamic connections to our spiritualities may see this creation of Adam with a bit of a twist, following a Kabbalistic belief centuries old. Kabbalah relies as much upon dreaming proclivities and lore as upon persnickety logic and commentary upon sacred texts. One of the Kabbalistic texts, The Zohar, makes a claim incredible to many not accustomed to it, but advancing a Rabbinic view concerning Adam:
“Rabbi Yirmeyah son of El’azar said, ‘When the blessed Holy One created Adam, He created him androgynous, as it said: Male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).’ Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥmani said, ‘When the blessed Holy One created Adam, He created him with two faces. Then He sawed him and gave him two backs, one on this side and one on that.’”18
These aspects of mind pertaining to the interactions of noema and noesis have the capacity to awaken us to life issues including those relating to gender with mechanisms far above those described. They also have the capacity to interface with the various spiritualities throughout the world and to warn us when we lose balance through obsession as the enemy of innocence. As such they play a pivotal role in our health, quality of life, and understanding as harbingers and awakeners of insight.
For most of us, unless hampered from antagonistic sources imposed by the dogmatic seeds of noemata sown by others, we can find them worth cultivating, knowing also that by cultivation we also must face social and psychological currents designed to destroy us. The struggle for the transgender soul is more than a struggle for domination by religious and political parties. The struggle is internal, one of which we often find ourselves at a loss to grasp.
Our philosophies touch upon them but the bulk remains a deep mystery. But we can admit one thing: we’ve come a very long way since Hume’s colliding billiard balls.
Featured Image: Superimposed glyph of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life with the sephirah of Binah superimposed upon the part of a diagram expressing Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic at the circle pertaining to Verstand (Understanding, also the meaning of Binah). The spheres representing the sephirot are themselves reminiscent of Hume’s billiard balls. A graphic limitation exists here because while in Kabbalah, understanding pertains to Binah, the development of forms is deemed to be more a function of Chokhmah. Beyond is a detail of Michelangelo’s Creation of Man from the Sistine Chapel, Vatican in which not a few have observed the uncanny appearance of the Godhead figure and cloak to a brain. The Divine appears to reach through what appears to be the frontal lobe at the Ajña Chakra, to give life to Adam (Flickr). The diagram concerning Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic is by the author.
- M. Lorkowski. “David Hume- Causation” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (n.d., accessed September 20, 2017) http://www.iep.utm.edu/hume-cau/.
- Kant, Immanuel. “Critique of Pure Reason” The Basic Writings of Kant (Allen W. Wood, ed, transl.,2001) Modern Library, Random House Publishing Group, NY, ISBN: 0-375-75733-3, pp. 42,43.
- 25, ibid.
- 57, Ibid.
- 59, ibid.
- Zack, Naomi, PhD. “The Handy Philosophy Answer Book” (Visible Ink Press, Canton MI 2010) ISBN: 978-1-57859-226-5, p. 275.
- An exercise known by the author since the 1990’s as a teacher in various classes on the subject. In settings where the participant does not act alone, clothing is loose-fitting or with the wearing of a ritual robe.
- (n.a.) “The Art of Dreaming” Biblioteca Pleyades (Quotations and comments from Carlos Castaneda, accessed September 21, 2017) https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/cienciareal/esp_donjuan9.htm.
- Observed by the author.
- Rassi, Fatemeh and Shahabi, Zeiae. “Husserl’s Phenomenology and two terms of Noema and Noesis” International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences, ISSN: 2300-2697, Vol. 53, pp29-34 (2015, Sci Press LTD, Switzerland), pp. 29, 30; referencing Husserl, Edmund. Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (2003, W. R. Boyce Gibson, translator, George Allen & Unwinm LTD, London). Available through https://www.scipress.com/ILSHS.53.29.
- A commonly reported example of awakening within a dream. Scientific inquiry began with Stephen LeBerge of Stanford University when he proved the existence of lucid dreams in the Stanford Sleep Lab. Much material is available on his work from The Lucidity Institute. http://www.lucidity.com/
- Fiona Macdonald. “Scientists May Have Found The Part of The Brain That Enables Lucid Dreaming” Science Alert (January 26, 2015, accessed September 21, 2017) https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-may-have-found-the-part-of-the-brain-that-enables-lucid-dreaming .
- Lynne Blumberg. “What Happens to Brains During Spiritual Experiences” The Atlantic (June 5, 2014, accessed September 21, 2017). https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/what-happens-to-brains-during-spiritual-experiences/361882/
- BBC Staff. “Meditation mapped in monks” BBC (March 1, 2002, accessed September 21, 2017) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/1847442.stm
- Brad Fischer. “Distinct ‘God Spot’ in the Brain does not exist, MU Researcher Says” University of Missouri News (April 18, 2012, accessed September 21, 2017) http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2012/0418-distinct-%E2%80%9Cgod-spot%E2%80%9D-in-the-brain-does-not-exist-mu-researcher-says/
- Jung, C. G. Man and His Symbols (1968, Laurel Books, Dell Publishing, NY) ISBN: 0-440-35183-9, p. 32.
- Zohar 1:13b, from Matt, Daniel C. The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Volume 1 (2004) Stanford University Press. ISBN: 0-8047-4747-4, p. 94, footnote708.