International Journal of Transpersonal Studies


The greatest contemporary challenge in the arena of cognitive neuroscience concerns the

relation between consciousness and the brain. Over recent years the focus of work in this

area has switched from the analysis of diverse spatial regions of the brain to that of the

timing of neural events. It appears that two conditions are necessary in order for neural

events to become correlated with conscious experience. First, the firing of assemblies of

neurones must achieve a degree of coherence, and, second, reflexive (i.e. top-down, or reentrant)

neural pathways must be activated. It does not, of course, follow that such neural

activity causes consciousness; it may be, for example, that the neural activity formats the

brain to interact with consciousness. The latter possibility is suggested by analysis of mystical

texts suggesting that coherence and reflexivity constitute the conditions for the influx of

“spirit.” Kabbalistic sources, for example, describe a hierarchy of “brains” in the human and

divine realms through which the principles of coherence and reflexivity operate. Whilst the

ontological assumptions of such a scheme place it beyond the realm of psychology, parallels

with the picture deriving from the contemporary cognitive neuroscience of consciousness

are striking.