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International Journal of Transpersonal Studies

Abstract

The biological foundation for a shamanic epistemology is indicated by the cross-cultural distribution of a shamanic cosmology derived from knowledge obtained during altered consciousness. These special forms of consciousness involve integrative brain conditions that access ancient ways of knowing, expressive systems which have evolutionary roots in the communicative and social processes involved in animal displays or rituals. These were augmented over the course of hominid evolution into expressive and mimetic activities that provided a basis for significant epistemological expansions of consciousness exemplified in shamanic out-of-body (OBE) experiences. These manifestations of consciousness involved new modes of self and processes of knowing, reflecting selection for expanded symbolic brain processes that enhanced psychological, cognitive integration and extra-personal cognition. Shamanic alterations of consciousness also contributed to experiences of personal spirit essences and encounters with extrapersonal spirit presences that reflected activation of innate brain operators involving self-structures and psyche. The evolution of the hominid capacity for knowing involved new understandings of nature (animism), mind (spirits), self (power animals) and others (gods) that were elicited by shamanic practices and expressed though a shamanistic ideology. These phenomena reflect activation of innate aspects of consciousness, illustrating features of shamanism as a neuroepistemology.

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