AUB. An acronym for the highest reality humans can perceive. Or, more accurately, not perceive – because Absolute Unitary Being isn't anything you can be aware of, because it is awareness without any content other than itself.
This isn't just another wild-eyed, New Age, mystic-religious, or psychedelic inspired bunch of far out fantasizing.
Rather, the notion is founded on some solid science. In the book "The Mystical Mind" that I've been blogging about recently (here, here, and here), physician researchers Eugene d'Aquili and Andrew Newberg show how the brain produces experiences that often are termed mystical.
In their opinion, the most mystic experience of all is that of Absolute Unitary Being.
AUB is a state of pure awareness without the perception of discrete reality, without the sense of the passage of time, without the sense of the extension of space, and without the self-other dichotomy. In short, it is pure awareness or awareness without content.
As such, it's the common denominator of every deep form of spirituality or religion, the glue that binds together otherwise disparate philosophies, theologies, and ways of looking at the cosmos.
AUB is analogous to the clear sky across which clouds of all kinds of shapes and sizes move, leading people to look up and say, "That one resembles Mickey Mouse, that one a dog, and there's some large breasts!"
Clearly, in AUB there can be no distinction between what is experienced by different individuals, even from totally different cultures. There may be significant differences in how these experiences are described and interpreted, particularly since they are usually related in terms of the specific cultural and societal milieu from which the experiencer comes.
We maintain, however, that the actual experience of AUB in itself is necessarily the same for any individual who experiences it. This is necessary from a neurophysiological as well as a philosophical perspective. It is necessarily experienced as an infinite, unified, and totally undifferentiated state.
The basic reason for this is that the brain normally does its best to locate the body to which it's connected in time and space. Evolutionarily speaking, this makes great sense. If you're being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, it's important to know exactly where you and the threat are in relation to each other.
But when sensory inputs are shut down, as in closed-eyed quiet meditation (or a sensory deprivation chamber), the brain may do some strange stuff. This is the result of deafferentation, which occurs when incoming information into a brain structure is cut off.
The deafferented neurons, d'Aquili and Newberg say, then begin to function according to their own "internal logic." Here's what happens with the orientation association area.
If this structure is totally deafferented so that it receives no input from the outside world, then it cannot form a sense of space and time abstracted from sensory input. It is still trying, however, to generate an orientation in time and space. It is still working by its internal logic.
It continues to attempt to generate a sense of space and time even without input from the external world to work on. The result is a sense of no space and no time, or conversely it might be described as infinite space and infinite time.
No matter how it is defined, it is the same sensation. The world's mystical literature is replete with experiences of no space and no time or infinite space and infinite time. Therefore, it appears that total or near-total deafferentation of the orientation association area may be involved in the generation of such mystical states.
Note the may. That's how scientists talk. Cautiously, unwilling to bind themselves to a view of the world that makes sense, but hasn't yet been experimentally confirmed to such a degree that it can be termed a valid theory.
However, d'Aquili and Newberg note that functional brain scans of experienced meditators (such as Tibetan Buddhist monks) show the changes that their model of the "mystical brain" predicts.
So, what can we make of all this? To me, it supports my churchless predilections. Because as noted above, AUB is considered to be the highest of mystical states in most traditions (some elevate a "non-dual" consciousness that includes awareness of the physical world to be more elevated than AUB).
A big reason for this is that those who have had an experience of Absolute Unitary Being generally say that it felt a lot more real than everyday reality. They come back changed, as is often the case with those who have a near-death experience.
d'Aquili and Newberg conclude that notwithstanding thousands of years of human pondering about what is real and what isn't, the phenomenological sense of This is real is the best measure of absolute reality. In this article, the authors make their case.
Clearly, baseline reality has some significant claim to being ultimate reality. However, AUB is so compelling that it is very difficult indeed to write off the assertion of its reality. Actually, for individuals having experienced AUB, it seems virtually impossible to negate that experience.
This being the case, it is a foolish reductionism indeed which states that, because unitary consciousness can be understood in terms of neuropsychological processes, it is therefore derivative from baseline reality. Indeed the reverse argument could be made just as well.
Neuropsychology can give no answer as to which state is more real, baseline reality or hyperlucid unitary consciousness often experienced as God. We may be reduced to saying that each is real in its own way and for its own adaptive ends.
It's interesting that people interviewed by d'Aquili and Newberg who have had an AUB experience describe it as neither subjective nor objective. That is, it wasn't a subjective local consciousness, and it wasn't consciousness of objective external reality.
It was something else. Itself. Pure awareness. Thus it's tempting to call it the "ground of being," or some such foundational term.
Well, whatever it is, it sure isn't religious. There's no ritualistic, theological, or personalized content in an experience of Absolute Unitary Being.
No Jesus. No Buddha. No guru. No God. No Allah. No anything that points to a particular religion or spiritual path.
However, some AUB'ers experience it as being suffused with positive affect that leads them to personalize it as "God." Others, such as Buddhists, experience it as suffused with neutral affect and describe it as nonpersonal or void consciousness.
This is one of my few quibbles with d'Aquili and Newberg. Seemingly in an effort to meld personal and impersonal AUB experiences into a single overarching framework, they equate them as reflecting "anterior" and "posterior" natures of God.
Whatever that means. I don't get how an experience of absolute unitary being can be divided into two, or how using the word "God" adds to their scientific explanation of AUB.
But this is a minor quibble. On the whole I've found the notion of absolute unitary being -- the product of specific brain states – to be a marvelous support for a truly scientific spirituality.
One that doesn't seek for ultimate reality "out there" in some mysterious hidden realm known only by revelation, divine grace, or secret mystical techniques, but rather within the brain that each of us possesses right here and right now.
Here's how "The Mystical Mind" ends.
Since the approach presented in this book is firmly based on the neurosciences, on neuroevolutionary theory, and on strict phenomenological analysis, we hope that it will carry a compelling plausibility, indeed probability, to twenty-first century readers steeped in a scientific culture and demanding proof.
Thus, the mystical mind has led us down a new and fascinating path toward the understanding of human beings and their relationship to religion, spirituality, and God. As we stated in our dedication, we certainly believe that neurotheology can help open us to a greater sense of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans – the tremendous and spellbinding mystery – and to the awareness that we, who are brought together in a love of truth, are the mystical minds seeking that mystery.