A Continuum of Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience in Adults

Keywords: non-symbolic consciousness, non-symbolic experience, consciousness, spiritual growth, enlightenment, nonduality, cognitive science.

Persistent non-symbolic experiences (PNSE) have been reported for millennia and are generally attributed to spiritual and religious contexts, although atheists and agnostics also report them. Popular terms for them include: nondual awareness, enlightenment, mystical experiences, peak experiences, transcendental experience, the peace that passeth understanding, unity consciousness, union with God, and so forth. Most are temporary, but some individuals report a persistent form of them.

For over a decade, our research project has sought to map this experience in thousands of adults. Methods used included long semi-structured interviews, a wide variety of gold standard psychometric measures, physiological measurement, and experimentation. Five core, consistent categories of change were uncovered: sense-of-self, cognition, emotion, perception, and memory. Participants’ reports formed clusters in which the types of change in each of these categories were consistent. Multiple clusters were uncovered that formed a range of types of possible PNSE experiences.

For the past 4+ years we have been inducing this persistent change in perception with an experimental protocol delivered in the form of an online class known as the Finders Course. Over time this has allowed us to measure pre/during/post changes, as well as map the landscape that unfolds as individuals settle into PNSE. This presentation will provide a comprehensive overview of the research, what has been learned to date, and suggestions for future research.