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Consciousness in Oscillation

Worldviews and their Transcendence as Spiritual Practice

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Sonja Lenk

The thesis addresses the question of human consciousness in its oscillation between conditioning and transcendence: the impact of cultural worldviews on the individual’s lifeworld and their gradual transcendence as a form of spiritual practice. At the centre of attention is a group of individuals and their unfolding life-stories as they move through a journey of transformation, seeking to explore and understand the complexity of their own consciousness. The emphasis is on the embodiment of belief systems and the individuals’ inherent existential power to transcend cultural precepts. Methodologically, the study is based in phenomenological anthropology. It thus employs the first-person perspective and includes subjective personal experience as primary data.

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2 Methodology

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2.1 Research on consciousness: challenges and accomplishments “Consciousness”, writes Thomas Nagel in his famous article What it is like to be a bat? “is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable.”42 Despite the fact that consciousness has been under philosophical discussion since Aristotle and Plato, and now is also under the sway of the natural sciences, it remains elu- sive and difficult to grasp. Philosophers have struggled for millennia with this concept and until fairly recently most scientists refused to study it or rejected the idea of any such thing as consciousness completely. This age-old question of human consciousness, of what makes humans self-aware, reflective individuals having subjective experiences, has recently been rediscovered as a legitimate, and even crucial, scientific problem and thus is now receiving much attention with various results. ‘Consciousness studies’ are flourishing at the beginning of the 21st century. Roughly one could speak of two opposing camps: on the one side the mate- rialists who believe that consciousness can be reduced to physical processes within the body, for example neural activity in the brain; that there is nothing transcendent about the individual such as an immaterial consciousness or soul; and that subjective experience is based on mental illusions resulting from com- plex brain chemistry. On the other end of the spectrum are those scientists who believe the human being is more than the sum of his/her molecules; that subjec- tive experience is as valid as physical facts; and that consciousness is an imma- terial ingredient transcending...

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