Volume 15 · Number 1 · Pages 1–9
Constructivism and Mystical Experience

Hugh Gash

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Context: Constructivism and mystical traditions each recognize human cognitive limits. However, the former puts its faith in its processes and the latter reveres the product. Problem: Individuals recursively construct their realities in and through their experiences. Often the reality constructed is updated, however this type of reconstructive reflection does not happen in the same way with religious experiences and beliefs. Ernst von Glasersfeld considered the rational and the mystical as two separate types of knowing, providing two different accounts of experience. An alternative approach is to examine the process of thinking to see if there may be synergies between so-called rational thinking and mystical experience, particularly when certain types of new ideas emerge. Method: I link constructivist ideas with accounts of mystical experience prioritizing wonder, insight and the process of coming-to-know. Constructivism is described mainly with reference to Ernst von Glasersfeld’s work, particularly emphasizing the impossibility of ontology and drawing attention to some references to mystical experience in the constructivist literature. Results: I note that there are grounds for regarding rational and mystical knowing as belonging in different domains. Radical constructivism maintains that any mind-independent reality is essentially unknowable. In this epistemological framework, gaps necessarily arise in understanding when existing concepts do not fit experience. Forms of wonder may arise from experience of such gaps leading to novel insights and more viable reality constructions. Finally, I suggest that there are grounds for considering such epiphanies sacred, and in addition, as in certain types of mystical experience, they may be related to personal development through recognizing harmony between experiences over time. Implications: There are moments during the construction of concepts when previous concepts do not work and new constructions have not emerged. Such moments have a potentially mystical quality and, if so, are known as epiphanies. So, when gaps occur in the process of knowledge construction it may be helpful to let the mind rest and contemplate. The origin of the ideas that emerge is mysterious, and the ideas may or may not be viable.

Key words: Bateson, cognition, constructivism, Dewey, harmony, mysticism, religion, von Glasersfeld

Handling Editor: Alexander Riegler (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)


Gash H. (2019) Constructivism and mystical experience. Constructivist Foundations 15(1): 1–9. https://constructivist.info/15/1/001

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