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Visions and Reason

Kant also defined the ethics of knowledge that is appropriate for a rationalist like himself when confronted by the discourse of a person who describes spiritual visions. Descartes had imposed the necessity of taking into consideration, for a scientific study, only weak hypotheses and problems that the available methodologies can tackle. For Kant, this necessity remains relevant for scientific research, but his preoccupation is to create a model that situates all of the existing phenomena of the mind. The mind does not follow scientific procedures. An example of an apparently irrational mechanism of the mind discussed by Kant (1776) is that of the visions describes by a Swedish spirit-seer❠named Emanuel Swedenborg. Like Rudolf Steiner in the twentieth century, Swedenborg recounts that he perceives other dimensions of reality that most humans are unable to perceive. He describes landscapes and creatures that exist around us, that influence us and are affected by what we do without us having any awareness of this.

Kant cannot evaluate the status of such visions because he does not have that kind of perceptual ability. However, the fact that he does not perceive something does not demonstrate that others cannot perceive it. It would be flagrant stupidity to deny the existence of Swedenborg’s landscapes or consider them to be hallucinations, until researchers could prove, in a pertinent manner, that these other dimensions do not exist. The psychology that Kant wants to establish must be able to account for these phenomena. Either the theory admits that certain forms of perception exist only in some individuals, or it admits that certain persons have a rare capacity to extract data that the senses of all people receive but do not usually perceive, or it admits that the complexity of the mind generates virtual realities, or it is content to trivialize these visions by calling them hallucinations. All of these possibilities demand an extensive investigation. What is at stake is to know whether all minds have the same repertoire of a priori psychological mechanisms.

What is still important for today’s psychotherapist, in this analysis, is the ethical stance that others can perceive phenomena of which a therapist cannot become aware. The therapist’s default position, in this instance, is that of an open inquiry into the cause or origin of these visions (blood poisoning, hallucinations, poorly interpreted perceptual illusions, bizarre phenomena, individual particularities of a mental system, etc.). It is as dangerous to immediately associate all of the above phenomena to psychological hallucinations as to hastily dismiss the possibility. The technical, ethical, and clinical recommendation adopted in this my yoga blog is to always accept the experience of what is perceived but always investigate how a patient or a therapist explains what is perceived. This recommendation is found in many schools of psychotherapy.33

I developed this issue because I have known colleagues who claim to be able to perceive an aura, the force-field of an organism, or the malevolent waves that subjugate the life forces. These individuals are sometime as renowned as Wilhelm Reich, Gerda Boyesen, and Alexander Lowen. Some are colleagues, friends, or patients. These are respectable people whom I admire, even if I do not perceive what they do. Kant’s ethical proposition is useful to me every time I meet them or read their works, as it also implies that I do not need to believe that what they perceive necessarily exits.

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