Do ecstatic experiences tell us anything reliable about the universe?

There is a growing consensus among secular psychologists that experiences of ecstasy and ego-transcendence are good for us, and tell us interesting things about the nature of the mind. But do they tell us anything interesting or reliable about the nature of the universe? I'm trying to figure this out. Here are my thoughts so far - please respond in the comments.

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Derren Brown on hypnosis, faith-healing and religious experience

I've been exploring the history of ecstasy in modern culture. One of the ways the Enlightenment tried to naturalize ecstasy was by developing the concept of hypnosis. In the 18th century, Franz Mesmer showed that he could achieve just as miraculous healings as a priest through his own rituals, the success of which he attributed to ‘magnetic fluids’.

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The ecstasy of violence and war

‘War’, wrote the French knight Jean de Bueil in 1465, ‘is a joyous thing’.  War - and violence in general - is 'one of humankind’s great natural highs’, in the words of sociologist Barbara Ehrenreich.  War absorbs our consciousness, heightens our senses, distorts times, bonds us to our fellow fighters, and can give us a sense of transcendent meaning and sacred value.

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Ecstatic violence in the films of Jacques Audiard

I love the films of Jacques Audiard - Rust & Bone, A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped and most recently Dheepan - though they also trouble me. Often in his films the hero has a moment of ecstasy or transcendence through violence. Violence is glamorized, aestheticized, even sacralized - moments of ultra-violence are moments of redemption for the hero, as in the bloody showdown at the end of Dheepan.

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Sex and spirituality survey: the results

Roger Scruton once wrote: ‘The sexual revolution of modern times has disenchanted the sexual act. Sex has been finally removed from the sacred realm: it has become 'my' affair, in which 'we' no longer show an interest. This de-consecration of the reproductive process is the leading fact of modern culture.’

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'Get Out' and the spell of racial supremacy

I finally saw Get Out last night, and loved it. The film was laugh-out-loud funny, scary, and helped me somewhat imagine what it's like to be a black man walking through a white suburb, or a black man talking to a white police officer. How on your guard you need to be, the feeling of constantly being in enemy territory. Get out! But where can you escape to?

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A 10-day Vipassana retreat taught me the meaning of pain

Last Sunday I finished a 10-day Vipassana retreat, at a monastery in Sweden. This was my third attempt to do a monastic retreat - I’d done a runner from both previous efforts, from a Rusian monastery in Lent 2006 (the head monk kept trying to convert me to Orthodox Christianity) and from a Benedictine monastery on the Isle of Wight in January 2013 (I was bored). This time, I vowed not to do a runner.

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Review: Cure, by Jo Marchant

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body, is an excellent new book by science journalist Jo Marchant, which explores the healing (and harming) power of the mind and emotions over the body. It succintly brings together a lot of recent evidence in areas sometimes dismissed as 'pseudoscience', such as the placebo response and hypnotherapy, to argue for their medical efficacy and the need for a medical model which better incoporates the mind.

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