Dec 29, 2015

The sublime experience and the brain

What happens in the brain when you experience sublime? What triggers change atmosphere from uncanny to a state of astonishment? If sublime is characterized by our capacity or ability act, feel, understand, perceive, do we sense that change? feeling terror and awe, it perfectly chill harmonious? finally, senses are overwhelmed unable comprehend an object phenomenon its totality, how does regain composure succeed framing information overflowed senses? self doesn’t survive vastness event?> For starters, what is the sublime? Situations or locations, like Big Wave surfing, the Grand Canyon, finding out your pregnant, can be sublime in the sense that they provoke an extreme emotional reaction: exhilaration, overwhelming beauty, pain. The sublime, as a feeling or state of mind, differs. If there were a sublime spectrum, ranging from infinite to infinitismal, aesthetic experiences rank with little value besides the immediate. To be “stuck” in, or consumed by the sublime is an entirely different state of awareneness not in this universe, even though the physical state of being is in reality. Philosopher Edmund Burke specifically defines the sublime experience in his essay, “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful,” as the “strongest emotion” due to the element of terror. To be labeled a truly sublime experience, the presentation or object of circumstance must hinge on some modality of terror and pain. For Burke, the key word is astonishment, “that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror (1). Burke’s definition relies heavily on the pain component because pain is stronger than pleasure. Human nature is to dwell on loss over the pleasure of gain. Even love, Burke argues, no matter how beautiful, is powerful enough to metamorphosize the mind and fully engross the senses, driving the body to do horrific things.

This definition of the sublime refers to a feeling or a state of mind characterized by internal discord rather than harmony, so what happens when the body encounters the opposite? Meditation often creates a sensation of oneness with the universe (8); the feeling of awe that accompanies revelation, even the sensation of weightlessness or floating in an epsom salt bath can play with the body’s ability to perceive natural forces, such as gravity (9). Sublime experiences such as these are provoked by self-induced changes in stimuli, and not necessarily by external influences on the senses.

Thoreau describes boundaries between the self and nature, which when dissolved, help us to understand ourselves and our place in the world. I think the sublime experience lies somewhere in between the “intangible gap between consciousness and the material world” (2). . What if, when we enter the sublime, we are somehow caught in a zone between mental stratospheres? A sort of black hole in the brain. If the range of the sublime experience begins at infinite and extends to infinitismal, when we lose all sense of math and logic, are we somehow lost in the universe, vacillating between levels of strata, floating or vibrating in a space not yet defined in the brain? When the mind and body are unable to overcome a sublime experience, as Burke would define it, can it result in death? Is there on some level, something subliminal about being in a state of shock? Can a person be scared senseless?

What part of the brain is the sublime connected to? There are four different types of brain waves ranging from most activity to least activity: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. A beta brainwave state is characterized by an active mind, responsive to a task, whether in conversation with another person, or singing in a musical. The alpha state is has a slower frequency and tends to be a more relaxed state of mind. Theta waves are even slower than alpha waves, and indicate a deep state of mental relaxation, where the mind in a sense, detaches from the body’s movements, and both can act independent of each other. Delta brainwaves have the slowest frequency and the highest amplitude on an EEG machine. Healthy delta brainwaves range from 1.5 cycles to 4 cycles per second, normal range is 2 to 3, but should you drop down to zero, the brain goes dead (3). When you fall asleep at night, you slowly descend from beta to alpha to theta to delta brainwave state. Although only one brainwave is predominant at a time, there are traces of the other three in the mix at any given moment.