Scientists at John Hopkins University released a new study earlier this month, quantifying the schema of a “mystical experience” in order to create an empirically valid questionnaire to gauge the experiences of 184 participants while under the influence of psilocybin mushrooms. These participants received 20 mg of psilocybin per 70 kg (or 154 lbs) and were administered the chemical in a clinical setting—none of these experiences were recreational or held outside of the scientific study.
Before discussing how one could even begin to try to scientifically quantify a mystical experience, this experience must first be adequately defined through at least a description. Mysticism by a western dictionary’s definition is, “belief that the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender.” While this is an accurate definition, this merely defines the demeanor of the person defined as “mystic,” and less defines what their own personal experiences are. A Taoist monk would be quick to advise that trying to explain the mystical experience is going about it all the wrong way. However, while it is indeed beyond science to yet quantify a mystical experience, it is not beyond science to ask people if their experiences can adequately equate to what the monk (or nun; see the documentary “Mystical Brain”) has explained throughout history as “mystical”—through both their words and their actions.
However, in terms of this specific study, there was no specific equation to spirituality or monkhood, other than the clear acknowledgement through vernacular, as the “30-item revised Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ30) was previously developed within an online survey of mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin-containing mushrooms. The rated experiences occurred on average eight years before completion of the questionnaire.” Having gathered a questionnaire from a survey of the same type of person they would be researching, the empiricism of the data acquired provides enough context for adequate preliminary results that have long since been peer-reviewed. For further illustrative context, a mystical experience can often be described as a “transcendence of space and time” as well as a transcendence of “self/ego” and freedom of emotional constraints through selfless ecstasy. Of the study, the researchers stated,
“The MEQ serves as a psychometrically sound self-report instrument that assesses philosophically and theoretically identified facets of mystical experiences and, by virtue of scores on these dimensions, can characterize the degree to which a given experience fits the schema of ‘mystical,’” and further explains, “the measurement of mystical experience by the MEQ does not require any direct religious or mystical endorsement.”
Of the 184 participants who partook in the experiment, the vast majority reported through the MEQ30 that their psilocybin experience was one of the most meaningful, “mystical,” and even spiritually significant experiences of their lives. Quoting an article by PsyPost.org on the subject,
“Most of them [the participants] also reported that the experience had resulted in at least some positive changes in behavior. All of these positive outcomes of the experience were enhanced among those who reported having had the strongest mystical experiences after taking the hallucinogen. More intense mystical experiences resulted in better long-term outcomes after the experience was over.”
Not only did this study further validate the massively therapeutic capacity of psilocybin mushrooms in a positive setting, but also provides a possible peek behind the curtain of the unavoidable anthropological significance of human spirituality. Granted that every person’s experiences are ultimately un-comparable to another, the MEQ30 provides an interesting step towards not only quantifying this human spirituality throughout history, but also quantifying its triggered effects in the brain.