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Robert K.C. Forman has worked as professor of religion at Hunter's College, C.U.N.Y. His books include The Problems of Pure Consciousness and The Innate Capacity. In the latter work, he argues that there is such a thing as Pure Consciousness Event, a feature common to all mystical experience. This therefore distinguishes his work on mystical experience from that of constructivists such as Hjalmar Sundén. Forman describes his position as "perennial psychology" (a term which appears to originate with Ken Wilber), but he is keen to point out that this is not the same as perennial philosophy. His arguments to defend his view that there is a common feature found in all mystical experiences include that mystical experiences involve a sense of stripping away of learnt concepts, and that one can have an experience and only later learn about it. In "The Innate Capacity", he gives the example of a man who had the Buddhist experience of satori, although not himself a Buddhist at the time, and only later learnt about satori. Indeed, even if one did learn about an experience and later learn about it, in Forman's view this does not prove that the learning causes the experience; to think in this way would, in Forman's view, be to commit the logical error of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

As well as editing a number of books on the topic of consciousness and mysticism, Forman has worked as co-editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies. He has also collaborated with Ken Wilber on work (Forman, Wilber & Andresen, 2000).

To put Forman's work in context, Forman can be understood as a defender of the perennialist position on mystical experience, the view that there is indeed a core experience common to mystics of all creeds, cultures and generations, along with Walter Terence Stace. This can be contrasted with the constructivists, who believe that mystical experience takes very different forms in different contexts, such as Steven T. Katz, Hjalmar Sundén or Wayne Proudfoot. For Forman, this core feature common to all experiences of mysticism is something that he terms the "Pure Consciousness Event" - a state of neither knowing-how nor knowing that, but simply of knowing. Forman is influenced by the doctrine of intentionality in defending this thesis insofar as he claims that, under the Pure Consciousness Event, cognition may lack an intentional object.

Further Reading

Books by Forman

Forman, R.K.C. (ed.). (1998). The Innate Capacity: Mysticism, Philosophy and Psychology. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Forman, R.K.C. (1994). (ed.) Meister Eckhart: Mystic as Theologian: An Experiment in Methodology. Rockport, MASSACHUSETTS: Houghton Mifflin. (Published by Element in 1991).

Forman, R.K.C. (ed.) (1990). The Problem of Pure Consciousness: Mysticism and Philosophy. Oxford University Press.

Forman, R.K.C. (1997). Mysticisism, Mind, Consiousness. New York: State University of New York Press

Forman, R.K.C., Wilber, K. & Andresen, J. (2000). Cognitive Models and Spi Maps: Interdisciplinary Explorations of Religious Experience. Journal of Consciousness Studies. Imprint Academic.

Articles by Forman

Forman, R.K.C. (1998). What does mysticism have to teach us about consciousness? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 5 (2) 185-201



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