Fechner, Gustav Theodor - A revelation
Type of spiritual experience
A description of the experience
Mysteries - Colin Wilson
Gustav Theodore Fechner appeared to be the model of the hard working scientist. But in his late thirties, overwork and eye strain produced a peculiar illness that brought him close to death. His own lengthy account of the illness makes it sound oddly like the troubles that afflicted Gopi Krishna after he had accidentally awakened the kundalini serpent.
Eye strain from looking at the sun during his experiments on after-images made it impossible for him to read, and this in turn produced-deep depression and a feeling of mental confusion. Various 'cures' exhausted him still further, until he became a skeleton and went for weeks without food or drink. The most terrifying effect was that his thoughts seemed to be out of control; he felt they were 'boring and burrowing into his brain', and that if he was not careful, they would exhaust the last of his strength.
His description makes it clear that he suffered from months of panic attacks. 'I sometimes conceived of myself as a rider who was trying to subdue a runaway horse, or a monarch whose subjects had revolted . . .'
After three years of struggle, his health slowly improved. When he was again able to see, it was like a revelation.
I still remember well what an impression it make upon me when, after suffering for some years from an ailment which affected my sight, I stepped out for the first time from my darkened chamber and into the garden with no bandage on my eyes. It seemed to me like a glimpse beyond the boundary of human experience. Every flower beamed upon me with a peculiar clarity, as though into the outer light it was casting its own. To me the whole garden seemed transfigured, as though it were not I but nature that had just risen up again. And I thought: So nothing is needed but to open the eyes afresh, and with that, old nature is made young again. Indeed, one will hardly believe how new and vivid is the nature which meets the man who comes to meet it with new eyes.
...In his Atomenlehre, Fechner went on to argue that atoms are vortices of force or energy, and should be regarded as the simplest elements in a spiritual hierarchy. And in Concerning Souls (1861), he boldly states that the universe itself is alive, and that the earth and stars should be regarded as living beings. He suggests, the earth is an 'angel', 'so rich and fresh and blooming, and at the same time so stable and unified, moving in the heavens, turning wholly towards heaven its animated face'.
His other work makes it clear that this is not a lyrical metaphor: he conceives the earth as part of a universal system of living beings, interconnected by a web of light, gravity and 'forces that are at present unknown'. He could have been voicing the doctrine of the fertility religion that man held for thousands of years before the coming of Christianity-or even of civilisation.
But Fechner's perhaps most interesting anticipation occurs in a book dating from before his breakdown, A Little Book of Life After Death (1836), written as a consolation for friends who had suffered a loss. ... its central idea is that life consists of three stages: continual sleep in the womb; a condition of semi-sleep; and life after death, or full consciousness. Fechner had the [belief] that 'ordinary consciousness' is a form of sleep. ln Life After Death he accepts ... that death is the gateway to a higher world.
His illness brought a deeper revelation: that what is wrong with ordinary consciousness could be altered by a change of vision: that reality overflows with meanings to which we are blinded by habit and laziness.