Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Is Getting Your Mind Blown a Religious Experience?

Thinking back over the UMass conference a few months back, Unbroken Chain, one moment still stands out. It was during the first day's panel on the Grateful Dead and religious experience. During the q&a, someone told the story of going to a festival with dear friends and their son who was a heavy metal fan, always making fun of his hippie parents and their friends.

During Buddy Guy's performance, the kid wanders down by the stage and hangs out watching. After Buddy's set, the kid comes back with his eyebrows raised and his eye wide open, clearly confused. He looks at the family friend and says, "I don't know how to explain what just happened to me." Grinning, the friend responds, "We have words for that. We say, 'Man, that was heavy. It just blew my mind.'" The kid shook his head yes and said, "You guys always sounded so stupid saying that."

We've all had that experience, having something blow our minds...some of us while having the great pleasure of listening to Buddy Guy. Kant draws a distinction between those things that are merely beautiful and those that are sublime. The beautiful pleases us, while the sublime overwhelms us. This seems to be the sort of thing we are talking about here. (I dare you to find someone else who puts Kant and Buddy Guy in the same paragraph.)

Is getting your mind blown akin to or the same as a religious experience? Many things in nature can lead to such experiences, for example, a stunning sunset, a amazing natural setting like the Grand Canyon, a close encounter with certain animals, but they can also be created in human environments, especially when encountering art. Is music specially well-suited to do it more so than other art forms? Are there certain types of music, say, improvisational music, like jazz, blues, or rock jam music, which offer a more direct connection to the psyche of the creating artists and therefore make it more likely to have your mind blown when you submerge yourself fully in the music?