Cosmic Consciousness and the Philosophy of Dr. R.M. Bucke

Superintendents |  Young Adventurer |  Medical Student and Practitioner
Alienist and Administrator |  Man of Letters |  Philosopher

One of the most lasting works of Dr. R. Maurice Bucke is his book Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind. Published in 1901, this book presents the philosophy that he had been developing for most of his life. The book opens with a discussion of how the human mind has evolved. Dr. Bucke believed that there were three types of consciousness, or awareness of reality. The first applied to animals as they are not thinking beings. The second type applied to humans who are aware of themselves. The last type is Cosmic Consciousness which, to Dr. Bucke, was the next logical step in this mental evolution. In this state, the individual is no longer concerned with the material world. They focus instead on their newfound intellectual life.

Dr. Bucke believed that American poet Walt Whitman was the ultimate example of Cosmic Consciousness. He stated that Cosmic Consciousness was "a state of moral exaltation, an indescribable feeling of elevation, elation and joyousness, and a quickening of the moral sense." It provided "a sense of immortality, a consciousness of eternal life, not a conviction that he shall have this, but the consciousness that he has it already." Bucke likened the attainment of Cosmic Consciousness to evolving into a new species. This shows the influence of Social Darwinism on Dr. Bucke's understanding of the evolution of the human mind.

Cosmic Consciousness contains extensive quotations of other authors who, in Bucke's opinion, had fully or partially attained Cosmic Consciousness. These included individuals such as Jesus Christ, Sir Francis Bacon, and even himself, although he never claimed to have reached Cosmic Consciousness. In his book Dr. Bucke presents an unorthodox and pseudoscientific view of spirituality. While Dr. Bucke had mystical inclinations, the parallels he drew between those individuals with Cosmic Consciousness, such as Jesus and Buddha, have been noted by scholars.