The Science of Mystical Vision

The human fascination with perceiving light in dark places is an enduring existential mystery which taps into the very essence of discovery.

Whether gazing through a telescope to behold the most ancient galaxies in the universe, or training the mind through meditation to peer into the luminous, numinous recesses of deep inner space, one thing is certain: the Void is alive and teeming with light forms which challenge assumptions and transfigure with their presence.

The historical record of cross cultural contemplatives, mystics, and visionaries perceiving radiant visions in the darkness of the meditating mind is prolific— indeed, it is arguably the longest artistic tradition known to humankind. A wide variety of artists have regarded their work in continuity with the visions gleaned from their excursions to the superconscious mind: among them, mandala making Tibetan Buddhists; medieval mystics like Hildegard von Bingen; and early 20th century artists like Hilma af Klint, Wassily Kandinsky, and Joan Miró. Perhaps the most poignant figure of them all is that of the Paleolithic cave artist, who carved shamanic visions upon stone walls during long stays in deep, dark earthen caverns — the world’s first galleries.

At the heart of her artistic process is Chavez’s understanding that light’s spiritual and phenomenological qualities are revealed in literal darkness. Her commitment to probing the paradox between light and dark has led her through various forms of rigorous mental training which have taught her to trigger the perception of visions systematically. One such practice which she has explored in depth is durational meditation within caves.

As part of her intricate investigation of the inner landscape, in 2014 Chavez initiated a collaborative research program committed to developing a scientific language which accounts for encounters with radiant visions within the mind's eye.

As a visiting artist-researcher in the neuroscience of creativity at Goldsmiths College and Queen Mary, University of London, she develops pioneering research on visual perception and creative inspiration alongside a world-class team of neuroscientists.  Combining the ancient wisdom of contemplative practices with the latest science of the mind, Chavez and her team investigate the frontier of optics through an extensive series of carefully documented meditation-induced encounters with light. The researchers recreate the setting of a blacked out cave in the form of a darkened lab and Chavez is connected to a specially designed EEG headset. The collaborative research venture focuses on tracking, influencing, and analyzing the complex cerebral firings of Chavez’s brain while she experiences visions.

Credits
Artistic Director and Performer: Lia Chavez
Scientific Directors, Data Collection & Analysis: Dr. Joydeep Bhattachaya and Dr. Caroline di Bernardi Luft
Host Institutions: Goldsmiths College and Queen Mary, University of London
Research Funding Bodies: Creativity Enhancement through Advanced Brain Mapping and Stimulation (CREAM) and Seventh Framework Programme

Selected Press The Future of Everything Magazine