Climb the staircase to self-transcendence: Jonathan Haidt at TED2012

Author and UVA psychology professor Jonathan Haidt kicks off his TED2012 talk with a provocative question: “how many of you think of yourselves as religious?” Some people raise their hands, but not so many. Another question: “Do you think of yourselves as spiritual in any shape or form?” The majority of people in the room raises their hands.

Haidt is making the case that one of the main reasons people feel they have some sort of spiritual life is the search for self-transcendence. Then, in the spirit of every good storyteller grappling with a complicated concept, he helps us out with a metaphor. “Think about the mind as being like a house with many rooms, most of which we’re very familiar with,” he says. “But every now and then it’s like a door appears from nowhere. The door opens, we go through it; we find a secret staircase. We climb the staircase and we enter an altered state of consciousness.”

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