To make a long and complex story manageable in this column, Silverman prompted a major uproar in academic circles. As his work was extended to persons without schizophrenia and the same positive impact was shown, the disbelief grew. As investigators who were not associated with Silverman verified many of his findings, the uproar continued. I have known, for example, several serious thinkers in psychology who can only discuss Silverman's work with clear contempt. I have wondered whether this reflects Silverman's early conclusion that there exists in all persons an unconscious wish for reunion with the early good mother.
In 1990, Hardaway3 published a quantitative review and meta-analysis of 56 studies involving 111 different samples. Despite the need for various methodological improvements, there is a clear and robust conclusion that the subliminal activation of symbiotic fantasies ("Mommy and I are one") increased temporary adaptability in a wide variety of persons with various preconditions who were tested in a number of laboratories. It is impossible to read this careful overview and not reach the conclusion that there is something to the oneness construct, whether symbiotic or not. Psychology and psychiatry need to attend more closely to the theoretical and clinical relevance of experiences of merger, oneness, and self-transcendence.
Support for this position recently surfaced from an improbable source—the use of brain scan technology to study mystical states. d'Aquili and Newberg4 presented findings that suggest that during periods of loss of self-world distinctions in meditation and intense prayer, similar portions of the brain are activated (or deactivated). Although this intriguing work is being conducted with small numbers of subjects and the experimental methods are complex, the findings are provocative. For present purposes, however, I note that these investigators have suggested a continuum of unitary experiences. Starting with "baseline reality," the continuum moves to aesthetic experiences (sunsets and symphonies) to romantic love. Next come numinous experiences (spiritual-religious), cosmic consciousness, and progressive trance states; the continuum ends with experiences of "absolute unity," which includes the obliteration of time and space. Although one can easily question the ordering of this continuum of oneness, it does encourage a thoughtful reexamination of oneness phenomena in our understanding of the self and its pathologies.
It seems to me that oneness is gradually undergoing a type of rehabilitation. Exactly where this will lead and what implications it may have for clinical work are impossible to know at present. Perhaps the important message for clinicians is to stay open to future possibilities rather than holding on to earlier theoretically based assumptions.