Death, time and consciousness: A theoretical examination of the psychological impact of alterations in temporal perspective

Abraham Roy Sussman (1987)

This paper provides a theoretical exploration, in cognitive terms, of the interrelationship between awareness of death, temporal perspective, and models of human consciousness. In reviewing the research literature on dreams, meditation, hypnosis, and psycholytic research, a model is established for the ways in which alteration of temporal perspective accompanies fundamental changes in consciousness. This model is applied to the impact on consciousness effected by the human encounter with death. The hypothesis is presented that confronting openly one's own "schema" (Neisser) for death may awaken a temporal "schema", which Lifton calls "ultimate" and Eliade calls "mythic", which provides the greatest sense of the meaning of human life. Examples from case studies and a workshop model have been used to demonstrate the clinical application of this theory.