The anthropology of altered states
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The Anthropology of Altered States. Psychological Anthropology (Transpersonal anthropology). relationship between altered states of consciousness and culture. transpersonal psychology: altered states of consciousness (ASC) and transpersonal experience

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Psychological anthropology transpersonal anthropology l.jpg
Psychological Anthropology(Transpersonal anthropology)

  • relationship between altered states of consciousness and culture.

  • transpersonal psychology: altered states of consciousness (ASC) and transpersonal experience

    • differs from mainstream transpersonal psychology: cross-cultural

  • role of culture in laying the foundations for, in evoking, in cultivating or thwarting, and in interpreting ASC

    • fundamental to understanding the incidence and function of transpersonal experiences

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altered states of consciousness

  • conditions in which sensations, perceptions, cognition, and emotions are altered

  • characterized by changes in: sensing, perceiving, thinking, feeling

  • modify the relation of the individual to self, body, sense of identity, the environment of time, space, or other people

  • induced by modifying sensory input

    • directly by increasing or decreasing stimulation or alertness

    • indirectly by affecting the pathways of the sensory input by somotopsychological factors

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Features of Altered States

  • alterations in thinking

  • disturbed sense of time

  • loss of control

  • changes in the expression of emotions

  • changes in body image

  • perceptual distortion

  • changes in meaning and significance assigned to experiences or perceptions

  • a sense of the ineffable

  • feelings of rejuvenation

  • hypersuggestiblity

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Some Types of Alerted States

  • Trance

  • shamanistic ecstasy

  • prayer ecstasy

  • sorcery

  • "highway hypnosis"

  • Hypnosis

  • alcohol / drugs

  • yoga / meditation

  • dream states

  • Culture bound syndromes

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Stimulation & Consciousness

  • a decrease form a presumed preexisting "normal" level of stimulation or activity

    • highway hypnosis

    • sensory deprivation produced either experimentally or as a result of solitary confinement

  • involves an increase form a presumed preexisting "normal" level of stimulation or activity

    • religious conversion

    • healing trances in revivalistic settings

    • "dance and music trance"

    • battle fatigue

    • hysterical conversion neuroses

    • dissociational states

    • mob contagion

  • increase of alertness or mental involvement

    • prolonged vigilance or sentry duty, watching a radar screen, fervent prayer

  • decrease in alterness or mental activity

    • relaxation of critical faculties in daydreaming, boredom, profound relaxation, mediumistic trance, meditation states

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    Stimulation & Consciousness

    • ‘somatopsychological’ factors

      • drug-induced states

      • states resulting from other changes in body chemistry

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    Cross-Cultural Observations & Altered States

    • diagnosis and healing

    • divination and reading signs

    • Dreaming and dreamworking

    • Trance as evolutionary variable

      • significance in human life derives from the symbolic transformation of experience and the capacity to share intrapsychic states.

      • Unlike dreams, ASC derive from models based on pathological states

      • serve as coping mechanisms for both the individual and the society and thus provide a basis for culture building.

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    Power & Self

    • two forms of possession:ritual and peripheral

      • ritual is displayed in a ceremonialcontext and includes the social function of reinforcing culturalmorality and established power.

      • peripheral representsa more long-term state in which the individual believes thathe is unwillingly possessed by intruding spirits and functionsas an indirect form of social protest

    • Ritual possession operates as a socially sanctionedpsychological defense mechanism, while peripheral possessionconstitutes a pathological reaction to individual conflict.

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    Alterations & The State

    • legal and illegal

    • emphasis on the relationship between these alterations and the individual body, the social body, and the body politic

    • Economies of alterations (political economy)

    • motivations behind the development and global marketing of both legal and illegal alterations

    • policy

    • psychological normalcy

    • demographics of legal and illegal use

    • historical shifts in the legal/illegal distinction itself.

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    Deviance & Society

    • Modes of action which do not conform to the norms or values held by most of the members of a group or society.

    • What is regarded as 'deviant' is as widely variable as the norms and values that distinguish different cultures and subcultures from one another.

    • Many forms of behaviour which are highly esteemed in one context, or by one group, are regarded negatively by others.

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    • abnormal types in the social structure are culturally selected by all groups from every part of the world

    • different degrees of ease with which abnormals function per each culture

    • many abnormals function with ease and even honor without danger to the society

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    Deviance and Conformity

    • Social constructions

    • idealized conduct is most clearly seen in marginalized people

    • deviance forces them into "discredited" or "discreditable" groups, based on the nature of their stigma

    • deviance & the existence of a stigma

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    • Multi-dimensional concepts

      • Represents a range of possible perceptions

        • Of what is normal and not normal

        • Whether it is controlled or not by the norms of society

    • Times & places people can behave in an abnormal way

    • Most cultures disapprove of forms of public behavior that are obviously not being controlled

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    Zones of social behavior

    • Not static, fluid categories, spectrum of possibilities

      • Change with time & circumstance

      • Normal in one group – abnormal in another

    • Controlled normality (A)

    • Uncontrolled normality (D)

    • Controlled abnormality (B)

    • Uncontrolled abnormality (C)

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    Zones of social behavior

    • A, D, B – it is assumed that the individual is at least aware of what the social norms are

      • Whether they conform or not

    • Substance use

      • Traversing the categories of “bad” and “mad”

      • Criminal & Intoxication

      • Temporary madness

    • Altered States:the cultural and social politics of subjectivity

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    The Anthropology of the Senses

    • Comparison & relativism

      • “diverse sensory SYMBOLISM and experience

      • study of the senses out of the realm of natural history into that of social history

        • does not deny the natural history of the senses -- the general process of sensorial experience and its natural processes

    • able to break the mould of our own sensory bias & experience radically different ways of making sense of the world

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    The Anthropology of the Senses

    • the particular & the general

    • sensory journeys through time and space

    • dominant sensory medium of symbolic orientation can vary widely -- can only be understood in the context of a particular society & not through generalized external sensory paradigms

      • Tzotzil of Mexico – heat

      • Ongee of Little Andaman Islands – smell

      • Desana of Columbia -- color & multi sensory, chromatic energy flows

      • dominant sensory symbolic order of west -- seeing & hearing

        • one kind of visuality (to picture) & one kind of aurality/orality

    • “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” (Shakespeare)

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    Anthropology of the Senses

    • “Western” conceptual framework of typical/ “normal” sensory experience

      • From confusion to order

      • Developmentally through repetition and habit

      • Physically through neurochemical processes

      • Through new sensorial skills

      • desire to avoid vague sensations

    • OR, another: To perceive the true substance of the world beyond sensory & mental habits

    • All bodhisattvas, lesser and great, should develop a pure, lucid mind, not depending upon sound, flavor, touch, odor, or any quality. A bodhisattva should develop a mind which alights upon no thing whatsoever; and so should he establish it. (Diamond Sutra 10)

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    Participant-Observation & Altered States

    • Cross-cultural experience & altered states as a psychosis – observations vs. participant observation

    • Sorcerer’s apprentice

    • Going native

    • Trust and science

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    One ‘Popular’ Consciousness Vision/Version

    • field expedition to Mexico or someplace ‘other’

    • observe the rituals of an isolated Indian tribe, who are said to preserve ceremonies that go all the way back to the Toltecs or some ‘other’ ancients

    • rituals involve the consumption of a potion made with powerfully hallucinogenic mushrooms

    • not content merely to observe, but an active participant

    • unifying theme emerges in hallucinations -- the origin of life, the origin of the Earth, the origin of thought, the origin of humanity.

    • opened up a kind of physiological pathway that gives access to the vast untapped recesses of his genome

      • the primitive, atavistic genetic heritage of humankind’s most distant ancestors that lies inactive at the center of his every cell

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    “Styles” of Alcohol Use as Social Practice

    • A “style” of alcohol use is not:

      • a psychological manifestation of the individual nor only determined by environment

    • “Style” as social practice

      • “expressive equipment” or “social capital”

      • Available for the production of subjectivity (self & identity)

    • “universe of stylistic possibilities”

      • represents differing ways to “craft self” and be a “person”

    • Alcohol use is a social and cultural practice some find useful in the context of a set of ongoing social relations