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Section 8: Altered States of Consciousness (ASC). By: Don Slack & Melissa Townsend. Chapter 22: Drugs & Altered States. Defining ASCs Objectively Defined “How they were induced” Drugs Various types Hypnosis Problem:

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Section 8 altered states of consciousness asc

Section 8: Altered States of Consciousness (ASC)

By: Don Slack &

Melissa Townsend

Chapter 22 drugs altered states
Chapter 22: Drugs & Altered States

  • Defining ASCs

    • Objectively Defined

      • “How they were induced”

        • Drugs

          • Various types

        • Hypnosis

      • Problem:

        • “Very few ASCs are associated with unique physiological patterns or with physiological or behavioral changes that map directly onto changes in experience.” -Blackmore

        • No defined correlations between physiological alteration and the experience perceived.

  • Defining ASCs (cont’d)

    • Subjectively Defined

      • Pattern of mental functioning seems different to the person such that they feel that their state of consciousness is different from a “normal” state

      • Problem: What is a normal state of consciousness? (SoC)

        • Problem with sharing subjective definitions of ASCs with others

An even more basic problem
An Even More Basic Problem

  • Is there a consciousness to be altered?

  • Could consciousness be defined as just behaviors and descriptions of subjective SoCs?

    • (Eliminative materialism/functionalism)

Farthing s list of functions
Farthing’s List of Functions

  • These mental functions at least appear to change while in an altered state of consciousness:

    • Attention

    • Perception

    • Imagery & Fantasy

    • Inner Speech

    • Memory

    • High Level Thought Processes

    • Meaning & Significance

    • Time Perception

    • Emotional Feeling & Expression

    • Arousal

    • Self-control

    • Suggestibility

    • Body Image

    • Sense of Personal Identity

  • Question: What mental functions are left?

    • ASCs may only be definable by analyzing the whole system


  • The book gives an extensive list of psychoactive drugs. Here are the major groups:

    • Stimulants

    • CNS Depressants

    • Narcotics

    • Antipsychotics

    • Antidepressants

    • Anesthetics

    • Psychedelics

  • What do you think of this: “Gregory’s unpleasant experience in the laboratory illustrates how important set and setting are in determining the effects of psychoactive drugs.” (p. 331)


  • Most psychedelics structural resemble one of the four neurotransmitters: acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin.

    • Question: Are we just altering the hardware then?

  • “Minor” Psychedelics

    • Cannabis

      • Effects differ very widely from person to person, and over a range of doses.

      • Some commonly reported effects:

        • Euphoria and relaxation at low doses

        • Fear and paranoia at higher doses

        • Enhancement of senses

        • Altered experience of time

        • Short term memory thought to be impaired.

  • “Major psychedelics”

    • Example: LSD

      • Effects:

        • Hallucinations

        • “Deep Insights”

        • Sense of going on a journey

Final thoughts on psychedelics
Final Thoughts on Psychedelics

  • “Are any of these drug-induced ASCs valid, truth-giving, truly spiritual experiences, or are they just the ramblings of poisoned minds?”

    • -Blackmore (337)

Chapter 23 sleep dreams hypnotic states
Chapter 23: Sleep, Dreams, & Hypnotic States

  • Questions:

    • “What does it mean to say that ‘I become conscious’ in a lucid dream? Aren’t you conscious in ordinary dreams?”

    • “Who is the dreamer?”

Waking and sleeping
Waking and Sleeping

  • REM and non-REM states of sleep are physiologically different

    • REM:

      • Brain is highly active

      • Resembles waking state

      • Motor function shut off

      • Sleeper is harder to waken

  • What do you think: Dream logic is wonderfully unlike waking logic, with people being composites, objects transforming into other objects, and people doing things for the strangest reasons. All this is accepted by the dreamer who neither notices how peculiar it all is nor realizes that it is a dream (Blackmore, 340).

    • What does this say about a single, constant, consciousness?

The evolution of dreams
The Evolution of Dreams

  • Why do we dream?

    • NOT “Why do we sleep?”

  • Do animals dream?

    • Why not? Many have REM sleep.

  • If they dream, are they conscious?


  • Lucid Dreams

    • Definition: A dream in which you know during the dream that you are dreaming.

    • Previously thought not to exist

      • Hearne and LaBerge designed an experiment in which a man signaled to them (via a particular series of eye movements) that he was conscious while in a dream during REM.

    • Are you conscious?

      • Are you able to influence the content, or does it just feel that way?

      • Subjects are able to retain roughly the same measure of time during lucid dreams as when they are awake.

      • Are there levels of consciousness?

        • “Becoming lucid feels like waking up or becoming more conscious” (Blackmore, 353)?

Chapter 24 exceptional human experience
Chapter 24: Exceptional Human Experience

  • Exceptional Human Experiences (EHEs)

    • Definition: a broad category encompassing psychic visions, hypnotic regression, lucid dreams, peak experiences, and religious/mystical experiences.

  • Responses to EHEs

    • Dismissed as inventions/lies

    • Pathological states that need treatment

    • Evidence that materialist science is wrong and must be expanded to include the paranormal, the existence of the soul, the power of consciousness to reach beyond the body or the existence of God.

    • They are normal.

Out of body experiences obes
Out of Body Experiences (OBEs)

  • Definition:

    • An experience a person seems to perceive the world from a location outside their physical body.

      • Emphasis on the word experience; whether anything actually leaves the body or not is open to investigation.

Theories of obes
Theories of OBEs

  • Theories

    • Dualist

      • Theosophy

        • We have more than one body:

          • Astral, Etheric, Physical, and several other higher bodies, all of which can separate.

        • An OBE is an “Astral Projection”

          • Astral Projection: When consciousness leaves the physical in the form of the astral body sometimes remaining connected by a silver cord.

      • Problem:

        • If the astral body really sees the physical world during astral projection, then it must be interacting with it and hence it must be a detectable physical entity, yet it is supposed to be nonphysical and all attempts at detection have failed.

    • Monist

      • OBEs = imagination + ESP

      • Nothing leaves the body

Theories of obes cont d
Theories of OBEs (cont’d)

  • OBEs = ASCs

    • Not akin to dreams

      • Many take place while awake.

      • Does not resemble REM

  • Body Image Disruption

    • Sensory input and the body image are disrupted. In response, the cognitive system constructs a new body image, and a plausible world derived from memory and imagination, using the kinds of bird’s eye views that are common in memory and dreams.

  • Attributable to disruption of temporal lobe function.

Near death experiences ndes
Near Death Experiences (NDEs)

  • Ingredients for an NDE:

    • A tunnel

    • An OBE

    • A brilliant white or golden light

    • Positive and loving emotions

    • Visions of another world

    • Meetings with other beings

    • A life review

    • The decision to return

  • Some are peaceful, some are hellish

Interpreting ndes
Interpreting NDEs

  • The similarities across ages and cultures suggest that NDEs have something interesting to teach us about death and consciousness… but what?

  • “Afterlife hypothesis”

    • Proof of existence of a soul that can survive death.

  • NDEs require a new science of consciousness

    • NDErs describe clear states of consciousness with lucid reasoning and memory when their brain is severely impaired, or even in a state of clinical death.

    • Some NDErs report knowledge of things/occurances that they could (according to our science) have known about.

  • Dying Brain Hypothesis

    • Severe stress, extreme fear, and cerebral anoxia all cause cortical disinhibition and uncontrolled brain activity.

    • Tunnels and lights are caused by disinhibition in visual cortex.

Mystical experiences
Mystical Experiences

  • James’ four marks that justify a “mystical” experience

    • Ineffability

      • The experience cannot be described in words and therefore cannot be a meme.

    • Noetic quality

      • The sense that mystical states are states of knowledge, insight or illumination.

      • They carry a lasting sense of authority.

    • Transiency

      • Rarely last more than ½ hour – 1 hour before fading.

      • Cannot be clearly remembered afterwards, but are easily recognized when they occur.

    • Passivity

      • Cannot be induced

      • Once it begins, the mystic feels as though he/she is not in control.


  • The deepest mystical insights are not only monist and non-paranormal, but are perfectly compatible with science

  • “The universe is one, the separate self is an illusion, immortality is not in the future but now, everything is as it is and there is nothing to be done” – Blackmore 368.