Altered States of Consciousness
(13) Human consciousness is most often experienced in an ordinary state. However, it can occur at times in a variety of altered states.
William James wrote in 1929, "Our normal waking consciousness...is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded....".1
There are different states of consciousness that anyone might experience during their lifetime, some of which are common and others that are not. Some states virtually everyone has experienced, such as drowsiness prior to sleep, dreams, or perhaps inebriation.
Charles Tart has studied altered states of consciousness rather extensively. He maintains that there are a variety of ways to produce altered states of consciousness, which he places into two broad categories: (1) Reduced exteroceptive stimulation and/or motor activity; and (2) Increased exteroceptive stimulation and/or motor activity and/or emotion.
In the first category he includes absolute reduction of sensory input, constant exposure to repetitive monotonous stimulation, and a drastic reduction of motor activity. He gives several specific examples, some of which include solitary confinement, prolonged social and stimulus deprivation while at sea, "break-off" phenomena in high altitude jet pilots, extreme boredom, hypnogogic and hypnopompic states, dreaming, somnambulism, experimental sensory deprivation, and profound immobilization in a body cast.
In the second category he includes excitatory mental states resulting primarily from sensory overload, as sometimes accompanied by strenuous physical activity. He indicates that profound emotional arousal and mental fatigue may be contributing factors. Specific examples listed include brainwashing, third-degree grilling tactics, religious conversion, healing trance experiences, certain religious rites, states of inner emotional turbulence, traumatic neuroses and several others.2...In addition to those mentioned in this category, one would also have to list the near-death experience.
Laski in 1961 reported other activities that may be associated with altered states, including childbirth, viewing landscapes, listening to music, and having sexual intercourse.3
Additional ways of achieving altered states have been given by others, including sleep deprivation, fasting, breath control, the use of psychedelics and various meditative disciplines. These all elicit biochemical changes within the brain that apparently unlock the door to unconscious levels of mind.4
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