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Psychology 2011A/B
Imants Baruss

Alter States of Consciousness: Introduction An Example of Altered Consciousness • Terence McKenna - Sitting by a river at La Chorrera in the Amazon - Notices a mist that split into two parts, and then again, at which point he was looking at four lens shaped clouds of the same size lying in a row and then they merged together again - The clouds then grew darker, swirled together and formed what appeared to be a waterspout - Then everything seemed to sped up and the clouds formed a saucer-shaped machine, rotating slowly, with soft blue and orange lights - It then passed overhead and out of sight - It was identical in appearance to the UFO in an infamous photograph widely assumed to be a picture of a vacuum cleaner end-cap - This occurred after weeks of ingesting psychedelic drugs • Hallucinations – perceptions that do not correspond to physical reality Consciousness Perspectives on Consciousness • There are three perspectives from which consciousness can be approached 1. Physiological  Concerned with the physiological processes involved in consciousness as studied usually within neuroscience using methods appropriate for biological sciences 2. Cognitive  Concerned with cognitive processes involved in consciousness such as perception, thinking, memory, decision making, and creativity  Knowledge is acquired through the observation of behaviour, including verbal behaviour, as well as through rational inquiry 3. Experiential  Concerned with the conscious experiences that a person has for herself  Also known as phenomenological perspective in that phenomena are considered as such without reification into some other way of conceptualizing them  Introspection was primary method of investigation • There are interconnections, but the problem is that there are explanatory gaps between the three so that it is not clear how these interconnections actually occur Definitions of Consciousness • Four common meanings of the word consciousness - Consciousness – r1fers to the registration of information and acting on it in a goal- directed manner  Normal functioning – ability to make discriminations among various stimuli, to process that information, and, at least minimally, to act in a goal directed manner  Closely associated with both the physiological and cognitive perspectives on consciousness  E.g. noticing the changed light and stopping the car - Behavioural consciousness – re2ers to the explicit knowledge of one’s situation, mental states, and actions demonstrated behaviourally  If the processing of information is so sophisticated that an organism demonstrates substantial explicit knowledge or its own situation, internal states, and actions, then it has behavioural consciousness 2  Belongs to the cognitive and experiential perspectives  E.g. Saying that the light had turned red and that we have moved our foot from the gas pedal to the break pedal - Subjective consciousness – r2fers to the experimental stream of events that occurs subjectively for a person  Belongs to the cognitive and experiential perspectives  E.g. whatever is going on in our experiential stream at the time - Consciousness – r3fers to the sense of existence of the subject of the experiential stream  Sometimes used to try to capture the inimitable quality of being that one has for oneself  Belongs to the experiential perspective  E.g. the fact that we experience an experiential stream at all , regardless of what we are thinking about Altered States of Consciousness • Charles Tart - An altered state of consciousness – a qualitative alteration in the overall pattern of mental functioning, such that the experiencer feels his consciousness is radically different from the way it functions ordinarily • Using the three perspectives on consciousness, alter states of consciousness can be defined as; - Stable patterns of physiological, cognitive, and experiential events different from those of the ordinary waking states • We can use the definitions of consciousness to say that altered states of consciousness are… - Consciousness – 1hanges to the registration of information and acting on it in a goal directed manner - Subjective consciousness – t2e explicit knowledge of one’s situation, mental states, and actions - Behavioural consciousness – t2e stream of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that one has for oneself - Consciousness – 3he sense of existence of the subject of mental acts Alterations of Consciousness • Often there is some question regarding the identification of a specific pattern of psychological functioning or the distinctions between apparently different states of consciousness disappear. - For example, John Wren-Lewis, who inadvertently ate poisoned candy, went into coma, almost died, and has subsequently been in an almost transcendent state of consciousness. What this drug-induced, near death, or transcendent state? • There is also a problem with the baseline for altered states - The state of consciousness that is to be taken as the baseline is neither universal nor uniform but could itself be conceptualized as a collection of altered states Altered States and Psychopathology • There was a tendency in the past to regard the ordinary waking states as the optimal state and all other states, except for sleep, as a form of mental illness • Alterations of consciousness can fall within the pathological range (e.g. schizophrenia) but alterations of consciousness themselves are not a symptom - E.g. a shaman, in the past, has been labelled as someone with schizophrenia • Altered states on consciousness are not to be regarded as necessarily pathological but doesn’t mean they cannot disrupt a person’s life - E.g. near death experiences , where someone can experience a positive encounter or negative Beliefs about Consciousness and Reality Material versus Transcendent Beliefs • Robert Moore & Baruss - Material Pole – represented by the notion that reality is entirely physical in nature, apparently in the sense that the world is essentially a machine that functions in a deterministic manner  A phenomena, including consciousness, result from
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