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Neuro-Physiological

correlates

of

Altered

States

of

Consciousness with footnotes and Bibliography

The Problems of Taxonomy of Consciousness
One of the central problems unconsciousness research is the lack of a taxonomy of consciousness. Freud’s two part division of consciousness into a) the conscious and b) the subconscious, besides its well-noted verbal confusion (viz., how could something subconscious ever be said to be conscious), is simply not an adequate conceptual device for handling all the various varieties of conscious states. Maslow’s two part division into a) deficiency cognition and b) being cognition

And yet it seems to me that his attempt bears criticism at two points. In the first place, whereas Grof’s attempt was faulted for its inordinate concentration on the content of consciousness to the point of ignoring the structure and form of consciousness itself, it seems that Fischer’s attempt at a cartography of consciousness must be faulted for just the opposite reason: if focuses exclusively on the structure of consciousness and not at all on the content. Now this in itself would not be a serious objection, for we are after all interested in formulating a taxonomy of the types of consciousness and this 254

involves a taxonomy of the structures of SoCs. But it becomes a serious objection when we note that the taxonomy is based almost exclusively on the level of arousal of the nervous system (the sympathetic nervous system); and the level of sympathetic arousal is but one of the various aspects of the structure of consciousness. Other aspects of the structure of consciousness might include such factors as depth, forcefulness, clarity, meaningfulness, presence of affect, its inner or outer directedness, and so on, but the structure of consciousness is certainly not limited only to the one factor of arousal level. So Fischer’s cartography errs in its over-emphasis on only one aspect of the structure of consciousness, and ignoring the others. A second possible objection to Fischer’s attempt comes from personal reports to me, but I have not yet discovered any mention of it in the literature. That is that psychic arousal or energy level is sometimes noticed to be quite at variance with somatic energy level; so that a person in a state of deeply relaxed hypnosis may report a psychological state of intense activity and high energy, while his body is obviously quite relaxed. Or, to take the opposite dike of the matter, somatic energy level may be quite high and psychological energy level low, as is sometimes reported in the frenzied activity of the dervish dance. There the body is most obviously in a state of high arousal and yet the psychic condition can be reported to be one of extreme quiet and passivity. In other words, somatic and psychic energy levels may differ quite noticeably, and Fischer’s cartography does not suggest what to do in those instances, where to place those experiences on the scale. The only instances in which his cartography is most problem free, are those instances in which somatic and psychic energy levels are relatively similar. To sum up the matter, then, Fischer’s attempt at

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formulating a taxonomy of conscious states succeeds on several points, most notably on the point of illustrating that SoCs occur in a continuum, and are not neatly broken into separate categories. But his attempt is inadequate in that it focuses exclusively on only one point of the structure of consciousness, viz., its arousal level; and it is inadequate secondly in that it makes no allowance for the distinction between somatic and psychic energy levels, and makes no suggestion as to how the cartography applies when the two are strikingly at variance.

Another attempt at taxonomizing states of consciousness is based on the technique or agent used for achieving the SoC. The technique for achieving one sort of ASC, for example, is to fall asleep and dream, so that Soc. can be called dream consciousness. And the SoCs on either temporal terminus of ream consciousness can be termed the hypnogogic and hypnopompic states. Hypnosis is a technique for achieving ASCs, so it too constitutes a category of consciousness. Meditation techniques are another means of achieving ASCs, so that can be another category. Thus, the taxonomy will include the following categories:

a) Normal, daily, waking consciousness; b) Dream, hypnogogic, and hypnopompic consciousness; c) Hypnosis; d) Meditation; e) Psychoactive chemical agents; f) Biofeedback training; and

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corresponding to four different levels or “layers” of consciousness. we are dealing with only altered SoCs.24 It has. Their attempt. 26 they hypothesized four different categories of ASCs. But it will e a useful taxonomy for a research of the literature on SoCs because it is the taxonomy currently in most use.) Their taxonomy is done on a quite different basis than most of the above-mentioned attempt. Masters and Houston. been employed to some extent in this dissertation. so it can be assumed that normal waking consciousness constitutes the first category. It has too little merit to be relied on exclusively. (Again. in this instance. in their research efforts involving psychedelic chemical agents25 evolved a taxonomy of ASCs that seemed to arise quite naturally out of their research with the various sorts of ASCs that were occasioned by psychedelics. and not exclusively. 257 . and not on the causes of the SoCs or on only the physiological correlates. for it makes an effort to base the categories on actual phenomenological analyses of the SoCs themselves. This taxonomy is not a good one for two reasons: first there is too much overlap between the categories. therefore. and secondly the divisions are based on the technique and not on the internal phenomenology of the SoC itself.. In their published report on that research. for the principium divisionis involved is the nature of the SoC itself. and for that reason I have chosen t employ along with it a taxonomy worked out by Robert Masters and Jean Houston. although it is not mentioned.g) Waking phantasy. is much more difficult one. but only to some extent. in other words.

Altered awareness of body and body image. and in alter stages too if deeper levels are not reached. but they seem not to possess any deeper significance than this. in the same authors’ volume of graded experiences for producing ASCs. ASCs in this category usually consist of brilliant sensory imagery. spatial distortions. disgusting. which is the more superficial level of the four levels. and this is the level of consciousness. 28 which has nothing to do with psychedelic chemicals. In the earlier stages of the psychedelic drug-state. and the whole set of experiences begins with programs for inducing ASCs at this sensory level. Temporal orientation is also very greatly altered and the subject. all of which may be quite interesting and aesthetically attractive (or else frightening. is that level which is composed primarily of sensory imagery. 258 . and a wide range of perceptual changes ordinarily occur. etc.27 In non-chemical attempts at inducing ASCs. and the first type of ASC encountered. For example.). the subject’s awareness is primarily of sensory experiencing. may be confronted with a succession of vivid eidetic images brilliantly colored and intricately detailed. this same taxonomy is employed. it is also found that the lightest level of consciousness.The first of their categories consists of a) Those ASCs characterized primarily by sensory content. closing his eye.

.”29 This second level of consciousness is one. and so on.30 The literature of psychology and consciousness research is repleat with examples of persons reliving earlier traumatic episodes in their lives. Here the person centers his interest (or rather. Personal problems. material from the personal unconscious. in 259 . understanding present situations or present eidetic imagery. .e. finds his interest spontaneously centered) on his own psychological situation. which interested Freud. that material will be experienced as it is meaningful to the person’s psychological situation.The authors feel that a person could very well allow his experiencing to remain at this most superficial level. which is concerned primarily with the sort of psychological material. but that this level may also be employed as a sort of “first stage” of the descent to deeper and more meaningful levels of consciousness. . on his psychological relationships. This is the stage. Although this level of consciousness may incorporate the sort of material that is encountered at the sensory level. Significant past experiences are recalled and may be revivified (“lived through”) with much accompanying emotion . If that occurs then the next stage encountered will be that of b) The recolloective-analytic stage. particularly problem relationships and life-goals are examined. or level. i. The subject may now be in a position to clearly recognize and formulate many of the problems confronting him and may “see what needs to be done” as he has “never seen it before. of consciousness In which the content is predominantly introspective and especially recollective-analytic.

however. He will image and feel himself totally into the rite or into a myth involving a figure with whom he is able to identify because he has come to see his life in its 260 . . whereas level two is concerned with the individual unconscious. . He may act out myths and legends and pass through initiations and ritual observances often seemingly structured precisely in terms of his own most urgent needs . the symbolic images are predominately historical. and “archetypal. In C. mythical. level three is concerned with the collective unconscious. As the authors’ brief description of this level states.G.terms which make them somehow symbolic of the person's psychological situation or psychological concerns. This level of consciousness is one step deeper than the sensory level. Jung’s terms it might be said that. numbers three and four. legendary. in that it is not concerned solely with the person’s own psyche. but has a much broader scope.”32 The subject may experience a profound and rewarding sense of continuity with evolutionary and historic process. but is still a rather superficial layer of consciousness. The third level of consciousness c) The symbolic level. differs from the recollective-analytic. ritualistic. the level of the ancestral archetypes. 31 Here. The eidetic images become of major importance on this symbolic level as does the capacity of the subject to feel that he is participating with his body as well as his mind in the events he is imagining. as a gateway to the two deeper levels of consciousness. It can serve.

or perhaps even in the whole of life. and a sense of fundamental and positive self-transformation. This third level of consciousness is broader in scope for it seems to involve the person symbolically in the whole human race.34 This third level. yields to a still deeper level of consciousness. however. symbolic events in the imagery of his mind.35 This level. or (if he is totally immersed in the consciousness of himself as engaged in the events) he may also physically act out the rite or event that is being experienced. Masters and Houston term d) The integral level. profoundly powerful and broad in scope as it is. we see no reason why this level and its effects could not be experienced in other than religious terms.broad outlines or even in many particulars as repeating the life of the legendary figure. At the deep integral level The experience is one of psychological investigation. a level very rarely reached even with the catalyst of psychedelic chemicals. As numerous examples suggest. In each of these cases the experience of the integral level has been regarded by the subject as a religious one. and reports alter its highly intense effects on him. even so. the person may live through the archetypal. the level which would include the experiences of the great saints and mystics. 261 . “illumination”. which could be termed the level of mystical or cosmic ecstasy.33 At this level of consciousness. the person during the experience actually “feels” his entire self into the archetypal situation.

that the terms “experiencing” ceases to be applicable. verbally or otherwise. for one here encounters the cosmos under the I-Thou mode of being. as regards the validity of their taxonomical schema. 262 . The mode of being in communion with it rather than the normal mode of experiencing the cosmos as a separated observer. etc. possibly. The content of the experience is self-validating and known with absolute certainty to be true. ideation. images. Noumenon. the authors point out that the religious literature describes the usual path of the mystics as also involving the traversal through levels of conscious quite similar to the four levels they have delineated. Essence.36 It is at this despots level. self-transformation. mystical union. It is at this level of consciousness that experience diverges most critically from the categories of normal experience. in fact.). body sensation (if any) and emotion are fused in what is felt as an absolutely purposive process culminating in a sense of total self-understanding. Mysterium. and makes it most difficult to convey.On this level. that of integral awareness involving a confrontation with the essential fundaments of the cosmos (essence. ground of being. the nature of the experiencing. God. religious enlightenment and. Now. Further a kind of post facto validation is forthcoming in the form of the after-effects: the behavioral and other changes. The subject here experiences what he regards as a confrontation with the Ground of Being. that the term “ineffable” most clearly applies. God. or Fundamental Reality. It is at this level.

in their subsequent research they still found it quite helpful. The book in which they first described this taxonomy was published in 1966.37 This all suggests that their taxonomical scheme is perhaps a quite common one among those persons who know the experience of various levels of consciousness. but that is to be expected in something so difficult to define as SoCs. Their claim is only that the scheme is a fruitful one. through a stage inhibited by visionary and symbolic structures. This level is described as the source and the ground of the self’s unfolding and represents the level of confrontation with Ultimate Reality. There may be something to this claim. the literature reveals comparable gradations or levels of experience as the mystic moves from acute bodily sensations and sensory enhancement to a heightened understanding of his own psychodynamic processes. and in their study of the literature. and in their later work published in 1972. their evidence suggested that the taxonomy could be effective for all sorts of ASCs. 263 .In this traditional literature the writers repeatedly deal with and emphasize the stages on the way to mystical enlightenment and describe these with metaphors suggesting striking analogies to the psychodynamic levels hypothesized in our psychedelic research. does evidence minor problems of overlap. although Masters and Houston do not stress it overmuch. and that it fits the large variety of SoCs. until at last he achieves the very depths of his being and the luminous vision of the one. Again and again. which they have encountered in their research. as outlined here. The taxonomy. and that it is perhaps the “natural” or best taxonomy.

than we could use brain chemistry as a definition for SoCs. and not as the central description of that Soc. 3 Archives of General Psychiatry. attempts at taxonomizing consciousness that has been done to date.) is not a very fruitful taxonomy. If asked to recommend a taxonomical structure for categorizing states of consciousness. the brain’s chemical activity is best understood as a physiological correlate of any given Soc. The taxonomy which is based on the method for achieving the ASCs (which speaks of the sleeping Soc. 225-234. for it seems both the richest and the simplest of those with which I am familiar.. and this seems to make theirs one of the most effective. is not descriptive of that Soc. pp.. It needs to be used in conjunction with a second sort of taxonomy. and could quickly get a reading on the brain chemistry in any given Soc. in conjunction with each other. FOOTNOTES 1 Some writers have suggested that Oriental languages are better at this particular task. the meditative Soc. if the technology was advanced enough that one could do a chemical “brain tap”.. Like the brain’s electrical activity. even though it is the one most currently in use.. 15 (1966). It seems to me to allow the asking of important questions which can lead to humanly significant research. and to that purpose I have attempted to employ Mastered and Houston’s four-level taxonomy. the hypnotic Soc. etc. that the other taxonomies can rather easily be ordered according to Masters and Houston’s schema (especially Grof’s attempt outlined above). 264 . and so would not serve as a helpful tool for categorizing consciousness. 2 Perhaps.. having developed a larger number of expressions for describing SoCs. But that possibility runs into the same problems that the EEG does: the brain chemistry in any given Soc. furthermore. It seems. vol. I would choose the four-level structure just outlined above. and especially one of the most fruitful.In this dissertation I have make the attempt to employ these two different sorts of taxonomies together. a conceptual outline which seems to me to have great value. itself.

but induce changes in cortical activity’ (W..)” 22 Fischer. of alcohol intoxication. after a while. through hallucinogenic drugs. 13 Ibid. If one has experienced the Soc. p.. 78. 24 Although I have not yet formulated what seems to me an adequate taxonomy of consciousness. if we count normal waking consciousness as the first category. 12. 898. p. Also: “As will become clear alter.. “Altered States Of Consciousness”. there are some considerations that seem to be important for the attempt to structure an adequate taxonomy. 898. cited by Gellhorn in The Journal Of Nervous And Mental Disorder. p. Theresa’s description of her ecstasy: in both timeless and spaceless experiences.” See also p. vol. 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 “Ergotropic arousal denotes behavioral patterns preparatory to positive action and is characterized by increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system and an activated psychic state. 76-77. vol. to notice the frequency with which the word “varieties” appears in monograph and book titles. vol. no. 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Journal Of Transpersonal Psychology. p. Ibid.4 Arnold Ludwig. 23 “It is not difficult to see a similarity between the meditative experience of pure selfreference and St. Hess. Ibid. p. for example. p. Wiley. Science.cit. p.). It becomes almost laughable. 902 for similar comments. 147 (1968). 77-78. Ibid. During ergotropic and trophotropic arousal. Or the second class of SoCs. a decrease in sensitivity to external stimuli. the mundane world is virtually excluded. Ibid. pp. pp.. in tart (ed. p. One of the most important of those considerations is ht struggle to discover just what are the important factors that phenomenologically distinguish one Soc. 45-80. pp. 1971). the ‘Self’ of ecstasy and the ‘Self’ of samadhi are one and the same ‘Self’ .. 4 (1972). Ibid. pp. and sedation. Ibid. 5 Ibid. from another. Ibid. 4012 (26 November. Ibid. Ibid.. taking the cue from James’s seminal work. p. These states may be induced either naturally or. dreaming. Altered States Of Consciousness (New York.” Ibid. 148. op. 265 .. 10. 49. Varieties Of Religious Experience. 174. 901. 1969). 897-904. 11. Trophotropic arousal results from an integration of parasympathetic with somatomotor activities to produce behavioral patterns that conserve and restore energy. ‘alterations in autonomic activity are not confined to the visceral organs. Ibid.. Ibid.

1972). which often does not carry the meaning of actually perceiving visual imagery. Be Here Now. Ibid. represents a far deeper and more ancient level of awareness. New York: Crown. This third level. Edwin. instead of the verb “to imagine”. The Individual And His Religion. A good example of an experience of this sort is recorded at Ibid. New York. Ibid. Ibid. p. 147. material such as archetypal images. one from the other? What qualities of consciousness differ phenomenologically in these different SoCs? See appendix A. New York: Macmillan. Gordon. New York: Holt. Allport. 1952 Allport. New York: Dover. 25 Varieties Psychedelic Experience (New York. Ibid. 1971. Viking. Becoming. Garden City: Doubleday.. including only the works that bore directly on this study. concerned material of the sort that Freud was interested in. and normal waking consciousness. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. Books Aaronson. I. 142-43. in order to emphasize the forcefulness and vividness of actually perceiving eidetic imagery.. Richard (Baba Ram Dass). p. Psychedelics. "To imagine“ sometimes means something very little more than “to think about”. 144. 148.wonder. Mind Games (New York. Gordon. Allport. 1955.). p. 35 Only eleven of Masters and Houston’s 206 subjects reached this deepest level. 33 34 Whereas the second level of consciousness. Ibid. Alpert. 188.. Pattern And Growth In Personality. 32 And also evolutionary imagery frequently occurs. this deeper third level concerns material of the sort that Jung was more interested in. Flatland. 1966). Bernard. Dell. (eds. which distinguish the structure of consciousness. 1970. For a far more extensive bibliography see Charles Tart. Varieties Of Psychedelic Experience. 1961.. the symbolic level. Ibid. all of which arise out of what Jung termed “the collective unconscious”. Abbott. 266 . p. Altered States Of Consciousness. And Humphrey Osmond. rituals and events. 1950. p.. 258 36 37 BIBLIOGRAPHY This Bibliography is a highly selected one. what factors are involved in those. 26 27 28 29 30 31 The authors make use of the neologistic verb “to image”. the recollective-analytic. myths. Gordon.

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1970. 1955. Gordon. represents a far deeper and more ancient level of awareness. 1972).. myths. p. Garden City: Doubleday. wonder. New York: Dover. New York: Wiley 1969.. which often does not carry the meaning of actually perceiving visual imagery. 1966). Viking. Varieties Of Psychedelic Experience. One of the most important of those considerations is ht struggle to discover just what are the important factors that phenomenologically distinguish one Soc. 144. Ibid. pp. 1952 Allport. . Psychedelics. Ibid. 188. and pp. 148... 32 And also evolutionary imagery frequently occurs. And Humphrey Osmond. one from the other? What qualities of consciousness differ phenomenologically in these different SoCs? See appendix A. Becoming. New York: Macmillan. For a far more extensive bibliography see Charles Tart. including only the works that bore directly on this study. from another. 477-83. of alcohol intoxication. Ibid. and normal waking consciousness.. Altered States Of Consciousness. Ibid. p. Allport. material such as archetypal images. Abbott. The Individual And His Religion. Flatland. dreaming. which distinguish the structure of consciousness. If one has experienced the Soc. what factors are involved in those. there are some considerations that seem to be important for the attempt to structure an adequate taxonomy. 1950.24 Although I have not yet formulated what seems to me an adequate taxonomy of consciousness. Mind Games (New York. New York: Holt. Dell. I. 519-56. in order to emphasize the forcefulness and vividness of actually perceiving eidetic imagery. 147. 35 Only eleven of Masters and Houston’s 206 subjects reached this deepest level. Pattern And Growth In Personality. instead of the verb “to imagine”. 1961. "To imagine“ sometimes means something very little more than “to think about”.). 26 27 28 29 30 31 The authors make use of the neologistic verb “to image”. A good example of an experience of this sort is recorded at Ibid. p. Bernard. This third level. Ibid. Allport. Ibid. Gordon. p. 142-43. (eds. Edwin. New Haven: Yale University Press. all of which arise out of what Jung termed “the collective unconscious”. the recollective-analytic. Books Aaronson. the symbolic level. rituals and events. 25 Varieties Psychedelic Experience (New York. concerned material of the sort that Freud was interested in. pp. 33 34 Whereas the second level of consciousness. this deeper third level concerns material of the sort that Jung was more interested in. Gordon. p. 258 36 37 BIBLIOGRAPHY This Bibliography is a highly selected one.

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