Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D.
Many of us in psychology and parapsychology became interested in altered states of consciousness (ASC) through books such as Charles T. Tart’s anthology Altered States of Consciousness(1969). Later works—among them Kelly and Locke’s Altered States of Consciousness and Psi (1981, recently released with a new introduction, 2009), Wolman and Ullman’s Handbook of States of Consciousness, (1986), and Baruss’Alterations of Consciousness (2003)—presented us with wide compilations of information about the topic. Now we are fortunate to have a new comprehensive reference work on the topic compiled by Etzel Cardeña and Michael Winkelman.
Published in 2011, the two volume work Altering Consciousness: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger), is without doubt the best reference work available today about ASC. The first volume is subtitled History, Culture, and the Humanities. After two papers by the editors, the rest of the volume has 14 papers organized in three sections about historical and cultural perspectives, and views from the humanities. In the second volume, Biological and Psychological Perspectives, the papers are grouped under the main areas mentioned in the subtitle. It includes 16 essays. In addition to chapters written by the editors the two volumes include over 40 authors, among them Mario Beauregard, Anton Geels, Andrzej Kokoszka, David Luke, David Lukoff, David Presti, Jonathan Shear, Moshe Sluhovsky, Yulia Ustinova, and Jennifer M. Windt.
As can be seen in the list of chapters below the papers included in the collection cover such varied aspects ranging from the historical, the conceptual and the philosophical, to the scientific and clinical. Among many topics there are discussions about drugs, Eastern approaches, literature, modern art, neurochemistry, religion, shamanism, sleep and dreams, spirit possession, neuropathology, psi phenomena, and psychopathology.
The first volume opens with a preface by Charles T. Tart in which he discusses aspects of his career studying altered states, which includes his idea of state specific sciences and his major theoretical statement, a systems theory approach to altered states that appeared in his book States of Consciousness (1975). The second volume has a preface from Kenneth S. Pope in which he tells us that the topic of the book is difficult to measure, that it raises questions about what is a normal state of consciousness, that it is determined by our cultural views and biases, and that it raises images of danger in terms of some forms of ASC induction and of the negative career consequences for those engaged in their study. While the latter is true, and something also discussed by Tart in his preface to the first volume, I doubt the consequences are worse that those suffered by those who have devoted their lives to more controversial fields such as parapsychology.
Cardeña’s essay “Altering Consciousness: Setting Up the Stage,” appearing in the first volume, is a good overview of issues pertaining to the topic. Among them he discusses topics such as definitions, classifications, the changing features of experiences, individual differences, as well as reasons for studying the topic. Following others such as Tart, Cardeña warns us about a very important issue that still muddies the waters in this field, that is, that some confuse actual altered states with their induction procedures. In other words, hypnotic induction, meditation practices, or ganzfeld procedures are no guarantee that changes of consciousness have been experienced. It is essential to measure such changes independently of the ways used to induce them.
According to Cardeña to understand the history of humankind we need to consider various alterations of consciousness. In this process we need to include “the perspectives of the artist and the experiencer as much as that of the scientist to gain a full understanding” (p. 12). But he is also clear that this area needs much further conceptual and research work in order to make meaningful advances.
Personally, I was happy to have collaborated with Cardeña in the fifth chapter of volume 1, “Altered Consciousness from the Age of Enlightenment through Mid-20th Century.” I particularly enjoyed contributing cases of and ideas about dissociative and parapsychological experiences from the old literatures of mesmerism, spiritualism, and psychical research.
In addition to the high quality of the chapters, as well as the multiple perspectives and wealth of information of this reference work, the book has other valuable aspects. One of them is the international range of its authors, something that helps the book present different views. Some of the contributors have institutional affiliations in such countries as Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Israel, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. In addition, and similar to Baruss’ Alterations of Consciousness (2003), parapsychological topics are not ignored. This is evident in the above mentioned chapter I wrote with Cardeña, in David Lukoff’s chapter “Visionary Spirituality and Mental Disorders” (Vol. 2) and particularly in David Luke’s chapter “Anomalous Phenomena, Psi, and Altered Consciousness” (Vol. 2).
One wishes for the appearance of similar reference works about such topics as religious experiences and parapsychological phenomena. To order the book go tohttp://www.bookdepository.com/ALtering-Consciousness-Etzel-Cardena/9780313383083).
Table of Contents
Altering Consciousness: Multidisciplinary Perspectives
Volume 1. History, Culture, and the Humanities
Preface: Extending our knowledge of consciousness
Charles T. Tart
Altering consciousness: Setting up the stage
A paradigm for understanding altered consciousness: The integrative mode of consciousness
Consciousness alteration practices in the West from Prehistory to late Antiquity
Spirit possession and other alterations of consciousness in the Christian Western tradition
Altered consciousness from the Age of Enlightenment through mid 20th century
Etzel Cardeña and Carlos S. Alvarado
Reconceptualizing the field of altered consciousness: A 50-year retrospective
Julie Beischel, Adam J. Rock, and Stanley Krippner
Eastern approaches to altered states of consciousness
Shamanism and the alteration of consciousness
Altered consciousness in society
Spiritual technologies and altering consciousness in contemporary counterculture
Graham St. John
Altered consciousness in philosophy
Jennifer M. Windt
Altered consciousness in religion
Colored inklings: Altered states of consciousness and literature
Altered consciousness in performance: West and the East
Phillip B. Zarrilli
Altered consciousness and modern art
Time is the key: Music and altered states of consciousness
Volume 2. Biological and Psychological Perspectives
Kenneth S. Pope
Introducing volume 2
Sleep, dreams, and other biological cycles as altered states of consciousness
Andrzej Kokoszka and Benjamin Wallace
Neurochemistry and altered consciousness
David E. Presti
Dopamine, altered consciousness, and distant space with special reference to shamanic ecstasy
Transcendent experiences and brain mechanisms
Altering consciousness through sexual activity
Michael Maliszewski, Barbara Vaughan, Stanley Krippner, Gregory Holler, and Cheryl Fracasso
DMT and human consciousness
Zevic Mishor, Dennis J. McKenna, and J. C. Callaway
LSD and the serotonin system’s effects on human consciousness
David E. Nichols and Benjamin R. Chemel
Peyote and meaning
Stacy B. Schaefer
Addiction and the dynamics of altered states of consciousness
Andrea E. Blätter, Jörg C. Fachner, and Michael Winkelman
Altered consciousness and human development
Pehr Granqvist, Sophie Reijman, and Etzel Cardeña
Altered states of bodily consciousness
Sebastian Dieguez and Olaf Blanke
Altered consciousness and neuropathology
Quentin Noirhomme and Steven Laureys
Altered consciousness in emotion and psychopathology
Visionary spirituality and mental disorders
Altered states of consciousness as paradoxically healing: An embodied social neuroscience perspective
Aaron L. Mishara and Michael A. Schwartz
Anomalous phenomena, psi, and altered consciousness