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Altered States of Consciousness


General signs of an Altered State of Consciousness (p. 107) ... remember the words to The Star Spangled Banner (verbal memory) = Left Temporal Lobe. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Altered States of Consciousness

Altered States of Consciousness
  • Mental experiences that transcend ordinary
  • Literally an altered state deviating from ones
    normal mental state.
  • May induce emotions like fear/anxiety,
    well-being, connection to supernatural entities.
  • Encouraged and interpreted by many different
    cultures as important religious experiences.
  • Stroke of Insight Jill Bolte Taylor on
  • http//

General signs of an Altered State of
Consciousness (p. 107)
  • Alterations in thinking attention/concentration/m
    emory/judgment, trouble distinguishing between
    cause and effect
  • Disturbed time sense time ceases to exist or
    goes by very quickly/very slowly. (Dreams)
  • Loss of control feeling helpless. (Need to do
    things, but just cant Left Hemisphere jumping
    in something is wrong!)
  • Change in emotional expression emotional
    extremes or becoming detached/expressionless.
  • Body image change Boundaries between oneself and
    ones environment is blurred. Parts of the body
    may seem strange/heavy/awkward.
  • Perceptual distortions Seeing sound, Hearing
    color, also hallucinations.
  • Attaching increased meaning to experiences
    Things become so profound!
  • Sense of the ineffable Amnesia/vivid
    memories/inability to describe experiences to
    someone who has not undergone something similar
  • Feelings of rejuvenation hope/feeling light,
    free euphoric. Also, becoming hyper-suggestible.
    In Hypnotism, this the ideal state of the

Altered States of Consciousness and the
Brain Cerebral Cortex (when we think of the
brain this is what usually comes to mind)
Divided into right and left hemispheres,
with each hemisphere's lobes responsible for
specific functionsFrontal LobesHave you ever
experienced the phenomenon of arriving at school
and not remembering driving there? The planning,
organization and self-correction skills
controlled by the frontal lobes are responsible
for your safe arrival at school. If there had
been a detour on the way, the frontal lobes'
mental flexibility would have allowed you to
alter your route and successfully complete your
trip. Carrying out daily functions requires you
to remain in control and generate alternatives
when problems arise.
  • Sensory Motor StripHigher level motor behavior,
    such as the coordination of movement in walking.
  • Parietal LobesAllows you to find your way in
    the dark and sense your relationship with
    surroundings. Visual perception and analysis of
    space, as demonstrated by the ability to read a
    map or follow a maze, are also processed in these
    lobes. Location of the Orientation Association
  • Ex If these are damaged, may not know where
    you end and the outside world begins.
  • Occipital LobesControl visual perception within
    both the right and left hemispheres. They receive
    the pattern for a picture, but do not interpret
    that picture. Damage to these areas results in a
    type of blindness. Ex Numbers on the
    telephone/business card.
  • CerebellumMuscle coordination and balance.
  • Brain Stem
  • Life-sustaining functions such as regulation of
    blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and body
    temperature. The system that is responsible for
    the level of arousal and alertness is also in the
    brain stem and is known as the Reticular
    Activating System (RAS). The RAS, referred to in
    the book as the Sympathetic System functions like
    a dimmer in a light switch, increasing and
    decreasing the responsiveness to the environment.
    If the RAS is damaged, like a light that has been
    dimmedan altered state of consciousness such as
    a coma or a vegetative condition may result. An
    altered state may also result from
    overstimulation of this system.
  • Temporal Lobes-The ability to hum a tune
    (music), identify an airplane overhead
    (environmental sound), and recall a beautiful
    sunset (visual memory) Right Temporal Lobe.
    This is the place for the senses, without
    worries, burdens, etc. produced in the Left
    Temporal lobe. It is this lobe that is
    stimulated most during an Altered State.
  • -The ability to understand a teacher during a
    lecture (language comprehension), to name your
    friends and family (naming ability), and remember
    the words to The Star Spangled Banner (verbal
    memory) Left Temporal Lobe. This is the area
    whose functioning is subdued/halted during an
    Altered State, to achieve the sense of euphoria
    felt in the Right Temporal Lobe. Also, if
    damaged, may result in Golden Retriever

Limbic SystemIn addition to the easily
identifiable lobes, there are systems within the
brain that connect the lobes. The system most
sensitive to the results of head injury is the
limbic system, which mediates mood, emotions,
motivation, attention and memory. Injury to the
system may be manifested in behaviors ranging
from flat affect (no expression) to
aggressiveness from mild distractibility to the
inability to pay attention for one minute from
almost imperceptible memory problems to the
inability to recall dialing numbers on a phone
(as in the video).
Entering an Altered State of Consciousness
  • Sensory Deprivation or constant exposure to
    repetitive actions Solitary Confinement and
    Assembly-line daydreaming
  • Sensory Overload Opposite of the above, brought
    on by sports/ecstatic dancing/chanting, extreme
    pain, getting all worked up via sounds, smells,
  • Continuous focus over long periods of time
    Study/work for hours on end, mind may
  • Decreased alertness Emptying the mind,
    meditation, conscious relaxing of the muscles.
  • Alterations to the Nervous System Dehydration,
    sleep deprivation, hyperventilation, temporal
    lobe seizures (like video), recreational/prescribe
    d drugs (e.g. Weed/Vicodin/Morphine)

Cultural Interpretations
  • Culture lends meaning to an Altered State.
  • Ex Migraine. The resulting Aura or
    haziness/hallucination may be seen as a vision,
    mystical experience, or as a simple annoyance
    caused by a really bad headache.
  • Ex Les Trois Frères cave (French Pyrenees).
    Upper Paleolithic Cave Paintings from around
    13,500 BCE. Popular theory
  • Painting appears to be coming out of the wall.
    This picture (top right) and others may have
    represented a link to the spirit world, an
    attempt by the shaman to pull these beings
    through the membrane of the cave wall into the
    realm of the living during a trance.
  • 3 stages to Trance
  • 1. Focus on geometric shapes (found on the cave
    walls). These shapes are then enlivened by the
    brain, becoming entoptic phenomena or, Geometric
    visual images open to cultural interpretation.
  • 2. In the second phase, ordinary symbols are
    allotted a specific meaning.
  • 3. This is the deep trance stage where the
    entoptic phenomena are combined with images of
    the spirit world (like animals/people) and these
    combined are seen to mesh with the person in the
    trance. So the shaman will in a sense merge
    with the spirit world. The picture to the top
    right is called a therianthrope and represents
    this transformed or merged Shaman.
  • Caves may have represented a membrane between
    two worlds, with the paintings and an Altered
    States of Consciousness acting as links. Animal
    bones/teeth (bottom right) wedged into cracks in
    attempt to penetrate to this other world?
  • Same physiological symptoms (flying, being drawn
    into a vortex) cross-culturally, but
    interpretations differ.

Altered States of Consciousness and Religion
  • Fasting
  • Abstaining from food/water, eating little over a
    multi-day period.
  • In the absence of food, body will start to
    consume itself
  • Fat stores around organs, other fat deposits
  • Muscle
  • After a few days of no food, feeling of hunger
    disappears to be replaced with
  • Aggression/impulsive actions, decrease in
    competence, hallucinations, fatigue, lethargy,
    confusion, dizziness. An Altered State of
  • Fasting in response to religious rituals,
    cleansing the spirit/soul, worthiness before
    deities, training to become a religious
  • Ex Moses 40 days/nights, 10 Commandments and
    communion w/ God.
  • Ex Yom Kippur Day of Atonement (10th day of
    the 7th month 10/8/08-10/9/08). No food or
    water from sunset to sunset for all healthy
    adults. One of the holiest and solemn Jewish
    holidays. Purity/reconciliation with God is
  • Ex Ramadan (9th month of the Islamic calendar
    when the Quran was revealed). One of the 5
    pillars of Islam. Every day from sun-up to
    sun-down, no food or water for healthy men and
    women. Purity of both thought and action is
    stressed. Become more generous/humane and closer
    to God.
  • Ex http//

Altered States of Consciousness and Religion
  • Sacred Pain
  • Revered, respected pain seen variously as
    purifying, an enemy to be overcome, a weapon, a
    transformative agent, a source of supernatural
  • As purifying
  • Papua New Guinea (Blood initiation)
  • Opus Dei and mortification
  • Offering up pain for God in repentance of sins.
    Can take the form of fasting/sleeping on the
    ground/remaining silent for certain periods or
    wearing a cillice around the upper left thigh.
  • Possession/Exorcism (later chapter)
  • Pain as transformative
  • Ex Rites of Passage ceremonies
  • Fulani of Northern Benin West Africa (whipping
    contest and tatooing) http//video.nationalgeogra
  • Amazonian initiation with ants
  • As a sacrifice to God
  • Ex Ancient Maya (book). Strings through the
    tongue (p. 110).
  • Hindu New Year in Nepal (Tongue boring)
  • Hindu festival Thaipusam in Malaysia
  • Bali (self-stabbing) http//video.nationalgeograp
  • In imitation of a Gods/religious figures
  • Ex Stigmata Imitating Christs wounds on the
    cross (sometimes seen as appearing
  • Catholic Crucifixion in the Phillipines

Altered States of Consciousness and Religion
  • Drug-Induced Altered States
  • Adaptive vs. maladaptive in a cultural context.
  • Adaptive Usually within a controlled
    environment, definite end and beginning points.
    Only at a certain time/place/period. Includes
    prescription drugs to help rehabilitate/alleviate
    symptoms (ex. Vicodin, Sudafed?). In a ritual
    setting, promotes cohesion, elevation/reinforcemen
    t of position in religion/culture. Allows
    individual to thrive and be accepted.
  • Ex Peruvian cactus drug (San Pedro)
  • Huichols use of Peyote http//video.nationalgeog
  • Maladaptive Usually associated with secular drug
    use when taken to extremes, leads to addiction,
    inability to function in society. No set
    beginning/end points, non-ritual, no one/thing to
    say stop. Also can relate to religious drugs
    taken outside of the ritual setting. Ex
    cautions against Peyote/Wine used outside of
    their roles as sacraments.
  • Ex Misuse of Ecstasy http//video.nationalgeogra
  • Yanomamö of Venezuela.
  • ebene (hallucinogenic snuff). Snorted through the
    nose. Used to entice hekura or tiny, humanlike
    spirits into ones chest.
  • Rastafarians
  • Afro-Caribbean religion, w/ roots in Christianity
    that venerates the former emperor of Ethiopia,
    Haile Selassie (Jah Rastafari) as the messiah.
  • Bob Marley (1945-1981) took reggae (music that
    came from the Rastafarian movement and Jamaica)
    to a worldwide scene.
  • Concept of Ital levity which emphasizes eating
    natural/vegetarian foods, rejecting Western
    consumerism and focusing on living in harmony
    with nature.
  • Ganga (Cannabis) The Wisdom Weed or Holy
    Herb. A religious sacrament taken to become
    closer to God, gain new understandings of the
    Universe/the Self.

Terms/Groups to know
  • 2 main religious interpretations of an Altered
    State of Consciousness
  • 1. Spirit Possession
  • A supernatural force (a spirit/god) enters a
    persons body.
  • An individual may be able to control the spirit,
    to heal/divine or the spirit may control the body
    and heal/divine without the hosts knowledge.
  • Spirit possession may also be negative or
    unwanted. In this case exorcism rituals may be
  • 2. Trance state in which the Soul has left the
    body. Interpretations of the Altered State are
    based around the Souls experience out of body.
  • Holiness Churches (Appalachian mountains, West
  • Long periods of intense prayer and loud music
    with a repetitive beat, ecstatic dancing, trance.
    Brings members into a Unitary State with God, a
    state in which the individual experiences a
    feeling of becoming one with the supernatural.