According to Tart (1975), different levels of
conscience can be distinguished in addition to the ordinary fundamental
The ordinary fundamental state is the state we experience when we're awake
and that is indispensable to survive in the physical world that is planned
by the principle of non-contradiction. In our culture the ordinary
conscience is characterized by a high degree of rationality and a
relatively low degree of imaginative capability. At the other end, there
is a region of psychological space in which the rationality is usually low
or different; for example, this is the case of the ordinary night dreaming,
during which we create the whole dreamt world.
According to Fisher (1971), the "other"states of conscience can be divided
in two classes: the first ones are the states of conscience named
ergotropic, which are characterized by a psychic hyperactivity; they can
be produced by hallucinogens and mystic exaltations. The other ones, named
trophotropic states of conscience, on the contrary, are characterized by a
psychic hypoactivity that produces a progressive desensibilization to the
external stimula and then leads to ecstatic states as zozen and samadhi.
An "other" state of conscience is a new experiential space, that has his
own properties, a new organization of the conscience, that has his own
consistency and laws. The term "other" must be understood in a pure
descriptive sense, without leaving space to any kind of judgement.
The "other" states of conscience present essentially these specific
- A distorted perception of time compared with the ordinary one, or a
sense of atemporality.
- Depersonalization and loss of oneself.
- Attenuation of inhibitions.
- Increased empathy followed by sensations similar to a fusion with other
people or objects.
- Prevalence of thoughts based on the use of analogy and metaphor, with
consequent suspention of the principle of non-contradiction.
The induction of an "other" or alterated state of conscience involves two
fundamental interventions: firstly, to the ordinary fundamental state are
applied disruptive forces (actions of psychological and/or physiological
kind). The induction cannot work in the case in which the ordinary state
of conscience is characterized by a strong stability; it happens very
often with the use of psychedelic drugs or with the hypnosis; they are
techniques of induction, that allow to get to an "other" state only after
that the subject knows how to widen his own attention/consciousness and
has strong expectations in this kind of experience. All this makes clear
how in the field of "other" states is important the psychological aspect
and the socio-cultural conditions in which it is experienced.
In the second part of the process of induction are applied psychological
and physiological organizing forces directed towards the creation of the
desired "other" state. The description of the mechanism through which we
get from an ordinary state of conscience to an "other" one, and then from
this "other" one back to the ordinary utilizes the cybernetic pattern of
the theory of systems that can be summarized with a circular scheme in
which the effects are in continuous and constant feedback with the causes.
Ordinary State ----> induction of
disruptive forces -----> breakdown -----> transition -----> Other or
Alterated State -----> breakdown -----> transition -----> Ordinary State
"Other" states of conscience: a Neuro-Transcendence?
Among the "other" states of conscience studied in these years there are:
the intoxication of drugs and alchool, the ESP visions, the states of
trance of mediums, the perithanatic experience of the almost-death, the
fasting and the meditation, the guided dreams and the sensory deprivation.
We think it is interesting to examine three types of study about "other"
states of conscience that have been made in the USA. The first one about
which we'll talk is by Siegel (1978), who, in the field of experimentation
with hallucinogens, noticed how in a group of "psychonauts", whom was
given a certain dose of psycho-active drugs, there were prototype-images
of average kind. After years of precise surveys, he found out that the
human mind tends to keep in only a finite number of visions.
When the psychonauts kept their eyes close and looked into themselves
without having taken any drugs they talked about black, white and purple
shades, while under the effects of psychedelic drugs the prevailing tones
were red and orange; finally, the T.H.C. (tetrahydrocannabinol), the
active principle of marijuana, produced an iced blue.
Under the effects of L.S.D. and of mescaline the "psychonauts" talked
about geometrical figures that became more and more complex during the
"trip". The more intense the experience was, these figures wheeled and
pulsed and then left space to more personal images.
The most important aspect of these studies was the discovery that, under
the effect of hallucinations, four fundamental and recurrent types of
geometrical figures were recorded: the spiral, the tunnel or the funnel,
the cobweb and the grid.
The visions obtained in laboratory were very similar to the visions of
people among which, during specific religious rituals, taking
hallucinogens is usual; all the evidence of this study makes it clear that
our brain should create predeterminated images in response to particular
stimula. Siegel found out that we can distinguish two stages in the
1) Geometrical stage, in which there is the preponderance of coloured
2) A stage in which occur strictly personal images, linked to the
psycho-socio-cultural environment of the person who makes this kind of
This second stage, compared to the first one, cannot be scientifically
classified, because it happens as if the mind gets from a catalogue of
inner and strictly subjective figures and impressions.
Lilly (1979) came to a conclusion very similar to the Siegel's one (1978):
some years before him, he examined a classic philosophical and
neurological enigma: what could happen to our brain if it was deprived of
every kind of sensory input?
Most of the scientists supposed that, without any stimulations, there
would be a lack of conscience, although this hypothesis couldn't be
objectively confirmed. Lilly (1981), in order to strengthen the hypothesis
of no cerebral activity in a state of sensory deprivation, built the first
isolation tank: a dark and soundproof tank, filled with an ultrasaline
fluid. All evidence of the first tests made clear that something
surprising had happened; our brain was not empty of impressions, but, on
the contrary, was subject to an hyperproduction of states of conscience
that were not ordinary, as trance, mystic flashes of inspiration and
extracorporeal trips. After these tests, Lilly combined for the first time
the isolation tank with the use of L.S.D. and experienced deeper
hallucinations. After these experiences, Lilly embraced the theory of a
radical position of our brain, which implied the consciousness of a
principle that existed outside the physical structure of brain; in
religious terms, this is the idea of a soul which uses and is used by the
This theory, extremely unpopular in scientific circles, was shared then by
Pearce (1973; 1974) and Moody (1976). What was evident in these heterodox
studies was the fact that Man is not coincident with his own brain and
neither with his body, because there would be a spiritual essence which is
distinguished from a corporeal medium.
In our opinion, another interesting study is the research made by S. La
Berge (1981) about lucid dreaming. Since 1953 we have known that the sleep
with dreams is associated to characteristic and rapid movements of eyes
(R. E. M.), which can be easily recorded by a sensor put under the
dreamer's eyes. If it was really possible to be aware during the dreams,
thought La Berge, why could not the dreamer communicate with the external
world and why could we not use his eyes' movements as a dictionary? He
made use of a polyphonograph, which is a device similar to a lie detector,
that is able to control automatically the movements of the eye muscles and
other physiological signals; during every lucid dream, our eyes move
according to a predetermined sequence: left-right-left-right.
Then, when he examined the record, between the EEG graphs and REM
irregular eyes movements it was possible to read the codified message.
After this test La Berge could formulate a technique of induction of
dreams, named MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams) that was able to
allow to turn usual dreams into lucid dreams. The simple criterion of
clearness corresponded to the capability to create the situations in the
dreams through an act of will. The aim of this technique was to establish
a relation between the reality of lucid dreams and the state of awakeness.
Further developments made the lucid dream work as a laboratory in which we
could simulate experiences and situations that in a state of awakeness
would cause an insuperable emotional impact, while in this reality, which
was self-inducted and virtual, we could work with otherwise inaccessible