Saturday, December 21, 2019
How Many "Altered States of Consciousness" Are There?
In the early years of the 20th century, adherents of the school of psychology known as structuralism were attempting to discover the basic elements of consciousness by employing a method called introspection. This "looking inward" to identify the basic components of one's own thoughts and feelings led to a widespread disagreement among various investigators regarding just how many such elements of consciousness there actually were. The difficulty, of course, lay in the fact that consciousness, like a mirror, tends to reflect back what is put into it; and if one's reading and speculation have led a person to surmise that a particular element exists in consciousness, as soon as one begins musingly to look inward to discover such an element, that element is likely to be found. The process is somewhat reminiscent of the game which Tolstoy and his brother used to play when they were children, which involved seeing how long they both could go without thinking of a white bear.
Since the perception of one's own awareness is, by definition, a subjective phenomenon, what is true regarding the elements of consciousness is also true regarding the experience of one's consciousness as a whole. In other words, the number of altered states -- or more accurately, altered experiences -- of consciousness which may be induced by suggestion is probably equal to the number of such states or experiences which it is possible to conceive or to imagine; for each of these imagined definitions may be presented in the form of an "induction procedure" or similar ritual containing explicit or implicit suggestions which will bring about such an experience in subjects who are sufficiently responsive and willing to comply. Thus, the suggestor is free to define the dimensions or experiential properties of a suggestion-induced trance state in virtually any manner he or she desires. In recent years, we have frequently heard of meditation, mind control, autogenic training, suggestology, Dianetics, and a host of other techniques too numerous to mention. Rather than concluding that these techniques are all variations of hypnosis, It is more accurate to describe them as changes in perceived awareness which are brought about by means of suggestion and which differ from hypnosis in the same way that they differ from each other: in the specific phenomenological content of the suggested changes in perceived awareness which are either directly suggested or implied by the procedure which is utilized to bring about such as changes, and hence, in the form of the resulting subjective experience of trance, and in the effect of that experience upon the subsequent thought and behavior of the subject to undergoes it.
Highly imaginative hypnotic particioants may feel as if they have been unconscious, for example, and report that they remember nothing of the events which have transpired while supposedly under the influence of the trance unless they have been previously told that they were not "supposed" to feel that way in hypnosis or it has been specifically suggested to them that they will remember everything, whereas a student undergoing an advanced form of yogic training may feel as if he or she is merging with infinite reality!.
An "Induction procedure," then, is not some sort of mechanical process which one person "uses on" another to render the subject more compliant with the will of the suggestor, as laymen occasionally tend to perceive it: and neither does it operate in some ,mysterious manner to open up a direct channel of communication with the "unconscious mind." It is rather a method of providing both the opportunity and the rationale for those who are able and willing to utilize their imagination in an ''Alice-in-wonderland* fashion to go ahead and do so. Modern-day practitioners of the ancient art of suggestion are finding an ever-growing range of application for such techniques, in part because their essential nature is now more clearly understood. If imagination is responsible for what is often referred to as hypnotic phenomena, then it should be clear to all that the true potential of the human imagination has scarcely been tapped. Rather than inquiring how many alterations in perceived awareness it is possible to induce by means of suggestion, or how one might go about measuring their relative depth -- which is after all, pointless when one is dealing with subjective experiences for which new phenomenological dimensions can be invented, suggested, and consequently experienced by sufficiently responsive subjects virtually at will -- it is more appropriate to inquire how such experiences may best be modified and guided to fulfill their primary purpose, which is to assist the participant to develop an increasd measure of awareness and capacity for experience.