Vol.3, # 1
January 7, 2006

Q: What is altered states of consciousness? - Layperson

A: The phrase "altered state of consciousness" was coined in the 1970s and describes induced changes in one's mental state, almost always temporary. A synonymous phrase is "altered states of awareness".

An altered state of consciousness can come about accidentally through fever, sleep deprivation, starvation, oxygen deprivation, nitrogen narcosis (deep diving), or a traumatic accident. Intentionally it can sometimes be reached by the use of a sensory deprivation tank or mind-control techniques, hypnosis, meditation, prayer, or disciplines (e.g. yoga, Sufism or Surat Shabda Yoga). It is sometimes attained through the ingestion of psychoactive drugs such as alcohol and opiates, or hallucinogenic plants and chemicals such as LSD, 2C-I, peyote, marijuana, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, and datura (Jimson weed).

Naturally occurring altered states of consciousness include channeling, dreams, premonitions, euphoria, ecstasy, out of body experiences, and "being in the zone". 

The conspiracy to reduce consciousness to intellectual awareness of the physical world has been in evidence for at least five thousand years. Over the centuries the mental and psychic powers that only mystics and seers now possess have been filtered out of most people. So we now assume that our narrow, tightly-bound consciousness is normal and natural.  "Ordinary consciousness" is "normal" only in the strict sense of "statistically most frequent," not inherently "good" or "natural" as the term is sometimes misconstrued to mean.

 When contrasted with supernormal consciousness experienced by certain people in specific instances, our current rigid, intellect-based awareness is highly abnormal and unnatural.

Reports of Supernormal Consciousness
Human beings possess a whole range of dormant powers of which they are usually unaware. Experience of these latent powers occurs accidentally or to those who learn the necessary procedures. These powers include inspiration, clairaudience, clairvoyance, psychometry, precognition, and telepathy. In his book Beyond the Occult, Colin Wilson conjectures that we have gradually lost these powers ". . . because we no longer need them." On the contrary, we have needed and continue to need such powers--for the completion of our human potential and for participating in human evolution.

The Conspiracy to Debase Human Consciousness
Our psychic powers have become forgotten and atrophied from neglect because the vast conspiracy of the ideologies of Materialism (there is nothing but matter in space) and Mammon (material wealth as the highest value) have conditioned untold generations to believe that mind-bound consciousness of the physical world is all there is and all that is needed for humankind's wellbeing. Non-ordinary states were said to be psychotic, evil, abnormal or merely debilitating. Persons who even spoke of spiritual or psychic powers were classed as weird, insane, or perverse.

     We have very little understanding of "consciousness," since it is by definition a nonmaterial quality or state of being aware. Scientists study only the physical correlates of consciousness, such as brain waves, not consciousness itself.

The Human Brain and Mind 

Neurologists and psychologists for decades agreed that there were specific facts about the brain and intelligence that were unchanging:

  • intelligence is genetically determined
  • people with high intelligence are born that way
  • experience can't increase or decrease innate intelligence; experience can't change the structure of the brain
  • growth in the total number of brain cells we have is completed by age two; neurons cannot reproduce themselves

However, psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted studies  which were to turn the world of brain and intelligence research upside down. They discovered that:

  • rats showed higher levels of AChE (the brain enzyme related to learning and memory) when placed in "enriched environments" (well-lit, multilevel cages filled with swings, slides, ladders, bridges, an assortment of frequently changing stimuli, and a variety of challenges)

    This meant that intelligence could be increased.

  • the brains of rats placed in "enriched environments" increased in weight

    Stimulating experiences had caused the rats' brains to grow.

Neuroanatomist Marian Diamond proved that rats raised in "enriched environments" showed:

  • increased thickness of the cerebral cortex or "gray matter"
  • a 15 percent increase in the actual size of individual neurons in the cortex
  • increases in protein in the brain paralleling the increases in cortical weight, proving that the growth effect was on tissue and not just on fluid content of the brain
  • an increase in the amount of dendritic branching (dendrites are the hairy branching fibers which project in large numbers from the body of each neuron and which receive inputs from other neurons and conduct them to the cell body, thus, an increase in branching means a greater amount of potential information available to each neuron)
  • an increased number of dendritic spines per unit length of dendrite (spines are the small projections that cover the surface of dendrites)
  • increases in the number of synapses and in the size of synaptic contact areas (synapses are the spots where different neurons are connected and by means of which communication among neurons takes place)
  • an increase in the ratio between the weight of the cortex and the weight of the rest of the brain (thus the enriched environment does not simply stimulate and trigger generalized growth throughout the entire brain, but is specifically beneficial to that area of the brain devoted to thinking, learning, and memory)
  • a 15 percent increase in the number of glial cells, the "glue" cells that are the most numerous cells in the brain and which hold together, support, and nourish the brain neurons, act as guides for neural growth, assist in learning, and seem to form some mysterious communicating network of their own

  Later studies showed that significant structural changes in the brains of rats in "enriched environments" can take place almost instantaneously.

The human brain is about five times as large as that of a chimpanzee, yet contains only about 30 to 50 percent more neurons. The difference between humans and chimps comes from the development of the cerebral cortex and the larger number of glial cells . The cerebral cortex is a layer of nerve cells forming a convoluted outer shell over the brain, the "thinking cap" or "gray matter" atop the brain, in which much of the thinking or higher intellectual activity of the brain takes place. 

All these studies focused on one conclusion: increased brain stimulation in an enriched environment produces not only a growth in size and weight of the cortex but completely alters and enriches the quality of the entire cerebral cortex.

Brain Stimulation and Neurofeedback

Human performance in all areas can be deliberately improved through environmental, biochemical, and psychophysiological manipulation of the brain and mind. One way this takes place is through the use of machines designed by researchers to stimulate the human neocortex through exposure to experiences which are novel, changing, and challenging, and which provide the brain and mind an opportunity to exercise themselves by means of self-observation and self-transformation.

The brain is an electrically powered and electricity-generating organ. Composed of an estimated one hundred billion neurons, each neuron produces and transmits electrical impulses which travel from the cell body down long fibers called axons until they reach a junction, or synapse, with another neuron. At the junction point the electrical impulses fire chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, across the synaptic gap to receptors on the next cell. Having received the message, that neuron then generates its own electrical impulse and sends it to other neurons to which it is connected. Each neuron can be connected to thousands of other neurons, each simultaneously sending and receiving impulses to and from thousands of other neurons--so one neuron can electrically alter millions of other neurons.

To get an idea of how complex this electrical system is, the National Academy of Sciences estimates that "a single human brain has a greater number of possible connections among its nerve cells than the total number of atomic particles in the universe."

The brain is part of the overall human nervous system, composed of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is comprised of the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system includes the sensory neurons that link the brain and spinal cord to sensory receptors and efferent neurons connected to the muscles, glands, and organs.

      The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It is surrounded by three protective layers of tissue called the meninges, and bathed in liquid called the cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid also protects the brain from injury and provides nourishment to its surrounding tissues.

 Let's take a look at various parts of the brain:

  • The brainstem
  • The cerebellum
  • The cerebrum


Brainstem: the oldest part of the brain

  • The brainstem regulates things like heartrate, breathing, swallowing, blinking, digesting, and more. It controls the basic functions of the brain.
    • Cerebellum:

    Your cerebellum is a busy switching station. It receives messages from most of the muscles in your body. It communicates with the other parts of the brain, and then sends messages about movement and balance back to your body.

    • Cerebrum:
    • thinking and learning
    • creativity
    • five senses
    • memory and emotion
    • problem-solving
    • decisions

     The cerebrum is composed of four lobes:

    • Frontal lobe
    • Parietal lobe
    • Occipital lobe
    • Temporal lobe

    The cerebrum represents 85% of the total weight of the human brain. It has a highly convoluted surface. Neurologists have mapped the various areas of the cerebral cortex that control specific sensory and motor activities of the human body. Like the cerebellum, the cerebrum is divided into symmetrical hemispheres. Each hemisphere is divided into four “lobes,” the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes. These lobes have special functions. The frontal lobe is involved with planning and movement; the parietal lobe with sensation; the occipital lobe with vision; and the temporal lobe with learning, memory, and emotion.

    The cerebral hemispheres surround an area called the diencephalon, which consists of the thalamus and the hypothalamus. The thalamus is a key structure of the cerebrum. It acts as a gateway for sensory information coming from the major systems -- vision, hearing and balance, taste and smell -- to the corresponding sensory area of the cerebral cortex. The hypothalamus regulates the autonomic nervous system, reproduction and homeostasis. Homeostasis is the process by which our bodies maintain a stable internal environment in the face of changing conditions.

    • Hippocampus:
      • Stores and processes memories
      • Helps find memories
      • Affects emotions

      The hippocampus helps to encode memories, and then helps to find them when you want to remember something.

    Around 1908 an Austrian Psychiatrist named Hans Berger announced that it was possible to record the feeble electric currents (brain waves) generated on the brain, without opening the skull, and to depict them graphically onto a strip of paper. Berger named this new form of recording the electroencephalogram (EEG, for short): electro = electrical; encephalon = head; graph = drawing/picture. Berger determined that this activity of the brain waves changed according to the functional status of the brain, such as in sleep, anesthesia, hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and in certain nervous diseases, such as in epilepsy. The first brain waves Berger discovered he called "Alpha." Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, like our "a."

    Quantitative EEG (QEEG) is digital recording of the EEG. For decades it was only possible to record the various brain waves on paper with the traditional polygraph. The EEG rhythms were amplified and used to drive pens, one for each recording electrode. As the pens fluctuated from the EEG rhythms, a long piece of graph paper was dragged under the pens by a motor, creating the graph of the electrical activity on the outer surface of the brain.

    Over the last several decades, advances in signal processing have made is possible to sample the EEG waves many times per second (usually 128 or 256 samples per second) and to analyze and depict them in a variety of ways. Using quantitative EEG we can now precisely measure the amplitude and frequency of waves of interest, determining the distribution of the waves on various areas of the scalp, and even compare a subject's QEEG to a normative reference database.

     In our ordinary waking state, we primarily experience beta brain waves (which vibrate at a frequency ranging from about 13 to 30 hertz or cycles per second). During deep relaxation, we move to alpha waves (8-13 Hz) and we ordinarily only experience theta waves (4-7 Hz) in those brief moments between waking and sleeping. The ultra slow delta waves (0.5-4 Hz) occur during sleep.

    Scientists have found that when meditators reach a state of deep awareness and internal mental serenity the two hemispheres of their brain--which ordinarily generate brain waves of different frequencies and amplitudes--become synchronized, both hemispheres generating the same brain waves.

    The left and right hemispheres of our brains appear to produce different brain functions. The left hemisphere is active in linear, logical, practical, and time orientated activities while the right hemisphere seems to be much more non-linear, abstract, creative, wholistic, and non-logical.

    Drawing conclusions based on logic: one thing following another in logical order.
    Making leaps of  insight, often based on incomplete patterns, hunches, feelings and visual images.
    Thinking in terms of linked ideas, one thought directly following another, often leading to a convergent conclusion.
    Seeing whole things at once, perceiving
    the overall patterns and structures, often
    leading to divergent conclusions.
    Using words to name, describe, define.
    Awareness of things, but minimal
    connection with words.
    Keeping track of time, sequencing one thing after another.
    Without sense of time.
    Drawing conclusions based on reason and facts.
    Not requiring a basis of reason or facts;
    willingness to suspend judgment.
    Figuring things out step-by-step and part-by-part.
    Putting things together to form wholes.
    Taking out a small bit of information and using it to represent the whole thing.
    Seeing relationship between things,
    understanding metaphoric relationships.
    Using a symbol to stand for something.
    Relating to things as they are at the
    present moment
    Using numbers as in counting.
    Seeing where things are in relation to other things, and how parts go together to form a whole

    We tend to focus on particular hemispheres depending on what we're doing.  If we're solving a math problem, our left hemisphere is probably most active. Composing a piece of music would involve right hemispheric activity. Both hemispheres are constantly interacting and both can be in use at the same time. 

    The two hemispheres are connected by the corpus callosum, which serves as a conduit between the two sides.  This bridging activity can be strengthened so that increased transmission of data, thoughts and feedback between hemispheres occurs. We can also develop an increased merging of the hemispheres, allowing them to work together so we can increase our mental creativity.

    Because of the complexity of our brains there are often several brainwave types interacting at the same time. The particular brainwave frequency which dominates at any given time determines our state of mind. As an example, while in a beta state, there might be trace levels of alpha and theta, but they would be minimal compared to the dominating amount of beta present.

    In 1956, James Olds reported on research in which he had electrically stimulated the brains of rats. Implanting electrodes in rats' pleasure center of the brain, he attached a device that allowed the rats to activate the electrical impulse. He found that the rats would become so obsessed with self-stimulation that they would literally starve themselves to death. 

    The human body has its own chemical self-stimulants. Naturally produced in our bodies and brains, this group of molecules called endorphins reduces pain, alleviates stress, gives pleasure, enhances or suppresses memories, and determines what information we allow into our brains. 

    Dr. Robert Heath, head of the neurology/psychiatry department at Tulane University School of Medicine was the first to implant electrodes in the human brain. He found that each brain stimulus--pleasure or pain--is capable of overwhelming or inhibiting other stimuli. Thus, pleasure can overcome depression or pain and vice versa.


    Biofeedback is the use of mechanical means to amplify certain internal cues, make us aware of them, and make it possible to control mental and brain states. Extensive research has shown that what were thought to be "involuntary" psychophysiological states, such as blood pressure, body temperature, etc., are in fact controllable through the use of biofeedback.

    In 1958, Joe Kamiya, a psychologist teaching at the University of Chicago, began experiments on brain wave frequencies. Kamiya attached a sensing electrode to the left side of the back of the subjects's head--the left occiput, where alpha brain waves are more evident. When a tone sounded, the subject was to guess whether he was in alpha. Kamiya was able to tell if the subject's guess was correct from the EEG (electroencephalograph) readings and answered "correct" or "wrong." The first subject Kamiya worked with, Richard Bach, reported correctly 65% on the second day of testing, and on the fourth day was able to report correctly 100% of the time. In a second experiment, the subject was able to enter the alpha state or not enter the state on a specific cue. It was thus established that people could control brain waves which had been thought to be involuntary states. This was the beginning of brain wave biofeedback. Psychology Today did an article on Kamiya in 1968 and the field exploded.
    The first meeting of biofeedback professionals occurred as part of the 1968 International Brain and Behavior Conference in Colorado. The following year the first specific meeting of biofeedback researchers was held in Santa Monica, California, with 142 persons attending. It was at this meeting that the group decided to name their group the Biofeedback Research Society, later changed to Biofeedback Society of America and then to the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.

    One of the early researchers, Elmer Green of the Menninger Clinic in Kansas, used biofeedback instruments to study Eastern yogis. He discovered that certain yogis could control their internal states merely through meditation and thought. 

    Maurice "Barry" Sterman, a professor emeritus in the departments of Neurobiology and Psychiatry at UCLA, began an experiment in 1965 on brain wave states in cats. He accidentally discovered a specific EEG rhythm state during which the cat, waiting for a reward of food, became absolutely still, though extremely alert. Sterman named this frequency "sensorimotor rhythm" (SMR). He isolated the 12 to 15 hertz frequencies (SMR) in the EEG of the experimental cats and operantly conditioned them to create this state. Sterman then worked with a human subject, a woman who suffered from epileptic seizures two or more times per month.

    Epilepsy is accompanied by an invasion of unwanted theta wave frequency in the brain. The subject was connected to the EEG equipment and was tasked with keeping a green light on (presence of SMR) and a red light off (presence of theta waves). The subject was able to create SMR for long periods and her seizures reduced in number and intensity. She remained seizure-free after the experiment for a number of months. 

    Other researchers replicated Sterman's results with epilepsy and in 1982 Sterman received a research grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH). However, the disparity between biofeedback and ordinary medical procedures was becoming a major issue in the health care field and NIH pulled Sterman's funding. Ordinary medical procedures involve something being done to the "patient," the application of a drug, the use of surgery, etc. Biofeedback involves persons taking responsibility for their own conditions and actively participating in their therapy. Plus, biofeedback had arisen within psychology, not medicine.
    The medical establishment began deriding biofeedback as an unproven, unscientific fad. The research of Sterman and others followed the most rigorous experimental requirements, but the medical mafia was intent on destroying this upstart phenomenon. 

    In the 1970s and 1980s, biofeedback research languished, though a few brave persons pushed forward and today there is a resurgence in the field. Margaret Ayers, whose graduate training was in clinical neuropsychology, uses biofeedback therapy with different kinds of medical problems: drug addiction, alcoholism, head injury, stroke, cerebral palsy, and coma. Coma is the condition of a brain which is accompanied by dominant theta wave activity. The biofeedback equipment used with coma patients trains them to inhibit theta wave frequencies. A number of Ayer's coma clients have regained a great deal of their normal functioning. Siegfried and Sue Othmer, Ross Quackenbush, Eugene Peniston, Roger Werholtz, Lester Fehmi, Bob DeBoer, and others are using similar biofeedback procedures on clients with a diversity of medical or psychological problems.

    Altering States of Consciousness

    From their early experiments with LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline at Harvard, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert discovered the importance of set and setting:

    • "Set is a person's expectations of what a drug will do to him, considered in the context of his whole life." 
    • "Setting is the environment, both physical and social, in which a drug is taken."

    Without the concepts of "set" and "setting" we're unable to explain why drugs vary so unpredictably in their physiological and psychological effects on various users.

    "...the combined effects of set and setting can easily overshadow the pharmacological effects of a drug as stated in a pharmacology text. One can arrange set and setting so that a dose of an amphetamine will produce sedation or a dose of a barbiturate stimulation."

    Thus it's absurd to speak of "the effect of marijuana," "the effect of meditation," and so on. The "effect" depends on what users expect and on the expectations of the social setting in which they take the psychedelic drug or carry out specific procedures. But federal and state governments have continued to oppose any use of psychedelic drugs, claiming that they're all bad under all circumstances. Our nation's leaders continue to push the mind-and body-destroying "official" drugs of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, among many others created by a pharmaceutical industry which buys politicians in large economy quantities.

    What positive elements assist us to break through to a positive non-ordinary consciousness?

    1) Meditation

    2) Dreams

    3) Hypnosis

    4) Sex

    5) Contemplation of art (music, painting, prose, poetry, drama)

    6) Contem-
    plation of nature

    7) Psychedelic drugs

    8) Brain stimulation and bio-feedback

  • Meditation

    Meditation has been used for centuries by spiritual practitioners to achieve non-ordinary states of consciousness. Dreaming, especially lucid dreaming in which the dreamer controls the dream activity, is a particularly powerful means of entering an altered state of consciousness. Hypnosis induced by an informed hypnotist or by oneself can enable us to enter into non-ordinary states of consciousness wherein we are able to gain enhanced control of our mental and physiological activities. Sex, within the proper context, enables us to achieve altered states.


    Contemplation of art or nature can lead to epiphanies. The meaning of "epiphany" has expanded beyond its Greek origins--the manifestation of a god--to include special and sudden raptures. In this article I'm using the term epiphany to refer to an episodic mystical experience. These raptures occur to men and women from virtually every nation and culture. Throughout the ages, humans have undergone harrowing experiences, braved drug intoxication and risked madness to experience intense altered states of consciousness.

    Until recently, only mystics have described these encounters with another order of reality. If they talk about their experiences at all, mystics use words like ecstasy, illumination, and exaltation--after confessing that words fail them. Protesting all the while that their sensations cannot be explained, mystics, psychedelic explorers, meditators, and contemplatives of all stripes describe experiences of inspiration, peace, serenity, and all-rightness with the universe; of moving into another order or dimension of consciousness; of fusing in oneness with God, the universe, others, everything, eternity; of transcending time, space, and ego; of being infused with knowledge, recognition, awareness, insight, certainty, illumination; of having a sense of endowment, of gaining more from the experience than they can intellectually understand.

    Mind-Altering Substances

    With the proper set and setting, psychedelic drugs can produce an altered sense of reality. Such experiences of altered consciousness usually last from one hour to several days. Though alcohol is often used in a negative "setting" such as at a bar or a party, where the expectation is aggressive behavior, with the proper set and setting alcohol can promote a heightened state of awareness.

    One of the great mysteries of human life, as Michael Pollan explains, is that "there are plants in the garden that manufacture molecules with the power to change the subjective experience of reality we call consciousness."

    "In ancient times, people all over the world grew or gathered sacred plants (and fungi) with the power to inspire visions or conduct them on journeys to other worlds; some of these people, who are sometimes called shamans, returned with the kind of spiritual knowledge that underwrites whole religions."

     At the beginning of most of the world's religions we find some kind of psychoactive plant or fungus: the peyote cactus, the Amanita muscaria and psilocybin mushrooms, the ergot fungus, the fermented grape, ayahuasca, and cannabis. Ancient people experimented with these psychotropic (mind-altering) substances to achieve a heightened state of consciousness.

    Some of the most important Greek thinkers--Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aeschylus, Euripides, and others--participated in the Mysteries of Eleusis. The Mysteries consisted of initiation rituals in which the participants ingested a powerful mind-altering potion--probably hashish or psilocybin mushrooms--or, less likely, an alkaloid produced by a fungus (ergot) that closely resembles LSD in its chemical makeup and effects. The ecstatic ritual was so powerful that those who participated kept their vow never to reveal its nature.

    Under the influence of psychotropic substances, humankind has invented or evolved new ideas and paradigms--new ways of viewing the world. The human mind, we have now discovered, has a built-in receptivity to a particular plant: marijuana. The evolution of this discovery is fascinating.

    In the 1960s an Israeli neuroscientist named Raphael Mechoulam identified the chemical compound responsible for the mind-altering effects of marijuana. He named it delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, a module with a structure unlike any found in nature before or since.

    Then in 1988 Allyn Howlett, a researcher at the St. Louis University Medical School, discovered a specific receptor for THC in the human brain--a kind of nerve cell that THC binds to as if it were a molecular key fitting into a lock. When this binding takes place, the nerve cell is activated. 

    The brain has a number of neuronal networks involving compounds such as dopamine, serotonin, and the endorphins, among others. Howlett discovered a new cannabinoid receptor network in the human brain which triggers mind-altering effects when THC is present.

    Thirty years after his discovery of THC, Raphael Mechoulam--working with collaborator William Devane--found that the brain produces its own THC-like substance which he named anandimide, from the Sanskrit word for "inner bliss."

     We have to wonder why a plant such as marijuana evolved in exactly the way it has so that it produces an altered state of consciousness in humans. Among many other reasons is surely that this has resulted in humans having an intense and abiding interest in it, to make sure that it evolves in the direction of enhanced power to alter human mind states. 

    The U.S. government's hysterical, criminal warfare against marijuana involves taking away civil liberties through property confiscation, incarceration resulting from suspicion only, and using military personnel in contravention of the posse commitatus act. Along with its struggle to keep marijuana an illegal drug--so the power elite can reap huge profits from its sale on the black market--there may also be a subliminal realization of the strange and powerful connection the human brain has to THC. As the number of people using marijuana continues to grow, the old, violence-prone ways of thinking may be challenged and replaced by more positive ways of viewing the world.

    The important factor in all of these approaches is whether or not the techniques or substances assist us in achieving a positive altered state of consciousness which provides an insight into deeper spiritual dimensions within us. The insights William James gained from his experiments with psychedelics provide an illustrative case.

    William James
    "Some years ago I myself made some observations on this aspect of nitrous oxide intoxication, and reported them in print. One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question,--for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality. Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge towards a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance. The keynote of it is invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the world whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do they, as contrasted species, belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the nobler and better one, is itself the genus, and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself." -William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience

    Gerald Oster, a biophysicist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City discovered that pulsations called binaural beats occurred in the brain when tones of different frequency were presented separately to each ear.

     Robert Monroe claimed to have developed tapes which send signals separately to each ear--signals of 400 and 404 hertz, for example--resulting in the sounds blending inside the brain and setting up a binaural beat frequency of 4 Hz (theta waves), producing a state of brain hemisphere equilibrium and altered states. At his Institute of Applied Sciences in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia, institute employees claim to train people in achieving altered states using Hemi-Sync tapes. Some of the trainees feel they achieve out-of-body experiences, but this may very well be fantasy. At present, a week's training session costs $1695 at the Institute, plus, of course, transportation to the Institute and back. 

     Some brain state researchers are critical of Monroe's methods. Dr. Lester Fehmi, director of the Princeton Behavioral Medicine and Biofeedback Clinic, says that Monroe's effect is real, "but it doesn't teach you how to get there." Dr. Elmer Green of the Menninger Foundation agrees. "It's only when the volition is involved, and you want to do something, either to escape or to accomplish something, that you really learn something." The hypnogogic image states which Green discovered in his research sometime involve extra-sensory perception (ESP) and precognition. It may be that these states are the same as those which Monroe clients experience, which Monroe trainers interpret as out-of-body states but Green interprets as hypnogogic imagery.

    The Monroe Institute demands (yes, demands, not merely recommends) that a person purchase its seven different training CDs in sequence. This allows them to force a person interested in their training material to buy each of the CDs for a total of over $800--an exorbitant amount. I personally know two persons who were hired as trainers in the Monroe techniques--and it's clear that neither of them received any lasting beneficial effect from their training and their work with clients. Because of these factors, it's an open question if serious seekers would waste their money if they purchased Monroe Institute training sessions or products.

    There is a thriving biofeedback industry, with pricey training programs and pricey machines. Some of the machines run as high as $10,000 and one wonders why someone doesn't produce a reasonably-priced biofeedback machine for the average consumer who is also a serious student of altered states of consciousness.

  • Sts

    Reality Dimension State of Consciousness Activities Leading
    to the State
    Higher Dimension of Reality Higher State of Consciousness Spiritual contact
    Non-Ordinary Dimension of Reality Non-ordinary State of Consciousness
    • Meditation
    • Dreaming
    • Psychedelic Drugs
    • Sex
    • Hypnosis
    • Contemplation of Art
    • Contemplation of Nature
    Consensus Reality Ordinary State of Consciousness Physical activity, mental activity
    The state of ordinary consciousness, wherein we assume the physical world is the only reality and have no interest in deeper aspects of reality, is the norm in the United States and the world. In the early days of our history, American citizens were interested in understanding what was happening in the world. As a nation of informed citizens, we were able to maintain a form of government which followed the ideal of democracy. That situation continued through the middle part of the twentieth century. Beginning even as early as the 1910s, the rulers of the United States began to change our educational systems so that citizens were no longer capable of or interested in understanding what was happening about them.
    Time Period Major
    1750 to 1950 Attempting to understand the real nature of the physical world and the spiritual world Informed reading and listening
    Appreciation of higher values (art and nature)
    Some features of
    democracy within the
    general structure of
    plutocracy (rule
    by the wealthy)
    1950 to 1990 No genuine attempt to understand the real nature of the physical world or the spiritual world Non-education leading to incapacity to read or listen Plutocracy: rule by
    the wealthy buying
    1990 to 2003 No interest in understanding the real nature of the physical world or the spiritual world

    Splatter "reality"

    Conditioning leading to incapacity to read, write, listen, understand, appreciate higher values

    Splattering of images and sounds

    Creating incoherent pastiches: e.g. TV commercials with incoherent image flashes
    Movies with superimposing dialogue, music, and images: e.g. Magnolia
    Globalism: imperialistic plutocracy

    Two distinct economic classes: the rich and the poor

    fostered by the highest
    rate of immigration in
    U.S. history, resulting in ethnic and religious "balkanization"
    (splintering of the population into divisive, competing units)
    The majority of U.S. citizens are currently devolving to lower states of consciousness. The best way to "hear" this devolution is to listen carefully to the atavistic tone of the laughter of American audiences as they watch movies and TV sitcoms involving characters who are murderers but are made to appear sympathetic, persons who delight in mindlessness and brute savagery. Even so, it is possible for interested persons to learn to use advanced procedures which can lead to higher states of consciousness as described in this article.

    There have always been persons who pretended to be participants in the mystic tradition who were decidedly not. The same is true in regard to Higher States of consciousness: there are people who experience counterfeit states and try to fool themselves and others that these are genuine. 

    Occurring within all religions, the phenomenon called "conversion" is actually nothing more than mind-control, programming, or brainwashing-- frightening a repentant, submissive person or group into a state of terror and subsequent release. Counterfeit "conversion" experiences were, for example, widely experienced in nineteenth century America, especially in what were called "revivals." Even today, "revivals" of one form or another are used by all so-called Christian faiths in manipulating obedient followers.

    "Conversion" is an artificial, deleterious state induced in a submissive person by a self-serving religious leader. As the basis of his 1914 book entitled The Psychology of Religion, Dr. Edwin D. Starbuck examined a significant number of persons who had undergone the "conversion" experience. He found that

  • "conversion does not occur with the same frequency at all periods in life. It belongs almost exclusively to the years between 10 and 25. The number of instances outside that range appear few and scattered. That is, conversion is a distinctively adolescent phenomenon."

    Starbuck also discovered that imagination and social pressure were the two dominant factors in "conversion," and he was able to determine what "a small part rational considerations play in conversion as compared with instinctive." Surrender to the religious authority figure (minister or priest) is necessary for "conversion" to occur and results in the subject's ego being "lifted up into new significance."

    The essence of "conversion" is the induction of a state of mere feeling which, when it has passed, leaves no spiritual improvement and often results in the subject feeling like a victim. Frequently the experience is so humiliating after the fact that the subject rejects not only the "conversion," but anything having to do with religion.

         Starbuck discovered that the forces working in revivals are identical to suggestion and hypnosis--what we today would call brainwashing. The negative aspects of "conversion" are primarily caused by the self-serving religious leaders.

    "An unwise and unfortunate use of revivals is that they take certain social standards and attempt to force them indiscriminately on all persons alike. The notion is formed, and, doubtless, rightly, that the only means of escape for one whose evil habits are deeply ingrained is through repentance, a definite regeneration and conversion. There seems to be practical ignorance of the other type of conversion, i.e., sudden awakening following the sense of imperfection, and still greater disregard of the fact that it is not natural for certain temperaments to develop spasmodically, or even to exhibit marked stadia in their growth.  Consequently, the normal means of regeneration for the wayward and for hardened sinners becomes a dogma, and is held up as the only means of escape for children, for natures spiritually immature, for the virtuous, and for those temperamentally unfit. A certain competition for supremacy among churches, and for success among individual workers, exaggerates the evil. Each new convert is sometimes vulgarly called by revivalists another star in the crowns which they will wear in the future life. If there were only power of discrimination, they would see that their success in dragging many so-called converts into the whirl of excitement, hypnotising them, and leaving them empty afterward, is more fitly likened to the triumph of a man of prowess who wears scalps of victims as trophies."
    The psychological manipulation of Christian believers has a long history. Leaving aside the peculiar mind manipulation practiced by Roman Catholicism, we can see that the basic tenets of Protestantism, from the time of Luther, were particularly well-suited to inducing terror in a submissive penitent.

    "God," says Luther "is the God of the humble, the miserable, the oppressed, and the desperate, and of those that are brought even to nothing; and his nature is to give sight to the blind, to comfort the broken-hearted, to justify sinners, to save the very desperate and damned. Now that pernicious and pestilent opinion of man's own righteousness, which will not be a sinner, unclean, miserable, and damnable, but righteous and holy, suffereth not God to come to his own natural and proper work. Therefore God must take this maul to hand (the law, I mean) to beat in pieces and bring to nothing this beast with her vain confidence, that she may so learn at length by her own misery that she is utterly forlorn and damned. But here lieth the difficulty, that when a man is terrified and cast down, he is so little able to raise himself up again and say, 'Now I am bruised and afflicted enough; now is the time of grace; now is the time to hear Christ.' The foolishness of man's heart is so great that then he rather seeketh to himself more laws to justify his conscience. 'If I live,' saith he, 'I will amend my life: I will do this, I will do that.' But here, except thou do the quite contrary, except thou send Moses away with his law, and in these terrors and this anguish lay hold upon Christ who died for thy sins, look for no salvation. Thy cowl, thy shaven crown, thy chastity, thy obedience, thy poverty, thy works, thy merits? what shall all these do? what shall the law of Moses avail? If I, wretched and damnable sinner, through works of merits could have loved the Son of God, and so come to him, what needed he to deliver himself for me? If I, being a wretch and damned sinner, could be redeemed by any other price, what needed the Son of God to be given? But because there was no other price, therefore he delivered neither sheep, ox, gold, nor silver, but even God himself, entirely and wholly 'for me,' even 'for me,' I say a miserable, wretched sinner. Now therefore, I take comfort and apply this to myself. And this manner of applying is the very true force and power of faith. For he died not to justify the righteous, but the un-righteous, and to make them the children of God.'"-Commentary on Galatians
    In the nineteenth century this Protestant dogma so suitable to psychological manipulation was refashioned by revivalists such as Jonathan Edwards. His tormented parishioners left their nail marks as they gripped the church pews in paroxysms of terror while listing to Edwards rail about "Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God."

    In the genuine mystical tradition, regeneration is the genuine state of higher consciousness achieved by the sincere seeker, of which "conversion"  is the counterfit. Starbuck, Coe, and other researchers into the phenomenon of "conversion" discovered that it was essentially an experience of compliant adolescents, men and women who had not yet developed the ability to think and act for themselves. In the mystical tradition, candidates for "regeneration" must be mature philosophers--lovers of wisdom--in the sense that Pythagoras and Plato would have understood the term.
    "Candidates for the regenerate life, moreover, were such as were prepared, as how few of to-day are?, to renounce and transvalue all the world's values, to step entirely out of the world-stream by the current of which the majority are content to be borne along, to negate the affirmations of the senses and natural reason which for the multitude provide the criterion of the desirable and the true, and generally to adopt towards phenomenal existence an attitude incomprehensible to the average man to whom that existence is of paramount moment. They were animated by no motives of merely personal salvation or of spiritual superiority over their fellows; on the contrary they will be found to have been the humblest, as they were the wisest, of men. They had advanced far beyond that complacent stage where religion consists in fidelity to certain credal propositions and in 'being good' or as good as one can, and where sufficiency and robustness of faith are represented by the facile optimism of 'God's in His heaven; all's right with the world.' Their philosophic basis was rather that 'the world is out of joint' and all men with it, and in a condition sorely needing saviours and co-operators with God to reduce and adjust the dislocation." -M. A. Atwood, Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy, 1850

         We must understand that "regeneration" is an actual fact within the mystical tradition, no mere allegory or metaphor. As we have been "generated" in the physical world, so we can--through the proper preparation and knowledge--experience "regeneration" into a Higher Consciousness.

    Even though we have become entranced by the physical world, there still abides in us, though in a state of atrophy, a residual germ of the divine principle which can be stimulated into activity to raise the personal consciousness to the point of unity and identity with the Universal Mind.

    The Evolutionary Function of
    Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness

    A number of modern mystical teachers have pointed out that the next phase of human evolution will involve higher states of consciousness involving superseding of the old structures of time, space, and false consciousness.

    If this vision of human evolution is true--and other authentic spiritual leaders posit similar views--then the achievement of non-ordinary, higher states of consciousness becomes a necessity, not merely a pleasant option. 

    Though ordinary humans are rapidly losing the ability to understand reality, a small contemporary group is developing supernormal powers through revitalizing the Perennial Tradition.

    There is now present an entirely new factor in human evolution which began about ten thousand years ago. Whereas up to that time, human evolution had been primarily powered by unconscious physical and social stimuli, it is now possible for human evolution to be advanced through conscious effort.

    Perennialists are a race of adventurers, dwelling invisibly among mankind, who have evolved to the point of being able to deliberately and actively return to the divine Fount of Reality. They have attained Being, union with the One, and teach these mysteries to authentic seekers. Because of this, they have a unique importance for the human race in revealing humankind's full potential and how this potential can be reSalized. 

    In short, our perception of our world, is limited to the sensitivities of our senses.  As an example, dogs can hear sound and smell smells beyond the levels of humans.  That doesn't mean these sounds and smells do not exist because humans can not detect them, but dogs perceive a world different than one perceived by humans.


    Newsletter Index Page

    [Home] [Newsletter] [Products] [Contact Us]

    DISCLAIMER:  The information in this column, is NOT intended to diagnose and/or treat any health related issues and is provided solely for informational purposes only. Consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making any changes to your healthcare regime. Even what may seem like simple changes in the diet for example, can interact with, and alter, the efficiency of medications and/or the body's response to the medications. Many herbs and supplements exert powerful medicinal effects. Neither the author, nor the website designers, assume any responsibility for the reader's use or misuse of this information.

    © 2002 Nature's Corner