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  • Writer's pictureChristine Skolnik

Altered States of Consciousness: not to be missed

Review article: "Wrinkles in Time"

Reposted from Inside Higher Ed

In Altered States of Consciousness: Experiences Out of Time and Self, Marc Wittmann underscores how little separates ordinary consciousness from other forms of it, writes Scott McLemee. By Scott McLemee, August 31, 2018

“Our normal waking consciousness,” William James wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), “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.”

As the founding father of psychological research in the United States, James was as well informed as anyone about “potential forms of consciousness” that landed some people in asylums. But he did not assume that everything outside the purview of normal, waking rationality was necessarily pathological. [ . . . ]

Published in Germany in 2015 and now out in translation, Marc Wittmann’s Altered States of Consciousness: Experiences Out of Time and Self (MIT Press) is an update of sorts on what’s happening along the trail William James blazed. Here the connection between religious experience and altered states fades from view almost entirely. Wittmann, a research fellow at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg, Germany, instead seems to underscore James’s idea that only “the filmiest of screens” separates ordinary and altered states of consciousness. The spectrum includes modes of awareness that are extraordinary without being mystical, such as dangerous experiences seeming to occur “in slow motion, [with] a moment that was actually quite brief expanded noticeably.” [ . . . ]

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