What is an altered state of consciousness?

Philosophical Psychology 22 (2):187 – 204 (2009)
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“Altered State of Consciousness” (ASC) has been defined as a changed overall pattern of conscious experience, or as the subjective feeling and explicit recognition that one's own subjective experience has changed. We argue that these traditional definitions fail to draw a clear line between altered and normal states of consciousness (NSC). We outline a new definition of ASC and argue that the proper way to understand the concept of ASC is to regard it as a representational notion: the alteration that has happened is not an alteration of consciousness (or subjective experience) per se, but an alteration in the informational or representational relationships between consciousness and the world. An altered state of consciousness is defined as a state in which the neurocognitive background mechanisms of consciousness have an increased tendency to produce misrepresentations such as hallucinations, delusions, and memory distortions. Paradigm examples of such generally misrepresentational, temporary, and reversible states are dreaming, psychotic episodes, psychedelic drug experiences, some epileptic seizures, and hypnosis in highly hypnotizable subjects. The representational definition of ASC should be applied in the theoretical and empirical studies of ASCs to unify and clarify the conceptual basis of ASC research.



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