Does the Concept of “Altered States of Consciousness” Rest on a Mistake?


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Block has argued that the multiplicity of meanings ascribed to consciousness is due to the erroneous treatment of very different concepts as a single concept. Block distinguished four notions of consciousness intended to encapsulate the various meanings attributed to the term: phenomenal, access, self, and monitoring consciousness. We argue that what is common to all of these definitions is the implicit distinction between consciousness and the content of consciousness. We critically examine the term “altered state of consciousness” and argue that affixing the qualifier “altered state” to consciousness results in a theoretical confusion of consciousness and its content, that is, consciousness is mistaken for the content of consciousness. We refer to this as the consciousness/content fallacy and argue that it may be avoided if one supplants “altered states of consciousness” with “altered pattern of phenomenal properties,” an extrapolation of the term “phenomenal field.” Implications of the consciousness/content fallacy for theory and research are also considered
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