Altered States of Consciousness
Experiences Out of Time and Self
190 pp., 5 x 8 in, 6 b&w illus.
- Published: April 4, 2023
- Published: September 4, 2018
- Published: August 10, 2018
What altered states of consciousness—the dissolution of feelings of time and self—can tell us about the mystery of consciousness.
During extraordinary moments of consciousness—shock, meditative states and sudden mystical revelations, out-of-body experiences, or drug intoxication—our senses of time and self are altered; we may even feel time and self dissolving. These experiences have long been ignored by mainstream science, or considered crazy fantasies. Recent research, however, has located the neural underpinnings of these altered states of mind. In this book, neuropsychologist Marc Wittmann shows how experiences that disturb or widen our everyday understanding of the self can help solve the mystery of consciousness.
Wittmann explains that the relationship between consciousness of time and consciousness of self is close; in extreme circumstances, the experiences of space and self intensify and weaken together. He considers the emergence of the self in waking life and dreams; how our sense of time is distorted by extreme situations ranging from terror to mystical enlightenment; the experience of the moment; and the loss of time and self in such disorders as depression, schizophrenia, and epilepsy. Dostoyevsky reported godly bliss during epileptic seizures; neurologists are now investigating the phenomenon of the epileptic aura. Wittmann describes new studies of psychedelics that show how the brain builds consciousness of self and time, and discusses pilot programs that use hallucinogens to treat severe depression, anxiety, and addiction.
If we want to understand our consciousness, our subjectivity, Wittmann argues, we must not be afraid to break new ground. Studying altered states of consciousness leads us directly to the heart of the matter: time and self, the foundations of consciousness.
In this, another brief history of time, but now on its perception, as opposed to physics, Wittmann takes us through the brain science of time perception with clarity and insight. He covers new approaches to the issue from psychological, neuroscience, and clinical studies with a good emphasis on newer imaging studies that implicate brain regions, particularly the insula in the time perception process. Altogether a significant achievement in what is a scientifically a much understudied aspect of human cognition.
David Nutt, FMedSci and Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology, Imperial College London
To fully explore the deepest roots of time and the self (along with its brain) you could ingest some ayahuasca, undergo a near-death experience, study meditation for a decade—or read this book, Marc Wittmann's lively tour of clinical and brain research into the temporality that is us.
Dan Lloyd, Trinity College, coeditor of Subjective Time: The Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience of Temporality and author of Radiant Cool: A Novel Theory of Consciousness
To make a book either about altered states of consciousness or about time accessible to nonexperts is, by itself, a great challenge. In Altered States of Consciousness: Experiences Out of Time and Self, author Marc Wittmann takes one step further and combines these two topics to discuss how they are related... his book is likely to be enjoyed both by readers who are novices in these areas and by readers who are already familiar with one of these topics.