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Meditation Center Virtual Lecture Focuses on “Altered States of Consciousness”

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By Frank Simons

This week, the Meditation Center presents “Altered States of Consciousness,” Part 9 of its series of virtual lectures via the 24-part Great Courses series, Mind-Body Philosophy.

This lecture will look at altered states of consciousness from two directions: what can the brain tell us about altered states? And what can altered states tell us about the brain?

The lecture begins with dreams and moves on to hallucinations before examining altered states caused by drugs. Finally, we look at near-death and out-of-body experiences. As we will see, altered states offer a wealth of information about the brain.

There is no consensus on the purpose of dreams. One view is that we rehearse events from the day¾action repertoires, either alone or in bizarre combinations. Another view is that dreams may flood circuits at random in order to wash away unneeded connections acquired during the day. Dreaming is for forgetting, not remembering. Yet another view is that dreams have no purpose; they came to be evolved mechanisms for things that really do matter—sleep and waking consciousness. Meanwhile, Freud thought dreams were wish fulfillments and Jung made a list of dream archetypes with standard meanings. Both theories have been debunked. Another tempting theory is that during REM sleep, neural patterns are stimulated at random by impulses from the brain stem and the higher brain faculties then attempt to construct a narrative.

Hallucinations, defined as a sensation of something that isn’t there, can be of vision, hearing, smell, taste, or touch. Auditory ones are the most common. Two basic mechanisms have been proposed as causes: a person’s sense of reality has slipped and the sounds. are entirely internal, misinterpreted as coming from the outside. Another theory asks why we don’t experience the internal sensations all the time. We do, but they are usually swamped by input from the outside. If the second theory is true, hallucinations should occur when input from the outside is cut. Indeed, the most reliable ways to produce hallucinations is by sensory deprivation. Some hallucinations are considered normal. Others, like hearing voices, may occur as a symptom of mental illness. Altered perceptual states are first and foremost the territory of hallucinogenics; psilocybin from mushrooms, mescaline from peyote, and LSD.

Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook Patrick Grim has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars. There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video. Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


Video Presentation

Mind-Body Philosophy: Part 9 “Altered States of Consciousness”

Thu, Mar 8, 5:30pm

Meditation Center

Callejón Blanco 4

Free, donations accepted




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