Consciousness and altered states


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Photo by Chang Szeling/Gallery Stock

Essay/
Consciousness and altered states
Night school

New evidence suggests that we can learn while we sleep, but do we really want to put our hours of rest to work?

Kenneth Miller

Illustration by Michael Marsicano
Essay/
Consciousness and altered states
How the light gets out

Consciousness is the ‘hard problem’, the one that confounds science and philosophy. Has a new theory cracked it?

Michael Graziano

Beast-machines. The City Rises by Umberto Boccioni (1910). MOMA. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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Neuroscience
The real problem

It looks like scientists and philosophers might have made consciousness far more mysterious than it needs to be

Anil K Seth

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Consciousness and altered states
Hallucinogenic nights

Sleep paralysis has tormented me since childhood. But now it’s my portal to out-of-body travel and lucid dreams

Karen Emslie

Alan Watts: 'Half monk and half racecourse operator.' Illustration by Stephen Collins

Essay/
Consciousness and altered states
Off-beat Zen

How I found my way out of depression, thanks to the writings of the English priest who brought Buddhism to the West

Tim Lott

Photo by Steve McCurry/Magnum
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Consciousness and altered states
The mathematics of mind-time

The special trick of consciousness is being able to project action and time into a range of possible futures

Karl Friston

Night and Sleep by Evelyn de Morgan (1878). Courtesy Wikimedia
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Sleep and dreams
Falling for sleep

When wakefulness is seen as the main event, no wonder so many have trouble sleeping. Can we rekindle the joy of slumber?

Rubin Naiman

Raving in the ‘90s. Photo by PYMCA/UIG/Getty
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History
Drugs du jour

LSD in the ’60s; ecstasy in the ’80s; ‘smart’ drugs today: how we get high reflects the desires and fears of our times

Cody Delistraty

Stop and think. Hand of an old statue of Buddha in Laos. Photo by Nicolas Beaumont/ASAblanca via Getty
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Spirituality
Does meditation work?

It’s hailed as the panacea for everything from cancer to war. Does research into its efficacy meet scientific standards?

Ute Kreplin

Detail from the visualization of the model juvenile rat cortical column, as created by the Blue Brain Project in Lausanne, Switzerland. Photo courtesy EPFL/Blue Brain Project

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Consciousness and altered states
The mental block

Consciousness is the greatest mystery in science. Don’t believe the hype: the Hard Problem is here to stay

Michael Hanlon

Hashish Smokers by Gaetano Previati, 1877. Private collection. Photo by Getty Images

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Addiction
Missing marijuana

When I stopped smoking weed, my appetite shrivelled and my head throbbed – but it was the dreams that really shook me

Malcolm Harris

Illustration by Richard Wilkinson
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Consciousness and altered states
Hive consciousness

New research puts us on the cusp of brain-to-brain communication. Could the next step spell the end of individual minds?

Peter Watts

Subjectively blue; detail from Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds (1890) by Vincent van Gogh. Courtesy Wikimedia

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Neuroscience
I feel therefore I am

How exactly did consciousness become a problem? And why, after years off the table, is it a hot research subject now?

Margaret Wertheim

Photo by Martin Parr/Magnum
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Philosophy of mind
Are you sleepwalking now?

Given how little control we have of our wandering minds, how can we cultivate real mental autonomy?

Thomas Metzinger

Detail of Picture from 8 Sides (1930-6), by Kurt Schwitters; oil and wood relief on panel. Courtesy Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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Consciousness and altered states
The consciousness illusion

Phenomenal consciousness is a fiction written by our brains to help us track the impact that the world makes on us

Keith Frankish

A reproduction detail of the Chauvet-Pont d'Arc cave painting believed to be around 36,000 years old. Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

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Art
How wonder works

One emotion inspired our greatest achievements in science, art and religion. We can manipulate it – but why do we have it?

Jesse Prinz

A shaman-healer prepares for an Ayahuasca ceremony in La Calera, Cundinamarca. Photo by Eitan Abramovic/AFP/Getty

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Consciousness and altered states
Caves all the way down

Do psychedelics give access to a universal, mystical experience of reality, or is that just a culture-bound illusion?

Jules Evans

Illustration by Richard Wilkinson
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Computing and artificial intelligence
Conscious exotica

From algorithms to aliens, could humans ever understand minds that are radically unlike our own?

Murray Shanahan

Participants in a traditional Ayahuasca ritual of spiritual and physical healing in La Calera, Cundinamarca, Colombia in 2014. Photo by Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty
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Consciousness and altered states
Model hallucinations

Psychedelics have a remarkable capacity to violate our ideas about ourselves. Is that why they make people better?

Philip Gerrans & Chris Letheby

Photo by Ernst Haas/Getty
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Values and beliefs
Dissolving the ego

You don’t need drugs or a church for an ecstatic experience that helps transcend the self and connect to something bigger

Jules Evans

Detail from Self Portrait (1500) by Albrecht Dürer. The text to the right broadly translates as ‘Thus I, Albrecht Dürer from Nuremberg, created myself with characteristic colours at the age of 28 years.’ Courtesy Wikipedia/Alte Pinakothek München

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Consciousness and altered states
Consciousness is real

Consciousness is neither a spooky mystery nor an illusory belief. It’s a valid and causally efficacious biological reality

Massimo Pigliucci

Chatterton by Henry Wallis 1856, Tate Britain. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

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Mood and emotion
Why the long face?

Sadness makes us seem nobler, more elegant, more adult. Which is pretty weird, when you think about it

Adam Roberts

Photo by Vincent Fournier/Gallery Stock
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Cognition and intelligence
Build-a-brain

We could build an artificial brain that believes itself to be conscious. Does that mean we have solved the hard problem?

Michael Graziano

Illustration by Fumitake Uchida

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Consciousness and altered states
Into the deep

Just when you crave one more sensual hit, the void of the float tank stops time, strips ego and unleashes the mind

M M Owen