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Dimensions of consciousness and the psychedelic state

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Abstract

It has often been suggested in the popular and academic literature that the psychedelic state qualifies as a higher state of consciousness relative to the state of normal waking awareness. This article subjects this proposal to critical scrutiny, focusing on the question of what it would mean for a state of consciousness to be ‘higher’. We begin by considering the contrast between conscious contents and conscious global states. We then review the changes in conscious global state associated with psychedelic drug use, focusing on the effects of two serotonergic hallucinogens: psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide. Limiting our review to findings obtained from lab-based experiments and reported in peer-reviewed journals, we prioritize the more common and reliably induced effects obtained through subjective questionnaires and psychophysical measures. The findings are grouped into three broad categories (sensory perception, cognitive function, and experiences of unity) and demonstrate that although certain aspects of consciousness are improved or enhanced in the psychedelic state, many of the functional capacities that are associated with consciousness are seriously compromised. Psychedelic-induced states of consciousness are indeed remarkable in many ways, but it is inappropriate to regard them as ‘higher’ states of consciousness. The fact that psychedelics affect different aspects of consciousness in fundamentally different ways provides evidence against the unidimensional (or ‘level-based’) view of consciousness, and instead provides strong support for a multidimensional conception of conscious states. The final section of the article considers the implications of this analysis for two prominent theories of consciousness: the Global Workspace Theory and Integrated Information Theory.

Bayne, T., & Carter, O. (2018). Dimensions of consciousness and the psychedelic state. Neuroscience of consciousness2018(1), niy008., 10.1093/nc/niy008
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