Contents | Feedback | Search

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library

The Psychedelic Library | Book Menu | Table of Contents

  States of Consciousness

    Charles T. Tart

        14.   The Depth Dimension of a State of Consciousness

I indicated earlier that we can define a d-SoC as a clustering of psychological functioning in a (multidimensional) region of experiential space. Nevertheless, there may be movement of variation within that particular cluster, a quantitative variation in aspects of experience and psychological functioning. Although the overall system pattern maintains it identity, variations occur within it, and these variations are related to what we call the depth or intensity of a state of consciousness. For example, we talk about the ordinary d-SoC as being more or less clear; we speak of someone as being lightly or deeply hypnotized, slightly or very drunk, somewhat or very stoned on marijuana.
    While any d-SoC can vary in many ways within its cluster, often one way predominates. We call this principal dimension the depth dimension. Information about variation along this dimension tells us a lot about variations along related dimensions.
    The concept of depth is much like the concept of a d-SoC. It can simply be a convenient way of describing orderly change in the relationships within a d-SoC, or, developed further, it can be a theoretical explanation of changes in the underlying subsystems' action in the d-SoC, a hypothesis that enables predictions concept of depth or level of alcohol intoxication may, on a descriptive level, be simply an observational statement that increasing intensity of intoxication is associated with increasing numbers of errors in some kind of performance task. On a theoretical level, however, depth of intoxication can be understood as changes in some fundamental brain structures, changes that have widespread effects on a variety of experiences and behaviors.
    In terms of the systems approach, changes in the depth of a d-SoC result from quantitative changes in the operation of structures/subsystems within the particular pattern of subsystem operation that makes up the d-SoC. I emphasize quantitative because these are "more or less" changes, not changes of kind. Earlier investigators have sometimes used the term depth to include qualitative changes, changes in kinds of experiences. In the systems approach only minor qualitative changes are included as part of depth changes, changes small enough to not alter the major pattern of consciousness.
    This is a good place to repeat that both d-SoCs and depth are concepts whose function is to help us understand experience; they are not ultimate realities. A d-SoC consists of radical, qualitative changes in patterning; depth consists of quantitative or minor qualitative changes within a discrete pattern. Someday we may reach a stage of knowledge where the exact boundary between the two concepts become indistinct, but we have not yet arrived there. The major d-SoCs we know much about today differ from one another the way boats, cars, trains, and planes differ; depths are more like the miles per hour measurements within each of these modes of transportation.


Relation of Depth to Intensity

    Assuming that we have some convenient and valid way to measure a person's location of the depth dimension for a given d-SoC, how might different kinds of effects and their intensity relate to depth? Figures 14-1 through 14-5 illustrate some of the possible relations between depth and the intensity of various experiences or observable effects. The intensity of each effect is plotted on the vertical scale; the horizontal scale represents the depth dimension. The effects might be intensities of experiences, behaviors, or physiological indices.

    An effect of type A (Figure 14-1) is present in the ordinary d-SoC at a low or zero level and as the d-ASC deepens, at some threshold the effect starts to become more intense. Then it reaches some maximum level of intensity and stays there, even though depth increases. This rise-and-plateau effect is often found with marijuana intoxication. The feeling that time is slowing down, for example, does not become manifest until a moderately great depth of intoxication is reached; then it starts to manifest itself, steadily get stronger (time seems to slow even more), and finally plateaus at a maximum level, even if the person feels more intoxicated later {105}.
    An effect of type B (Figure 14-2) does not become manifest until a certain threshold depth is reached; then it manifests itself and increases in intensity with increasing depth, as does type A. But, after stabilizing at some maximum value for a while, the effect begins to decrease and finally disappears with further increases in depth. This rise-and-plateau-and-fall effect occurs, for example, during marijuana intoxication. When a person is mildly intoxicated, he begins to find reading easier than usual. The feeling increases for a while, but as medium levels of intoxication are reached, the feeling of finding it easier to read lessens and finally disappears, to be replaced with a feeling of finding it difficult to read {105}.
    An effect of type C (Figure 14-3) does not become manifest until a certain depth is reached in the d-SoC. Then it manifests itself completely over a certain range, without variation in its own intensity and disappears beyond that range. This step-rise-and-fall effect is the extreme case of the rise-plateau-and-fall effect. It can easily be missed in studying a d-SoC if the subject does not remain at that depth for a while. Indeed, some d-SoCs may consist entirely of type C effects. Most ordinary dreaming, for example, is seldom considered to have a depth dimension. Type C effects may actually be rare or may simply not have been noticed. An example of one is given later in this chapter, in connection with the case of William.
    An effect of type D (Figure 14-4) begins to manifest itself mildly at the lowest depth level, as soon as the d-ASC is entered, and increases steadily in intensity all through the depth dimension. This linear increase effect is commonly (but probably erroneously) assumed to be typical of most d-ASCs. Examples of type D effects from marijuana intoxication are the feeling that sensations become more vivid and take on new qualities, the feeling of becoming more tolerant of contradictions, the difficulty in playing ordinary social games. All these begin to become manifest as soon as the subject starts to feel stoned and increase in intensity the more stoned he gets {105}.
    Various curvilinear variations of this effect can occur.
    An effect of type E (Figure 14-5) is manifested strongly in the ordinary d-SoC and is not changed up to a certain depth in the d-ASC. But then it begins to decrease in intensity with increasing depth or, as shown in this example, returns more or less intensely at a greater depth, perhaps in a step-rise-and-plateau effect. An example is the feeling that one can describe one's experiences while in a d-ASC: description is easy at first, gradually becomes less adequate, finally is quite inadequate but at greater depth becomes adequate again. As an example, Erickson {25} describes a stuporous state occurring in some of his very deeply hypnotized subjects, but as hypnosis becomes even deeper they are able to function again.
    There are, of course, may more complex ways that various experiences in d-ASCs can relate to depth, but the above are sufficient to illustrate the more common types.
    The depth-intensity relationships depicted in Figures 14-1 through 14-5 are based on some assumed a priori measure of depth. The concept of depth, however, can be utilized without assuming a prior measure. To do this, we begin empirically from scratch by arbitrarily defining any one varying effect we can conveniently measure as the depth dimension. We then let it vary throughout its range in the d-SoC, measure every other effect over this range of variation, and plot them against our arbitrarily defined depth dimension. For marijuana intoxication, for example, we might take a subject's ratings of how unusually intense his sensory experience is, and for a given rating of this, measure and/or have him rate a variety of other effects. Then we change the intensity to which his sensory experience is altered (by drugs or by psychological means), remeasure the other effects, etc. The map or graphical plot obtained of how the different effects relate to each other is the depth dimension. We need no longer define one particular effect as "depth." We have arrived at a good descriptive concept of depth by empirical mapping without having had to know what it was before we could start.
    In doing this, we are lucky if we happen to start with an effect of type D as the initial index of depth. Since we are used to thinking in linear ways, plotting everything against an effect that changes linearly will produce a map we can understand fairly easily.
    Depth obtained in the above way is a purely descriptive concept. It helps us summarize and relate our observations, but it will probably not allow us to predict things we have not yet observed. If, however, we view the effects and their changes as manifestations or alterations in the subsystems and structures that make up the d-SoC, depth becomes a scientific hypothesis. We should then be able to predict things other than those we have measured and test these predictions.[1]


Self-Reports of Depth

    The feeling of varying depth is one often described as directly experienced in a d-ASC. A person often has an immediate feel for how intense the d-ASC is. He may remark, for example, that the marijuana he smoked must have been awfully potent because he feels intensely stoned or that his meditative state is more profound than usual.
    Even if a person does not spontaneously comment about the depth of his d-ASC, if asked he often gives an extremely useful estimate—"extremely useful" in the sense that the estimate can be an excellent predictor of other aspects of the experience or of his behavior.
    The fact that people do estimate the depths of their d-ASCs prompted me to do extensive investigations of self-report scales of depth, and I have found such scales very useful for measuring the intensity of the hypnotic state {114} and of marijuana intoxication {105, 139}. Charles Honorton has found that similar state reports relate well to the degree of alpha rhythm and muscle tension subjects show in learning to control their brain waves {28}, and to the amount of extrasensory perception they show {27,29}. This material is somewhat technical for the general reader and I shall not detail it here; I refer my colleagues to the above sources, for this research has convinced me that self-reporting of the depth of a d-ASC is probably the best measure of depth currently available, certainly better than such parameters as drug dose.
    A detailed example of self-report scaling of the depth of hypnosis is presented below. It illustrates the idea of depth and the way a common language is established between experiencer and investigator and provides some information about deep hypnosis and its possible transition into another d-ASC entirely.[2]


The Extended North Carolina Scale

    The Extended North Carolina Scale has been used in a large number of experiments in my laboratory, primarily where experienced hypnotic subjects are used repeatedly in various experiments. It is similar to the North Carolina Scale {61, 63, 80} with the addition that subjects are told that there is really no "top" to the scale, that it is possible for them to go considerably deeply into hypnosis than the defined points. The exact instructions for the scale are:
    We are interested in the ways in which the intensity or depth of your hypnotic state may vary from time to time. It has been our experience that we can get quite accurate reports of hypnotic depth or intensity by teaching you a way of scaling it and getting your first impressions whenever we ask you about your hypnotic state.
    Basically, whenever I ask, "State?" a number will flash into your mind, and I want you to call it out to me right away. This number will represent the depth of your hypnotic state at the time. This number will flash into your mind and you'll call it out automatically, without any effort on your part. You won't have to think about what this number should be, or try to reason it out; you'll just call out the first number that comes to mind whenever I ask, "State?" If, of course, you then think the number is very inaccurate for some reason, I'd like you to tell me so, but people rarely feel the number is not accurate, even though they are sometimes surprised by it.
    Getting these depth numbers is very important, because every person is unique in his reactions while hypnotized. Some people react at different speeds than others; some react to a particular hypnotic experience by going deeper into hypnosis, others sometimes find the depth of their hypnotic state decreased by the same experience. Thus by getting these state reports from you every so often I can tell whether to go a little faster or slower, where to put emphasis in the suggestions I use to guide you, etc. These depth reports are not always what I expect, but it's more important for me to know where you really are than just assume you're there because I've been talking that way!
    Now here is the numerical scale you are to use. I'll give you various highlights that identify different degrees of hypnosis on the scale, but report any point on the scale when asked for your state.
    Zero is your normal, waking state.
    From 1 to 12 is a state in which you feel relaxed and detached, more so as the numbers increase toward 12; in this range you can experience such hypnotic phenomena as your arm rising up or feeling heavy or moved by a force.
    When you reach a depth of 20 or greater you feel very definitely hypnotized, and you can experience great changes in your feeling of your body, such as your hand getting numb if I suggest it.
    By the time you reach a depth of 25 or greater you can have strong inner experiences such as dreams or dreamlike experiences.
    At a depth of 30 or greater you can temporarily forget everything that happened in the hypnosis if I suggest it. Many other experiences are possible at this depth and greater, such as regressing into the past and reliving some experience, experiencing tastes and smells I might suggest, or not experiencing real stimuli if I tell you not to sense them. There are hardly any hypnotic phenomena you can't experience at least fairly well, and most extremely well, at this depth. At 30 and beyond your mind is very quiet and still when I'm not directing your attention to something, and you probably don't hear anything except my voice or other sounds I might direct your attention to.
    You have reached at least 30 in earlier sessions, and it is a sufficient depth to be able to learn all the skills needed in this experiment, but it is very likely that you will go deeper than 30 in these studies.
    By the time you have reached a depth of 40 or greater you have reached a very deep hypnotic state in which your mind is perfectly still and at peace if I'm not directing your attention to something. Whatever I do suggest to you at this depth and beyond is perfectly real, a total, real, all-absorbing experience at the time, as real as anything in life. You can experience anything I suggest at 40 and beyond.
    I'm not going to define the depths beyond this, for little is known about them; if you go deeper than 40, and I hope you do, I'll ask you about the experiences that go with these greater depths so we may learn more about deep hypnosis.[3]
    Remember now that increasing numbers up from zero indicate an increasing degree of hypnotic depth, from the starting point of ordinary wakefulness up to a state in which you can experience anything in hypnosis with complete realism. Your quick answers whenever I ask, "State?" will be my guide to the depth of your hypnotic state, and help me guide you more effectively. Always call out the first number that pops into your mind loudly and clearly. Whenever I ask, "State?" a number on the scale will instantly come into mind and you call it out.
    These instructions for the scale are usually read to the subject after he is hypnotized, and he is asked whether he comprehends them. Also, the instructions are briefly reread to the subject every half-dozen hypnotic sessions or so to refresh his memory of them.
    The overall attitude in working with subjects in my laboratory on a prolonged basis is to treat them as explorers or colleagues working with the investigators, rather than as subjects who are being manipulated for purposes alien to them.


William: Deep Hypnosis and Beyond

    William, a twenty-year old male college student, is extremely intelligent, academically successful, and well adjusted. His only previous experience with hypnosis was some brief work with a psychiatrist cousin to teach him how to relax. In a screening session with the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility, he scored 11 out of a possible 12. On a questionnaire he reported that he almost always recalled dreaming, that such dreaming was vivid and elaborate, and that he had kept a dream diary at times in the past. William reported that he had sleeptalked rather frequently as a child but did so only occasionally now. He had never sleepwalked. On individual testing with the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale {145}, he scored 12 out a possible 12. He then had two training sessions, described elsewhere {136}, designed to explore and maximize his hypnotic responsiveness in various areas. In the first of these special training sessions, he was taught the Extended North Carolina Scale. He then took Forms I and II of the Stanford Profile Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility {146} and scored 26 and 27 on Forms I and II, respectively, out of a possible maximum of 27 on each.
    Over the course of the next eight months, William participated in a variety of experiments in my laboratory, which served to further increase his hypnotic experience and make him well adapted to functioning the laboratory setting; he had ten sessions of training for operant control of the EEG alpha rhythm {94}, four experimental sessions in various aspects of hypnosis, and eight evening sessions in which he was hypnotized and given posthypnotic suggestions to carry out in his subsequent sleep in the laboratory, such as dreaming about a suggested topic {136}, incorporating auditory stimuli into his dreams, and talking during his sleep. Thus, by the time William participated in the deep hypnosis experiment described here, he was familiar with the lab and had been hypnotized there 18 times. The deepest depth report given in any of these sessions was 60, and he usually gave reports between 40 and 50.
    In the experimental session reported below, I explained to William that the purpose of the session was to find out what hypnosis meant to him personally. Specifically, he was informally interviewed for about an hour to determine what he usually experienced under hypnosis, other than his reactions to specifically suggested phenomena, and, if possible, what depth level, according to the Extended North Carolina Scale, he was at when he experienced these particular things. I then hypnotized him and at each 10-point interval on a depth continuum I asked William to remain at that depth and describe whatever it was he was experiencing. No particular probing was done except for phenomena already mentioned by William; the emphasis was on his individual hypnotic experience. William also agreed to attempt to go much deeper than he ever had gone before.
    The session was quite rewarding. Although William had never gone beyond 60 before, he went to 90, reporting at the 10-point intervals on the Extended North Carolina Scale, and also briefly went from 90 to 130. These values beyond 40 had not, of course, been defined by me: they were the result of his own definition. Or, according to William's report, they were simply numbers that came to his mind when he was asked for his state. Despite repeated questioning by me and despite the fact that the subject was quite verbal and extremely good at describing his experiences, his only comment on how he measured his hypnotic depth was that when I asked him for a state report a number popped into his mind, he said it, and that was it. He had no idea how these numbers were generated, nor did he "understand" them, but he assumed they meant something since he had been told in the original Extended North Carolina Scale instructions that they would.
    The results of both his preinduction interview about his general experience of hypnosis and the particular hypnotic session have been condensed into the graph shown in Figure 14-6 (Reprinted from C. Tart, J. Transpersonal Psychology., 1970, 2, 27-40, by the permission of the American Transpersonal Association).
    William felt that his particular experience during this exploration was typical of his general experience with hypnosis. Various phenomena was plotted, each with its own ordinate of intensity. Circles indicate reports obtained during this particular hypnotic session, triangles are reports obtained during the interview preceding this session about all his hypnotic experiences to date. Not every phenomenon was assessed on every 10-point interval on the depth scale, so curves are shown as dotted where data points are missing. The following discussion indicates some of the phenomena of extremely deep hypnotic states and illustrates some of the theoretically possible relationships of effects to hypnotic depth discusses earlier.
    The first effect, "physical relaxation," is not plotted beyond 20. According to William his relaxation increases markedly as he is hypnotized and quickly reaches a value of extremely relaxed. However, he reports that after a depth of 50 it does not make sense to ask him about physical relaxation because he is no longer identified with his body; his body is "just a thing, something I've left behind." One does not rate the relaxation of things.
    The second experiential effect is of a "blackness" of the visual field. The visual field becomes quite black and formless as he goes into hypnosis. Nevertheless, it continues to become somehow blacker[4] in a roughly linear increase up to about 60. At this point he says the field continues to become blacker as he goes deeper, but it is in some sense "filled," there is a sense that there is some kind of form(s) filling his visual field even though he is not perceiving any particular forms. Beyond 60 he is not particular aware of any visual sensation unless his attention is drawn to it by the experimenter.
    The third effect, a feeling of "peacefulness," also increases from the beginning of the hypnotic state through approximately 60. William reports that he is extremely peaceful at this point. Beyond 60, he says, that peacefulness is not a meaningful concept, as was the case with physical relaxation. As described later in connection with the plots of William's identity, there is no longer a self to be peaceful or not peaceful beyond this point.
    The fourth plotted effect is William's degree of "awareness of his environment," primarily the small sounds in the experimental room and the temperature and air currents in it. His awareness of the environment falls off rapidly and roughly linearly, and at about 50 reaches a point where he reports that he is not at all aware of the environment (with the exception of the hypnotist's voice). His awareness of the environment then stays at zero throughout the rest of the plotted continuum.
    The fifth effect, labeled "sense of identity," is a little more complex. In the light stages of hypnosis William is fully aware of his ordinary identity and body image, but as he reaches a depth of about 30 he reports that his identity is "more center in his head," is dominated by feelings of his head and his mind. This feeling continues to increase, plotted as a decrease of his ordinary identity, and then his ordinary identity continues to decrease until around 80 or 90 he feels that his ordinary identity is completely in abeyance: "William no longer exists. On the other hand, starting from about 50 he begins to sense another identity, and this continually increased up through about 80, the last point plotted for this phenomenon. This identity is one of potential—he doesn't feel identified as any specific person or thing but only as the steadily increasing potential to be anything or anyone.
    The sixth phenomenon, labeled "awareness of the joke," is even more difficult to explain. This phenomenon manifests at about 50, reaches a maximum at about 70, then fades in intensity and is completely gone at 90. The "joke" is that William should engage in strange activities like deep hypnosis, meditation, or taking drugs in order to alter his d-SoC; some "higher" aspect of his self is amused by all this activity, and William himself becomes aware of this amusement. Most people who have had several psychedelic drug sessions will recognize this as an effect that often occurs as the drug is beginning to take hold.
    The next effect, labeled "sense of potentiality," starts off at a zero level but at around 50 first manifests itself as an awareness of some sort of chant or humming sound identified with the feeling that more and more experience is potentially available.[5] The specific form of the chant is lost but this sense of potentiality increases linearly from this point, until around 80 William feels that an infinite range of experience is potentially available, so this phenomenon levels off.
    The eighth effect, "experimenter's identity," at first increases as the subject goes down to about 30 in hypnosis; that is, he becomes more and more aware of the experimenter. The experimenter then seems to become more an more distant and remote, and finally the experimenter possesses no identity, he is just a voice, and at the very deep levels he is "just an amusing, tiny ripple at the far fringes of an infinite sea of consciousness." There is slight discrepancy at 50 between William's actual experience and his estimate of what he generally experienced.
    The ninth effect, "rate of time passage," indicates that William feels time passing more and more slowly in a linear fashion as he goes down to about 40. This effect is no longer plotted, for as the next effect, "being in time," shows, William feels that time suddenly ceases to be a meaningful concept for him: at 50 he is no longer in time, his experiences are somehow timeless, they do not have a duration or a place, an order in the scheme of things.[6]
    The next effect, labeled "feeling of oneness," increases linearly throughout the depth range plotted. Here William reports feeling more and more at one with the universe, although he does not ordinarily feel this. The effect is plotted as being very low in his ordinary waking state.
    The next effect is "spontaneously mental activity," how much conscious mental activity that is not related to specific suggestions by the hypnotist to do something or to experience something. In the ordinary waking state this is quite high: recall the Hindu metaphor that describes the ordinary mind as being lie a sexually aroused and drunken monkey, constantly hopping about and chattering. This spontaneous mental activity goes steadily down until it reaches an essentially zero level at about 90 and stays here through the rest of the depth range plotted. I have discussed such a decrease in spontaneous mental activity for hypnosis elsewhere {78}.
    The final effect plotted is William's "awareness of his own breathing." He feels that his breathing tends to become steadily deeper as he becomes more deeply hypnotized, but a 50 there is a sudden change in his perceived breathing: it becomes extremely shallow, almost imperceptible, and stays that way through the rest of the hypnotic state. It is not known whether an objective measure of respiration would show any changes at this point; William did not actually stop breathing.
    Considering the above phenomena as a report of a well-trained observer, we can make a number of comments. First it should be clear that William has an exceptional ability for hypnosis; he appears to have gone far deeper than the usual range of phenomena conventionally labeled "deep hypnosis." As the Extended North Carolina Scale was defined for him, 30 was the level ordinarily defined as deep hypnosis (amnesia, positive and negative hallucinations as defining phenomena), and 40 would have be the approximate limit reported by many of the highly hypnotizable subjects I have worked with in the laboratory. Yet William reported a maximum depth of 130 which, if one assumes reasonable validity and linearity for the scale, may be one of the deepest hypnotic states on record. This ability to go so deep may partially stem from his previous experience with meditation and psychedelic drugs. Further, William is exceptionally verbal and able to describe his experiences well. In the past, Erickson's {33, pp. 70-112} exceptionally good subjects have reached a "stuporous" state, which may have reflected an inability to conceptualize and verbalize their experiences. Thus William's hypnotic experiences are illustrative of a potential range of hypnotic phenomena, but are not typical.
    Second, the expected nonlinearity and noncontinuity of possible effects (and subsystem operation, insofar as effects may be taken as indicators of subsystem operation) are apparent in William's data. In the ordinary range of light to deep hypnosis (roughly 0-40), most effects are linear, but "experimenter's identity" is curvilinear, and "physical relaxation" is noncontinuous, and becomes a meaningless variable halfway through this range. Considering the entire depth range plotted, some effects show step functions ("awareness of breathing," "being in time"), rapid increases and decreases from zero ("awareness of the joke"), plateauing after an initial linear increase of decrease ("experimenter's identity," "sense of potentiality," "awareness of the environment," "visual blackness"), or disappearance by becoming meaningless ("peacefulness," "physical relaxation"). If, in the course of investigation, one used the intensity of one phenomenon as an index of hypnotic depth, confusing results would be obtained if it were not linear and continuous. The value of a multiphenomenal approach is apparent.
    Third, the large number of step changes or fairly rapid changes in the 50-70 range raises the question, in view of the definition of d-SoCs, of whether we are still dealing with "deep hypnosis" beyond the depth of approximately 70. These rapid changes may represent a transition from the gestalt configuration we call hypnosis to a new configuration, a new d-SoC.
    This research with William is a prototype of the research strategy recommended in Chapter 13 for working with d-SoCs—detailed mapping of a single individual's experiential space to see if certain clusterings emerge that constitute d-SoCs. This particular example is an imperfect prototype, however, because the systems approach was not clear in my mind when I did this research with William. I was expecting continuity of experience in one state, the hypnotic state, so I did not sample enough data points to determine whether there was a clear discontinuity showing William transiting from one d-SoC to another. Thus the changes plotted in Figure 14-6 are a rough sort of plot, consistent with the systems approach, but not done precisely enough.
    Note also that there is little mapping of the very light region of hypnosis and consequently no data on the transition from the ordinary d-SoC to hypnosis.
    At its maximum level (assuming that the 70-130 range represents depth continuum for the new d-SoC), the state has the following phenomenological characteristics: (1) no awareness of the physical body; (2) no awareness of any discrete "thing" or sensation, but only awareness of a flux of potentiality; (3) no awareness of the real world environment, with the one exception of the (depersonalized) voice of the experimenter as "an amusing tiny ripple at the far fringes of an infinite sea of consciousness"; (4) a sense of being beyond, outside of time; and (5) a sense of the identity "William" being totally in abeyance, and identity being simply potentiality.
    States of this type have not been dealt with in Western scientific literature to any great extent, but sound similar to Eastern descriptions of consciousness of the Void, a d-SoC in which time, space, and ego are supposedly transcended, leaving pure awareness of the primal nothingness from which all manifested creation comes {22, 51}. Writers who have described in words, so the above description and comparison with William's experience is rough, to say the least. Thus William's data are not only of interest in terms of hypnotic depth and the transition from one d-SoC to another, but raise the possibility of using hypnotic states to induce and/or model mystical states.[7]
    The resemblance between William's description of his state and classic descriptions of Void consciousness suggests the question, Who is reporting to me, the experimenter? If William's personality is in abeyance, if he has not awareness of his physical body, who is talking?
    The concept of dissociation may supply an answer. Some structures/subsystems may form a (semi-) independent entity from the rest of the system, so that more than one d-SoC can exist simultaneously in one individual. Thus, some aspects of William are structured into a d-SoC I loosely call Void consciousness; other aspects are structured/patterned into a kind of consciousness that can (at least partially) observe what the Void consciousness part is doing, can understand my questions, and can reply to me. Is this Observer discussed in Chapter 11, or a dissociated series of subsystems forming a d-SoC, or what? Grappling with this sort of question forces confrontation with some basic issues about the nature of consciousness.
    William's data illustrate some of the practical aspects of studying the depth of a d-SoC, particularly hypnosis. Using the individual subject as a unit, a set of interrelationships of various phenomena with respect to hypnotic depth has been found; self-reported depth has ordered observed phenomena in a useful and theoretically important manner. Further research will study this same sort of procedure in other subjects, repeat sessions with some subjects to study consistency, and make initial intersubject comparisons to determine which depth-phenomenology relationships are general and which represent idiosyncratic qualities of subjects. General relationships of phenomena with depth may be found and/or several classes of subjects may be fond and/or several d-SoCs may be identified that have in the past all been indiscriminately termed "hypnosis."
    Finally, it should be stressed that the case of William is presented to illustrate the potential of self-reporting of hypnotic depth. The effects of subtle factors in my laboratory, demand characteristics, and William's uniqueness must be assessed in the course of replication and extension of this work by others to establish how much of this potential holds up and becomes practically and theoretically useful.



    [1] The researcher planning work with self-report depth scales should note some other precautions outlined in my chapter in Fromm and Shor's book {114}. (back)
    [2] Much of the following account is drawn from my chapter in Fromm and Shor {114}. (back)
    [3] In some of my earlier work with the North Carolina Scale, 50 was defined as a state so profound that the subject's mind became sluggish, but this definition was dropped here. (back)
    [4] William insists that this progression is not going from gray to darker gray to black because his visual field is black to begin with, even though it gets "blacker." He recognizes the paradox of this statement, but considers it the best description he can give. (back)
    [5] The chant William reported may be related to the Hindu concept of the sacred syllable Om, supposedly a basic sound of the universe that a man can "hear" as mind becomes more universally attuned {13}. (back)
    [6] Priestley {53} discusses such experiences of being in and out of time quite extensively. (back)
    [7] Aaronson {1} has reported direct hypnotic induction of the Void experience through specific suggestion. (back)

Chapter 15

Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library

The Psychedelic Library | Book Menu | Table of Contents