Volume 3, Issue 1, 2005

Altered States of Consciousness Induced by Psychophysiological Techniques
Dieter Vaitl, Clinical and Physiological Psychology, University of Giessen, Germany, and Ulrich Ott, Center for Psychobiology and Behavioral Medicine, University of Giessen, Germany

In the past, the study of altered states of consciousness (ASC) relied primarily on phenomenological descriptions and questionnaire data. By contrast, this article advocates a psychophysiological approach to elucidate the physiological mechanisms that underlie the diverse and multi-faceted changes in subjective experiences that constitute ASC. The various methods and conditions that produce ASC and their respective target areas are reviewed. A comparison reveals the diversity of phenomenological changes. For hypnosis and rhythmic trance induction a description of how physiological models and experiments could help to explain these otherwise seemingly mysterious states as a natural consequence of the plasticity and flexibility of brain functioning. In the concluding section, recent neuroscientific theories of cell assembly formation and connectivity are outlined which could help provide a suitable framework for future research.

Moral Sensibility, Visceral Representations, and Social Cohesion: A Behavioral Neuroscience  Perspective
Jay Schulkin, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA

The moral sentiments adumbrated by Adam Smith and Charles Darwin reflect some of our basic social appraisals of each other. One set of moral appraisals reflects disgust and withdrawal, a form of contempt. Another set of moral appraisals reflects active concern responses, an appreciation of the experiences (sympathy for someone) of other individuals and approach related behaviors. While no one set of neural structures is designed for only moral appraisals, a diverse set of neural regions that include the gustatory/visceral neural axis, basal ganglia and diverse neocortical sites underlie moral judgment.

Out-of-Body Experiences as the Origin of the Concept of a "Soul" (pdf)
Thomas Metzinger, Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Frankfurt/Main, Germany, and Department of Philosophy, Johannes Gutenberg-University at Mainz, Germany

Contemporary philosophical and scientific discussions of mind developed from a "proto-concept of mind", a mythical, traditionalistic, animistic and quasi-sensory theory about what it means to have a mind. It can be found in many different cultures and has a semantic core corresponding to the folk-phenomenological notion of a "soul". It will be argued that this notion originates in accurate and truthful first-person reports about the experiential content of a specific neurophenomenological state-class called "out-of-body experiences". They can be undergone by every human being and seem to possess a culturally invariant cluster of functional and phenomenal core properties similar to the proto-concept of mind. The common causal factor in the emergence and development of the notion of the soul and the proto-concept of mind may consist in a yet to be determined set of properties realized by the human brain, underlying the cluster of phenomenal properties described in the relevant first-person reports. This hypothesis suggests that such a neurofunctional substrate led human beings at different times, and in widely varying cultural contexts, to postulate the existence of a soul and to begin developing a theory of mind.

Meta-Analysis of Mind-Matter Experiments: A Statistical Modeling Perspective
Werner Ehm, Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health, Freiburg, Germany

Are there relationships between consciousness and the material world? Empirical evidence for such a connection was reported in several meta-analyses of mind-matter experiments designed to address this question. In this paper we consider such meta-analyses from a statistical modeling perspective, emphasizing strategies to validate the models and the associated statistical procedures. In particular, we explicitly model increased data variability and selection mechanisms, which permits us to estimate "selection profiles" and to reassess the experimental effect in view of potential other effects. An application to the data pool considered in the influential meta-analysis by Radin and Nelson (1989) yields indications for the presence of random and selection  effects. Adjustment for possible selection is found to render the, without such an adjustment significant, experimental effect non-significant. Somewhat different conclusions apply to a subset of the data deserving separate consideration. The actual origin of the data features that are described as experimental, random, or selection  effects within the proposed model cannot be clarified by our approach and remains open.

Last revision: 4 May 2005