Paradigms of Consciousness
led by Ron Milestone
Selected Readings from:
Tart, States of Consciousness
Kleitman, Patterns of Dreaming
Jouvet, The States of Sleep
Ron began by talking about how we can study subjective reality. He
used the quote from Wittgenstein, the idea being that we have no problem
discussing our subjective states to each other everyday. We learn as
children that word is associated with a certain sensation and this allows
us to converse about our subjective experiences.
The argument was put forth that what one person describes as a subjective
experience (for example pain) might be quite different for another person.
This, however, is true of any experience that humans have. In other
words we might describe something as cold or red and that might mean
something different to someone else. However, we all have similar sensing
and processing mechanisms and, therefore, it is reasonable to think
that our sensations have similar meaning (within the same ballpark).
After all, the idea of an independent, objective reality arises from
the fact that we all sense and interact with the world in similar ways
Given that we can have a similar understanding of subjective states,
Ron argued it is possible to define states of consciousness. Indeed
the authors of the papers we read the previous week defined various
states of consciousness including: waking, sleeping, meditative, nonREM
sleep and others. Some of these states have been characterized through
EEG readings and they can be distinguished and are somewhat distinct.
Lucid dreaming occurs when a person becomes aware they are dreaming
within their dream and interact with the components of their dream in
an intentional way. Lucid dreamers are found to have EEG readings that
match well with that of persons in REM dreaming states; however, these
individuals retain some motor control and are able to intentionally
move their hands within REM dreaming states. This is distinct from normal
REM where individuals are not able to move intentionally.
Meditative states are characterized by feelings of unboundedness and
expansiveness. Also, individuals that meditate claim that a profound
feeling of peace can be achieved in their deeper states of meditation.
These states have also been studied with EEG readings and they are characterized
by a great degree of synchronization of EEG waves across the cranium.
Thus we find that we can characterize these state objectively and correlate
these observations with subjective descriptions.
There was some discussion suggesting that these various states of consciousness
arise from the association of various psychic structures and that it
is the specific association of subsets of structures that results in
the distinct states of consciousness.