IMANTS BARUSS Alterations of Consciousness: An Empirical Analysis for Social Scientists Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2003, 290 pages (ISBN 1-55798-993-1, US$39.95 Hardcover)
The author's purpose is to review, as a potential undergraduate text for courses on consciousness, the experimental and phenomenological research on alterations of consciousness, ranging from sleep and dreaming to mystical and near-death experience. There is also a clear agenda announced by the book's subtitle, "An Empirical Analysis for Social Scientists." In the view of Baruss, all too often in states of consciousness research a preoccupation with theory has kept investigators from full engagement with the actual data. "It is important for scientists...to learn to rely on the data rather than their predilections, and to go wherever the evidence leads them" (p. 234) - an incontestable statement in itself.
The book, along with the edited review of this literature by Cardena, Lynn, and Krippner, Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence. (2000), also published by the American Psychological Association, and on which Baruss rests much of his discussion, is part of current efforts to re-integrate states of consciousness research with mainstream academic psychology - and perhaps vice versa. This tendency is also reflected in recent multidisciplinary attempts at a more general science of consciousness per se, integrating neuroscience, cognition, phenomenology, artificial intelligence, anthropology, and philosophy, and reflected in journals such as Journal of Consciousness Studies and Consciousness and Cognition and a plethora of conferences and published conference proceedings.
Consistent with the author's stated intentions, Alterations of Consciousness provides readable and at times appropriately controversial discussions of empirical literature on dreaming and lucid dreams, daydreaming and fantasy proneness, hypnosis, dissociative identity disorder, shamanism and possession states, psychedelic drug research, parapsychology, trance-chanelling and mediumship, the alien abduction syndrome, classical mystical experience, out-of-body and near-death experiences, and recent attempts by MacDonald and others to assess individual differences in spirituality through multifactor questionnaires. Certainly an undergraduate following this as a course text will be in for a fascinating and thought-provoking ride - each chapter closing with open-ended questions ostensibly left to the reader as to the potential understanding of findings in terms of materialism versus transcendentalism, delusion versus reality, psychopathology versus positive development, etc.
As with much in life, however, the strength of the book, its stated empiricism, is also its weakness - and this twice over.
First, the breadth of coverage of both recent and past research is too often highly selective. For instance, discussions of experimental research on parapsychology present lengthy accounts of gan/feld and dream telepathy/precognition studies, and, while mentioning methodological critiques in passing, do not state what they might be. The chapter on dream research makes no mention of Solms' widely discussed neurological findings that brings the neuroscience of dreaming back in line with more psychodynamic and holistic cognitive approaches. One would never know of neoFreudian modifications of Freud's original psychoanalytic model of dreaming that have rendered it more open to empirical research. jungian approaches to a possible "archetypal" basis of dreaming are discussed, but with no mention of the empirical literature on an archetypal-mythological style of dreaming and its cognitive and personality correlates. In an apparent effort to warn against current excesses of MDMA usage (Ecstasy), and in contrast to the more balanced account of LSD research, no mention is made of the original development of MDMA as an empathogen in psychotherapy, nor of empirical studies supporting such a connection. …