To get a clear picture of altered states of consciousness, let's first understand the model of human mind. The mind has three basic functional zones: the rational conscious mind, sensory conscious mind, and subconscious mind. The rational conscious mind makes you aware of the self. The other zone of your mind is the sensory conscious mind, which evolved long before the rational mind. It works with the help of the senses, and does not understand the language or abstract words. It is more connected to the subconscious mind than the rational mind.
Hence, when the dominance of the rational mind is reduced, the sensory consciousness becomes more active in receiving the information. As the sensory mind shares the sensory circuit with the subconscious mind to process the information, it gets access to the subconscious storehouse, which has a wide range of experiences and abstract thoughts. Thus, we can say that altered states of mind is a state when a person loses self-awareness. There may be many reasons for this state of mind. An individual can experience it through neurochemical imbalance, trauma, overload, or fever.
These aforementioned states are due to a particular situation, but there are other ways also to create such a state, like using psychedelic drugs, meditation, and chanting. A tussle is still going on between the scientific researchers and parapsychologists about whether such a state of mind actually exists. Researchers consider the claim of parapsychologists about the existence of altered state of mind baseless.
According to researchers who are studying the conscious state of mind, a human brain can quiver from various states of mind in a day. They categorize the absence of self-consciousness or non-reflective consciousness in six states.
- The bodily feelings which are the non-reflective awareness of the functioning of the cells and body organs
- The memories that are stored in the subconscious and do not come alive unless they are retrieved
- Coma, a prolonged state of non-reflective awareness of the whole body
- A state of marginal consciousness due to excess dosage of alcohol or psychosis, which reduces the individual's capacity to receive the external sensations
- A state when there is no rapid eye movement during sleeping, and there is least mental activity
- A state of rapid eye movement, generally during night sleep cycle
The types of consciousness of various degrees, that can be included in this state of consciousness are:
- Hysterical Consciousness: generally stimulated by neurotic anxiety, fear, anger, and drugs
- Trance State Consciousness: caused by focusing on a single thing and is very similar to hypnotism
- Fragmented Consciousness: which is due to some psychological stress, accident, or drugs
- Daydreaming: which is because of isolation and boredom
These different levels of consciousness can accidentally occur due to fever, insomnia, infections like meningitis, lack of oxygen and nitrogen, mental illness, temporal lobe epilepsy, and accidents. This state can also be attained through the intake of psychoactive drugs and traditional hallucinogens. It can be scientifically induced by applying the techniques of neurotechnology, binaural beats, and stimulation by sound and light. These techniques are an attempt to create waves in the brain, that can alter the state of consciousness.
Majority of the researchers are still doubtful about the authenticity of this concept. They consider it as deceptive and fake, but many of the parapsychologists are sure that repeated research on it may lead to something extraordinary.