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"Hallucinatory Altered States of Consciousness as Virtual Realities"

[PhD thesis]
PDF, 1.5 MB


The purpose of this doctoral thesis is to investigate altered states of consciousness (ASC) that are marked by hallucinations, occur during hypnosis, or are induced by psychedelic drugs. A multidisciplinary approach is used for enabling the integration of methods and results from various fields of human sciences, such as psychology and phenomenology. The included four studies focus on significant changes occurring in the human mind during deliberately induced, first-person reportable, non-ordinary subjective experiences. Theoretical issues concern the definition and classification of altered consciousness, while empirical research approaches the phenomena with an experimental study on hypnosis and sleepiness, and an online study on psychedelic drug use.

Study I ("Hallucinatory Altered States of Consciousness") is a theoretical analysis that proposes a working definition of hallucinatory ASC based on objectively detectable and subjectively experienced changes in neurocognitive subsystems. To solve the 'selection–definition ordering problem' (i.e., whether to define ASC by selected phenomena, or to select phenomena as ASC by a definition), a stepwise operationalization procedure is also proposed.

Study II ("Hypnotizability, Sleepiness, and Subjective Experience") describes an empirical hypnosis study in 90 subjects by using one newly developed and three previously established self-rating scales. Results indicate that hypnotizability correlates positively with both habitual daytime sleepiness and instantaneous sleepiness after the hypnotic procedure, hence sleep and hypnosis may share common, putatively neurobiological mechanisms regarding transitions between ASC.

Study III ("Coping, Life Purpose, and Spirituality in Psychedelic Drug Users") is based on an online questionnaire survey of 667 psychoactive drug users. Findings point out that psychedelic drug use may facilitate the gain of autognosis (self-knowledge) by rehearsing personal coping strategies in exceptional mental situations. As autognostic psychedelic drug use correlates positively with coping and spirituality, it may also act as a protective factor against drug-related problems.

Study IV ("Sacramental and Spiritual Use of Hallucinogenic Drugs") is a commentary article arguing that sacramentally and spiritually used psychedelic drugs ('entheogens') are associated with a search of metaphysical insight rather than with a mere need to alter one’s perception. Therefore, ritual and ceremonial use of hallucinogenic drugs deserves its own category in a drug instrumentalization framework: "to facilitate spiritual and religious activities". The thesis utilizes the overarching concept of virtual realism, stating that phenomenal-level consciousness manifests as a world-simulator by which the mind–brain complex experiences its own virtual information processing as subjective reality. Hence, deliberate manipulation of the experience set and setting parameters by psychologically, pharmacologically, and technologically induced hallucinatory ASC can be a naturally integrable and effective method to extend human consciousness.

Keywords: consciousness; altered states of consciousness; hallucinations; drowsiness; hypnosis; psychedelic drugs; subjective experience; virtual reality

PhD thesis blog:
2017 Oct 13: Gave lecture about thesis in Budapest [FB event] and partied hard! :)
2017 Oct 6: Defended thesis publicly in Turku [FB event]
2017 Aug: Received examiners' results and Faculty approval to print 
2017 Jul: Received permission from Faculty for the thesis to be examined
2017 Jul: Submitted final draft to be forwarded to Faculty/examiners
2017 Jun: Submitted 2nd draft, part 2
2017 May: Submitted 2nd draft, part 1
2017 Apr: Received supervisors' excellent comments, made corrections and extensions
2017 Mar: Submitted first draft of dissertation summary to supervisors
2017 Feb: Motivated by a friend, restarted to work on the dissertation summary
2015-17: Depressed about rejection, did nothing for the PhD
2014: Rejected unilaterally by old supervisors, found two new ones
2013: Received 2 minimal stipends from UTU, after spending 10 years as a PhD student
2012: Received 2 decent stipends from foundations and wrote 1/3 of the dissertation summary
2011: Published the 3 other thesis papers + 2 extra papers
2010: Published 1st paper
2009: Been told that for a PhD, one should publish papers in journals!
2008 Dec: Moved to Budapest, as things did not progress in Turku
2003-08: Did research and programming for others' projects, plus own sidetracks 
2003 Sep: Moved to Turku, started PhD studies at Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience 
2003 May: Visited Turku, applied for PhD studies