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EHEs and the Altered States Research of Andrzej Kokoszka
Rhea A. White
In this 1997 flyer, I describe and discuss how a Polish physician’s research on altered states of consciousness can be related to our work with exceptional human experience, What is especially important about his work is that he used a phenomenological approach in classifying altered states of consciousness rather than culturally derived terms. The flyer is based on his article in Imagination, Cognition and Personality.
The research on altered states of consciousness (ASC) of Andrzej Kokoszka, a Polish physician, is reviewed and related to our work with exceptional human experiences (EHEs). He set out to study the entire range of a variety of ASCs just as we have determined to study as many types of EHEs as possible. He also was interested in providing definitions of specific ASCs, as we are doing with each type of EHE. His third aim was to discover the frequency of occurrence of the different ASCs, a project we have not attempted with EHEs, although it is of interest. Lastly, Kokoszka sees the need to review the circumstances under which the ASCs occurred. We have felt it important to do this with EHEs, and have published a preliminary list of EHE triggering circumstances (White, 1996c). Although Kokoszka cites many key American references, he is apparently unaware of the work on triggers of Laski (1961/1989) and Hardy (1979). He began with an apparently a priori framework in which he posited two main types of ASCs (as we did in positing 5 main types of EHEs): Superficially Altered States of Consciousness (SASC) and Profoundly Altered States of Consciousness (PASC), which were selected from a variety of ASC because they are the "most and least altered from the Ordinary Working States of Consciousness (OWSC)" (p. 233). Similarly, we use ordinary waking experiences as a baseline and distinguish between five major categories of anomalous types of exceptional experiences. The last category, Enhanced Experiences, is composed of those that are extended forms of ordinary experiences that are so remarkable that they border on the anomalous.
Kokoszka surveyed 171 Krakow University students with a State of Mind and Consciousness Questionnaire" consisting of 17 questions about ASC plus 3 questions about triggers, frequency, and accompanying experiences. A list of 53 experiences was supplied, but the participants were allowed to describe additional ones. He lists only the 10 most frequently cited experiences accompanying PASC and SASC, but they are not what we call experiences. Rather, they are what we have called the concomitants of EHEs in a preliminary report available upon request (White, 1996b). Examples are feelings of unity with "everything," of peace and joy, and of alterations in thinking, time perception, reality sense, etc. Kokoszka derived his list from studies of altered states, ultraconsciousness, mystical states, near-death experiences, and the prelogical level of psychical organization. Thus, his inquiry seems to be skewed in the direction of our category of mystical states of consciousness, including noetic experiences. It apparently does not include our large categories of psychical experiences, death-related experiences (except for NDEs), and encounter experiences. Presumably it includes, especially in the SASC group, many of the exceptional experiences in our Enhanced category. Kokoszka found that 96% of his participants had experienced SACs, half of them often. They "are characterized by disturbances in the experiencing of reality and of oneself combined with positive, pleasant feelings and with quietness" (p. 239). He found that 75% had experienced PASCs, a third of them often. He notes that PASCs "are accompanied by experiences related to…absolute, universal, eternal, existential or religious matters" (p. 231). They are associated with "extremely strong positive emotions of happiness, total love, etc. and are experienced as more rational than SASC, and with significantly less feelings of cognitive disturbances than in SASC" (p. 231). SASCs occur in more common and usual everyday life situations, whereas PASCs take place primarily in nature and religious contexts. Kokoszka also relates his findings to an integrated model of consciousness, but space does not permit reviewing it here.
Our work may extend beyond Kokoszka in that we study a wider range of types of experience, almost all of which are associated with some kind of altered (or dissociated) state. We also have made a preliminary report of the aftereffects of EHEs, which could be applied to altered states research as well (1996a).
Even though we consider more exceptional experiences than Kokoszka, our emphasis is on the potentiated form of these seed experiences, or exceptional human experiences, which serve as openings on what we have called the Experiential Paradigm. This experience is one that Kokoszka also concentrates on with his term Profoundly Altered States of Consciousness, which he relates to psychiatrist Stanley Dean’s ultraconsciousness, which Dean defines as a "suprasensory, suprarational level of mental activity that transcends all human experience and creates a sense of one-ness with the universe" (1973, p. 1036).
Kokoszka’s SASC are superficially similar to our exceptional experiences (EEs), especially the Enhanced type of experience, and his PASC are similar to our EHEs. He views SASC as "Differential Waking State of Consciousness," whereas he relates PASCs to "ultraconscious states," as our EHEs would be as well. He also points out that his SASC/PASC differentiation "is congruent with Tart’s differentiation of ASC and discrete ASC" (p. 241).
Tart (1975, p. 59) points out that there not only are different states of consciousness, but there are discrete states of consciousness that appear to be separated by "a quantum gap." This is a very important experiential observation. He notes that researchers and even experiencers tend not to pay much heed to what happens in the transition period when an experiencer moves from one state to a radically different one. At moment A he or she was conscious in State A, and the next moment State Z is experienced. It is not simply an extension of where one just was. All of a sudden one is somewhere entirely different and one does not know (or much care) how one got there. Kokoszka suggests that PASC are discrete ASC. The same would be true of the EHE process: an EE shakes our hold on "ordinary" reality. It could start out as an EHE, as in the case of most NDEs, or it could later become an EHE, which catapults the experiencer inside the Experiential Paradigm, which is a radically different state, without knowing, as Tart has pointed out, how one got there.
Kokoszka classifies the circumstances under which ASCs occurred into more general terms, an approach that could also be followed with EEs and EHEs. There were five categories: "descriptions of situations, one’s own psychic states, one’s own psychic and sensoric processes, motoric activities, and other circumstances" (p. 233).
This is a more phenomenologically accurate method than our approach of using culturally-derived names for these experiences of SASC and PASC in our classification and is worth pursuing.
Reprints of Kokoszka’s article are available from him at Department of Psychiatry, Copernicus School of Medicine, ul. Kopernika 21 b, 31-501, Krakow, Poland.
Dean, S.R. (1973). Metapsychiatry: The interface between psychiatry and mysticism. American Journal of Psychiatry, 130, 1036-1038.
Hardy, A. (1979). The Spiritual Nature of Man. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
Kokoszka, A. (1992-93). Occurrence of altered states of consciousness among students: Profoundly and superficially altered states in wakefulness, Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 12, 23-247.
Laski, M. (1989). Ecstacy in Secular and Religious Experiences. Los Angeles: Tarcher. (Original work published 1961)
Tart, C.T. (1975). States of Consciousness. New York: Dutton.
White, R.A. (1996a). Aftereffects of exceptional human experiences, New Bern, NC: EHE Network.
White, R.A. (1996b). Concomitants of exceptional human experiences, New Bern, NC: EHE Network.
White, R.A. (1996c). Triggers of potential exceptional human experiences. New Bern, NC: EHE Network.
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