What is an altered state of consciousness?
Since many have tried to define the notion of an altered state of consciousness, there is a vast amount of different definitions. One definition was proposed by William Farthing in his 1992 book The Psychology of Consciousness: “An altered state of consciousness (ASC) may be defined as a temporary change in the overall pattern of subjective experience, such that the individual believes that his or her mental functioning is distinctly different from certain general norms for his or her normal waking state of consciousness”. Following this definition, the ASC Study Monitor includes publications that investigate methods that alter subjective experience distinctly as compared with ‘normal waking consciousness’. This includes ASCs induced through non-pharmacological methods such as meditation, as well as by means of psychotropic substances. This includes voluntarily induced ASCs, such as through meditation, as well as involuntarily induced ASCs, such as near–death experiences (NDEs).
How is the ASC Study Monitor maintained?
Based on a regularly updated corpus of approximately 100 keywords pertaining to the study of altered states of consciousness, relevant texts are identified by means of auto-crawling (e.g. Google Scholar Alerts). This is supplemented by focused manual searches of databases (e.g. PubMed) and social networks (e.g. Research Gate). The results are carefully evaluated and selected with the help of a criteria selection profile that considers Scientific Relevance, Methodological Quality, and Bibliometric Impact. For Open access articles, full texts are included in the database.
How are results evaluated?
The results of the auto-crawling and the manual searches are scanned by a group of volunteers who systematically assess the Scientific Relevance, Methodological Quality, and Bibliometric Impact of the results. Scientific Relevance is defined as the closeness of the publication to the study of altered states of consciousness (direct reference; indirect reference; no reference). Methodological Quality is concerned with the methods that applied in the publication (‘hard’-scientific approach – e.g. controlled experiment, review article, professional criticism; General scholarly approach – e.g. uncontrolled data acquisition, theoretical discussion, discussion of general questions; non-scientific approach). Bibliometric Impact evaluates the rank score of the journal (if applicable) in which the piece was published. The three criteria are assessed on point-based scales. The sum of the points from all three criteria determines whether or not the publication will be included in the ASC Study Monitor.
How are the Disciplines in the ASC Study Monitor defined?
To enhance the usability of the ASC Study Monitor, we created a system by which we tag newly added publications with one or several discipline tags. The disciplines were defined as follows:
Psychology: Effects of non-pharmacological practices and altered states of consciousness on behavior and mental processes including perception, cognition, attention, emotion, intelligence, phenomenology, motivation, and personality
Psychopharmacology: Effects of psychedelics drugs, practices, on mood, sensation, thinking, and behavior (psychological variables; incl. behavioral animal tests)
Neuropharmacology: Effects of psychedelics drugs on cellular function, and the neural mechanisms through which they influence behavior (incl. brain imaging + pharmacological tests in animals)
Pharmacology: Biochemical and physiological effects of psychedelics drugs on the cell, tissue, organ, or organism (outside the central nervous system); Absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of psychedelic drugs (Incl. toxicology and forensic science)
Neuroscience: Effects of non-pharmacological practices and altered states such as NDEs on the central nervous system (neurons and neural circuits)
Philosophy: Philosophical topics such as philosophical and applied ethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science
Cognitive Science: Publications featuring theories from cognitive science
Cultural Studies: Publications addressing psychedelic states or related phenomena in contexts of cultural practices and their medial representations
Chemistry: Chemical, not strictly pharmacological publications (e.g. on the synthesis and discrimination of specific substances)
How to get in contact with us?
If you have any questions, remarks, or a paper you would like to see included, you can write us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note of Appreciation
We want to thank all of the supporters, volunteers, and IT specialists that have made this feat possible! Without your strong-willed support and tenacity, our project would not be what is it today.
And thank you to everyone who finds joy and meaning in the use of the ASC Study Monitor.
If you want to support our work in any way, feel free to contact us and donate your time, or money, or whatever you deem fit.