SC8 Researching Altered States of Consciousness: Perspectives from Neuropsychology and Philosophy


The content of the last two sessions will be switched.

Presumably, you know what your everyday experiences are like. If we focus solely on these, we may mistake what is common for those with what is necessary for conscious experiences in general. In order to avoid this, we may investigate altered states of consciousness, e.g. experiences in dreaming, on psychedelic trips, or deep states of meditation. Here, disruptions of commonly present features of consciousness and cognition occur. Investigating such states are a promising route to investigate the neural correlates of highly abstract or fundamental structures of experiences because broad, global, or structuring features of consciousness change in these states, thereby providing contrast conditions to the normal states. Furthermore, altered states of consciousness can mimic certain aspects of psychiatric disorders and therefore offer the unique opportunity to investigate the neurobiology and pharmacology underlying these (pathological) processes. Importantly, most altered states – unlike lesions or psychopathologies – are reversible, allowing for a comparison within a single individual. Researching altered states of consciousness, however, raises unique methodological problems because the changes in experience often come with changes in cognition as well. Scientific studies of altered states are therefore sometimes faced with considerable skepticism. Still, this inquiry bears tremendous philosophical potential. Here, we want to address foundational issues of researching altered states of consciousness, give a short overlook about methods used in this inquiry, and illustrate this with three examples: Dreaming, Non-Egoic, and Psychedelic States.

Session 1: Foundational Problems: How do we know what altered states are like? How can we research them scientifically?
Session 2: Foundational Aims: What is altered in altered states of consciousness? What does this research programme tell us about the mind more generally?
Session 3: Example 1: Dreaming and Non-Egoic States
Session 4: Example 2: Psychedelic States


TBAWe want to give participants a broad overview of research on altered states of consciousness, what may be learned from this research, and what problems such investigations face.


Chris Letheby, Philip Gerrans (2017) Self unbound: ego dissolution in psychedelic experience, Neuroscience of Consciousness, Volume 2017, Issue 1,
Kraehenmann R, Pokorny D, Vollenweider L, Preller KH, Pokorny T, Seifritz E, Vollenweider FX. Dreamlike effects of LSD on waking imagery in humans depend on serotonin 2A receptor activation.Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2017 Jul;234(13):2031-2046. Epub 2017 Apr 7.

R. Millière (2017) Looking for the Self: Phenomenology, Neurophysiology and Philosophical Significance of Drug-induced Ego Dissolution, Front. Hum. Neurosci., 23 May 2017 |

Nour MM, Carhart-Harris RL (2017) Psychedelics and the science of self-experience. British Journal of Psychiatry

Preller K.H. & Vollenweider F.X. (2018) Phenomenology, Structure, and Dynamic of Psychedelic States, Curr Top Behav Neurosci.

Vollenweider FX, Kometer M. (2010) The neurobiology of psychedelic drugs: implications for the treatment of mood disorders. Nat Rev Neurosci.

Windt, J. M. 2018 (Accepted/In press) Précis of Dreaming: A Conceptual Framework for Philosophy of Mind and Empirical Research: Book Symposium on Dreaming
In : Journal of Consciousness Studies. 25, 5-6, p. 1-24 24 p.

Windt, J. M. (2013) Reporting dream experience: Why (not) to be skeptical about dream reports. Front. Hum. Neurosci., 07 November 2013 |

Course location


Course requirements


Instructor information.

S. Benjamin Fink


University of Magdeburg


Sascha Benjamin Fink studied Philosophy, History of Art, Japanese Studies and Biology in Mainz, Florence and Tokyo. His dissertation at the Institute of Cognitive Science at Osnabrück was on foundational issues in the neuroscience of consciousness. Currently, he is the Juniorprofessor for Neurophilosophy and head of the M.Sc. programme for Philosophy-Neurosciences-Cognition at the Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg, where he is also a member of the Center for Brain and Behavioral Sciences. His research focuses on the concept of a neural correlate of consciousness, the scientific value of introspection, the problem the privacy of consciousness raises, in which way phenomenal imagery is indeterminate, on pain, suffering, and sensory modalities as well as vagueness and paradoxes.


Katrin Preller


University of Zurich


Katrin Preller received her M.Sc. (Neuropsychology) from University of Konstanz, Germany. For her PhD she went to University of Zurich, Switzerland, where she worked on several studies investigating the neurobiological and social-cognitive long-term effects of cocaine, MDMA, and heroin use. After completing her PhD, she joined the Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging lab at the Psychiatric University Hospital Zürich, investigating the effects of psilocybin and LSD on self-perception, social cognition, and multimodal processing using different brain imaging techniques. After working as a postdoc at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, UK, and Yale University, USA, she now continues her research on the neurobiological effects of psychedelics and altered states of consciousness at University of Zurich and Yale University.