Altering Consciousness

Multidisciplinary Perspectives

by Etzel Cardeña and Michael Winkelman, Editors


From prehistoric caves to current raves and virtual reality technology, humanity has always sought to alter its consciousness. Altered states of consciousness can be achieved through dreaming, drumming, dancing, meditation, hypnosis, fasting, sex, and a number of other human activities. These strategies affect consciousness by mimicking the natural responses of our nervous system.

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Cover image for Altering Consciousness

May 2011


Pages 800
Volumes 2
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Psychology/General

This authoritative, multidisciplinary overview of altered states of consciousness (ASC) shows how their study is necessary to gain a fundamental understanding of human culture, history, and biology.

Altered consciousness is one of humanity's most mystical and life-altering aspects. These remarkable changes in mental state have understandably been a topic of general interest and scientific inquiry across time. Beyond simply satisfying our curiosity, however, studies focused upon altered consciousness can also bring valuable insights into our experience, biology, and culture.

This unprecedented two-volume set will intrigue anyone interested in psychology, biology and neurology, science, history, arts and the humanities, and literature on consciousness, from general readers to scholars and researchers. An impressive collection of international contributors address altered states of consciousness from the perspectives of history, evolution, psychology, culture, literature, human biology, contemporary science, and society, seeking to illuminate the causes, effects, and meanings of altered consciousness. The first volume provides an introduction and centers on the importance of altered states in history, culture, and the humanities, while the second volume presents biological and psychological perspectives on altered consciousness and examines their potential for healing and pathology.


  • Contains various illustrations in the two volumes
  • Presents a bibliography of representative references to the literature on altered states across various disciplines and languages
  • Provides convenient cross-referencing of subjects across chapters


  • Contains chapters written by recognized, international authorities in their areas of expertise from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Germany, Israel, Mexico, The Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States
  • Provides exclusive, state-of-the-art overviews of altered states of consciousness in various fields
  • Presents information that is both authoritative and reader-friendly and covers the humanities, the arts, and the social and biological sciences
Author Info

Etzel Cardeña, PhD, holds the endowed Thorsen Chair of Psychology at Lund University, Lund, Sweden. His empirical and theoretical work has received awards from Division 30 of the American Psychological Association, the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, and the University of Texas. His more than 200 published works include the book Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence, about which Science News dedicated a cover story. Cardeña has also worked professionally as a theater director, actor, and playwright.

Michael Winkelman, MPH, PhD, received his doctorate from the School of Social Sciences, University of California, Irvine. His published works include Praeger's Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing, Second Edition and Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogenic Substances as Treatments; and Supernatural as Natural: A Biocultural Approach to Religion. Winkelman retired from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, in 2009, and currently lives in the central highlands of Brazil where he is developing permaculture-based intentional communities.



"Cardeña and Winkelman have produced two valuable collections on non-ordinary states of consciousness . . . There is much to learn here: no serious scholar of consciousness should be without these volumes on their shelf. "
Journal of Consciousness Studies

"In summary, Altering Consciousness: Multidisciplinary Perspectives edited by Cardeña and Winkelman provides an invaluable resource for the professional engaged in research, teaching, or clinical work on consciousness, altered states, hypnosis, dreams, shamanic healing, and a variety of other areas. The work is definitive, setting a new standard for research by clarifying concepts and paradigms; comprehensive, touching on research across the broad spectrum of the humanities, the arts, and the sciences; and relevant, guiding the reader to the scientific and existential importance of current research on consciousness. I recommend this book as a must read for the professional, a must buy for the library, and a must read for the graduate student. My compliments to Cardeña and Winkelman for assembling this vast crew and bringing the book to press."PsycCRITIQUES

"Each essay includes excellent references; the set as a whole has an outstanding bibliography that covers the vast array of topics related to ASC. Skeptics are likely to be dismissive of this endeavor, but ASC research remains important, and a scholarly treatment is welcome. Summing up: Recommended."Choice

"These two very rich volumes are now necessary for anyone conducting research on the history of consciousness and its alterations. It remains a difficult topic, but these volumes will prove to be of great value for decades to come."Religious Studies Review

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