Starting Points for
Exploration and Discussion
The Politics of Consciousness, Altered States, &
What do you mean by “consciousness”?
Can meaning be ascribed to a conscious state itself?
Or only to its products? (perhaps neither, perhaps both?)
What are some different states or forms of
consciousness that you are aware of? (e.g. waking, sleeping,
Are some more valid than others?
If so, what gives a state its validity?
Who determines this?
Are these determinations held universally (i.e.,
Have you ever had an experience that was
discontinuous with your normal mode of reality? How did you deal
with it after the fact?
What is occurring when one daydreams? Dreams at
night? Sleeps without dreaming? Are these states the same as
Do you identify with your consciousness? Does it
‘belong’ to you? Would you permit someone else to control it?
How do your experiences relate to your consciousness
and its/your development?
Do certain items you consume have an effect on the
state and / or functioning of your consciousness? Consider coffee,
beer, rich food…Would you be conscious without food and drinks
for a month?
If your experiences and intake of food and drinks
are seen to regulate and shape your conscious states, then is it
fair to say that you alter your states of consciousness
That you have a choice in how this is done?
That consciousness can be altered by both internal
and external forces?
Do you only consume ‘natural’ products, or do
you choose to consume some artificial products too?
What is meant by ‘altered states of
Why might one choose to enter or engage in an ASC?
Could there be benefits, dangers?
Is it possible that by having an experience that is
discontinuous with one’s ‘regular’ way of experiencing
reality, one might learn something new?
What is a ‘mystical state’?
Why is it that so many founders of, and important
figures in, various religious systems describe experiences that
profoundly affected them, yet make little or no sense when
compared with our current, ‘normal’ (scientific?) view of
What would have happened if one had a mystical /
religious experience, and told others about encountering strange
beings and fantastical visions, in Salem Massachusetts, 1692? And
Can you think of other examples of people being
persecuted for having experiences that did not conform to the
socially accepted norm (what Charles Tart calls ‘consensus
reality’ or ‘consensus trance’)?
Why are ASCs disturbing to our society?
Are there any cultures that consider ASCs to be
Is an ASC an ASC under any circumstances, or only
when has been induced in a particular manner?
Consider the widespread use of drugs such as Ritalin
What are the possible consequences of medicating
large portions of a society with these drugs?
If the incidence of ‘need’ for these drugs is
increasing, and the drugs only cure thee symptoms and not their
causes, what are the implications for the future of society in
Do children really tend to be more hyperactive today
than in the past?
These drugs can have some significant side effects
(Ritalin has been blamed for the death of some children) – aside
from death, how might side effects permanently alter a person’s
A Highly Opi(nion)ated Battle
What is a ‘drug’?
What is the difference between a legal drug and
What are some of the possible benefits of drug use
(consider various drugs)?
Could some drug experiences be genuine religious
If so, what might be the effect of an increased
percentage of the population having access to transcendental
Is the First Amendment intended to protect all
religions, regardless of the sacrament used and the
‘correctness’ of their view of reality, or only particular
religions? –That is, do certain religions or styles of religion
have oligopoly rights over the First Amendment?
Drug laws are often justified by paternalistic
arguments, such as the claim that the laws stop people from
harming themselves. Is it possible to take drugs without harming
Are there ways in which the incidence of such harm
could be reduced?
Does the potential for self-harm outweigh the value
of a possible life-enhancing experience?
Why are certain drugs (in our society, caffeine,
sugar, tobacco, and alcohol) considered acceptable, and others not
Why are pharmaceuticals with potentially dangerous
side-effects (such as the birth-control pill) permissible if
self-harm is such a great concern?
Why is ‘escapism’ such a threat to some people?
Is all drug use hedonistic and escapist?
Certain drugs have been shown to have (or have
potential) psychotherapeutic potential – does it make sense to
allow testing of these drugs in humans by researchers?
It is possible, in an environment of legalized drugs
to create laws that minimize mis- or ab- use of drugs?
What is the difference between decriminalization and
What might be the effects on a society of completely
decriminalizing or legalizing all drugs?
Has the drug war been successful?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of
criminalizing particular kinds of mental states (and tools that
may be used to access these states)?
Can one be free if one cannot choose how one wishes
to operate one’s own mind?
Is it the government’s role to protect people from
the possibilities of their own minds?
Does the current method of drug scheduling take into
account the differences between different drugs that are lumped
into the same schedule (for example, both heroin and LSD are in
In an anti-drug atmosphere, is there perhaps a
better way of determining the status of individual drugs?
From a cognitive liberty standpoint, do you think
that all drugs would have to be legalized, or would it be possible
(or desirable) to only change the status of a select few?
Weeks 9 & 10: Technology
& the Mind & Social Implications
The opportunity to enhance one’s mind and life is
instantly appealing to most of us – but what are the
implications of the technologies that claim to be able to do so?
Drugs such as Prozac and Ritalin are being touted as
panaceas, able to solve our problems quickly and easily, and are
thus being sold in mass quantities, marketed on the basis of their
acclaimed life-enhancing properties…what are some of the
possible benefits and hazards of altering a significant proportion
of the population’s mind states in the name of making people
What is ‘normal’? who defines it? Why do more
people claim to feel less normal than ever? Can ‘normalizing’
drugs resolve the root problem, or are they just a distraction
that allows the problem to keep bothering us (that is, do they
give the user the ability to reflect and understand the cause, so
that they make relevant lifestyle changes to alter it?)?
What are the ethical implications of forced drugging
of suspected criminals (consider the US v Sell case)?
Can they defend themselves fairly / or give reliable
Is forced drugging a form of torture?
Was MKULTRA (and its associated operations) a
reasonable CIA investigation into the potentials of a variety of
mind-altering chemicals and techniques?
Is it acceptable for the government to perform
covert experiments on the minds of its citizens? Why do we feel
that this is wrong?
How about during wartime? Are prisoners’ minds
essentially different from ours? Would it be acceptable to us to
find out that an enemy nation or organization was using such
methods on our citizens that it had captured?
Excluding when one is under oath, does one have a
right to lie?
Have you always
told the truth?
If you knew someone that you loved (or someone
undergoing unfair persecution) was innocent yet being sought for
detention and / or punishment by the government, would you ever
consider lying to protect and hide them from their persecutors?
Would you do so if the persecutors had an accurate computer-based
lie detecting method or a sure-fire truth serum, and threatened to
punish you should you be found to be lying? What would the
implications of such technology have been in war-time Nazi
Do governments always tell the truth?
What will happen to those persons who cannot afford
Who will control who may or may not make use of such
Reading the Mind: Looking Out, Looking
How do you distinguish between the realms of public
How do you feel when that which you wish to have
remain private is made public by someone else?
What are some benefits of surveillance technologies?
Who controls the information gathered? Do they have
the right to sell it?
Is there anything that can be done to limit the
rapid expansion in surveillance technologies that we are currently
experiencing, or are technological developments too fast to be
managed appropriately by the law?
How might the knowledge that one’s thoughts or
actions are being observed affect one’s consciousness? The way
Technologies are often marketed by businesses on the
premise that they are beneficial to society – if accepted as
such, either consciously or unconsciously by society, how will we
be able to define acceptable limits to what may be surveilled?
(for example, today a video camera in a store may be used to
capture any thefts on tape, as a means of protecting society, and
jail time is often given to those caught acting ‘against the
public good’; photo-radar is accepted by many as a means of
ensuring that people drive safely, and a fine is sent to the home
of anyone acting ‘against the public good’. Would randomly
placed microphones (or iris-reading cameras) linked to a
government computer that could detect when a person is lying, and
the issuing of fines be for the ‘good of the public’?
Should children be fitted with global-positioning
implant chips so that parents know of their whereabouts?
Would it be possible to avoid having one’s
movements tracked in a ‘cashless society’, where all financial
transactions are monetary? Would it be possible to survive?
Why do we tend to object so strongly to the idea of
being watched by the government?
Will such technologies as brain-fingerprinting
machines at airports lead to greater discrimination? How could
false-positives be dealt with fairly?
Why was the notion of ‘Big Brother is Watching
You’ so odious in George Orwell’s 1984?
Why does it seem to bother people less now?
Since the attacks of September 11th,
people have been far more accepting of surveillance: at what point
do you draw the line between safety and infringement of privacy?
Face-recognition technology was tested at the Super
Bowl XXXV, without the knowledge of attendees. According to the LA
Times (Feb. 1, 2001), hidden cameras were used to electronically
compare attendees faces with known criminals. Does scanning a face
constitute a search, and does it erode the concept that one is
innocent until proven guilty?
- What is a ‘reality
- How do different reality
- Is there such a thing as
an ‘objective’ model of reality?
- Can one perception of
reality be more ‘valid’ than another?
- Why do proponents of
certain views feel threatened by people who think differently?
- What are the dangers of
encouraging or coercing a population to conform to a
- Has such an attempt ever
been entirely successful?
- What are the effects on
an individual of being forced to change their reality model?
- Why do we frequently hear
that many depressed people suffer from a ‘chemical
imbalance’ – yet nothing is mentioned about people who are
far happier and optimistic than average?
- Do you still view the
world and your existence in the same way as you did a year
ago? Five years ago? Ten? When you were five years old?
- Has the world really
changed that much? Or did you?
- Do you expect to have
the same view of the world as you do now in twenty years
- If your picture of
the world is capable of shifting, can you be certain that
it is ‘better’ than that of others who hold a
distinctly different world-view?
- Have you ever tried
convincingly as possible for a week according to the
(legal) lifestyle of someone whose system you think is
thoroughly crazy, even though it seems to work well for
- Consider an event or
occurrence that made you very unhappy for a short period such
as a week. How did this simultaneously affect your perception
of other elements of your life?
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