Self Service

Hilary Evans. Alternate States of Consciousness; Unself, Otherself and Superself. Aquarian Press, 1989.

In his latest book Hilary Evans discusses the altered states of consciousness in which we encounter Magonia and where reality is deconstructed. Previous studies of ASC have tended to come from a medical/academic background, and concentrate on states induced by drugs, meditation and other techniques. Evans on the other hand discusses primarily spontaneous ASC's, especially those on the debatable frontier between psychopathology and parapsychology. These states, which Evans sees existing in contradistinction to the 'Usual States of Consciousness' (USC - the world of daylight reason and commonsense) he divides into the unself, otherself and superself of the subtitle, and paradoxical states.

In unself there may be either a lowering of the state of consciousness as in sleep or somnambulism, or fugue states such as highway hypnosis; or a diminution of the personality and activity such as occur in schizophrenic or depressive apathy. In extreme cases this can take the form of nihilistic delusions, the belief that one is dead or is diminishing like the Incredible Shrinking Man.

It is perhaps the other three states which tend most to attract the attention of the psychical researchers, ufologists and the like. Unself states are states in which the experient becomes 'someone else', as in possession trance, multiple personality or hypnotic past life regression. These states may be associated with physiological changes, the surfacing of hidden talents or the resurfacing of lost knowledge, etc. In some cases these other states can be seen as examples of symbolic suicide.

Higher Self states might be characterised by feelings of 'absolute possibility' or inflationary states. They may range from transient peak experiences to fully-fledged mania. The enhanced powers may be those of physical endurance, such as the fire walkers or the increased productivity of the 'inspired artist'. Also associated with this inflationary scenario is the hyperaesthesia which it has been suggested is caused by malfunctioning of the brain's information filtering system. People with mild, generalised hyperaesthesia may well come to think of themselves as psychic or especially empathic, which adds to the inflationary over-confidence and sense of specialness.
 
Often, highlighted powers in one area may be accompanied by a narrowing or lowering elsewhere, as in many hypnotic or hysterical states: the person with hysterical paralysis yet with extraordinary visual or auditory hyperaesthesia would be a case in point. Extreme examples are provided by the idiot-savants discussed by Darold Treffert.

Evans leads us through a variety of strange experiences, all suggesting that ASC are natural (everyone dreams), and in their more extreme forms can be triggered by a variety of physical and/or psychological stresses. In different people these produce greater or lesser alteration, blurring the line between the pathological and the nonpathological. The nocturnal UFO encounter and abduction provide a good example of how ASC can develop in the crucial brew of drowsiness, hyperaemias and anxiety, with diminished sensory input, which can generate near paranoid anxiety states in the most stable, with distortions of sensory experience. In some vulnerable people lhe loss of continuous intense sensory input may lead to transient depressed and fugue states with extreme feelings of helplessness and "being trapped". These feelings may be translated into abduction fantasies with their imagery of forced medical inspection, rape and bondage.

If one has a. criticism of this book it is its over-dependence on antique sources such as Charcot, while the highly relevant works of Ian McKellar are passed over in surprising silence. Hysteria, like witchcraft and UFO abductions, was probably a demand-produced reality in which the 'patient' acted out the fantasies of the interrogator. This should not blind us from realising that Hilary Evans is one of the few interesting and stimulating writers in a field plagued by dullness. We might cavil about the odd detail here and there, but reading Evans's books in succession you get the impression of someone who is thinking new thoughts and groping towards something which may liberate our field from its many straitjackets. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 34, October 1989.


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