Liminal Consciousness – A Systemic Framework for 'Altered States of Consciousness'
Keywords:autopoietic systems, psychic systems, consciousness, altered states of consciousness
Academic psychology, both in research and theory, focuses mainly on rational consciousness. If it speaks about other forms of consciousness, these are foremost conceived of – and hence marginalized – as 'altered states of consciousness.' The term 'altered states of consciousness' consistently reproduces: 1. the positing of rational consciousness as a primal given; 2. the fixation on a (consciousness)process as a state; 3. the mistake to characterize something which is defined by constant alteration as 'altered;' 4. a dichotomization of 'normal' and 'altered', which conceals the ongoing reproduction of rational consciousness; and 5. the suggestion that non-rational consciousness is epistemically inferior, if not deviant. This paper aims to circumvent these problems by focusing on central aspects of autopoietic systems theory and, in particular, on the fundamental term liminality, which are then combined to a new theory of non-rational consciousness. In this paper, the term 'liminal consciousness' will be used to refer to forms of psychic systems that are less defined by points of reference but instead rather converge to the limit of (temporary) omission of its autopoiesis. 'Liminal consciousness' is not conceived as one side of a dichotomous category (with 'rational consciousness' as its counterpart), but rather as a continuously increasing omission of the reproduction of self-referential structures. Three basic possibilities which can evoke liminal consciousness are identified: focussing on self-referentiality, focussing on hetero-referentiality, or a short-circuit of concentration by focusing on the occurrence of thoughts. Within this framework, many forms of consciousness, e.g. those 'invited' by ecstatic or meditative practice, can be conceptualized without relying on religious, reductionist or mystical discourses. Finally, instead of 'altered states of consciousness', the term 'liminal consciousness' is suggested in order to improve the connectivity of communication within the scientific system.