I’m just reading a book called The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness which sounds like some stoned hippy opus, but is actually a wonderfully written travel book into the neuroscience of naturally occurring altered states of consciousness.
It was recommended to me by Tom, who got sent a copy to review, and was so enthusiastic about it, he sent it to me afterwards. And I’m very glad he did.
The author, Jeff Warren, wants to experience various altered states of consciousness that are described in the scientific literature, like the hypnagogic state – the hallucinatory period when dropping off, or lucid dreaming, when you’re aware that you’re dreaming, or hypnosis.
So he travels the world meeting researchers, taking part in experiments, trying things out on himself, and explaining the science along the way.
And this he does very well. He manages to capture some of the key debates in the literature, explain some tricky concepts, as well as introducing us to often curious and compelling characters who research these phenomena.
He skilfully compares the myths, claims and speculation with what is known from scientific studies, and what he managed to experience himself.
There’s quite a large section of the book dedicated to sleep and dreaming, and if ever you thought sleeping was the uninteresting third of your life you spend unconscious, this is the book which will make you think again.
Just great fun, and, if you’ll excuse the slightly awkward metaphor, wonderfully eye-opening as well.
In the meantime, if you want a quick fix on the science of dreaming, the Washington Post had a recent brief article that discussed the topic.