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Study 4.

Phenomenal Qualities of Ayahuasca Ingestion and its Relation to Fringe Consciousness and Personality

Todd Bresnick and Ross Levin. Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. Albert Eistein College of Medicine. Yeshiva University

For this study we attempted to systematically examine the effects of ayahuasca on sensory/perceptual functioning utilizing empirically-validated measures as well as to determine the relationship of these experiences to pertinent personality variables. We sought to do this by investigating the phenomenal qualities of ayahuasca ingestion utilizing a series of semi-structured interviews and a number of measures of perception and personality. We were particularly interested in determining the effects of ayahuasca ingestion on spatial/temporal experiences commonly associated with William James’s concept of fringe consciousness, the sometimes vague halo of context and experience on the periphery of consciousness as well as the more elusive transitional moments between more stable thoughts (focal consciousness). In addition, we were interested in examining the relationship between changes in fringe after ingestion with other phenomenal experiences such as expansive emotional states and the perception of mystical experiences. Last, we sought to determine whether individuals who demonstrated high fantasy proneness, psychological absorption and dissociation were particularly susceptible to such shifts in fringe consciousness post ingestion.

Our results showed that ayahuasca ingestion was associated in most individuals with profound alterations and distortions of temporal-spatial experiences. In particular, the experience of expansive space and slowed/infinite time were associated with positive emotional states, access to mystical experiences and an expansive sense of “felt meaning”. Conversely, quickened time was associated with negative emotionality. Mystical experience was frequent after ayahuasca ingestion and was strongly associated with fringe consciousness. The personality variables that were associated with ayahuasca ingestions and fringe states included fantasy proneness, imaginative absorption, and dissociation which support a model of fringe as the non-linear and less substantive aspects of consciousness.

In addition to exploring phenomenal experience related to ayahuasca ingestion and the parameters of fringe and temporal-spatial aspects of consciousness, the present study provided some indications regarding larger questions about the underlying mechanisms of consciousness by bringing these structural aspects of consciousness into high relief. Our results suggest a multi-faceted model of fringe consciousness with a particular emphasis on a model of cross-modal translation. Such translation is a type of thought that transcends one phenomenological or sensory experience to translate between senses and phenomenologies, synesthesia being an explicit example of such translation. Our results support the theory that cross-modal translation and related states such as fringe, mystical, and ayahuasca states, are the basis of higher-order symbolic cognition or consciousness. Our results also support a model meaning construction that involves a spatial underpinning. In addition, our data support James’s argument that fringe consciousness is essential to human cognition, as the oscillating shift from fringe to focal consciousness provides the basic experience of time and the continuity of the stream of consciousness.