Psychosis is thought to be a continuum, encompassing benign levels of perceptual aberrations, magical thinking and a tendency to see hidden meaning in innocuous stimuli (the face of Jesus in your toast), and, at the extreme end, the ravages of full-blown psychosis as experienced in schizophrenia (Lenzenweger, 2018).
Hallucinations are not the purview of psychiatric illness or drug trips ? anyone can experience hallucinations and altered states of mind, safely and at will through the Ganzfeld Effect.
Ganzfeld: An undifferentiated visual field composed of only one colour.
The Ganzfeld is an unstructured and uniform visual field; entirely featureless and composed of only one colour. Although you are ?seeing? the Ganzfeld your brain receives an unchanging signal, one bereft of the sort of information that it deems necessary to navigate (and survive) the world (Wackermann, Ptz and Allefeld, 2008).
As a result, neural firing in the visual cortex ramps up, and you start seeing things that have no external sensory correlate. Rather, these percepts are generated entirely by your subconscious (Wild and Busey, 2004).
In short, the Ganzfeld Effect exploits your mind?s natural inclination toward meaning-making, leading to visual hallucinations. There is no signal, so your mind resorts to interpreting the noise (Wackermann, Ptz and Allefeld, 2008).
The Ganzfeld can also lead to altered states of consciousness. This latter aspect has made it a staple in parapsychology/paranormal research, although there is no evidence to date which supports the notion of ?Ganzfeld telepathy? (Wackermann, Ptz and Allefeld, 2008).
And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
Place two halves of a ping pong ball over your eyes to send your brain into overdrive; though nothing but a vast and daunting orange tundra ? the Ganzfeld ? is before you, your mind?s eye will see so much more.
As you scan this featureless vista, your mind struggles to impose meaning on what you sense, and so it looks inward ? at the spontaneous neural firing of your visual cortex (Wild and Busey, 2004). And thus, from the depths of your subconscious, visual hallucinations emerge.
Like a plunge into icy water is a jolt to the nervous system, a plunge into your ?Inner? world will reinvigorate you, change your perspective, and perhaps even aid you in your creative endeavours.
The propensity to hallucinate is determined by neural architecture (Johns 2005; Wild & Busey, 2004) and mediated by personality, expectations and past experiences (Partos, Cropper, & Rawlings, 2016).
If you?re interested in an in-depth explanation of the science, check out:
The Creative Advantages of a Beautiful, Noisy Mind
On dreams, misperceptions and hallucinations ? your guide to enlivening your days and nights with more of them
In the article above I discuss how hallucinations, a blending of the ?Inner? and ?Outer? worlds, can benefit your creative work and provide you with a fresh perspective on life, the universe, and everything in it.
However, expecting a tangible benefit from the Ganzfeld experiment is a very utilitarian way of thinking. There?s a method to the madness, must there also be a point?
Instead, I suggest you pursue this method of hallucinating (safely and without drugs) for the novelty factor. Think of it as a reprieve from humdrum sensory reality, and a retreat into the subconscious. Use it to revel in the complexities of your mind and find your answer to:
When you gaze into the abyss, what gazes back?
- A coloured ping pong ball, halved
- An even source of light
- A comfortable surface to lie on
- Headphones (while not essential, multiple modalities of sensory deprivation are recommended)
- One track of pink noise, looped (if you cannot find pink noise, white noise will do)
- The spontaneous neural firing of your brain (heightened under conditions of sensory deprivation)
- Find a comfortable place to lie down, one that won?t provide too much distracting sensation (muting the external will amplify the internal).
- Put on your headphones and pipe some pink noise into your ears (pink noise mimics the frequencies of sounds found in nature). This will blot out the outside world and may even lead to auditory hallucinations ? then you?ve got yourself a twofer!
- Tape the ping pong balls over your eyes in a way which doesn?t cause discomfort. The distraction of pain or other bodily sensation should be avoided; sensory deprivation is the aim of the game.
- Keep your eyes open!
- Relax and succumb to boredom.
- Profit. (I jest, but it could inspire you to create an artistic masterpiece, or solve a problem. It will be a life-altering experience, regardless.)
Tips & Tricks
Halving the ping pong ball
- with a knife and steely determination, forgetting to sand down the jagged edges (oops)
- using a vice and a helpful co-worker with a woodworking habit on the second go-round
It?s not working!
- Patience is a virtue, just give it more time (up to 60 minutes) and additional attempts
- A more expensive but more effective option: keep your eyes open in a flotation tank, the level of sensory deprivation will be more profound than lying on your living room floor with balls sticky-taped to your head? oddly enough.
Dror, I. E. (2005). Perception is far from perfection: the role of the brain and mind in constructing realities. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(6), 763?763.
Huxley, A. (1954). The Doors of Perception. New York. Harpers.
Johns, L. C. (2005). Hallucinations in the general population. Current psychiatry reports, 7(3), 162?167.
Lenzenweger, M. F. (2018). Schizotypy, schizotypic psychopathology and schizophrenia. World Psychiatry, 17(1), 25?26.
Wackermann, J., Ptz, P., & Allefeld, C. (2008). Ganzfeld-induced hallucinatory experience, its phenomenology and cerebral electrophysiology. Cortex, 44(10), 1364?1378.
Wild, H.A. and Busey, T.A., 2004. Seeing faces in the noise: Stochastic activity in perceptual regions of the brain may influence the perception of ambiguous stimuli. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 11(3), pp.475?481.
Angela Volkov …is gazing into the abyss. She writes about the full gamut of human experience, and is the editor of AVocation (?we?re passionate about passions?).