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Thus, it can be inferred that one reason why the DMN is so highly and persistently active, is that it receive regular endogenous input from internal drivers. One such driver may be MTL activity Laxton et al. Irrespective of what the specific drivers of the DMN are, its enduring presence fits comfortably with the idea that it is the seat of the ego Carhart-Harris and Friston, , as in healthy waking consciousness, one's sense of self is never far from consciousness:.

So how does the phenomenon of primary consciousness fit in here? The first thing to say is that primary consciousness may be a sub-optimal mode of cognition that has been superseded by a more reality-bound style of thinking, governed by the ego. However, if primary consciousness is a psychological atavism, and the psychedelic state is an exemplar of it, then how does this explain the putative utility of the psychedelic experience e. The phenomenon of depression can help us here.

In the previous section, depressive realism was discussed in relation to hyper activity and connectivity within the DMN; however, in severe depression, cognition cannot be said to be optimal. Depressed patients typically perceive themselves and their world through an unyielding pessimism Styron, Depressed patients' cognitive style may become too fixed, such that the patient loses the ability to think and behave in a flexible manner. Underlying this phenomenon may be a decrease in metastability, such that one particular state, e.

The aggressive self-critical focus that accompanies a loss or abandonment of object-cathexis in depression i.

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In consideration of these things, narrow-mindedness is to pessimism what openness MacLean et al. This article proposes that primary consciousness rests on more metastable dynamics than secondary consciousness, i. Thus, by implication, a broader repertoire of transient states may be visited in primary consciousness because the system is closer to criticality-proper. Moreover, it is the ability of psychedelics to disrupt stereotyped patterns of thought and behavior by disintegrating the patterns of activity upon which they rest that accounts for their therapeutic potential.

Indeed, if the principle holds that a critical brain is a happy brain, then it would follow that psychedelics could be used to enhance well-being and divergent thinking, even in already healthy individuals. One negative consequence of this however could be the neglect of accurate reality-testing. Spectrum of cognitive states. This schematic is intended to summarize much of what this paper has tried to communicate.

It is proposed that normal waking consciousness inhabits a position that is close to criticality but slightly sub-critical and primary states move brain activity and associated cognition toward a state of increased system entropy i. Recent work has indeed supported the notion that brain activity is slightly sub-critical in normal waking consciousness Priesemann et al.

One reason why it may be advantageous for the brain to operate just below criticality is that by doing so, it can exert better control over the rest of the natural world—most of which is critical. This may take the form of suppressing endogenous processes within the brain or interacting with the environment in order to shape it and thereby control it. Indeed, if control is the objective, then it makes sense that the brain should be more ordered than that which it wishes to control.


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For example, if we consider just one of these: hypersensitivity to perturbation, it is well known that individuals are hypersensitive to environmental perturbations in the psychedelic state, which is why such emphasis is placed on the importance of managing the environment in which the psychedelic experience unfolds Johnson et al. A final speculation that is worth sharing, is that the claim that psychedelics work to lower repression and facilitate access to the psychoanalytic unconscious, may relate to the brain moving out of a sub-critical mode of functioning and into a critical one, enabling transient windows of segregation or modularity to occur e.

Indeed, repression may depend on the brain operating in a sub-critical mode, since this would constrain consciousness and limit its breadth. Phenomena such as spontaneous personal insights and the complex imagery that often plays out in psychedelic state Cohen, and dreaming, may depend on a suspension of repression, enabling cascade-like processes to propagate through the brain [e.

Many psychiatrists working with psychedelics in the s and 60s expressed great enthusiasm about their therapeutic potential Crocket et al. Subsequent reviews and meta-analyses have suggested an impressive efficacy, especially in relation to the use of LSD in the treatment of alcohol dependence Mangini, ; Dyck, ; Krebs and Johansen, and modern trials have lent some support to this sentiment Moreno et al. For example, a single high dose of psilocybin produced profound existential experiences in healthy volunteers that had a lasting beneficial impact on subjective well-being Griffiths et al.

In another study, symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder OCD were significantly reduced after psilocybin Moreno et al. One of the most remarkable properties of psychedelics is their potential to have a lasting impact on personality and outlook McGlothlin and Arnold, ; Studerus et al. Moreover, neuroimaging studies Carhart-Harris et al. Classic psychedelics are all agonists at the serotonin 2A receptor Glennon et al.

This may imply that 5-HT 2A R upregulation, due to low synaptic 5-HT, reflects a state of chronically deficient post-synaptic 5-HT 2A R stimulation that contributes to inflexible patterns of negative thought such as are seen in depression. Given our knowledge of the biological effects psychedelics, a comprehensive model can be presented in which psychedelics: 1 stimulate the 5-HT 2A receptor Glennon et al.

The net effect of these processes is an increase in system entropy formally reflected in points 5 and 6 as the system enters criticality-proper. Thus, in summary, it is hypothesized that there is a basic mechanism by which psychedelics can be helpful in psychiatry, whether they be used to treat depression, OCD Moreno et al. Specifically, it is proposed that psychedelics work by dismantling reinforced patterns of negative thought and behavior by breaking down the stable spatiotemporal patterns of brain activity upon which they rest.

An important caveat however, is that in order for this process to be beneficial, the drug-induced transitions to, and the return from primary consciousness, must be mediated by appropriate therapeutic care Johnson et al. Moving the brain out of sub-critical modes and into unfamiliar terrain may present some risks e. In the psychology of religion, one of the most remarkable findings has been that it is possible, by way of a single high dose of psilocybin, to reliably induce profound spiritual experiences in healthy volunteers that are effectively indistinguishable from spontaneously-occurring spiritual experiences Griffiths et al.

It is intriguing that entheogenic properties appear to be specific to 5-HT 2A R agonist classic psychedelics and this suggests a key role for this receptor in their genesis. In persons deep in the religious life—and this is my conclusion—the door into this region seems unusually wide open. James' ideas are consistent with those of Carl Jung; however, Jung extended them, arguing that the unconscious hosts the psychological remnants of our phylogenetic ancestry. In dreams, psychosis and other altered states, archetypal themes shaped by human history emerge into consciousness Jung, a. Jung's ideas offer an appealing explanation for the content of religious experiences, as well as the content of high-dose psychedelic experiences; however, a more systematic treatise on the spiritual experience was provided by Walter Stace in Stace, Stace's work is particularly useful because his ideas resonate with the findings of recent neuroimaging studies relevant to the neurobiology of spiritual experiences.

Importantly, in Stace's synopsis, he identified the unitive experience as the core characteristic of the spiritual experience. He emphasized that there is a collapse in the most fundamental dualities of consciousness i. Moreover, he also showed that reports of unitary consciousness are consistent throughout the different religions—emphasizing its universality and cultural independence Stace, Freud had some important things to say about the unitive state that are directly relevant to the entropic brain hypothesis.

It must have gone through a process of development… For example, an infant at the breast does not as yet distinguish his ego from the external world; he gradually learns to do so. Our present ego-feeling is therefore only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive—indeed, an all-embracing feeling, which early in development] corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world.

If we assume that there are many people in whose mental life this primary ego-feeling has persisted to a greater or less degree, it would exist in them side by side with the narrower and more sharply demarcated ego feeling of maturity, like a counterpart to it.

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Thus, Stace and Freud's descriptions of the spiritual experience are entirely consistent with the view of the primary state as being regressive. Indeed, at the extreme end of supercriticality is maximum entropy, which is equivalent to formlessness or complete disorder. Formerly, there is no difference between entropy in this thermodynamic sense depicted as complete disorder and entropy in the information theory sense, where there is maximum uncertainty about the system - because there is no order on which to base any predictions.

Extending this, the mechanics underlying the onset of true primary states for which the spiritual experiences is an example can be viewed in relation to the second law of thermodynamics. Explicitly, in the absence of a regular driving input, the system i.

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The interesting question that follows therefore is: what is the driving input that ceases in primary states? Although, interestingly, there is also evidence that the usual clock-like firing of serotonin neurons in the dorsal raphe nuclei completely ceases in both the psychedelic state Aghajanian et al. However, according to the entropic brain hypothesis, in primary states, the potential multiplicity of possible states is not obliterated but rather extended because the selectivity and conspicuity of a winning state is reduced, and so more transient states may be visited.

In dynamical terms, this would be expressed as attractor basins or valleys defining transient states becoming shallower in primary states, i. Conversely, in depression, OCD and addiction, specific states e. Moreover, these states may be relatively stable i. In such scenarios, uncertainty about the system is minimized because we know that it possesses a particular character. It is intriguing to consider therefore that disorders such as depression, OCD and addiction could be functional in some sense, perhaps working to resist a more catastrophic collapse to primary consciousness with the onset of a psychotic episode for example by reinforcing stable patterns of activity.

The following example may help to illustrate what is meant by competition between conscious states—and the loss of it in primary consciousness. Functional brain imaging has identified distinct brain networks that subserve distinct psychological functions. If the brain was to be sampled during a primary state such as a psychedelic state we would predict that the rules that normally apply to normal waking consciousness will become less robust. Post-drug there was a significant reduction in the DMN-TPN anticorrelation, consistent with these networks becoming less different or more similar i.

This is interesting because this style of meditation promotes the same collapse of dualities that was identified by Stace and Freud as constituting the core of the spiritual experience. The DMN is closely associated with self-reflection, subjectivity and introspection, and task positive networks are associated with the inverse of these things, i. Thus, it follows that DMN and TPN activity must be competitive or orthogonal in order to avoid confusion over what constitutes self , subject and internal on the one hand, and other , object and external on the other. It is important to highlight that disturbance in one's sense of self, and particularly one's sense of existing apart from one's environment, is a hallmark of the spiritual Stace, and psychedelic experience Carhart-Harris et al.

Moreover, as in the psychedelic state Carhart-Harris et al. The contravention or corruption of important rules about brain organization may explain the sense of confusion and uncertainty that accompanies a transition from secondary to primary consciousness. Entropy in information theory is reflected in the shape of a probability distribution Ben-Naim, , i. This is because it is more difficult to predict what the outcome of an individual sampling trial would be because the system behaves relatively randomly Ben-Naim, Conversely, a probability distribution with a sharp peak would reflect a well-ordered system or high-precision, confidence or assuredness Friston, In the specific context of the DMN and the psychedelic state, just as there is increased variance in parameters defining the DMN e.

It is probably not coincidental that these physical principles resonate with popular descriptions of the psychedelic experience Huxley, ; Bowers and Freedman, ; Masters and Houston, ; Grinspoon and Bakalar, ; Merkur, Gas expansion post-release of constraints as a metaphor for increased entropy in primary states.

A Entropy is low while the gas is constrained. B Entropy increases once constraints are released.

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In primary vs. To develop the construct validity of primary consciousness, it will be necessary to show that the identified parameters of primary consciousness have high internal and convergent validity i. To assist this undertaking, it will be important to optimize subjective rating scales designed for assessing primary consciousness. For example, first it will be necessary to identify key experiences that are considered characteristic of primary states i.

This will enable the convergent and discriminant validity of these measures to be tested and developed.


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Similarly, by identifying neurobiological characteristics hypothesized to be essential to primary states e. Hypotheses about the neurobiological character of primary states can therefore be effectively tested by psychedelic drugs. However, in order to test and develop the generalizability of these hypotheses, research with alternative primary states are required. Longitudinal analyses looking at brain maturation would also be relevant, where infant consciousness is hypothesized to be reflective of primary consciousness.

As outlined above, a key distinction between the primary and secondary modes of cognition is that secondary consciousness pays deference to reality and diligently seeks to represent the world as precisely as possible, whereas primary consciousness is less firmly anchored to reality and is easily misled by simple explanations motivated by wishes and fears.

One way this distinction could be tested would be to utilize a measure of metacognitive accuracy Fleming et al.