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When one thinks about altered states of consciousness, psychedelic plants and other substances might be the first things which come to mind. Although these substances can be used in this manner, as well as for medicinal purposes (and more), such states can also be achieved through other means.

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Meditation is one great example, and there is no shortage of studies explicating this phenomenon, or the subsequent changes in brain activity and in the nervous system which regular meditation produces. In fact, the effects of things like drugs, yoga, self-hypnosis, mutual hypnosis, meditation, and brainwave feedback have all been extensively explored by various scientists, researchers, psychologists (and more) from all over the world. Altered states of consciousness is definitely an interesting area of study.

Dr. Bruce Greyson, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Science at the University of Virginia and one of the ‘fathers’ of near-death studies, even urged the United Nations to take these matters more seriously. This is because increasing our knowledge of ‘alternative’ experiences and health practices is incredibly important; studying these phenomena sheds lights on new, unexplored areas of science, and tells us more about the nature of our reality. It is the job of science to examine these so-called ‘fringe’ topics.  (source)

One of the latest bits of new research to emerge on the topic of altered states of consciousness comes from a psychologist in Italy. Giovanni Caputo, from the Univeristy of Urbino, has figured out how to induce a drug-free altered state.

The study was published in the journal Psychiatry Research. (source)

He produced this effect by asking 20 volunteers to sit and stare into each other’s eyes for 10 minutes straight. After doing so, participants started reporting strange “out of body” experiences alongside even stranger hallucinations. The volunteers were told very little about the purpose of the study, only that it had to do with a “meditative experience with eyes open.”

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After 10 mintues, the volunteers were asked to complete questionnaires detailing what they experienced during and after the experiment.

“The participants in the eye-staring group said they’d had a compelling experience unlike anything they’d felt before,” Christian Jarrett writes for the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest.

So what exactly is going on here?

“On the dissociative states test, they gave the strongest ratings to items related to reduced colour intensity, sounds seeming quieter or louder than expected, becoming spaced out, and time seeming to drag on. On the strange-face questionnaire, 90 percent of the eye-staring group agreed that they’d seen some deformed facial traits, 75 percent said they’d seen a monster, 50 percent said they saw aspects of their own face in their partner’s face, and 15 percent said they’d seen a relative’s face.” – Christian Jarrett. (source)

One explanation could be what’s called neural adaptation, which describes how our neurons can slow down and even completely stop their response to stimulation that is unchanging. This happens when you stare at anything – your perception changes until you blink or something within the scene changes. This explanation, however, only covers one aspect of what participant’s experience when they practice eye gazing.

This explanation comes from  Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik, who write for Scientific American and published an article on this study that you can read here.

This isn’t the first time we’ve touched upon eye gazing. We published an article called “The Powerful Practice of Eye Gazing” a couple of years ago.

Here is another CE article related to this topic:

How To Open The Doors Of Perception At Will Without Psychedelics. 

Sources:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/illusory-scenes-fade-in-out-view/?page=1

http://www.psy-journal.com/article/S0165-1781(15)00321-2/abstract

http://www.sciencealert.com/staring-into-someone-s-eyes-for-10-minutes-induces-an-altered-state-of-consciousness?perpetual=yes&limitstart=1


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