A prominent psychiatrist has claimed that “nonordinary states of consciousness” (NSCs) such as those generated by psychedelic drugs may arise from somewhere beyond the brain. Explaining his eccentric theory in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Professor Paul Grof does not identify or elaborate on the nature of this mysterious source, which he merely describes as “nonlocal consciousness”.
As director of the Mood Disorders Center of Ottawa and professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, Grof has spent decades studying NSCs and previously chaired the World Health Organization’s (WHO) expert committee on MDMA. In his article, he explains that NSCs can take on a number of guises, but always arise when the brain’s oscillating waves exceed their normal range.
This occurs when people ingest psychedelic substances such as LSD or magic mushrooms, but can also develop spontaneously during psychotic episodes. However, Grof says that while these spikes of extreme oscillatory activity may determine the timing and intensity of NSCs, they do not appear to influence the nature of such experiences.
Based on this observation, he concludes that “contrary to the assumptions underlying the biological theories of mind, the brain does not seem to play a role in the content of the nonordinary experiences.”
To support this rather bold claim, Grof points to numerous large-scale studies involving people with major mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. Based on his research over four decades, he says that episodes of mania and melancholy appear to be triggered by identical patterns of brain oscillations, implying that the “experiential contents [of NSCs] are not linked to their neurobiological reactivities.”
“The abnormalities during depressions and manias move qualitatively in the same direction regardless of whether the patients are experiencing what they would describe as 'Hell' or 'Heaven,'” he writes. “These observations were compatible with the interpretation that the content and form of their NSC were arising from somewhere else then their brains.”
Attempting to further validate this claim, Grof goes on to speculate about the nature of psychedelic experiences. He describes how these chemically-induced visionary escapades often generate “transpersonal” insights, including “ancestral, fetal, perinatal, or precognitive” memories which the brain “did not previously receive through its sensory channels.”
“Taken together, these findings seem compatible with the concept that the NSC experiences do not come directly from the brain but from another source,” he says. “Of the available candidates, nonlocal consciousness seems to be the likely generator.”