Are There Varying Depths in Flow?: Altered States of Consciousness, Absorption, and the Brain
Flow, as well as other altered states of consciousness (ASCs), is traditionally described as being of different depths. Contemporary theories give such different depths little theoretical consideration. For instance, the prominent transient hypofrontality theory (THT, Dietrich, 2003) assumes that ASCs emerge because the capacities of the explicit, conscious system of mental functioning are temporarily suppressed, due to transient prefrontal cortex deregulation. The implicit, unconscious, system of mainly subcortical origin concurrently takes predominance. In contrast, ancient Buddhist texts communicate varying depths: these writings refer to different stages of mindfulness, and describe mind exercises that bring about deeper stages of ASCs, via absorption. Contrary to the assumptions of the THT, these exercises aim at bringing the maximum amount of information to the explicit system. Increasing degrees of absorption seems to facilitate the occurrence of ASCs via an enlargement of information processing within the explicit system. Absorption could provide a valuable concept with which to advance theories on ASCs. For instance, increasing absorption might predict deeper and potentially different ASCs with varying degrees of involvement of the explicit and implicit systems. While this is promising, an essential challenge remains for research on absorption and ASCs alone as well as in combination: once reported and reflected upon, they are gone.
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