Exploring space consciousness and other dissociative experiences : A Japanese perspective
The field of consciousness studies has long benefitted from the investigation of non-ordinary states of consciousness, both spontaneous and facilitated by mind-altering agents. In the present study, I look at the implications of spontaneous near-death experiences (NDEs) and experiences facilitated by the dissociative anaesthetic ketamine. These experiences reputedly have similar phenomenologies, such as a feeling of dying, motion through darkness, entering another realm, visions of light, and a sense of separation from the physical body. To assess whether ketamine and near-death experiences really are similar, I undertake a systematic comparison of 36 accounts of NDE-like experiences under ketamine with 36 accounts of NDE that resulted from (a) cardiac arrest or (b) other life-threatening circumstances in which wakefulness was maintained (e.g. car accident, childbirth). The results suggest that ketamine and near-death experiences are indeed similar, which might be taken to imply that NDEs have a purely chemical or psychophysiological basis. However, this conclusion is not inevitable, and I draw upon the intriguing 'spatial' or 'situated' characteristic of ketamine and near-death experiences to suggest an alternative to both neuropsychological reductionism and a straightforward post-mortem survival theory. To develop the idea of a dynamic interrelation of consciousness and 'place', I draw on contemporary Japanese philosophies of body-mind.