Cover image for Altered states : creativity under the influence
Altered states : creativity under the influence
Hughes, Jim, 1937-
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Publication Information:
New York : Watson-Guptill, [1999]

Physical Description:
192 pages : color illustrations ; 22 cm
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BF408 .H84 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This provocative study takes readers on the ultimate creative trip, exploring in depth the heightened states of mind that give rise to art.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

In this fascinating book, Hughes explores the lives of famous "creatives," from Plato to Vincent Van Gogh to chess player Bobby Fisher, observing that the "creative process requires, at least in some of its operations, a state of consciousness that is dramatically, sometimes dangerously altered." The book becomes especially absorbing when Hughes considers the effects of brain chemistry, illness (including mental illness), and drug use on the work of famous "creatives." Hughes speculates that the "death wish" expressed in some of Keats's poetry and the "sweet sadness" in Chopin's nocturnes might have resulted from their tuberculosis. He also considers Faulkner's manic depression, surmises that Sir Isaac Newton was a schizophrenic, and shows how opium, hashish, cannabis, and cocaine might have influenced the art and activities of many "creatives." This thoroughly enthralling book will appeal to anyone interested in the components of creativity, whether or not they agree with Hughes's premises. Highly recommended.ÄRobert T. Ivey, Univ. of Memphis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One INTRODUCTION The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. ARTHUR RIMBAUD CREATIVITY AND ALTERED STATES Creativity runs like a thread through all human nature. The paradox of creativity is that it contains ingredients that are both extraordinary and everyday. To bring something--an idea, an object--into external reality out of "nowhere" is associated with a whole range of "abnormal" states of consciousness, from daydreaming and fantasy to trances and drug-induced hallucinations. But it is also part of everyone's evolutionary equipment, a means of producing original solutions to problems, a basic ability.     The creative act is not "normal" since it involves using unconscious processes in unifying opposites in a new synthesis. The uniting of disparate elements may impose stresses and conditions on the creative personality that seem, and often are, pathological. Dryden observed that "great wits are sure to madness near allied," and contemporary research has identified correlations between various kinds of mental illness, notably hypomania, with prominent creatives. It would appear that the creative process requires, at least in some of its operations, a state of consciousness that is dramatically, sometimes dangerously, "altered," in the sense defined by the American psychologist Charles Tart.     In his classic symposium Altered States of Consciousness (1969), Tart published studies of a number of mental states such as hypnosis, dreaming, meditation, and drug-induced conditions that, in his words, revealed "a qualitative shift in the pattern of mental functioning." These he named altered states of consciousness (ASCs), and saw them as challenges to a materialistic explanation of consciousness and the mind. Since the publication of this work, Tart and other investigators have fought to counteract the dominant view that physical matter and physical energies are the only fundamental realities of the universe. Consciousness, in the materialist view, is reducible to physical interactions within the body, brain, and nervous system, and all experience comes down to some pattern of electrochemical firing within the brain. Tart believes that "high-quality scientific investigation has shown there is excellent evidence for a nonmaterial quality to the human mind, evidence that provides general support for the reality of our spiritual natures." TRANSPERSONAL PSYCHOLOGY Tart's comparatively new field of study, called transpersonal psychology, is devoted to the scientific study of what may be called the "spiritual core" of human beings, and implies a much broader view of the human psychoperceptual range than that proposed in conventional Western psychology. Transpersonal experiences, in which a person seems to go beyond the limits of his body and mind, and experiences phenomena inconsistent with ordinary possibility, are exceptionally important to their experiencers. They can even form the basis of religions and philosophies. Yet the current scientific position, which equates consciousness with brain functioning, automatically views the content of these vital experiences as illusions and delusions.     It is only natural that conventional psychologists have concentrated on "ordinary" consciousness, which in the West is generally perceived to cover transactions with the external, objective world. Ordinary consciousness is what we use to adapt to life and events as they impact on us at an everyday level. Transpersonal psychologists have identified a large number of experiences, however, which seem to imply that consciousness may not always be restricted to the body and brain, and that there is good scientific evidence for a less narrow theory. At the heart of transpersonal psychology is the proposal that there is a "mind" or "life" component to consciousness that is qualitatively different from known physical systems, and that some transpersonal experiences are not to be dismissed as merely interesting illusions, unusual patterns of neural firing, and so on, but actually tell us something about the potential for transcending our ordinary physical limits, as for example in out-of-body experiences. THE PARANORMAL Despite the statements of uncompromisingly materialist scientists such as Richard Dawkins that there is "no evidence whatsoever" for paranormal events, it would seem that such events are perceived to happen frequently in everyday life. In 1975 a representative survey of the American population found that more than half of the sample questioned believed they had experienced telepathic, mind-to-mind contact with someone at least once in their life. Many other kinds of extrasensory perception such as precognition, clairvoyance, and telekinesis are widely believed to occur, and to a significant number of people.     Popular interest in the occult may merely reflect a generalized sense of powerlessness in the face of the institutions and organizations that control us. Abduction by aliens may seem a good metaphor for the destructive transformation of one's home, life, and work as a result of remote global processes, unmediated by local effects. However, there does also seem to be solid scientific evidence for paranormal phenomena, as for instance in the investigation of dream telepathy by Ullman, Krippner, and Vaughan, carried out at the Maimonides Dream Laboratory as long ago as 1947. In the last 40 years it has been estimated that more than 600 high-quality experiments have been published, most of which show statistically significant evidence for various kinds of paranormal processes.     The paranormal is itself defined negatively--it covers all those phenomena not susceptible to the current laws of science; post-Newtonian physics, for instance, embodies many features that would have been described as paranormal before the discoveries of Einstein and Planck. It seems puzzling that such an obvious subject for scientific investigation should have received such obloquy from mainstream scientists. This hostility may be due to impatience at the layman's unscientific interest in paranormal phenomena and extrasensory perception (as witness the success of the TV series The X-Files ). This fascination may itself be an irrational reaction to the apparently irresistible progress of scientific materialism, or scientism. The many-sided nature of the mind enables it to hold conflicting opinions, and there is little doubt that many people intellectually accept the materialistic worldview of our age while retaining an allegiance to the personal, subjective world of the imagination. WHAT IS CREATIVITY? Creativity is about the use of imagination to transmute the inner world into external reality, and has both an objective, material component and a subjective, invisible component. It begins as an imaginative construct and ends as an external object. Since creativity has, so to speak, a foot in both camps, perhaps it can be the bridge between the worlds of reality and imagination. Moreover "high" creativity--artistic production of a high cultural order--today receives the kind of veneration once reserved for religious phenomena; neurally fired or not, there is something intrinsically amazing about creation, since something emerges from nothing. As a complex mental process bringing together disparate elements to form a new and valuable synthesis, creativity extends beyond the arts, sciences, and philosophy. For it involves the organization of everyday subjective experience as well as of imaginative material, and thus includes the whole of life. Creative thought involves two different reasoning processes, divergent and convergent. Divergent reasoning, which is a mental operating system rarely found in ordinary consciousness, is the intellectual ability to bring together two quite different sets of facts or ideas so as to form a new and meaningful synthesis. It has been described as a doubleminded, transitory state of unstable equilibrium where the balance of both emotion and thought is disturbed. The resultant creative instability takes different forms in science and art. Convergent thinking is the intellectual ability to logically evaluate, analyze, and choose the best idea from a selection, and to work it into external reality. Both abilities are required for creative output: divergent thinking is essential to the novelty of creative products, while convergent thinking is fundamental to their appropriateness.     Since novelty is the defining characteristic of the creative act, it is the ability to hold simultaneously a number of different perceptions in the mind that marks out the creative personality. As the writer Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) put it, "A person hoping to become a poet must have the capacity to think of several things at a time." Nabokov records in his autobiography how, in the course of writing his first poem, he found himself chatting with the village schoolmaster, and simultaneously registering the posy of wild flowers in his hands, the "blackheads on the fleshy volutes of his nostrils, the dull little voice of a cuckoo coming from afar, the flash of a Queen of Spain [butterfly] settling on the road, the remembered impression of the pictures in the village school, the throb of some utterly irrelevant recollection (a pedometer I had lost), the savor of the grass stalk I was chewing ... and all the while I was richly, serenely aware of my own manifold awareness."     Creativity includes not only the working out of an idea into external reality, but also its acceptance and validation by others. This complicates the situation, since all such validation is subject to cultural, historical, social, and even economic constraints. Many signatures have to go on the documentation before a product can be passed as creative, that is, new, original, and valuable in the opinion of the relevant authorities. Since the creative process by definition brings together unreconciled and opposing elements to form a new synthesis, it very often poses a challenge to established values. Successful creativity carries out a transformative role in society, changing the world in some small or large particular. And, although transformation is mysterious and "wonderful," it is also unsettling.     While creativity in modern society enjoys the cultural status that in a previous age would be accorded to religious faith, artistic products are often more valued than their creators--the relationship between a creative artist and his or her society is often uneasy, sometimes hostile and vindictive. All creativity has a destructive component, since the mold has to be broken in order to make something new. As a free spirit who does not observe existing rules, the creative may be envied and feared as well as admired by the normality. CONNECTIONS Is there a connection, or at least an affinity, between the creative process and such states as dream, hypnosis, psychosis, or psychotropic trance? Clearly there is a connection insofar as all these states exist outside ordinary consciousness. There is also the issue of "automotive" creation, as reported by many creative artists such as William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Some literary critics have questioned the latter's account of the genesis of "Kubla Khan," featuring the "person from Porlock" who disrupted the emergence of the poem from dream into external reality, but who may have been a figment of the poet's imagination, a way of excusing his inability to complete his poem. But it is undeniable that automotive creation, involving the ability to produce works of art without conscious mediation--an altered state if ever there was one--has featured in the work of many artists.     Many artists mythologize their activities and their ways of working for numerous and often conflicting reasons, emphasizing the mysterious, otherworldly nature of their vocation. However, some psychologists who specialize in the study of creativity draw a sharp distinction between the unresolved nature of dream imagery and psychotic art, and "real" art, which is presented in a finished and communicable form. In classic Freudian terms, the dream uses symbolism to disguise its real content, which is too painful for the subject to confront. The artist, in contrast, uses imagery to reveal a hitherto unseen vision. In working toward an external form, the artist may use the same preconscious or unconscious material available in psychosis or dream, but the artist's purpose is to produce revelation rather than concealment, lucidity rather than obscurity. According to Freud's disciple Ernst Kris (1900-1957), the artist finds his material when unconscious processes erupt into consciousness through "an act of regression in the service of the ego," and having achieved consciousness these processes are controlled by the ego for creative purposes.     An important aspect of the creative personality is a readiness to open oneself up to psychic states unobtainable by ordinary means. Students of altered states of consciousness, from Aldous Huxley to Timothy Leary, from Baudelaire to Allen Ginsberg, have seen such states as gateways to a higher reality through the paranormal and spiritual. Other artists may value such states more as a means of achieving a creative product rather than a visionary experience. Art for art's sake is a historically dubious concept--art is nearly always in the service of something else, even if that something is the artist's own ego. Creativity differs in an important respect from the experience of altered states for visionary or spiritual, let alone recreational experience, for it is concerned with form, a finished product or a realized idea. SELF-CREATION The development of one's own creativity has come to be seen as a desirable pursuit, an end in itself. Creativity, to a large extent, is a comparatively recent Western construct, closely related to the idea of individuality, while in the East the creative is seen as a collective expression of divine forces. A whole industry has grown up around the idea that we can all be creative if we recognize our unique talents and develop mastery in certain areas.     Many researchers believe that self-creation, the reconciling of disparate elements of the individual's personality in order to form an integrated whole, is the highest form of creativity. But creativity is also advocated as a way of life. Here the object is not so much to achieve public recognition as "the soul satisfaction that comes with living a creative life." The development of creativity as a means of improving one's quality of life has become an article of faith in Western society in the late twentieth century. Copyright © 1999 THE IVY PRESS LIMITED. All rights reserved.