Altered States of Consciousness, Spirit Mediums, and Predictive Processing: A Cultural Cognition Model of Spirit Possession

Journal of Consciousness Studies 25 (11-12):179-203 (2018)
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Abstract

Spirit possessions, trance, and other forms of altered states of consciousness are fascinating manifestations of brain states that are often seen as alien or exotic in Western media and discourse. Yet, these experiences are very common for a large number of humans around the world. In this paper we use a predictive processing perspective to examine spirit possession in Taoist rituals in Southern Thailand. These rituals involve tens of thousands of spirit mediums that enter into trance and perform various acts of selfmutilation. These activities can shed new light on how sensory input is modulated and reinterpreted through top-down expectations driven by cultural narratives and frameworks. Our key argument is that, instead of being exotic and different, these states of altered consciousness provide us with powerful insights into how the mind and perception work in a culturally constructed world. Considering the role of culture as providing input into a common human cognitive architecture allows for a deeper understanding of the various facets and expressions of communalities in altered states of consciousness across human populations.

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