With the wane of behaviourism has come a new – if not complete – legitimacy for the scientific study of ‘altered states of consciousness’ and other experiences that used to be thought of as fringe phenomena, including dreaming and spiritual experience. These phenomena can be studied in their own right or as means to finding out about human consciousness or mental functioning more broadly. See also Consciousness.

Scientific discussions:

Blackmore, S. (2011). Altered states of consciousness. In S. Blackmore, Consciousness: An introduction (pp. 361-417). London: Hodder Education. https://books.google.co.uk/books?isbn=1444128272 (partial preview)

How phenomena like drug-induced altered states; sleep, dreams, and hypnotic states; and out-of-body, near-death, and mystical experiences can be studied scientifically, and what they tell us about consciousness.

Metzinger, T. (2013). Why are dreams interesting for philosophers? The example of minimal phenomenal selfhood, plus an agenda for future research. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 746. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00746/abstract (full text)

Suggests that the study of dreams (and of related phenomena like out-of-body experiences and mind wandering) can help us isolate the properties of the simplest form of self-consciousness, ‘minimal phenomenal selfhood’.

Zink, N., and Pietrowsky, R. (2015). Theories of dreaming and lucid dreaming: An integrative review towards sleep, dreaming and consciousness. International Journal of Dream Research, 8(1), 35-53. http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/IJoDR/article/download/17811/14059 (full text)

Reviews current theories of what dreams are and why we dream, with a focus on which account does best at explaining lucid dreaming (where the dreamer knows (s)he is dreaming).

Cognitive humanities discussions:

Mishara, A. (2010). Kafka, paranoiac doubles and the brain: Hypnagogic vs. hyper-reflexive models of disrupted self in neuropsychiatric disorders and anomalous conscious states. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 5(13). http://www.peh-med.com/content/5/1/13 (full text)

Connects Kafka’s documented experience of hallucinations during sleep-deprived writing with the qualities of his texts. In hypnagogic hallucinations (between sleep and waking) the self may project an imaginary double of itself (autoscopy). Kafka’s writing can help us understand the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying this phenomenon; examples are given of how his language evokes the gap between self and other, and the social processing that occurs during loneliness. The intimacy with which literature can document effects of this kind (labyrinthine structures, rebirth and doublings of the self) is contrasted with common methods in neuroscience and psychiatric diagnosis, specifically with regard to claims about reflective and pre-reflective self-awareness and the nature of self as process rather than object.

Landy, J. (2015). Mental calisthenics and self-reflexive fiction. In L. Zunshine (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of cognitive literary studies (pp. 559-580). Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://books.google.co.uk/books?isbn=0199978069 (partial preview), http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199978069.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199978069-e-28?&mediaType=Article (paywall)

Suggests that self-reflexive fictions (with Fellini’s The Good Life as a prime example) can contribute to cognitive flourishing by encouraging viewers/readers to practise treating illusions as illusions, or cultivate our capacity for conscious self-deception. This is possible because of informational encapsulation (modular specialisations within a massively parallel neural structure): we’re quite good at holding two conflicting attitudes at once, including when we’re aware of the conflict. The mirror box (which gives amputees relief from phantom pain) provides evidence that illusions can be beneficial, even when we know they’re illusions; and lucid dreaming (in which the dreamer knows (s)he is dreaming) makes clear that we can continue to let our senses deceive us even when we know they are. We can undergo effective mental training through mechanisms like priming effects – and fiction can be a great venue for such training. All fictions place us in a doubled state of mind, but self-reflexive fictions make that doubling more conspicuous – and therefore potentially uncomfortable but also challenging in positive ways.

Oatley, K. (1999). Why fiction may be twice as true as fact: Fiction as cognitive and emotional simulation. Review of General Psychology, 3(2), 101-117. http://faculty.weber.edu/eamsel/Research%20Groups/Fiction/Oatly%20(1999).pdf (full text)

Proposes two alternative metaphors for the construction of fiction, and the mental life in general: dreaming and simulation. Both emphasise a constructive rather than correspondence-based form of truth, which has implications for thinking about realism and about the personal connections narrative can make. The article includes a section on emotional involvement in Greek tragedy, and distinguishes between identification, sympathy, and autobiographical memory, and their relations to the achievement of insight.