Open letter to Arne Dietrich:

Check out the TedX talk of Arne Dietrich, where he argues that all altered states of consciousness are lower states.

I think this hypothesis poses some important questions that he needs to answer:

Why is it that musicians, artists and creative professionals produce their best work in altered states of consciousness ? Why do they consider these states to be fundamentally superior ? Their work is there for all of us to evaluate.

A greater exposition of Dietrich’s neural theory of creativity is here:

A loose summary of the cognitive neuroscience on creativity is here:

It is to be noted that all these theories are still quite primitive, producing no functional models of simulated creativity.

It is not just creative artists. Even many scientists attribute their best works to altered states of consciousness. Why is that ?

Altered states may result not only through drugs, but also through intense meditation or devotion.

In an earlier era, people attributed their best works in music and mathematics to “devotional states”, in a state of direct communion with their muses and god. These people longed for these altered states to reappear, and in fact, wrote songs and poems about this longing. Why is that ?

What makes us so confident of ourselves that we do not value their testimony? If we don’t want to take them by the word, we can evaluate them through the objective artifacts they produced.

Finally, we need to explain behavior. Even if a person is not gifted in any creative sense, why is it that the person behaves differently in altered states of consciousness. No, this behavior is not primitive — in the sense of a reptilian behavior or a lower mammal behavior. In fact, people are released from the persistent dread of stress and cognitive overload while they are in these altered states. They may not be able to keep time, reason about the division of self from the environment, or some other criterion of cognition, but that does not prove that they are in lower states. While certain cognitive functions are lowered, other functions may be enhanced — similar to how blind people hear music in a better manner. What are the criteria for evaluation ? Who is flying with the pixies (prejudice) here ?

Another important comment is that the sub-cortical regions of the human brain are not exactly identical to those in the other mammals and reptiles. Human limbic brain had a bad reputation for several decades (with the popular press calling it the reptilian brain). But its functions are substantially evolved and different from those in other animals. The cortical regions of the brain are not the only elements that make us uniquely human. So we need not rate human cognitive functions in a linear hierarchy based on whether they engage cortical regions or not.