virus: shamanism (Was FW: JCS: Three and a half years of JCS)

Robin Faichney (
Wed, 13 Aug 1997 09:37:00 +0100

This appeared today in another list I'm on: jcs-online.
jcs is the Journal of Consciousness Studies. Check
out C stands
for consciousness and NCC for the neural correlates
of consciousness. Note the implication that shamanism
is "a technique for spiritual or other personal

From: Sam Salt
Subject: JCS: Three and a half years of JCS
Date: Tuesday, August 12, 1997 6:36PM

At 18:53 22/07/97 +0100, Thomas McFarlane wrote:
>Pat Hayes wrote
>>You use the crucial word 'controlled'. Now, let me ask you to take the
>>following question seriously: should we consider the insights to be
>>from practicing shamanism to be a form of *controlled* scientific
>>experimentation? If so, I'd be interested to see some discussion of
>Perhaps some members of this forum who are experts in shamanism could
>answer this question. I would venture to say that shamanism, taken as
>whole, can not be considered as a form of controlled scientific
>experimentation. That is not to discount the possibility, however,
>parts of shamanism, as practiced by some people, could not be so
>considered. I would be interested to see some discussion of it, too.

Though I cannot claim to be an expert in shamanism I do have some
experience in the area. There are two different answers to the question.

The first answer is that of course any shamanic or other discipline can
described, replicated, examined, classified, analysed, referenced etc
in just the same way that many other things can be examined in the
sense. There is a battery of ways that this can be approached. At one
of the spectrum you might propose to observe brain activity using some
of imaging technique in just the same way that you might scan when
is reading or dealing with spatial problems. This approach could lead to
data being accumulated about NCCs where the C has been affected by
practice. At the other end of the spectrum you might want to carry out a
detailed analyis of the correlates of shamanic practice against the
of the society in which they are embedded yielding valuable
and sociological insights.

The second answer is that of course it makes no sense to study shamanism
academically because it is first and foremost an experiental practice.
one can tell you what it feels like to go into a shamanically induced
trance or to go on a shamanic journey. You can describe the physical
effects of a roller coaster ride in terms of increased heart-rate,
applied etc. but I'll never know what it's like until I take the ride.

In summary I see no barrier to examining shamanic or other altered
of consciousness in controlled situations and it seems to me it is a
worthwhile avenue to explore. Because people use a technique for
or other personal development does not invalidate them as objects of
scientific study any more than describing something completely in
scientific terms rules it out as a subject of personal subjective
significance (e.g. a sunset).

Sam Salt

Sam Salt
Head of Division of Computing
University of Derby
Kedleston Road
DE22 1GB