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An EEG investigation into the neurophysiology of the dissolution of self/non-self boundaries using meditation and psilocybin

by B. Rael Cahn
University of California, San Diego


Two areas of human activity have generated strong and repeated claims regarding the nature of self; namely that the ordinarily-experienced limited sense of self associated with an individual's body and personality is actually a very superficial aspect of the human self and that the true self as revealed through these domains of activity is actually universal and boundariless, timeless, and at one with all else. These two areas are the meditative practices of various spiritual traditions and the use of psychoactive agents commonly called psychedelics. It is of significant scientific interest to understand the neural events that underpin the experiences subserving these claims, an attempt the following proposal seeks to accomplish.

A study is proposed utilizing psilocybin in normal subjects and meditators assessing electrophysiological correlates of altered states of ego functioning. A dose response time course analysis of psilocybin's effects on electronencephalographic activity will be generated. In addition, multiple comparisons of source-localized brain maps of electrocortical activity associated with differences between meditation, psilocybin, and baseline states in meditators vs. meditation-naive subjects will be presented so as to characterize the localized brain activity changes due to meditation and psilocybin. Lastly, the localized electrocortical activity associated with epochs of reported states of unitive awareness will be assessed.

A second domain of investigation is the characterization of the neural correlates of visual awareness, to be accomplished by assessing the electroencephalographic correlates to perceptual experience during a binocular rivalry stimulus paradigm in meditators vs. controls at baseline vs. psilocybin conditions. We hypothesize that a greater degree of stimulus-evoked entrainment of EEG signal to the flickering of the binocular rivalry stimulus will ensue after administration of psilocybin in keeping with the findings that the nervous system tends towards a loosening of filters after administration of this class of compounds.

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