Head Trip, By Jeff Warren

Why imitating a kitten could beat attention deficit disorder, and other miracles of the brain

Most of us assume that we're either asleep or awake, that our consciousness is a black or white issue and there are few, if any, shades of grey. Jeff Warren suggests that our minds are always placed somewhere on an exotic spectrum of consciousness states, and this thoroughly entertaining book is his examination of that myriad of possibilities.

For the purposes of clarity, the Canadian author has split human consciousness into 12 differentiated states. Some of these are entirely familiar, such as the daydream or REM dreaming while asleep. Others are on the fringes of everyday experience: parasomnias such as sleepwalking, narcolepsy and sleep paralysis, or "the zone" which top athletes are said to inhabit during performance.

What makes Head Trip so exhilarating is that, rather than merely tell us about such weird states as the hypnotic trance or the meditative pure conscious event, Warren actually dives in and tries to experience these consciousness states for himself.

The book is split into "Day" and "Night" sections – Warren is careful not to use "Awake" and "Asleep", as these terms gradually become meaningless the further you get into the book. Of the two halves, the Day section is marginally less engaging, but is still full of terrific stuff. For example, there is a state of waking consciousness known as the SMR (sensorimotor-rhythm, named for its distinctive brainwave pattern), which combines calmness and alertness, like a cat waiting to pounce. Through simple training, this state is being used to treat sufferers of attention deficit disorder, epilepsy and other conditions without the use of medication.

Elsewhere, Warren reveals that our conventional view of the rigid adult mind is way off target. Through appropriate techniques, our neuroplasticity (how malleable our minds are) can be exploited to achieve all sorts of remarkable feats, such as the proven placebo effect of being cured of an ailment simply because we think we're cured of it.

If daytime consciousness is amazing, nighttime consciousness is doubly so. The hypnagogic state is the grey area between waking restfulness and falling asleep, in which vivid, often hallucinatory visions are experienced. Normally we don't remember these, as we proceed into full sleep, but during this time the wiring in the brain is rejigged slightly, providing a kind of problem-solving, lateral thinking completely unavailable to the waking mind. This free-thinking state is thought to be responsible for inventions and discoveries ranging from the chemical structure of benzene to the idea for Frankenstein.

While that's handy creatively, other nighttime states are just plain weird. The lucid dream, for example, where you experience a suddenly intense vision unlike dreaming at all, and become fully aware that you're asleep, yet remain in the dream. Through experiments involving pre-arranged eye movement signals, subjects have been able to communicate with experimenters while still in this state. And next time you awake in the night and can't get back to sleep, don't stress – you may be reverting to an ancient human sleep pattern. Before the invention of artificial light, it was common for people to have two night-time sleeps, with a period of restful waking in between, thought to stem from a primal need to look out for predators.

Ultimately, it's Warren's engaging first-hand experience that brings all this to life. As he undergoes hypnagogic experiments, SMR training, lucid dream classes in Hawaii or meditation in the Scottish Highlands, you're right there with him. You'll never look at waking, sleeping or dreaming the same way again.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?