Trance denotes any state of awareness or consciousness other than normal waking consciousness. Trance states may occur involuntarily and unbidden.
The term trance may be associated with hypnosis, meditation, magic, flow, and prayer. It may also be related to the earlier generic term, altered states of consciousness, which is no longer used in "consciousness studies" discourse.
Trance in its modern meaning comes from an earlier meaning of "a dazed, half-conscious or insensible condition or state of fear", via the Old French transe "fear of evil", from the Latin transīre "to cross", "pass over". This definition is now obsolete.
Dennis R. Wier, in his 1995 book, Trance: from magic to technology, defines a simple trance as a state of mind being caused by cognitive loops where a cognitive object (thoughts, images, sounds, intentional actions) repeats long enough to result in various sets of disabled cognitive functions. Wier represents all trances (which include sleep and watching television) as taking place on a dissociated trance plane where at least some cognitive functions such as volition are disabled; as is seen in what is typically termed a 'hypnotic trance'. With this definition, meditation, hypnosis, addictions and charisma are seen as being trance states. In Wier's 2007 book, The Way of Trance, he elaborates on these forms, adds ecstasy as an additional form and discusses the ethical implications of his model, including magic and government use which he terms "trance abuse".
John Horgan in Rational Mysticism (2003) explores the neurological mechanisms and psychological implications of trances and other mystical manifestations. Horgan incorporates literature and case-studies from a number of disciplines in this work: chemistry, physics, psychology, radiology and theology.
The following are some examples of trance states:
- Enchantment: a psychological state induced by (or as if induced by) a magical incantation
- A state of mind in which consciousness is fragile and voluntary action is poor or missing
- A state resembling deep sleep
- Capture: attract; cause to be enamored; "She captured all the men's hearts"; in the sense of entranced
- A condition of apparent sleep or unconsciousness, with marked physiological characteristics, in which the body of the subject is thought by certain people to be liable to possession
- An out-of-body experience in which one feels they have passed out of the body into another state of being, a rapture, an ecstasy. In a general way, the entranced conditions thus defined are divided into varying degrees of a negative, unconscious state, and into progressive gradations of a positive, conscious, illumining condition.
- A state of hyper or enhanced suggestibility.
- An induced or spontaneous sleep-like condition of an altered state of consciousness, which is thought by certain people to permit the subject's physical body to be utilized by disembodied spirits or entities as a means of expression
- An altered state of awareness induced via hypnotism in which unconscious or dissociated responses to suggestion are enhanced in quality and increased in degree
- A state induced by the use of hypnosis; the person accepts the suggestions of the hypnotist
- A state of consciousness characterized by extreme dissociation often to the point of appearing unconscious.
Trance conditions include all the different states of mind, emotions, moods and daydreams that human beings experience. All activities which engage a human involve the filtering of information coming into sense modalities, and this influences brain functioning and consciousness. Therefore, trance may be understood as a way for the mind to change the way it filters information in order to provide more efficient use of the mind's resources.
Trance states may also be accessed or induced by various modalities and is a way of accessing the unconscious mind for the purposes of relaxation, healing, intuition and inspiration. There is an extensive documented history of trance as evidenced by the case-studies of anthropologists and ethnologists and associated and derivative disciplines. Hence trance may be perceived as endemic to the human condition and a Human Universal. Principles of trance are being explored and documented as are methods of trance induction. Benefits of trance states are being explored by medical and scientific inquiry. Many traditions and rituals employ trance. Trance also has a function in religion and mystical experience.
Richard J. Castillo (1995) states that: "Trance phenomena result from the behavior of intense focusing of attention, which is the key psychological mechanism of trance induction. Adaptive responses, including institutionalized forms of trance, are 'tuned' into neural networks in the brain and depend to a large extent on the characteristics of culture. Culture-specific organizations exist in the structure of individual neurons and in the organizational formation of neural networks."
Kay Hoffman (1998) states that: "Trance is still conventionally defined as a state of reduced consciousness, or a somnolent state. However, the more recent anthropological definition, linking it to 'altered states of consciousness' (Charles Tart), is becoming increasingly accepted."
Kay Hoffman (1998) asserts that: "...the trance state should be discussed in the plural, because there is more than one altered state of consciousness significantly different from everyday consciousness."
States of consciousness
There are some brain states in which consciousness seems to be abolished, including dreamless sleep, coma, and death. There are also a variety of circumstances that can change the relationship between the mind and the world in less drastic ways, producing what are known as altered states of consciousness. Some altered states occur naturally; others can be produced by drugs or brain damage. Altered states can be accompanied by changes in thinking, disturbances in the sense of time, feelings of loss of control, changes in emotional expression, alternations in body image and changes in meaning or significance.
The two most widely accepted altered states are sleep and dreaming. Although dream sleep and non-dream sleep appear very similar to an outside observer, each is associated with a distinct pattern of brain activity, metabolic activity, and eye movement; each is also associated with a distinct pattern of experience and cognition. During ordinary non-dream sleep, people who are awakened report only vague and sketchy thoughts, and their experiences do not cohere into a continuous narrative. During dream sleep, in contrast, people who are awakened report rich and detailed experiences in which events form a continuous progression, which may however be interrupted by bizarre or fantastic intrusions. Thought processes during the dream state frequently show a high level of irrationality. Both dream and non-dream states are associated with severe disruption of memory: it usually disappears in seconds during the non-dream state, and in minutes after awakening from a dream unless actively refreshed.
A variety of psychoactive drugs and alcohol have notable effects on consciousness. These range from a simple dulling of awareness produced by sedatives, to increases in the intensity of sensory qualities produced by stimulants, cannabis, empathogens–entactogens such as MDMA ("Ecstasy"), or most notably by the class of drugs known as psychedelics. LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and others in this group can produce major distortions of perception, including hallucinations; some users even describe their drug-induced experiences as mystical or spiritual in quality. The brain mechanisms underlying these effects are not as well understood as those induced by use of alcohol, but there is substantial evidence that alterations in the brain system that uses the chemical neurotransmitter serotonin play an essential role.
There has been some research into physiological changes in yogis and people who practice various techniques of meditation. Some research with brain waves during meditation has reported differences between those corresponding to ordinary relaxation and those corresponding to meditation. It has been disputed, however, whether there is enough evidence to count these as physiologically distinct states of consciousness.