Ganzfeld Effect: A Tutorial to Explore Your Subconscious Mind
Use a ping pong ball to experience hallucinations and altered states of consciousness
Perfectly normal hallucinations
Psychosis is a continuum encompassing benign levels of perceptual aberrations, magical thinking and a tendency to see hidden meaning in innocuous stimuli, like the face of Jesus in your toast (or in your soup as per Nine Inch Nails). The ravages of full-blown psychosis, as experienced in schizophrenia, lie on the opposite end of that continuum.
Hallucinations are not the purview of psychiatric illness or drug trips; anyone can experience hallucinations and altered states of mind safely and at will through the Ganzfeld effect.
The Ganzfeld is an unstructured and uniform visual field; it is entirely featureless and composed of only one colour.
Although you are ‘seeing’ the Ganzfeld, your brain receives an unchanging signal, one bereft of the sort of information that it deems necessary to make sense of your environment. As a result, neural firing in the visual cortex ramps up, and you start seeing things with no external sensory correlate.
In short, the Ganzfeld effect exploits your mind’s natural inclination toward meaning-making, leading to visual hallucinations. There is no signal, so your mind resorts to interpreting its own internal noise.
Exposure to the Ganzfeld can also lead to altered states of consciousness. This latter aspect has made it a staple in parapsychology/paranormal research, although no evidence supports the notion of ‘Ganzfeld telepathy’ to date.
"And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."
Place two halves of a ping pong ball over your eyes to send your brain into overdrive; though nothing but a vast and daunting orange tundra—the Ganzfeld—is before you, your mind’s eye will see so much more.
As you scan this featureless vista, your mind struggles to impose meaning on what you sense, and so it looks inward—at the spontaneous neural firing of your visual cortex. And thus, from the depths of your subconscious, visual hallucinations emerge.
Like a plunge into icy water is a jolt to the nervous system, a plunge into your ‘Inner’ world will reinvigorate you, change your perspective, and perhaps even aid in your artistic or problem-solving endeavours.
If you're interested in an in-depth explanation, you can read about hallucinations in Creative Advantages of A Noisy Mind: 9 Sure-Fire & Safe Ways to Hallucinate.
In the article above, I discuss how hallucinations—a glorious symphony of the ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’ worlds—can benefit your creative work and give you a fresh perspective on life, the universe, and everything in it. Lucid dreaming, too, can allow you to examine the subconscious mind without being so totally submerged in it you cannot appreciate the wetness of water, so to speak.
Hallucinations—or merely the pursuit of such using sensory deprivation—will give you a reprieve from humdrum sensory reality, allowing you to retreat into a personal world. The Ganzfeld effect will enable you to revel in the complexities of your mind and give substance to whatever lurks watchfully in the abyss.
A coloured ping pong ball halved (the lambent light that filters through the orange kind is particularly pleasant)
An even source of light
A comfortable surface to lie on (avoid the distraction of waterbeds or hard floors)
Headphones (are not essential, but I recommend multiple modalities of sensory deprivation)
One track of pink noise, looped (if you cannot find pink noise, white noise will do)
The spontaneous neural firing of your brain (heightened under conditions of sensory deprivation and perceptual ambiguity)
Find a comfortable place to lie down where you are free from distracting sensations (muting the external will amplify the internal)
Put your headphones on and pipe some pink noise into your ears (pink noise mimics the frequencies of sounds found in nature). Blocking out sound will blot out the outside world and may even lead to auditory hallucinations—then you’ve got yourself a twofer!
Tape the ping pong balls over your eyes in a way that doesn’t cause discomfort. Avoid the distraction of pain or other bodily sensation; sensory deprivation is the aim of the game.
Keep your eyes open. (I say this because I once glowered in a sensory tank, wondering why I wasn’t hallucinating, before realising I’d had my eyes closed in the pitch dark for half an hour. Brilliant.)
Relax and succumb to boredom
Profit (I jest, but it could inspire you to create an artistic masterpiece or solve a problem. You might have a life-changing vision.)
Halving the ping pong ball
with a knife and steely determination, forgetting to sand down the jagged edges and abrading your face like the genius that you are
using a vice and a helpful co-worker with a woodworking habit on the second go-round
It’s not working!
Patience is a virtue so give it time (up to 60 minutes) and additional attempts
A more expensive but more effective option: keep your eyes open in a flotation tank; the level of sensory deprivation will be more profound than lying on your living room floor with balls sticky-taped to your head, oddly enough.
Well, that certainly gives a new meaning to “trippin’ balls”. Godspeed, and good luck!
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