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The Approach

This psychophenomenological approach to consciousness I have also called an empirical-phenomenological approach (Pekala, 1991).  It is distinguished from the phenomenology of the philosophers and phenomenological psychology of the psychologists by its use of psychological theorizing and research methods to define and assess subjective consciousness and quantitative and statistical methods to quantify that consciousness.  The particular approach, as espoused in my book, Quantifying Consciousness (1991), uses retrospective phenomenological assessment (RPA) to retrospectively assess subjective consciousness in reference to a particular preceding stimulus condition.

The Methodology: Retrospective Phenomenological Assessment

The methodology involves the retrospective completion of a paper-and-pencil questionnaire that is completed in reference to an immediately preceding stimulus condition.  Questionnaires, such as the PCI (Phenomenology of Consciousness Inventory, Pekala, 1982/1991), and the DAQ (Dimensions of Attention Questionnaire, Pekala, 1985/1991) are used to assess and quantify various aspects of subjective experience.  Whereas the PCI maps subjective consciousness in general, the DAQ maps subjective attention in particular.  Quantifying Consciousness (1991) goes into detail about the methodological and statistical limits for using RPA and the interested reader is referred there for details concerning this approach.

This methodology is based on the principle of stimulus-state specificity (principle of specificity), which posits that

(A)cross groups of randomly selected individuals, the same behaviors in the same stimulus settings (the same stimulus conditions) will be associated with the same intensities and patterns of phenomenological experience (the same phenomenological state), while different stimulus conditions will be associated with different intensities and/or patterns of phenomenological experience (Pekala & Wenger, 1983, p. 255).

Since this principle posits a correspondence between subjective events and overt behaviors across groups of individuals in particular stimulus settings, it permits the intensity and/or patterns of phenomenological experience associated with similar and dissimilar conditions to be compared with one another (Pekala, 1991, p. 86).

The use of RPA inventories, in conjunction with the principle of specificity, allows for states of consciousness associated with various stimulus conditions to be compared and statistically assessed.  Besides allowing for the attentional, perceptual, imaginative, volitional, affective, and cognitive structures of subjective experience to be statistically evaluated, RPA can thus be used to ‘compare states of subjective experience associated with such procedures as hypnosis, meditation, EEG biofeedback, progressive relaxation, drug intoxification, etc., to determine the extent to which these induction procedures are associated with altered states such as an “alpha high” (Kamiya, 1968) or a “trance state” (Weitzenhoffer, 1978), that are significantly different from nonaltered states of consciousness (Pekala & Levine, 1981, p. 44)’. (Pekala, 1991, p. 86)

By grounding phenomenological experience to specific, repeatable and accessible stimulus conditions, and the testing of such conditions across groups of randomly selected individuals, I believe we have a rigorous methodology to tackle the problem of quantifying subjective consciousness (the mind) and how that subjective experience relates to human behavior and its associated neuropsychophysiology.  Over the past three decades we have generated research to begin to support that position.

We have found that the PCI and predecessor inventories to be reliable and valid for mapping phenomenological experience in response to such stimulus conditions as eyes open and closed sitting quietly, hypnotism, progressive relaxation, breathing techniques, drumming and trance postures, and even fire-walking (Forbes & Pekala, 1993, 1996; Maurer, Kumar, Woodside, & Pekala, 1997; Pekala, 1991, 1995a, 1995b; Pekala & Levine, 1981, 1982; Pekala & Wenger, 1983; Pekala, Steinberg, & Kumar, 1985; Pekala & Ersek, 1992/93; Woodside, Kumar, & Pekala, 1997).  Other researchers have begun to expand that research in reference to other stimulus conditions (other than hypnotism) including:  meditation (Venkatesh, Raju, Shivani, Tompkins, & Meti, 1997), shamanistic trances (Rock, Wilson, Johnston, & Levesque, 2008), religious/spiritual narratives (Wildman & McNamara, 2010), a virtual reality environment (Huang, Himle, & Alsip, 2000), partial epileptic seizures (Johanson, Valli, Revonsuo, Chaplin, & Wedlund, 2008), and psi phenomena (Rock & Storm, 2010), among other areas.

Graphing Devices

Besides mapping and quantifying the subjective side of consciousness, graphing devices have been developed to visually depict the patterns and intensities of subjective consciousness associated with this approach.  Two such devices, psygrams and pips, have been developed.  The top of the home page of this website is a collage of psygrams, “graphs of the psychophenomenological state of consciousness of a group of individuals (which) allow for the state of consciousness of a group of individuals to be depicted in terms of pattern (and intensity) parameters” (Pekala, 1991, p. 86). Pips (phenomenological intensity profiles), which are also generated from the PCI-HAP EXCEL program (see below), are available to generate a graph of the various (sub)dimensions intensity scores of an individual or group of individuals and allow for that profile to be visually depicted.

[Some of the research cited on this website, and the downloads which are available on the “Downloads” section, are partially based on research grants received from the Veterans Administration Stars and Stripes (VISN4) Healthcare Network.  All research studies were approved by the IRB and R&D committees of the facility where the research was conducted. The content of this website does not represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs nor the United States Government. ]