About the Approach

Background, Personal History, and Development

As an undergraduate at Penn State several decades ago I was a philosophy major.  I had a special liking for the phenomenological philosophers such as Husserl (1913/1972), Sartre (1943/1953), and Heidegger (1927/1962).  Their writings focused on a most important concept:  consciousness.  These philosophers tried to explicate the nature of subjective, or first person, consciousness and their writings generated ground breaking philosophical analyses on the nature of consciousness and the mind.

Because I knew I could not make a living philosophizing about consciousness and the mind, I dropped out at the end of my junior year at Penn State (and after winning the Dotterer Award for the outstanding philosophy major at Penn State).  However, I soon found a job working with mentally and emotionally disturbed kids, discovered psychology, and then when back to Penn State and double majored in philosophy and psychology.

Although a clinical psychologist by day, I have continued my interest in the philosophy and psychology of consciousness and the mind.  It is my belief that philosophy, although laying the groundwork for understanding consciousness, can never go far enough in trying to better elucidate this most fundamental building block of existence.  This is because philosophy uses rationality, logic and hermeneutical analyses to explicate mind or subjective consciousness, but it does not have the tools to scientifically investigate consciousness; only science does.   And it is my belief that subjective consciousness (specifically, the mind) can be as scientifically investigated as physics and chemistry investigate physical reality.  (I was originally a physics major at Penn State before I transferred into philosophy.)

Noetics and Psychophenomenology

To do this the phenomenology of the philosophers would have to be wedded to the rigorous and statistical research methodology of science.  I have made it my life’s work to try to do this.  It is my belief that by combining the phenomenology of the philosophers with the rigorous methodological and statistical tools available in psychological science, consciousness and the mind can be scientifically investigated.

For my dissertation several decades ago (Pekala, 1980), I conjectured:

Just as behaviorism replaced introspective psychology, and cognitive psychology is now replacing behaviorism, it may be that the scientific study of consciousness and its various dimensions will be the new frontier to which many psychologists will turn when the approach of cognitive psychologists has been found wanting. An empirical methodology which brings together phenomenological observation with psychological research and theorizing must form the basis for such an endeavor, since consciousness, as subjectively experienced, can be best known, not through neurophysiology, but through introspection or phenomenological observation that is coupled with and related to a psychoneurophysiological data base.

Although electrophysiological, neurochemical, and neuroanatomical data can help, a science of consciousness must be grounded in an empirical psychophenomenology of consciousness by which the phenomenological attributes of subjective, conscious experience are empirically observed, assessed, and evaluated in conjunction with biological, psychological, and personological variables. Such a psychophenomenology, if found reliable and valid, would investigate consciousness through empirical, phenomenological methodologies and relate such observation to more traditional psychological, physiological, and biochemical approaches (pp. 248-249).

The paragraphs above represented my initial attempt to develop a methodology by which subjective consciousness might be quantified and empirically assessed.  This represented an initial attempt to generate an empirical phenomenological approach to quantifying consciousness and its various states.

A Noetic-Behavioral Focus

The publishing of my book, Quantifying consciousness:  An empirical approach (Plenum, 1991), about a decade later represented the next stage of this process, in that 10 years of research on this approach, with the help of colleagues, notably V. K. Kumar, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Forbes, Ph.D., demonstrated that this approach could be reliable and valid for generating interesting and useful data on hypnotism, relaxation strategies such as progressive relaxation and deep abdominal breathing, and such unusual experiences as an OBE (out-of-the-body experience) within an NDE (near death experience).

At that time, I argued that psychology must move from a cognitive-behavioral to a noetic-behavioral focus:

(T)he phenomena of consciousness are as legitimate data for the scientist as are gravity, sunlight, or the economy.  Phenomenological data can be quantified, measured, and diagrammed as can physical, social, or economic data.  The result appears to be as valid and reliable an approach to understanding man as any of the physical or social sciences.  It is interesting to note that psychology in the late 1800s was noetic in focus . . .  consciousness or mind (the Greek word for mind is nous) formed the basis for its subject.

With the publication of Watson’s classic paper in 1913, psychology officially became behavioral.  With the cognitive revolution of the 1960s and 1970s psychology became cognitive-behavioral.  Psychology, however, must not become content to focus on the cognitive and behavioral aspects of human experience to the all but recent exclusion of other aspects of human experience such as affect, volition, and alterations in attention and consciousness.  As Zajonc (1980) echoed a decade ago:  “contemporary cognitive psychology simply ignores affect” (p. 152). . . .

I believe the next revolution in psychology, mental health, and cognitive science (Gardner, 1985, 1987) will be a noetic-behavioral one from both a research and an applied perspective . . .  The psychophenomenological approach advocated in this book is such a beginning noetic-behavioral approach to human behavior and experience.  It is not that behavior or cognition are not important, but rather that they are incomplete for a comprehensive understanding of the nature of man.  Only an approach that considers both man’s objective and subjective environments, his world and his psyche (in all of its various aspects, including, but not limited to:  cognition, memory, affect, volition, awareness, attention, perception, altered states of awareness, etc.), will be able to do justice to that complexity we call human (1991, pp. 349-350).

To date (April, 2018) the PCI has been translated into 13 languages (German, French, Italian, Spanish, Korean, Polish, Slovenian, Romanian, Swedish, Norwegian, Hungarian, Cantonese, and Bulgarian) and the DAQ into 4 (Italian, Spanish, French, and Korean).  More and more researchers from around the world are using the PCI and the DAQ to quantify the mind.  In 1995 the PCI was combined with a hypnotic assessment procedure, called the PCI-HAP (Phenomenology of Consciousness Inventory:  Hypnotic Assessment Procedure; Pekala, 1995a, 1995b).  Research over the last decade with collaborators V. K. Kumar, Ph.D., Ronald Maurer, MA, and others has generated some interesting insights on using this approach to better understand hypnotic responsivity (Pekala, 2002, 2010, 2011; Pekala & Kumar, 2007; Pekala & Maurer, 2013; Pekala et al., 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010a, b).

The inauguration of this website in 2009 represented the next stage of this process. With the publishing of this website, researchers and interested clinicians were able to download the PCI, the DAQ, and the PCI-HAP (for therapists/clinicians and hypnosis researchers) for their clinical and research use.  The EXCEL program to score the PCI-HAP, is available to interested parties, along with the administrative and interpretative manuals for the PCI-HAP, to use for hypnosis and (altered states of) consciousness research.

Consciousness, specifically the mind, can be phenomenologically quantified and statistically assessed in a reliable and valid manner.  By providing this methodology to quantify and statistically assess the various noema and noeses of subjective consciousness (Husserl, 1913/1972), I believe we will be better able to generate more refined, comprehensive, and interesting ways to investigate consciousness, the mind, and its interface with human behavior, experience, and its neurobiological underpinnings.

Two decades ago Metzinger (1995) in his book, Conscious Experience, wrote: “Today, the problem of consciousness . . . marks the very limit of human striving for understanding.  It appears to many to be the last great puzzle and the greatest theoretical challenge of our time” (p. 3).  I agree whole-heartily!   This is an area that needs to be more fully explored and I believe the tools that you can download from this website will allow that challenge to at least begin to be more fully addressed.

Noetic Analysis: How it Might Be Useful

The updating of this website in 2018 represents noetic analysis starting to go mainstream.  Let me give you two examples.  In 2017 I collaborated with a group of Italian researchers hoping to better understand the enigma of hypnosis (Pekala, Baglio, Cabinio, Lipari, Baglio, Mendozzi, Cecconi, Pugnetti, & Sciaky;  Hypnotism as a Function of Trance State Effects, Expectancy, and Suggestibility: An Italian Replication.)  The results replicated two earlier studies of mine and suggested that understanding just “what hypnosis is;” is  best understood as a combination of “trance,” hypnotic suggestibility, and expectancy.

The Pekala et al 2017 research replication suggested that self-reported hypnotic depth (srHD) – how hypnotized a person feels themselves to be, does indeed appear to be a function of several component processes, as many of the great hypnosis researchers have theorized.

The collaborative research that was published in 2017 suggested that some participants will make attributions concerning their level of hypnotic depth due to the vivid imagery that they experienced; others, due to their inability to open their eyes when asked to do so; and/or others, due to their subjective experiences of hypnosis, such as trance, or altered state effects, all colored by expectancy. The effects appear to be additive:  virtuoso hypnotic subjects appeared to score high across all domains!!

Hence, it may not be surprising that hypnotism over the last two centuries has been defined to be everything from animal magnetism and altered states of consciousness, to “only” imagination or suggestion.  Different suggestions, using different hypnotic assessments/ interventions, and/or different contexts across participants of differing hypnotic responsivity, would likewise be deemed to alter attributions, and hence what it means for the individual to be hypnotized.

Trance, as measured by the hypnoidal state score of the PCI; suggestibility, as measured by the hypnotic dream item; and expectancy, all appear to be accounting for a significant portion of the relative variance associated with the perception of being hypnotized.  So, part of the enigma of hypnosis, that concerning one’s perception of a person’s hypnotic depth, has been solved!

I believe that the mystery of hypnosis, and how it relates to the altered states of consciousness debate (Kallio & Revonsuo, 2003, 2005), and such interventions as meditation or pranayama, can be more fully deciphered using the aforementioned noetic methodology (Pekala, 1980, 1991a; Pekala, 2015, 2016), in conjunction with neurophysiological and cognitive/behavioral methodologies.  Why?

“About 100 Brodmann areas are now recognized, and it is therefore convenient to take this as a rough estimate of the number of specialized regions of the cortex” (Baars & Gage, 2010, p. 131). Sorting out these different areas of brain activation may be quite difficult.  Areas of brain activation may be best assessed by mapping neurophysiological variables while concurrently quantifying the noetic “state of consciousness” (Elkins et al., 2015) associated with   that   brain   activation (Lutz   & Thompson, 2003; Zelazo,  Moscovitch, & Thompson, 2007).

By using  functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), quantitative electroencephalography  (qEEG),  and   associated  technologies to  quantify the  brain,  and  the PCI to  quantify the  mind, the  investigator has  the  technology needed to assess the brain/mind interface in a quantifiable, and potentially efficacious, manner: “There is some evidence  that DMN [default  mode  network] activity  during hypnosis shows  a  different pattern  of   brain   activity   compared  to   nonhypnosis  conditions” (Lipari  et  al.,  2012,  p.  394). Assessing such activity, while concurrently, and comprehensively, quantifying noetic state, may allow for finer discrimination of the brain–mind interface . . . “

A recent study, also out of Italy (Piarulli et al, 2018), looked at the modulation of consciousness by ultra-slow mechanical stimulation of the olfactory epithelium, in an attempt to better understand the pranayamic or breathing effects typically associated with meditation.  The qEEG and sLORETA were used to quantify the brain; the PCI was used to quantify the mind.

Specifically, “the effects of a low frequency mechanical stimulation, focally delivered to the olfactory epithelium on the cortical electrical activity of 12 healthy volunteers” was monitored by means of high-density EEG and sLORETA; breathing rhythms was assessed by a piezo-resistive belt placed on the abdomen (Piarulli et al., 2018). The PCI was used to measure subjective state.  Each subject underwent two sessions administered in a randomized order: a nasal stimulation (NS) and a sham control session (SC).

“The olfactory epithelium of 12 healthy subjects was stimulated with periodical odorless air-delivery. . . . The stimulation induced: i) an enhancement of delta-theta EEG activity over the whole cortex mainly involving the limbic system and default mode network structures, ii) a reversal of the overall information flow directionality from wake-like postero-anteriorto NREM sleep-like antero-posterior, iii) the perception of having experienced an altered state of consciousness,” as assess by the PCI.

In an email from the second author of that study, the author wrote: “In this paper we used your questionnaire, the PCI, which was very useful for the investigation of the subjective experience of our subjects.  Moreover, we found interesting correlations between the subjective perception of being in an altered state of consciousness and specific EEG waves located mainly in the prefrontal cortices.”  The authors conclude that “these findings could shed further light via a neurophenomenological approach on the links between respiration, cerebral activity and subjective experience, suggesting a plausible neurophysiological basis for interpreting altered states of consciousness induced by respiration-based meditative practices.

Other researchers across the planet (Facco et al., 2018, Fachner & Rittner, 2011; Modestino, 2016; Pederzoli et al., 2016) are beginning to use noetic analysis as a means to quantify the mind/brain interface, and hence, better understand the brain and human behavior in reference to subjective experience and altered states of consciousness.