State of consciousness

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A state of consciousness describes types of conscious experience that are characterized by the characteristics of perception , self-confidence , alertness , ability to act and intentionality .

The term “form of consciousness” is mostly used synonymously. In contrast, the term “level of consciousness” implies a hierarchy or also a development of the states of consciousness and is therefore only used within certain theories and systems.


Objective features

Brain waves

A widely used method of obtaining empirical data on brain waves is by recording EEG signals. It is thus possible to determine certain basic types of states of consciousness on the basis of the distribution of typical oscillation frequencies. Mainly frequencies between 0.4 and 40 Hz are used for this purpose, namely in states of consciousness during phases of attention and rest.

The state of everyday consciousness, the so-called beta state , which is typically between 13 Hz and 21 Hz, corresponds to a state of good alertness and intelligence, while the area with a focus of 21 to 38 Hz is the area of ​​"permanent alert" ( Fritz Perls ). The alpha range (8–12 Hz) corresponds to the state of slight relaxation. The theta state (3–8 Hz) stands for meditation and deep relaxation. The lowest frequency is found in the delta state (0.4–3 Hz), which indicates various states of consciousness such as deep sleep, trance or deep hypnosis. A statement about the degree of alertness is not possible with the help of a single frequency value; rather, the frequency distribution curve and the differences between different electrode points must be taken into account.

In recent years, the gamma range (between 40 Hz and 80 Hz) has moved into the focus of research due to expanded measuring methods. Since the primary processing of sensory perception is assumed in this area, it is hoped that this will also provide objectifiable statements about the type of perception and the content of perception in the future. Different states of mind and emotions can already be distinguished for the waking state.

Alertness and ability to act

The term vigilance is used medically and psychologically to divide wakefulness into different stages. These range from an unconscious coma to "extreme excitement". The classification is usually based on phenomenological criteria such as responsiveness or sense of direction, but can also be supported by physiological criteria. A distinction is made, for example, between sopor , somnolence and drowsiness .

Subjective characteristics

Perception from the perspective of conscious experience includes all impressions that become conscious. This includes sensual perception, intentions to act, purely mental images and thoughts without concrete external stimuli, memory contents, moods, emotions, affects, space and time perception and the so-called extra - sensory perception . Synesthetes can experience the impressions of one sense organ as the perceptions of another sense organ.

Individual states of consciousness

Waking state

The essential characteristics to distinguish it from other states of consciousness are thoughts, which are usually linguistically organized, and the ability to act. Linguistic thinking enables and expands many cognitive abilities. This state of consciousness thus enables a very far-reaching planning of the living conditions, which is seen as an advantage in the struggle for survival .

The waking state is usually understood so broad that clinical pictures such as hallucinations and psychoses are also included. Daydreams are pictorial fantasies and imaginations comparable to dreams that are experienced in the waking state of consciousness.


Hypnagogia describes a state of consciousness that can occur when falling asleep or (mostly at night) waking up. A person in a hypnagogic state can experience visual, auditory, and tactile pseudohallucinations without being able to move.

State of sleep

Physiology and changes during sleep are the subject of intense research. Different sleep phases correlate with typical differences in the EEG. Sleep phases can be detected in almost all mammals and birds. The dreamless sleep remains for the person concerned with no later, possible memory of it. The ability to act is limited, but not always complete. Sleepwalkers are even approachable in individual cases and can answer.

Human sleep fulfills important functions in providing cognitive abilities, memory and a balanced mood.

Jacob's dream: the angel ladder

Dream state

In ordinary dream consciousness , people experience a wide variety of scenarios, which are hardly or not at all reflected during the dream. The experiences are mainly experienced visually. "Dream actions" can apparently be actively carried out. The range of feelings and states of mind is very large.

Various schools of psychology, such as depth psychology , assign the processing of remembered dreams a major role for mental health (see dream interpretation ).

Lucid dream

A person can have a reflexive awareness of the dream situation in the dream . For example, Aristotle describes such a situation as common:

"Often, when you sleep, something tells you in your consciousness: What appears to you is only a dream"

In 1867, Léon d'Hervey de Saint-Denys anonymously published the book Les Rêves et les moyens de les diriger , which suggests techniques for exercising conscious dreaming control over the course of the dream in such a situation. In 1913, Frederik van Eeden coined the expression “ lucid dreaming ” for this situation of reflexively conscious dreaming and, if necessary, active-conscious process control in a psychological specialist article . Basic research was carried out in the 1980s by the German psychologist Paul Tholey . In the meantime, international lucid dream research is carried out particularly with psychiatric and sports science objectives.

In some yoga schools, appropriate techniques are cultivated (“ dream yoga ”). Buddhist traditions see in this the possibility of becoming aware of the illusory character of perception as a whole. Accordingly, it should be possible to “wake up” to “true” self-confidence in the waking state as well as to a lucid dream in a dream.


Deep coma is seen as the opposite of waking consciousness. Perception and the ability to act have obviously come to a standstill. There is no self-awareness that could reflect the state. In the so-called vegetative state ( apallic syndrome ), the patient is apparently awake, but does not react to his environment. Electrical activity of the brain can be measured in all comatose states, while this is absent in brain death , among other things .


Trance describes a (waking) sleep-like or a highly concentrated state of consciousness in which a person is intensely concerned with a topic. Sub-types are ecstasy , hypnotic trance , hallucinations, and traumatic trance .


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hans-Jürgen Möller, Gerd Laux, Hans-Peter Kapfhammer (eds.): Psychiatry, Psychosomatics, Psychotherapy . Volume 2. Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg 2011, ISBN 978-3-642-03637-8 ( limited preview in Google book search), p. 626.
  2. ^ Helmut Neundlinger: Christian Loidl (1957-2001) . StifterHaus, 2007 ( limited preview in Google book search)
  3. Max Hirshkowitz: Sleep better for dummies. John Wiley & Sons, 2012, ISBN 978-3-527-64245-8 , p. 233 ( limited preview in Google book search)
  4. Aristoteles: De insomniis (About the dreams) III, 462a, here after the translation by Eugen Dönt in: Aristoteles: Kleine Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften . Reclam, Stuttgart 1997, p. 127.
  5. F. v. Eeden: A Study of Dreams . In: Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research , 26, 1913, pp. 431-461.
  6. Lucid Dreams: Learning to Fly . In: FAZ , January 18, 2015; accessed on October 16, 2015