The best books on the frontier areas of time in psychology and physics

Who am I?

I am a research fellow at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg, Germany. I studied Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and Munich (Germany) and have a Ph.D. in Medical Psychology from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Between 2004 and 2009 I was Research Fellow at the Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego. My research in the field of Cognitive Neuroscience is focused on the perception of time in ordinary and altered states of consciousness. The investigation concerning the riddle of subjective time as based on the embodied self leads me to answers of what matters most, the nature of our existence as self-conscious beings.


I wrote...

Altered States of Consciousness: Experiences Out of Time and Self

By Marc Wittmann,

Book cover of Altered States of Consciousness: Experiences Out of Time and Self

What is my book about?

In Altered States of Consciousness I explore personal reports, individual case studies, and scientific investigations of what happens at the frontier areas of personal experience, where the self and time are affected. In such peak states people report a feeling of ‘timelessness’ together with a loss of the sense of self.

Altered States of Consciousness covers a variety of mind-altering states in the healthy brain, under the influence of psychedelics, during meditation, in spiritual moments, as well as in near-death experiences. Important research is conducted studying the sense of self and time in patients with depression and schizophrenia, and in certain individuals with epileptic auras. This book summarizes anecdotal reports in combination with recent scientific investigations in order to help build ideas for an understanding of phenomenal consciousness, of our existence, of what makes us humans.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Physicist & the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time

Marc Wittmann Why did I love this book?

The debate on the nature of time between Henri Bergson, one of the most important philosophers at that time, and Albert Einstein, happened on April 6, 1922. Although many people believe that Einstein gained the upper hand in this showdown, comparable perhaps only with the ‘rumble in the jungle’ between Foreman and Ali in 1974, matters are more complicated. Jimena Canales has written a thriller about this clash of cultures fighting about time. She opens up a cosmos of philosophy and physics embedded in culture and shows how one hour of talk in 1922 still has relevance 100 years later for what it means to be human.

By Jimena Canales,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Physicist & the Philosopher as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On April 6, 1922, in Paris, Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson publicly debated the nature of time. Einstein considered Bergson's theory of time to be a soft, psychological notion, irreconcilable with the quantitative realities of physics. Bergson, who gained fame as a philosopher by arguing that time should not be understood exclusively through the lens of science, criticized Einstein's theory of time for being a metaphysics grafted on to science, one that ignored the intuitive aspects of time. The Physicist and the Philosopher tells the remarkable story of how this explosive debate transformed our understanding of time and drove a…


Book cover of Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research Since the Decade of the Brain

Marc Wittmann Why did I love this book?

Anthropological fieldwork is not restricted to isolated indigenous people in remote areas. Anthropologists study scientists in university research labs. Langlitz did a remarkable feat: He immersed himself in the research activities of two laboratories studying psychedelic effects on humans and animals. Through this participation in everyday work, he delineated contextual sociological and psychological factors of what made it possible for researchers to be allowed to give healthy human subjects and patients with psychiatric problems mind-altering drugs in the lab and what motivates researchers to go into these frontier areas of research. LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca are studied again scientifically. What made that possible? Langlitz gives answers.

By Nicolas Langlitz,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Neuropsychedelia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Neuropsychedelia" examines the revival of psychedelic science since the "Decade of the Brain." After the breakdown of this previously prospering area of psychopharmacology, and in the wake of clashes between counterculture and establishment in the late 1960s, a new generation of hallucinogen researchers used the hype around the neurosciences in the 1990s to bring psychedelics back into the mainstream of science and society. This book is based on anthropological fieldwork and philosophical reflections on life and work in two laboratories that have played key roles in this development: a human lab in Switzerland and an animal lab in California. It…


Book cover of Divine Mania: Alteration of Consciousness in Ancient Greece

Marc Wittmann Why did I love this book?

In modern neuroscience there is a resurrection of a line of research on altered states of consciousness. We must not think that this fascination started with Woodstock or Timothy Leary… At all times mind-altering rituals and substances were used. Uptight professors of antiquity hardly spoke of what happened in ancient Greece where mind-altering rituals were part of society for spiritual insight, prophecy, and healing. Yulia Ustinova gives a fascinating account of how in ancient Greece sensory deprivation in caves, often in combination with the practices of fasting or use of psychedelics, induced altered states of consciousness in selected individuals.

By Yulia Ustinova,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Divine Mania as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Our greatest blessings come to us by way of mania, provided it is given us by divine gift,' - says Socrates in Plato's Phaedrus. Certain forms of alteration of consciousness, considered to be inspired by supernatural forces, were actively sought in ancient Greece. Divine mania comprises a fascinating array of diverse experiences: numerous initiates underwent some kind of alteration of consciousness during mystery rites; sacred officials and inquirers attained revelations in major oracular centres; possession states were actively sought; finally, some thinkers, such as Pythagoras and Socrates, probably practiced manipulation of consciousness. These experiences, which could be voluntary or involuntary,…


Book cover of Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness

Marc Wittmann Why did I love this book?

I think that Nicholas Humphrey with this book comes closest to an explanation of how consciousness might have evolved. Present-moment awareness of what we subjectively feel as happening “now” might stem from the constant feedback processing of perception-and-action cycles which extend over time. In his brilliantly accessible language Humphrey convinces the reader that consciousness is “thick” sensory-motor activity of what you feel as extended over time, phenomenal present-moment experience.

By Nicholas Humphrey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soul Dust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How is consciousness possible? What biological purpose does it serve? And why do we value it so highly? In Soul Dust, the psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, a leading figure in consciousness research, proposes a startling new theory. Consciousness, he argues, is nothing less than a magical-mystery show that we stage for ourselves inside our own heads. This self-made show lights up the world for us and makes us feel special and transcendent. Thus consciousness paves the way for spirituality, and allows us, as human beings, to reap the rewards, and anxieties, of living in what Humphrey calls the "soul niche." Tightly…


Book cover of What Is Real?: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics

Marc Wittmann Why did I love this book?

If you thought that only Psychology would be full of controversy and taboo, think of the status of research into dreams or parapsychology, you will be surprised by Adam Becker’s account of the fight on the interpretation of quantum physics, i.e. on the foundations of everything. Mobbing, censuring, ridiculing of researchers who tried to find alternatives to Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation to quantum measurement prevailed for decades. If you want to find out how researchers at the frontier area of exact science behave like guards to a holy temple or like Stalinist persecutors, i.e. find out about the mechanisms underlying science, read this! At the same time, you learn about the essentials concerning the foundations of quantum mechanics.

By Adam Becker,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked What Is Real? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every physicist agrees quantum mechanics is among humanity's finest scientific achievements. But ask what it means, and the result will be a brawl. For a century, most physicists have followed Niels Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation and dismissed questions about the reality underlying quantum physics as meaningless. A mishmash of solipsism and poor reasoning, Copenhagen endured, as Bohr's students vigorously protected his legacy, and the physics community favoured practical experiments over philosophical arguments. As a result, questioning the status quo long meant professional ruin. And yet, from the 1920s to today, physicists like John Bell, David Bohm, and Hugh Everett persisted in…


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Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…


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