States of consciousness, from altered states to the state earthlings call "normal waking consciousness," have been Charley Tart's specialty for two decades. Surprisingly, Dr. Tart no longer calls it "normal consciousness," and has substituted what he feels to be a more accurate term: consensus trance. To him, the idea of "normal consciousness" is the kind of convenient fiction illustrated by the famous folktale of "the emperor's new clothes." Together, human groups agree on which of their perceptions should be admitted to awareness (hence, consensus), then they train each other to see the world in that way and only in that way (hence trance).
Experimental psychology was the vehicle Tart chose to pursue his questions about consciousness and reality. Although much of his early research involved dreaming, he was attracted to the mysterious altered state of consciousness known as hypnosis. Tart learned from his earliest experiences as a hypnotist that reality can be influenced far more strongly by one's state of mind than most people suspect, most of the time:
"In inducing hypnosis I would sit down with a volunteer who wanted to be hypnotized," Tart recalled. "We were presumably both normal people. With our eyes we presumably saw the same room around us that others saw; with our ears we presumably heard the ordinary sounds in the room. We smelled what odors were there and felt the solidity of the real objects in the room."
"Then I began to talk to the subject. Researchers give the style of talking the special name of 'hypnotic induction procedure,' but basically it was just talking. The subject was given no drugs, was not in a special environment, had nothing external done to his brain -- and yet in twenty minutes I could drastically change the universe he lived in. With a few words, the subject could not lift his arm. With a few more he heard voices talking when no one was there. A few more words and he could open his eyes and see something that no one else could see, or, with the right suggestion, a real object in plain sight in the room would be invisible to him."
How can anybody distinguish, then, between dream, hypnotic trance, and reality? Dehypnotization, the procedure of breaking out of the normal human state of awareness, according to both mystics and hypnotists, is a matter of direct mental experience. The method can be learned, and that's the nutshell description of the esoteric wisdom of the ages.
The clues from hypnosis research, experiments into the influence of beliefs upon perceptions, and teachings from the mystical traditions, led Tart to see how normal waking consciousness is the product of a true hypnotic procedure that is practiced by parents, teachers, and peers, reinforced by every social interaction, and maintained by powerful taboos. Consensus trance induction -- the process of learning the "normal waking" state of mind -- is involuntary, and occurs under conditions that give it far more power than ordinary hypnotists are ever allowed. When infants are first subjected to the processes that induce consensus trance, they are all vulnerable and dependent upon their consensus hypnotists, for their parents are the ones who initiate them into the rules of their culture, according to the instructions that had been impressed upon them by their own parents, teachers, and peers.