First off, I write this not to imply that there are only 4 states of consciousness. I name this the 4th after waking, sleeping and dreaming simply because of its order of commonality and ease of access. Also, my definition of the 4th state is not concrete and singular, meaning there are likely many different states involved in the 4th state, but there probably overlaps. The Transcendental Meditation (TM)™ folks call this transcendental consciousness, which is the first name I heard for it, but I also believe it is the state people are referring to when they talk about a variety of meditation techniques, deep hypnosis, trance, out-of-body experience, and certain drug-induced states. There is, no doubt, a 5th, 6th, 7th, etc… state of consciousness, but at this time it isn’t my concern to define them. Who knows how many folds of reality are out there, but for now, we focus only on a slightly ambiguous 4th. My reasoning is simply that modern culture neglects to place importance on anything other than the first 3, which is a mistake.
The way I define the 4th state of consciousness is an alert dissociation from physical existence. In Universal Meditation we get there by acquiring the proper setting and letting thoughts flow like water through a hole in a bucket. The empty bucket serves as a nice metaphor for the 4th state of consciousness. It is here we can enjoy a temporary release from the strain of forceful thoughts and physical existence.
Many do not know how to appreciate such a state because of not consciously experiencing it. We most certainly do experience it, though, but if you aren’t meditating, you are only doing it while asleep, which we just call the 2nd state of consciousness. Since you are unconscious while sleeping, you don’t get the same benefits as Open Mind Meditation. Being fully awake while not having forceful thoughts and obligations engages a widespread, coherence of brain activity, as measured in TM studies. The full implications of this type of brain behavior is still being studied, but try it for yourself and discover how beneficial and fascinating it is.
I describe the subjective experience of the 4th state to be near-orgasmic in a very physical way. There is a clear feeling of lightness, like your body is as dense as a cloud. Also like a cloud, there are no clear boundaries of your body. Here, thoughts come and go in a very different way. They don’t carry weight and urgency, rather, they are quiet and unassuming, even absent. There is some sort of thought activity, but instigated from a different form of motivation not tethered to one’s ego or physical existence. There is no doubt many meditation traditions take advantage of this different form of transcendental thought to achieve novel outcomes.
Being jerked out of this state is unpleasant and probably harmful. This happens to me if I leave my phone on or some other sound startles me. Regardless of how it happens, it causes a dull to sharp pain in the head that I try to avoid at all costs. As long as your meditation setting is suitable, one can safely go in and out of the 4th state.
Once safely out of the 4th state, people are likely to feel rejuvenated and fulfilled, especially if you had a full bucket of thoughts going into it.
Evidence for the 4th State:
Here is a link that provides a simplified explanation of higher states of consciousness from the vedic tradition. As a caveat, the Maharishi's transcendental meditation (TM) organization has a habit of making these spiritual concepts a bit proprietary, which is partly why I am not directly associated with them anymore. I don't believe terms like transcendental meditation should by copyrighted because they are ancient concepts that are attainable in many ways.
Keeping that in mind, here's the link to a TM website explaining higher states: https://tmhome.com/books-videos/7-states-of-consciousness-video-interview/
In my own words, the basic states of consciousness as we know it modern cultures is incomplete. Waking, dreaming and sleeping are not the only innate modes of perception. Transcendental consciousness is the term some use to describe where we go in deep meditation or trance. Experiencing regular periods of this state over time cultivates higher states because it expands your concept of reality beyond what is empirically verifiable or just thought of as subjective imagination. In essence, it bridges the subjective and objective in one's perception, unveiling the seamless continuum between our thoughts and matter.
There has been some success identifying these states using EEG patterns of people under various states of consciousness. One of my old professors was an expert in this, but again, I warn you he is a part of the TM organization and his research brings a lot of potential for conflict of interest. He has a major stake in the success of TM monetarily, but more importantly for reputation. I post his research, though because he does do experiments I cant find elsewhere.
In summary, the research indicates alpha bands (8-10hz) having both more power and coherence across brain regions under transcendental consciousness (Travis, 2010). They also measured blood flow in executive function and attention brain regions to be higher (Mahone, 2018). There is also research describing these kinds of metrics holding for long-term meditators even while not meditating, which they point to for higher states like "cosmic consciousness." I couldnt find this research, but I remember it being poorly controlled for and also conducted by people in the TM organization.
I didn't mean to dive into these concepts for an ethics course, but like I said, I do believe state of consciousness does influence moral perception and, thus, ethical practices.
For example, the rise of integrative medicine could be explained by our increasing knowledge of seemingly separate body systems like the gut and the brain. We now know how connected these are and thus consider it less moral to use microbiome-altering drugs as first-line treatment, opting for behavioral changes or herbal remedies, for example. If we expand this concept to a connection between our thoughts and the physical world, we may be morally influenced to cultivate refined states of perception over relying only on hard evidence to guide our practices.
How morally culpable a person becomes based on their state of consciousness is a fascinating question that I cant answer, perhaps due to the multi-faceted nature of moral decisions, but I do think that building bridges between what was previously believed to be separate does make a person more morally conscious. If we believe two non-separate things are separate, it is much easier to indirectly harm one by acting on the other.
Mahone MC, Travis F, Gevirtz R, Hubbard D. fMRI during Transcendental Meditation practice. Brain Cogn. 2018 Jun;123:30-33. doi:10.1016/j.bandc.2018.02.011. Epub 2018 Mar 2. PubMed PMID: 29505943. https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.proxygw.wrlc.org/pubmed/29505943
Travis F, Haaga DA, Hagelin J, Tanner M, Arenander A, Nidich S, Gaylord-King C, Grosswald S, Rainforth M, Schneider RH. A self-referential default brain
State: Patterns of Coherence, Power, and eLORETA Sources During Eyes-Closed Rest and Transcendental Meditation Practice. Cogn Process. 2010 Feb;11(1):21-30. doi:
10.1007/s10339-009-0343-2. Epub 2009 Oct 28. PubMed PMID: 19862565.