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The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness

by Jeff Warren

Call it a bad trip. This not-so-fantastic voyage through the nuances of human consciousness is at once annoyingly personal and frustratingly complex. Author Jeff Warren writes with a light, funny, and accessible touch, but the book is so stuffed with drive-by concepts that it is much easier to throw up one’s arms and go for a nap than to try to remember, much less differentiate among slow-wave sleep, hypnopompic speech, hypnagogic dreams, lucid dreams, pure conscious events, comparative sleep ecology, ultradian rhythms, homeostatic sleep load, articulatory suppression, and parasomnia, to name just a few.

When he is merely telling stories about his own adventures into inner space, Warren mostly hits his mark, but much of what is on offer here is in the form of academic argument – complete with copious, David Foster Wallace-esque footnotes – a construct that is simultaneously too colloquial for academics and too complicated for a general readership.

And even on the storytelling front, while the blog-style prose is witty and engaging, a reader can’t help but eventually ask, “Who is this guy? And why am I supposed to care as much as he does about every blip on his sleep chart, or his day at the attention deficit disorder clinic?”

The chapter on meditation and the physiological explanation of Zen Buddhism is by far the most interesting, in part because the subject has a long history, and resists Warren’s somewhat arbitrary consciousness classification system.

Warren has constructed an elaborate framework for consciousness, but even he admits that “it falls apart when you really examine it, because there is so much overlap everywhere.” Exactly.