Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness by Jeff Warren
book review | July 2013
I am fascinated by the various states of consciousness which Warren nicely describes in his book, and wanted very much to be an agreeable travel partner on his adventures into such realms as the hypnagogic (and all the other cycles through which we sleep), lucid dreaming, hypnotic trance, SMR training, and the PCE (pure conscious event, which is a rarified form of enlightenment attainable by certain masters after years of meditation).
However after a couple hundred pages I found myself feeling impatient with his somewhat longwinded descriptions of his subjective experiences, some of which devolved into paragraphs-long flights of fancy into the absurd. It was a little like being stuck on a long road trip with a really nice guy who is super-enthusiastic about telling you his crazy dreams last night. You want to be there – you really do – but truthfully it's just not that interesting.
I know this is basically the premise of the book – Warren set out to try various forms of consciousness-altering experiences and report on the results, so to be fair the book does fulfill this stated goal.
Furthermore, while I've read quite extensively on certain aspects of consciousness from a more scientific perspective, I still learned many things from Warren's book, his being a broad overview rather than a detailed look at one form of consciousness or another.
However if you like your facts unadorned with freeform speculation from a decidedly unscientific (albeit intelligent, inquiring, and yes, sometimes insightful) perspective, and somewhat unfortunate constant reminders that your author is a youngish male with a healthy sex drive (again, I know this is supposed to be autobiographical and I'm no prude; perhaps it's just a case of lack of restraint, or plain old TMI), then you may become as impatient as I did toward the middle to the end of this book.
Then again, I did stick with it to the end, a testament to the author's general likeability and thoroughness in some of his research and interviews. Perhaps a good intro to consciousness for those who like lots of first-person musings and personality. For those who prefer more efficient and fact-based reading on consciousness, this book may have you skimming the anecdotes and scanning the footnotes for the more interesting sources. Incidentally, one such source, Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness by Rosenblum and Kuttner, is a book I do highly recommend.
PS: Since posting the above review, I've come to the realization that Warren's approach is typical of "gonzo journalism", a style of writing pioneered by Hunter S. Thompson and pursued perhaps most notoriously these days by the crew at Vice. Unlike Vice, Warren keeps it clean, but you get the idea of the kind of subjectivity and digressions for which this style of writing is known. Great if you're reading to know more about Warren first and consciousness second, less great if your interest skews the other way.
Jeffrey Warren (b. 1971) is a Canadian author and meditation teacher. He studied literature at McGill University and became interested in consciousness after falling 30 feet out of a tree, breaking his neck — an event that changed his experience of the world. After university he went on to work as a producer at CBC Radio's The Current, and founded the Toronto-based meditation group The Consciousness Explorers Club.
The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness, was named as one of the ten best books on consciousness by The Guardian in 2017. This review refers to the 2007 edition published by Oneworld.