Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Ultimate Skeptic's head Trip (Part 4)

Here is the last of this particular head trip, although more will be forthcoming on this blog and elsewhere. In Parts 1-3, I've highlighted what psychedelics reveal about the brain and mind and a bit of their role in history, religion, art and science.
` It's quite fascinating stuff, starting here -- you ought to know it before pushing ahead into the last and longest-winded post of them all.

This time, we'll be merrily tripping into slightly different territory -- more on what psychedelics reveal about the self, and how quickly that self can change. I will also share my thoughts on how this relates to why these drugs are banned in much of the world.
` In Parts 1-3, I have also included descriptions of psychedelic experiences from people such as Jennifer Ouellette, Sam Harris, and many others (some anonymous).
` This time, I am employing descriptions from psychologist Timothy Leary, the neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris, the ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna -- and more -- for specific reasons which will become clear as we travel down the rabbit hole to the inner wonderland that is usually invisible.

I will discuss two main aspects of psychedelic trips -- their uniqueness and their utility. Although, for those who have expressed curiosity as to what they are like after reading the first three parts, I will start with a visual tour of the various depths of psychedelic experience that can be achieved.
` Here's a short video on the agreed-upon intensity levels of psychedelic experiences, which are classified as 1 through 5. If you'd rather skip it, or can't play it, I've summarized the levels below:

* Level 1 -- Clear-headed, although at the same time "high" as with marijuana; extremely dilated pupils and apparent visual enhancement; music seems to have a spatial quality.
* Level 2 -- Open eye visuals where objects appear to move and breathe; closed eye visuals of two dimensional patterns; noticeably elevated levels of abstract thought.
* Level 3 -- Open eye visuals of patterns, etc. on surfaces; complex, three-dimensional closed eye visuals; increased suggestibility; synesthesia, such as seeing and feeling sounds as colorful shapes and patterns. Though there seems to be much more clarity and connection with one's mind, the connection with motor control becomes a bit 'drunken' at this point.
* Level 4 -- Strong hallucinations that put WETA Workshop to shame; Closed-eye visuals of extremely complex moving patterns that seem to defy geometry; Destruction/division of the ego; Senses blend and sensory input becomes more difficult to process; Seemingly ESP-like phenomena.
* Level 5 -- Complete disconnection with vision and body; feeling as though reality is a computer simulation; immersion in an alternate kaleidoscopic dimension; obtaining what seems to be universal knowledge; encountering super-intelligent entities or an all-knowing presence.
` Despite being physically incapacitated by the 'virtual reality' at this level, one can still retain one's ability to think about what is happening to them in a fairly rational manner. (i.e. "Where has this chemical substance taken me now!?" or as Terrence McKenna has said, "Good grief, I've really done it this time!")

This may be a useful way of categorizing these experiences, although by no means can it communicate the reality, value, or utility of the subjective and neurological effects. Flashy graphics can clue people in on some of the visuals, but these cannot portray the most transformative aspects.
` So far in this series, I've included plenty about how classic psychedelics, such as LSD and psilocybin, can be used to bring about very definite ego dissolution, and help people to see how their brains construct their own personal narrative and perception of everyday reality.

The self, we know, is a process, which one's awareness can observe. From the "outside", it is possible to witness the 'selfing' occurring in your own brain. For those who are looking for a description of what this is like, alas, words can only get one so far into terra incognita:
` As I have also pointed out, the 'haves' consider a trip (especially above a level 1) outright impossible to convey to the 'have-nots': Those who are about to open the doors of perception for the first time have no idea where the doors are located, much less what can be perceived through them.

If you know more than one language, you will have had the pleasure of explaining the meaning of some phrases and words which cannot be translated directly. You will also have found that the exact sense of the meaning can still be difficult even when explaining translations.
` A much more extreme example of untranslateability is sometimes known in the psychedelic community as "translating down" experiences from the expanded mind into everyday language.
` These go so far beyond language itself that they are not possible to describe with ordinary terminology, or even art. As they say, you'd have to be there to understand it.

Various psychedelic phenomena are so alien that even if more precise language was developed to describe them, a 'have-not' would still be unable to grasp the meaning of the new words. Think of the futility in describing vision to someone who doesn't even know what seeing is like:
` You can use words such as 'yellow' or 'shaded', but they will not understand what it really 'looks like'. And what happens if you try to explain those concepts with other words? There's no real substitute, is there?

It is a psychedelic truism that when one is so far into inner space, looking back onto the tight funnel of ordinary consciousness, it is apparent that language is a blunt instrument, unable to express the richness of such inner life.
` From here, the dimness and distortions of language can seem like a cage, or to have more potential at spinning delusional narratives than clarity. Those who study language, influence, rhetoric and manipulation, who can see how easily our sense of reality is directed by linguistic constructs, may well agree here.

Despite the impossibility factor, psychedelic researchers do their darnedest to put these experiences into everyday language. Robin Carhart-Harris, the first scientist to be legally permitted to study psychedelics since the widespread ban, is one among a growing handful today.
` He has tried describing psychedelic experiences in another video, which I shall save for the bottom of the page. For now, I shall paraphrase his way of "translating down" for the have-nots: