Psychedelics and Perspective

September 4, 2012

After some experiences and reading, I’ve begun constructing my theories on the instrumental potential of psychedelics.

Of all things to prohibit, the irony of outlawing psychedelics shows itself in comparison to other legal drugs. By contrast, alcohol and nicotine, “two drugs that do absolutely nothing for you whatsoever” as Bill Hicks remarks, are socially accepted. Substances are useless  if they are only a means to feel good, whether “liquid courage”, pot or pills. But if a substance can bring an experience to  challenge and better myself, there’s something worth talking about.

It takes tact to try and rationally explain the benefits of halluinogenic drugs without sounding like a mystical avant-garde pseudo-intellectual. But experiencing consciousness-altering drugs/plants/fungi doesn’t necessarily result in an epistemology based on chemicals. It doesn’t mean you will see drugs as an answer to questions of existence. It won’t damage your sanity. Rather, such substances can be the catalyst to different experiences of perceiving things, sensory and mentally, different states of being, and different conceptions of reality. It’s not difficult to take reality as you experience it for granted, not questioning or analyzing things.

I have researched each drug I took. “Consciousness-altering” isn’t a good thing if it means permanent physical damage –a change in one’s way of thinking because of the drug and not because of his thoughts on the experience. But everything I’ve taken was a means to realize the potential and the mind or the spirit to cope with altered states. I use the words “spirit” or “soul” not to imply mysticism, but to refer to that aspect of the self which is terrified or strengthened, despairing or steady. The aspect of the self that feels, an aspect that determines what it is like to exist for you at any given moment.

I don’t find any substance intrinsically valuable. There is no  powder, pill or plant to give you wisdom–everything depends on how you use it. Nor is there anything that can make you a fool. In the words of Jesus, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Psychedelics are a tool, a means, but not the end.

My first trip on acid gave me a taste of insanity. In fact, one study confirms similarities between schizophrenia and LSD  (http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5jcUVAXeWn9Qtz5DAzKDQEzOdhigQ).  Incidentally, a trip can bring out latent psychosis, but only to those who are already prone to it. If you have difficulty imaging what such a perception-altering drug could benefit a person, consider how you might describe the elements of madness. Abnormal behavior, for one. According to one character in the film 12 Monkeys, “crazy is majority rules”. As modern studies in psychiatry and psychology have developed, they’ve used broad terms to define “mental illness”–the rest is subjective. How does this speak for the social perception of what madness is? In part, it’s a social construct of “us versus them.” It’s a judgement from those within the scope of a certain mental conditioning, cast on those on the fringes or outside altogether. But the formation of a society’s culture depends on the ability of the people to adapt to the perspective of the group, mainstream and underground alike. It’s a matter of mental conditioning, social conditioning being one of the prominent forces–people at large will not consider themselves a product of a culture because they assume the normality of their actions verifies the “ought”. Naturally, this excludes considerations of the temporal nature of custom. When you grow up and live with conditioning, you aren’t conscious of it by default. It’s taken for granted as the way things are, as how you see things, as how people ought to see things; by default, it’s how you perceive and behave. It’s the disease of us all.

 

Yet  by the nature of your capacity to step outside and examine yourself in the third person as well as experience in the first person, there is potential to realize and overcome this conditioning. And there is another method: to be taken out of your usual sensory and psychological experiences and view the world or yourself form a different framework. On LSD, it occurred to me near the trip’s end that the drug was making more permeable the boundaries between one faculty of my thinking and another.  Imagine the mind as Mondrian’s Composition with Red, Yellow, Blue and Black. The mind is organized into certain components set in place and making up the whole framework, and a solid framework is necessary for stability. But the framework is also influenced by outside forces like society and genetics. I felt my mental framework disintegrate to the extent that information from one faculty bled into others and confused certain categories of information with others. Rationality was impaired as a result. I think this is at the root of synesthesia while high, the blending of senses that makes sound have a color or smells a tangible quality. It would also explain my formation of unusual metaphors on the drug, my ability to make connections between two things I would not usually connect. I found myself using a different thought process than I ever had. They don’t call it “consciousness altering” for nothing.

I read in an article of a study in Germany that had a sober person and a person on psychedelics shown pictures of the convex and concave side of a mask. Each subject was asked during a number of trials to say which way the mask was facing. The sober subject nearly always thought the mask was facing him because the brain is trained to perceive that. The subject under psychedelics could perceive which way the mask was actually facing.

Naturally, these findings summon the question of what occurs in the brain on psychedelics. According to a British study published in Scientific American Mind, subjects injected with psilocybin had “decreased hemodynamic activity, including blood flow, in selected regions…by up to 20%” and felt stronger effects the more brain activity decreased. Such results bring the mind the question of how decreased brain activity can lead to better perception in some areas, including the senses. It may be that as brain activity decreases the mind can catch things it wouldn’t normally. The brain cannot process all the information it receives; therefore it prioritizes information based on what it deems important, according to its conditioning. But if the brain receives less it can focus on new things. By changing what the brain processes one can experience things in a way never experienced and think in a way more likely unexpected without psychedelics. This is a means to suspend conditioning as well as experience a new state of mind and the world. My experience with psilocybin mushrooms is an foreign look and feel to the world so strong I let myself accept it as a new reality. Familiar objects look alien; some have intentions. Even my body looks and feels alien, like an odd caricature of a machine or creature used for getting around.

The British study observed the most activity-reduced regions of the brain were “among the most heavily interconnected”, like “traffic circles or hubs that link disparate regions.” This fragmentation of the mind seems to correspond to the dissociative aspect of psilocybin and other psychedelics. You can be forced to confront your weakness on psychedelics. Life feels easier when things feel in control. But to be thrown into an alien reality, to lose control, is when you can learn to start from the foundations and regain control of yourself. You can be the observer with an unpoliced imagination.

For any of the above effects of psychedelics, the most important factor is the one who takes it. Just as the effect of a chemical depends on the receptors it attaches to, so the experience of a psychedelic depends largely on the experiencer. How you respond to a substance, how you interpret your experience, and how you use it will determine how you are affected by it. It does not free you from social constraints on its own, and for that matter, one can free himself from social constraints without psychedelics, given the right approach. Herein lies the balance between the dismissal of psychedelics and the faith in them as enlightenment for $10 a gram/ tab. The experience is an opportunity with a gain that is not guaranteed, only offered.

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