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This is an archive version of 'Psychedelic Information Theory' Alpha chapters. The final version of this text can be found at:
Grokking, Deep Interpretation, & Hyperprofundity

James Kent

Chapter 17: Psychedelic Information Theory

In the previous sections on cognitive phenomena we introduced two basic models for how the brain creates meaning from raw sense data: 1) Via self-revealing ideas that form over a period of time, such as the "Lifting the Veil" concept which emerges as perception shifts from baseline to expanded consciousness, and 2) Via the spontaneous creation of connections between pre-existing concepts or patterns, such as the emergence of synchronicities and isomorphisms as discussed in the hyper-connective model. The first model is based on a rational parsing of external data over a period of time, the second is based on the spontaneous and involuntary neural connectivity that does not necessarily involve rationality. The kind of meaning created by rational consideration of a particular set of data over time I will call "discovery," and the kind of meaning created by the spontaneous formations of connections between pre-existing data sets I will call "creativity." As the two definitions imply, "discovery" is based on the integration of external data into internalized concepts (stored in neural connections), and "creativity" is based on the creation of new connections or relationships between pre-existing concepts. Learning and deduction both rely on the slow process of discovery, but genius and invention rely more on creativity, or the "Aha!" moments that occur when pre-existing concepts merge into something more profound, thus creating new meaning. Discovery is work, it is a continual process that starts in infancy and last your entire lifetime. In contrast, creativity is something that comes and goes on involuntary whims, typically striking when you least expect it. Like just about every other aspect of the human condition, both discovery and creativity can be enhanced with regular mental exercise, and as we have already demonstrated, both can be amplified by the simple ingestion of a psychedelic.

Typically when learning a new subject or when trying to solve a problem, there is a period of discovery in which a set of external data is integrated, followed by a period of creativity in which new concepts or solutions are applied to that data until one or more work or stick. Conversely, you may be struck with a flash of creativity and be inclined to follow it up with a period of discovery to see if the creative spark is an accurate representation of reality, or just a specious whim of the mind. This ebb and flow between the cognitive strategies of discovery and creativity create the fundamental basis of all human thought; both inductive and deductive reasoning would fail if either discovery or creativity were taken out of the picture. An infinitely creative mind with no skill for discovery is essentially dreaming or delusional, endlessly sticking abstract concepts together in new ways without ever applying external tests, reaching no concept resolution, rarely creating any meaningful output (like some extreme forms of schizophrenia and/or a-motivational ADD). Conversely, a mind that is all discovery with no creativity is essentially a computer hard disk, capable of storing and recalling data, but incapable of forming any rational conclusions or abstractions based on analysis of that data (like some extreme forms of autism).

When talking about psychedelics, it is generally assumed (and widely reported) that they enhance creativity, and it is my assertion that they do this via the facilitation of hyper-connective states. While under the influence of psychedelics, the user can have dozens of "Aha!" moments where new perspectives on pre-existing ideas literally leap out of nowhere. What is not widely reported, however, is the effect of psychedelics on discovery, which is a more complex issue. At lower doses, or in earlier stages of the trip, the psychedelic effect on discovery is positive; perception is better; curiosity is higher; and the desire to seek novel information or "find interesting things" goes through the roof. However, as the dose range goes higher, and as one proceeds deeper into the Peak, discovery becomes less and less of a factor in the thought process. As perception is distorted and the brain is overcome with internalized visions and ideation, it becomes infinitely creative and can no longer rely on accurate cues from external reality for creating meaning. But once the Peak is over, the user will quickly return to the fundamentals of discovery in order to re-integrate themselves and their newly created concepts back into reality. More often that not, a very profound psychedelic trip can send the user on an extremely long path of discovery in order to adequately integrate all the "Aha!" moments experienced while under the influence, sometimes lasting an entire lifetime. This text, for example, is the product of just such an extended post-psychedelic discovery period.

So now that we've talked a little about the strategies of discovery and creativity — and how they are individually affected by the introduction of psychedelics — I would like to discuss what happens when both of these strategies are amplified at the same time. As discussed a moment ago, these two strategies for creating meaning generally follow one after the other, one arising from logical and predictable application of perception over time (discovery), the other arising from unpredictable stimulus or spontaneous neural activity that happens instantaneously (creativity), but rarely do these two strategies overlap at the same moment, nor do they typically feed into each other in a continuous loop of discovery and creativity that builds recursively inward on itself over an extended period of time. And yet, under the influence of psychedelics, this experience is not uncommon at all. In fact, it is one of the most "consciousness expanding" aspects of the entire psychedelic experience, and is indeed the element which allows you to see "infinity in a grain of sand" or "know the mind of god" just by looking at the patterns of leaves on a tree. Before psychedelics hit Western culture there was no word for this kind of turbo-charged state of deep understanding, but in the 1961 science fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein coined the term "grok," which is a Martian word literally meaning "to drink," but which also implies an intuitive or empathetic understanding of something in its fullness via a complete mental immersion in the concept. As the popularity of psychedelics grew in the '60s, the term grok was quickly snapped up by the counterculture, and has now (many decades later) entered the global human lexicon.

At face value, grokking would seem to be nothing more than a thoughtfully considered understanding of a particular subject, but this definition falls short of the actual experience. To grok something, you need do more than just recognize and name it, you need to become one with it, which is another way of saying you need to dissolve the boundaries between subject and object, something which psychedelics have a keen knack for doing. However, there is something more going on here then just a simple boundary dissolution. When you pick up a rock or a grain of sand and attempt to grok it in its fullness, you look beyond mere form and structure and begin to see directly into the history and future of the object. You suddenly realize the transient nature of "grain of sand," something you previously considered to be a solid object. But when grokking a grain of sand, you understand that it has been pulverized, cragged, smoothed, and faceted by eons of saltwater beating against it; and before that it was part of a much larger rock; which was once part of living coral reef; which grew out of the very firmament of the ancient Earth; which cooled from a blob of liquid iron rotating around the sun; which is an ongoing explosion of billions of hydrogen bombs collapsing inward on itself; which hangs in the remote corner of one skinny arm of a vast spiral galaxy, one of millions; in which there are no doubt countless numbers of grains of sand, but none exactly like this one, which has had an individual journey that is wholly unique within all of space and time, and has now come to be presented before you on your fingertip for deep observation. Whoa.

When you grok a grain of sand, you are able to see its existence from the beginning of time to the end of time, and all the transient parts in between. You realize that the grain of sand is just a temporary conjunction of elements spinning wildly in a vast black canvas of nothing, only here for a very short time, most likely never to be observed nor appreciated by anyone but you, and once you are done grokking, it will return to the faceless anonymity of the infinite number of grains of sand that will come into being and pass onto dust long after this one is gone. You realize the joy and sadness of creation, the fleeting nature of the construct in which we find ourselves, and the undeniable sense of awe at the true size and wonder of the universe. And there you have the concept of infinity delivered via the simple observation of a grain of sand, thanks to the functioning of your own brain and a little psychedelic catalyst to get it up to proper operating speed.

So what is going on here? While grokking a particular object on psychedelics, you are simultaneously using an enhanced sense of perception to "drink in" every detail of whatever it is you are observing (amplified discovery), but you are also taking advantage of a hyper-connective state to instantaneously extrapolate and overlay details about this particular object which you would otherwise have no way of knowing (amplified creativity). These two processes feed off one another until the object is completely ingested and there is no more to be discovered or deduced about it; you know it in its fullness; you have become one with it; you have grokked it. And while it would be nice to be able to pinpoint the precise area where grokking occurs in the brain, I would be more inclined to say it is a holistic phenomena which employs activity within all the sensory, pattern matching, logical, memory, associative, and visualization cortices all at once. The process of grokking something consumes the entire brain, and since it relies on all areas being enhanced without reaching the point of interruption, grokking is a low-to-medium dose range activity.

The ability to grok something while under the influence of psychedelic may come as a surprise to someone who has never experienced it before, but once you have had the experience it is easy to recreate even without the benefit of psychedelics. And for the purpose of the delusion vs. reality duality we set up in the beginning of the book, grokking is a perfect example of an enhanced perceptual state which blurs the line between the two. A skeptic would naturally doubt that you might be able to grasp the true size of the cosmos by simply looking at a grain of sand, but someone who knows the value of the psychedelic state would tell you this is an essential truth of the experience, this is what people mean when they talk about psychedelics in terms of "consciousness expanding substances." But skeptics don't have to take my word for it, it is widely known that Francis Crick, the scientist who unraveled the structure of DNA, was experimenting with low doses of LSD when he had his "Aha!" moment about the double-helix shape. That is a perfect example of discovery (years of biochemical research) culminating in a burst of creativity that was catalyzed by a psychedelic.

Luckily, Crick was right about the structure and, along with his partner, James Watson, went on to receive a Nobel prize for the discovery. However, it must be stated that not all such "Aha!" moments turn out to be correct, and both Crick and Watson had to do some follow-up discovery to Crick's singular moment of creativity to make sure it was indeed an accurate representation of reality. This is undoubtedly what traditional shamen mean when they say that ayahuasca or mushrooms can give them information about the identification of healing plants or the diagnosis of specific maladies. They are simply combining the breadth of their discovery (their previous knowledge of medicinal plant lore) with the depth of creative insights catalyzed by the psychedelic state. And it is my assertion that there is nothing magical or supernatural about it. This kind of grokking is a skill, not unlike the same skill you would use to solve a complex crossword puzzle from tiny bits of inferential data, only applied to a whole jungle of data and the entire spectrum of disease. Yet if I told you that the spirits helped me find an eight letter word for "ground fungi" that ends with "m," you would think I was crazy. Solving complex problems with limited data to work with is a task the brain can do all by itself — possibly aided by the help of a psychedelic molecule — but no spiritual help is required. The same is true for discovering healing plants or divining the shape of DNA: It is not the plant spirits that deliver new knowledge, it is us. The plant spirits just give us a little nudge sometimes.

Unfortunately, we cannot all be Nobel prize winning geniuses or wise elder shamen, and more often than not our "Aha!" moments under the influence of psychedelics are nothing more than simple truths grokked in their fullness, such as "Water is life!" or "Sunlight makes things grow!" Even silly (but true) realizations like "God is dog spelled backwards!" or "Santa is an anagram of Satan!" can seem like divine revelations of cosmic importance if you dwell on them for too long. And then, of course, there are the out-and-out delusional "Aha!" moments when you suddenly realize that you are the messiah, or that the people on TV are talking directly to you, or that you have unraveled a map of time from ordered patterns within the i ching. This is the primary problem with using psychedelics as creative agents for distilling accurate meaning from reality: Even when you are wrong, the power of the grokked realization itself is so mind-blowing you assume it must be true, no matter how absurd or paranoid it may be.

This is why we should take nothing we see or feel under the influence of psychedelics at face value until it can be properly examined and demonstrated to be accurate by a non-tripping brain. And once again, at the risk of sounding reductive, I would assert that the quality of the information grokked or deduced under the influence of psychedelics depends almost totally on the dose range of the given substance; the smaller the dose, the closer to rationality you stay; the higher the dose, the more outlandish and paranoid the realizations become. The reason for this, as discussed earlier, is simple: At higher doses the rational areas of the brain (located in the pre-frontal cortex) become interrupted and go offline, allowing even the most absurd, delusional, and paradoxical ideation to be accepted as "true" without question. And while skeptics and prohibitionists might argue that there is nothing worthwhile in dredging the psychedelic state for "deeper truths," I would argue that they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and are purposely ignoring all the credible realizations one can have under the influence of psychedelics in the service of minimizing the paranoid and delusional ones. Or to put it another way, all that glitters isn't gold, but some of it most definitely is, and the trick is being able to tell the difference between the two. And even though you may dig up a few pieces of junk, that doesn't mean you should quit digging altogether. You may strike gold eventually, there's just no telling when or where...

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Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2005-08-30 00:00:00