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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:
Epiphanies & Moments of Clarity

James Kent

Chapter 18: Psychedelic Information Theory

In the previous section we discussed how the psychedelic mind can find cosmic significance in even the tiniest and most mundane objects — such as a rock or a grain of sand — but what happens when the focus of the psychedelic mind shifts away from externalized objects and is  turned inward on the self? This is a tricky premise, to be sure, since the ego is, in actuality, a construct of perceptions and memories created within our own mind, and a mind scrutinizing the elements of itself is an inherently recursive exercise. Add to this recursive inward spiral the fact that psychedelics can effectively demolish any and all concept of self — stripping the ego down to the barest elements of primal awareness, removing all recollection of time, place, and personal history — and you start to get an idea of how twisted and complex the exercise of psychedelic self-examination can become. And yet, it is precisely because of these complex, recursive, ego-destructive elements that self-examination under the influence of psychedelics can be so rewarding.

For those of you unfamiliar with the psychedelic experience, it may be helpful to start with a key concept of self-analytic psychedelic thought, known as navel-gazing. Navel-gazing is a kind of obsessive introspection on the nature of the self, or more specifically, on the nature of the transpersonal self. I don't know if the term navel-gazing actually grew out of a specific psychedelic exercise of grokking one's own belly-button, but the concept is quite clear. The navel represents the connection to mother, which at one time physically connected you to another human being, which kind of demolishes the perspective of a wholly individual self. As I stated previously, grokking provides a kind of temporal depth — an explicit history — of whatever it is you are looking at, so when looking at the navel it is perfectly natural to wander back in time in the mind's eye to a place in space-time where the umbilical cord was still attached, when you were still in utero, unformed, dreaming, barely aware. The existential impact of such an exercise can be enormous, a total paradigm splitter for those who think of themselves purely as individuals, as opposed to pieces of  a larger interconnected system. But the reality is that we are not purely individuals, we are encoded protein structures that begin growing when seed fertilizes egg, and everything else we invent about ourselves is more or less an illusion formed by perception, language, and memory: the illusion of self, the illusion of identity, the illusion of ego. Shattering these illusions is the first step in path towards the psychedelic epiphany.

An epiphany is a divine revelation about the nature of the world or the self; an experience so powerful it forever shapes the way you view the world. Some epiphanies are welcome blessings, some are very difficult to cope with, but what is consistent across all epiphanies is that they are 1) indicative of a deeper truth about the self, 2) paradigm shattering, and 3) impossible to deny. We have already discussed how even the most trivial details can take on cosmic significance within the psychedelic experience — and how these inflated views can distort reality into delusional territory — but since concepts of ego and self are basically delusions to begin with, whatever we choose to believe about ourselves is "true" at that time regardless of external verification. For example: When you are dreaming, you may be younger, older, bigger, smaller, somewhere else in space or time, yet you are always you. Even though what you believe about your "self" at that moment (in the dream) may be delusional, it does not make you any less you, you are still you no matter who or what or where you think you are. You can think you are a good person and still be you; you can think you are a bad person and still be you. Although the first-person perspective of individual self (subject) always remains in tact, constructs of the ego are transient and mutable, and what we choose to believe about ourselves makes us who we are. In this sense, the ego is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and one that can be completely undone with a tiny pinch of psychedelic molecules.

Now I know there are those of you who will resist this notion, that the ego is such a fragile construct, or that the self is a delusion, but look at it this way: What happens to the ego if you loose your memory (as in amnesia)? What happens to identity if you loose the ability to form lasting concepts (as in schizophrenia)? Your body may still move around and do things, but the self basically dissolves like dust in the wind. Our notion of self depends on our ability to constantly update and remember the internalized image of who we are — or who we are supposed to be — and how we stay true to that image or how we adapt it to meet our circumstances. And so, with the advent of psychedelic exploration in the sixties, New Age ideals of "finding the inner self" or "transcending the ego" became part of the Western lexicon for the human condition, even if most people didn't really understand what either of those things meant. Yet the search for deeper understanding of the self is the fundamental premise of all psychedelic therapy. Weather you want to take a Freudian approach (analyzing birth experiences and early life imprinting) or a Jungian approach (viewing the self as a part of a larger integrated whole), both of these models are valid when attempting to construct a workable ideal of the self and ego, and both fit naturally with the psychedelic experience. This is precisely why both Freudian and Jungian psychologists were quick to embrace psychedelics in therapy: they provide access to deep memory recall as well as perspectives that transcend the self and place it within in a larger context. Elements of both the intimately personal and the universally transpersonal can be accessed within the psychedelic state, and since all psychology and psychotherapy is an attempt to achieve harmony between the transient notions of the inner self and the cold hard facts of external reality, the value of such profound personal and transpersonal perspectives cannot be overstated.

So what is happening when we have such intense epiphanies? What is going on in our brains? I would love to have an answer for you, but epiphanies are such intensely personal things they could be completely different neurological events for each person depending on the context. For instance, the simple act of interrupting the functioning of one's pre-frontal cortex may lead to a kind of transpersonal ego-death epiphany, a moment of clarity that leaves the user fully immersed in the moment without any judgments or pre-conceptions to filter raw sensation; like being born anew into the world, innocent and pure of thought. In contrast, a stimulation of the hippocampus and visual cortex could lead to a kind of epiphany of "remembering where I came from," in both the extremely personal and transpersonally cosmic sense. There are also less dramatic — but nonetheless important — epiphanies that may dawn on you in the hyper-connective state; deeply personal things about your family or your relationships with other people. You may also have epiphanies about religion, your personal politics, or the general assumptions you've made about the world. These existential and ontological epiphanies can be extremely difficult to deal with, especially if they are tinged with paranoia and delusion, or if your shattered assumptions are replaced by an even shakier set of assumptions, or if you are left only with questions and an empty lack of direction.

If there is nothing more divine than an epiphany that changes your life for the better, there is nothing more hellish than an epiphany that undoes your basic assumptions  but provides no adequate resolution on the come-down; otherwise known as an exquisite shattering of the self with no re-integration, or a complete and total bummer. I won't lie, this is a real danger of the psychedelic experience, and one that is hard to rebound from. I would say that shorter acting tryptamines (like smoked DMT) tend to deliver "hit and run" style bummers more often than the longer acting tryptamines and phenethylamines, but making generalizations in this area is very difficult. Any user's emotional reaction to an existential epiphany can be widely varied based on dose, substance, and context, and minimizing negative experiences is one of the essential aspects of successful psychedelic therapy and shamanism. In this light, careful attention must be paid to ingestion context and integration if you want every trip to be the best of your life, but even the best laid plans can be undermined by chance. Conversely, walking in without purpose or reason can be a doorway to confusion and regret, but even then you may get lucky and find yourself more together on the other side despite yourself. Psychedelics are funny that way. Some people say that everyone gets the trip they deserve, and I think that is almost right. The random X factor can play a large part in any psychedelic experience, and random is only as random as context allows, so ultimately we are all responsible for our own experiences, psychedelic or otherwise.

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