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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:
Basic Premises, Goals, Methodologies, and Definitions

James Kent

Introduction: Psychedelic Information Theory

The basic premises of Psychedelic Information Theory are as follows:

  1. The human nervous system is a series of sense-processing organs linked by various types of neural circuitry.

  2. Psychedelics, as pharmacological agents, cannot give the human nervous system new functionality. Their effects are therefore limited to the amplification, inhibition, and/or synergistic cross-activation of existing nervous system functions.

  3. If a functional map of the brain's sensory processing systems were to exist, it would be a simple task to scientifically reduce all known psychedelic experience via purely mechanical causes within the pre-existing neural structures.

Personal History, Goals, and Methodologies

The primary purpose of this book is to identify and examine the many various forms of psychedelic experience in an attempt to explain the underlying neural and pharmacological processes which cause these various phenomena to arise. However, the current legal status of most of the psychedelic plants and compounds makes it difficult if not impossible to do any controlled laboratory research in this area, so the task of identifying neural models of psychedelic action is made all the much harder. Since I do not have the luxury of loading myself up with radioactively tagged mind-altering drugs and submitting myself to invasive MRI or PET or CAT scans to get a decent picture of how the brain operates under the influence of these drugs, I am limited to extrapolating the action of psychedelics from an experiential standpoint, taking my own experiences and mapping them onto what is currently known about the neural and pharmacological architecture of the brain to get a clear picture of the whole process. I admit that this is not the ideal methodology for going about my task, but I am comfortable in the knowledge that all scientific theories must first start with the act of mapping subjective perception against the known rules of reality in order to come up with a working model for testing and explaining specific natural phenomena. And while I am unable to test any of the theories I put forth in this text within an objective laboratory setting, perhaps one day someone will be able to take on that challenge, and in doing so will look back to this text and others like it as a jumping off point, a roadmap into unknown territory written by someone who has traveled the strange road and lived to tell the tale.

So with that in mind I feel compelled to tell you up front that I am not a neuroscientist, I am not a doctor, nor do I have any advanced scientific degrees. What I am — first and foremost — is a writer, and as such I am an ardent student of reality, and beyond that a student of the underlying perceptual mechanics which produce the image of reality for each and every one of us. I was already a student in philosophy, psychology, and sociology when I was first introduced to psychedelics, and while I knew a lot about human behavior the psychedelic experience made it perfectly clear that I still knew very little about the brain. My first psychedelic experience was like a wake up call, a messenger from the gods alerting me to the fact that the mind and the universe were much larger and far stranger than I had ever previously expected. Something about the experience made me hungry for more knowledge, and if there were a university that offered a graduate degree in psychedelic psychopharmacology I would have pursued it immediately. But this was back in 1990, and there was no such thing, nor were there any legitimate opportunities for me to follow this particular field of study in any clinical way, so I set out on my own to do the underground fieldwork necessary to facilitate such a long course of arcane study.

It took a lot longer than I thought it would, but eventually I figured it out.

Along the way I edited and published magazines, traveled the world in search of people with answers, tapped into networks of fellow researchers online, and hit the books for some long, arduous sessions of deciphering academic Latin into simple concepts that were applicable to the mind states at hand. And then, one day, after fifteen years of searching and researching and experimenting and interviewing people and sorting through all the latest journal abstracts... it just dawned on me, that there was no more to learn, that I had come to the end of my journey. In my mind I had deciphered what I previously thought was undecipherable, the great burning question mark was gone, and the experience held no more mystery for me.

And strangely, it was like being one with God.

It is hard to describe this epiphany, but in my search to understand the psychedelic experience I had to go through every known discipline to just get the outline of what we're talking about when we try to deconstruct the experience: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Neurology, Pharmacology, Botany, Ethnography, Philosophy, Psychology, Cosmology, Religion, Mythology, History, Ethnography, Zoology, Genetics, Alchemy, the Occult, Metaphysics, and beyond into the unmapped territories of Psychedelic Culture, Rave Culture, Drug Subculture, Shamanism, Techno-Shamanism, Transhumanism, and on and on. Along the way I have encountered New Agers, people who drill Holes in their Heads, people who preach about Free Energy devices, Street Prophets who daydream about DNA, people who rant about the control of Secret Societies, people who Channel Entities and have experienced Alien Abductions, people who claim to be Shamen and experts in Remote Viewing and Astral Travel, people who style themselves as Prophets of the Eschaton, people who have turned from Shroom-Heads into Radical Environmentalists, people who have turned from preppie suburban college kids into tattooed-and-pierced Neo-Tribalists, and a smorgasbord of other generally harmless and well-meaning freaky types who have some peripheral connection to psychedelics, and who have wound up, as a result, in the odd position of being "weird" in a culture that places such great currency on being "normal." Well why the hell is that?

I'll talk about psychedelic subcultures more in the last section of this book, but this book is not about any subcultures, nor is it about any one scientific discipline. This book is about what actually happens to the human mind in the psychedelic experience, and seeks to understand the complex mythologies, symbols, ritual trappings, and belief systems which pop up in its paradigm-shattering wake. This book is not about some radical theory or some psychedelic prophecy handed down from on high, this book tries to break it down like it is, no apologies, no excuses, no value judgments. What you believe is up to you, but I have gone out of my way to take belief out of the equation here, and only report on what I know to be accurate and true, extrapolating the missing pieces from the parts that we know to be true, and providing my own holistic interpretation of reality the way I see it. In the end, the truth of what I present here will be proved through the accuracy and repeatability of the models and methods I provide, and as one who has nothing but respect for the scientific method I wouldn't have it any other way.

With that said, I feel compelled to tell you that all of the theories and explanations of the underlying mechanics of psychedelic experience that I present are not really my own, but are taken from the latest scientific research in these areas. There are some parts of this text that will move away from hard science and ebb into bouts of pure speculation on my part, but all of the theories and suppositions presented within are based entirely on the following pillars:

  1. My basic understanding of how the brain functions, informed by the latest public domain research, widely available to anyone with access to the internet or a public library.

  1. My own first-hand observations of psychedelic phenomena in action, observed in myself and other subjects over the course of many trips, crossing many substances and types of substances, and rigorously cross-referenced in my own notes and mental reconstructions of such events.

  1. Public domain reports of other subjects who have experimented with psychedelics, either obtained through personal interviews or via books, websites, e-mails, or other personal correspondence.

The spiritual purists among you will groan at my dogged clinging to science as a foundation in accuracy for this text, and the scientific purists among you will groan at the undue weight I give to babbling trippers about the freaky mind-trips copped from their latest high, but rest assured both of you, a clear and present picture will eventually emerge from these two sides, a holistic view that both embraces the paranormal and gives it a solid foundation within a scientific context.

Don't believe me? Read on...

Definitions of Brain and Mind

My knowledge of brain physiology and basic neural architecture has been culled from a variety of texts and years of independent research into the subject of perception and perceptual mechanics, starting with my high school biology class and ending with an article I read in Scientific American last week. Instead of focusing solely on the minutia of neural signal processing, neurotransmitter action, or the functioning of synaptic receptors in this or that biochemical context, I have also chosen to focus on holistic models of perception and perceptual reality which rely on the hard foundations of basic cognitive neuroscience meshed with the soft models of psychology, personality theory, and current theories of consciousness. In this sense I will be simultaneously examining two different levels of cognitive functioning; the hard models of networked neural cells and chemical neurotransmitters that we typically refer to as Brain and the soft models of consciousness, behavior, and personality that we typically refer to when describing Mind.

For the purpose of clarity I will separate the two levels of cognitive description with this simple definition: The Brain is the complex set of organs and neural networks which we use to process incoming sensory and outgoing motor signals, and the Mind is the actual snapshot of electro-chemical processes which may be taking place within our brain at any given moment. Using the computer metaphor, the Brain is the processing hardware and the Mind is the software currently running on that machine. Our Brain changes only very slowly and over time, yet we can change our Mind instantly and any time we want. Making the precise distinction between the hard circuits of networked tissue (brain) and the transient ripples of current which flows through them (mind) is crucial to all of the analysis presented in this text. DNA codes the brain, but the cellular process of protein replication within the tissue of the brain is only one small factor in the production of Mind. Mind is subject not only to the boundaries of genetic expression and neural form, but is also at the whim of diet, stress, the current electro-chemical balance in the brainpan, the contents of memory, and the constant influx of incoming sensory signals. Brain exists in a somewhat formalized, solid state; Mind exists in a fleeting, temporal, constantly transitioning state.

Now some might stop me here and say that Mind is subject to no boundaries, limitless in function and infinite in scope. I would have to disagree. Mind is a fragile entity housed in the thrumming architecture of neural networks, capable of many things, but certainly not boundless. Before you got quoting Shakespeare on me (or even John Lilly), I would simply like to point out that very few people ever lose their brain but it is extremely easy to lose one's mind. Even a small alteration to the structure of Brain can cause Mind to completely slip away, so let's not get confused about Mind. Mind is not a mystical, eternal, sacred thing, it is a process. Brain is the processor, Mind is the process, and the process of Mind goes on as long as Brain has the raw materials needed for smooth functioning. And if you mess with the form and functioning of Brain, the form and functioning of Mind will follow accordingly.

The Information Flow

The spiritually inclined among you will surely ask, "but where is the Soul?" This is a big question to be sure, and one that will be given some consideration in later portions of this text. One might say that a true scientific reduction of the psychedelic experience should not depend on the existence of a soul to explain any particular phenomena, or by definition our reduction will have surpassed the bounds of science and moved into metaphysics and theology, which are purely speculative arts. Since it is not my intention within this text to argue one way or the other for the existence of the soul, I will nonetheless be returning at various points to the possibility that there is a divine force within all living organisms which transcends the matter and action of the organic vessel and links the subjective Mind and Body of the individual to a higher force. This concept is not original, and the primal unifying force has had many names in many cultures: The Judeo Christian would call it Yahweh or God; the Muslims call it Allah; the Hindu would call it Atman; the Chinese Chi; the Japanese Ki; to Yogis it is Prana; to Jedi Knights it is the Force; etc. etc. And after spending many years studying religion, quantum physics, magic, complexity, the occult, mysticism, and anything else that would help me understand this divine all-pervasive force, I have taken to simply calling it "the Flow." To quote from Douglas Adams, within the Flow is "God, the Universe, and Everything," and if the nit-picky of you out there demand a proper scientific definition of the Flow, I will generalize it thusly:

Flow is the quantum cascade of all matter and energy interacting through time.

It is my firm belief that all sorcery and mystical arts — no matter what name they are called by or what symbols and rituals they use — are all in some way dependent on localized channeling of the Flow to one end or another. Techniques for channeling the Flow are no big secret, and have in fact been in the human public domain for around ten thousand years now if not longer. The question is not whether the Flow exists — I'll take the continual forward unfolding of space-time as de facto proof of an ever-expanding, universe-wide quantum causality wave, thank you — the question is weather the Flow can actually be channeled and/or manipulated successfully, and weather there are any larger patterns to the Flow that would suggest the existence of a higher mind or power working "behind the scenes" of it all. I will try to discuss these issues in more detail where appropriate, but again, arguing for the existing of a supreme supernatural being is not the primary purpose of this book. For now we will simply regard the condition of "being overly fascinated with the mystical" as a classic side-effect of psychedelics; strange, interesting, and worthy of further investigation.

Signal Medium & Signal Processing

Throughout the course of this text I will be talking a lot about signal processing in terms of sensory perception and the individual construction of meaning. Our perception of reality is generated by electrical impulses shooting down bundles of neural fibers in our heads. The "self" is constantly engaged in the task of routing incoming neural signals through these densely bundled networks so we can attach recognition and meaning to the events being perceived in real time before us. The hardware which carries raw signal from one organ to the next is Brain, but the shimmering electric pathway through which that signal is routed at that moment is the essence of Mind. As stated previously, through diet, routine, sleep, and pharmacology, the Mind becomes a set of control knobs and filters we can tweak and tune to suit our priorities, amplifying and processing incoming signals which suit us and discarding the rest. And so Mind and Brain interact through signal feedback, like a pair of jeans stretching to suit the shape of the owner. And thus a momentary whim of Mind can lead to ritual, and through ritual the neural connections within the Brain become stronger. So it is with muscles, so it is with brains. More lifting results in more muscle-power. More neural signal repetition results in more brainpower.

Signal processing is a skill like any other human function. Some people are good at finding specific patterns within otherwise random noise, others are not so skilled. Yet all of our brains work basically the same way, so why is this? The answer is easy, it is the same reason that not all of us have big muscles. We each have unique minds which are affected differently by the stimulus we accumulate over a lifetime. We have unique tastes, interests, and behaviors, and many different styles. If you have a stubborn mind you will only accept incoming signals which you choose to believe are valid or "true" while immediately discounting and discarding those signals which you typically perceive to be faulty or "false." If you have an "open" mind you are more able to accept all incoming signals, even if they may not mesh with your own models of reality, even if they upset and disturb your normal models of reality.

While the models of "open" and "closed" minds I just presented are soft in the sense that they are only language metaphors for specific personality types, there is a truth to the relative flexibility of one's own particular neural makeup which translates directly to the plasticity or robustness of connections within one's own neural hardware, and translates into a greater ability to cope with foreign concepts. Hence a robust Brain and a complex neural architecture has more propensity for housing an open Mind. Brain creates Mind, and Mind affects Brain. Each is reflective of the ability to accept and integrate new ideas within the subjective self, and the primary shaping factor is Signal. Just as a computer can run an infinite number of programs to process data in a specific way, each individual mind is programmed to process signal input in thousands of different ways, with tendencies to accept and integrate those signals which conform to and reinforce existing neural structures while discarding those signals which run counter to the models of consensus reality we live in from moment to moment.

There is a lot of noise in reality, and we all process that noise into signal a little differently, and the way that we process signal defines who we are and how we act. But overall, despite our differences, we all want to do the same thing: Make "meaning" out of the noise. And to make meaning, noise must first be captured by our senses, then filtered and converted to signal, then processed through sensory organs, then analyzed in our working memory, and then finally stored in our long-term memory. These are the basic functions of Mind at work, the underlying mechanics which make all thought possible. Again, the Brain is just the receiver, it is the Mind's job to convert noise into signal, to "tune in" to what we seek or "tune out" that which is irrelevant, and then make meaning of it all.

While I will be applying basic signal processing metaphors to our Brain, I must say up front that my understanding of signal processing has been informed through years of working in the overlapping fields of computer science and sound engineering. Admittedly, the inner workings of our neural networks seem much more complex than your basic tube amplifier or integrated circuit, but however clumsy and indiscreet the electrochemical neural signal carrier may seem, it is still the best-rated top-end medium for rendering an amazing 3-D holographic picture of our immediate physical surroundings, and capable of doing so much more. And while we can expect our biochemical neural networks to perform in a similar fashion to an analog wiring chart or integrated circuit board, we must remember that the plasticity of synaptic networks and the signal medium of neurotransmitters and receptors allows for vastly more dynamic, subtle, chaotic, and complex processing models than even the most complex analog or digital signal processors. Synaptic networks are always growing and changing, and can rewire themselves and make new connections between previously unrelated areas at any time in response to new stimulus. The human brain is already the densest and most complex signal processor we've ever seen, so perhaps when I'm done it won't seem that odd to find that adding a pinch of novel transmitter into the mix can both augment the senses and exponentially increase the signal processing power of the hardware.


In order to explain the multitude of phenomena one can encounter within the psychedelic state I must necessarily force myself to create lists and classify each experience into categories which can be easily presented to the reader within the boundaries of the English language. I admit that in the processes of translating these experiences into words I am flattening the psychedelic experience into reductionist component parts, and thus stripping most if not all of the magic out of the holographic wonder that is the fully immersive psychedelic state. I do this not out of desire to demystify the experience but instead in the service of utility. In describing the many facets of the psychedelic event, perhaps those who have not had the experience firsthand will get a better idea of what it is and why anyone would even care enough about it to write such a lengthy manuscript.

To those familiar with the psychedelic state, you will no doubt recognize many if not all of the peculiar perceptions I describe within this book, and will likely nod your head in deep reflection as I describe the many novel states which can arise from even a single psychedelic session. However, no matter how precisely or exhaustively I attempt to describe the many different facets of the psychedelic event, there will always be a substantial piece missing which can never be described in terms of words or perceptual mechanics or clever scientific metaphor. This missing piece is what I will call the "immersive undeniability" of the psychedelic experience, that first-hand impact that can only be fully understood by standing in the center of psychedelic experience for oneself. Without the first-person experience of the psychedelic state, all attempts to describe it or explain it will necessarily fall short of capturing the full picture in all its awe. For this I apologize up front, but despite this experiential shortcoming I will still endeavor to spell out the mysteries of the psychedelic state in the most concrete way I know. Hopefully through my description you will at least be able to catch a reflection of the power which can be tapped from this state. If you want the whole picture you'll eventually have to do your own exploring, but for now this is a good place to start.


The types of experiences explored in this book are many. While some of them may stretch the limits of believability I will do my best to convince you that they do actually happen without having to take my word for it. I will say up front that I have personally experienced most if not all of the phenomena which I will attempt to describe in this book — sometimes many of them all at once — otherwise they would not have made the final cut. I will also try to corroborate the repeatability and universality of each type of experience with related stories and reports I have culled from fellow psychonauts over the years. And while I have tried to be as inclusive and as fair as possible in describing the various types of psychedelic experience, endeavoring to not give too much weight to any one type of experience over another in terms of value or desirability, I know that when this book is finished I will still be forgetting something or will have left something out. The magic of the psychedelic state is that it is endless, and when you think you've finally got it all figured out it just keeps growing and changing on you. Into strange spaces we venture in search of treasures and truth, gems of wisdom to be brought forth from the void and shared with others. This book is full of the jewels I have discovered along my journey. I only hope that they might sparkle and gleam to your satisfaction.

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Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2005-02-10 00:00:00