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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:
Psychedelics as Primal Medium: Dreaming and the Mind's Eye

James Kent

Chapter 01: Psychedelic Information Theory

The Dream

First there was the dream, those nocturnal flickerings from the subconscious that fill our minds with fanciful images and novel situations beyond imagination. Dreams are shared by humans the world over and are no doubt at the root of most mythologies. The information passed through dreams has been mythologized, worshiped, revered, analyzed, and deconstructed from just about every angle over the years, and until very recently they have remained a total mystery. But thanks to years of knockout sleep research we now know much about why we dream, how we dream, and where dream content comes from, and instead of being a mystery of the soul, dreaming turns out to be, of course, a neurochemical event, one that can be described in exacting detail, viewed and dissected via bio-sensor scans and brain activity monitors, reduced to the flickering on and off of a few select areas of the brain. We have identified specific areas of the brain crucial in dreaming, we know the triggers that turn them on and off, we know what kind of signals the brain produces while dreaming, and we know why they leave such a lasting emotional impact on us when we remember them, which we usually don't.

But to non-neuroscience and cognitive psych geeks the dream is still a mystery, and why not? It is one of the simple, harmless pleasures and wonders of being human. The dream reveals things to us in new light, shows us the unreal and absurd, confuses us and gives us insight, reveals intimate snippets and juicy details of who we really are. In the dream we can look forward and backward, be in two places at once, and sit in total paradox with the pure innocent acceptance that it is reality playing out. Until we wake up. And so it was for the early ones, the early mammals and primates in our genetic lineage, the ancestors who roamed the earth millions of years ago. And so it is for all animals who think and sleep. The dream is part of who we are, it shapes and recontextualizes reality in new ways, it leads us in new directions. There is power in the dream, and this power was feared by the ancient ones who created gods, angels, and demons to account for such madness in their sleep. And this superstition persists today. Even now in an age of science and skepticism people believe in the portent of dreams, perhaps thanks to Freud, perhaps Jung, perhaps just because dreams are weird and cool and scary and fun and everyone has them. Everyone knows that if you do something successful and then you say you got the idea in a dream, it easily becomes twice as cool right on the spot. That's how powerful they are.

The Dream Comes Alive

Many conversations start with the phrase, "I had an interesting dream last night," and so it was in the old days. Since the dawn of language dreams have been shared, and they have become part of reality. When our imaginations and creativity permitted us, we began to map our dreams into stories, painting them in the sky with the stars, bringing them to life while gazing into the fire, or painting them, carving them in rock, scratching them out on a piece of wood... Dreams and the oral translation of myth ruled as the supreme medium for most of our early history, and elaborate rituals and cultural exercises were built around the proper telling and sharing of these dreams. The myth space was both open and fun, led by the shaman, everyone shared a vision or wish, everyone shared a prayer and a song.

And then one day something strange happened. A plant was discovered, a magical plant that produced waking dreams, dreams that happened without sleep, that everyone could share. It was true, they all took it, just like the shaman said. It worked. It was a miracle. Such a wondrous thing could only be seen as a gift from the gods, a messenger and bringer of wisdom, like fire itself, revered as a sorcerer's tool for mediating contact with the spirit world and mastering the unknown. Suddenly dream visions could be manifested openly, shared within the entire tribe at once. Messages from the spirit world could pass freely from one individual to the next, played out in symphonic drama and glory in a way never dreamed possible, yet here it was. The psychedelic trip was born, and it was viewed as a de facto spiritual discovery of awesome import from day one.

With the introduction of the psychedelic into tribal culture, the mythic archetypes from our primal dream space could suddenly step out of our imaginations and leap to the stage right before us, speak and interact with us as conscious participants, as if they were one of us, show us strange and wondrous things beyond our imagination, solve problems and heal wounds, and leave us perplexing tasks and riddles for us to pursue. Long before there was Technicolor there was psychedelics, and to this day no media comes close to packing the same kind of high-resolution information density into a single momentous experience. The psychedelic experience is much like having the dreaming world come alive, or having the slippery world of imagination suddenly made flesh before our eyes. The psychedelic experience is, in my opinion, what every piece of transcendent art aspires to. Even without ever having a psychedelic experience, the act of taking an image or piece of music from your imagination and translating it into a physical medium which can be shared with others is psychedelic in and of itself. Not only is the act of creating art semantically psychedelic (mind-manifesting) it is also an exercise in the crystallization of imagination, which is indeed the very essence of the psychedelic experience.

Because dreaming and the artistic expression are so basic and fundamental to all of human life, it is no surprise that psychedelics can work as activators within the brain to set these basic primal behaviors rolling into high gear. Although there are some big differences between classic dreaming and classic psychedelic experience, there are also enough similarities to make some assumptions about the two. These assumptions are:

  1. Both dream activity and concrete psychedelic hallucinations activate and utilize the same imaging systems within our brains that allow us to render imaginal space in high 3-D detail.

  2. Both dreaming and psychedelics can activate this internal "hallucination engine" with the flip of a neurochemical switch.

  3. While psychedelics may be artificial activators of the internal "hallucination engine," their effects still impart novel information to the subject, information which — like dreams — can have a profound emotional impact on the subject's psyche and sense of self.

  4. Like a dream, the emotional impact of a psychedelic experience can alter the way a person views things, they way they make decisions, and can inspire them to create a concrete version of their vision to share with others, and thus has a trickle-up affect which is shared with culture at large.

And that is a decent summary of Psychedelic Information Theory in a nutshell: The evolution of idea from dreamtime to primetime. Print, TV, radio, movies, internet, music... these are all end-media, or what I like to call delivery or consumer media. In a sense our Brain is the primal delivery medium, the hardware which filters and translates our signal into the spark of Mind. But the psychedelic state is something different, it is a Primal Medium, like dreaming, in which a novel signal is generated in real-time on our perceptual hardware, no external input required. It is pure imagination in raw form, the catalyst of all other artistic media.

When speaking of the psychedelic in these terms it is impossible to ignore the connection to alchemy, the search for the divine spark within the maze of salts and solutions which govern our systems. For when we reduce the psychedelic medium to its base parts this is all it really is, a targeted mediation of the absorption and effect of various salts and solutions at various receptor sites within our neural hardware. That is it, there is nothing more to it than that. This little trick of jiggering the neurochemical balance has developed into the modern science of pharmacology, and we now know that even a tiny change to the chemical balance in the brain can generate the most primal and profound experiences a human can hope to have. This is the psychedelic experience we are here to explore in excruciating detail. Now let's get to it.

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