Psychedelic Information Theory|
Chapter 03: Psychedelic Information Theory
No matter what you may happen to believe about psychedelics, one thing about them is evident: they are catalysts for generating information within the mind of the user. There are many colorful theories about the origin of this internal information font, ranging from a release of repressed emotional content, cognitive downloads from the collective unconscious, encoded signals projected by our DNA, messages from the gods, vibrations from discarnate entities and aliens hovering in nearby dimensions, or just a light show of random neuronal firing filling the user's mind with junk data. Regardless of the origin of or content found within the typical psychedelic trip, it is widely accepted that information is generated within the event, information which can have a profound impact on the user.
While this text will strive to cover many areas and sort through many mysteries of the psychedelic state, it is the flow of information generated by the psychedelic state into human culture at large which I will attempt to address here. Taking into account the existence of Vedic Soma, Siberian fly agaric cults, the Greek mysteries of Elusis, Mayan mushroom cults, Amazonian ayahuasca rituals, Native American peyote rituals, and dozens of other historical ritual uses of psychedelics, I will simply assume that psychedelics have been in wide use and have had an influence on human religion, art, culture, politics, and technology for at least thousands of years now if not longer. The context and rate of psychedelic information flow has been different in different times and cultures, but since the lid was blown by Dr. Leary back in the '60s it has literally erupted in the industrialized West like never before.
The pathway of psychedelic information exchange is universally the same, and flows as follows:
ingestion -> internal transmission -> internal integration -> cultural transmission -> cultural integration
While most studies of the psychedelic state focus solely on the second stage of this process internal transmission, or what is commonly called the "trip" this is only one part of the larger process by which psychedelics influence both individual and culture at large. Each stage of this process has its own patterns and methodologies, and different portions of this text will attempt to illuminate one or more of these stages in the service of providing an overall understanding of how psychedelics work their magic on human culture. Below is a capsule summary of each stage in this process for reference throughout the text.
In many ways ingestion is the most mysterious and complicated piece of this puzzle. While the biochemistry of the psychedelic experience can be reduced to mechanical process which can be rigidly defined in terms of action and result, the conscious act of psychedelic ingestion stems from an abstraction of the psyche, an abstraction which can be very difficult to define in absolute terms. One can speculate that there is a primal hunger for the psychedelic state that we seek to fill any way we can, and thus it is only natural that we seek out plants or chemicals that fulfill this human function. Or if not an innate hunger it can at least be assumed that that primal ingestion was accidental, and that the psychedelic state was discovered completely by mistake while sampling the surrounding flora in our primal Eden. However, since that primal time it has been well understood that there are certain "magical" plants which can produce a profound experience when ingested.
In each society the rules and motivations which dictate who ingests psychedelic and in what context are different, in most traditional settings the ingestion is a spiritual exercise akin to Catholic communion, a means to connect with unseen spirits and deities to gain wisdom or vision beyond that of human experience. Ingestion was typically controlled by a few priests and students who's job it was to be experts in the use of these plants. In modern Western culture all of these traditional rules have changed. The context in which modern psychedelic ingestion takes place has become very complex and almost impossible to study in any serious way, but most people are introduced to ingestion in very mundane recreational circumstances, motivated generally by hedonism, curiosity, boredom, and rebellion. Though the spiritual exercise has gone out of modern ingestion, the impact of the mystical still comes through loud and clear when looking at psychedelic subculture. Perhaps a hunger for the mystical fuels the need for ingestion, but there is no doubt that the person doing the ingesting is generally "seeking" something, however vague that notion of need may be.
This stage is where the "magic" happens. All sensations, emotions, visions, mystical messages, and subjective experiences associated with the psychedelic state fall under the heading of "internal transmission". While there are many things which happen in this particular state, perhaps the easiest aspect for Western science to deal with is the mechanical details of receptor interaction and neural reaction to the presence of the psychedelic molecule, and how that interaction affects the subjective perception of the user. While there are still some unknowns in the greater picture of psychedelic pharmacology, breakthroughs in research over the past few years have given us a fairly clear picture of what's actually going on in the brain under the influence of psychedelics. In the chapters which cover neural behavior I will attempt to detail to the best of my ability the known and probable causes of the perceptual phenomena associated with the psychedelic state.
But that is only half of the story. While we can use science to probe and map the delicate chemical interactions at the neural level, that still does not adequately describe the how, why, or from where the internal transmission manifests. This is, of course, the greatest mystery of the psychedelic experience: how can the ingestion of a single molecule produce such a profound wash of emotional and symbolic content, and where exactly does that content come from? Although everyone has their own pet theories about internal transmission, this question will be examined from many angles throughout the course of this book, hopefully with some kind of satisfactory resolution by the time we are done.
The process of internal integration begins once the psychedelic molecule leaves the body. Although the perceptual effects of the psychedelic state quickly fade away, the emotional impact of the experience resonates and reverberates within the psyche for a long time afterwards. How each person deals with the content of each experience is unique to that individual and their own personal worldview going into the experience. Some people may choose to simply ignore any content derived from the psychedelic state as drug induced delusion or a strange detour from reality that is best forgotten as soon as it wears off, while others may cherish and cling to the fleeting bits and pieces of data they uncovered in the psychedelic state, meticulously interpreting and re-interpreting what they saw and felt in the pursuit of a higher metaphysical truth.
Whatever the reaction, the process by which an individual responds to and adapts to the transmission received under the influence of psychedelics is called integration. It is at this stage that the user"s personal beliefs and behaviors are rigorously self-analyzed and begin to be modified, sometimes drastically and sometimes not at all. While some people would say that the internal transmission, or "content" of the experience, is the most important aspect, others (especially in the psychiatric and therapeutic community) would say that integration is far more important than content, for content without integration is essentially meaningless. Although this issue could be debated round and round for the rest of eternity, I am of the mind that no particular phase of the psychedelic process is more or less important than any other. The one thing I would like to stress about internal integration, however, is that this is the stage at which the user creates the "story" of their experience. While the content may be powerful and rich and possibly even too overwhelming to ever adequately communicate, the integration phase is where the user decides what actually happened in the experience, or at least how they will remember it and/or talk about it later. They decide weather it was beneficial, fun, scary, strange, or somewhere in between; and they also decide how to adjust their worldview to accommodate what they just experienced. Integration can take anywhere from a few minutes to an entire lifetime, and it is not uncommon for revisions or multiple revisions of a single trip to take place over a long period of time.
The personal process of experiencing and integrating a psychedelic event is a fairly extreme thing in and of itself, but there is yet another layer of transmission that happens after the event. As the personal story of the psychedelic event unfolds during the course of integration, it is only natural for that person to want to share what they have experienced with other people. Sometimes this sharing is explicit, in that one person relays the psychedelic transmission to many others via the story they have fashioned during integration phase. Sometimes the story is shared via a work of art, music, or fiction, or refined into a scientific or philosophical observation on the nature of reality and presented somewhat in disguise, if you will. Whatever particular mode the cultural transmission takes, it is obvious that throughout time bits and pieces of any particular psychedelic state will ultimately filter down into public consciousness at large. In ancient days this process no doubt played a great role in the origin of myth and religion, as priests would partake of their psychedelic sacrament, receive a divine vision, and then filter the contents of that vision for mass consumption via sacred texts, prophecies, or oral stories. In the modern world things work a bit differently, of course. Today our psychedelic "priests" are the pop artists and musicians who use the psychedelic sacrament as a catalyst for their own creative vision, and their content is filtered down through a variety of media for consumption by many different cultures and subcultures. Psychologists, therapists, and alternative healers also have their own modes of high priesthood and cultural transmission, though these stories are necessarily cloaked in the nomenclature of their own particular brand of science or medicine, just as the artist cloaks his or her own message in their own specific medium.
Regardless of the way in which the psychedelic message is masked and manipulated for public awareness, artists, activists, philosophers, scientists, teachers, priests, therapists, and many other people all feel an intense need to apply what they have learned in the psychedelic state to influence culture at large. While the bells and whistles of the internal trip may get most of the press, it is this stage, the cultural transmission, that is most fascinating to me. Not only does the psychedelic experience change the individual, it often makes the individual want to make fundamental changes to culture at large, typically in the pursuit of bringing healing or understanding to the world, or in some way attempting to make things "better" than they are right now. Conversely, cultural transmission may involve destructive, diabolical, and heinous acts, such as crime, murder, self-mutilation, suicide, war, etc., which were in some way triggered by the events occurring within Internal Transmission or Integration. Why one individual may be driven to create while another may be driven to destroy will be discussed further throughout the course of this text.
Despite the fact that psychedelics are currently illegal, that does not stop the public from eagerly gobbling up the fruits of their use like. All one has to do is turn on the TV or radio or walk through a media saturated area to feel the psychedelic presence even at corporate levels. Psychedelic influenced music and visuals have become the norm of hip expression for Madison Avenue and beyond, and psychedelic philosophy continues to gain ground in everything from alternative medicine to grassroots political parties like the Greens. While this is a far cry from the religions of Old which have dominated the majority of human culture for most of history, the psychedelic influence can still be found in many facets of culture around the world. This is a particularly telling point about the power of psychedelics given that Western Capitalist Democracy as practiced by the U.S.A. has done everything in its militant power to stomp them out for the past thirty years. What this implies to me, more than anything else, is that although the government (and by assumption the people who elect the government) want to see an end to the use of psychedelics, society at large is still very fascinated by the clever cultural artifacts produced as a result of their use.
This paradoxical attitude towards psychedelics vs. psychedelic art and philosophy points to an underlying confusion and lack of understanding among the general public about just what psychedelics are. Are they dangerous? Are they useful? Will they make people crazy? Will they undermine society as we know it? In terms of cultural integration, the modern Western world has only started to come to grips with what the psychedelic really is and what its rightful place in the greater scheme of things should be. For now psychedelics are simply demonized and shut out of popular discussion, yet their subtle effects are everywhere. Because of the fear associated with psychedelics I doubt that cultural integration can be forced to happen in any other way than it is right now. As psychedelics become more popular and better understood by both science and the public at large, it is not absurd to assume that they may one day come to be viewed in a new light, no longer taboo but open to public discourse and debate on their proper use. This is all happening now, but slowly and with small steps. Cultural Integration is an ongoing process that will take turns and tumbles for as long as both people and psychedelics co-exist. Each new piece of information which is transmitted and integrated adds another reference point from which to view them as a whole, and the body of art, literature, spiritual, and scientific references just keep growing.
This book is my cultural transmission, my humble contribution to this ever-growing body of psychedelic work. It is my sincerest hope that you find it somewhat illuminating.
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Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2005-02-10 00:00:00