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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:
Messianic Ideation & Delusions of Grandeur

James Kent

Chapter 20: Psychedelic Information Theory

One of the major negative side effect of psychedelic experimentation is delusional ideation, and one of the most common pathologies associated with frequent high-dose psychedelic experimentation is persistent recurring delusions of grandeur. Delusional ideation within the psychedelic state is to be expected; but when delusional ideations cross the boundary from dream-state into waking state, this is where the trouble begins. For instance, in the prologue to this text (Late Night Notes from the Alien Hybrid Messiah) I caught myself in the midst of a messianic delusion, a delusion so absurd in its complexity and thin in pretext that — upon sober reflection a short time later — was somewhat embarrassing and laughable. Of course, while having the delusion I was in a borderline conscious state, eyes closed in a darkened room, simply riffing off noise sparking through my own brain. Yet somehow, with no external input to speak of, I managed to convince myself that I was at the center of a massive cosmic conspiracy involving Christ, aliens, the secret government, etc. I can use this delusion to dredge facets of my own identity and perhaps learn a little about my own subconscious fears and desires, but the main point is that I quickly realized that it was all a passing delusion. When the drugs wore off the delusion did not persist. It did not stick. But the question remains: Instead of coming down, what if I had chosen to do more drugs? What if I actually convinced myself I was the messiah, and couldn't talk myself out of it even while I was sober? Where would I be now?

Well, for starters I would have persistent recurring delusions of grandeur, a messiah complex, and would need a steady supply of drugs to keep me in that delusional snap for as long as it took to deliver my prophecy and convince everyone else I was right. This is the trap many psychedelic explorers fall into: They convince themselves they are at the center of a grand cosmic conspiracy, and that the only way to resolve the crisis is to do more drugs, and to get other people to do more drugs to see how right they are. This was the logic that trapped Timothy Leary, John Lilly, Terence McKenna, and many other latter-day prophets like Zoe-7. Each one of these prophets of the psychedelic movement believed at one time or another that they were, in-fact, messiahs, but I say their messages (respectively) hold no water. Leary claimed that LSD would liberate minds and create a free society, and also believed he was a secret agent in a cosmic conspiracy of oppression and freedom. Although he had the secret order of chaos on his side, his visions ran into many real-world road-blocks and reality checks. John Lilly claimed high dose Ketamine trips in an isolation tank (or anywhere, all the time) would allow contact with ECCO, the disincarnate cosmic intelligence that communicates through synchronistic action. Lilly claims he was seeking answers and deeper truths, I claim all he came up with was gibberish and endless hours in the K-hole. Terence McKenna claimed high-dose mushroom and/or DMT trips would allow contact with aliens and discarnate entities that hold secrets about the nature of language and the universe, and could provide artifacts for mapping the end of the time in 2012 from ordered patterns in the i-ching. We are all waiting to see how 2012 comes and goes, but let's just say I'm not holding my breath here. Each one of these men carried their own messianic complexes, but beyond each of these persistent delusions was the intense need to proselytize and to tell the world about what they had discovered (drugs), and then styled themselves as pop gurus, latter-day messiahs, enlightened masters of chaos, and twentieth-century alchemical magi. Doesn't this sound just like the people with temporal lobe epilepsy who begin to hear voices and believe they are messiahs?

So how did this happen? How did the delusional trap suck them in?

The first thing to keep in mind is that persistent recurring delusions of grandeur (PRDoG) don't typically take hold after a single isolated psychedelic voyage. Though one might run up against some savory delusional, messianic, or paranoid ideation in a single trip, the content derived from a single psychedelic session is often easily forgotten, dismissed, or toyed with for a while before it simply fades away. The key patterns we are looking for when approaching persistent delusions of grandeur are 1) high dose ranges, 2) high frequency of use, 3) ingestion contexts which isolate the user from external stimulus, and 4) ingestion contexts that revolve around repetitive rituals, themes, or patterns. In the cases of Leary, Lilly, and McKenna, each seemed to follow the other's opinion that high-dose experimentation in complete sensory isolation was the way to go, all (or most) of the time, sometimes for extended periods of time, often the longer the better. Each one of these explorers claimed that they were receiving Gnostic telemetry from the psychic logos of the conscious universe (or something like that), just as prophets have mystical visions and receive supernatural wisdom from their Gods. Each of these men claimed to be rigorous thinkers, yet none of them ever stopped to consider (publicly at least) that they just might be swimming in their own BS. Each one of these psychedelic pioneers bought their own fabrications so completely — hook line and sinker — they were unable to step back and see reality in any other way. Is this because they were crazy? Did they drink too much of their own Kool-Aide? I would say the answer is yes, and that each of these men trapped themselves so thoroughly into their own delusions that there was no escaping once they were in. And the public rewarded and supported these delusions with book sales, speaking gigs, and the promise of exciting "consciousness-expanding" social movements based on their expert guidebooks and lots of high-dose psychedelic experimentation. Sounds like a win-win situation, yes? No? Maybe not?

Obviously Leary was never able to deliver on his promise of an evolved and liberated society based on the free use of LSD; Lilly was never able to discern anything from ECCO other than he needed to be doing more Ketamine in order to receive the next important transmission; and McKenna's archaic revival was hipster trend masquerading as a social movement, as devoid of meaning as the rave culture which embraced it, the DMT elves that populated their visions, and the literal nothing "Timewave Zero" that they swallowed as prophecy. I'm sorry to lay it all out like this, but like most other spiritual or political dogma, the psychedelic fairy tales offered up by these great men — upon closer inspection — bear little or no resemblance to the actual world we live in. I do not say this to "dis" them, I think they were very brave to attempt what they did: Leary being the radical, Lilly being the research wonk, McKenna being the throwback anthropologist and explorer of the arcane. Each one of these men was stepping into dangerous territory, unraveled in the entire history of the modern West. Each of these men was passionate about testing the limits of the human brain and grasping at the nature of God, the universe, and everything. I understand this. I grok this. But somewhere along each of their journeys the dogma got sticky, cast in stone, and they found themselves trapped in the very ideologies they were selling. They got pulled under, they bit off more than they could chew, they were surfing on the edge of something big, but that had no real answers, no exit strategy, no where to go. So what happened to them? They wiped out.

I think what everyone would like to know — what's missing here — is some kind of mechanistic explanation, or an analysis of the "trigger" which could turn your normal, recreational psychedelic experimentation into a trap as insidiously recursive and self-referential as persistently recurring messianic delusions of grandeur. And the culprit is, I assert to you, good old neural plasticity and brainwashing. According to the primary tenet of Hebbian neural plasticity, "Neurons that fire together wire together," which means that neurons which spend a lot of time processing the same information or remembering a lot of the same concepts at the same time, invariable begin to form hard-wired connections between themselves to solidify concepts and make "thinking" a more energy efficient task. Thus, delusions formed in a single psychedelic session are not necessarily hard-wired, and can fade in mere hours. But delusions which are solidified in successive, ritually-programmed trips can easily form lasting, hard-wired connections in long-term-memory. Couple neural plasticity with sensory isolation and the obsessive nature of psychedelic feedback in the excited cortex, and you have a model for a turbo-charged re-wiring of neural connectivity through extended psychedelic programming — otherwise known as brainwashing. Yes, brainwashing.

If you are following my discussion here, you will now realize what I am asserting is that Leary, Lilly, and McKenna all actually brainwashed (yes, brainwashed) themselves into believing their own flimsy delusions, thus convincing themselves they were onto something larger than rationality would normally allow. And not only did they spread their brain-eating delusions to the masses through the Eucharist of high-dose psychedelic drug experimentation, they sold the primary auto-brainwashing technique to the masses as well: sensory isolation.

Some might call auto-brainwashing "metaprogramming," and this is fine, but if you are metaprogramming yourself to believe a flimsy and preposterous fairy-tale without any hard evidence (other than your own drug-fueled visions) to back you up, this sounds a lot like brainwashing to me. Metaprogramming is a legitimate term for any hands-on rewiring of the neural structure, and auto-brainwashing is a good example of the "bad" or "reckless" kind of metaprogramming. In truth, psychedelics are perfect for all kinds of brainwashing, but particularly useful in the kind of brainwashing used in religion, which is generally based on the divine teachings of a single individual (or dogma) and the notion of "faith" (or the willingness to believe) that this dogma is the true word of God as passed through the prophet. Leary believed his message in a Darwinian behaviorist model: LSD + human nervous system = Enlightened Being, there was no room for error in his formula (unfortunately). Lilly cast his prophecy in the divine interpretation of random chaos, but his temple is full of relativist noise, no questions or answers there, just more babble retrieved from time spent (wasted) in the hole. And McKenna was a legitimate genius who became too enamored with his own imagination; a scholar genuinely steeped in lore, but stumped by his own inventiveness. McKenna was also unable to drop his madcap stage persona long enough to step back and admit he just might be spinning an elaborately detailed fantasy, the very same way Leary had done with LSD and Lilly with Ketamine. Weren't these people watching and listening to each other? Couldn't they see it coming for themselves?

I'm not saying that Timothy Leary was the first case of messianic psychedelic auto-brainwashing in history of mankind — their were no doubt others in our glorious entheogenic past — but he was definitely the first in Western culture to hit the media so hard with his prophetic (yet problematic) message. Leary was huge, and influenced ageneration (or two, or three) of psychedelic explorers in his wake. Leary's auto-brainwashing techniques were picked up by many, the MKULTRA crew and Charles Manson just to name a few, and were echoed for years by Terence McKenna in his own way. But the problem of auto-brainwashing is real, even if you are not intending to go that way (even more so, perhaps). I will mention that in addition to the neural plasticity aspect of psychedelic auto-brainwashing, I would not be surprised if repeated high-dose experimentation with psychedelics could lead to the kind of petit-mal seizures seen in temporal lobe epileptics, which means there might be a very real chance of brain damage in the temporal lobe that could lead to increased erratic functioning and messianic ideation over time. Again, I am talking about repeated, high dose experimentation over a period of days-to-weeks, not the casual trip here and there. And for those of you who would like to precisely pinpoint where this damage or temporal re-wiring might be the most extreme, I would say the first place to look would be in the entorhinal cortex, in the medial temporal lobe. From a 1999 doctoral dissertation on the area:

The human entorhinal cortex is located in the ventromedial portion of the temporal lobe and consists of eight subfields. It has reciprocal connections with the hippocampus and various other cortical and subcortical structures, and thus forms an integral component of the medial temporal lobe memory system.

The number of neurons of the entorhinal cortex is diminished in temporal lobe epilepsy (Du et al. 1993) and in Alzheimer's disease (Gomez Isla et al. 1996).

Epileptic seizures... of the temporal lobe, [produce] psychosensory events including taste, smell, fear, sexual pleasure sensations, and memory disturbances (Engel 1996).

In addition to the hippocampus proper, other medial temporal lobe structures are involved in TLE, such as the amygdala (Kšlvišinen et al. 1997, Pitkšnen et al. 1998) and the entorhinal cortex (Du et al. 1993). Cell loss is the most profound in layer III of the rostral entorhinal cortex (Du et al. 1993). In experimental studies of status epilepticus of rats, layer III of the medial portion of the entorhinal cortex is suggested to be the most vulnerable (Du et al. 1995a). Evidence is also beginning to point to the entorhinal cortex as one of the primary sites in which temporal lobe seizures propagate and reverberate (Spencer and Spencer 1994). Furthermore, the structural changes in the entorhinal cortex might propagate changes in the hippocampus.

Mikkonen, Mia. the human entorhinal cortex: Anatomic organization and its alteration in Alzheimer's disease and temporal lobe epilepsy. Series of Reports, No 50, Department of Neurology, University of Kuopio. 1999. 91 p.
So, if we are to fully make the connection between psychedelics, brainwashing, delusions of grandeur, and temporal lobe epilepsy, the first place we would look is the entorhinal cortex and its close interconnectivity with the hippocampus and memory processing. The proper functioning of the entorhinal cortex is essential to accurate memory storage and recall, and damage to this area can lead to the formation of persistent delusions as well as the loss of accurate memory recall. Since the entorhinal cortex is so important in the task of parsing multi-modal sensory data into accurate memory storage, this would be the first place to ply the tenets of neural plasticity when trying to get someone (including yourself) to equate specific ideas or memories with pleasure or pain (as in behavioral hypnosis); alter internalized concepts of self in relation to others (as in psychotherapy, neurolinguistic programming, or metaprogramming); or to get them to believe things that are not true, or to create false ideas of themselves or reality based on false memories (as in brainwashing). What we are talking about here is a selective rewiring or deliberate destruction of areas of your memory cortex in the pursuit of a higher truth about the self. This is very bad territory to be walking into. The farther you go into the brainwashing process, the more you begin to believe your own delusions (formative delusions). The more impressed the delusions become in your memory, the longer they persist (explicit delusions). The longer they persist, the more you begin to filter everything else about reality around those delusions (integral delusions). Finally, the delusions become so intricate and complex that they color the context of everything you see or hear or remember about anything. Delusional intensity has now reached the immersive level. Brainwash complete. The delusions can take any form: the free market; Jesus; Allah, aliens; ECCO; the apocalypse; conspiracies; hate-filled ideologies; free-love ideologies; etc., but the basic brainwashing system is the same for all of them. Isolate them, hit the entorhinal cortex, hit it hard. Make them believe.

The pattern of high-dose/high-frequency use of any psychedelic or dissociative (with or without ritual dogma) is typically not good for the psyche and usually leads to a direct withdrawal from society and some hard falls into delusional territory. I speak both as one who has felt the lure of succumbing to the delusional trap, and as one who has met many who have fallen into same said trap themselves. And I can say with some confidence that stopping the drug use early-on in the process of an auto-brainwashing slide clearly allows messianic delusions to fade over time; but persistent use clearly causes the delusions to become more complex, intertwined, and solidified over time. Unfortunately I cannot tell you exactly where the "point of no return" mark is in repeated high-dose psychedelic experimentation. If I had sailed off that edge of the map this would be a totally different text altogether. But what I can tell you is this: tread very carefully when walking into alluring psychedelic waters, and always reality-check yourself on the comedown to make sure you haven't permanently dropped your rationality and stepped right over into the deep end. Because once you pass the point of no return, you are in it, full time, and are basically on your own. And from what I gather from the signposts: here there be monsters.

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