DMT, Hyperspace, and Reductionism|
James Kent and Soma Junkie
Further discussions on the nature of the psychedelic experience
The following article is an edited version of an e-mail discussion between James Kent and Soma Junkie, in response to the article The Case Against DMT Elves, by James Kent.
Date: Wed, 12 May 2004 06:12:53
From: soma junkie
Subject: About DMT visuals
Greetings James Kent,
I read your articles about DMT visuals on the Tripzine website and I
liked them. I do have some reservations about your conclusions, but I
can tell you are very experienced and informed about psychedelics, the
brain, and consciousness. I understand you are very into
psychopharmacology and neurology and all that, so it's not surprising to
me the view you are taking here.
Anyway, my reaction to your articles was that I was intrigued by your
theories and their plausibility, but was then sort of turned off by the
reductionist bent of it. It seems to me that you came to the subject
initially with some kind of bias, that being of the empirical
reductionist who wanted to demystify something that was utterly
mysterious and complex, and that's exactly how you ended up. You seemed
to have basically just reinforced the set of assumptions you had to
begin with. At least, that's the impression I got. I'm not a mind reader
so I can't say for certain that is the case. It's fairly easy to explain
away psychedelic imagery as some sort of cognitive aberration, I think.
It's just a matter of getting down the cognitive mechanics and creating
a plausible way hallucinations could be generated (easier said than
done, I know.) But if you're trying to cram the whole experience into
the realm of the empirical, of course it will look that way.
I have to admit that I've listened to a ton of Terence McKenna lectures
and I tend to agree with him when he rants the following:
"We are not primarily biological, with mind emerging as a kind of
iridescence, a kind of epiphenomenon at the higher levels of
organization of biology. We are hyperspatial objects of some sort that
cast a shadow into matter. The shadow in matter is our physical organism."
So, I guess that's something like my bias, however untenable it may be.
I think maybe the best rebuttal I've seen to the reductionist type of
approach lies in Ken Wilber's Integrative model. In case you're not
familiar with him, it goes something like this:
According to Wilber, there are three major types of perspectives...there
is the the subjective/personal ("i"), the
intersubjective/societal/philosophical ("we") and the objective/empirical
("it") which compose the whole spectrum of looking at "reality" (I say
for lack of a better word)...anyway, Wilber says that you cannot
discount any of these perspectives or try to reduce everything to either
one or two of them or else you get an inherently flawed view of
things...you have to take it ALL into consideration. And then of course,
you have to factor in that there is simply that which is unknowable. I
know saying "the unknowable" is heresy in scientific circles, but I'm
not a scientist, I'm a poet, so fuck it. ;)
Date: Wed, 12 May 2004 11:35:56
To: soma junkie
Subject: Re: About DMT visuals
Hey Soma Junkie, thanks for the comments. I really appreciate the feedback and the
chance to get at this from as many different directions as possible.
In response to what you have to say, I agree that taking a firmly reductionist
stance is a bit off-putting, but after grappling with this issue for fifteen
years I have found there is no other way to "explain" it than to reduce it in
strictly bio-mechanical terms (more on this in a minute). You can make theories,
you can create colorful metaphors, you can talk of hyperspatial abstractions, but
that doesn't explain anything to me. Also, I am the kind of person who does not
believe in unsolvable mysteries, or things that are "too complex for us too
understand," so I am always looking for ways to "unmask the mystery" so to
speak, because to me people who say things like "it's impossible to reduce" just
seem lazy and unwilling to do the digging necessary to expand their knowledge,
or have opinions which run contrary to rational thought and prefer to leave things mysterious and unexplained.
Now, that said, I did not start off as a reductionist. I started off with the
firm belief that I was on the trail of a spiritual mystery of immense
proportions, and went out seeking the audience of these autonomous hyperspatial
entities to "find answers" to the mystery. I have meet gods, demons,
elves, and a panoply of insect aliens, disembodied bee shaman, dwarves, etc.
However, as I said to Clifford Pickover in my original post, none of these
entities ever left me with any tangible piece of information to provide some
kind of explanation as to why they are there. I have been told on various occasions by these entities
that life is Matrix-like VR video game, and when I wake up from this one I will
be given the opportunity to start over; or that I am an alien hybrid who will
become a messiah when the invasion happens; or that I am direct descendant of
Christ; or that I am an immortal boddhisatva sent to by the "higher ups" to keep
tabs on the forces of chaos and oppression; or that I am an agent of Satan and
ruler of the third rung of hell (on vacation in human form of course); or that I am a genetic
experiment created by the government; or that my children are emissaries of
hyperspace sent to help me in my various messianic missions; etc, etc, etc, plus a whole lot more
bugged-out shit. Now, if these things are all true then I will be forced to eat
my words and accept that these entities actually exist and are making contact
via the psychedelic state. But truly, after the drugs wear off, these notions
are laughably psychotic, classic delusions of grandeur. I have heard all of
these delusions repeated in various forms by other trippers, and from people who are just plain old schizophrenic (no
drugs needed) and I would argue that the people who believe them are seriously disturbed. So, if I choose to believe that
these entities actually exist, what should I make of the information they are
giving me? Should I believe all of it, even the stuff that is contradictory, or
should I just accept that hyperspatial entities like to yank my chain around for
a good laugh? And if so, what use are they if all they do is feed me psychotic
Now, about hyperspace. I agree that we are all hyperspatial as well as physical,
that much seems likely if we are to take string theory to it's logical
conclusions. Everything we see is a 3D manifestation of some timeless
hyperspatial object(s) throwing off high-energy emissions (or something like
that). That said, this mysterious hyperspatial object is no more exotic than the
sun, it just represents a condensed mathematical perspective on reality where
formulas become simpler. Now, from what I can tell, hyperspace is a construction
of theoretical math and physics, and if it does exist it is compressed into a
space so tiny that it is infinitesimal and beyond our senses to behold. What we perceive as reality are
lower-order hyperspatial emissions, things that fall into the visible spectrum
(light) and large clusters of hyperspatial energy (mass). And when I say we
"see" it, I mean that we can pull together an accurate picture of it in our
working memory, where all sense data is processed into "reality." Whatever
passes through this portion of our brain is necessarily construed as "real"
until we can analyze it further and/or corroborate our findings with consensus
reality (other people) and reach a shared version of what is "real". For some
people who are color blind, red apples and green apples look the same. Are they
really the same? No. Consensus reality overrules the color blind and says that apples
come in all colors. A person on a psychedelic "sees" hyperspace and various entities.
Is it real? No. Consensus reality overrules once again.
Now lets throw away consensus reality for a moment and assume that hyperspace
exists. If so, it is by definition beyond our perceptual capacity to "see." So I
ask myself, how can a pinch of powdered crystal clinging to the surface of our
neural membranes allow us to see that which is beyond our perceptual limits? Does it
accelerate our sensory input to give us a "clearer" picture of reality? Does it
accelerate our working-memory's ability to analyze and construct a more detailed
picture of the reality we already perceive? Does it "re-tune" the retina to
capture energy of a different wavelength or frequency? Does it disrupt the
thalamic process of screening "noise" and "interference" from our higher sensory
processing organs? Does it activate a "sleeping" part of our brain that is
actually an ancient hidden organ for sensing hyperspatial emissions? To somebody who doesn't
mind easy answers any of the above explanations would work just fine, but that
does not make any of them true.
Now I have dug into all of these questions, and examined the sensory processing
system very closely, as well as the phenomena produced in the psychedelic
state. I can say with a fair deal of certainty that *some* of the above
statements may be true, and others are almost certainly not true. But what I
am fairly certain of is that what we are seeing in the DMT state is not
hyperspace. Hyperspace is a mathematical construct that has been co-opted by
Terence and the like to create a new-age mythology based on big sack of pretty
words (i.e. nothing). It is akin to the Theosophists of the 19th century trying to
explain paranormal phenomena in terms of "spirits of the aether" or earlier
theologians attempting to explain all things as the work of "angels and demons".
Using the term hyperspace in this way just confuses the subject. It is a
misnomer. I more comfortable with the term "spirit realm" than I am with
hyperspace, because at least this is an accurate term. However, someone like
Terence can't use the term "spirit realm" in a modern society without being
laughed out of the building as a naive lover of old-world superstition. So he
comes up with terms like "hyperspace" to sound legitimate and scientific, but he
is just obscuring the fact that he is talking about spirits (essentially the
same old angels and demons of yore) and hyping them up into some kind of cool
science fiction alien entities.
It seems to me that that you have a pet peeve for people using the word
'hyperspace' when talking about psychedelics.
I do! Because people don't define it at all, it's just a cool word that replaced
a vague notion of "higher dimensions" in common parlance, even though it is not
technically accurate. It is a semantic thing I suppose.
But you met Terence, did you ever bring this up with him? Did he have any
explanation for why he hyped up 'hyperspace' and ditched 'spirit realm'?
Well, when I first met him I hadn't even figured out what the hell he was
talking about, so I knew nothing of hyperspace anyway. As the years went by we traded
some e-mails where he pretty much conceded that hyperspace was a good metaphor
for higher dimensional consciousness, but that using the term as a locality
where things could dwell (e.g. 'the elves of hyperspace') was probably closer to a poetic term
than anything actually derived from science. I'm sure he used 'spirit realm' for
one crowd and 'hyperspace' for another. I don't think he ever decided for
himself if they were the same thing or different.
With all of that said, I can at least entertain the idea that there
may be a non-physical spirit realm overlapping our own reality that is
invisible, and that the psychedelic mind may be able to catch snippets of this
world. However, even if this is true, the knowledge that the spirit world has to
offer is maddeningly impenetrable, and usually sounds *remarkably* like
psychotic delusions when you get right down to it. Either that, or the wisdom
they offer is so common sense and simple (save the planet, sun is good, war is
bad, water is life, etc.) as to be useless to anyone but the person who had the
Okay, so now that I have skewered through that, I will go on to say that there
are a lot of valid spiritual insights to be had though the psychedelic
experience. I devote a lot of time in my book to discussing these. But I do not
make the logical leap that just because psychedelics allow "spiritual insight"
that they are actually revealing an invisible "spirit realm." That may be the
subjective analysis of the person who experiences it, but it is not necessarily
true, nor does the fact that it's not true necessarily invalidate the
Even if the visions which catalyze that epiphany are mere figments, the subjective experience of spiritual epiphany is real . And what is the
essential part of the psychedelic journey? Is it the epiphany or the visions? I
would argue that the epiphany is all that is important, and the visions are more
like the vehicle or the curious roadside attractions along the way. People who get too tangled up
in them miss the point, I think.
Anyway, there is a lot more too it than what has been released so far. As you said,
it is no easy task getting it all under one umbrella, but not impossible either.
My ultimate conclusion on psychedelics is that in any trip the can produce three primary
effects which often overlap: 1) a perceptual distortion of reality; 2) a
magnification of reality; 3) imaginal renderings from the subconscious mixed over the two. It is the second item,
a magnification of reality, that I think people are talking about when they
speak of seeing "hyperspace" and whatnot, because there is a distinct
"unveiling" that goes on in the process that is perceived as profoundly mystical in nature.
Precisely what this unveiling is, and how it changes the user, are the primary focus of my work.
My reaction to your articles was that I was intrigued by your theories and
their plausibility, but was then sort of turned off by the reductionist bent of
I realize that trying to "reduce" and "demystify" the psychedelic experience
is not the most popular stance to take. In fact, I have many reservations about
releasing such a text, and expect to be called a spoiler or some such, but my
position comes from the fact that for me they have been demystified, and it kind
of bugs me when people say things like they are "beyond understanding" or that
all visions are the work of "plant spirits" or something vague and mystical like
that. My own experience tells me otherwise. I fully see where the mystical
interpretations are coming from, but I do not blindly buy into the validity
and/or sanctity of such interpretations any more than I do to those of the
lunatics on the street who talk to invisible people.
It seems to me that you came to the subject initially with some kind of bias,
that being of the empirical reductionist who wanted to demystify something that
was utterly mysterious and complex, and that's exactly how you ended up.
I came to the experience as an occult metaphysician looking for proof of higher
order and consciousness to the universe. I more or less succeeded in finding such
evidence through the psychedelic state, but did not understand how it all happened, or
how a molecule applied to the nervous system could create such profound results.
This was the question I set out to answer. What I found is that psychedelics are
like a telescope (or microscope) combined with a kaleidoscope. Both the
telescope and the kaleidoscope produce fantastic imagery, but one produces
magnified views of reality and the other produces distorted views of reality. To
someone who is ignorant, both devices seem to magically produce fantastic
visions beyond the realm of the senses, however, when you crack them apart they
are really very simple, not very interesting, and are both made of the exact
same things: tubes, mirrors, and lenses. This fact that we can crack them apart
and see their component parts does not discount the inherent value of the images
they produce, but it does demystify them and explain how they work. The same is
true with the psychedelic state: fantastic imagery produced from basic boring
It's fairly easy to explain away psychedelic imagery as some sort of cognitive
It is easy to *discount* psychedelic imagery as some sort of cognitive
aberration, but not so easy to explain (I'm still working on that). And yet
there are certain aspects of the psychedelic experience that many people refuse to
believe is cognitive aberration. For instance, I was relating the tale of an
ayahuasca trip I had to a small group of people who were psychedelically
literate. On this particular trip I was staring into a campfire for some time.
Within the fire I saw visions of my childhood, faces of people I had not seen in
years, all kinds of writhing bodies and sexual imagery, devil faces, etc., your
basic psychedelic visuals. At one point the fire popped and a shower of sparks
flew into the air, and I saw dancing little demonic imps swirling around in the
smoke, laughing and giggling off into the night. Now at this point in my tale
everyone went "Whoa man, cool! Fire spirits! Elves! Whee hee! The little imps!"
or some similar reaction. Everybody in the group was
extremely eager to accept that these were *real* elves or fire imps with no further prodding. At
which point I said, "Do you think the faces of my friends and family in the fire
were real?" Which seemed to confuse everyone. Of course they were not real, those
were images from my own memory projected onto the flickering fire. And
yet when I see imps people instinctively want to believe they were real. They
say things like, "You couldn't have imagined them because you've never seen an
imp before," or "All the other visions were from your memory or subconscious,
the imps were from some other plane..." If the faces in the fire are a cognitive
aberration, then why are the imps any different? And why do people willingly make
this logical leap when sprites and fairies are concerned? It makes no sense to
me. It's irrational, and the kind of thinking that makes psychedelic people look
like deluded buffoons.
McKenna says: "We are not primarily biological, with mind emerging as a kind of iridescence, a
kind of epiphenomenon at the higher levels of organization of biology. We are
hyperspatial objects of some sort that cast a shadow into matter. The shadow in
matter is our physical organism."
I can sort of get behind this statement, accept according to the math there is
only one hyperspatial object which is a dense compression of
everything all at once. We are merely facets within the lower-order reality
crystallizing outward from that single point. And I disagree with the fact
that we are not primarily biological, because we have proof otherwise. The
biological process produces what we understand to be consciousness. I realize
that people make distinctions between biological consciousness and spiritual
consciousness, but that is another issue which runs off into the realm of
conjecture, and if you begin any theory with a piece of conjecture you are
basically doomed. I do not want to discount this distinction, I just don't think
any theory put forth should rely solely on this fact e.g. "The psychedelic
state is produced by the spirit consciousness awakening in hyperspace."
Wow! Cool! Sign me up! Okay, that's a neat little package to wrap up into a
sound bite and sell to the masses, but is it true? Certainly there are aspects
of the experience that *feel* that this is the case, but there is also a whole
lot of other stuff going on that is absolutely nothing like "spirit consciousness
awaking in hyperspace." I suppose if that's what you're expecting from the trip
you might very well get something like that, but is it real or just another
instance of set and setting leading the outcome? One of the basic goals of my
research and conclusions is to try and avoid pithy truisms that try to tie the
psychedelic experience up neatly into one package, for any theory that fits such a description is
almost certainly not true, or at the very least it fails to address the bigger
picture by choosing to illuminate only a tiny sliver of it.
Don't you think a purely reductionist stance will be useful for people who wish to completely invalidate the psychedelic experience?
It seems that a lot could be lost if your final conclusion is 'It's all a trick of the brain.'
Well, yes, this here is the key of the book. I don't want to invalidate the psychedelic
experience, I want to shed light on it and illustrate how it is most effective
in therapy. You need to understand the mechanics to understand how it can be used to heal, and that is
what I am attempting to do. I want an MD who reads this to go, "Oh really, I
didn't know that..." and start getting all kinds of new ideas about the brain
and holistic therapy. At the same time, the street-level tripper who wants to
know more about the experience will have a text to work from that doesn't
lead directly to Mayan calendrics and the i-ching as reference material.
Wilber says that you cannot discount any of these perspectives or try to
reduce everything to either one or two of them or else you get an inherently
flawed view of things...you have to take it ALL into consideration. And then of
course, you have to factor in that there is simply that which is unknowable.
Yes, I agree, and that is exactly what I am attempting to do, because as far as
I can see no one has done it yet and everyone's analysis is somewhat flawed. I don't
expect that my text will be bulletproof, but at least it will address the issues
from every conceivable standpoint and break them down into what is likely, what
is unlikely, and what is pure speculation. When it is done I doubt there will be a single issue or aspect that
is not covered from every conceivable angle. But the root of my final
conclusions are based in plausibility according to scientific method. If I wanted
to go off into the territory of the implausible I would write a book about my
life as the alien-hybrid messiah and tell everyone who will listen about how my
mystical encounters with the elves of hyperspace led me to a convoluted theory
about time ending in 2012. I mean, c'mon, everybody's doing it....
I think your approach is definitely the best at answering the question
of what the heck is happening on a concrete observable level which is no
doubt the best way to say something substantial (and pretty much all of
science is based on that idea.) I mean, you don't want to write up this
whole thesis on the subject just to end up saying, "In conclusion, it's
all magic." That won't get you any credibility.
Yet oddly, this is often what many of Terence McKenna's lectures come down to,
something like, "The world is made of magic, everything is possible" or
something along those lines. He had no scientific credibility of course, but
saying mystically vague things like this made him very popular.
But the reductionist approach may still not answer all the questions. When you try to reduce something what you come up with sometimes
isn't really the most interesting stuff.
I fully understand your point and admit this is a the heart of the issue I am trying
to tackle. The reductionist angle is only one piece. The emergent properties of
the mind during the trip are the most fascinating aspects, for sure, and deconstructing the component parts
only gives you a pile of parts (as learned by taking apart household appliances
as a kid). As I result I expect the book will be quite dull in parts, though
colored with personal experiences to illustrate various points. But I am writing
this more or less in direct response to the recent popularity of what I call
"fanciful" psychedelic literature that wades closer to the realm of "new-age
memoir" or "cult guru manifesto" than an actual hands-on psychedelic textbook. I
turn to science because having solid research means I can take myself of the picture.
You won't have to take my word for anything if the research is there, and I
won't have to hype myself into some cartoon-character psychedelic-guru-prophet to sell books.
I'm approaching this text more like a Ph.D. thesis than a work for popular consumption, but if I get
the tone right it could probably serve as either.
Please don't take this the wrong way, but your approach might
appear to be a bit of a prostration to the
prevalent scientific powers, and that it's really intended to get you the
approval of people who might be able to aid you in a
burgeoning scientific career.
I have to giggle at this a little. I have no scientific career. I cringe at the notion. I want to
write books and screenplays. I make my living as a writer and a programmer. This text is the
culmination of my search for knowledge, that is all. I used many methods to get answers,
scientific methodology yielding the most insight into mechanics, mystical methodology being most useful
for practical application. What I hope to present in the finished product is the big picture. I don't
really care if I gain any acceptance or recognition in the scientific community.
Scientists are essentially slaves to the people who fund their research grants. But even so, I don't want to release something that is
scientifically inaccurate. I want it to have lasting value as a text for
students who are genuinely curious, as I was, to have it all detailed for them right down to the
I'm tempted to offer you an ancient piece of wisdom: 'He who speaks does not know'.
Hah! Yes, this is probably my biggest internal struggle about writing such a text. What's the point? I already solved the riddle, the only thing in it for me now is ego gratification, which is not typically a prime motivation for me. And I don't really want to be the next guru
guy or whatever, so I have seriously considered simply tucking all my notes in a drawer somewhere and forgetting about them, not writing a book at all. But friends in the community have convinced me to go ahead and write it and at least release it on
the web or release parts of it and see what kind of response it gets. I expect
it will be a stop-and-go project that I work on when the inclination strikes, an ever-growing hypertext document for next few years of my life...
A question: How much would you say your take on DMT visuals is a reaction to
Rick Strassman's take on the subject which seems to at least allow for the
possibility that trip entities could be spirits in some other form of existence?
I like Rick and have read DMT: The Spirit Molecule, and think he has a lot of decent insight, and I am perfectly willing
to entertain the possibility for spirit entities. But even this brings me back
to the question, "What are the precise bio-physical mechanisms that produce the
state of consciousness needed for these spirit entities to manifest?" My basic problem with
Strassman's explanation is that he relies too much on the idea that
the pineal glad is a physical vessel for the soul. Plausible? Sure. But I would
like to see more work on the pineal gland to corroborate that notion. It is an
elegant theory built on a metaphysical conjecture. But Strassman's
work has definitely given me plenty to think about. Fitting the soul into any
scientific theory of biological consciousness is a doozie. When I'm finished I hope to have a model that recognizes the
existence of a soul, but does not require it's existence for the theory to hold
I've long been fascinated by perceptual pattern recognition... the way you can see faces in wood and rock (which is probably where
the idea of fairies came from originally) as well as pictures in
symmetrical images. Also there is the fascinating human tendency towards
personification of the impersonal.
This is it precisely! There are actual organs in the brain responsible for
pattern matching, and a subset of these which specialize in aggregating clusters of traits
(eyes, mouths, teeth, curved lines) into faces and other holistic
anthropomorphic images. There is an obvious (but great) study that was done
where people were shown black cards with three tiny squares cut out to reveal
pieces of a photo of a famous person underneath. Even if the squares only showed
a snippet of one eye, the corner of a mouth, and some other random feature, the
immediate holistic comprehension rate was staggering. People who were familiar
with the celebrity put the face together in their mind almost immediately. Other
objects could be identified (animals, household things, etc.,) but faces have
the highest success rate because we have MASSIVE processing power for analyzing
and parsing facial data; it is arguably our most important survival trait. I
know what you are saying about wood and rock, organic patterns are inherently
fractal and have smooth recursive patterns that evoke living flesh. I have gazed
at wood grain for probably longer than I should have in my life. I am still
transfixed by the sensation that it is alive...
A lot of your theory seems to hinge on the imagination, which is a tricky subject. I mean, what is the imagination? What is the purpose of it?
Is it purely some form of mental contrivement? Is it a survival thing
primarily? A psychic release valve?
Good question. I tend to view imagination as a higher-order survival thing that allows
for long-range abstract thinking. I think most animals have a very limited imagination, but they
can imagine things well enough to expect them and wait for them to happen. And, of course,
animals dream so they must have an internal vision engine (or memory engine) of some
kind as well. A cougar needs to envision which way a prey might run before leaping for
the kill, and that takes foresight and imagination. Of course it is a very short-term instinctive
imagination, but requiring abstract thinking nonetheless. Humans have the same thing, but
language expands the boundaries of our imagination, as does our ability to use
tools to create art. Basically we have larger brains than other animals, so
we have more networked abstract-reasoning power to fuel our imaginations. Mental
contrivements and psychic release valves are also very handy survival mechanisms.
I'm just suggesting that the imagination could be the medium that the 'spirit
realm' has to use in order to make contact with the human realm.
I think that yes, if the spirit realm exists, the imagination (and by extension, dreaming) is the primary
place for it to overlap with our local consciousness. But that is predicated on
a bunch of poorly defined notions. Christian mythology says the Holy Spirit
works through gentle urgings in the soul, tiny internal voices and feelings that lead
you towards right action. The Holy Spirit manifests in the imagination of the
individual, giving him divine visions to do the lord's will, etc. A Shaman
defines illness as a withering from the light of God, and in order to heal the
illness the shaman must first restore the broken connection from the ailing
vessel to God. These are very abstract and metaphysical terms I am using here,
but there are hard biological processes invoked by these "feats of magic" that
can have miraculous effects on the subject. If I do my job right, all of these
"miracles" of shamanic healing will be well documented, easily understood, and
easily reproducible. I guess what I'm saying is, "That ain't no magic, it's technology!"
The above dialogue is adapted from Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason, a work in progress by James Kent.
Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2004-06-13 00:00:00