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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 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. ;)

Soma Junkie


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 delusions?

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 subjective epiphany.

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 experience. 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 it.

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 components.

It's fairly easy to explain away psychedelic imagery as some sort of cognitive aberration.

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 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 molecular level.

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 water.

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