consciousness, by such means, could well be an important survival program
—a way of going beyond the information given—a way of learning how to modify the human biosystem via the environment. Ilya Prigognine’s theory of “dissipative structures” shows how the very instability of open systems allows them to be self-transforming. The basis of this idea is that the movement of energy through a system causes fluctuations which, if they reach a critical level (i.e., a catastrophe cusp point) develop novel interactions until a new whole is produced. The system then reorganizes itself into a new “higher order” which is more integrated than the previous system, requires a greater amount of energy to maintain itself, and is further disposed to future transformation. This can equally apply to neurological evolution, using a psycho-technology (ancient or modern) as the tool for change. The core stages of the process appear to be:
- Predisposition to further change.
Also, the term “illumination” is itself significant. Visions of light that suddenly burst forth upon the individual are well documented from a wide variety of sources, from shamanic travelers to St. Paul; acid trippers to people who seemingly have the experience spontaneously. Similarly, the experience of being “born-again” is central to shamanism, religions and magical systems. One’s old self dies, and a new one is reborn from the shattered patterns and perceptions. This is well understood in cultures where there is a single predominant Mythic reality. Death-rebirth is the key to shamanic development, and many shamanic cultures interpret the experience quite literally, rather than metaphorically. Western psychologists are only just beginning to understand the benefits of such an experience. What is clear is that for many people who undergo it, the experience is unsettling and disturbing, especially when there is no dominant cultural backdrop with which to explain or understand the process. A good example to look at (which always raises hackles in some quarters) is the LSD death-rebirth experience. Some Western “authorities” on spiritual practice hold that drug- induced experiences are somehow not as valid as ones triggered by
“spiritual” practices. Fortunately, this somewhat blinkered view is receding as more information about the role played by psychoactive substances in shamanic training is brought to light. The positive benefits of LSD have been widely proclaimed by people as diverse as Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Stanislav Grof, all of whom also stressed that acid should be used in “controlled conditions,” rather than, as is so often the case today, indiscriminately. What must be borne in mind about LSD (like other psychoactives) is that its action and effects are highly dependent upon individual beliefs and expectations, and social conditioning. Dropping acid can lead to lasting change and transformation in a positive sense; equally, it can lead to individuals uncritically accepting a set of beliefs and patterns that effectively wall them off from further transformations—witness the number of burnt-out acid-heads who become “Born-Again” evangelicals, for instance. It’s not so much the experience itself, but how individuals assimilate it in terms of cultural expectations.
As an example of how this process operates, contrast a proto-shaman against a member of a postmodern, industrial culture such as is our own. The proto- shaman undergoes death-rebirth, and, following illumination, is reborn into the role of a practicing shaman, with all its subsequent status affiliations and expectations. Would that it were as simple for Westerners! Ours is a much more complex set of social relations than the tribal environment. Though one might be tempted to think of oneself as a shaman-in-the-making, it’s a safe bet that not everyone else is going to accede that role to you. It’s tempting, and entirely understandable to think: “Right, that’s it. I’m ‘illuminated’ now— I’ve been there, done it, etc.” and sit back on one’s laurels, as it were. While for some of us, one death-rebirth experience alone is enough to jolt us into a new stage of development; it’s more often the case that what we do afterwards is critically important. Zero states of having “made it” are very seductive, but our conditioning patterns are insidious—creeping back into the psyche while our minds are occupied elsewhere. The price of transformation is eternal vigilance. Vigilance against being lulled back into conditioned beliefs and emotional/mental patterns that we think that we have “overcome.” Illumination may well be a “peak” in our development, but it isn’t the end point, by any means. Those undergoing the initiation cycle in the West tend to find that many periodic death-rebirth experiences are necessary, as we reshuffle different “bits” of the psyche with each occurrence. Yet the death- rebirth experience can bring about lasting benefits, including the alleviation
of a wide variety of emotional, interpersonal, and psychosomatic problems that hitherto, have resisted orthodox treatment regimes.
I would postulate that the death-rebirth experience is an essential form of adaptive learning, as it is a powerful process of widening our perspectives on life, our perceptions of the world, and of each other. The illuminatory insight moves us toward a Holotropic perspective (i.e., of moving towards a whole) whereby new insights about self in relation to the universe, and how ideas and concepts synthesize together, can be startlingly perceived. At this kind of turning point in our lives, we can go beyond what we already know and begin to manifest new concepts and constructs. We are all capable of the vision— what we do to realize that vision is equally, in our hands.
Gnosis is not merely the act of understanding, it is understanding which impels you to act in a certain way. Thus as you work with magic, so magic works upon you.
Related to the experience of Illumination is the term Gnosis, which can be read on different levels. First, Gnosis is that “peak” experience of no-mind, one-pointedness or samadhi which is the high point of any route into magical trance. Second, Gnosis can be understood as Knowledge of the Heart— perceptions that are difficult to express in language, yet can be grasped and shared. This is the secret language of magic—to grasp the meaning you have to go through the experience first. Gnosis is not merely the act of understanding, it is understanding which impels you to act in a certain way. Thus as you work with magic, so magic works upon you. Such is the nature of Chaos.
A talk given at the Lilly/Goswami Conference on Consciousness and Quantum Physics at Esalen, December 1983. It appears in print as part of The Archaic Revival (Harper San Francisco, 1992)
There is a very circumscribed place in organic nature that has, I think, important implications for students of human nature. I refer to the tryptophan-derived hallucinogens dimethyltryptamine (DMT), psilocybin, and a hybrid drug that is in aboriginal use in the rain forests of South America, ayahuasca. This latter is a combination of dimethyltryptamine and a monoamine oxidase inhibitor that is taken orally. It seems appropriate to talk about these drugs when we discuss the nature of consciousness; it is also appropriate when we discuss quantum physics.
It is my interpretation that the major quantum mechanical phenomena that we all experience, aside from waking consciousness itself, are dreams and hallucinations. These states, at least in the restricted sense that I am concerned with, occur when the large amounts of various sorts of radiation conveyed into the body by the senses are restricted. Then we see interior images and interior processes that are psychophysical. These processes definitely arise at the quantum mechanical level. It’s been shown by John Smythies, Alexander Shulgin, and others that there are quantum mechanical correlates to hallucinogenesis. In other words, if one atom on the molecular ring of an inactive compound is moved, the compound becomes highly active. To me this is a perfect proof of the dynamic linkage at the formative level between quantum mechanically described matter and mind.
People have been talking to gods and demons for far more of human history than they have not.
Hallucinatory states can be induced by a variety of hallucinogens and
disassociate anesthetics, and by experiences like fasting and other ordeals. But what makes the tryptamine family of compounds especially interesting is the intensity of the hallucinations and the concentration of activity in the visual cortex. There is an immense vividness to these interior landscapes, as if information were being presented three-dimensionally and deployed fourth-dimensionally, coded as light and as evolving surfaces. When one confronts these dimensions one becomes part of a dynamic relationship relating to the experience while trying to decode what it is saying. This phenomenon is not new—people have been talking to gods and demons for far more of human history than they have not.
It is only the conceit of the scientific and postindustrial societies that allows us to even propound some of the questions that we take to be so important. For instance, the question of contact with extraterrestrials is a kind of red herring premised upon a number of assumptions that a moment’s reflection will show are completely false. To search expectantly for a radio signal from an extraterrestrial source is probably as culture bound a presumption as to search the galaxy for a good Italian restaurant. And yet, this has been chosen as the avenue by which it is assumed contact is likely to occur. Meanwhile, there are people all over the world—psychics, shamans, mystics, schizophrenics—whose heads are filled with information, but it has been ruled a priori irrelevant, incoherent, or mad. Only that which is validated through consensus via certain sanctioned instrumentalities will be accepted as a signal. The problem is that we are so inundated by these signals—these other dimensions—that there is a great deal of noise in the circuit.
The reaction to these voices is not to kneel in genuflection before a god, because then one will be like Dorothy in her first encounter with Oz.
It is no great accomplishment to hear a voice in the head. The accomplishment is to make sure it is telling the truth, because the demons are of many kinds: “Some are made of ions, some of mind; the ones of ketamine, you’ll find, stutter often and are blind.” The reaction to these voices is not to kneel in genuflection before a god, because then one will be like Dorothy in her first encounter with Oz. There is no dignity in the universe unless we meet these things on our feet, and that means having an I/Thou relationship. One say to the Other: “You say you are omniscient, omnipresent, or you say you are from Zeta Reticuli. You’re long on talk, but what can you show me?”
Magicians, people who invoke these things, have always understood that one must go into such encounters with one’s wits about oneself.
What does extraterrestrial communication have to do with this family of hallucinogenic compounds I wish to discuss? Simply this: that the unique presentational phenomenology of this family of compounds has been overlooked. Psilocybin, though rare, is the best known of these neglected substances. Psilocybin, in the minds of the uninformed public and in the eyes of the law, is lumped together with LSD and mescaline, when in fact each of these compounds is a phenomenologically defined universe unto itself. Psilocybin and DMT invoke the Logos, although DMT is more intense and more brief in its action. This means that they work directly on the language centers, so that an important aspect of the experience is the interior dialogue. As soon as one discovers this about psilocybin and about tryptamines in general, one must decide whether or not to enter into this dialogue and to try and make sense of the incoming signal. This is what I have attempted.
I call myself an explorer rather than a scientist, because the area that I’m looking at contains insufficient data to support even the dream of being a science. We are in a position comparable to that of explorers who map one river and only indicate other rivers flowing into it; we must leave many rivers unascended and thus can say nothing about them. This Baconian collecting of data, with no assumptions about what it might eventually yield, has pushed me to a number of conclusions that I did not anticipate. Perhaps through reminiscence I can explain what I mean, for in this case describing past experiences raises all of the issues.
I first experimented with DMT in 1965; it was even then a compound rarely met with. It is surprising how few people are familiar with it, for we live in a society that is absolutely obsessed with every kind of sensation imaginable and that adores every therapy, every intoxication, every sexual configuration, and all forms of media overload. Yet, however much we may be hedonists or pursuers of the bizarre, we find DMT to be too much. It is, as they say in Spanish, bastante, it’s enough—so much enough that it’s too much. Once smoked, the onset of the experience begins in about fifteen seconds. One falls immediately into a trance. One’s eyes are closed and one hears a sound like ripping cellophane, like someone crumpling up plastic film and throwing it away. A friend of mine suggests this is our radio entelechy ripping out of the organic matrix. An ascending tone is heard. Also present is the normal
hallucinogenic modality, a shifting geometric surface of migrating and changing colored forms. At the synaptic site of activity, all available bond sites are being occupied, and one experiences the mode shift occurring over a period of about 30 seconds. At that point one arrives in a place that defies description, a space that has a feeling of being underground, or somehow insulated and domed. In Finnegans Wake such a place is called the “merry go raum,” from the German word raum, for “space.” The room is actually going around, and in that space one feels like a child, though one has come out somewhere in eternity.
What does extraterrestrial communication have to do with this family of hallucinogenic compounds?
The tryptamine Munchkins come, these hyperdimensional machine-elf entities, and they bathe one in love. It’s not erotic but it is openhearted. It certainly feels good. And they are speaking, saying, “Don’t be alarmed. Remember, and do what we are doing.”
The experience always reminds me of the 24th fragment of Heraclitus: “The Aeon is a child at play with colored balls.” One not only becomes the Aeon at play with colored balls but meets entities as well. In the book by my brother and myself, The Invisible Landscape, I describe them as self-transforming machine elves, for that is how they appear. These entities are dynamically contorting topological modules that are somehow distinct from the surrounding background, which is itself undergoing a continuous transformation. These entities remind me of the scene in the film version of The Wizard of Oz after the Munchkins come with a death certificate for the Witch of the East. They all have very squeaky voices and they sing a little song about being “absolutely and completely dead.” The tryptamine Munchkins come, these hyperdimensional machine-elf entities, and they bathe one in love. It’s not erotic but it is openhearted. It certainly feels good. These beings are like fractal reflections of some previously hidden and suddenly autonomous part of one’s own psyche.