Tuesday, 16 April 2013


The use of psychedelic drugs for the enhancement of creativity has always amazed me. My first encounter was Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge which was allegedly written (the first part at least) while he was under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs (probably a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by mushrooms). His friend Wordsworth was also alleged to have snorted cocaine regularly (and probably together, in Dove Cottage).

The novelist-philosopher Aldous Huxley (1959/1971) made similar observations following his personal experience with another psychoactive substance, mescaline.

“…A man consists of what I may call an Old World of personal consciousness and, beyond a dividing sea, a series of New Worlds – the not too distant Virginias and Carolinas of the personal subconscious and the vegetative soul; the Far West of the collective unconscious ... ; and, across another, vaster ocean, at the antipodes of everyday consciousness, the world of Visionary Experience…”

Read on....
During the 1960s is was still permissible to administer psychedelic to volunteers and to try to quantify the impact experimentally. More recently a medical doctor, Dr. Strassman, at the University of New Mexico's School of Medicine in Albuquerque (a tenured Associate Professor of Psychiatry) administered approximately 400 doses of N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) a powerful entheogen, to 60 human volunteers over a five year period. His studies aimed to investigate the effects of DMT, that he hypothesizes is produced by the human brain in the pineal gland. DMT is found naturally in various natural sources, and is related to human neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin.

Of the 60 human volunteers who ingested DMT under Strassman's watch, more than half reported experiences ranging from profound encounters/interaction with non-human beings to observing highly detailed, self-transforming geometric patterns and other things of similar nature.

Dr. Strassman’s interest in this field was sparked by the earlier work of Willis Harman, an engineer, social scientist, academic, futurist, writer, and visionary who graduated from the University of Washington in 1939 with a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering, an M.S. in Physics and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. He is best remembered for his work with SRI International. His personal credentials and the fact that SRI International is an internationally respected non-profit research institute lent weight to his otherwise esoteric work as founder of the Institute of NoeticSciences. In December 2007, SRI launched a spin-off company, Siri Inc., which Apple acquired in April 2010. In fact there is also the story of Steve Jobs asking interviewees when they last took LSD.

Although both Harman and Strassman have impeccable credentials they both appear to veer far from the realms of orthodox science. However, they are by no means alone and one scientist in particular, BennyShanon, professor of psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has spent years studying the special state of mind induced by the psychoactive Amazonian potion ayahuasca.

Here I have put together a cut and paste summary of Shanon’s “Altered States” paper that helps me – I hope it helps you.

Shanon contends that consciousness can be considered as a system with defining parameters. These parameters normally have values that correspond to our normal experience of ourselves and the world.

From a structural perspective consciousness is, essentially, a cognitive system governing human subjective experience. The system is defined by a series of parameters that can take different values. Changes in these values result in different states of consciousness.

However, he believes there’s no reason why the parameters couldn’t occupy values beyond those ordinarily experienced

Any general, comprehensive theory of cognition has to encompass both the ordinary and the non-ordinary facets of mind - the special state of mind induced by ayahuasca

I’ve summarised, in his words, the parameters and the effect of non-ordinary parameter values induced by imbibing ayahuasca.

1.       Agency
Prima facie it would seem inconceivable that the thoughts that pass through a person's head would not be his. Yet, with ayahuasca, people do at times experience thoughts as not being their own.

2.       Personal identity.
The self, the agent of consciousness, manifests a sense of personal identity. Ayahuasca can bring about modifications, at times radical, of this identity; these result in experiences of personal transformation or metamorphosis

3.       Unity 
Normally, personal identity exhibits unity but the shaman can exist in two realms simultaneously – being himself, here and now, and at the same time assuming the identity of another person or creature and being elsewhere, in other realms

4.       Individuation.
Unity marks the cohesiveness and inter-connectedness of the self; individuation marks its distinctness. Normally, consciousness is associated with well-defined individuated autonomy. With ayahuasca, there are instances where that is no longer experienced to be the case and the sense of the individual self dissipates. Shannon came to appreciate the experience of non-individuated group-consciousness through one particular ayahuasca-induced vision. In it, he found himself in the midst of an ant colony. It dawned upon him that consciousness was the property of the colony, not of the individual ants.

5.       Boundaries of the self and the differentiation of states
Both identity and individuation are further defined by means of contrast. With ayahuasca, the experienced boundary between inner and outer reality may dissolve. With ayahuasca, it may be difficult or even impossible to know whether one is perceiving or remembering, whether one is perceiving or generating thoughts, whether one is thinking or perceiving the thoughts of others. It will be noted that patterns which are seemingly similar to those described are encountered in psychopathology and known under the labels of "depersonalization" and "derealization".

6.       Calibration.
As a rule, in order for an attribute to apply, some standard must be assumed. Things are big or small, heavy or light, slow or fast and so on, relative to certain standards. The same holds for conscious experience. Both the sense of self and the perception of the world presuppose standards, hence calibration. Under the effect of ayahuasca all of these may change. For instance, one may feel that one's body is larger, lighter or heavier; the inner field of vision is reported to be significantly increased. Instead of having an angular span of 60-70°, it can reach 160° and even more.

7.       The locus of consciousness.
A special aspect of calibration is the experienced locus of consciousness. Where is consciousness located? Of course, normally we locate our consciousness within our physical body. With ayahuasca this need not be the case. One may even find oneself watching one's body from the outside.

8.       Time.
Just as we have normal feelings of the size and weight of our bodies, so too we have a normal sense of temporality. Whereas physical time is defined in terms of an abstract, universal matrix, psychological time is defined in terms of events. As experienced with ayahuasca, modified temporality is often coupled with sentiments of enhanced meaningfulness and of strong noetic feelings (see below). In its turn, the experience of atemporality may take two extreme forms. In the first, time ceases to be relevant and temporality gives way to pure semanticity; in the second, neither time nor meaning are pertinent.

9.       Connectedness to the world.
Intentionality affords connectedness to the world and makes it possible for human beings to know the world. Typically, with ayahuasca connectedness to the world is felt to be increased. The enhanced connectedness may be felt toward nature at large as well as toward particular items.

10.   Noesis.
The issue of knowledge raises, of course, very difficult epistemological questions. Are the noetic feelings ayahuasca induces justified? Is the knowledge involved indeed veridical?

11.   The conferral of reality.
Theoreticians have argued that what distinguishes true perception, on the one hand, and memories, imagination and dreams, on the other, is that the former is clearer, more distinct, and more coherent than the latter. This indicates that reality judgement is actually a parameter that can take different values. Dreams and imagination usually decrease the value assigned to this parameter; the ayahuasca experience may increase it

12.  Self-Consciousness.
Not only are we conscious of the world, we are also conscious of ourselves as cognitive agents who think and act in the world. On extreme occasions, there can be situations in which one's notion of one's own self is completely lost. This may be characterized as an enchantment, a kind of spiritual seduction. Absorbed by the marvels of ayahuasca visioning, one loses track of everything else. One forgets where one is, what is happening in the real world around one, and who one is.

13.   Semantic parameters.
This refers to the attribution of meaningfulness, to aesthetic sensitivity, and to a sense of holiness (or sanctity). All these are very salient with ayahuasca as things and states of affairs are perceived as not contingent but rather, invested with meaning. Whereas the attribution of meaningfulness can be readily incorporated within existing cognitive models, the two parameters here indicated extend beyond usual cognitive framework. Patterns encountered using ayahuasca suggest that the aesthetic and the sacred are fundamental determinants of human consciousness.

5 comments:

  1. You might like this. 45 self portraits done by the same guy, each while under the influence of a different drug:
    http://thechive.com/2012/08/09/self-portraits-done-to-a-different-drug-every-day-45-photos/

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    1. This guy has some medicine cupboard! Actually, I've been prescribed quite a few of these and happened upon a few others on life's journey. In all but two cases (one prescribed, one not) I hadn't any awareness of being in a different state of mind - even with high doses of morphine. I guess what the self portraits do is provide insights that otherwise he/I would miss through this lack of self awareness.

      Oh, and by the way, yesterday was the 70th anniversary of LSD. And I heard that PCP research is back in vogue. Without the early research on psychedelic drugs neurotransmitters like serotonin would never have been discovered.

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    2. The portraits are incredible! Even though they seem affected by preconceptions, it's impressive that the artist could do that after that amount of medication over several consecutive weeks.

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  2. You mind be interested in "The Red Book" by Carl Jung. If you haven't read it already, find some info about it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/magazine/20jung-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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  3. psychedelic drugs are also belonging to a kinds of drug. so it also has toxin.and government has inhibited this kinds of selling. is this really can enhancing our creativity? I think this should be a discussing topic.

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