Thanks, once again, to Graham Hancock for the lead to this new study on the effects and the likely vital role the chemical DMT plays in human survival.
DMT is one of the ingredients in Ayahuasca and is a powerful vision producing chemical in humans. It has been speculated to have a seminal role in the bringing of consciousness into and then out of the human body at birth and death, leading Dr. Rick Strassman and others to call it the “Spirit Molecule.”
This new DMT study suggests a survival role for DMT and explores how it may extend life and revivability during the trauma of clinical brain death by flooding from the lungs into the brain to fight the damage from loss of oxygen.
It has been understood by many for some time that DMT is endogenous in humans, but most have thought that it originates within the brain itself in the pineal gland. This is the first time I have heard of it being sourced in the lungs, which actually makes a lot of sense if we understand the role it seems to be playing. Also, the concept of DMT connecting with the serotonin receptors in the brain may need some rethinking since serotonin itself is not hallucinogenic.
This Indiegogo campaign is to raise funds for basic research in this very restricted and expensive area of scientific inquiry.
I am always fascinated with new scientific data that works to bridge the gap between our reductionist physical world concepts and the so-called metaphysical or other-dimensional concepts and experiences we can have under the influence of entheogens or spirit medicines like Ayahuasca and DMT itself. If spiritual experiences are “real” and not just brain fiction, there must be a “real” connection in physics, biology, and chemistry. Claiming today that such rational links do not exist and then asserting that all such experiences are, therefore, fiction is a bit like someone from the early 1800s, before James Clerk Maxwell showed that electromagnetic waves could propagate through open space, saying that humans could not possibly talk long distances by “magic” vibrations through the air. The science for it existed even then. It was just unknown to the speaker. Or, as Arthur C. Clarke famously put it:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Thanks to my friend, Graham Hancock, for this link to a very interesting article about a South Korean physicist, Daegene Song, who is working with the concepts of consciousness and artificial intelligence. First, I should say that this man’s views are controversial and have been challenged, but then, that kind of goes with this territory.
I have long thought that there is a fundamental difference between our organic forms that seem to produce and exhibit what we perceive as consciousness and strictly reductionist machine analogues, i.e.: computers, that are programmed to attempt to re-create it. I personally do not believe that any AI (artificial intelligence) attempts based on current understandings and technology will ever be successful in recreating a fully conscious “being” like us, all the science fiction tropes and movies aside.
I recently saw the film “Ex Machina,” for instance, and as well done as it was, the leap of faith from robot to “person” is palpable and remains firmly entrenched in fantasy. Nothing wrong with that, per se, of course. I write such material myself, but I have at least postulated a mixture of physical bodies/brains with that “something else” that comes from another dimension that I’ve labeled the “Spirit Dimension” in my fiction. We humans may be “bi-modal” without being able to describe or define the dark energy and matter that makes us truly conscious and therefore human. Now, this scientist has done some research that he says proves that consciousness cannot be possible by reductionist mechanical systems alone, because the math prevents it!
From the article:
“If consciousness cannot be represented in the same way all other physical systems are represented, it may not be something that arises out of a physical system like the brain,” said Song. “The brain and consciousness are linked together, but the brain does not produce consciousness. Consciousness is something altogether different and separate. The math doesn’t lie.” (emphasis mine)
I cannot assess the math itself, but this is the first time I’ve encountered someone in that field who is saying something specifically like this, and I find it fascinating and intriguing, especially in light of the “spiritual” work I and others have personally done with actual bi-modal systems such as Ayahuasca.
A lot of folks will disagree and many believe a truly self-aware AI is just around the corner. I think that if that happens, it will still be unexplainable and unreducible in standard reductionist terms, having gathered something of that other dimension, that unknown dark essence that makes us “conscious”.
What do you think?
[ Artwork from Alex Grey. “Human Geometry” www.alexgrey.com ]
My posting frequency on this blog has slowed recently due to my becoming deeply involved in writing my first novel. The book, an epic science-fiction/fantasy series, is approaching completion and I will update this blog as I can, but I thought that for now I’d post some recent thoughts in the forms of a poem and a digital image or two.
Often, I find myself simultaneously holding different visions of my humanity. On one hand, I sense the melancholy (which is not the same as sadness or hopelessness) of our situation here in this physical reality. It is the conundrum of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s metaphor of the Stairs that I’ve spoken of several times in these pages. Upon those stairs, we awake and know not whence we came, nor where we are bound. It is an authentic and enduring melancholy for every person–a melancholy borne of that mystery.
On the other hand, I feel a strong imperative to constantly and consciously create real happiness and fulfillment for myself within the time I exist upon those mysterious stairs. I do so by being a creator and I live that role right now. This is the only way to be in this life that brings me (or, I will maintain, anyone else) true joy. It is what Casteneda called a “Path with Heart,” and it brings unexpected delights and challenges to us, while each of us also remains involuntarily bound to that mysterious river of time that leads us to an unknown destination.
Those two visions emerged into two different creations recently, and I thought I’d share them here while I may be away from more regular blog posts for a while.
The Melancholy observation is represented by a poem that is my take on Emerson’s Stairs. It came fully formed out of sleep and the spirit realm of dream last night. The accompanying image (above) is my digital art alteration or enhancement of a detail from one of my favorite painters, Thomas Cole. (It’s from his four panel “Voyage of Life” series from 1842.) His paintings include some directly religious elements, but I believe the idea of guidance from “outside” of ourselves is possible in many shapes and forms that cannot be empirically measured. We are, in any case, on the boat and in motion to an unseen destination.
The Creative/happiness/joy/challenge observation is an original saying and a digital artwork rendered on a moonrise photograph I took along the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica a few months ago.
May we all continue to look, wonder, and choose to make our time upon the waters of life worthwhile by creating joy.
In fragile boats
Clad with skin.
We make no stops–
Frail vessels that
Set no anchor.
The wind blows
Our measured course
Fades in mists
[David P. Crews, 2015]
[Click any image for full size.]
I just came across this interesting article on the brain’s structure and the nature of consciousness that was published by Wired last year:
For the last 15 years, I’ve been exploring consciousness from a deeply shamanistic perspective with my main purpose to attempt to determine the borders of ontology. This is a quest to determine what is actual and real as opposed to creative fiction. Humans are very good at creative fiction and many idea structures, especially religious ones, are fully and totally believed by many, as if they are real even though they cannot be shown to be ontologically “real.” I – my own consciousness – was subsumed into a fully Christian belief system for the first 46 years of my life. Others have been and still are fully subsumed into that and other, incompatible belief systems. In order to try to get a more reliable view or a better understanding of that border between what exists outside of human interpretation and what is caused by human invention, I have been led to work with some of the great “visionary plant medicines” of the world that seem to transport us into other realms and give us a perspective on our normal, mundane perceptions.
Working extensively with ayahuasca has opened me up to a frontier of exploration into a state that is beyond our everyday perceptions and it may represent a valid window or portal into another dimension of reality. Just as physical tools like microscopes and telescopes have, for the purposes of knowledge acquisition as well as of beauty and wonder, given us a view into worlds vastly smaller and larger than we can personally otherwise “visit,” these substances might be giving us an extremely useful view that we cannot normally access.
The question of ontology is not easily resolved, however, and that is due to our lack of understanding about the nature of consciousness itself, and how the brain functions in that regard. Much has been written and speculated about this, of course, and no one has the answer, but new ideas are emerging. This article is from a neuroscientist, Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and is from a basically reductionist viewpoint (although he delightfully calls himself a “romantic reductionist”): that any and all systems that are complex enough in the right ways, can be considered to be conscious. Here are a couple of excerpts:
Koch: “It’s not that any physical system has consciousness. A black hole, a heap of sand, a bunch of isolated neurons in a dish, they’re not integrated. They have no consciousness. But complex systems do. And how much consciousness they have depends on how many connections they have and how they’re wired up.”
WIRED: “I still can’t shake the feeling that consciousness arising through integrated information is — arbitrary, somehow. Like an assertion of faith.”
Koch: “If you think about any explanation of anything, how far back does it go? We’re confronted with this in physics. Take quantum mechanics, which is the theory that provides the best description we have of the universe at microscopic scales. Quantum mechanics allows us to design MRI and other useful machines and instruments. But why should quantum mechanics hold in our universe? It seems arbitrary! Can we imagine a universe without it, a universe where Planck’s constant has a different value? Ultimately, there’s a point beyond which there’s no further regress.”
WIRED: “I’ve read that you don’t kill insects if you can avoid it.”
Koch: “That’s true. They’re fellow travelers on the road, bookended by eternity on both sides.”
It’s interesting to follow this article’s discussion as it traverses that narrow, fuzzy zone between empirical science and “faith.”
I am, however, attracted to this view of the physicality of consciousness. It seems more “right” because it is more holistic and scaleable. It neither arbitrarily excludes non-human systems from being capable of consciousness, nor tries to place human consciousness on some magical platform of superiority. Where such structural views or mappings of the machinery of consciousness can be limiting or “go wrong” is in stopping with the understandings we gain about the tool itself and deny or disregard the information that comes through that tool (the brain in our case). This hurdle manifests every time someone claims that consciousness altering plants or medicines are “just drugs” or cause “only hallucinations”.
As humans, some of us will certainly continue to push the frontier of knowledge in this direction, however obscure our pioneering pathways or how strongly we may be rejected or vilified in our pursuits. Perhaps soon, however, we may also witness other “self sentient” beings, such as a truly self-aware internet, come into their own consciousness – beings who will be able to assess their own experiences and develop their own data. Hopefully, we’ll be able to compare notes.
Stepping Outside the Shadow
In an earlier post, I spoke of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s metaphor of the stairs. It is a disturbing observation, precisely because it is the simple, honest assessment of the fundamental experience of all men and women. In his essay “Experience,” he states:
“Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight.”
We, each of us and collectively, wake upon these stairs from a shadow of unknowing. Furthermore, we live our lives inside a kind of cosmic prison whose bars are made of unreachable stellar distances, vast time, and the necessarily precise material nature of our fragile yet essential protective physical environment. When our encased and brief life ends, we enter a shadow of greater unknowing – greater not by essence, but by virtue of our ability to perceive and anticipate it. It leads us, we know not where.
Is this our lot, not to know, not to ever understand? Are we mere chemical accidents–embodied processes running meaninglessly on for a brief moment? If not, and if we are more than that, can that part of our nature that is beyond the reductionist machine, give us the insight we seek? Can it give us energy and something of value to accomplish? How can mankind escape his prison of shadows?
William Blake once wrote, “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.” Some say that all the apparent universe we see–all of reality–is literally created by our thoughts. That may be so, but the old stairs seem solid and unchangeable. It is unquestionable however, that we are unique beings that have the ability to create new things and new cultures from the images we conjure in our minds, images that arise out of veriest nothing. Images that have no source in the cold stairs of our cosmic prison. We have the ability and power to live another life concurrent with the merely physical, a life that constitutes a different universe and a new set of stairs created and described by our own minds and hearts.
With this ability, we can step beyond our restricting shadow-shell and use our new energies for either positive or negative ends, but we must choose our inner path with care. There are shadows here of a different kind. Carl Jung said, “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.”
There is a balance to be obtained between the finite world of physical bodies within gross material life and the inherently infinite universe within our minds – that well of infinite possibilities that has propelled us so far as a species in so short a span of time. The Christian mystic, Thomas Traherne, put perhaps the finest focus on the matter when he wrote, “Infinite Love cannot be expressed in finite room: but must have infinite places wherein to utter and shew itself. . . . And yet, it must be expressed in a finite room. . .”
All of this is to paraphrase and restate a view expressed with eloquence by one of the last century’s finest essayists, Loren Eiseley. In The Invisible Pyramid, he writes:
“In man, moreover, consciousness looks out isolated from its own body. The body is the true cosmic prison, yet it contains, in the creative individual, a magnificent if sometimes helpless giant. John Donne, speaking for that giant in each of us said: ‘Our creatures are our thoughts, creatures that are born Gyants. . . . My thoughts reach all, comprehend all. Inexplicable mystery; I their Creator am in a close prison, in a sick bed, anywhere, and any one of my Creatures, my thoughts, is with the Sunne and beyond the Sunne, overtakes the Sunne, and overgoes the Sunne in one pace, one steppe, everywhere.’
“This thought, expressed so movingly by Donne, represents the final triumph of (the) interior microcosm in its war with the macrocosm. Inside has conquered outside. The giant confined in the body’s prison roams at will among the stars. More rarely and more beautifully, perhaps, the profound mind in the close prison projects infinite love in a finite room. This is a crossing beside which light-years are meaningless. It is the solitary key to the prison that is man.”
[Loren Eiseley, The Invisible Pyramid, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1970, pp. 48–49.]
In this way and along this path, we can choose to express our inner creations for love rather than power, even as we are trapped, contained within the narrow prison of our bodies and lost somewhere along an unexplainable stairway. This is the difference between those shamans who choose healing over sorcery. It is the open heart that brings health and joy to our shadowed life. The words of Traherne again ring true:
“This moment exhibits infinite space, but there is a space also wherein all moments are infinitely exhibited, and the everlasting duration of infinite space is another region and room of joys.”
“You never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.”
Here’s a very interesting article from a couple of years ago that I want to pass along. “The Heretic” is from Tim Doody, originally published in The Morning News. He presents the life journey and describes a speech by noted psychedelic researcher, Dr. James Fadiman. He was part of the International Foundation for Advanced Study (IFAS), which was doing important research in the summer of 1966 when the Feds slammed the door on all psychedelics, including LSD.
This is a fine survey of that interesting story and its aftermath, plus an analysis of how these substances are slowly returning to the public surface once again, expressing how they should be reassessed for their immense value for healing and for inspirational creativity.
He relates Dr. Fadiman’s list of six requirements for a quality session with the these substances, which include well-known and established concepts of set and setting and an experienced and supportive Guide.
He also talks about the long tribal history we humans have had with the sacred plants, including this about Ayahuasca:
“It’s a fairly open secret that not only does the Amazon contain the necessary ingredients for ayahuasca, one of the strongest and oldest psychedelic brews, but that the forest itself isn’t so much a wilderness as a 10,000-year-old garden under indigenous management.”
He also talks about ontology, or the assessment of reality in the visions (one of my own deep interests):
“If reality isn’t shaped with the psychically aware, self-organizing units that Giordano Bruno called monads in the sixteenth century, then perhaps it’s woven with Indra’s net, the jeweled nodes of which stretch into infinity, each one a reflection of all others. To entertain such ontologies is to re-contextualize one’s self as a marvelous conduit in a timeless whole, through which molecules and meaning flow, from nebulae to neurons and back again. If certain of these molecules connect with our serotonin receptors like a key in a pin tumbler, and open a door to extraordinary vistas, why shouldn’t we peek?”
Thanks to Mitch Schultz at DMT: The Spirit Molecule for the link.
“The time has come for more psychedelic explorers to come out of the closet about the benefits of these life-changing visionary plants. I want to live in a world where exploring a self-improving, 100 percent natural drug doesn’t come with jail time. Where peaceful navigation of different realms of consciousness is a basic human right.”
Genna Marie Robustelli
This is from a very interesting article I found in The Tico Times (Costa Rica) from Genna Robustelli, about the effects and healing nature of the very intense entheogen called Iboga, native to Africa. I liked this report because it is focused on the curanderismo (healing) aspects of the experience, both from a physical standpoint and from a psychological/spiritual one. Encountering Dr. Iboga, as with Mother Ayahuasca, can result in a no-holds-barred, hard-core analysis of one’s situation in life and can bring clarity and new commitment to it. These experiences are unquestionably worth the discomforts one endures, but neither is an easy path to take.
Often, so called “trip reports” from psychic or entheogenic explorers can be so subjective or symbolic to that person that they are difficult for anyone else to completely relate to. This includes my own such reports from Ayahuasca experiences. Genna’s report is nicely described and gives what I can perceive is an authentic view of the physical and visionary effects that resulted. Although intrigued by Iboga, I have gravitated to Ayahuasca and felt that Iboga may not be the right path for me. I have to say, however, that I’m tempted by this particular set, setting, and approach. I’d like to see if it could help my own situation and provide another glimpse into that Other dimension that is so tantalizingly close to us, and yet seems so alien to our common lives. Iboga is obviously another powerful chemical ‘technology’ that can reveal the operating system of our souls and bodies – opening Blake’s doors of perception to reveal not only the Infinite, but our very selves within it.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
“No medicinal value? No medicinal value my ass. This plant’s medicinal value is indescribable – it’s off the charts. And to abuse this plant would be an incredible feat of human determination.”
Genna Marie Robustelli
“Most of the fairy tales of Europe originate from the Celtic tradition. Now, there are lots of fairy hills in Ireland and one of the things about a fairy hill is that it’s invisible and nobody knows it’s there, and another remarkable thing about fairy hills is that you can walk in what you think is a straight line but you will have walked around a fairy hill—it is that inaccessible. Yet this fairy world is just one small dimension deeper than the visible world; it’s everywhere. The fairies are the inhabiting nature powers, and the reason they are so fascinating and enchanting is that their nature and your unconscious nature, your deep nature, are the same. The fairies are representatives of that permanent energy consciousness that underlies all the phenomenal forms of life. This is Mother Goddess stuff.”
Joseph Campbell, Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine
[Source: The Joseph Campbell Foundation]
Graham Hancock posted a link to this article and I want to pass it along on my blog as well. It is a thoughtful and interesting essay on the value of ‘psychedelics’ in society and the shifts in the perceived nature of reality one obtains when working with them:
He talks about the conundrum that although there is an infinite variety of unique personal experiences with these substances, there are also many common structures to those experiences from one person to another. Aaron states:
“An argument exists, and may not be easily solved, between whether the many compelling structural similarities give us a more fundamental insight into the nature of such mystical experiences than the seemingly endless amounts of detailed variation. Are they are a kind of metaphorical imagineering of the self, externalized and projected outward, or do they point to a more foundational ontological reality?”
This represents the very edge of the frontier. Since all such experiences are subjective, they can be denied by external reductionists while, for the partaker, the experience resounds with profound insights and meaning that he or she cannot deny by resorting to such reductionism and pretending it is all just a fantasy of brain chemicals. That being so, those who have had such immense experiences often find it difficult to interface with those who have not. Relating such experiences can result in being categorized as fanatical or delusional, which can affect their life in practical ways.
The structures of ancient shamanism provide a methodology to contain such experiences in a meaningful manner. Within it, we can place them inside a time-honored society and a set of techniques that, while never claiming to represent empirical proofs for the nature and reality of the vision experiences, legitimize them as personal and sacred experiences that have actual meaning across a broad spectrum of humanity.
Visionary experiences via psychoactive medicines like Ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin, often provide a new perspective that allows us – actually gives us the freedom and possibility – to examine that which we assume is reality and to question it for the first time:
“The extraordinary nature of my trips has forced me to question some basic assumptions about what it is that I, or we, can know. Objectivity, that holy ideal, seems now merely an attractive mirage, that when grasped at has actually left me stumbling and clutching air as it reappeares across the room.”
“. . . psychedelics instruct us on the arbitrary nature of consensus reality. A slight tweak in what constitutes our day-to-day brain chemistry, and colorful visionary patterns and interpersonal dissolution would be normality, while the idea that we are all separate individuals, apart from wholeness and love, would be the hallucinogenic trip.”
Once this happens for a person, this stretched and massively expanded perception of the universe can never be returned to the small container of reductionist consensus reality that he or she once held, perhaps by default. There exists now for them another vast and awe inspiring view of things. One only has to turn around and look at it. When we do, then who is to say which is the real and which the unreal? Perhaps both are ontologically real simultaneously in some larger multi-dimensional overview that takes us beyond our human limits.
An interesting graphic animation of a reading by Dennis McKenna from his book “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss.” In it, he describes a particularly awe inducing vision experience with the medicina. Dennis is the brother of the late Terence McKenna and his book is a good read about their relationship and their various pioneering adventures working with Ayahuasca and other entheogens.
His great vision, related here, is the kind of experience that draws people to Ayahuasca and can significantly alter one’s perception of themselves and of their place in the universe.
[Source: http://vimeo.com/80337226 — Voice Media Group]