Brave New Traveler contributor Jason Silva recently published a compelling new interview with techno-ecologic scholar Richard Doyle. They discuss, among other things, the role of psychedelics in transforming human consciousness, and the emerging “noösphere” – the entire sphere of human thought that is rapidly encompassing the globe.
A brief teaser:
JASON: How do psychedelics and marijuana or other natural ecstatic states expand our communion with the dimension of the noosphere? Are these drugs like “modems” that plug us in?
RICH: We really need much more research to answer this question, but I think a more useful metaphor than “modems that plug us in” would be “knobs that allow us to turn down the self and tune in the Self.” Great chemists such as Alexander Shulgin and David Nichols have explored the “structure/function” relationship of psychedelic compounds, and found that you can’t reliably predict the effect of a compound from its form. You have to test it.
So in the book I take the perspective of “first person science” – seeking answers from my own subjective experience as well as the first person reports of others. The 2006 Johns Hopkins study on psilocybin shows pretty definitively that experiments from 1962 (The Good Friday Experiment) were correct to associate psychedelics with “mystic experience.”
Within the vast history of mystical experience, a pattern seems to emerge: Perceiving and experiencing the immense power of processes external to our selves, we can experience what early researcher Walter Pahnke (among others) described as “ego death”:
“During the mystical experience when the experiencer has lost individuality and become part of a Reality Greater-than-self, paradoxically, something of the self remains to record the experience in memory. One of the greatest fears about human death is that personal individual existence and memory will be gone forever. Yet having passed through psychological ego death in the mystical experience, a person still preserves enough self-consciousness so that at least part of the individual memory is not lost. (Pahnke, p. 17)”
If our experiences are highly tuneable by the language we use to describe them, we might rethink the phrase “ego death” as being rather easily misunderstood. I suppose that could be a virtue. Now what I call the “ecodelic experience” is less about “losing the self” than “tuning to the ecoysystem.” This is what Darwin was doing when, at the end of the Origin of Species, he “contemplated” the interconnection of all living things:
“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us”
How did Darwin perceive this interconnection? He didn’t simply figure it out intellectually – he perceived it. And in order to perceive it, he had to experience something like the ecological contextualization of his own life. He perceived not only THAT he was interconnected with his ecosystem (itself veritably “made” of these interconnections”), but he perceived the SCALE of his being in relation to the scale of the ecosystem. Most of us feel this when we look up at a clear star filled sky at night if we are fortunate enough to find ourselves outside of the light pollution of urban areas.
The best model I know of for mapping that scalar difference between humans and their ecosystems happens to be the psychologist Roland Fischer’s model of what he called the “hallucination/perception continuum.” Fischer, who studied the effect of psilocybin (a compound of found in “magic mushrooms” and the compound tested in the aforementioned Good Friday experiment), described a continuum between hallucination and ordinary perception that is defined by the sensory/motor ratio – the ratio between the amount of sensory information we receive and our ability to act physically to respond to or verify it.
When sensory input increases and there is no corresponding increasing in motor capacities, hallucination is the result. Note in this sense for Fischer the hallucination is a “real” perception of our breakdown in ordinary modeling tactics. This has interesting resonances with Kant’s theory of the sublime, and in ego death we may see the experience of this mismatch between our sensory input and our ability to organize it.
Maybe that is why reality seems to be asymptotically approaching a psychedelic world view – consciousness shifts in response to the vast increase of information, changing in kind on the same scale as the psychedelic “turn on.”
Grab a glass of red wine and read the entire interview.