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Archive for July, 2007

Philip K. DickTerence McKenna wrote an afterword to Lawrence Sutin’s In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis, Phillip K. Dick’s thousands of handwritten pages produced from 1974 until the end of his life in 1982. In the Exegesis, Dick tried every-which-way-but-loose to unpack the meanings of the divine invasion, the blast of knowledge-laden pink light that seized him during February and March, 1974 and never really let him go. McKenna titles his afterword, “I Understand Phillip K. Dick.” The following set of notes could be titled: “I Understand Phillip K. Dick and Terence McKenna,” with the subtitle, “and I Understand Terence McKenna understanding Phillip K. Dick” and the sense in which he had to put it that way: in the first person, pointing to the kind of understanding that has nothing to do with close reading or textual analysis, but the gripping recognition: “I’ve been there.”

…hallucination, whether induced by psychosis, hypnosis, drugs, toxins, etc., may be merely quantitatively different from what we see, not qualitatively so. In other words, too much is emanating from the neurological apparatus of the organism, over and beyond the structural, organizing necessity…No-name entities or aspects begin to appear, and since the person does not know what they are—that is, what they’re called or what they mean—he cannot communicate with other persons about them. This breakdown of verbal communication is the fatal index that somewhere along the line the person is experiencing reality in a way too altered to fit into his own prior worldview and too radical to allow empathic linkage with other persons. (PKD quoted in In Pursuit of Valis)

Terence McKenna calls it folie a’ deux, citing the synchronicities that overlapped his life-line with Dick’s; the extraterrestrial content; the Gnostic philosophicalTerence McKenna mappings; and the intensity of having lived, with his brother Dennis, through his own alien download in 1971, a wraparound reality that seemed both hyperreal and of critical importance: a shared and true hallucination.

Does the delusion of one visionary ecstatic validate the delusion of another? How many deluded, or illuminated ecstatics does it take to make a reality? PKD proved that it only takes one. But two is better. (McKenna in Sutin)

I’ll invoke a folie a’ trois. That’s where I’m coming from, and that is one of the things that makes it so damned difficult to talk about psychedelics (you know how nutty it sounds), and, if the folie seizes you hard enough, so impossible not to.

The experience is private, personal, the best part, and ultimately unspeakable. The more you know the quieter you get. The explanation is another matter and can be attempted. In fact it must be told, for the Logos speaks and we are its tools and its voice. (McKenna in Sutin)

John C. LillyOf course, the folie count is higher: John Lilly’s pursuit of ECCO (Earth Coincidence Control Office) through Vitamin K and Timothy Leary’s Starseed transmission represent texts of a very particular sort . These texts—hyperventilated, urgent, “epistemologically potent,” and accompanied by the kinds of synchronicities that represent confirmation to the downloadee and confirmation of paranoid conspiratorial thinking to the psychiatric observer—communicate and understand noetic experiences that focus one’s attention as would a lens placed dead center of awareness. These noetic lenses, through which the past is re-viewed (Dick’s anamnesis) and the future is pre-viewed (McKenna’s eschaton, the hyperdimensional object casting shockwaves back throughTimothy Leary time) align events to provide a new and coherent meaning to the whole storyline of one’s life, and the historic storyline of the human race. These narratives spiral tightly around/through this lens of hyper-meaningfulness. The storylines are both produced by and contained in themselves, viewed through the lens, whose apocalyptic apparition is part of the story. The noetic gesture self-enfolds.

Descriptions of any intelligent system (and the Universe is obviously one; fictional texts create others) in order to achieve epistemological potency must include accounts not only of how the system is regulated and organized, and of how it communicates among its own parts, but also of how it knows and describes itself. In other words, any epistemologically potent system must include a discourse that enfolds its own intelligence. (David Porush, The Self-Narrating Universe)

Consciousness arrives in a present moment and receives a transmission, an alien download so off the wall, and so difficult to describe, much less interpret, that you spend the rest of your life trying to do just that.

There is an idea that wants to be born, it has wanted to be born for a very long time. And sometimes that longing to be born settles on a person. For no damn good reason. Then you’re “it”, you become the cheese, and the cheese stands alone. You are illuminated and maddened and lifted up by something great and beyond all telling. It wants to be told. It’s just that this idea is so damn big that it can’t be told, or rather the whole of history is the telling of this idea, the stuttering rambling effort of the sons and daughters of poor old Noah to tell this blinding, reality-shattering, bowel-loosening truth. (McKenna in Sutin)

Well, I seem to have included four of the most distinguished psychedelic outlaws in a single post, pics and all.

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Albert HoffmanThe title a knock-off, of course, of Albert Hoffman’s book, LSD: My Problem Child.

Terminology

Psychedelics: the discourse of the unmentionable by the disreputable about the unspeakable. Legitimizing the discourse becomes a cottage industry: placing the black sheep within a disciplinary fold: medical, psychotherapeutic, bio-chemical, spiritual, anthropological, ethnobotanical, neuroscientific, consciousness studies, and even as a kind of sub-sub rosa, hush hush literary genre. (How much sci fi can be read psychedelically?) The terms themselves: hallucinogens; psychedelics; entheogens; psychotropic, psychoactive, psychotomimetic “substances” or (wince) “drugs” as in “war on”; allies; plant teachers; … always dancing around the terms with apologetics, neologisms, euphemisms, or coded messages and private language on the public fora.

I’m sticking with “psychedelics.” Mind-manifesting seems the most accurate, and the least limiting of the terms, despite the 60’s hippie baggage (1 steamer trunk, a battered, sticker-covered set of Samsonite luggage held together with bungie cords, and a couple hatboxes). Psychotomimetic has the baggage of the whole mental health institutional history. Having worked as a student intern art therapist at Fairfield State Hospital during those same 60’s, and later as a ward aide in the children’s ward at Chicago State Hospital, I can attest to the medieval quality of the psychiatric baggage. If I try to divinize all psychedelic experience (the entheogenic description), then am I restricted in my descriptions of the stops on the reality train to religious or theological classifications of agonies and ecstasies—the stations of the cross or the stations of accelerated bliss? Granted, religion’s models and vocabularies, the images, metaphors, and archetypes, are rich and plunderable. At certain tunings of the mind, all texts are sacred. If I am trying to demonize the experience, there are likewise plenty of demons and hell realms to back me up. But now—must I assume this heaven and hell dichotomy to be useful? Or the psychotherapeutic dichotomy, healer or dealer: is this realm the cause or cure of psychosis and addiction? Or is this margin that I claim is defined by psychedelics a margin in any normal sense? Is it an edge one crosses (gee Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore) or runs along, as Terence McKenna suggests. Is that defining edge akin to the evolving fractal boundary of the Mandelbrot set, an edge of infinite length and depth and detail, the multi-scalar shoreline of the body-mind-soul set in high relief? It seems there’s so much terminological throat-clearing necessary to even start to talk about this topic in “polite” (read academic) circles. Unmentionability is heard in many quarters; unspeakability shouts from multiple masks. What’s a good term for a general purpose noetic technology? You could call a computer exactly that, especially as they have been, if not fathered or mothered by psychedelics, certainly midwifed, per John Markoff’s account in What The Dormouse Said. The toy for general purpose cognitive enhancement made by the cognitively enhanced. Of course, that influence has spread. Ah, if one could only survey Silicon Valley, Route 128, and other digital deeps for the psychedelic influences. How many programmers does it take to design a mutant vehicle for the playa?

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Here’s the latest version of my thesis statement. The full document is posted on Google docs and includes a condensed version of my bibliography (very few journal articles listed yet).

Reality is truly made of language and of linguistic structures that you carry, unbeknownst to yourself, in your mind, and which, under the influence of psilocybin begin to dissolve and allow you to see beyond the speakable. The contours of the unspeakable begin to emerge into your perception, and though you can’t say much about the unspeakable it has the power to color everything you do. (McKenna in Noffke, 1989)

The psychedelic sphere itself, as William James expressed, is close at hand, “parted from us by the filmiest of screens.” These worlds can easily be accessed by performing some version of the basic self-experiment: 1. adjust the chemistry of consciousness with a psychedelic substance; 2. observe the changes in consciousness. The discourse on psychedelics—trying to make sense of the spectrum of shifts in levels of perception and reality—is not nearly as straightforward. Once outside the impersonal safety of chemistry, pharmacology, and neurophysiology, “the taboo of subjectivity” has made the study of consciousness itself problematic (Wallace, 2000). Cultural clichés concerning the hedonic excesses of the ‘60’s position psychedelic use as the domain of unwashed hippies with naïve notions of love as a revolutionary agent. The illegalization and scheduling of LSD and other psychedelics from 1966 on effectively ended funded research for almost 40 years, limiting legitimate psychedelic science to such already established areas as non-experimental anthropological investigations (and their companion ethnobotanical studies) in Brazil where sacramental use of ayahuasca is sanctioned. Research on topics such as the psychotherapeutic use of MDMA, psilocybin, and LSD (Grof, 1984, 1985, 2000; Stolaroff, 1997; Shulgin, 2000); studies of the creative potential of psychedelics for art and problem-solving (de Rios, 2003); and every kind of self-experimentation went underground. Resistance movements practice their own unspeaking: discretion, anonymity, coded language, fictional strategies, omerta. Each of these factors contributes to less communication at the social level.

 

At the level of the subjective event itself, ineffability is asserted as a hallmark of the experience, as James noted for mystical states (James, 2000). Natural language is used to display its helplessness to communicate the fullness, extremity, and impact of the variety of psychedelic experiences. Shanon’s statement, made as both a first-person experiencer and on behalf of the first-person accounts he has collected and analyzed is typical. “I am saying all this by way of apology, for in a deep sense the effects to be discussed here defy verbal description. In order to be fully appreciated they have to be experienced firsthand. Yet, in order to give the non-initiated reader some taste of what will be talked about here, I shall try to do what I have just said cannot be done, namely, I shall resort to description by means of words…” (Shanon, 2002). Yet, beyond the ineffability barrier, come reports of a wide variety of emergent types, uses, and qualities of linguistic phenomena outside of natural language such as visual language; linguistically charged objects sung into existence; and glossolalia. Accounts of a psychoactively potentiated origin of language and its evolution as a cultural artifact retell the prehistory of our humanness. These stories are compared with recent archeological evidence of Neolithic use of psychoactives (Hancock, 2005; Devereux, 1997). Interspecies communication, both with terrestrial plants and animals, (Narby, 1999; Lilly, 1977) and as a technology of communication with the entities encountered in the psychedelic landscape (McKenna, 1992; Powell, 2007) open a field of language use that extends from the archaic past of ecstatic shamanic knowledge acquisition to visions of contact with extraterrestrial and extradimensional entities (deKorne, 1994; Meyer, 1997; Beach, 1996) or a Gaian biospheric web of interconnected life-forms (Doyle, 2007; McKenna, 1992). Finally, ontological insights are reported envisioning the structure of reality as being fundamentally linguistic (McKenna, 1992; Powell, 2007).

These linguistic phenomena are the topic of this thesis, about which a central question is asked: what can these linguistic experiences tell us about how experience in the psychedelic sphere can be approached, navigated, interpreted, and communicated within its own experiential field, and communicated about to make the data accessible to inter-subjective comparison and validation? Further, what light can be shed on the differences in perception and reality between the default settings in which daily life is experienced, and science practiced, and the psychedelic realms, by an examination of these language phenomena?

This research is practice-based, analyzing and reflecting on a multi-year investigation, documented by session reports, of my own psychedelic self-experiments, focused on exploring the territory of language evolution and consciousness. Included are close descriptions of software developed as noetic technology for the purpose of further exploring these experiences, both at baseline and in the psychedelic sphere. These practices are situated in and compared with accounts and analyses of linguistic phenomena in the extensive literature of long-term psychedelic self-exploration, especially the texts of John Lilly, Terence McKenna, and Simon Powell. These analyses are supported by reports of linguistic phenomena in the broad range of the literature of psychedelic self-experimentation.

 

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Starting this blog for several reasons.

  • To soften the brittleness of the “high academic” discourse I’m involved in, working toward a Ph.D. on psychedelics and language.
  • To keep in touch with what I really think, and to the act of thinking it, so I can fold back into the academic thing with more integrity.
  • To sift the river of super-conducted thought where all the goodies are, make them communicable, at least to those who have traveled similar paths.
  • As an exercise in cognitive liberty and freedom of speech, two closely related fundamentals.
  • To invite conversation. I’ve been at this solo for some time; it’s time to break silence. This quote from John Perry Barlow motivates me:

Engaged in the politics necessary to wire the world, I encounter many people in positions of influence and visibility — politicians, corporate leaders, scientists, engineers, writers, academics – who are motivated by the same mystical drive that propels me. They are acidheads, but nearly all of them are afraid to admit it. Its as though the future were being created by a secret cult. And even though it’s my secret cult, I’m not crazy about secrecy or cults, and I’m certainly not keen on having them design the rest of society.   I think it’s time to be brave and honest. I know that if everybody who’d ever taken a major psychedelic stood up and said, “Yeah, I did that and this is how it changed my life,” the world would be a better place the next day.

So, there you have it. It’s a start.

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