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.