Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Psychedelic Experience - Fact or Fantasy? by Alan Watts (highlights)

The following are highlights that I took from "A Psychedelic Experience - Fact or Fantasy," an essay by Alan Watts, with the hopes that busy people might be able to digest his main points in one sitting. Or, you can read the essay in its entirety here.

The implication is that, if [everyday reality is indeed an illusion], life need never be taken seriously. It is a fantasy, a play, a drama to be enjoyed. It does not really matter, for one day (perhaps in the moment of death) the illusion will dissolve, and each one of us will awaken to discover that he himself is what there is and all that there is—the very root and ground of the universe,
A favorable atmosphere may be created by intense concentration, by fasting, by sensory deprivation, by hyper-oxygenation, by prolonged emotional stress, by profound relaxation, or by the use of certain drugs.
It is almost a standard joke that psychiatry has pejorative or "put-down" words for every human emotion, as "euphoric" for happy, "fixated" for interested, and "compulsive" for determined. Thus it is most common to find the action of psychedelics called "toxic" (i.e., poisonous), and the sensory and emotional changes induced referred to as "distortions," "delusive mechanisms," "dissociations," and "regressions," or as "loss of ego structure" and "abnormal perception of body image." This is the language of pathology. Used without explicit qualification, it implies that a consciousness so changed is sick. 

Likewise, when—in the context of a scientific article—the writer reports, "Subjects experienced religious exaltation, and some described sensations of being one with God," and leaves it at that, the implication is plainly that they went crazy. For in our own culture, to feel that you are God is insanity almost by definition. But, in Hindu culture, when someone says, "I have just found out that I am God," they say, "Congratulations! You at last got the point." Obviously, the word "God" does not mean the same thing in both cultures.
The theologians said to Galileo, "We will not look through your telescope because we already know how the universe is ordered. If your telescope were to show us anything different, it would be an instrument of the devil."
The fern-like structures which are so often seen—the infinitude of branches
upon branches upon branches, or analogous shapes? Are these a glimpse of some kind of analytical process in the brain, similar to the wiring patterns in a computer?
The point is that these visions are not mere imagination, as if there had ever been anything mere about imagination.
My own experience has never been of a distortion of these perceptions, as in looking at oneself in a concave mirror. It is rather that every perception becomes—to use a metaphor—more resonant. The chemical seems to provide consciousness with a sounding box, or its equivalent, for all the senses, so that sight, touch, taste, smell, and imagination are intensified like the voice of someone singing in the bathtub.
The intensification and "deepening" of color, sound and texture lends them a peculiar transparency. One seems to be aware of them more than ever as vibration, electronic and luminous. As this feeling develops it appears that these vibrations are continuous with one's own consciousness and that the external world is in some odd way inside the mindbrain.
Inside and the outside do not exclude one another and are not actually separate. They go together; they imply one another, like front and back, in such a way that they become polarized. As, therefore, the poles of a magnet are the extremities of a single body, it appears that the inside and the outside, the subject and the object, the self and the world, the voluntary and the involuntary, are the poles of a single process which is my real and hitherto unknown self.
It will be clear, too, that the "God" in question is not the God of popular theology, the Master Technician who controls, creates, and understands everything in the universe. Were it so, a person in this state should be able to give correct answers to all questions of fact. He would know the exact height of Mount Whitney in millimeters. On the other hand, this awareness of a deeper and universal self would correspond exactly with that other type of God which mystics have called the "divine ground" of the universe, a sort of intelligent and superconscious space containing the whole cosmos as a mirror contains images.
What is there in the experience of clear blue sky to suggest the structure of the optical nerves? Comparably, what is there in the sound of a human voice on the radio to suggest the formations of tubes and transistors? I raise this question because it is obvious that any chemically induced alteration of the nervous system must draw the attention of that system to itself.

Ordinarily, we remain quite unaware of the fact that the whole field of vision with its vast multiplicity of colors and shapes is a state of affairs inside our heads. Myself (the organism) am what my whole environmental field (the universe) is doing.

It would involve, too, the sensation that the external world is continuous with and one with our own bodies—a sensation very seriously needed in a civilization where men are destroying their environment by misapplied technology. This is the technology of man's conquest of nature, as if the external world were his enemy and not the very matrix in which he is brought forth and sustained -- the total Los Angelization of man.

"Trigger" a new sense of identity, providing the initial boost to get us out of the habit of restricting "I" to a vague center within the skin. That they make us aware that our whole knowledge of the external world is a state of our own bodies is not a merely technical and trivial discovery. It is the obverse of the fact that our own bodies are functions, or behaviors, of the whole external world. This—at first—weird and mystical sensation of "unity with the cosmos" has been objectively verified. The mystic's subjective experience of his identity with "the All" is the scientist's objective description of ecological relationship, of the organism/environment as a unified field.

The external world, is the result of specializing in a particular kind of consciousness. For we have very largely based culture and civilization on concentrated attention, on using the mind as a spotlight rather than a floodlight.

There is thus good reason to believe that the psychedelics are the opposite of hallucinogens insofar as they decrease the selectivity of the senses and expose consciousness to events beyond those that are supposed to deserve notice.

In Hindu philosophy, the world is seen as a drama in which all the parts—each person, animal, flower, stone, and star—are roles or masks of the one supreme Self, which plays the lila or game of hide and seek with itself for ever and ever, dismembering itself as the Many and remembering itself as the One through endless cycles of time.

Maya is a complex word signifying the art, skill, dexterity, and cunning of the supreme Self in the exercise of its playful, magical, and creative power. The power of an actor so superb that he is taken in by his own performance. The Godhead amazing itself, getting lost in a maze.

The continuity of time and moving events by the whirring succession of Asana, or atomic instants. Physicists use similar metaphors in trying to explain how vibrating wavicles produce the illusion of solid material. The impenetrability of granite, they say, is something like the apparently solid disk made by the blades of an electric fan:

a b = Rainbow c 

where a is the sun, b is moisture in the atmosphere, and c is an observer, all three being at the same time in a certain angular relationship. Deduct any one term, a, b or c, or arrange them in positions outside the correct angular relationship, and the phenomenon "rainbow" will not exist. In other words, the actual existence of rainbows depends as much upon creatures with eyes as it depends upon the sun and moisture in the atmosphere.

The fact that chunky things like apartment buildings and basic things like time and space exist in just the same way—only in relation to certain structures known as organisms with nervous systems.

Our difficulty in accepting for ourselves so important a part in the actual creation or manifestation of the world comes, of course, from this thorough habituation to the feeling that we are strangers in the universe—that human consciousness is a fluke of nature, that the world is an external object which we confront.

The end of this century may find us, at last, thoroughly at home in our own world, swimming in the ocean of relativity as joyously as dolphins in the water.

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  1. Bravo I actually realized the Self playing lila while smoking dmt my first time only, but I could not trick it again, and having saw what I saw screwed me up for a long time afterward

  2. I wonder if the secrecy of it all has anything to do with the troubles that people sometimes run into with psychedelics. It'd be nice to have qualified shamans in society. Even if they had to have business cards, licenses, and hourly rates, it would be better than the current state of things.


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