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The Strange Sage
April 15, 2003 11:10 PM   Subscribe

Salvia Divinorum is a plant which is (currently) legal to grow, own, or smoke in the U.S. The effects of this plant, when smoked or eaten, take place over the course of only a few minutes, but supposedly are very similar to those of certain illegal chemicals, such as the late Terrence Mckenna's well-documented fave; DMT. The user briefly finds themself to be in a world where the laws of physics, and logic have been subtly or grossly changed - an experience as jarring as the witnessing of the non-euclidean angles described by Lovecraft... and then the real world reasserts itself.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who is curious about this question - are the results of the ingestion of halluciniogens a self-fulfilling prophecy - the user 'seeing' something beyond the pale that they expected or wanted to see - or is there something more meaningful to the experience?
posted by GriffX (70 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
salvia divinorum is not nice, not a recreational drug and not an ideal entheogen--as an herbalist once said to me, 'It's not a friendly teacher.'
posted by y2karl at 11:21 PM on April 15, 2003 [1 favorite]


The Salvia Divinorum Research and Information Center - Daniel Siebert's the expert here.
posted by y2karl at 11:23 PM on April 15, 2003


Well, as a user of all the above stated chemicals, I'm going to have to say that it's all set and setting. If you want a spiritual experience, you're going to get one. This is an oversimplification though.

As crazy as I know it sounds, there are lessons that these substances can give. It does seem that Salvia Divinorum and DMT do have a bit of a personality of their own. It's as if they do try and say something rather specific, they want you to let go and just let them show you things. When you take salvia the first time, there's this urge to try and control yourself but if you do, you're just wasting your time. Submission is necessary. Whether it's truly "spiritual" or merely unlocking a bit of pent up mind-jelly is debatable.
posted by phylum sinter at 11:25 PM on April 15, 2003


I have been thinking about serious things in my life and I suggest not doing this drug when there is an ounce of anxiety in your life. Well, at least when there isn't a ton of it. The anxiety became the world with the gears moving the walls missing, sound like in a huge funnel, breathing, space on forever. This was about 30 seconds or a minute and then I looked at the clock and just thought 'GOD DAMN' there was alot of god damn last night. I couldn't believe how high I had been. I stood up, still high, but not as high. Everything was strange, out of place, charged with emotion, slightly anxiety coated. I was scared that I was too high, that 'doctors' were coming already to take me
away. I lay back down and babbled into a tape recorder. Within the hour I was down, and by two hours later I wasn't even too revved up.


Siebert's page emphasizes the glowing reports but this is not an unusual experience.
posted by y2karl at 11:30 PM on April 15, 2003


Also, the still legal part becomes problematic with sensationalized reports--heck, reports, period.
posted by y2karl at 11:32 PM on April 15, 2003


On a related topic, whatever happened to Gracie and Zarkov? There's been nothing new from them in years...
posted by y2karl at 11:36 PM on April 15, 2003


Hmmm...great link. Now I just have to find some.
posted by iamck at 12:30 AM on April 16, 2003


Tried it, got a little sick.
Meh.
posted by kavasa at 12:37 AM on April 16, 2003


I remember the years with no responsibilities. They were fun.

I've heard about this new fad plant, salvia. It sounds pretty interesting if you've got a guide & are careful with the dosage. It might be a good thing to do in a forest or something, far away from people. Just tie yourself to a tree so you don't go running off & hurt yourself.
posted by password at 12:56 AM on April 16, 2003


Tried it a few times a couple of years ago. I found that the effects reported were a little exaggerated, though the doses we used weren't exceptionally high. Nice buzz from it, very chilled, and up and down in about 15 minutes.

Strangely non-addictive substance, most common quote from friends who tried it was:

"Wow, that was great, really enjoyed it... but I'm not taking it again."
posted by hippyboy at 1:15 AM on April 16, 2003


IMHO, all recent advances in physics and psychology have just been progress in the "hard way" of learning what has already been taught by hallucinogenic drugs. "String Theory" is just what every druggy already knows from doing acid, for example.

Have not gotten my hands on any salvia yet, but I did do some San Pedro cactus and it was pretty intense. I saw an octopus-like creature made of ectoplasm, like a jellyfish, but not. It reminded me of something out of Lovecraft (maybe one of you know the actual name of the creature -- this is interesting to me because I think he may have been writing about real "creatures" that appear on hallucinogens).

Anyway, this creature touched me with its tentacles and every part of my body that it touched caused me to feel a different emotion. I would not doubt it if science eventually discovers that somehow emotional centers are distributed throughout the entire body (or maybe it was just touching pressure points which lead to emotion centers of the brain, or areas of my body's electromagnetic field).

If only for seeing the world from a different perspective for one brief moment, entheogens have extreme value to offer humanity. You don't have to go all the way to ego death to achieve enlightenment.
posted by son_of_minya at 1:20 AM on April 16, 2003


It might be a good thing to do in a forest or something, far away from people. Just tie yourself to a tree so you don't go running off & hurt yourself.

Boy, you're right there. It's a deliriant and an emotional amplifier and it's so fast acting and powerful when fresh--it's the most powerful plant hallucinogen there is by weight: it takes very little-- that a common reaction is panic, only panic times ten, when you are essentially out of your mind, not making sense, irrational. The literary equivalent is the vision in Philip K Dick's Faith Of Our Fathers. Set and setting matter, which means you have to be thoughtful and serious--not carefree and spontaneous--plan ahead and have a very good reason for doing it. Having fun is not a good reason.
posted by y2karl at 1:24 AM on April 16, 2003


Just tie yourself to a tree so you don't go running off & hurt yourself.

Makes me grateful I live in a country where nitrous oxide cartridges are available at every grocery checkout counter.
posted by zaelic at 1:33 AM on April 16, 2003


Lucky dog. And you have a cool and klezmeriffic webpage, too.
posted by y2karl at 2:18 AM on April 16, 2003


'..more meaningful?'

I would throw near-death/out of body experiences into the mix too. Some people suggest that conciousness exists as a collection of sub-planck-length quanta which can detach from the wetware substrate to have their own adventures. Some people also think DMT could be the missing link (McKenna for one).
There do seem to be common elements to the halucinations of many near death and DMT wired people; tunnel, aliens/spirits, friend/guide/family member, god/light/information/matrix, lesson/message, return to reality.
posted by asok at 2:45 AM on April 16, 2003


Salvia Divinorum is not the easiest drug to take. You can't just roll it up in a joint - it needs a high temperature to vapourise - and you can't just chew it (unless you have huge quantities of the leaves). Daniel Siebert sells an elixir that you have to hold in under your tongue for fifteen minutes (and it burns a little if you don't mix it with brandy). So it's no party drug. At low doses it is very pleasant, rather mysterious. If the dose is too high you just pass out. Like any substance that plays around with your brain cells treat it with extreme caution. Despite what GriffX suggests, it is very different from other hallucinogens, illegal or legal. As for the question whether 'the results of the ingestion of hallucinogens a self-fulfilling prophecy' well - I don't think it is as simple as that. I believe different drugs can unlock different stuff that's deep down in our brain, but how you make sense of that is a big question indeed.
Some would say that any experience that affects you profoundly is indeed profound, others that a sense of profundity is just another trick that drugs play on you.
posted by rolo at 2:45 AM on April 16, 2003


My friends and I bought an ounce once to .. expand our consciousness, if you will. Dangerous stuff. Not a toy. Only for experienced psychonauts.

Level 6.. Shamanistic Hallucinations.. that says it all.

the stuff changes each time you take a hit. the first hit is detaching like a whippit, but the 2nd and 3rd times had me visually hallucinating. Really powerful stuff, not for the faint of heart...

What really bothers me is how people push it off as some cool, legal recreational drug. It's not. It could forever warp your perception of reality if you don't have experiencing handling such hallucinations. Could really set in some trauma...

It's allready illegal in Oz, and I can see it becoming illegal stateside as the popularity grows.
posted by shadow45 at 4:43 AM on April 16, 2003


One of the best places I've found to learn about psychoactive plants is The Vaults of Erowid. Inside are plenty of articles discussing the possibility of therapeutic use and lists of known chemical effects for many known Entheogens. If you'd rather hold it in your hand, Terence Mckenna's The Archaic Revival is a great introduction to the world of Entheogenic culture, and happens to be written by one of the most prolific and underrated (outside his contemporaries, that is) men of the past 100 years. Alexander Shulgin's TIHKAL is another great account of the use of tryptamines. And, if you've got the paperwork, you can even follow a link from amazon to get some DMT yourself.

son_of_minya: The Lovecraftian creature you might be thinking of could be the Cthulhu, although the effect it had on you sounds more pleasant than what it would do.

It might be a good thing to do in a forest or something, far away from people

password, you're absolutely correct. It's not a party drug, really you should only use it if you're prepared to question just about everything.

rolo: I've used the elixir before, in fact the exact stuff that Daniel Siebert sells and I've found it to be too strong. I've gone unconscious once because of it, and as a result prefer 10x extract. It's not all that hard to smoke if you've got the proper tools. Unlike dropping liquid salvia in your mouth, you simply smoke until you can't hold the pipe anymore. If you're going to try it, do it soon -- it may be scheduled as a controlled substance soon.
posted by phylum sinter at 4:49 AM on April 16, 2003


The late Terrence McKenna? He died in 2000? Gracious, I'm out of the loop...
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 5:21 AM on April 16, 2003


MetaFilter: pent up mind jelly
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:58 AM on April 16, 2003


yep,
had near death experiences with and without drugs,
i dont recommend doing the drugs to try and attain one either,you'd be better off if i came round your house and removed one of your wisdom teeth with pliers.
Best experience i've had has been with the holy sacraments,which all these other things are just trying to counterfeit.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:04 AM on April 16, 2003


y2karl - Are you sure it's the most powerful hallucinogen by weight? I think DMT might be another strong contender for that title.

And on the subject of DMT, there have been some amazing studies of this drug that's naturally produced in the human pineal gland. Some researchers think the common descriptions of near-death experiences are somehow related to the production of DMT when the body dies.

A doctor by the name of Rick Strassman did some of the most recent research in DMT, using "seasoned" hallucinogen veterans, and even they thought the stuff was intense. One of the most interesting observations Dr. Strassman noticed were the similarities among the different subject's experiences that "involved the perception of what appeared to be free-standing or autonomous 'places' and 'beings' that demonstrated amazing consistency among the volunteers." Specifically, something like 70% of those tested the test kept reporting that they were meeting aliens.

One of the (several) reasons the study ended was because he was having such a hard time dealing with the commonality of the experiences -- "The frequency of 'being-contact' was unexpected and personally disorienting. "

You can read more in the book he wrote about the study: DMT: The Spirit Molecule, or check out his website for some nice excepts from the book.

And for all the psycho-yahoo's out there who think this might be a recreational drug, I leave you with this account of one of the test subjects: "Ken experienced anal rape by alien alligators, and dropped out after his high dose."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:13 AM on April 16, 2003


I have smoked Salvia so many times and I can't seem to trip off of it. I've tried small doses, I've tried HUGE doses, I've tried water filtration, I've tried joints, I've tried laying down in the dark and listening to trippy music, I've tried being in a party situation, I've tried staring into a light and then focusing on the after-image. Nothing. Ever.

All it's ever done has made me feel slightly tingly for a little while. I'll smoke it and then spend half an hour trying to determine whether or not I am, in fact, high.

"I think that this stuff might be working. Maybe not."

Experienced Saliva users: What's the deal? Other drugs always seem to work a-ok for me.
posted by TurkishGolds at 6:33 AM on April 16, 2003


There are two kinds of people: control subjects and experimental subjects. When it comes to comes to this sort of thing I am one of the control subjects. I like reading about it though and as far as that goes, I really liked Jeff Noon's Vurt.
posted by wobh at 6:46 AM on April 16, 2003


This cannot be said enough: DO NOT do salvia without a sitter. You might do yourself and/or others real damage, psychological and physical. That is, of course, if you do it right. I have seen many people smoke it and have no reaction to it. I was also very happy that they did not, because they were treating it as a party drug and were clearly not prepared for the effects. I have also known people who spent half an hour in an alternate universe, lost and scared, crying for their mother (literally). Some people who take acid every month would not touch salvia, because usually no pleasant experience arises from it.

Do be careful. (as to figuring out how to smoke it, there are plenty of instructions floating around. Erowid, for example.)
posted by adzuki at 6:57 AM on April 16, 2003


"String Theory" is just what every druggy already knows from doing acid, for example.

Well, except that it's pretty hard for 'what every druggy already knows' to be written down as a precise and testable theory.
posted by advil at 7:36 AM on April 16, 2003


I've never done salvia, but as to the 'hallucinogenic self-fulfilling prophecy' I think it's worth pointing out that our daily lives are, in a way, a "non"-hallucinogenic self-fulfilling prophecy. By the time we're adults, our perceptions have been organized into a so-called rational world that's as close as we can get it to "consensus" reality.

I think - and this is not news to any of you, who are surely familiar with Huxley and Castaneda - that hallucinating is not so much drawing something new and different out of your consciousness that wasn't previously there, but rather simply removing one or more of the filters that we maintain so well during normal consciousness, so that the bizarre perceptions that are always there (and influencing our behavior in ways we don't like to admit) are made explicit to us.

As another way to experience this, I recommend lucid dreaming, during which I (and others) have encountered mind-states that are strikingly similar to those on LSD, which calls into question the whole paradigm of drugs "distorting" our brain activity by introducing something "foreign" into it.
posted by soyjoy at 7:38 AM on April 16, 2003


Civil_Disobedient: naturally occurring unrefined hallucinogen found in a plant by weight.
posted by y2karl at 7:45 AM on April 16, 2003


is there something more meaningful to the experience?

I think the common mistake is to expect a little green man to sprout out of the carpet like a mushroom and speak pearls of wisdom. I don't believe anyone receives meaning or wisdom during or after a psychedelic experience, just as no one wakes up knowing what a dream meant, although many have power and significance for the dreamer.

If you pay attention and remember, you can get a lot out of a complete departure from your ordinary sensory, logical, and temporal thought processes. It's not trivial to describe what you get. Imagine never having dreamt once in your entire life, and then going to sleep one night and having a doozy of a fly-around-in-your-pajamas-while-hordes-of-people-down-below-sign-Hey-Jude-in-pink-robes.

I think the point is that the moorings of your moment-to-moment consciousness are fragile, and yet we take them utterly for granted. What goes up must come down. But what if what went up just turned blue instead? By "expanding your mind," people mean re-examining what you knew as normalcy in the larger context you learn to see by stepping out of yourself.

Heroes of the psychedelic movement generally come back to earth and report that all of our societal structures are arbitrary and profoundly absurd. They reject the consensus reality we have all internalized as permanent and encourage people to deconstruct everything around them. These are extreme results of learning not to get settled in any state of mind, but certainly good examples of having "gotten" something out of it.
posted by scarabic at 7:46 AM on April 16, 2003 [1 favorite]


I'd like to add my voice to those who gave Daniel Siebert $75 for what was practically seemed to be a half-ounce of green tea.
posted by goethean at 7:59 AM on April 16, 2003


Civil_Disobedient: y2karl: The active ingredient in Saliva is active is amounts near that of LSD, meaning micrograms. It is the most powerful organic (LSD being synthetic) psychotropic substance found to date.

Another thing about Saliva I find interesting is that it is a sage, of which other varieties have been used in shamanistic practice for millenia for purification of the subject and the sacred space.
posted by botono9 at 8:12 AM on April 16, 2003


"String Theory" is just what every druggy already knows from doing acid, for example.

You know, I know a fair number of people who are or were pretty common drug users. Even though almost all of them have at one time or another tried to explain that these altered states were actually giving them wisdom about "reality" - they have never once come up with useful, scientific information.

In other words, I doubt very much that string theory has anything in common with a mind altering hallucination except by chance.

If someone has a experience that is useful to them from a drug, great! More power to ya. If it helps you break out of a narrow thought pattern... good for you again. I certainly have no problem with someone doing it as long as they don't hurt anyone.

But what you have is a hallucination brought on by screwing with your brain chemistry - not a glimpse into the heart of reality.
posted by soulhuntre at 8:24 AM on April 16, 2003


I have smoked Salvia so many times and I can't seem to trip off of it.

If you read the original link, it addresses this. Some people just aren't affected by it.

Best experience i've had has been with the holy sacraments,which all these other things are just trying to counterfeit.

"Counterfeit" is just an opinionated way of saying that the experiences YOU get from the holy sacraments could be the same as the experiences others get from some (other) drugs. Only you choose to believe that your way is the only "real" way. Meh.
posted by biscotti at 8:30 AM on April 16, 2003


advil:
Well, except that it's pretty hard for 'what every druggy already knows' to be written down as a precise and testable theory.
And this has any bearing on my point whatsoever, how? I'm not insulting String Theory, if that's what you're upset about, so there's no cause for a knee-jerk reaction here.

soulhuntre:
You know, I know a fair number of people who are or were pretty common drug users. Even though almost all of them have at one time or another tried to explain that these altered states were actually giving them wisdom about "reality" - they have never once come up with useful, scientific information.
How about Carl Sagan, an admitted pothead who often came up with brilliant ideas while high? You know, there used to be a time when "scientists" were constantly doing drugs, and I have a hard time believing those days are over.
If someone has a experience that is useful to them from a drug, great! More power to ya. If it helps you break out of a narrow thought pattern... good for you again. I certainly have no problem with someone doing it as long as they don't hurt anyone.

But what you have is a hallucination brought on by screwing with your brain chemistry - not a glimpse into the heart of reality.
I'm not going to be so silly as to call you an "anti-drug bigot," but I do think you're being overly-literal, and demeaning, and snobbish.

Scientific breakthroughs are all about breaking out of a narrow thought pattern. For example, that physical objects are made up of certain building blocks, and not any other kind of building block.

Every druggy I've ever known has, at one time or another, realized that all matter is just "light" or "a vibration" or "a waveform." It's not much of a step further to flesh out a basic textbook version of String Theory. Yes, it does take trained scientists to write out actual scientific theories. I am not insulting your precious "scientists" in any way. I am just saying that in many cases they are actually proving druggies right.

Do you have any proof that drug-induced hallucinations are not a glimpse into the heart of reality?

Do you have any proof that most people are not blinded by their perceptions -- the very way they perceive reality -- which may actually be false?

Just spouting back dogma like "that's not scientific!" or "that's not rational!" will not cut it.

In fact, this is not even an argument that should be taking place. It's completely irrational to argue about it. So... Why did you bother attempting to slam my opinion? (There is no need to answer that.)
posted by son_of_minya at 8:42 AM on April 16, 2003


son_of, I fear your reaction to soulhuntre will do more harm than good - "you can't prove a negative," etc. You make some good points, but sound more defensive than you might think you do.

but soulhuntre, it's interesting that after I had said, 'which calls into question the whole paradigm of drugs "distorting" our brain activity by introducing something "foreign" into it,' you come back with the trope, "what you have is a hallucination brought on by screwing with your brain chemistry," failing to address what I said about lucid dreaming almost as if you hadn't even bothered to read the whole thread and just jumped to the end as soon as the 'string theory' concept came up.

So instead of asking for proof that drugs don't manifest reality, I'd ask, what's your rational, logical explanation of the congruence of "unreal" perceptions by different individuals, across cultures worldwide, brought on by both organic (including non-chemical-based) and synthetic processes? Maybe you do have an explanation for this, and if so, I'd like to hear it.
posted by soyjoy at 8:55 AM on April 16, 2003


I take it that soulhuntre's psychedelic experience is on a par with his combat experience.
posted by y2karl at 8:57 AM on April 16, 2003


I bought a bag of this stuff from Lady Salvia a couple years ago. It is a VERY short lived buzz but also very intense. I smoked it without a sitter present and found that if I kept my eyes closed I had a very real sensation about being somewhere else with people, entities, SOMETHING present with me. I opened my eyes and found that I had walked to the other side of the room without even knowing it. That was the dried leaves. They sell a 5X, 10X and 15X extract that is supposed to give you an out of body experience...I think I'll pass on that one. If the pure leaves gave me that kind of feeling, imagine what the extracted stuff would do.
posted by Degaz at 9:39 AM on April 16, 2003


If you are into in near-death experience and the sameness of those experiences, Connie Willis' most recent novel, Passage, might be of interest. It's science fiction yeah, but she's an excellent writer, and it has some interesting ideas to offer about similarity of these experiences.
posted by astrogirl at 9:41 AM on April 16, 2003


How about Carl Sagan, an admitted pothead who often came up with brilliant ideas while high? You know, there used to be a time when "scientists" were constantly doing drugs, and I have a hard time believing those days are over.

I thought I had made that point, but it is possible my post was overly combative, and I apologies for that.

Clearly, it is possible that for some people the use of these substances have kicked them out of a locked int thought mode, or given them a starting point for a different perspective. And I have no problem with that.

I'm not going to be so silly as to call you an "anti-drug bigot," but I do think you're being overly-literal, and demeaning, and snobbish.

It is certainly possible I am being too literal. Of course I have heard far to many drug users make the same statements AS literals... that there is no need for conventional research if only "the man" would legalize all the drugs so that "the people" could finally get in touch with "reality".

So when I hear someone say that drug use brings truth, I am a tad shy about letting it pass. Anyway, my apologies to the thread for the overly combative tone.

Scientific breakthroughs are all about breaking out of a narrow thought pattern. For example, that physical objects are made up of certain building blocks, and not any other kind of building block.

Again, I agree. it is possible that an experience like this will kick someone into a new line of research... but at some point you have to come down and do the math.

In fact, this is not even an argument that should be taking place.

While I think that there is some room for discussion about how relevant these experiences are, you are correct that it doesn't need to be an "argument". My bad.

I'd ask, what's your rational, logical explanation of the congruence of "unreal" perceptions by different individuals, across cultures worldwide, brought on by both organic (including non-chemical-based) and synthetic processes?

That would depend ont he specific experience your discussing. For instance out of body "near death" experiences can be induced by magnetic fields and seem to be a fairly straightforward look at what happens to our brain when the processes are significantly interfered with - no matter what the cause.

I take it that soulhuntre's psychedelic experience is on a par with his combat experience.

Of all places to find my own personal stalker, I didn't expect it to be here :)

Actually yes though, the analogy isn't bad. In both cases I have spoken fairly extensively to those who have had the experience but not had it myself. My information is good, but not first hand.

Such is life.
posted by soulhuntre at 9:41 AM on April 16, 2003


Reading papers on the physics of multiple universes is good drugs for me.
posted by stbalbach at 10:05 AM on April 16, 2003


Drugs don't enhance anything

Everything is already and always there.

They merely shut you (and the outside world) up. It is amazing what happens when you shutup. Which is why meditation is what it is.

Pot, for instance, kills inhibition, which is great, but also kills ambition, with the same stone, which is not great.

"I don't do drugs. I am drugs." - Dali
posted by Satapher at 10:07 AM on April 16, 2003


Every druggy I've ever known has, at one time or another, realized that all matter is just "light" or "a vibration" or "a waveform."

Possibly because they'd already been introduced to the basic concept of relativity? I've definately had hallucinogen-fuelled insights, but they're usually of the 'connect the dots' variety.

Shake up the brain, loosen existing connections, and allow new ones to form.

Certainly I've more than a couple that are related to some of the more abstract mathematical stuff I work with, that have, at the time, appeared to be amazing-out-of-the-blue stuff, but a couple of days later, have turned out to be something I've already had notes on, but didn't quite click.

It's also an incredibly hit or miss affair. I find quiet meditation much more reliable.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:14 AM on April 16, 2003


Drugs are bad, mmmmkay?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:20 AM on April 16, 2003


I tried it once and boy oh boy it was not a fun drug. I lost all sense of perception, completely unsure of whether I had to walk 1 or 10 feet to get to a door.

The scariest part was hearing my voice speak in words that I had no mental connection to, while my brain raced off in another direction. I didn't know if I had lost it and should check myself into a mental hospital. I later guessed that's what it must feel like all the time for schizophrenics.

Being a recovered addict for almost five months now, I agree with those in the thread who have pointed out that the trade off for drugs isn't worth it when you can get more satisfying and reliable highs from other activities. I guess in the end it really all boils down to laziness: are you willing to put in that 45+ minutes of meditation, prayer, exercise or reading; or do you just want an expedient facsimile?
posted by will at 10:25 AM on April 16, 2003


Hey, zaelic, those NO2 carts are *bad* for you -- tests show 'em loaded with machine oil and metal residues. Nasty shit for your lungs.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:30 AM on April 16, 2003


parallel-universe correct link..
posted by stbalbach at 10:30 AM on April 16, 2003


what's your rational, logical explanation of the congruence of "unreal" perceptions by different individuals, across cultures worldwide, brought on by both organic (including non-chemical-based) and synthetic processes?

Brain chemistry is brain chemistry. If you're ramping up your norepinephrin or serotonin somehow, whether it's through drugs, biofeedback (where I'd lump lucid dreaming and meditation), or some other means, you're still ramping up that neurotransmitter. Activate or block receptors on neurons with drugs, and it'll do the same thing to your brain as it does to mine, barring injury or weird genetic or developmental differences.

How you interpret these changes in brain chemistry will depend on exactly how the big neural net that's doing the interpretation is set up, sometimes with nonlinear/chaotic/hard-to-predict results.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:38 AM on April 16, 2003


son_of_minya: My comment was meant to be a bit lighter hearted than it came out; I'm sorry I provoked such a reaction. All I wanted to say is that speaking as someone who has experienced some altered states, and has a bit of experience with complex, highly abstract mathematical theories (in this case of natural language semantics, not physics), I think that it's very unlikely that whatever fascinating intuitive notion one might come up with while tripping or high is nearly as interesting, or as useful, as the real thing.

First, I should say that I fall in with those who think that one of the most important aspects of a scientific theory is that it is testable. In fact, any statement about the "heart of reality" in my mind is not a useful statement unless it is testable. It may not even meaningful, or comprehensible. This is the perspective that I believe any scientist should take, and since this is a basic assumption for me (it has been defended, I believe, by e.g. Popper, but I am not capable of defending it myself), if you disagree, then any statements we make to each other about science will probably not even be mutually intelligible.

It seems to me that it is dangerous to assume that whatever ideas one has in an altered state are "true", by any criterion of truth. For every time that someone tripping has an idea that might be right, or at least a paraphrase of a correct statement, (i.e. the intuitive notion that light is particles and waveforms or whatever), they've also had a hundred other ideas which are not even close. From my personal experience, this is the case.

It might be instructive to look at what is called a "basic" introduction to string theory:

http://superstringtheory.com/basics/basic4.html

I do not believe that this is something that could be arrived at without years of hard, detailed, study. Perhaps, the very first step or many steps along the way could be inspired by hallucinogenic ideas, but the details? I disagree with the statement that it would be straightforward or easy to flesh out the content of this page, given the idea that 'matter is just "light" or "a vibration" or "a waveform."' I do not even think it would be easy for a physicist with this idea and many years of training (just not in string theory).

Also, people have been taking drugs for probably as long as there have been people. Why was string theory (or any other theory you might care to bring up which every tripping person must have realized at some point) only developed so recently?
posted by advil at 10:38 AM on April 16, 2003


Satapher,

[quote]Pot, for instance, kills inhibition, which is great, but also kills ambition, with the same stone, which is not great.[/quote]

Maybe for those already without ambition. Pot tends to emphasize your natural tendencies, not turn you into a stoner.

Also, if you think meditation is shutting up, you either have never done it, or are doing it wrong.
posted by Dantien at 11:09 AM on April 16, 2003


Of all places to find my own personal stalker, I didn't expect it to be here :)

Oh, puh-leeze, I was here first.

In both cases I have spoken fairly extensively to those who have had the experience but not had it myself. My information is good, but not first hand.

Yes, I could have said the same thing about sex before I lost my virginity.

Pot, for instance, kills inhibition, which is great, but also kills ambition, with the same stone, which is not great.

Untrue. Dr. Mitch Earleywine, author of Understanding Marijuana -- A New Look at the Scientific Evidence
(Introduction (pdf), Sample chapter (pdf)), interviewed by Liane Hansen on Sunday Morning Edition, NPR:


Liane Hansen… What is A-motivational Syndrome?

Dr. Earleywine… A-motivational Syndrome was this notion that you would somehow smoke cannabis and suddenly not want to do anything for society not want to contribute not want to hold a job and be incapable of setting goals and obtaining them. In both education and in occupational domains the data just don't seem to support this. For example, college students who smoke cannabis get grades that are comparable to college students who do not. Cannabis users seem to earn as much money and pay the same amount of taxes. Those sorts of things all seem to kind of defy the idea of A-motivational Syndrome.

posted by y2karl at 11:11 AM on April 16, 2003


I think that it's very unlikely that whatever fascinating intuitive notion one might come up with while tripping or high is nearly as interesting, or as useful, as the real thing.

Some of the notions one comes up with while in an altered state are merely artifacts of that state, others are just as testable and valid as ideas thought up in any other fashion. I find it odd that people insist that ideas brought about by drug use are always different than ideas brought about by anything else. "The real thing" is determined by real-world testability and other scientific means, not what state the thinker was in when the idea was had. Plenty of people have revelations of the afore-mentioned "connecting the dots" nature while on drugs, plenty of people have such revelations without drugs, some people have both. Drugs can be extremely useful for some people, don't discount the usefulness of their effects just because they're drugs.

And what Dantien and y2karl said.
posted by biscotti at 11:50 AM on April 16, 2003


Dude, drugs are so over. It's all about God Helmets now.

I'm surprised that this far into the thread, there've been no Kary Mullis mentions.
posted by jeb at 12:02 PM on April 16, 2003


I dont think (I could be wrong, of course) anyone's saying a scientific theory or process could be fully developed while tripping - only that drugs might facilitate the initial insight that would lead to the more scientific inquiry. [on preview, biscotti beat me to some of this] Remember that all human science is inductive, requiring us to postulate a hypothesis first, then test it. In this way, even the cold, hard facts of science are a "self-fulfilling prophecy," and may not represent reality any more fully or accurately than do drug-induced epiphanies - they may only represent the subset of those epiphanies that are verifiable through our known testing methods.

Dantien - I think you're a little harsh about meditation and shutting up. One of the prerequisites for meditating is the ability to shut up your own internal chatter about the external world... isn't it?

And ROU, yeah, of course your brain chemistry changes according to what kind of things you're doing, but then where do we draw the line that determines "screwing with brain chemistry?" The standard trope invalidating drugs' relevance to reality is that brain chemistry is being altered from some normative state by the introduction of a foreign agent. As Tart's Altered States of Consciousness made clear, though, there are a lot of interesting similarities between the states where the brain "gets" altered from the outside and the ones where it alters itself. So which state is valid, and when does a brain's chemistry switch from something we agree represents reality accurately to one that doesn't? That's what I'm fascinated by, and I don't think I have all the answers, either.
posted by soyjoy at 12:03 PM on April 16, 2003


advil: I may have been hasty. On re-reading, I don't think you were necessarily saying what I thought you were saying, and as such, I don't think I disagree with you. This is a topic about which many people have some serious misconceptions, prejudices and wildly inaccurate stereotypes (unlike any other topic, of course ;>), and I may have read some of this into what you were saying and gone on the defensive without cause. I do agree with what soyjoy said, however.
posted by biscotti at 12:15 PM on April 16, 2003


Wow - no time to read this yet. Fascinating thread. No time to respond to the many (and deep) coments, but...

Soyjoy - [ Charles Tart! (fun author) - "Waking Up" is a fun book by Tart (Neo Gurdjieffian theme) ] .....I second Y2Karl's take (or this piece of it) - Salvia must be fresh. If so, it can hit like a freight train. A friend of mine described the experience to me in detail. He grew some - It's not too hard.

Biscotti - I agree, and I'd add (agreeing with Soyjoy and others) "we're on [our own inernally manufactured] drugs all the time".
posted by troutfishing at 12:18 PM on April 16, 2003 [1 favorite]


Also, if you think meditation is shutting up, you either have never done it, or are doing it wrong. [Dantien]

Actually, I'm pretty sure one of the goals of meditation is to slow down and possibly stop your conscious thoughts, with the ultimate goal of being in total control of them. I think "meditation is shutting up" is a valid, if somewhat simplified, description of the process of meditation.

And I would add that if you feel the need to say "you're doing it wrong" to someone in regards to their own path then you may be missing the greater point altogether.
posted by botono9 at 1:07 PM on April 16, 2003


You kids these days with your fancy dope. Back in my day, we had to smoke banana peels! That's right! And we ate mushrooms grown in little jars of camel shit! And we LIKED it, dammit! Nowadays, it's all a buncha frou-frou fancy-ass hophead punksgrumblegrumblegrumble....

*hikes up pants, shakily throws brass one-hitter at the crowd*
posted by UncleFes at 1:25 PM on April 16, 2003


Actually, I'm pretty sure one of the goals of meditation is to slow down and possibly stop your conscious thoughts, with the ultimate goal of being in total control of them.

That may be true of Raja yoga meditation, but not vipassana or Zen koan meditation. There are different kinds of meditation.
posted by homunculus at 2:30 PM on April 16, 2003


So first I just want to clarify something that I think I probably misstated, talking about the usefulness of an idea. I'm not sure that I could actually say anything about whether ideas under different circumstances are more or less useful to the person who has them - this is hard to talk about. I did mean to talk about the usefulness of ideas towards science or scientific theories or something like that.

biscotti: Some of the notions one comes up with while in an altered state are merely artifacts of that state, others are just as testable and valid as ideas thought up in any other fashion. I find it odd that people insist that ideas brought about by drug use are always different than ideas brought about by anything else.

advil: I may have been hasty. On re-reading, I don't think you were necessarily saying what I thought you were saying, and as such, I don't think I disagree with you.

I think was probably not very clear on this, and that we more or less agree. I do not think that ideas one has while under the influence of some drug are anything like being of some different kind or type of ideas (which is maybe what you mean?). I do think that on the whole ideas had while high tend to be less useful than ideas while not, due to the increased presence of artifacts. I also think that people tend to be less skeptical about ideas which appear to have been given to them while in an altered state, and this is one of the things that I am most worried about. I further think that when someone believes "all matter is light" or something like that, this is a belief of a very very different kind than believing in a scientific theory which could be summarized like that.

soyjoy: I dont think (I could be wrong, of course) anyone's saying a scientific theory or process could be fully developed while tripping - only that drugs might facilitate the initial insight that would lead to the more scientific inquiry.

I don't disagree that initial insights had while on drugs could be very useful towards what a scientist does to develop a theory. But I actually took some of the statements like "Do you have any proof that drug-induced hallucinations are not a glimpse into the heart of reality?" and "IMHO, all recent advances in physics and psychology have just been progress in the "hard way" of learning what has already been taught by hallucinogenic drugs." to be saying that what a tripper experiences or sees or comes to believe is no different than a piece of science. I've also met other people who think this, and I suspect it's not at all uncommon.

I think that when someone really learns string theory (or anything of that sort) that what they learn is not at all the same kind of thing that anyone ever learns while tripping.

Remember that all human science is inductive, requiring us to postulate a hypothesis first, then test it. In this way, even the cold, hard facts of science are a "self-fulfilling prophecy," and may not represent reality any more fully or accurately than do drug-induced epiphanies - they may only represent the subset of those epiphanies that are verifiable through our known testing methods.

This I agree with. Perhaps what I hold is simply the aesthetic perspective that any idea is simply not useful to an understanding of reality if it is not testable; the fact that they only represent a subset of verifiable epiphinies shows a deficit in our testing methods, not the overall principle. Even if there are some truths which aren't knowable (by us), I don't believe that they are any more knowable through hallucinogens than science. This is something that could easily be wrong, but I'd like to believe that all knowable truths are truths which can be tested.

Anyways, sorry for rambling; this is just a really interesting discussion.
posted by advil at 2:34 PM on April 16, 2003


Fascinating discussion, thanks everybody. The novel I'm working on is actually toying with a lot of these ideas. Why do we consider drug-related experiences and insights as somehow less "real" than sober ones? I'm a little surprised that people like soulhuntre still talk about a firm, shared, objective reality as if modernism never happened and nobody ever tweaked their sensory input with coffee, chocolate, movies, or an iPod. In the end we're all alone within our skulls, and the filters we apply shape our subjective world -- which is the only world we can ever know.

I think it's Tim Leary who said that an apple is psychoactive because eating it changes your brain chemistry. So, as others pointed out, I'd agree that "drugs" and "reality" exist on a sliding scale, or rather, in a tangled web from which we can't ever extricate ourselves.

Make no mistake: we're all high, whether it's Salvia, ecstasy, yellowtail sushi, good lovin', a roller coaster ride, Jesus, Ritalin, or the virulent strain of jingoism currently peddled on Fox News. To come down, you probably have to die.
posted by muckster at 3:20 PM on April 16, 2003


soulhuntre
I thought I had made that point, but it is possible my post was overly combative, and I apologies for that.
That's cool. I did get a little defensive. I just saw two comments in quick succession, slamming me, and wanted to prevent a "pile on" from occurring. Have seen it happen in other threads, where my comments were unintentionally offensive, but did not expect it to happen because I mentioned science. Maybe it never did. o_O

Satapher
Drugs don't enhance anything

Everything is already and always there.

They merely shut you (and the outside world) up. It is amazing what happens when you shutup. Which is why meditation is what it is.
That is a really good way to put it. This comment is not intended to be part of my "argument" against advil and soulhuntre. I have just noticed, in the past couple of years especially, that meditation can lead to the same kind of changes in perception; the capability to see things without the obstruction of subconscious filters.

While drugs can also cause paranoia and delusions, they sometimes also enable one to see truths that are blocked out in normal waking experience. For example, drugs have given me the ability to pick up on human beings' over-reliance on subtle social cues. In some ways, neurosis is just the overabundance of these filters.

inpHilltr8r
Possibly because they'd already been introduced to the basic concept of relativity? I've definitely had hallucinogen-fuelled insights, but they're usually of the 'connect the dots' variety.
This is also definitely true, and not necessarily contradictory to what I believe. In discussions on other topics, though I don't think I ever wrote it here, I have said that "psychic powers" are really just an extreme example of intuition, deriving conclusions from knowledge the person was unaware they possessed.

advil
First, I should say that I fall in with those who think that one of the most important aspects of a scientific theory is that it is testable. In fact, any statement about the "heart of reality" in my mind is not a useful statement unless it is testable.
It depends on how it is useful. The ideas behind Eastern philosophy, for example, may not be entirely scientific or even scientifically applicable. That does not, however, invalidate them or make them inapplicable to future scientific research.

Also note that my comments were not limited to just physics. String Theory may have been a bad example, but it was intended to be a funny one. String Theory was only covered on a basic level in one of my college classes (the kind of required science course everyone has to take and is filled with hundreds of freshmen), and I laughed out loud when the instructor summed it up. I wasn't laughing because I thought it was a stupid theory, but because what he said was almost word-for-word what I and my friends had said while tripping our balls off.
It seems to me that it is dangerous to assume that whatever ideas one has in an altered state are "true", by any criterion of truth.
In at least one sense, you are absolutely right. I would not want anyone to believe that their dog is the Devil, for example.

In Ancient times, though, next to nothing was scientifically provable. Even today, except through extreme reliance on mathematics, there are many things that we can never "prove" scientifically. It is important to qualify untestable theories, but I don't think they should be dismissed.
Also, people have been taking drugs for probably as long as there have been people. Why was string theory (or any other theory you might care to bring up which every tripping person must have realized at some point) only developed so recently?
I would disagree with your premise. There are many modern scientific ideas that we have only recently realized Ancient civilizations had knowledge of. I am not a scientist, but I do not think this basic statement that we are constantly being amazed by the knowledge and scientific accuracy of Ancient mankind can be disputed. Whether they used drugs to come to their conclusions, it can't be proven, but they definitely did not use particle accelerators and the Hubble telescope.

Dantien

Second comment on reading others' responses.
Also, if you think meditation is shutting up, you either have never done it, or are doing it wrong.
If I understand what Satapher was saying, that you're letting go of debilitating subconscious filters through meditation, then I don't think he's "doing it wrong." In this sense, it is not "shutting up," but rather more intense listening.

Wish I hadn't slept. This thread now has me thinking about the nature of genius. The capability to view the world without filters, to connect the seemingly unconnected (and be right), etc. If Skinner is right, and we all have the same potential unless we're mentally handicapped, then why did Tesla come up with such unusual ideas? In the distant past, even more so, all scientists have had access to the same material, yet only some make amazing breakthroughs.
posted by son_of_minya at 4:07 PM on April 16, 2003


Salvia is a rather pretty plant to grow in the garden--it is available locally via Molbacks Nursery, or at least was a couple of years ago. The plant has this copper glaze that doesn't appear in pictures--another interesting thing is that it shows up on lists of deer proof plants: it has a very bitter taste.

Also interesting is that it is an asexual cultigen--it evidently is a domesticated plant no longer found in the wild. It is reproduced by cuttings, as it rarely goes to seed, and when it does, the seeds are not fertile. This is not uncommon with psychoactive plants--the same is true for kava kava. It is an indicator of a long domesticated plant. Almost all of the salvia available are genetically identical clones of a cutting collected by the famed ethnobotanist Gordon Wasson.
posted by y2karl at 4:08 PM on April 16, 2003


I'm glad this thread made for such good (and good-natured) discussion.

WRT the theory that drugs or meditation or religious inspirations or dreams simply knock down barriers in our minds, allowing for the exploration of abilities that were always there, I totally agree. I haven't done all that much in the way of 'hallucinogens', and nothing has compared to dreams that I've had.

Speaking of dreams, just today my girlfriend told me about one she had - one of those 'kind of awake, listening to NPR on the clock-radio' early-morning dreams. She dreamt about a conference going on in a huge, beautiful building, with insane amounts of security outside. (This probably had something to do with a story about who should run the interim-government in Iraq.) She saw these amazingly-detailed vehicles and soldiers with equipment straight out of a movie. This, dreamed by a woman who hates all things military or science-fiction.

Anyhow, I wish more work and thought was dedicated to explaining how dreams work. The few times I've 'seen' or 'thought up' cool stuff or interesting concepts while under the influence have never compared to the same things done while I was simply asleep and dreaming.
posted by GriffX at 6:38 PM on April 16, 2003


I don't believe that meditation is, in any real way, shutting off an internal dialogue. What my knowledge of meditation tells me (and I'm from the chan/zen school mainly) is that meditation is the separation of you from your thoughts. You never really try to stop those thoughts, or that internal dialogue, but to learn that they are not who you are. Quieting down, watching the world unfold itself at your feet (thanks Goethe), and listening is not shutting oneself off from the world but opening oneself to a sensitivity to the universe that is obscured during our normal lives.

I read somewhere that if our senses were just a slight bit more sensitive, we would go insane (and some say this has already happened). I think some drugs (pot, LSD, psylocibin) expand one's sensitivity to the universe and things that may not be measurable by any instrument we have today. Others (alcohol is a clear example) shut us away from those stimuli.

On another point, the assumption that we can currently measure and replicate all the possible human experiences by science is as shortsighted as the notion 100 years ago that a human travelling at more than 15 mph would have their face torn off their heads by air friction (or something like that). Science is a growing philosophy that may, suddenly, find psychedelic experiences to be quantifiable and measurable. To rely upon it solely to see the truth of our universe is to make the same mistake all scientists have made for the past 200 years. We do not, in any understanding, have all the information available to us yet.
posted by Dantien at 9:31 AM on April 17, 2003


I read somewhere that if our senses were just a slight bit more sensitive, we would go insane... [Dantien]

What does it mean to go insane? What does it mean to be sane? I think someone with heightened senses might have a difficult time explaining his/her experiences with someone who could not experience it themselves. I could see this person being labeled insane, but I don't know that they'd be insane in any "real" way. A cyclops among the blind, if you will.

And this is not to say that you hold this belief yourself. Just riffing on your comment.

As Mr. McKenna once said, "How come it is that the further in you go the bigger it gets?"
posted by botono9 at 11:48 AM on April 17, 2003


McKenna felt that it was the job of the shaman to go see these other-worldly (I use that term loosely) visions and experiences that psychedelics give you and bring them back and explain them to the masses. Shame is, the result is that usually the masses either dismiss the shaman or burn him.
posted by Dantien at 1:47 PM on April 17, 2003


H.G. Wells' take on the cyclops among the blind concept is instructive - the main character does pretty nearly go insane, specifically from not being able to communicate adequately with those who can't see what he does.
posted by soyjoy at 2:33 PM on April 17, 2003


Shame is, the result is that usually the masses either dismiss the shaman or burn him.

Or they turn the psychedelic experience into recreation and partying.
posted by y2karl at 4:39 PM on April 17, 2003


Or they turn the psychedelic experience into recreation and partying.

Damn straight! Why should the priests get all the good drugs?
posted by inpHilltr8r at 6:36 PM on April 17, 2003


biscotti,
speaking of personal experience , do you have any on the subject we are discussing ?

Drugs can be extremely useful for some people, don't discount the usefulness of their effects just because they're drugs.

name some.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:14 PM on April 20, 2003


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