Psychedelic Information Theory
September 5, 2010 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason, readable online, is an analysis of the physical mechanisms of hallucination, shamanic ritual, and expanded states of consciousness. By presenting these methods in physical terms, Psychedelic Information Theory offers a rational and objective model for shamanic transformation and therapy in modern clinical practice. posted by nickyskye (18 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Psychedelic Information Theory offers a rational and objective model for shamanic transformation and therapy in modern clinical practice.

This sentence overwhelmed me.
I haven't read the book, but... but... the intro is just churning with contradictions and confusing language.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:11 PM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just eat these mushrooms and it will all make sense.
posted by adamvasco at 1:29 PM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I haven't even begun to really scratch the surface of this, but I'd just like to say, I approve.

Living in a state of dual-mind most of the time (one side scientific realistic/extinctionist, the other side ritualized and recognizing the Universe as spiritual Other), I don't have a problem with contradictions when it comes to shamanic exploration. Sure, a lot of it may be simply odd chemical processes within the human brain, whether natural or not. But the cross-cultural reported duplication of these mind-states indicates to me that there is something in these processes worth exploring. Exactly what those mind-states are, and what there is worthwhile in them, that remains to be seen. But being at the starting block of examining these states, it is difficult to know whether they are to be dismissed as delusional woo-woo or if they contain information we may make use of somehow.

It's like, I appreciate the work of John Lilly, but don't necessarily buy into the framework in which he presented his findings. Etc, etc, etc.

Thanks for this post. Maybe it'll be something for me to read during my upcoming travel time this week.
posted by hippybear at 1:36 PM on September 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

The Control Interrupt section is an odd mix of impressively-researched information with scientific-sounding untested personal deductions and batshit metaphysical nonsense. The pharmacology section was making me grar so I had to stop reading it.

This guy has read a lot of articles, but the accuracy of his info and familiarity with the background material is spotty, and weirdly so. Take it with a grain of salt.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:54 PM on September 5, 2010

Claude Shamman.
posted by kcds at 2:21 PM on September 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

way to crush the mysticism out of a mystical state. Rationalize the irrational. If you think our perceptions are absolute and complete, why bother pecking at shamanism? If there's a universe of energy we can't organicly apprehend without cracking the barriers of preconception with some pharmacological help, good luck trying to stuff it into words....
posted by Redhush at 2:44 PM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks very much for this, nickyskye.

I look forward to trying to read the physiology and psychopharmacology sections of the book.

The introduction, the author biography, and the review haven't been enough to allow me to feel that I grasp his approach at all, but I hope for less reductionism than Redhush has found.
posted by jamjam at 4:45 PM on September 5, 2010

The pictures listed under "Entopic Hallucination" look akin to what I see if I close my eyes and rub them. Am I naturally high? Is this an AskMe question?
posted by shii at 5:31 PM on September 5, 2010

The pictures listed under "Entopic Hallucination" look akin to what I see if I close my eyes and rub them. Am I naturally high?

Check out Wikipedia for "phosphene".
posted by nickyskye at 5:52 PM on September 5, 2010

Wuz readin' Poetry and Mysticism by Colin Wilson last night, n' wuz perturbed by the introduction, which cites as the impetus for writing the book a convo over drinks at a bar. Colin and his homie reached consensus concerning the correlation of mysticism with poetic transcendence, as opposed to psychedelics. It was the late 60's... but alcohol is a common theme in his book; not as a mind-altering substance but simply the context for a sublime, beautiful moment, which immediately offended me as wholly self-defeating.

Anyway, am sympathetic with the intent of this analysis, historically (what with intertwining religion/ritual/psychoactives), and empirically. See, if you're reading a book or told a story and have a revelation, mystical to whatever degree, you're still affected in some mechanical way. Whatever you've realized or contradicted reverberates through a list or loosely associated chain of notions, and it really doesn't matter whether you enjoyed a metaphor or were overwhelmed by a shaman's embodiment of a spirit, or instructed to take this or that pill.

So, like my bro says, "The shaman differs from the New Age guru only by having mastery of the plants and the spirit world, which is rudimentary psychopharmacology and ritual transcendence"....this subversive description of the Human Potential movement and the ability to convince in general, this, I relate with a little too well.
posted by Monstrous Moonshine at 7:32 PM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Caveat: I have a small amount of experience with a psychedelic under shamanic supervision. I am by no means an expert, but I did spend some significant amount of my time while undergoing the experience, thinking about this exact question.

There is a significant commonality among people's experiences under psychedelic drugs (and also various neurochemical experiences such as migraine, schizophrenia, religious ecstasy etc). Now, it seems that this is possible because the drugs "open mystic pathways to other spiritual realms" (or whatever), but to me it seems much more likely that the drugs affect human brain chemistry in some reproducible fashion. That A and B have seen similar visions is overwhelmingly likely to be due to the fact that they are both humans, ie animals with near-identical brains, who have both taken drug X.

I do not see this as a "cynical" view nor does it in any way detract from the therapeutic (or contratherapeutic, eg brainwashing) potential of the experience, any more than, say, an understanding of muscle physiology would reduce the capacity of a person to enjoy, to emotionally benefit from, exercise. If anything demystification of psychedelics should increase their therapeutic capacity, as more appropriate drugs and more appropriate stimuli could be chosen to efficiently produce the desired effect.

The terminology is fuzzy, contradictory, churning etc for several reasons. Concise terminology derives from scientific investigation and the gathering of data, and broadly speaking psychedelic drug trips are socially disparaged in First World societies: it is the province of fools, drop-outs, misfits, and a tiny group of research scientists who might study the aforementioned population, but should they personally take such drugs, are at risk of being viewed in the same disparaging manner. Broadly speaking these drugs are illegal for the First World public to possess and use, and a significant majority view their possession and use with suspicion and disdain.

Even those who recognize the therapeutic potential of psychedelics often disparage purely recreational or curiosity-driven use, for the simple and entirely valid reason that such use is inherently dangerous. You could drive yourself, or your research subject, insane. This does not create an environment conducive to scientific investigation and data gathering.

Another reason that it's fuzzy is that the sort of people who do the data gathering are, almost exclusively, fuzzy thinkers. Mystics. Religious folk. Mistakers of beauty for truth. They will seize on a beautiful explanation, and extrapolate that out wildly.

A third reason it's fuzzy is that it actually is all but impossible to describe the experience, because the sensations experienced, "sights" "seen", etc, while relatively consistent from person to person, are not common enough in sober and straight human experience to have words for them. Such communication is of course limited only by the patience of the listener and the descriptive skill of the describer, but it's still a difficult task, which requires a very patient listener and a very skilled describer.

I'm sure there are plenty of other reasons but one more I can think of is this: it actually is a "churning" experience. To undergo the experience affects one's understanding of the experience. The means by which the experience is experienced, ie one's sensory apparatus, brain, mind, memory, are all affected by the experience. This is directable, somewhat voluntarily, by the subject and by anyone else present. There are perceptual feedback loops which do not necessarily stabilize either during or after the experience.

Bearing all this in mind the author has done a sterling job, but there is Much Left To Do.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:12 AM on September 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

Beautifully articulate comment about a complex topic, thanks aeschenkarnos.
posted by nickyskye at 1:15 AM on September 6, 2010

I still have my copies of the Psychedelic Review.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:47 AM on September 6, 2010

The unfortunate thing about psychedelics is that if one hasn't done them, then one can't comment intelligently about them, and if one has done them, one has problems commenting intelligently about anything.

As someone who has done extensive, uh, research on MDMA, LSD, NO2, Ketamine, and Mushrooms, his descriptions of those states seem to track with my own memories of the experiences, but I don't have the knowledge of neurology to be able to say whether those chapters are at all intelligent. The chapter about the binding efficiencies of various psychedelics is fascinating, though, if accurate.

The brain really is a collection of mostly independent computational organs (see Stephen Pinker, etc,). Psychedelics do really seem to work by generating spontaneous connections between those organs that don't arise during normal everyday consciousness, or at least aren't apparent during normal, everyday consciousness.

It seems to be that psychedelics could be profoundly useful in neurological research, if we could trace the chemical and neurological changes while at the same time investigating the perceptual changes. I wish we had more real science being done along these lines. I would love to see psychedelics and entheogens demystified and controlled. A 'safe' LSD or MDMA-like experience would be world-changing.
posted by empath at 11:58 AM on September 6, 2010

I feel like his discussion of consciousness pulses caused by NO2 and the 'wah wah' effect, and well as the explanations of time-distortion, visual trails, etc, caused by LSD might be fruitful as well -- (see the scanning photo distortion of plane propellers as an example of a similar phenomena).

I don't feel like this is the work of a crank, to be honest, though the book could be better organized, and could do with less woo-woo new-age material.
posted by empath at 12:05 PM on September 6, 2010

Techniques of using resonance to drive and shape wave amplitude
have been exploited by modern DJs and music producers to engineer
the hard-attack bass lines associated with acid house and trance music.
In the psychedelic musical genre known as Goa Trance, bass lines rip
through crowds of thousands of dancers with the resonant wave shape
and amplitude of electric saw blades. The intensely amplified resonant
pulse drivers of Goa Trance music are, in fact, the current bleedingedge
ritual technology of physical shamanism. Goa Trance originated
from India; Goa Trance DJs and producers are revered like gurus or
techno-shamen; and fans of Goa Trance travel to global music festivals
the way other spiritual adherents make sacred pilgrimages. Goa Trance
music is the psychedelic essence of resonant hallucinogenic tryptamine
interrupt expressing itself through modern ritual entrainment
technology. Using an electrically amplified sound system, a trance DJ
can manipulate a tribe of thousands in the same way a traditional
shaman manipulates a tribe of dozens (Fig. 25). It is the same
technology applied on a larger scale.

This is 100% true, btw. When I was mixing trance for large crowds, it was 100% with the goal of manipulating the drug experience of large numbers of people on ecstasy or LSD, and I played different music depending on what was going around at the party. Trance 'works' at 138-140 bpm. There are particular wave forms (notably the 'supersaw' -- stacked sawtooth oscillators 34 seconds into this song.) that drive people on ecstasy into states of euphoria. Specifically, things like the 'vocal stutter' effect (used here: Orkidea - Unity at 1:50) can cause an almost seizure-like effect where you lose track of time and space. I've long wondered how music can have such an instantaneous and profound impact on mental state, and I think this guy is on the right track with the idea of standing waveforms in the brain. When you're on ecstasy or LSD, there is simply more to listening to music than just thinking that something sounds 'nice'.
posted by empath at 12:34 PM on September 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

In a club
setting the focus of attention is commanded by the DJ, who applies prefabricated
entrainment rhythms (dance grooves) to the crowd. When
the crowd responds favorably to a specific groove by dancing with
exuberance, the DJ rewards them by finding more grooves that fall into
the same tempo, and then uses dynamic filters to isolate and boost the
resonant frequencies of the walls in the room, pushing the music over
the top with tremors that literally rattle the earth. When the DJ
establishes a strong feedback control circuit with the crowd there is
phase transition where the crowd ceases to be individuals and they
cohere into a single fluid unit. At this point the crowd becomes
synchronized in audio-motor synesthesia with the music, almost like
puppets (Fig. 25). The physical dynamics of a group of people engaged
in trance dancing defies formal social descriptions and is best described
as a coherent wave interference pattern.

Oh wow. Yes. This is exactly how DJing works, and I consciously do this, and have talked about this with my friends in almost exactly these words. Losing yourself on the dancefloor is a real thing.
posted by empath at 12:40 PM on September 6, 2010

MetaFilter: one has problems commenting intelligently about anything.
posted by hippybear at 2:28 PM on September 6, 2010

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