I had originally thought to write a chapter on the history of use of psychedelic drugs, but there have already been several excellent books and research papers published in this area, and I have nothing new to add. (1) At the risk of leaving out an important body of substantiating evidence for parts of my theory, including the history of what have been thought to be the various effects of the drugs, I will simply recommend that the reader acquaint himself with the subject from the already prolific selection of works, many of which are listed in the Bibliography. The risk is that a reader who holds some prejudice that psychedelic use has merely been the province of a few oddball tribes, or something that could be safely ignored when theorizing in anthropology or human biological and social evolution, will therefore hold the same prejudice when trying to evaluate my theory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Psychedelic use appears to be the rule, rather than the exception, in every corner of the earth where man has developed. And not just in times we may safely relegate to the stone age: I have already mentioned the strong likelihood that lysergic acid alkaloids were important in Greek Civilization over a period of two thousand years. Once acquainted with the wealth of evidence concerning early use of psychedelic drugs, the reader or researcher who then picks up a new book on anthropology, religion, human evolution and the evolution of consciousness and finds no relevant entries in the index, will have immediate and compelling reasons to question the author's scholarship!
The discontinuance of use of psychedelics for most non-Western societies seemed to coincide with the arrival of European "civilizing" influence, yet stubborn traces of psychedelic use persisted widely until modern times, as witnessed by recent studies of Central and South American Amerindian tribes, and of course the widely known use of peyote by members of the Native American Church. The discontinuance of psychedelic use in Western Civilization itself coincided with the rise of the Roman Church as the primary political power in the world. From the early centuries of the Christian epoch, the use of such substances became the occupation of heretics, outcasts, witches, primitives or other similarly uncivilized, satanic elements. (2) The Church, of course, saw no contradiction in the wholesale slaughter of such groups for their own good. Continuing psychedelic use over the centuries in many parts of the world has thus been a carefully guarded secret, and modern estimates of its frequency and importance are probably grossly underestimated.
The extract of Ipomoea violacea that we had prepared radiated power, just sitting there in its flask. A light amber, odorless syrup which, in the darkened laboratory fluoresced brilliantly blue under ultraviolet light, it was an extreme contrast with the series of messy, difficult to purify, dark-colored and discouraging volumes of intermediate sludge we had treated, and brought to mind the Curies and their arduous separation of a few tiny crystals of glowing radium from a mountain of pitchblende. The difficulties had, however, taught us much about ways in which we would modify our processes for future work. As for the extract, the following day would see the first test of its activity, with myself as the guinea-pig. I was by this time hardly a novice in self-administration of my own preparations or in the estimation of what effects they might have. I was, in fact, quite adept at taking most any supposed substance of enlightenment and avoiding nasty complications if the brew turned out to be bogus. On many occasions in New York, more than a little caution had been required to avoid not only the classic "rip-off" but also the inevitable dangers that Prohibition naturally produced. Once, a purported sample of magic mushroom I was offered proved to be only a few wasted store-bought champignons laced with powdered datura seeds. Although hallucinogenic, the experience of datura was not the least insightful, nor did it leave me with an experience which hinted at dimensions normally closed to everyday perception. I spent a few unpleasant hours also with Owsley's famous STP, which in the original dose was far too potent for human consumption. Fortunately I took only a quarter-dose, there having been evidence of difficult times for others with this synthetic drug.
The morning-glory extract provided not a nasty surprise, but a powerful surprise none the less. It was by far the most powerful experience I had yet encountered. Perhaps the methods of our extraction had yielded a product more representative of the shaman's recipe than the preparations obtained by other investigators, who reported only modest psychedelic effects. The experience of that day was hardly modest, from the beginning moments it certainly did not fail to inspire reverence and humility, no matter what the direction to which I managed to guide it. The colors and geometric patterns, the rippling waves so often seen in watching clouds in the sky, the slowing of time and other typical effects so frequently described in the literature had some time ago become only minor and unattended aspects of psychedelic experience for me. Certainly, I still noticed these effects, if I took the trouble to pay attention to them. But the psychedelic experience had become for me far more an arena for the Herculean task of attempting to achieve the truly original perspective for viewing the fundamental questions that man has posed since the beginning of time. It was the task of freeing oneself completely from preconceptions, from habits of thinking that affected the outcome of seeking in unknown and unconscious ways. And of course, it was paradoxical, if not impossible to erase these filters of comprehension completely. To a very significant extent, comprehension consisted of these filters. Nevertheless, the psychedelic experience seemed to go quite a good distance in providing this ability, if one were ready to use it. Particularly the experience of that day.
An additional very serious question that I have examined practically every time I undergo an experience is that of my position in giving a psychedelic drug that I have prepared to another person. The peyote extract, and now the morning-glory alkaloids would be given to friends, and their friends perhaps, and it seemed necessary to explore where the experience of these substances might lead for others than myself. As I indicated above, I would recommend datura for no-one, and Owsley's invention I would strongly recommend against. In the case of providing a psychedelic that I myself have prepared, it is a great responsibility, not so much for any immediate risk that an experience might entail, but rather in the sense that one thus becomes a shaman who initiates another human being into awareness of that mysterious something that forever remains just out of reach. The responsibility is to ensure that the one initiated shall see the significance of this event, of this process of initiation. If not, the ability of a person to achieve such insight may be stifled, if not completely eliminated from that point on, and it is his shaman who is to blame. It is like saving someone's life, in the way some oriental philosophies understand it, if the initiation is successful. Many people, of course, are capable of initiating themselves, I certainly had, and so had many others I had known. But to manufacture psychedelic substances and distribute them widely and at random, as had been done recently in the United States, left something important out of the equation describing the power of these substances to affect important changes in those who experienced them, and in society at large. On the other hand, I could not ignore the argument that the Prohibition had denied man one of his most fundamental rights, and according to the wisdom expressed by the American Constitutional scholar Alexander Bickel,
We cannot, by total reliance on law, escape the duty to judge right and wrong... There are good laws and there are occasionally bad laws, and it conforms to the highest traditions of a free society to offer resistance to bad laws, and to disobey them.
The details of the morning-glory experience that day had much more to do with my personal idiosyncrasies of the time than with issues relevant to the present narrative. At a high point of the experience, a minor earthquake occurred which, for the life of me, seemed to be provoked by my patterns of thought, seeking answers to questions that had a certain air of being forbidden, questions that no mortal could support the weight of significance the answers would unload upon him. The whole scene would of course be dismissed as an hallucination by my analyst, if I had one. But the earth tremor was real, and it did coincide with the climax of certain thoughts I was entertaining. Although the details of such experiences may sometimes represent battles of the self against its own quirks and limitations, and on a personal level I have quite satisfactorily concluded what the experiences of that day had to teach, one still gains a cumulative and more generally applicable knowledge from profound psychedelic experience. And I believe it was the experience of that day which first started me thinking about the "effects" that these substances produced, trying to understand how they could be so different from person to person and from experience to experience. (And the experience of that day seemed to indicate that psychedelics might possibly cause earthquakes!)
Some researchers had proposed that the effects of psychedelics were more the result of set and setting than of the drug per se. This seemed to be a useful model as far as it went, but really it didn't go very far in my opinion. The setting of a psychedelic experience was simply the surroundings, the comfortable living room or beautiful garden to be contrasted with the sterile and sometimes threatening atmosphere of the hospital wards where some early research had been carried out. The set was defined as the attitudes, motivations, preconceptions, and intentions of the individual, in combination with the introductory ideas and instructions that were provided by the researchers or guides, if any. Here is a short illustrative example:
Language, however, may...be used to develop a negative set and setting. Jean Houston (1967) has described one of her initial observations of LSD administration. The subject was told by the psychiatrist that he would have "a terrible, terrible experience" filled with "strong anxiety and delusions." The drug was administered in an antiseptic hospital room with several observers in white coats watching him. As the effects came on, the psychiatrist asked such questions as, "Is your anxiety increasing?" At the end of the experiment, the subject was in a state of panic. The psychiatrist announced to the group that LSD is indeed a "psychotomimetic" substance, which induces psychotic behavior. (3)
Now here is a shaman who has failed most miserably in his responsibilities. What was so appalling about some of this early "scientific" research with psychedelics, was that it was structured not with just an ignorance, but a willful ignorance of methods used by the aboriginal practitioners of the same curing arts as the modern psychiatrists professed to practice. Peyote shamans in the western states of the US were very likely that same day conducting psychedelic sessions in a somewhat different manner:
The ritual developed by the Native American Church illustrates the use of language to produce a positive set and setting for the ingestion of peyote. A ceremonial leader, the head chief, initiates the singing of songs and co-ordinates requests by individuals for special prayers. The ritual is so arranged and so coordinated to the needs of the communicants that the maximum possible likelihood of a positive spiritual experience is enhanced. (4)
If the prospect of singing for his patients would seem absurd to the modern psychiatrist, he is also willfully ignorant of the great many psychedelic studies in which recorded music and other aesthetic input was successfully used to create positive set and setting. The work of Hoffer and Osmond, or of Masters and Houston are good examples:
The LSD treatment is conducted in a comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, spacious room, in no way suggestive of a clinical setting...the therapist wears ordinary street clothes or something more casual, depending on the needs of the patient. No medical or scientific "uniform" should be worn. The session should be presented less as therapy than as educational and developmental experience. The therapist steps out of his role as "doctor" and becomes more the patient's mentor and guide, who will lead him through the unique world of psychedelic experience and enable him to profit from it...
The patient should be exposed to a rich variety of sensory stimuli... Objects, when touched may seem vibrantly alive, and when looked at, may seem to breathe or undergo successive transformations. An orange that is handed the patient may appear to be a golden planet; from a piece of cork may emerge a series of striking "works of art." Joyous music usually is played to help direct him emotionally. Typically, the patient will announce that he is hearing music as if for the first time. All the senses are given an opportunity to respond "psychedelically." (5)
"Psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and mescaline, give rise to awesome and extraordinary mental changes in which perceptions are so altered from normal human experience, they cannot readily be described." Many similar statements have been made, this one is by Solomon H. Snyder in his book Drugs and the Brain. (6) If the concept of set and setting as the determining parameter of the content of psychedelic experience has only limited value for understanding statements such as Snyder's, we need a new model which not only is capable of showing what cognitive and neurological mechanisms could facilitate such experiences, how the drug might catalyze or initiate a chain of events the content of which would depend entirely on the individual, but also showing why statements about the psychedelic experience have so far been themselves awesome and extraordinary yet decidedly lacking in explanatory power.
I am going to propose a view that attributing fantastic and indescribable effects to psychedelic drugs is naive and misleading. From all we know about the complexity, ineffability, and continually surprising nature of the human mind, attribution of such causal power to a molecule seems a mere projection, and a symptom of the unwillingness to contemplate these characteristics of the mind directly. Neither can we justify attributing such power to mere molecules in view of what is known about the neurological effects of psychoactive drugs in general. The primary neurological effects of psychedelics, like other drugs which affect the central nervous system, must be relatively simple, localized, and perhaps only minimally connected in time with the supposed fantastic attributes which follow. All the facts point toward a simple, quite easily explained mechanism for the neurological action of LSD or other psychedelics. How the mind reacts to this simple change in nervous system operation is another matter, for here it is the complexity of mind itself in question.
The argument is that what LSD or other psychedelic drugs do is simple, what the mind does complex, and if the event of ingesting a psychedelic substance is followed by some amazing mental events, it must be the case that the mind is capable of such events all on its own, or under a variety of diverse influences. The drug is in no sense analogous to a computer program, causing the brain and mind to submit to its instructions; if it were, the effects of the drug would be far more reproducible and typical.
Before describing what simple mechanism could allow a psychedelic drug to catalyze the events of psychedelic experience, let us take a closer look at what have been touted as the "effects" of psychedelic drugs. My task will be to show how each of these effects is not strictly an effect of the drug itself, but one of the many things the mind may do under various circumstances, one being a certain small yet fundamental change in neurological routines provoked by a drug. The choice of the word 'catalyze' is appropriate, I think, for in chemistry the action of a catalyst is to lower an energy barrier which prevents a reaction from happening, not to actually take part in the reaction itself.
As a starting point in my theory therefore, let us think of the effect of a psychedelic drug as eliminative of some obstacle, rather than additive: the drug functions as a facilitator of inherently possible processes, a substance which by its neurological action allows or assists certain natural processes to occur which might otherwise be rare or improbable. In the following quotation, let us see if we can understand each "effect" not as something that a psychedelic drug does, but as something which we might do, if only rarely, under certain circumstances. The list below, although originally compiled as a phenomenology of ASC's (7) in general (including hypnosis, religious trance, delirious states, various intoxications other than psychedelic, etc.), has been widely agreed to represent the major characteristics observed of the psychedelic state, although some improvement in their description could be imagined. Where applicable, I have edited the descriptions to accord with psychedelic experience alone:
A. Alterations in thinking. Subjective disturbances in concentration, attention, memory, and judgment represent common findings. Archaic modes of thought (primary-process thought) predominate, and reality testing seems impaired to varying degrees. The distinction between cause and effect becomes blurred, and ambivalence may be pronounced whereby incongruities or opposites may coexist without any (psycho)logical conflict...
B. Disturbed time sense. Sense of time and chronology become greatly altered. Subjective feelings of timelessness, time coming to a standstill, the acceleration or slowing of time, and so on, are common. Time may also seem of infinite or infinitesimal duration.
C. Loss of control. As a person enters or is in an ASC, he often experiences fears of losing his grip on reality and losing his self-control. During the induction phase, he may actively try to resist experiencing the ASC...while in other instances he may actually welcome relinquishing his volition and giving in to the experience.
D. Change in emotional expression. With the diminution of conscious control or inhibitions, there is often a marked change in emotional expression. Sudden and unexpected displays of more primitive and intense emotion than shown during normal, waking consciousness may appear. Emotional extremes, from ecstasy and orgiastic equivalents to profound fear and depression, commonly occur...
E. Body image change. A wide array of distortions in body image frequently occur in ASCs. There is also a common propensity for individuals to experience a profound sense of depersonalization, a schism between body and mind, feelings of derealization, or a dissolution of boundaries between self and others, the world, or universe. There are also some other common features which might be grouped under this heading. Not only may various parts of the body appear or feel shrunken, enlarged, distorted, heavy, weightless, disconnected, strange, or funny, but spontaneous experiences of dizziness, blurring of vision, weakness, numbness, tingling, and analgesia are likewise encountered.
F. Perceptual distortions. Common to most ASCs is the presence of perceptual aberrations, including hallucinations, pseudohallucinations, increased visual imagery, subjectively felt hyperacuteness of perception, and illusions of every variety. The content of these perceptual aberrations may be determined by cultural, group, individual, or neurophysiological factors and represent either wish-fulfillment fantasies, the expression of basic fears or conflicts, or simply phenomena of little dynamic import, such as hallucinations of light, color, geometrical patterns, or shapes. In some ASCs, such as those produced by psychedelic drugs, marihuana, or mystical contemplation, synesthesias may appear whereby one form of sensory experience is translated into another form. For example, persons may report seeing or feeling sounds or being able to taste what they see.
G. Change in meaning or significance. After observing and reading descriptions of a wide variety of ASCs induced by different agents or maneuvers, I have become very impressed with the predilection of persons in these states to attach an increased meaning or significance to their subjective experiences, ideas, or perceptions. At times, it appears as though the person is undergoing an attenuated "eureka" experience during which feelings of profound insight, illumination, and truth frequently occur.
H. Sense of the ineffable. Most often, because of the uniqueness of the subjective experience associated with certain ASCs (e.g., transcendental, aesthetic, creative, psychotic, and mystical states), persons claim a certain ineptness or inability to communicate the nature or essence of the experience to someone who has not undergone a similar experience.
I. Feelings of rejuvenation. ...On emerging from certain profound alterations of consciousness (e.g., psychedelic experiences, ...hypnosis, religious conversion, transcendental and mystical states), ...many persons claim to experience a new sense of hope, rejuvenation, renaissance, or rebirth.
J. Hypersuggestibility. The increased susceptibility and propensity of persons uncritically to accept and/or automatically to respond to specific statements...or nonspecific cues (i.e., cultural or group expectations for certain types of behavior or subjective feelings). Hypersuggestibility will also refer to the increased tendency of a person to misperceive or misinterpret various stimuli or situations based either on his inner fears or wishes. (8)
Or consider the following list of effects:
LSD and peyote are potent psycho-chemicals that alter and expand the human consciousness. Even the briefest summation of the psychological effects of these drugs would have to include the following: Changes in visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and kinesthetic perception; changes in experiencing time and space; changes in the rate and content of thought; body image changes; hallucinations; vivid imageseidetic imagesseen with the eyes closed; greatly heightened awareness of color; abrupt and frequent mood and affect changes; heightened suggestibility; enhanced recall or memory; depersonalization and ego dissolution; dual, multiple, and fragmentized consciousness; seeming awareness of internal organs and processes of the body; upsurge of unconscious materials; enhanced awareness of linguistic nuances; increased sensitivity to nonverbal cues; sense of capacity to communicate much better by nonverbal means, sometimes including the telepathic; feelings of empathy; regression and "primitivization"; apparently heightened capacity for concentration; magnification of character traits and psychodynamic processes; an apparent nakedness of psychodynamic processes that makes evident the interaction of ideation, emotion, and perception with one another and with inferred unconscious processes; concern with philosophical, cosmological, and religious questions; and, in general, apprehension of a world that has slipped the chains of normal categorical ordering, leading to an intensified interest in self and world and also to a range of responses moving from extremes of anxiety to extremes of pleasure. These are not the only effects of the psychedelic drugs... (9)
The authors here do not leave any doubt about their attribution of causes, but to be fair, it must be stated that the more cautious researchers seemed aware, at least to some extent, of the difficulties in such attributions, although without taking the trouble to deny the implication. Hoffer and Osmond put it thus:
The LSD experience is one about which there can be no argument about priorities between chemical and psychological factors. For there is no doubt whatever the chemical is given first and must cause the biochemical changes which later find expression in the psychological experience... A good deal is known about its [LSD's] phenomenal reactivity. What is not known is which one of its many biochemical reactions is the most relevant in producing the psychological changes. [italics added]. (10)
The authors could be accused of semantic prestidigitation here, but I think it was more a matter of the difficulty of understanding the psychedelic experience rather than a conscious effort to make a statement that would be right no matter what the actual pathway of cause and effect turned out to be. Many researchers of the time show a dawning awareness in their published works of the unsatisfactory implications of the application of classical cause and effect paradigms to many of the more unusual findings in psychedelic research. But if some researchers did not go so far as to state flatly that LSD causes mystical experience, or that LSD causes perceptual time distortions, or that LSD causes any number of other effects which writers are so fond of describing, at most they seemed just to add an additional link in the causal chain, as above. Observe, however, the statements of some (viz., ardent critics of psychedelic research) that LSD caused psychosis, or a schizophrenic-like state, or even suicide. Even court-cases, criminal and civil, were resolved on the basis that psychedelic drugs were a logical cause of various acts or behaviors, or even instances of "mental illness".
In the press and other popular writing, several accounts of hellish, or trivial experiences of an absurd nature were published by those who considered themselves agnostics, skeptics or clear-thinkers, attempting to minimize or ridicule the sometimes mystical-sounding claims of those such as Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, or Alan Watts. These debunking attempts uniformly portrayed the results of the reporter's psychedelic ingestion as a kind of Hollywood movie, as if the drug were some roll of science-fiction film forcibly projected upon his otherwise quite understandable and controllable life. "The drug made me do this, made me see that, caused me to think I was a..." etc. If someone had a negative experience, especially if he were a noted reporter or medical practitioner, then his report left no doubt whatsoever about what the cause was, where the blame lay.
I hope that it is now becoming clear that although the ingestion of a psychedelic drug may be the first event of a series of events that culminates in undeniably profound perceptual and psychological changes, the simplistic designation of the first event as the logical cause of the entire chain of following events makes no more sense than my saying that psychedelic ingestion causes earthquakes. The mind-events of psychedelic experience, I am suggesting, are in an important sense just as "exterior" and coincidental to the ingestion of the drug as was the earthquake I experienced on the roof of my little bungalow in Guadalajara. It is my view that attribution of cause and effect along these lines must be abandoned completely, it is a misleading model of psychedelic experience and must be replaced. Even the idea that a psychedelic drug causes distortions of perception must be scrapped. The whole idea of causation as it is currently conceived relative to psychedelic experience is a metaphor, but unlike the model as metaphor which is a useful device to understand and predict, the metaphor in this case is an impediment to a clear understanding. This is a major reason why the results of psychedelic research have been so difficult to interpret, and also a reason why it was so easy to criticize, even ridicule both the research and the workers who produced it.
When I took the drug myself, I found that I was suffering from the delusion that I had been psychoanalyzed. I had spent seven and a half years on the couch and over $20,000, and so I thought I had been psychoanalyzed. But a few sessions with LSD convinced me otherwise.
Mortimer A. Hartman, Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills, 1959
As a first step in my replacement of the trivial model of psychedelic experience, I am going to reverse the situation at hand and ask, not what causes the psychedelic experience, but rather what causes us to be in our "normal" state of mind most, if not all of the time? We might say that the brain in its normal neurochemical state is sufficient cause. The champions of reductionism of course maintain that the mind and its experiences cannot be anything but states of the brain's neurons; this is, of course, Francis Crick's "Astonishing Hypothesis". (11) I, among more notable critics of such strong reductive materialism, would call it (at best) a Premature Hypothesis, considering the present rudimentary state of scientific knowledge about the nervous system. If recent criticisms and counter-arguments against the reductionist position have been less astonishing, (12) they have been more accurate in illustrating present limitations in understanding causation at and especially across the various hierarchical levels of complexity between the physics and the biochemistry of neurons at one extreme, and consciousness and mind at the highest levels of organization. A few paragraphs illustrating the difficulties and paradoxes of the concept causation might be in order, although the topic is hotly debated and I will gain perhaps as many critics as converts from my personal observations:
If, (due to the ambiguity of causation when one attempts to apply the concept across levels of description or complexity), the neurochemical state of the brain is not strictly and exclusively a cause either of normal or extranormal states of mind, this is of course not to deny that there are correspondences between brain processes involving neurons, cognitive processes involving systems of brain parts, and conscious experience involving the total organism. Nor is it to deny the possibility of learning things about one level from studying another. It is the attribution of causation of events between one level of this hierarchy and another which is fraught with difficulties. Processes at one level are simply not strictly reducible to processes at another, in spite of their mutual interdependence.
The distinction here is important, if seemingly paradoxical, and may possibly be understood better by the observation that two entirely different cognitive processes arriving at two entirely different "states of mind", must have the potential to occur from exactly the same original neurochemical state of the brain. Stated a little differently: exhaustive examination and description of a given brain state or series of brain states (if it were possible) cannot in principle predict the overall conscious experience of the owner of that brain. Conversely, two different dynamic brain states might well have the possibility of corresponding to the same conscious experience. If these considerations were not the case, free will would necessarily be an illusion and absolute determinism unavoidable; only the extreme fringe of philosophy seriously believes this to be the true state of mankind. (13) Absolute determinism is, of course, the position that everyone, all the time, is determined by antecedent, irresistible physical conditions, so that free will becomes as meaningless as the idea that my computer screen might suddenly decide to exhibit a "P" when I tap "Q" on the keyboard. Although computers in good repair normally mind their P's and Q's, consciousness does not.
I see the error of attribution of causation concerning psychedelics as representative of the same error on the larger scale of the whole question of mind-brain relationships. In most current models of consciousness, of which there recently have been many, there seems to me a fundamental ignorance of the logical repercussions of saying, for instance, that the mind, or consciousness, must be caused by the brain. John Searle, the author of one of the more cautious and measured treatises on consciousness (14) nevertheless writes,
It is an amazing fact that everything in our conscious life, from feeling pains, tickles, and itches topick your favoritefeeling the angst of postindustrial man under late capitalism or experiencing the ecstasy of skiing in deep powderis caused by brain processes. As far as we know the relevant processes take place at the micro levels of synapses, neurons, neuron columns, and cell assemblies. All of our conscious life is caused by these lower-level processes, but we have only the foggiest idea of how it all works. (15)
Searle suggests that objections to brain-to-mind causation result from a "flawed conception of causation", and he attempts to split the concept in two: event-causation (a causal relation "between discrete events ordered sequentially in time"), and non-event causation which he illustrates with the example of the collective properties of the molecules of a table "causing" its apparent solidity. But I would suggest that these two concepts of causation are so radically opposed in their meaning and properties, perhaps being logically mutually exclusive, that it would at a minimum be best to avoid using the same term for both processes. Event-causation rests comfortably within the same level of description, whereas Searle's non-event causation violates that comfort. If non-event causation is called instead "facilitation", suggesting that in such a process there are entities and aspects which arise mutually rather than depend causally upon each other, we may lose the security of believing that we know something of the underlying mechanisms of mind-brain relationships, but gain a more pragmatic basis for further understanding. Let us view a collection of wood molecules as "allowing" or "facilitating" the properties we recognize as "table", in the same sense that a valley allows or facilitates the flowing of a river through it: in neither case is causation meaningful if we wish this term to retain any concrete usefulness. Does the valley cause the river? (Actually, the river has caused the valley through the process of erosion!) Yet without the valley: no river! Without the molecules: no table! The table was "caused" by the menuisier who built it: to use the same term in the attempt to see how properties arise mutually with the object or process which manifest those properties only confuses. Causation would logically have to operate bi-directionally in such instances, and thus lose its meaning entirely. Again, it is clear that attempting to apply the concept of causation across different levels of description becomes paradoxical at best.
Quite obviously the point of view that brain causes mind arises from that argument of poverty, "well what else could it be?" (In other words, "don't bring any mystical entities into this discussion or I will dismiss your view as unscientific"). But if brain causes mind or consciousness, and we are to understand causation in a reasonably logical and precise way, then mind and consciousness are superfluous and inoperative constructs. The two theorems of causation we must agree to are: a cause must precede its effect in time, however briefly, and, because the brain is composed of discrete, non-infinitesimal components, a cause brought about by brain processes may likewise not be infinitesimal, or differential, it must have duration and other measurable characteristics. From here it follows that if mind is caused by the brain, and only by the brain, it may have no properties in and of itself. It is reduced to the status of a gargoyle, or legs on a snake. If brain states cause mental states in exclusivity, then consciousness and mind can have no part in causation whatever, since whatever is proposed as an effect of mind must actually be the result of prior causation by the brain. And according to the great philosophers of both past and present, the whole point of mind/consciousness is that it most definitely does have the power of causation. In a non-trivial sense then, it appears at least as valid to say that mind causes brain as to say the reverse, a paradoxical result to be sure.
So we see that across the various hierarchical levels between the physics and chemistry of neurons of the brain and the human mind, it is very difficult if not impossible to attribute clear-cut principles of causation. Causation seems to enter the picture at each and every hierarchical level, and is not wholly reducible to prior causation at another level of organization. About all that can be said with confidence at this point is that brain and mind facilitate and reflect each other, like the valley and the river, but in no logical sense do they cause each other; that they are parallel processes, and for an analogue of this seemingly paradoxical statement I would compare the mind-brain duality to particle-wave duality in quantum mechanics. The wave attributes of electromagnetic radiation do not cause the particle attributes, nor vice versa. The two contradictory and mutually exclusive properties always accompany each other, and whether the one is observed or the other depends entirely on one's point of view, i.e., the experiment one performs. Once again we see the importance of point of view, or levels of description. Attribution of causation between levels is inherently meaningless. This is so far a very rudimentary model, I admit, and gives little help for forming testable hypotheses. But we should not feel there is some cosmic guarantee that we can devise an understandable model in this case. There is, after all, some paradox in the using of mind to understand mind, and we should expect some limitations.
Thus the argument that the normal brain causes normal mind, or that psychedelics cause expanded mind or consciousness, are both fallacious explanations. Nevertheless, we can, and have found changes in neural signaling in the brain which are caused, in the classical sense, by the psychedelic drugs. If we can combine the facts of these changes with the vastly improved (yet still very rudimentary) knowledge we now have of the sequential, parallel, and cybernetic cognitive processes that occur in the various brain systems under a wide range of conditions, and test the resulting overall model of neural signaling against an improved cognitive or psychological model of the psychedelic state of mind, a new theory may be in the making. To restate some of the essentials of this theory: it will have to be a theory of processes, parallel processes that are complimentary ways of understanding an overall aspect of reality, of processes of cybernetic control and feedback, of processes in which classical cause and effect may be at best a blurred and uncertain property. If it is objected that inapplicability of cause and effect seems unreasonable, remember that physics had to confront the same kind of paradoxes earlier in this century, and succeeded admirably. There is good reason to believe that theories of the ultimate structure of mind and consciousness will be no less and probably more mired in apparent paradox than theories of the ultimate structure of matter and energy.
But I am getting ahead of myself. As for my theory, or any theory, being a good explanation of consciousness or mind, no author should dare such a claim today. A woven web of guesses with a very imprecise weave would be a big claim. I shall deal with the implications of my theory for mind, or Mind, only near the end of this exposition, and only as sheer speculation. Let me first deal with the cognitive and psychological models of the psychedelic experience, for these were the aspects that I first explored, and it was through the construction and testing of these models that I was able to devise models of neurological functioning which could explain the cognitive processes that I had observed. Now the cognitive model I am going to describe will be for the moment a "naked model" having no structure to support it, and since the model will be a radical departure, in some ways, from the way we currently believe our cognitive processes to operate, it will be easy for the reader to dismiss it. Bear with me as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place around the chosen starting point.
Remember that above I asked that the first consideration should be: "let us think of the effect of a psychedelic drug as eliminative, rather than additive: the drug functions as a facilitator of inherent processes, a substance which by its neurological action allows or assists certain processes to occur which might otherwise be rare or improbable." I also mentioned above that the psychedelic experience seems to provide a certain freedom from habits of thinking, it almost ensures that one is more sensitive to one's own prejudicial ways of seeing, hearing, perceiving, acting, and most importantly, feeling, reasoning and deciding. So far I have used the term "thinking" (as in habits of thinking), rather imprecisely, including within its domain all sorts of mental processes. I will presently re-define thinking to denote two distinct categories of mental processes, the first pre-conscious and largely automatic, the second comprising the processes we normally think of (!) as thinking: reasoning and deciding, for example. The necessity to provide some careful definitions is evident simply from the number of ways I have used "think" in this introductory paragraph, as well as the obvious overlapping of meaning with other terms. Starting with the common usage and understanding of such terms therefore, I will try to provide more precise and functional meanings as I go along.
Considering the power of psychedelic experience to repress in some way, or at least make one more aware of habits of thinking as they happen, I am unavoidably led to the idea that such habits are a far more important factor in the normal operation of the brain/mind then has been supposed. But for a long time, something (perhaps the Behaviorist legacy that I mentioned previously), seems to have stifled not only the study of consciousness but also the pursuit of any technical understanding of what a habit is, psychologically and neurologically. The word "habit" is used only non-technically in the literature, with few exceptions, since the time of William James. But it seems to me that a habit, and there is no denying that we "have" habits galore, must consist of something more definable, more describable technically, the concept must have a more heuristic value than merely leaving the term to fend for itself in popular use. (16) A habit, or as I will now call them, Habit Routines, must be something very much like a memory, (17) but different from a memory in that it is routinely and automatically retrieved and employed without any awareness of its presence or effect.
In looking for a possible site for the storage of habit routines, analogous to the idea of memory storage, it occurred to me that probably the "data" (18) of memory and the data of habit routine was the same data, but that it was accessed in different ways, perhaps by different systems in the brain. When a memory is accessed, either intentionally or by some random cue, what pops into awareness is a scene, a representation in the various sense domains of a specific and time-delimited event or series of events. We have a memory of some specific and bounded fragment of the past, although one memory may then cue another representing another period of time altogether. I call this access of memory, Logical Memory Access, or LMA. It is logical in that the specific characteristics of the memory, the various informational fragments from each sensory modality which are accessed, are related in time and place and represent a sequence of events as they appear to have happened. (19)
When a habit routine is called up for use, a process I call Habit Routine Search, or HRS, the elements of the routine do not seem to be bound by the same time and place considerations: they may represent fragments of data that were recorded at many different times and situations, but with one or more defining parameters relevant to dealing with the situation for which the habit routine has been summoned. LMA and HRS are therefore two different means of accessing the data of long-term memory for two different cognitive results. LMA yields a tangible memory, HRS yields an unconscious evaluation pattern. (20)
I may now advance the hypothesis that the habit routine search is a constant and primary process of cognitive activity of the mind/brain, and furthermore that it is the main and essential, underlying and pre-conscious process in the activity we know as thinking. This part of thinking, (let us call it thinking1), I will define as the unconscious associational and evaluative process including habit routine search which precedes, by just that fraction of a second, the awareness of what is thought through the use of language or other representational modalities such as the imagination and manipulation of visual scenes, the use of gestures, the creation of music and art; these processes are called symbolization. (21) And since the mind/brain is cybernetic, current sensory or environmental input must always include or be mixed with input from trains of thought leading to the instant we are experiencing.
Thus the determining parameters for HRS consist of the environmental moment (the total sensory input), plus ongoing feedback generated by conscious reaction to the current habit routine that has already been generated. We can use the term "thinking2" to denote and include all those secondary processes we would normally call thinking, including symbolization, checking and logical analysis, reasoning, decision and feedback of instructions or modifying parameters to ongoing thinking1. Thinking2 has the properties that some would label as consciousness, but I would, at least for the moment, like to avoid using the word, if only to simplify my descriptive task.
The feedback of instructions and parameters to ongoing thinking1 probably uses what is now called working memory, a short-term limited-capacity memory buffer or store which is the subject of much contemporary research and debate. There are apparently several aspects or domains of working memory: one or more short term stores for spatial and visual information, another for auditory information, perhaps divided between speech-based and musical functions, and perhaps working memory stores for combinations of sensory and cognitive data as well. I will have more to say on working memory, its various aspects and functions, and possible brain sites for its operation in the next couple of chapters. For the moment I will hypothesize an "information" storage site in the brain which holds instructions provided by one set of thinking functions (thinking2), for the execution of another set of thinking functions (thinking1) which provide the raw material for the process as a whole. Thus the habit routine search of thinking1 in the data of long-term memory is modified and guided by instructions from the decisions of thinking2 held in working memory. These decisions may be deliberate, or largely automatic yet available for introspection. Figure 1 represents a simple flow chart of the processes described.
FIGURE 1. Flow Chart of Cognitive Processes. ENV=Environmental moment, all sensory input at the given moment. HRS=Habit Routine Search function, projects ENV into LTM and retrieves the Habit Routine. LTM=Long Term Memory. HR+S=Assembled habit routine plus selected Sensory information. ACTION=implementation of habit routine in physical action or approval of cognitive disposition; may be rejected in "SW", switch controlled by conscious decision. The HABIT ROUTINE is both a template containing relevant sensory data from ENV, and at the same time a prefabricated plan for reaction to ENV and its WM (Working Memory) input. HR+S is delivered to Thinking2 for Checking, Analysis, Attention, to which Symbolization resonates. These conscious processes are then used for Decision to accept or reject the habit routine and optionally provide input parameters via WM affecting further HRS. Thinking1=unconscious processes not available directly to introspection. Thinking2=conscious processes, but may be automatic and unattended unless Attention is active. Decision based on either unattended processes, or processes scrutinized with Attention and/or Symbolization. Decision may accept, reject, supply parameters, and request further HRS. Decide has a double-headed arrow back to other thinking2 activities to indicate that there are cycles of thinking2 processes possible before deciding then alters ongoing thinking1 processes. Checking and Analysis are merely representative of all such functions which could be said to consciously deal with ongoing cognition, Reasoning, Calculation, etc., could also be included. Checking, Analysis, Attention, and Symbolization could be said to constitute components of Perception or Awareness. Note that the process of LMA is omitted for the present.
To restate the model then, thinking1 is the overall automatic and unconscious process of the comparison of current sensory input plus the result of previous symbolization, checking and decision, (thinking2), with information stored in long-term memory accessed through the process of habit routine search. We are not normally aware of the thinking1 processes at all. Decision, which may be active or passive, (and is mostly the latter), is consequently fed back into the thinking1/HRS process as an additional defining parameter for ongoing HRS. It may also act as a switch nullifying the implicit actions recommended by the ongoing habit routine. This is probably a very arbitrary and primitive attempt to formulate a schematic flow model of some of the overall ongoing everyday processes of the human mind. And it certainly, along with all other possible models, must be a great over-simplification. But let us just take it as a first faltering step in the direction we think (thinking2!) we want to go in our understanding of psychedelic experience.
Let me illustrate the above proposed processes with a short cognitive story, the kind of scene that happens to us all quite frequently, but which passes with little recognition of just what is taking place. I live in the mountains in an area that has seen rural subsistence farming for a thousand or more years. During this long period, the mountainside has been divided and maintained into flat cultivable strips separated by rock walls put together with no mortar, but a lot of care. Nevertheless, with every prolonged period of rain, the earth swells and a piece of wall somewhere is bound to collapse, needing repair. Occasionally, a rock or two will get rolling and wind up several terraces away from the point of collapse. Thus in my walks around the property, it is common enough to see a grey irregularly-shaped stone, or several, in the midst of the pathway, even when no immediate point of wall damage is evident.
Recently, walking down to the garden, in a mood of simply passively enjoying the walk, thinking not really about any particular topic, perhaps on the border of that state known as day-dreaming, nothing out of the ordinary seems to be happening when...
According to my cognitive model above, we could say that as I am walking, thinking1 is doing its normal, unconscious and pre-emptive job of actively using all sensory input to compare the current ongoing activity of my walk with all that I have learned and experienced, stored in long-term memory. The component process of thinking1, HRS, is constantly retrieving the simplest, most readily available, most easily employable habit routines which match the parameters defined by the totality of sensory environmental input and my pre-organized intention (walking down to the garden), and these habit routines are then supplied, firstly, as templates for the automatic regulation of all ongoing process including the perception and reaction to the surroundings. Secondly, the habit routine, along with relevant fragments of the sensory data itself, is supplied to thinking2, which at this moment of daydreaming, is doing very little analyzing, reasoning, or deciding about the surroundings. The component process of thinking2, symbolization, is however representing the sensory data (most of which is merely the information of the current habit routine) and making it available for awareness, so that I "see, hear, smell, feel, enjoy..." (and perhaps even explain to myself in language: the mountains are nice today!) my entire surroundings, although I pay no special attention to anything in particular. There is even an ongoing, if vague internal dialog occurring, partly about the surroundings, but also about other matters entirely. This I am not particularly paying attention to either. Thinking2 is relaxing, simply passively "enjoying" the stroll. Unless thinking1 gives some extraordinary signal that something is amiss, or unusual, thinking2 is quite content to let thinking1 supply all interpretations and responses to ongoing activity (action). Thinking2 is therefore interfering minimally, if at all, in the thinking1 processes through the prerogatives of reasoning and deciding feedback via working memory.
...when suddenly, I spy a grey rock in the pathway ahead. As I said, this is not an unusual occurrence, but since I have not seen a rock at this spot previously, thinking2 goes into action, prodded by the novelty signaled by thinking1, and "notices" the novelty and reviews (checking) the actions of thinking1 which has presented the habit routine that, there before me, just like several times in the past, lies a rock that has rolled down from some wall up above. This is a habit routine of interpretation of environmental data (ENV) and carries the action recommendation to accept the novel object as "grey rock". The cognitive processes begin to operate fast and furiously now, even though this is no emergency, just a minor novelty. Fleetingly I am aware of the analytical checking process in thinking2 that indicates, yes, it rained quite heavily last week, (22) so here is the result. Another thread of checking goes on, seemingly at the same time, which finds the information that there is a wall, two or three terraces up from this point, that is known to be in poor repair and likely to have collapsed. I am aware that somehow this analysis happens at lightning speed, almost instantaneously, and that the symbolization in language with which I can "explain" these positive checks on the habit routine comes slightly after the fact, perhaps after the checking process has already told thinking1 that its habit routine is acceptable, proceed with normal operation. Thus the checking and deciding function in thinking2 seems to be independent, and faster than the symbolization of thinking2 which seems only to resonate to the former operation.
I am just about to approve the habit routine as an accurate and true representation of the novelty which lies before me when, and this happens so quickly as to be almost simultaneous with all that has been so far described, something seems amiss. Perhaps the color was slightly wrong, or perhaps I detected some movement in the object, but with a sudden suspicion like that which one feels when one realizes he has been lied to, thinking2 sends out a strong command to thinking1 (the classic double-take!): suspicious interpretation! Find alternate habit routine! These commands also occur well before any symbolization process can "explain" what is going on. And lo and behold, with this extra prodding and data, the HRS comes up with the more accurate suggestion that here lies a dirty, partially crumpled plastic bag from the local supermarket. This habit routine was probably one of several more that could be called up, in a series of increasing complexity and unlikelihood, and indeed, if the bag had been red, rather than dirty white (almost grey), the "plastic bag" interpretation would have been the first accessed, being the most likely given the ENV parameter of the color red. (All the rocks here are grey.) (23) An interesting after-effect occurs here: I notice that during the next few moments I can view the object and willfully transpose its identity back to that of grey stone, but this ability fades and finally I am unable to interpret the object as anything but plastic bag. The dependence of perceived reality upon preconceptions, i.e., habit routines, is especially demonstrated by this residual if fleeting ability to see the object as either interpretation.
Now if it takes the above amount of words to analytically describe what occurred in probably a half-second, my statement that there are limitations in using the mind to explain mind takes on some relevance. And the above is certainly an oversimplification! For instance, I believe that thinking1 and HRS can be multitasking, to use a computer analogy. Thinking1 and associated HRS can be interpreting the ongoing activity as described above, and simultaneously be working on another thread of material in reference to my internal dialog, which I mention above as possibly being about something completely different than my walk. I can be actively talking to myself about some subject in which I have many severe prejudices (which are being accessed as habit routines by thinking1), all the while noticing grey rocks, plastic bags, or whatever, which also require the HRS system to interpret. Whether the two threads are simultaneous or "time-sharing", I would not yet care to say. As for even further aspects of complexity, I have also made no mention yet of how the factors of significance or value are attached to the sensory data accompanying a habit routine. More on this later.
Let me postpone further theoretical considerations for a bit to consider how the psychedelic experience fits with the hypotheses presented so far.
The function of a psychedelic drug, according to my theory, is to interfere in some way with the Habit Routine Search function of the brain, and I will call this the Habit Suspension Model of the effect of psychedelic drugs.
Since the habit routine search mechanism has very probably several functional neural pathways and brain parts which support its operation, different psychedelic drugs may affect the system by differing mechanisms yet yield very similar overall results. All further supposed effects of the ingestion of these substances are not direct effects of the drugs themselves, but rather are consequences, which very probably are perpetuated and magnified by cybernetic mechanisms, of the changes brought about in the HRS system of the brain.
Now I do not mean to imply that habit routines are destroyed by the influence of psychedelics, or that the habits are completely suppressed or inaccessible during the time of drug influence. It is much more a process of temporary delay or change in significance and value of habit routines and their consequently changed use in ongoing cognitive processes. The strength of the effect seems dose-dependent. The habit routines seem to arrive slightly out of phase, if I may be allowed an electromagnetic analogy, and presented thusly to thinking2 do not seem correct or valid recommendations for ensuing evaluation and decision. And it is the habit routines used for perception, analysis, reasoning and symbolization (I will call them the cognitive habit routines) (24) that are primarily affected: habit routines which are used to coordinate movement, such as walking or manipulating objects, are only slightly affected, if at all. Unlike alcohol or some other drugs, even high doses of psychedelics have very minimal effects on physical coordination. As Huxley noted on his first mescaline experience: although he wondered, when it was suggested that he take a walk in the garden, whether he would be physically able to leave his chair, once launchedinto the act he noticed no difficulty or change in coordination.
Now we may state something about the "causes" of the normal state of mind and the psychedelic state: the normal state of mind is facilitated by the constant process of HRS which finds appropriate, personality-typical responses for all ongoing activity. A "response" may be an interpretation or complex perception, an attitude, an emotional reaction, a "prejudice", or a pilot for actual physical action. These responses are habit routines representing the summed totality of ways in which similar situations were dealt with in the past, and these habit routines are presented to thinking2 as pre-structured ways of perceiving and dealing with the ongoing situation so as to minimize or practically eliminate the necessity for thinking2 to doubt perception or alter the response through analytical decision making. Unless thinking2 is signaled of some unusual significance that warrants attention, it may not even become aware of the decisions made on its behalf by thinking1. The process is cybernetic, an endless loop of causation, a process which, after a small delay, may enter consciousness as language and other reflective activities in the process defined as symbolization.
The normal delivery of HR's by the HRS mechanism for use in ongoing cognitive activity is precisely what we call a normal state of mind, a state in which the checking ability and analysis of thinking2 does or needs to do very little. A good analogy would be driving along a well-known road in light traffic: practically all required actions are automatically provided for without conscious effort or the need for evaluation by the analysis and checking of thinking2. This applies to all physical routines needed to steer, brake, etc., but more importantly to the routines of perception, judgment, and planning needed to decide, for example, whether the child ahead is probably going to ride his bike too close for safety. Although everyone would accept the analogy, I will perhaps not make many friends suggesting that the totality of life is also a simple matter of habit routines (sometimes of somewhat greater complexity than those dealing with highway driving!), separated at infrequent intervals by brief bursts of creativity which may be little more than responses to temporary emergencies. Psychology textbooks may be full of research showing how automatic most actions and thoughts really are, but the reader automatically (!) takes the position that the description is relevant to others, the objects of study, and certainly not to him who is right then scrutinizing the phenomenon. We may deduce, perhaps, that a very powerful habit routine is the one which gives us the impression of being constantly and fully aware, in an analytic, deciding, and creative sense, of our surroundings and thought processes, that habits play only a minor, inconsequential and optional role in thinking. (25) Again, the psychology textbooks are filled with studies which indicate the contrary.
For the moment I must postpone showing the distinction between physical habit routines on the one hand, (as for example the physical, learned routines employed in the actual driving of the car, above), and perceptual and cognitive habit routines on the other. For now, we could say that cognitive habit routines, among their other functions, may constitute a pilot for the selection and implementation of motor routines used to guide and control actual physical movement. I believe that two quite independent systems of the brain are used to store and implement the instructions for these activities. This would explain why, according to my model as well as experimental observations, cognitive and perceptual habit routines are strongly affected by psychedelics, but physical coordination is practically untouched.
It is the normal and pre-emptive operation of the HRS mechanism which is the impediment preventing the normal mind from interpreting sensory and feedback input as anything but common, routine, normal, everyday input.
We are very much the slaves of the habit routine mechanism, and this is to be expected from an evolutionary standpoint. HRS is the mechanism all organisms having even moderately developed nervous systems use to deal with any and all situations which do not present a crisis, situations of normal significance and value for ongoing existence. The habit routine is a short-cut, a pre-established pattern allowing an organism to comprehend and deal with commonly encountered situations quickly and with a very minimum of neurological, cognitive effort. More primitive animals with very little cognitive ability in reserve must rely strongly upon the HRS system. The habit routine mechanism was probably a very early evolutionary development in the animal kingdom for it would have conferred obvious important advantages over any animal which had to treat every single event as unique, an animal which would not gain the benefits of practice and learning about a wide range of everyday situations.
Let us now review the list of "effects" outlined earlier and see how they can be understood in terms of the Habit Suspension Model. As an introduction to the phenomenology of ASCs, I asked, "let us see if we can understand each 'effect' not as something that a psychedelic drug does, but as something which we might do, if only rarely, under certain circumstances." Pretend, for the moment, that you have never even heard of psychedelic drugs. This may not be easy, but for someone with some measure of practiced control over his habit routines, in reading the list, I think it would be quite normal to be able to say, "Yes, I've experienced something like that", or at least admit that someone they know had had similar experiences. In short, the only thing that makes any of the categories awesome or strange, is their purported causal connection with psychedelic drugs. Take the famous alleged time-distorting power of psychedelic drugs. If you were having a very busy and interesting afternoon with your favorite hobby, you might look up at the clock and remark, "holy cow, five-thirty already!". But if you heard from some tabloid-reported source that LSD made you feel it was only about four o'clock when actually it was five-thirty... (or vice versa ).
I think it is obvious that we have habit routines for dealing with the everyday perception of the passage of time, so that when we look at a clock, it is really only to confirm what we already sense about the time of day. If you look at your watch, and it has stopped even twenty minutes previous, something seems immediately wrong unless you are particularly distracted with other tasks. Even upon awakening from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, I quite often find that I know the time to the nearest ten minutes, in spite of living far out in the countryside away from hourly chimes or audible traffic patterns. In the above case of intense absorption in some activity, we have habit routines available such that we expect it to actually be later than it feels, so that when we express amazement that it's already five-thirty, the knowledge that we have been busily engaged does more than a little to take the edge off the amazement, so to speak.
All this is common knowledge. But where my theory begins, is in the attempt to describe the data and systems by which this simple everyday process is implemented, and drastically changed by various influences including psychedelic drugs. The hypothesis that it is installed potential habit routines that deal with everyday perception of time gains some credibility from the knowledge that time perception was quite different before the advent of widespread mechanical time-keeping devices. In medieval Europe, daylight hours were longer or shorter according to the season, somethingthat would probably wreak havoc with our modern sense of time until we had long practice installing the newly required habit routines to deal with the situation.
My theory also departs from simple common knowledge in its attribution of such fundamental importance to the use of habit routine; rather than a habit being an occasional type of response to certain situations,
it is now proposed that the habit routine search is the principal operation in thinking1, always a precedent to awareness and thinking2, and that the habit routine presented to awareness for decision making always constitutes the pre-emptive or default response, seldom overruled by the active analysis and decision of thinking2 except in cases of emergency or particularly unusual significance of events.
Familiarity breeds indifference, as Aldous Huxley noted, but the cognitive mechanism by which such an aphorism might operate has until now never been proposed. All situations for which a satisfactory habit routine may be summoned are dealt with as automatically, and with as great a measure of indifference, as possible. The artist, the great composer, the creative genius in any field may succeed in seeing the significant when presented with the merely routine, (26) but this is not the normal state of brain operation, nor is it the type of brain operation that evolution has caused to be predominant.
And this is why psychedelic drugs appear to be so overwhelmingly powerful. When awareness is effectively cut loose from the normal and reliable flow of habit routine, everything seems changed, odd, with unusual, sometimes overpowering, but not immediately explainable changes in significance. And as I have indicated, this very change is actively recycled and augmented by cybernetic feedback wherein current evaluation and checking of awareness is fed back into the stream of thinking1 which is seeking out further habit routines, now including parameters which instruct it to look for the unusual, and these new habit routines themselves are then delayed, suspended, or changed in significance. Item C in the phenomenology of ASC's, the sense or fear of loss of control, can be easily understood from the foregoing. An individual's reality, what he automatically believes to be normal and true in his estimation of the world around him, is entirely a matter of the habit routines he has collected, and himself installed, whether by intentional or unconscious practice. If the individual is not prepared to surrender his cherished notions, if he cannot overcome the obvious implication that reality, seen without the aid of preconceived habit routines, must appear relative and not absolute, feelings of loss of control are the naive interpretation to be expected. (And of course, the lesson being taught is, "What control?")
As for the other items listed previously as "effects" of psychedelic drugs, it should not now be difficult to see how they are all the result of an individual's having reduced access to his habit routines which define how he sees, thinks, perceives objects around him, perceives his own body and state of mind, the meaning and significance he attaches to otherwise ordinary thoughts and perceptions, and so on. So-called perceptual distortions are merely ordinary perception divorced from the normal pre-emptive preconditioning of the habit routine complex through which such perceptions are symbolized. To those who wish to believe that psychedelic drugs cause hallucinations and bizarre perceptual effects, the proposal that perception under the influence of the psychedelic experience is in fact closer to actual reality than normal perception (which is heavily "distorted" by our habit routines) will appear absurd. But the "habit of thinking" (as in Margolis' analysis, see footnote 16) which prevents a paradigm shift necessary to understand the psychedelic experience may well be just this: the whole of our experience has established the conviction, in reality a lie, that what we perceive is automatically and without doubt, reality. Although most current theories in psychology recognize the lie, as individuals we still carry on as if this were a mere scientific technicality which appears in certain laboratory experiments. The example illustrated by the grey stone anecdote shows how misinformed we are in this conviction.
Some of the items in the phenomenology of ASC's may be understood as secondary or cascade effects of the more primary results of suspended habit routine: hypersuggestibility might be interpreted as a result of the feelings of loss of control, sense of ineffability, and change of significance wherein the suggestions of the guide or researcher are given greater weight in the vacuum of normal comprehension of ongoing cognition. Change in emotional expression would likewise be a secondary effect derived from perceived alterations in thinking, feeling of loss of control, etc. The suspension of the normal framework of habit routine for interpreting and symbolizing ongoing experience should obviously result in the sense of ineffability. Feelings of rejuvenation may result from suspension of personality habit routines that have become contradictory or self-destructive, their temporary suspension leading the individual to realize that they are mere routines, and capable of being reformed once seen for what they are. Here we are led to the hypothesis that the personality itself can be understood as a malleable and alterable collection of habit routines; some early psychedelic research suggested as much, and made use of the idea by successfully treating many personality disorders with psychedelic therapy.
Indeed, the very existence of what we call "personality" as such a strong, pervasive property of a human being argues for the prevalence, importance, and predominance of habit routines and the HRS as the primary cognitive process. Personality, world view, beliefs, desires, opinions, are all understandable as complex assemblies of habit routines. What the Freudians have for so long called the unconscious, may simply be the totality of potential habit routines that can be accessed! (27) A memory is not a memory until it is accessed, therefore an unconscious memory is an oxymoron. But a habit routine, (whose elements consist of the very same data), is not only an unconscious potential pattern for perception, comprehension, and behavior, it is in addition and quite normally, accessed and employed unconsciously, and the process is not available to introspection.
To return to the pathway for just a moment, from my own personal experiences with psychedelic drugs, the grey stone in question would probably have appeared, at first and very briefly, as an object of some significance (it was new to its location) but without an habit routine to immediately identify it. The first thing my thinking2 would sense would be mystery, the object seen as an unknown. Very quickly thereafter, I think it is common during psychedelic experience for the HRS of thinking1 to present multiple interpretations of the object (hence one or more interpretations would logically have to be an "hallucination"); I might have sensed two or more possible identifications at once, whereupon the relativeness of its novelty and significance might stimulate further fundamental changes in my interpretation, and so on. As this process is cybernetic, it can quite run away with itself, so to speak, and the ordinary become fantastic through successive interpretations and alterations of meaning and significance.
The multiple interpretations, the multiple habit routines appearing simultaneously, might be the mechanism whereby it has been noticed by researchers that psychedelic experience can assist in the "recovery and eliciting of vast quantities of unconscious material." It is as if thinking2 is signaling, in the absence of a dependable habit routine, "quick, send me all the habit routines you've got, there's a big mystery going on here." And then the habit routines that do arrive are also out of whack... (but also potentially very revealing of the personality and the "unconscious"). At this stage there is little to be done except to relax and observe the process as it unfolds. It is instructive to the personality to be shown how dependent it is on normal and perhaps quite artificial automatisms, and it is instructive concerning the underlying nature of reality to observe first hand how its interpretation is also totally dependent on preconceived structures of the mind which may be more or less arbitrary, if not outright deception. If this be madness, schizophrenia, psychosis, or folly, a moderate dose of it is certainly more than a homeopathic remedy for the far greater sickness which quite obviously afflicts modern man "in this century of holocaust."
To conclude this chapter, I will quote at length another account of psychedelic experience and the "effects" as noted by the experiencer. The narrative is that of Aldous Huxley, probably the most famous and widely-read account of psychedelic experience to date.
I took my pill at eleven. An hour and half later I was sitting in my study, looking intently at a small glass vase. The vase contained only three flowersa full-blown Belle of Portugal rose, shell pink with a hint at every petal's base of a hotter, flamier hue; a large magenta and cream-coloured carnation; and, pale purple at the end of its broken stalk, the bold heraldic blossom of an iris. Fortuitous and provisional, the little nosegay broke all the rules of traditional good taste. At breakfast that morning I had been struck by the lively dissonance of its colours. But that was no longer the point. I was not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation - the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence... [I was seeing] a bunch of flowers shining with their own inner light and all but quivering under the pressure of the significance with which they were charged...[And] the books, for example, with which my study walls were lined. Like the flowers, they glowed, when I looked at them, with brighter colours, a profounder significance. Red books, like rubies; emerald books; books bound in white jade; books of agate, of aquamarine, of yellow topaz; lapis Lazuli books whose colour was so intense, so intrinsically meaningful, that they seemed to be on the point of leaving the shelves to thrust themselves more insistently on my attention...
At ordinary times the eye concerns itself with such problems as Where?How far?How situated in relation to what? In the mescalin experience the implied questions to which the eye responds are of another order. Place and distance cease to be of much interest. The mind does its perceiving in terms of intensity of existence, profundity of significance, relationships within a pattern...
From the books the investigator directed my attention to the furniture. A small typing-table stood in the centre of the room; beyond it, from my point of view, was a wicker chair and beyond that a desk. The three pieces formed an intricate pattern of horizontals, uprights and diagonals - a pattern all the more interesting for not being interpreted in terms of spatial relationships. Table, chair and desk came together in a composition that was like something by Braque or Juan Gris, a still life recognizably related to the objective world, but rendered without depth, without any attempt at photographic realism. I was looking at my furniture, not as the utilitarian who has to sit on chairs, to write at desks and tables, and not as the cameraman or scientific recorder, but as the pure aesthete whose concern is only with forms and their relationships within the field of vision or the picture space. But as I looked, this purely aesthetic Cubist's-eye view gave place to what I can only describe as the sacramental vision of reality. I was back where I had been when I was looking at the flowersback in a world where everything shone with the Inner Light and was infinite in its significance...
Mescalin raises all colours to a higher power and makes the percipient aware of innumerable fine shades of difference, to which, at ordinary times, he is completely blind... Visual impressions are greatly intensified and the eye recovers some of the perceptual innocence of childhood, when the sensum was not immediately and automatically subordinated to the concept. Interest in space is diminished and interest in time falls almost to zero... Though the intellect remains unimpaired and though perception is enormously improved, the will suffers a profound change for the worse. The mescalin taker sees no reason for doing anything in particular and finds most of the causes for which, at ordinary times, he was prepared to act and suffer, profoundly uninteresting. He can't be bothered with them, for the good reason that he has better things to think about...
'This is how one ought to see,' I kept saying as I looked down at my trousers, or glanced at the jewelled books in the shelves, at the legs of my infinitely more than Van-Goghian chair. 'This is how one ought to see, how things really are'... for the moment, mescalin had delivered me [from] the world of selves, of time, of moral judgments and utilitarian considerations, the world (and it was this aspect of human life which I wished, above all else, to forget) of self-assertion, of cocksuredness, of over-valued words and idolatrously worshipped notions...
[T]he investigator suggested a walk in the garden. I was willing; and though my body seemed to have dissociated itself almost completely from my mindor, to be more accurate, though my awareness of the transfigured outer world was no longer accompanied by an awareness of my physical organismfound myself able to get up, open the French-window and walk out with only a minimum of hesitation. It was odd, of course, to feel that 'I' was not the same as these arms and legs 'out there,' as this wholly objective trunk and neck and even head. It was odd; but one soon got used to it. And anyhow the body seemed perfectly well able to look after itself. In reality, of course, it always does look after itself. All that the conscious ego can do is to formulate wishes, which are then carried out by forces which it controls very little and understands not at all. When it does anything morewhen it tries too hard, for example, when it worries, when it becomes apprehensive about the futureit lowers the effectiveness of those forces and may even cause the devitalized body to fall ill. In my present state, awareness was not referred to an ego; it was, so to speak, on its own. This meant that the physiological intelligence controlling the body was also on its own. For the moment that interfering neurotic who, in waking hours, tries to run the show was blessedly out of the way. (28)
What a wonderfully poetic way of describing the normal collection of habit routines that rendered the world ordinary, plain, of merely routine significance: Huxley calls his habit-routine governed personality "that interfering neurotic who, in waking hours, tries to run the show." He notes that his awareness "was not referred to an ego", i.e., that the habit routines of personality that preserve self-image, self-importance, selfness, were no longer available, his awareness "was, so to speak, on its own." And the following line: "All that the conscious ego can do is to formulate wishes, which are then carried out by forces which it controls very little and understands not at all," is nothing but a poetic description of the operation of checking and decision of thinking2 feeding back instructions as parameters for further habit routine search operations via working memory. If we do not control them, at least we may now understand them somewhat better. And note the number of times that increased "significance" is mentioned...
... for the moment, mescalin had delivered me [from] the world of selves, of time, of moral judgments and utilitarian considerations, the world (and it was this aspect of human life which I wished, above all else, to forget) of self-assertion, of cocksuredness, of over-valued words and idolatrously worshipped notions...
In a word, mescaline had delivered him from habit routines. If the Habit Suspension Model of psychedelic experience is correct, we may begin to see the enormous power of the HRS mechanism to shape our every impression, our every word and deed, for if the profound changes of psychedelic experience are nothing but reduced access to acceptable habit routines, we would have to say that habit routines are the cognitive water we swim in, omnipresent and supportive of our every intellectual movement, yet (until now) perfectly transparent and undetectable to ordinary scrutiny.
At the risk of seeing habit routines everywhere, for a new theory often incites such excesses in its newly acquired adherents, I think it safe to say that most of the "effects" noted by Mr. Huxley, and in the preceding examples as well, can be adequately understood in terms of the Habit Suspension Model. In Mr. Huxley's case, considering his great personal interest in art, the Perennial Philosophy and mystical and spiritual matters, his compassion for the human situation, and his humility, the effects he describes demand such an interpretation.
References(1). An excellent and recent entry, complete with 121-page bibliography: Pharmacotheon: Entheogenic Drugs, their Plant Sources and History, Jonathan Ott, 1993, Natural Products Co., Kennewick WA. (back)
(2). see for example "The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft" by Michael J. Harner, in Hallucinogens and Shamanism, Michael J. Harner, editor, Oxford University Press, 1973. This overall if brief survey is a classic of the psychedelic literature, not to be overlooked. (back)
(3). "The Effects of Psychedelic Experience on Language Functioning", Stanley Krippner, in Psychedelics, Aaronson and Osmond, Doubleday & Company 1970. (back)
(4). Ibid. (back)
(5). "Toward an Individual Psychotherapy", Masters & Houston, Psychedelics, (Ibid.) (back)
(6). Drugs and the Brain, Solomon H. Snyder, Scientific American Library 1986, p2. (back)
(7). Where the author refers to an ASC, it is an Altered State of Consciousness. (back)
(8). edited excerpts from "Altered States of Consciousness", Arnold M. Ludwig, in Altered States of Consciousness, Charles T. Tart, Doubleday & Company 1972 pp15-19. (back)
(9). The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience, Masters and Houston, Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1966, p5. (back)
(10). "How does LSD Work" in The Hallucinogens, Hoffer and Osmond, Academic Press 1967 p211. (back)
(11). Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis, Charles Scribner's Sons 1994, see page three for example. (back)
(12)> See for example Stairway to the Mind, Alwyn Scott, Springer-Verlag 1995 (back)
(13). I am for the moment ignoring the hypothesis that quantum indeterminacy may be the source of the brain indeterminacy necessary for philosophically-real free will. (back)
(14). The Rediscovery of the Mind, John R. Searle, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1992. (back)
(15). "The Mystery of Consciousness", in The New York Review of Books, November 2, 1995, p60. (back)
(16). In The Oxford Companion to the Mind for instance, although "instinct" and other terms frowned upon by Behaviorists have generous entries, "habit" has no entry whatsoever. On the other hand, Howard Margolis, a student of Thomas Kuhn, has written two admirable books concerning "habits of mind" and how they govern perception, judgment, and even scientific beliefs. See Patterns, Thinking and Cognition, 1987, and Paradigms and Barriers, How Habits of Mind Govern Scientific Beliefs, 1993, both University of Chicago Press. (back)
(17). When speaking of memory here, I refer to what is now generally called "long-term memory." (back)
(18). I enclose the word in quotes to denote my dissatisfaction with the current computer-oriented models of much of cognitive science. In using such words as data, information, computation, etc. when speaking about mind and consciousness, one does less of explaining than "conjuring away the barriers between man and machine, between consciousness and mechanism." (Raymond Tallis in Psycho-Electronics). But it is very difficult not to use such terms today, so ingrained is the idea of some equivalence between mind and machine. I hope that the reader will see that as my theory develops, along with new ways to understand the important differences between man and machine, the use of such terms will slowly be replaced by new concepts which obviate their need. Thus I will from this point in the text suspend the tediousness of quotation marks provided the reader will keep in mind the limitations I have expressed. (back)
(19). Recent terminology as well as theory in the field of memory research has blossomed. The process of LMA which I define here would be said to access autobiographical or episodic memory; additionally there have been proposed the terms procedural, semantic, implicit and explicit, short-term, long-term, and working memory to describe other aspects of memory. I shall define and use these terms as the model develops. (back)
(20). Perhaps an analogy would be helpful here. We might think of a unit of memory as like a single frame of a motion picture. In LMA, a sequence of frames is called up, and experienced as a sequence or "film clip," in temporal order, and with conscious reference to the time and conditions where the frames were recorded. This is not to say that the process may not become degraded, with loss of data, loss of reference to time and place, erroneous mixing of different memories, etc., the ideal expressed merely illustrates the type and mechanics of the process to be understood. HRS, however, would access a variety of single frames recorded at different times and places, a sort of collage of single frames, associated not as a temporal sequence, and not consciouslyexperienced, but unconsciously selected and employed according to a thematic agenda specified by subject content corresponding to current perception. Thus if stopped on the highway by a "law enforcement officer" for no apparent reason, we may be rather hurriedly accessing, in the data of all memories of dealings with the police (our own and knowledge of such dealings by others gleaned from friends, newspapers, etc.), for every possible habit routine that might assist in estimating what is going on. Specific memories of similar scenes might appear fleetingly, but far more important would be the unconscious evaluation patterns supplied by habit routine search that would allow and assist our judgment to calculate just how to react to any eventuality, given the particular parameters of the current situation. Thus if he has just gotten off an excessively chromed Harley, has black ray-bans, razor-sharp creases on his shirt and a penetrating snarl we will automatically react somewhat differently than if he was a school-crossing patrolman, tips his hat and says he thinks our signal light might be out. No deliberate calculation or access of actual memories via LMA is necessary, yet the "data" of many memories is obviously being employed, unconsciously and automatically, to guide our reaction to the situation. (back)
(21). The model described here has parallels to ideas suggested by C.H. van Rhijn, see "Symbolysis: Psychotherapy by Symbolic Presentation" in The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy, Harold A. Abramson, editor, Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, 1960. (back)
(22). This process must also use a habit routine, thinking2 feeding instructions to thinking1 to search for justification that its previous interpretation of "grey rock ahead" is possible. A habit routine is then found which relates the cause and effect pattern learned previously about rain and out-of-place rocks. I do not specifically remember as memories the rainy days and the displaced rocks encountered, but use only "frames" of these memories to obtain the fact that rain has recently occurred on a scale which is known from experience to produce grey rocks in pathways. (back)
(23). This knowledge must also have been retrieved and used through HRS as a parameter ensuring that a grey object be interpreted as probably a stone, and an object of decidedly non-grey hue as not-a-stone. (back)
(24). And here I think that we are dealing with two classes of habit routines, some simple habit routines of perception are probably called up by the arrangement of sensory environmental data itself, i.e., in thinking1, whereas habit routines of analysis and symbolization must be habit routines that are called up by thinking1 on behalf of thinking2. I will therefore sometimes refer to a habit routine complex, signifying a composite habit routine comprising multiple aspects and multiple interlocking recommendations for action. (back)
(25). This might be understood as a habit routine which thinking2 installs in memory through the process of constantly seeing its power to alter the surroundings. The habit routine is that thinking2 is in control, while the reality is that, most of the time, it is on vacation. (back)
(26). The question presents itself: Who can be best trusted to decide what is, and what is not routine, the creative genius or the bored assembly-line worker? (back)
(27). Warning! The reaction to such ideas must also be primarily a matter of habit routines representing one's investment in previous theories. (back)
(28). Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception, 1954, Chatto & Windus. Quotation assembled from various sections of the essay. (back)
Chapter 4 | Table of Contents