Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A New Lift: Re-Opening the Investigation of Consciousness

Can you feel it? There's some lift going on again. The doors are open. So are the windows. And we're starting to move. We're not flying yet, but we're certainly not tethered to asphalt anymore, either.

The potential of the human mind is now a big deal again, and it's getting to be a bigger and bigger deal if you're paying attention. That lift you should have noticed by now is a surge in rising awareness about the powers of the human mind. I find it interesting that my novel, Beyond the Will of God, so much about the validity and mystery of these powers, was ready for publication in 2000 but didn't make it to the light of day until this summer...makes total sense, though. Twelve years ago few people wouldn't have gotten it at all.

Let me explain as briefly as I can. A whole bunch of stuff is coalescing out there causing this lift.

First, over the past several decades diagnostic tools for mapping the chemistry of the human mind have advanced dramatically. Something called "functional magnetic resonance imaging"(fMRI) basically gives neuroscientists the ability to track blood flow on a fairly detailed level in the human brain and spinal column. And other computer-based diagnostic tools are on the horizon as well.

These tools mean scientists are now able to see how the brain reacts to anything from reading a book, to laughing at a joke, saying something nice to someone, meditating, or taking any number of psychoactive drugs. Two of the more "famous" neuroscientists to report back on their research are Andrew Newberg and David Eagleman. These guys, and so many more, are looking at what happens to the brain during meditation, near death experiences, religious ecstasy, psychedelic excursions, and memory and perception events. 

This isn't just science in a bubble or test tube. Neuroscientists and psychologists are now able for the first time to get a read on thoughts and emotions. There are people attempting to connect minds to computer graphics programs that can draw images from dreams and visions. If you pay attention to the details of newspaper accounts and magazine stories about the mind you will bump into fMRI research more and more. Scientists don't know what a lot of the mapping means yet, but they've only just begun to get a real handle on consciousness. 

The world of mind altering drugs, then, is partly being opened up by fMRI research. At the same time, over the past decade or so the "moratorium" on study and clinical use of psychedelic compounds has finally been lifted. While most Americans were "re-educated" about the question of psychedelic drugs beginning in the late 1960s, prior to that the psychiatric and psychology community did ground-breaking research on how to use these drugs to treat everything from mental illness and alcoholism to PTSD and other forms of psychological trauma. 

As David Jay Brown reports in "LSD & ESP: Scientists Study Psychic Phenomena and Psychedelic Drugs", LSD research is now back in a big way and it's providing scientists at quite prestigious universities with truly exciting discoveries about the open-ended powers of human consciousness. Brown has a new book coming out in the spring of 2013 called The New Science of Psychedelics. That will create more lift for sure.

Perhaps the biggest and most profound cultural awakening of the past decade, though, is in the expansion of interest -- for scientists, artists, and knowledgable citizens alike -- in dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Long considered one of the ultimate mind altering substances, smoking DMT creates what apparently amounts to a 15-minute interplanetary adventure that usually changes peoples' lives forever. Check this out if you think I'm full of shit.

You may have heard of ayahuasca ceremonies in South America. Ayahuasca is a plant-based infusion that was ceremonially consumed by some South American tribes for thousands of years. Since the mid-20th century when people like William Burroughs and, later, Terence McKenna sought out these tribes, there has been a steady growth in interest in these ceremonies. Competing "tour" groups now make it possible for anyone to experience this deep altered state.

The DMT experience is said to be profound. One of the important things about this new lift I'm talking about is that, for the most part, participants and practitioners are not being so reckless and recreational in their approach to transforming their minds. Most people recognize that psychedelics were never about "getting fucked up." Back in the '60s and '70s we were rather stupid and innocent at the same time. We understood what we were dealing with, but we still made huge mistakes -- mostly because this stuff went underground and became part of a rebellious counterculture.

I did my mental adventures partly as a way to separate myself from everyone I knew in high school, but also because I knew there was something I needed to figure out. There was no supervision. No understanding of the idea of the right time and place. My friends and I were on our own. I wish we'd had even just a small amount of guidance. I might not have rolled up to the edge of insanity for five years...(that's another story altogether).

Perhaps the most interesting cultural artifact out there right now that is openly talking about the possibilities of DMT, and psychedelic experience in general, is the dual book and documentary film, DMT: The Spirit Molecule. The book, with the subtitle "A Doctor's Revolutionary Research Into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences" was written by Dr. Richard Strassman. It is a detailed account of DMT research he performed on 400 subjects from 1990 to 1995. The film, inspired by the book and directed by Mitch Schultz, was released in 2010. I purchased it for my iPad. It's rather amazing and well worth the investment. As I understand it, Mr. Schultz is touring the country on invitation presenting his film and discussing the implications of DMT here in the 21st Century. The book and movie combined are probably the biggest source of lift out there right now.

The implications of this lift I'm talking about are pretty incredible. They will be the topic of conversation at a conference called Psychedemia for four days in Philadelphia this fall (September 27 -30) at the University of Pennsylvania.

But this is a meeting of the minds that is only the latest element of lift going on. For the past decade research has quietly been implemented seeking to understand the relationship between religious/spiritual consciousness and psychedelic consciousness. There are quite interesting parallels. In addition, psilocybin (an active ingredient in "magic mushrooms") has been used to treat anxiety and depression for terminally ill people. Read here and here to find out what this is all about. It's pretty important.

A lot of us (I'm 54) are getting close to the end of our biological potency. You can't stay on earth if you aren't biologically potent. It's not practical. Are you scared of dying? Are you, maybe -- even if you think you're religious and spiritual -- just a little bit concerned about the end of things?

It's truly criminal that we abandoned research into this area back in the early 1970s. It's also sad that our culture got so confused by the potential of mind expansion. There were "forces" at work, of course. We all know that. But the truth is that somehow mind experimentation got linked to intoxication problems. We lost about 40 years of time. But its not too late. The human race has at least another thousand years before it starts to wipe itself out (my rough estimate). There's still time to make me wrong.

So pay attention to this lift I'm talking about. It's real. We're all in this together. This really ain't no hippie thing. It never was. It's just that the hippies were the only ones really hip back in the good old days.

Now we're all hip. Trust me. I've been watching. We all have creative intelligence and we're all connected now (although I'm the only person in my family who doesn't have an iPhone). I wrote Beyond the Will of God as a piece of fiction -- a mystery, if you will. But I also knew the whole time I was concocting my weird little story that I was creating an allegory and using the mythology of that amazing time that began about 50 years ago to help open the doors and windows again...and to make a small contribution to lightening the load of being alive in a seemingly mundane world.

Now we got lift! It's very real, and very soon it's going to become a movement (or at least a trend). Just watch. Pay attention. Don't hang up. Just breathe. We're all here, together, now. There's no telling how far we're going, but we're going.

What is it Jimi Hendrix advised? "Just float your little mind around...". He knew a thing or two about lift. So do you I bet.


Dhushara said...

Nice posting:

My review:
Entheogens, the Conscious Brain and Existential Reality
Has all the brain scans and the state of the scientific art on entheogens.

Chris King

Gary Saluti said...

Thanks for the heads up regarding the Psychedemia conference in September. Sounds like something I would enjoy attending. By the way, something new of interest to me (and hopefully you) is tDCS, Trans Cranial Direct Current Stimulation. A group of guys have founded a company called GoFlow in hopes of marketing the world's first open source tDCS Kit. The Us Army currently uses such a device to increase learning ability when training snipers and drone pilots. Anyway, as I said, sounds interesting to me. Perhaps the new frontier in mind exploration.

David Biddle said...

Thx for the heads up on tDCS. I will pay attention and research.