What Can Psychedelics Tell Us About the Nature of Reality?
One of the main reasons MykoNet was founded is to promote the use of psychedelics beyond the clinical domain.
Organizations like MAPS are doing a superlative job of demonstrating the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for healing PTSD, depression, and other clinical conditions.
We want to go beyond that in two main ways; first by showing how psychedelics can change human social structures and systems.
Also, we want to show how psychedelics can contribute to science. Psychedelics can become tools that lead researchers towards meaningful breakthroughs that improve our understanding of reality and/or alleviate human suffering.
Anecdotal evidence supports the use of psychedelics both for systems change and for scientific breakthroughs. Regarding the former, Silicon Valley execs have become outspoken about their use of psychedelics. The unique organizational cultures of northern Cali businesses bears witness to the effectiveness of psychedelics in spearheading systems change.
As for the latter, is common knowledge that Francis Crick used LSD, which helped him visualize the double helix shape of the DNA molecule.
This article will focus on how psychedelics can be used as tools for understanding the nature of reality and consciousness.
It is worth noting that psychedelics are not necessary for perceiving reality as it is; meditation works too. However, psychedelics can catalyze new ways of thinking about or perceiving reality.
Reality is Not What it Seems
Human beings see less than one percent of the electromagnetic spectrum, and an equally poor fraction of the acoustic spectrum. That’s a pretty big disconnect between what our senses allow us to perceive and what is out there. Animal species perceive things we cannot—bat sonar and a dog’s sense of smell.
Our senses told us the sun revolved around the earth and that the earth was flat.
Hoffman’s Conscious Agents Theory
Cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman has developed a mathematically precise theory of consciousness and reality called conscious agents theory. Conscious agents theory is evolutionary: organisms have a stronger chance at survival when they do not perceive reality accurately. If we perceived reality more accurately, we would be distracted by a panoply of sensory input and being distracted causes us to get hit by cars or eaten by tigers.
Aldous Huxley, who experimented with psychedelics, believed the brain functioned as a “reducing valve,” meaning that it filters reality to suit our needs. And Huxley believed psychedelics temporarily override the brain’s filters.
And Huxley was pretty much right. Researchers have shown psychedelics lead to “reduced perceptual suppression leading to a real increase in the permeability or bandwidth of consciousness,” (Bayne & Carter, 2018, p. 3). Psychedelics also decrease oscillations in the brain’s default mode network: sort of the ego’s command central (Nichols, 2016).
Hoffman’s conscious agents theory also posits that we interact with our world as we do with the icons on our computer. The things we perceive with our senses point to something more fundamentally real. What that more elementary reality is could be like the Platonic forms, or it could be mathematics, or it could be something we cannot conceive of yet.
It is worth noting that Hoffman substantiates his theory with mathematical proofs, making it one of the tightest and most promising theories about the nature of consciousness and reality.
Things Exist and Do Not Exist At the Same Time
Hoffman’s theory of consciousness and the nature of reality also corresponds well with both quantum physics and ancient Indian philosophy. The latter was actually crucial for helping early 20th century scientists conceptualize their radical findings into the quantum mechanical model.
Schrödinger was familiar with the Upanishads—he named his dog Atman. Bohr also heralded the Upanishads. Heisenberg spoke with Tagore, and Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit to read the Gita (Kulkarni, 2020).
The ancient Indian texts painted a picture of reality that is pretty much the same as what quantum physics has been revealing. Subject and object are intimately connected. Perception determines reality.
The Buddhist concept of “dependent origination” suggests things only exist relative to an observer. Quantum physics tells us pretty much the same thing.
Experienced meditators can take themselves into an altered state of consciousness and directly perceive the flux and flow of dependent origination. Psychedelics can offer the same opportunity to ditch the survival schemas and embrace novel ones that might represent reality more realistically.
Caveat: The phenomenology of the psychedelic state is not necessarily reliable or accurate, and is more likely than not to be wrong (Bayne & Carter, 2018). To reduce psychic noise and delusion, MykoNet is developing systems that can be used to guide a psychedelic trip in the right direction.
Call to Action: Let’s Develop Psychedelic Learning Systems
MykoNet is on a mission to develop transformative learning experiences. With or without the aid of psychedelics, MykoNet coursework promotes creative, critical, and analytical thinking about the nature of reality and consciousness.
Developing our systems now would allow us to be a first mover in the “moist technology” domain. The term “moist technology” refers to their being not fully “wet,” like brain-to-computer interfaces (BCI) or “dry” like traditional apps or VR systems. Moist technology capitalizes on the power of psychedelics to place the brain into a receptive state conducive to gaining insight from the coursework.