Human as Hallucination
There is a general sense that the world consists of things that are real and things that are not. Imagination, hallucination, dreams, fictions, and abstractions, are considered to be not real; they are not actually existing in a tangible, shared perception. Consciousness is (at least in the general definition from wikipedia) thought to define the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. There is no question that the human animal is a particular being, with special thoughts that shape the idea of consciousness and reality, and as humans, we work to fit ourselves into these concepts. The studies of philosophy, religion, science, psychology, sociology, biology, and even physics show that we have a singular relationship to the nature of our world and ourselves, that we desire to know what we do not know just by simple observable facts.
Humans don’t identify themselves by the texture of their skin, the movement of internal organs, or the feeling of bone against a tree branch. Rather, we define ourselves by our sentience, by our ability to feel, to interpret, to be conscious, to dream, to desire, and to act. To see oneself as a “separate center of consciousness and will” is quite divergent from the narrow folds of reality. What, specifically, is consciousness? Where is it? How does it feel? Most of us have an idea of consciousness, what it is, how it acts, even where it is located, but none of this is observable, or, by scientific or philosophical standards, located in the “real” sense of the world. Our ability to imagine, and then create, to bring the unreal into the real world, shows that the bounds are able to be transversed.
Consciousness as a relationship between reality – those physical objects and environments, and the mind – separate from and at the same time joined with body, is a theoretical infinity that both exists as we know of its existence, and doesn’t, as it is part of the hallucinatory or fictional or imaginative description of an intangible suggestion. Therefore, at the core of our being, that thing which not only defines us as human, as explorers, but which also attaches itself to the sensation of life, is a hallucination of ego, of Self-identity. We are only able to experience the world and its reality through interpretations within our hallucinatory Self. Solipsism exists because of the binaries between reality and dream, and the placement of the Self within a world that seems too impossible to exist within the rules and structures we’ve come up with.
Why then, is there the question that hallucinogenic substances remove the user from “reality” and give him “unreal” experiences. Firstly, I would like to uncover the importance in the belief that reality and “real” experience is desired over imagined or dream worlds, of hallucinations and even experiences that are real and concrete under the general definitions of reality, but are discounted because they are a part of a psychedelic-induced experience. Is the perceptual reality any less real? Do the thoughts that form and linger long after a psychedelic experience remove themselves from reality? It is a common experience from people who use consciousness-expanding chemicals such as LSD-25, psilocybin, mescaline, and MDMA, to experience a sense of heightened reality. Of seeing past the veils of cultural and social indocrtination, and getting to something deeper, more hidden but more important and valuable than what we have been taught. Is religion not itself a construct? A story, or fable told to shape reality? What we believe creates reality. There is a saying, “seeing is believing,” but is not “believing is seeing” also equally true?
In a leap towards understanding the fundamental problem of reality-relationship, Harvard researcher Ralph Metzner pronounces:
“…modern man could very well benefit from a clearer perception of his physical situation, and continuing experimentation with psychedelic chemicals may produce ways of achieving it without undesirable side effects. At a time when technological power is bringing about vast changes in our natural environment, some of which lead to the fouling of our own nest and reckless waste of resources, it is quite urgent that we learn to perceive ourselves as integral features of nature, and not as frightened strangers in a hostile, indifferent or alien universe.”
We tend to use culturally accepted forms of consciousness-changing methods that can be as effective and potent as the use of substances, without realizing or acknowledging that we are effectively working towards the same result. In employing therapists, and psychiatrists, in attending religious services, in going to schools or watching television, we are allowing our minds to be shaped and molded by outside sources. Our perception is shaped and changed by these methods and helps us come to terms with reality – but a defined reality, in the hands of whomever is doing the defining. Therapists and psychologists have used consciousness-altering chemicals in their own practices, to great results, though because of changes in the law, research has been stopped in the U.S. until recently. Metzner is writing from 1968 and his words are still immediately relevant:
“Could not the multi-level perception of LSD, the ability to see what you see and to see yourself seeing at the same time, be used in a therapeutic context? People reported “insights” and breakthroughs in emotional blockages. Could the alcoholic cut through the vicious cycle of self-pity and self-destruction, the neurotic come to terms with his crippling anxieties, the convict grow beyond the monotonous seesaw of crime and punishment, the dying cancer patient forget his miseries for a few hours and contemplate the inevitable ending he so much feared?
Papers reporting rapid positive personality change with LSD began to proliferate in the scientific literature. It seemed as if the judicious use of psychedelic drugs might overcome the basic limitation of psychoanalytic and related methods of personality change: the limitation that no matter how subtle and accurate the analysis of the “complex,” a merely mental-verbal-cognitive insight is not enough; even Freud himself despaired that the energy available in the therapeutic situation was not sufficient to overcome the massive negatively charged energies locked up in the original complex. You could not get out of the mind by using only the mind. Some external reinforcement or catalyst was necessary. LSD is such a catalyst.”
Reality is a hinderance. If thought of as the only valuable experience, we would have no progress. William Blake (a proponent and user of mind-altering substances) once proclaimed: “What is now proved, was once imagined.” Reality is formed out of imagination and is likewise informed by it. The separation of each is not real, our perceptions are real, as they are our only experience with the world. The pathological liar believes his world so much that it is the only reality for him; it is inescapable. Realities can be learned and altered, but they cannot be done away with. It is necessary to embrace reality as a joining of fact and fiction in order to thrive. The world right now is a state that is both exhilarating and depressing. Hunger, disease, inhumanity to humankind, nature, and animals is deteriorating our world society rapidly. On the other hand, technology, medicine, and humanitarian efforts are growing at exponential rates. The state of the world is always in flux between “good” and “evil.” Again, from Metzner, a comment to close that is as relevant today as it was in the 1960′s when the peace movement was largely being accused of “not facing reality” through the “escape” of psychedelics.
“We see on the part of young people directly or indirectly involved with the psychedelic scene an affirmation of positives, not an “escape from reality,” or a refusal to face the facts of our grim situation. It is precisely those youngsters who have lived all their lives under the cipher of universal destruction—they and not their elders—who will look the prospect of the end of man straight in the eye and then go on. And to go on means to embrace everything, to accept the negatives as well as the positives, to realize these two polarities are inseparable at all levels, and to glorify in acts of beautification and service the divine spark in man.”