Abstract Details

Illusions of self and consciousness explored with DMT  Susan Blackmore (Psychology, University of Plymouth, Ermington, Devon United Kingdom)   PL6

How are we to use the extraordinary power of psychedelics to help us penetrate the mysteries of consciousness? In our ordinary states of mind, consciousness, self and free will all seem real but in other states they may be revealed as illusions. Then our normal, taken-for-granted, state of consciousness is seen as a state of delusion. Psychedelic experiences can certainly seem profound and meaningful, but do they help us understand the illusion of self and consciousness when we are not in that state? Do psychedelic experiences provide a way out of delusion into clarity and understanding, or do they just replace one set of delusions with another? We may find ourselves in strange other worlds or discover that we cannot find ourselves at all. We may be transformed into another being: an animal, a plant, a flying spirit, or a disembodied observer. Our body may entirely disappear or the boundaries between self/other and mind/world may dissolve. In this state, the unity of everything seems blatantly obvious, and the hard problem of consciousness appears laughable - no problem at all. Yet, in my experience, this apparent insight into nonduality fades, duality reasserts itself, and I am not left with any kind of theoretical understanding that would sweep the hard problem away. In this session I will talk about one psychedelic drug, DMT, and describe my own experiences of using it with three different methods of administration. Smoking DMT evoked a brief screaming, colourful world of terror. Drinking ayahuasca produced a multitude of extraordinary, and extraordinarily varied, immersive experiences. Vaporised DMT, with controllable periods of inhalation, produced something different again - a transformation of self with close links to aspects of my 40 years of Zen training. The effect of this one molecule can vary dramatically, as the art inspired by users beautifully and colourfully reveals. Yet this makes the task of understanding it at the molecular, cellular, or whole brain level especially hard. We know something about changes in EEG, increased disorder, changed connectivity in the default mode network and increased activity in parts of the visual system. There are relationships with dreaming and especially lucid dreaming, but we have hardly begun to work out why the different psychedelics, and the different modes of administration, produce the experiences they do. I like to imagine a future in which psychedelic research will help us see through our normal illusions and understand the nature of these other worlds.