The Ecstatic Adventure
Reports of Chemical Explorations of the Inner World
Foreword by Alan Watts
MANY ARE DOUBTLESS hoping that the current surge of interest in consciousness-changing chemicals will prove to be a passing fad. If so, it will only be through the discovery of simpler and more enduring ways of altering man's perception of his own existence. For it is increasingly clear to those who study ecology, sociology, biology, and even physics, that the individual organism is not what it usually feels itself to be: a bag of skin stretched around bones, muscles, and other organs as the temporary vehicle of a distinct and particular self or ego. The sensation of oneself as a separate center of consciousness and will, confronting an external world in which one is an alien and an intelligent fluke, is quite clearly a hallucination. It bears no resemblance to man, or any other organism, described in the above-named sciences, all of which see beings, events and things as processes which, however clearly distinguishable, are inseparable from the processes which surround them and constitute their environment.
This is simply because one can hardly begin to describe the process, the behavior pattern, of an organism without at the same time including some description of the behavior patterns of its environment. The scientist is therefore bound to recognize that what he is describing is not a solitary organism but a vast and theoretically limitless field of relationships which he calls (rather clumsily) the organism-environment. This is not a merely deterministic situation in which the organism responds like a puppet to environmental influences. It is rather that they are two aspects, or poles, of a single process: they transact mutually, almost like the left and right sides of a moving snake.
If this situation were to become an actual perception or sensation, it would be obvious that the usual identification of oneself as an independent ego is a social institution rather than a physical reality, having therefore the same kind of reality status as a minute or a verbal definition. The individual would perceive his physical existence more clearly and cease to hallucinate his ego as a natural entity. Instead, he would find himself in a state of consciousness closely resembling the common form of mystical experience known as "cosmic consciousness."
Experiences and sensations of this kind are described in the following pages by people under the influence of such consciousness-changing (or psychedelic) chemicals as LSD-25, psilocybin and mescaline. Questions are therefore raised as to whether these chemicals are properly called "hallucinogens," whether their effects should be considered "religious" or "spiritual," or whether they simply inhibit a perceptual grid or screening imposed by cultural and social indoctrination, or brainwashing. In the latter event, their overall effect would be to clarify rather than confuse perception. However, so radical a shift in one's way of seeing things might, through its unfamiliarity, be confusing or even frightening to some people.
From my own experiments with these chemicals, and from others' descriptions, it has struck me that a dominant feature of the psychedelic consciousness is a polar form of thinking and perceiving. The usual gestalt mode of perception, where the figure is noticed and the ground ignored, seems to be modified. one sees instead the figure-ground as a totality. In the same way, it appears that things inside the skin and things outside "go together" as aspects of one process: a push from the inside is a pull from the outside, and vice versa. Conceptually, it appears obvious that such opposite categories as being and non-being, light and darkness, good and bad, solid and space are related mutually in the same way as front and back. This may come as a shock to the kinesthetic sense, a threat to one's identity, and a disturbance to standards and habits of judgment. The individual unused to this situation may interpret it onesidedly: he may feel utterly helpless, wondering whether he can continue to think logically or even speak correctly, or conversely, he may imagine that he is God almighty, in charge of the whole universe.
Thus I feel it unwise for anyone to ingest these chemicals without first having some clear theoretical understanding of this polar, or transactional, relationship between organism and environment, perceiver and perceived. I might add that, for lack of such ecological understanding, the natural mystical experience may be as confusing as any chemically induced change. One knows of many so-called mystics who make the most fantastic claims to divine power and knowledge, and those who conceive the Godhead as a personal and literally omniscient and omnipotent being are especially prone to such delusions when under psychedelic influences, whether natural or chemical.
On the other hand, 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. This book is a big step in exploring one approach to this fundamental and vital problem.
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