Natural Entheogens and Cosmic Symbiosis
Solving the Central Enigma of Existential Cosmology
– 15-7-2021 – PDF Genotype 1.0.9
For Maria Sabina and Gordon Wasson
The article, in two parts, resolves the central enigma of existential cosmology – the nature and role of subjective experience – thus providing a direct solution to the "hard problem of consciousness". This solves, in a single coherent cosmological description, the core existential questions surrounding the role of the biota in the universe, the underlying process supporting subjective consciousness and the meaning and purpose of conscious existence. This process has pivotal importance for avoiding humanity causing a mass extinction of biodiversity and possibly our own demise, instead becoming able to fulfil our responsibilities as guardians of the unfolding of sentient consciousness on evolutionary and cosmological time scales, rather than a scorched-Earth apocalypse. Section two discusses the tragic consequences of failing to address this cosmological reality in the Western religious tradition.
Section one overviews cultural traditions and current research into psychedelics and formulates a panpsychic cosmology, in which the mind at large complements the physical universe, resolving the hard problem of consciousness and the central enigmas of existential cosmology, and eschatology, in a symbiotic cosmological model. The symbiotic cosmology is driven by the fractal non-linearities of the symmetry-broken quantum forces of nature, subsequently turned into a massively parallel quantum computer by biological evolution. The excitable cell and then the eucaryote symbiosis create a two-stage process, in which the biota capture a coherent encapsulated form of panpsychism, which is selected for, because it aids survival. This becomes sentient in eucaryotes due to excitable membrane sensitivity to quantum modes and eucaryote adaptive complexity. Founding single-celled eucaryotes already possessed the genetic ingredients of excitable neurodynamics, including G-protein linked receptors and a diverse array of neurotransmitters, as social signalling molecules ensuring survival of the collective organism. The brain conserves these survival modes, so that it becomes an intimately-coupled society of neurons communicating synaptically via the same neurotransmitters, modulating key survival dynamics of the multicellular organism.
This results in consciousness as we know it, shaped by evolution for the genetic survival of the organism. In our brains, this becomes the existential dilemma of ego in a tribally-evolved human society, evoked in core resting state networks, such as the default mode network, also described in the research as "secondary consciousness", in turn precipitating the biodiversity and climate crises. However, because the key neurotransmitters are simple, modified amino acids, the biosphere will (and has in the entheogens) inevitably produce(d) molecules modifying the conscious dynamics in such a way as to decouple the ego and enable existential return to the "primary consciousness" of the mind at large, placing the entheogens as conscious equivalents of the LHC in physics. Thus a biological symbiosis between Homo sapiens and the entheogenic species enables a cosmological symbiosis between the physical universe and the mind at large, resolving the climate and biodiversity crises in both a biological and a psychic symbiosis, ensuring planetary survival.
The nature of conscious experience remains the most challenging enigma in the scientific description of reality, to the extent that we not only do not have a credible theory of how this comes about but we don’t even have an idea of what shape or form such a theory might take. While physical cosmology is an objective quest, leading to theories of grand unification, in which symmetry-breaking of a common super-force led to the four forces of nature in a big-bang origin of the universe, accompanied by an inflationary beginning, the nature of conscious experience is entirely subjective, so the foundations of objective replication do not apply. Yet for every person alive today, subjective conscious experiences constitute the totality of all their experience of reality, and physical reality of the world around us is established through subjective consciousness as a consensual experience of conscious participants.
The hard problem of consciousness (Chalmers 1995) is the problem of explaining why and how we have phenomenal first-person experiences sometimes called “qualia” that feel "like something”, and more than this, evoke the entire panoply of our experiences of the world around us. In comparison, we assume there are no such experiences for inanimate things such as a computer, or a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence. Although there have been significant strides in both electrodynamic (EEG and MEG), chemodynamic (fMRI) and connectome imaging of active conscious brain states, we still have no idea of how such collective brain states evoke the subjective experience of consciousness to form the internal model of reality we call the conscious mind. In Jerry Fodor’s words: “Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious.”
There are two threads in our cosmological description that indicate how these complementary perspectives on reality might be unified. The first is the measurement problem in the quantum universe, which appears to involve interaction with a conscious observer. While the quantum description involves an overlapping superposition of wave functions, the Schrödinger cat paradox, fig 1(d), shows that when we submit a cat in a box to a quantum measurement, leading to a 50% probability of a particle detection smashing a flask of cyanide, killing the cat, when the conscious observer opens the box, they do not find a superposition of live and dead cats, but one cat, either stone dead or very alive. This leads to the idea that subjective consciousness plays a critical role in collapsing the superimposed wave functions into a single component, as noted by John von Neumann and others. Conscious observers thus make and experience a single course of history, while the physical universe is a multiverse of probability worlds.
Complementing this is the actual physics of how the brain processes information. By contrast with a digital computer, the brain uses both pulse coded action potentials and continuous gradients in an adaptive parallel network. Conscious states tend to be distinguished from subconscious processing by virtue of coherent phase fronts of the brain’s wave excitations. Phase coherence of beats between wave functions fig 1(c), is also the basis of how quantum uncertainty arises. In addition, the brain uses edge-of-chaos dynamics, involving the butterfly effect – arbitrary sensitivity to small fluctuations in bounding conditions, and the creation of strange attractors to modulate wave processing, so that the dynamics doesn’t become locked in to a given ordered state and can thus explore the phase space of probabilities, before making a transition to a more ordered state representing the perceived solution. These processes in combination may effectively invoke a state where the brain is operating as an edge-of-chaos quantum computer by making internal quantum measurements of its own unstable dynamical evolution, as cortical wave excitons.
Chaotic sensitivity, combined with related phenomena such as stochastic resonance, mean that fractal scale-traversing handshaking can occur between critically poised global brain states, neurons, ion-channels and the quantum scale, in which quantum entanglement of excitons can occur. The key to the brain is its physics, not just chemistry and biology.
Fig 1: (a) of the universe (King 2020b), (b) Symmetry-breaking of a unified superforce into the four wave-particle forces of nature,
(c) quantum uncertainty defined through wave coherence beats, (d) Schrödinger cat experiment, (e) cosmology of conscious (King 2021a).
Given these complementary roles of conscious quantum measurement and edge-of-chaos coherence dynamics, far from being an ephemeral state of a biological organism’s brain dynamics that is irrelevant to the universe at large, consciousness may have a foundational role in existential cosmology, complementary to the entire phenomenon of the physical universe. The brain may also literally be the most complex system in the universe, so manifests emergent properties undeveloped in other physical processes.
This perspective naturally leads towards panpsychism , the idea that the fundamental constituents of the universe –i.e. quanta – have both a subjective existence and objective behaviour, just as they have both a wave and particle aspect physically. We can't see this subjective existence or "isness" directly, just as we have difficulty seeing one another's consciousness directly, so objective behaviour becomes the default core description. However we know that the quantum wave function shapes where each particle ends up in a way which remains unpredictable for a single quantum and only becomes determined in the average, in terms of the probability (amplitude squared) of the wave function. We have also discovered that quantum entanglement between particles is both critical and universal to how the universe works. In special relativistic quantum theories, wave functions are coupled in both directions in time, with advanced and retarded solutions providing handshaking between future absorbers and past emitters.
The emergence of reflexive consciousness is an evolutionary process. The brain inherited the dynamics to make our form of subjective consciousness possible long before multi-celled organisms evolved. LECA the founding single-celled eucaryote already possessed the G-protein linked receptors found in the brain, and going even deeper -- LUCA the last common ancestor of all life, possessed a chemi-osmotic excitable membrane, enabling chaotic sensitivity in the butterfly effect during bursting and beating. In the context of animal brains, these in turn, lead to phase-front processing, which forms a representation of the same dynamics involved in quantum measurement, bringing quantum entanglement into the dynamics, driven by self-organised criticality at tipping points running from individual ion channels to whole brain dynamics.
This means that the universe is a sentient cosmos, evolving to make possible a fully intimate connection between subjective and objective aspects of reality, in which existential "isness" and objective behaviour reach a consummation in the sentient brain in conscious perception and intentional will. Consciousness can then intentionally affect the physical universe, just as we experience it to do, by collapsing the wave function of the "multiverse" of quantum probabilities into the line, or course, of cosmic history we experience, through Schrödinger's cat paradox. This is what we experience as conscious decision-making, affecting the world around us, for better, or worse.
This in turn means that, as a consummating manifestation of cosmic sentience, we have a personal and collective responsibility to fulfil this emergent quest and to preserve and unfold the diversity of life in the universe and this is what the meaning and purpose of life is all about. It is we ourselves, the universe's sentient beings, who form the consummating manifestation of the interactive catastrophe set off by symmetry-breaking in the cosmic origin and it is we who must needs protect and unfold the diversity of life and consciousness, so that the process can reach ultimate fulfilment. The buck stops with us and the fate of the universe and life within it becomes our personal responsibility to protect, rather than exploit.
Fig 2: (a) Vishnu dreams the universe through the navel lotus of Brahman, overlooked by Lakshmi, (b) Ritual cannabis use in ancient Israel, (c) Shiva sadhu smoking Ganga, (d) Tantric creation involves sexual complementarity of Shakti representing the body of the universe and Shiva representing mind, in which the unity of cosmic consciousness retreats into multiple conscious experiences of the physical world. This complementarity is shared by Taoist Yin/Yang.
2 Eastern Spiritual Cosmologies and Psychotropic Use
This perspective fits closely with a cosmological position of long-standing in Eastern philosophy, where mental states are envisaged as being ‘finer’ than gross physical states, also having an indivisible wholeness to their character, or that the cosmological foundation is itself undivided consciousness. The earliest Upanishads date from 900 to 600 BC. The fundamental concern of the Upanishads is the nature of reality. They teach the identity of the individual soul (atman) with the universal essence soul (Brahman). In contrast with Buddhism, which believes that there is neither a soul nor self, Hindu philosophy has argued that qualities such as cognition and desire are inherent qualities which are not possessed by anything solely material, and therefore, by the process of elimination must belong to a non-material self, the atman, thus seeing one’s spiritual goal as moksha, liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. Śaṅkara held that the mind, body and world are all held to be appearances of the same unchanging eternal conscious entity called Brahman, which is described as Satchitananda (Being, consciousness and bliss).
In the Tantric creation, Shiva and Shakti begin as a whole in intimate cosmic embrace, of subject and object, then retreating from this intimacy to become multiple conscious entities perceiving the physical world around them as dualities emerging from the totality coming to recognise itself in individual consciousness only through moksha, due to its very fragmentation.
Some of this philosophical and religious perspective has been driven psycho-pharmaceutically, with the use of cannabis as a visionary agent central in the life of Shiva sadhus as Ganga, the sacred river of Indian spirituality, along with historical evidence for the Soma of the Aryans and ancient ritual uses of cannabis in Israel (700-900 BC), China (500 BC) and among the Scythians, and of ancient opium use in the Near East and Mediterranean.
Fig 3: Traditionally used psychedelic species provide access to a first person visionary experience, deemed to be of genuine spiritual significance by researchers (Griffiths). Top row Maria Sabina my benefactress, Gordon Wasson and sacred mushrooms, containing psilocin. Mayan mushroom stone with grinding metate (1000 BC). Codex Vindobonensis: Nine deities receive instructions from Quetzalcoatl on the origin and use of sacred mushrooms. Mixitec kingdom (Schultes and Hofmann 1979). Second row my roadman Tellus Goodmorning, deer with peyote in its mouth (500 BC Monte Alban), the Nierika, peyote's portal to the spiritual realm and Don Jose Matsuwa and peyote, containing mescalin. Right and bottom row My curandero Snr. Trinico and ayahuasca, containing dimethyl-tryptamine and harmine. While psychedelic "trips" are cyclonic experiences in themselves, that can challenge our conceptions of reality and need careful guidance, at the centre of the cyclone lies the compassionate redemption of a moksha epiphany that can both provide comfort to the terminally ill, restore faith in life of the depressed and reveal life-changing first-person insight and illumination into the roots of the spiritual quest into the cosmological nature of consciousness.
3 Psychedelic Agents in Indigenous American Cultures
However the prominent use of much more potently transformative psychedelic agents in human populations has evaded the mainstream of philosophical and religious practice because it has been focused on the Americas, where Psilocybe fungi were consumed as teonanactl – “flesh of the gods” for spiritual and therapeutic purposes by the Mayans from 1000 BC, Lophophora cacti from 500 BC as peyote and species of Psychotria and Bannisteriopsis combined as yage, or ayahuasca, in the Amazon basin, with evidence also of the use of Trichocereus cacti by the Nazca (100-800 CE) and dimethyl-tryptamine containing snuffs.
The story of the original Quetzalcoatl of the Nahuas who followed the Toltec but predated the Aztec in the valley of Mexico is told in by Dobkin de Rios (1984). They were "quite advanced in their cultural development. Their divinity , Quetzalcoatl was a man of wisdom who gave them a code of ethics and a love for art and science." Acquaintance with the drug plants goes back to 300 BC with the Chicameras the Aztec ancestors and the Toltec.
Because at the time of the arrival of Columbus, these were used by the Aztecs, who were renowned for their sacrificial violence and were documented by conquistadores vehemently and violently opposed to pre-Colombian culture, historical descriptions of their use are shrouded in diabolical accounts.
Dobkin de Rios (1984) notes that the divinatory properties of sacred plants [including mushrooms, peyote, datura, morning glory and tobacco] were of paramount importance to the Aztecs. They believed that whoever ate these sacred plants would receive the power of second sight and prophecy. Thus, one could discover the identity of a thief, find stolen objects, or predict the outcome of a war or the attack of a hostile group. "Sacred mushrooms played such an important part in Aztec life that Indian groups which owed tribute to the Aztec emperor paid it with inebriating mushrooms. One Spanish priest wrote that for the Aztecs, the sacred mushrooms were like the host in the Christian religion: through this bitter nourishment, 'they received their God in communion' The divine mushroom was taken during ritual ceremonies. Successful Aztec merchants sponsored night banquets. The Florentine Codex records that when the participants ate the mushrooms with honey, and they began to take effect, the Aztecs danced, wept, and saw hallucinations. Others entered their houses in a serious manner and sat nodding. Visions included prophecies of one's own death, battle scenes, or war captives that one would take in battle. Others reported visions that they would be rich. All that could possibly happen to a person could be seen under the effects of the mushrooms. After the effect wore off, people would consult among themselves and tell each other about their visions”.
Schultes and Hofmann (1979) note that early chroniclers such as Fransisco Hernandez, physician to the King of Spain, described several sacred mushroom species. 'Others when eaten cause madness that on occasion is lasting of which the symptom is a kind of uncontrolled laughter. Usually called teyhuintli , these are deep yellow, acrid of a not displeasing freshness. There are others again, which without inducing laughter bring before the eyes all kind of things such as wars and the likeness of demons. Yet others are not less desired by princes for their fiestas and banquets, of great price. With night-long vigils they are sought, awesome and terrifying. Friar Sahagun, one of the first conquistadors to chronicle teonanacatl , flesh of the gods, remarked of the Aztec mushroom eaters 'when they become excited by them start dancing, singing, weeping. Some do not want to sing but sit down and see themselves dying in a vision; others see themselves being eaten by a wild beast; others imagine they are capturing prisoners of war, that they are rich, that they possess many slaves, that they have committed adultery and were to have their heads crushed for the offence … and when the drunken state had passed, they talk over amongst themselves the visions they have seen.’
Dobkin de Rios further notes that “during the coronation feast of Moctezuma in 1502, teonanacatl (the divine mushroom) was used to celebrate the event. War captives were slaughtered in great numbers to honour Moctezuma's accession to the throne. Their flesh was eaten, and a banquet was prepared after the victims' hearts were offered to the gods. After the sacrifice was over, everyone was bathed in human blood. Raw mushrooms were given to the guests, which one writer, Fray Duran, described as causing them to go out of their minds-in a worse state than if they had drunk a great quantity of wine. In his description, these men were so inebriated that many took their own lives. They had visions and revelations about the future, and Duran thought the devil was speaking to them in their madness. When the mushroom ceremony ended, the invited guests left. Moctezuma invited rival rulers to feasts which were held three times a year. One of these important feasts was called the Feast of Revelations, when the invited dignitaries and Moctezuma, or his representative, ate the wild mushrooms. ... During the Aztec king Tizoc's enthronement feast, all those present ate wild mushrooms - the kind that made men lose their senses. After four days of feasting, the newly crowned Tizoc gave his guests rich gifts and sacrificed the Metztitlan victims”.
The repression of the sacred mushrooms by the conquistadores resulted in their disappearance from the annals of history, except for the troubling appearance of small mushroom stones dating from 1000 B.C. scattered about the much more ancient ruins of the Mayan civilization. In 1935 the anthropologist Jean Bassett Johnson witnessed an all night mushroom ceremony at Huautla de Jimenez.
This report was to lie idle until 1955 when Gordon and Valentina Wasson 'were invited to partake of the agape of the sacred mushrooms' in the hills of Oaxaca, among isolated peasant peoples who used them to divine the future and seek a cure of illness, after a long search and a previous unsuccessful season in the town. "Perhaps you will learn the names of a number of renowned curanderos, and your emissaries will even promise to deliver them to you, but then you wait and wait and they never come. You will brush past them in the market place, and they will know you but you will not know them. The judge in the town hall may be the very man you are seeking and you may pass the time of day with him yet never know that he is your curandero." – Wasson (Weil et. al. 30)
The sacred mushroom is called by the Mazatec Indians 'the little flowers of the gods' or 'that which springs forth'. 'The little mushroom comes of itself we know not whence, like the wind that comes we know not whence or why'.
Wasson was deeply struck by the spiritual power of the sacred mushroom, which he referred to as 'the divine mushroom of immortality'. 'Ecstasy! The mind harks back to the origin of that word. For the Greek ekstasis , meant flight of the soul from the body. Can a better word be found to describe the bemushroomed state? ... Your very soul is seized and shaken until it tingles, until you feel that you will never recover your equilibrium' (Furst 198). " ... geometric patterns, angular not circular in richest colours, such as night adorn textiles or carpets. Then the patterns grew into architectural structures with collonades and architraves, patios of regal splendour, the stone work all in brilliant colours, gold and onyx and ebony, all most harmoniously and ingeniously contrived, in richest magnificence extending beyond the reach of sight, in vistas measureless to man ... They seemed to belong... to the imaginary architecture described by the visionaries of the Bible" (Riedlinger 1996 30).
Shortly before his arrival she had had a vision while on the little saints , that non-Mazatec strangers would come to seek nti-si-tho , the little one who springs forth . She had shared her vision with Cayetano García the local sindico or justice who was also a partaker, and it was he who agreed that the knowledge should be shared and brought Wasson to her. Her life was beset by many tragedies including a macabre vision she had shortly afterward on the little things , which foretold the murder of her son, possibly in vengeance for opening the knowledge of the mushroom. Her house and little shop were also burned (Estrada 71, 79). The CIA were also in Mexico in search of the mushroom. Within a few days, a Mexican botanist had phoned the CIA to confirm Wassons find and an agent was dispatched as a mole on Wasson's return trip.
"The father of my-grandfather Pedro Feliciano, my grandfather Juan Feliciano, my father Santo Feliciano - were all shamans - they ate the teonanacatl , and had great visions of the world where everything is known... the mushroom was in my family as a parent, protector, a friend". - Maria Sabina, who lived to the age of 91.
Maria Sabina had sampled sacred mushrooms in abundance as a child. A few days after watching a wise man cure her uncle 'Maria Anna and I were taking care of our chickens in the woods so that they wouldn't become the victims of hawks or foxes. We were seated under a tree when suddenly I saw near me within reach of my hand several mushrooms. "If I eat you, you and you" I said "I know that you will make me sing beautifully". I remembered my grandparents spoke of these mushrooms with great respect. After eating the mushrooms we felt dizzy as if we were drunk and I began to cry, but this dissiness passed and we became content. Later we felt good. It was a new hope in our life. In the days that followed, when we felt hungry we ate the mushrooms. And not only did we feel our stomachs full, but content in spirit as well. I felt that they spoke to me. After eating them I heard voices. Voices that came from another world. It was like the voice of a father who gives advice. Tears rolled down our cheeks abundantly as if we were crying for the poverty in which we lived.' She had a vision of her dead father coming to her. 'I felt as if everything that surrounded me was god' (Estrada 39).
'Maria Anna and I continued to eat the mushrooms. We ate lots many times, I don't remember how many. Sometimes grandfather and at other times my mother came to the woods and would gather us up from the ground on which we were sprawled or kneeling. "What have you done?" they asked. They picked us up bodily and carried us home. In their arms we continued laughing singing or crying. They never scolded us nor hit us for eating mushrooms. Because they knew it isn't good to scold a person who has eaten the little things , because it causes contrary emotions and it is possible that one might feel one was going crazy' (Estrada 40).
After the death of her first husband Maria Sabina performed a velada for Maria Anna, who was sick with an internal bleeding. After expressing the blood she had a vision of six or eight people who inspired her with respect - 'the Principal Ones of whom my ancestors spoke'. One of the Principal ones spoke to her and showed her the book of wisdom. She realized that she was reading her book. Afterwards she had the contents always in her memory, and became herself one of the Principal Ones who became her dear friends. After this vision, she had another vision of Chicon Nindo the lord of the mountains, a being surrounded by a halo, whose face was like a shadow. She realized that she had become his neighbour. She entered the house and had another vision of a vegetal being covered with leaves and stalks that fell from the sky with a great roar like a lightning bolt. "I realized that I was crying and that my tears were crystals that tinkled when they fell on the ground. I went on crying but I whistled and clapped, sounded and danced. I danced because I knew I was the great Clown woman and the Lord clown woman" (Estrada 49).
woman who sounds am I.
Spiderwoman am I, says
hummingbird woman am I says
Eagle woman am I, says
important eagle woman am I.
Whirling woman of the whirlwind am I, says
woman of a sacred, enchanted place am I, says
Woman of the shooting stars am I." ....
I'm a victorious woman, says
I'm a law woman, says
I'm a thought woman, says
I'm a life woman, says ...
"I am a spirit woman, says
I am a crying woman, says
I am Jesus Christ, says ...
I'm the heart of the virgin Mary."
(Mushroom Ceremony - Smithsonian Institute).
Maria Sabina notes (Schultes and Hofmann 1979): 'There is a world beyond ours, a world that is far away, nearby and invisible. And there is where God lives, where the dead live, the spirits and the saints, a world where everything has already happened and everything is known. That world talks. It has a language of its own. I report what it says. The sacred mushroom takes me by the hand and brings me to the world where everything is known. It is they, the sacred mushrooms that speak in a way I can understand. I ask them and they answer me. When I return from the trip that I have taken with them I tell what they have told me and what they have shown me'. 'The more you go inside the world of teonanacatl , the more things are seen. And you also see our past and our future, which are there together as a single thing already achieved, already happened . . . I saw stolen horses and buried cities, the existence of which was unknown, and they are going to be brought to light. Millions of things I saw and knew. I knew and saw God: an immense clock that ticks, the spheres that go slowly around, and inside the stars, the earth, the entire universe, the day and the night, the cry and the smile, the happiness and the pain. He who knows to the end the secret of teonanacatl – can even see that infinite clockwork'.
Traditionally the mushroom was taken not merely to see god, but to cure physical maladies. The healing process could be severe and terrifying. At a velada attended by Wasson, a young boy took the mushrooms to seek a cure. However Schultes and Hofmann comment: "upon learning from Maria that the mushrooms prognosticate death, the boy falls to the ground in despair. He did in fact die a few days later of undiagnosed, but apparently natural causes”. Maria Sabina described this somewhat differently: "But there was no remedy for the sick one. His death was near. After I saw Perfecto's appearance, I said to Aurelio 'This child is in a very grave condition'. ... I took the children and began to work. That was how I learned that Perfecto had a frightened spirit. His spirit had been caught by a malevolent being. ... Weeks went by and someone informed me that Perfecto had died. They didn't take care of him like they should have. If they had done several vigils he would certainly have gotten well" (Estrada 72).
Fray Bernadino de Sahagun estimated from Indian chronology that peyote had been known to the Chichimeca and Toltec at least 1890 years before the arrival of the Europeans. Usage for as long as 3000 years is suggested from Tarahumara rock carvings and Peyote specimens found in Texas rock shelters. de Sahagan reports as follows: "There is another herb like [opuntia]. It is called peiotl. It is found in the north country. Those who eat or drink it see visions, either frightful or laughable. This intoxication lasts two or three days and then ceases. It is a common food of the Chichimeca, for it sustains them and gives them courage to fight and not to feel hunger or thirst. And they say it protects them from all danger" (Schultes and Hofmann 132).
The Huichol make a yearly pilgrimage, the peyote hunt, over 600km of rugged desert country from their tribal homeland in the Sierra Madre Occidental (Meyerhoff 10, Furst 136). The journey involves many ritual steps and many days of journey involving hardship. The confessing of marital infidelities is done without recrimination. The Huichol are polygamous and traditionally accept such revelations with a light heart. A knot is placed in a string for each occasion and then burned.
There is a doorway within our minds that usually remains hidden and secret until the time of death.
The Huichol word for it is nierika – a cosmic portway or interface between so-called ordinary and non-ordinary realities.
It s a passageway and at the same time a barrier between the worlds” (Halifax 242).
One of the most outstanding Huichol peyote shamans of modern times is don Jose Matsuwa who at 1990 was the venerable age of 109. Besides walking in the sacred journey to Wirikuta, 'don Jose spent many years living alone in the Huichol sierra learning directly from the ancient ones who reside there in the caves and mountains. In order to become a shaman in the Huichol tradition one must learn to dream consciously and lucidly, for after a healing has been performed, that night the shaman tries to dream about the patient and find out the reason for the illness. Each day the Huichols tell their dreams to "Grandfather fire". Dreams help to bring together the past, present and the future' (Halifax 249).
"The shaman's path is unending.
I am an old, old man and still a nunutsi (baby)
standing before the mystery of the world”
"I have pursued my apprenticeship for sixty-four years. During these years, many, many times I have gone into the mountains alone. Yes I have endured much suffering in my life. Yet to learn to see, to learn to hear, you must do this - go into the wilderness alone. For it is not I who can teach you the ways of the gods. Such things are learned only in solitude." - Don Jose Matsuwa (Halifax) 238).
"When the mara'akame passes through the nierika he moves just as the smoke moves; hidden currents carry him up and in all directions at once ... as if upon waves, flowing into and through other waves ... the urucate. As the mara'akame descends and passes through the nierika on the return, his memory of the urucate and their world fades; only a glimmer remains of the fantastic journey that he has made” (Halifax 242).
Psychedelic use also goes back centuries in South America. One of the most powerful traditions in shamanic use of sacred plants comes from a complex of plants containing various admixtures of methylated-tryptamines and beta-carbolines used as snuffs and hallucinogenic potions in the Amazon basin. San Pedro use, which like peyote contains mescalin, is evident in the cactus found alongside a leopard in a vase in Chavin culture (1200-600 BC) and San Pedro and sculptures showing snuff use among Nazca (100-800 CE).
Ayahuasca is a potently psychedelic admixture based on both dimethyl-tryptamine (DMT) and harmine. The bark of the vine of certain Banisteriopsis species is mashed and boiled with the leaves of plants such as certain Psychotria species. Sometimes some tropanes are also added. The principle is regarded as a major botanical discovery: the harmine acts as a mono-amine oxidase inhibitor, making it possible for the DMT to both enter the body through the stomach and to remain in action for some four hours. In combination, these substances produce a profound and sustained visionary state of a particularly tumultuous kind.
Michael Harner (1980) gives a striking description of his introduction to ayahuasca by the Conibo indians 'Just a few minutes earlier I had been disappointed, sure that the ayahuasca was not going to have any effect on me. Now the sound of rushing water flooded my brain. My jaw began to feel numb ... Overhead the faint lines became brighter and gradually interlaced to form a canopy resembling a geometric mosaic of stained glass. I could see dim figures engaged in shadowy movements ... the moving scene resolved itself into a supernatural carnival of demons. In the centre was a gigantic grinning crocodilian head from whose cavernous jaws gushed a torrential flood of water'. The scene gradually transformed into sky and sea. He then saw two vessels which merged 'into a single vessel with a dragon-headed prow'. 'I heard a regular swishing sound and saw it was a giant galley. I became conscious too of the most beautiful singing I have ever heard in my life ... emanating from myriad voices on the galley. I could make out large numbers of people with the heads of blue jays'. 'At the same time some energy essence began to float from my chest up into the boat' as if to take his soul away. His body began to become numb as if his heart was going to stop. His brain became partitioned into an intellectual command level, the numb level and lower levels of the visions’.
'I was told that this new material was being presented to me because I was dying and therefore 'safe' to receive these revelations. First they showed me the planet earth as it was eons ago. Then appeared large creatures with pterodactyl-like wings which were fleeing from something out in space and showed me how they had created life on the planet in order to hide within the multitudinous forms. He then witnessed the unfolding of plant and animal speciation learning that the dragon-like creatures were inside all forms of life. These revelations alternated with visions of the floating galley which had almost taken my soul on board. With an unimaginable last effort, I barely managed to utter one word: "Medicine!" I saw them rushing around to make an antidote which eased my condition but did not prevent me from having many additional visions. Finally I slept. Rays of light were piercing the holes in the palm-thatched roof when I awoke. I was surprised to discover that I felt refreshed and peaceful (Harner 1980).
In South America, there are two widespread movements supporting the spiritual and therapeutic use of ayahuasca which have also initiated world-wide interest, the Union Vegetale and Santo Daime, a syncretic movement combining Catholicism with indigenous beliefs centred on the use of ayahuasca for personal spiritual and religious insight. “Within traditional religious settings, often individuals are required to accept what the religious authorities tell them to accept. In new religious forms, in new spiritualities, such as Santo Daime, the individual is absolutely central to forming the religious beliefs that the individual holds.” (Dr Andrew Dawson)
I have travelled personally to the sources of the natural psychedelics, having been twice to the Amazon to take ayahuasca, having taken peyote, both with the Native American Church and on Wirikuta, the sacred mountain of the Huichol. I have spent much of my life in a psychic symbiosis with sacred plants and fungi, particularly sacred mushrooms and in the scientific discovery of Psilocybe aucklandii.
Michael Pollen, in “How to Change Your Mind” (2018) has given an insightful current account of the state of psychedelic research and therapy, including several personal accounts of taking sacred mushrooms, ayahuasca, LSD and bufotenine, which give indicative first-time experiences of a novice under these agents.
While the brain is an electro-chemical organ, whose excitations are pulses and waves of electrical excitation, communication between neurons is predominantly chemical, via synaptic bulbs which release neurotransmitter molecules that bind to receptor proteins in the membrane of the target neuron that are either ionotropic and open ion channels, causing an electrical voltage, or metabotropic, activating proteins which alter the way the target neuron behaves. The primary excitatory neurotransmitter is the amino acid glutamate and the primary inhibitory one is gamma-amino-butyric acid or GABA, modulated by alcohol and sedatives. Their mutual interaction generates waves of excitation and inhibition identified with brain activity in the electroencephalogram.
Other neurotransmitter molecules including serotonin (5-hydroxy-tryptamine derived from the amino acid tryptophan), nor-epinephrine and dopamine (derived from tyrosine) have a modal modulating effect on brain activity mostly through slower-acting metabotropic receptors. Serotonin and nor-epinephrine pathways regulate modes of organismic behaviour, including sleep and mood in serotonin, vigilance in nor-epinephrine, and reward seeking in dopamine. The level of neurotransmitters in the synaptic junction is also regulated by transporter proteins which mop up unused neurotransmitters after the event, to avoid the brain being flooded with effects that are now over.
Fig 4: (a) Ascending serotonin (blue) and nor-epinephrine pathways (red) fan out across the cortex from basal brain centres, the locus coeruleus (blue centre) and the Raphe nuclei, modulating all areas of the cortex. (b) Sites of the 5HT2a receptor on pyramidal neurons.
The classic psychedelics, including psilocin, mescalin, dimethyl-tryptamine and LSD all have a common action on serotonin receptors in the brain. By interrupting psychedelic action with an inhibitor, Franz Vollenweider et al. (1998) established that the principal action of psychedelics was at the serotonin 2HT2a receptor, widely distributed in the cortex, fig 5(a), and densely expressed in layer 5 pyramidal neurons. Their detailed interaction with the spectrum of brain receptors can be seen in fig 5(h) and the close relationship between psilocin (4-hydroxy-dimethyl-tryptamine) and serotonin in fig5(l).
Serotonin has multiple modal behavioural roles in the brain as a regulator of sleep and mood. The class of anti-depressants called SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, increase the levels of serotonin by inhibiting its reuptake by transporter proteins. Entactogens such as MDMA, or ecstasy, go further and reverse the transporter, so as to dump an acute dose of serotonin, leading to the entactogenic high, accompanied by pleasurable and affectionate interpersonal contact. Both these agents can subsequently lead to serotonin depletion, the “Tuesday blues” or longer term withdrawal effects in antidepressants, but neither induce the psychedelic state. By contrast psychedelics have little physical dependence potential, because the acute effects rapidly wane if they are repeatedly dosed, until after a refractory period of days.
Outlines of an understanding of how psychedelics act have required protracted investigation and are still under exploration. Psychedelics are agonists that turn on serotonin receptors, rather than blocking their action, just as is serotonin itself, but the way psychedelics do this seems to involve a distinct protein cascade. As shown in fig 5(b), while all serotonin agonists active the protein c-fos, psychedelics also active the developmental protein early growth response 2 or egr-2. Fig 5(c) shows this is confirmed in vivo in mice. There has also been found from multiple researchers to be interactions between 5HT2a (Kim et al. 2020) and metabotropic glutamate MgluR2 receptors, fig 5(d) involving psychedelics, which may explain how psychedelics, in addition to causing a standard serotonergic effect, also have the bizarre sensory and existential effects they are renowned for, by modulating excitatory glutamate activity.
When we come to studying the effects on the brain in electrical and metabolic brain studies, the results are complex. There are two principal ways of studying brain activity, one is to place electrodes, or superconducting magnets on the scalp and record the electrical activity in electro- and magneto-encephalograms (EEG and MEG) and the other is to use metabolic measures using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) requiring a radio-active tracer. fMRI BOLD uses blood oxygen level dependent imaging and PET can sample for glucose.
Fig 5: (a) Excitatory 5HT2a receptors are widely distributed across the cortex with concentrations in frontal and visual areas(Stein et al, Nichols 2011), top-right mentally "at-risk" lower right healthy (Hurlemann et al). (b) In vitro and (c) in vivo investigation of protein activations caused by 5HT2a has shown a consistent differential activation of egr-2 (early growth response 2) transcription factor in psychedelics, as opposed to universal activation of c-fos (Nichols & Sanders-Bush 2002, González-Maeso & Sealfon 2003, González-Maeso et al 2007). (d) Serotonin agonism also appears to be linked to a pairing of 5HT2a with an adjacent glutamate mGluR2 metabotropic (G-protein-linked) receptor where egr-2 is blocked by an mGluR2 agonist (Bockaert et al, Fribourg et al, Kondo & Sawa, Uslaner et al, Gewirtz & Marek, Delille et al) and (u) with distinct receptor phosphorylation barcodes (Vandermoere & Marin 2014). (e) Persistence homological scaffolds for placebo (left) and psilocybin (right) showing greater inter-connective persistence (Petri et al). (f) PET study of 15-20 mg psilocybin taken orally over a 48 minute period 90 minutes after consumption, which shows frontal activation by comparison with a resting state (Vollenweider et al 1997). (g) Reduction in amygdala activity in patients with treatment-resistant depression. Stabilisation of the DMN also occurred. Half of patients ceased to be depressed and experienced changes in their brain activity that lasted about five weeks (Carhart-Harris R et al. 2017). (h) Heat map of normalised receptor interactions (Ray 2010). Activity dark blue=0 to red=4 (orange for 2a and 2c, black no data). (i) LSD increases global functional connectivity of higher-level integrative cortical and sub-cortical regions (Tagliazucchi et al. 2016). (j) A recording during the 12 minutes after intravenous administration of psilocybin 2mg (~15 mg orally), which shows reduced activity in medial frontal cortex (mPFC), posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and other areas (Carhart-Harris et al 2012a, Lee & Roth). (k) PET study of 5HT2a sites where psilocybin acts, with red and yellow having highest density (Hasler & Quednow). (l) Comparative electric fields of serotonin and psilocin. (m) Increases in activity associated with autobiographical memories on psilocybin. (n) Greater late phase activations during autobiographical recollection under psilocybin than placebo (Carhart-Harris et al. 2012b). (o) Changes in fMRI whole cerebral blood flow (CBF) on LSD, resting state functional connectivity (RSFC) increased between V1 and a large number of cortical and subcortical brain regions, but decreased between the parahippocampal (PH) and the retrosplenial cortex (RSC) and PCC, although increased between the PH and dorsal mPFC and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (Carhart-Harris et al 2016a). (p) Reductions in alpha (8-15 Hz) and delta (1-4 Hz) MEG power with ego-dissolution on LSD attributed to cortical desynchronisation (Ibid). (q) Corresponding decreases in MEG for psilocybin (Muthukumaraswamy et al. 2013). (r) Source localisation of one of several networks with reduced power, again associated with desynchronisation (Ibid). (s) fMRI BOLD Variance time courses into the four regions of peak statistical significance for psilocybin and placebo. (t) Statistical significance for decreased low frequency power (LFP) and power spectrum scaling exponent after psilocybin infusion. Statistical significance of increased power point rate (PPR) and decreased point process interval (PPI) after psilocybin infusion (Tagliazucchi et al. 2014). (v) Increased functional connectivity after psilocybin between the DMN and (i) r-fronto-parietal, (ii) DAN dorsal attention network, (iii) SAL salience network, (iv) TPN task positive network, (v) thalamus to TPN (Carhart-Harris et al. 2013), consistent with the "unconstrained mind" (Lifshitz et al. 2018).
While one might expect that something causing visions, or even hallucinations, might result in enhanced brain excitation some aspects of the psychedelic state, such as ego loss might also arise from a reduction in activity. Early scans of subjects on psilocybin, fig 5(f) indeed showed increases, as has a later study on LSD when the visual areas are examined, fig 5(o), but the scientific community was surprised when a team led by Robin Carhart-Harris and David Nutt, fig 5(j), found that there was a significant and unexpected reduction in activity.
At the time, Franz Vollenweider commented: “We have completed a number of similar studies and we always saw an activation of these same areas. We gave the drug orally and waited an hour, but they administered it intravenously just before the scans, so one explanation is that the effects were not that strong.” There is also an issue, because the experimenters injected psilocybin and only waited a short period before the scans began. Psilocybin is a pro-drug of psilocin the principal active ingredient. The former is converted to the latter both by stomach acids and in the liver by alkaline phosphatase (Dinis-Oliveira 2017).
However Robin Carhart-Harris subsequently associated these results with a reduction in the activity of the default mode network (DFM). This was discovered a few years earlier from a pattern of apparent reductions in activity in certain areas during specific tasks that showed up as increased activity when resting (Raichle & Snyder 2007). The DFM is thought to have a critical survival role in formulating responses to actual or incipient crises, making active use of the brain during down times from activity to be better prepared. In fact there are many resting state networks and the fundamental idea is that the brain has two complementary modes of activity which can occur together, a passive role responding to incoming environmental or sensory priorities and an active role generating activity beneficial to the organism’s survival, with both of these processes superimposing during activities, so one or the other appears more prominent. Areas noted in these studies as having reductions were the medial frontal cortex (mPFC), posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), parahippocampal(PH) and the retrosplenial cortex (RSC). The PCC in particular is characterised in measuring how much you are “caught up” in your feelings and responses, as opposed to just having them. Carhart-Harris et al. (2013) also investigated (v) the connection between the DMN and other networks such as the saliency (SAL) and dorsal attention (DAN) networks and found psilocybin increased functional connectivity between several areas which normally have orthogonal non-interactive relationships confirming the increased functional connectivity of diverse regions under psychedelics.
Carhart-Harris cites the results as evidence of a reduction in default mode network activity consistent with silencing the internal dialogue and ego loss (Pollen 2018). A second researcher Justin Brewer has also found a similar reduction in people meditating (Brewer et al. 2011). This has led to the idea that stopping the internal dialogue of the default mode can result in ego dissolution, because the distinctions between self and other become blurred and the role of the ego as the strategic basis of the default mode network means that silencing it could induce a state of union, in which self and universe become one. This thesis supports the notion that bothpsychedelics and meditation can induce states of ego loss, but the effects of psychedelics are very profound and striking and experientially different from a meditative state of controlled repose, so quietening the resting state networks is a necessary gateway to both, but is not sufficient to explain the vast experiential territory of the psychedelic conscious state.
Carhart-Harris also compared the degree of reduction with subjects’ personal reports of the experience during the session and found that the reduction was greater in subjects who reported evidence of ego or subject-world dissolution such as “I existed only as an idea, or concept”, or "I didn't know where I ended and my surroundings began”, suggesting the effect is genuine. The result is also consistent with heightened activity in other brain areas, particularly those involved in the subjective effects of visions and synesthesia , which would tend to affect sensory areas rather than associative or frontal areas.
Fig 6: Subjective responses within 15 mins of exiting the scanner (Muthukumaraswamy et al. 2013).
Subsequent studies, both on psilocybin and LSD , fig 5 (p, q) using MEG, give further insights into this situation. The psilocybin study was again by injection but the listed subjective responses showed marked effect differences between subject and placebo, indicative of the psychedelic state. In both studies there was found to be a reduction in oscillatory power, which in the LSD study was strongly associated with ego loss.
This reduction in overall power is consistent with increased desynchronisation in the signals, as in wave superposition of decoherent signals, which rise and fall at different instants are more likely to cancel one another, resulting in lower net oscillatory power. This is consistent with diverse interacting signals arising from the stimulatory effects of the psychedelic on usually less associated areas, resulting in more information arising to the conscious level which would normally be filtered out, disrupting the usual flow of attention identifying and streamlining the ordered thought process. The psilocybin study also attempted to identify the source localisation of the resting state networks using independent component analysis (ICA) which determined up to seven, rather than just one, as illustrated in fig 5(r).
Evidence corroborating this interpretation came from a further ingenious experiment from another team led by Carhart-Harris, to analyse “homological scaffolds” of brain activity under psychedelics. Fig 5(e) shows the result, in which there is a far richer network of homological scaffolds in play under psilocybin (right) with the “doors of perception” thrown open, than in the normal mental state (left). This technique takes filtered correlations between the time series of the fMRI voxels, forms linkage graphs between each correlated series and then applies algebraic topology using the cliques of three or more to determine and weight the connections. Their evolution over time is also used to show that, while most of the population of psychedelic scaffolds have shorter duration than the fewer number in the placebo state, some psychedelic ones last significantly longer. This is also supported fig 5(s, t), by increased fMRI variance in the hippocampus and anterior cingulate and changes in power spectrum and other measures (Tagliazucchi et al. 2014). A similar result fig 5(i) shows LSD increases global functional connectivity of higher-level integrative cortical and sub-cortical regions (Tagliazucchi et al. 2016).
A theoretical idea advanced to explain salient features of the brain dynamics in psychedelic experiences is the notion of increased entropy. Carhart-Harris et al. (2014) note that “There is an emerging view in cognitive neuroscience that the brain self-organizes under normal conditions into transiently stable spatiotemporal configurations that this instability is maximal at a point where the global system is critically poised in a transition zone between order and chaos”. The paper then goes on to identify “metastability” of a brain network in terms of the variance in the network’s intrinsic synchrony over time and to claim the psychedelic state has higher entropy than the normal waking mental state. While the dynamical details of this have been criticised (Papo 2016), they do serve to have conceptual explanatory power. Edge-of-chaos dynamics and transitions from chaos to order in critically poised sensitive states are essential to a dynamical model of the brain to avoid the dynamics becoming locked into sub-optimal ordered states, by using the butterfly effect and its “ergodic” ability to fully permeate the space of possibilities.
A distinction is then made between two modes of cognition, primary consciousness “a mode of thinking the mind regresses to under certain conditions, e.g., in response to severe stress, psychedelic drugs and in REM sleep”, including magical thinking, “a style of cognition in which supernatural interpretations of phenomena are made” and secondary consciousness “the consciousness of mature adult humans”. The article then takes the view that “the mind has evolved (via secondary consciousness upheld by the ego) to process the environment as precisely as possible by finessing its representations of the world, so that surprise and uncertainty (i.e., entropy) are minimized.” It then argues “that secondary consciousness actually depends on the human brain having developed/evolved a degree of sub-criticality in its functionality, i.e., an extended ability to suppress entropy and thus organize and constrain cognition. It is argued that this entropy-suppressing function of the human brain serves to promote realism, foresight, careful reflection and an ability to recognize and overcome wishful and paranoid fantasies. Equally however, it could be seen as exerting a limiting or narrowing influence on consciousness”. This leads to the conclusion that “that the underlying neurodynamics of primary states are more “entropic” than secondary states i.e., primary states exhibit more pronounced characteristics of criticality and perhaps supercriticality than normal waking consciousness — implying that the latter is slightly sub-critical, if not perfectly critical.”
This leads to a discussion of the role the default mode network is claimed to have maintaining the ego through the internal dialogue, leading to forms of mental illness involving the oppression of over-weaning order, such as depression, where repetitious rounds of internal dialogue occur, reinforcing a pessimistic existential outlook. It is also an ongoing feature of the fear of inevitable death that plagues human society.
As noted, there are some major issues with simply using entropy as a measure of criticality (Papo 2016). Highly entropic systems can be products either of chaotic criticality, or noisy randomness and entropy is itself not a measure of either complexity or criticality. That said, the general theme of balancing novelty with uncertainty is characteristic of brain dynamics, much of which has characteristics of pink, or 1/f noise displayed by edge-of-chaos dynamics, and human creations such as musical compositions, which ideally balance history and novelty.
A second related notion fig 5(f), extending the entropy idea is that psychedelics may act to “flatten the potential energy landscape” between attracting brain states (Carhart-Harris & Friston 2019), which has received some tentative support in an LSD study (Singleton et al. 2021). The 2019 paper notes “We call this formulation ‘relaxed beliefs under psychedelics’ (REBUS) and the anarchic brain, founded on the principle that — via their entropic effect on spontaneous cortical activity— psychedelics work to relax the precision of high-level priors or beliefs, thereby liberating bottom-up information flow, particularly via intrinsic sources such as the limbic system.”
A key characteristic of some neural nets using an energy landscape to reach and optimum is to run the simulation at a higher temperature of random fluctuations at first to avoid the system getting stuck in an “alpine lake”, gradually lowering the temperature to reach a quasi-optimal minimum, in a process called annealing. This is a similar process to using a transition from chaos to order to enter a quasi-optimal strange attractor. The idea is that the higher energy landscape is a way the brain filters the doors of perception, by impeding upwelling stimuli using top-down control and that when the landscape is flattened using psychedelics, new information can flood into conscious awareness.
A core basis of this argument is valid – that the brain has evolved to streamline conscious existence for survival, by filtering out uncertainty to enable rapid and decisive decision-making, ensuring organismic survival, consonant with Aldous Huxley’s (1954) notion in “The Doors of Perception “that everyday reality imposes a filter and that psychedelics, by reducing the filter can enable individual consciousness to perceive the “mind at large”.
Fig 7: (1) Changes in neuronal structure, spinogenesis and the involvement of the 5-HT2a receptor in neural plasticity.
(2) The involvement of DMT in neurogenesis. Neurospheres were cultured for 7 days in the presence of DMT.
There are also scientific hints that psychedelics, such as DMT, which it is also believed occurs naturally in the brain has neurogenerative effects. Ly et al. (2018) report that, like ketamine, serotonergic psychedelics are capable of robustly increasing neuritogenesis and/or spinogenesis both in vitro and in vivo. These changes are accompanied by increased synapse number and function. DMT treatment has also been found to activate the subgranular neurogenic niche regulating the proliferation of neural stem cells, the migration of neuroblasts, and promoting the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, therefore enhancing adult neurogenesis and improving spatial learning and memory tasks (Morales-Garcia et al. 2020).
5 The Evolutionary Origin of Neuronal Excitability and Neurotransmitters
This brings us back to a fundamental question. Why does the brain use these neurotransmitters in such characteristic ways to do with emotion, wakefulness and sleep, vigilance and reward? This takes us back all the way to the emergence of life and potentially to the cosmological relationships defining the biomolecules, from ATP to RNA, and the various biological amino acids and their elementary amines such as tryptamine and dopamine. The elementary neurotransmitter types, many of which are fundamental amino acids (glutamate, glycine, GABA) or amines derived from amino acids (serotonin, dopamine, histamine, epinephrine) have primordial relationships with the membrane, as soluble molecules with complementary charge relationships with the hydrophilic ends of the phospholipids.
Tryptophan, the amino acid from which serotonin is generated, plays a key role in the transfer of electric charge in the earliest forms of photosynthesis. In Rhodobacter sphaeroides, there are 39 tryptophan residues surrounding the porphyrin centre. Initiation of the electron transfer reaction by excitation results in a transient change in the absorbance at UVB, near the peak of the tryptophan absorbance band. To make serotonin from tryptophan, oxygen is needed, and in the earliest geological times the Earth's atmosphere had little oxygen. Thus, serotonin is made specifically in unicellular systems capable of photosynthesis and the cellular production of oxygen. Consequently serotonin is up to 100 times more plentiful in plants and animals have ceased to synthesise tryptophan, depending on plants for their supply. This relationship with light continues to this day in human use of melatonin to define the circadian cycle and serotonin in wakefulness and sleep, with light deprivation causing depression through serotonin.
The fundamental components of the G-protein coupled receptor system, including the canonical GPCR itself appear to go right back to LECA the last eucaryote common ancestor, as they are shared across all major eucaryote branches (Mendoza et al.). From the gene diversity for serotonin receptors, the 5-HT1a receptor is estimated to have evolved 750 million to 1 billion years ago, before the muscarinic, dopaminergic and adrenergic receptor systems (Peroutka & Howell, Peroutka, Walker et al) and long before the Cambrian radiation defining multicellular animals.
This places the emergence of receptor proteins and their neurotransmitters as occurring before the multicellular nervous systems, as cell-to-cell signalling molecules essential for survival, and positive and negative responses to nutrition and danger. The need for multimodal molecular messengers thus arises from the need for cells to have a variety of signalling molecules modulating key motivational and aversive aspects of survival strategy.
It also explains that neurotransmitters originated from direct signalling pathways between the cell membrane and gene expression in the nucleus of single cells, highlighting why changes in gene expression such as that of egr-2 in psychedelics may be central to psychedelic neurotransmitter action, rather than just flow-on excitation. It has also been suggested that key enzymes in neurotransmitter pathways may have become ubiquitous through horizontal gene transfer from bacteria (Iyer et al).
Fig 8: Left: Heptahelical rhodopsin receptor in the G-protein coupled family creates a photosynthetic H+ ion gradient in Halobacteria provides voltage gradient excitability and ATP to power the cell. Right: Complement of signalling systems found in Naegleria gruberi (Fritz-Laylin et al. 2010), a free-living single celled bikont amoebo-flagellate, belonging to the excavate group Heterolobosea that diverged from other eukaryotic lineages over a billion years ago, which include some of the most primitive eucaryotes such as Giardia and Trichomonads. Nevertheless it is capable of both oxidative respiration and anaerobic metabolism and can switch between amoeboid and flagellated modes of behaviour, regenerating complete centrioles and flagellae de novo (Fritz-Laylin & Cande 2010). The Naegleria genome sequence contains actin and microtubule cytoskeletons, mitotic and meiotic machinery, suggesting cryptic sex, several transcription factors and a rich repertoire of signalling molecules, including G-protein coupled receptors, histidine kinases and second messengers including cAMP
This ancient origin is confirmed by the fact that receptor proteins, second signalling pathways and key neurotransmitters are known to occur widely in single-celled protists. Both Crithidia and Tetrahymena were demonstrated to contain norepinephrine, epinephrine, and serotonin (Blum 1969). The aggregation of slime moulds such as Dictyostelium is mediated by cyclic-AMP, in association with serotonin and MAOA and uses glutamate and GABA (Halloy et al, Goldbeter, Taniura et al, Anjard & Loomis). The ciliated protozoan Tetrahymena pyriformis (Brizzi & Blum, Essman) and flagellated Crithidia fasciculata (Janakidevi et al) utilise serotonin, and the former also metabolises dopamine and epinephrine (Takeda & Sugiyama, Nomura et al). Tetrahymena pyriformis also has circadian light-related melatonin expression (Kohidai et al). Tetrahymena utilises histamine, serotonin, epinephrine, melatonin, and triiodothyronine can be found in it, as well as peptide hormones, such as insulin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, epidermal growth factor, endocannabinoids, endorphins and c-AMP and GMP. Thus signalling molecules in single celled eucaryotes appear to further long-term adaption through cross-generational epigenetic changes (Csaba 2014). Trypanosoma cruzi could be induced to differentiate by increased cAMP levels that resulted from addition of epinephrine (González-Perdomo et al). Species of Entamoeba secrete serotonin and the neuropeptides neurotensin and substance P (McGowan et al) and release and respond to catecholamine compounds during differentiation from the trophozoite stage into the dormant or transmissible cyst stage (Eichinger et al) and Plasmodium falciparum malaria replication can be blocked by 5HT1a agonists (Locher et. al). Evidence for both acetyl-choline and its G-protein coupled receptor have been found in acanthoamoeba (Baig & Ahmad 2017, Baig AM, et al. 2018).
Consequently the major neuroreceptor classes have a very ancient origin, with the 5HT1 and 5HT2 families diverging before the molluscs, arthropods and vertebrates diverged, close to the level of the founding metazoa. Sponges, with only two cell types, express serotonin (Wayrer et al) and have been shown to have the critical gene networks to generate synapses, in a pre-coordinated form (Conaco et al). Coelenterates already have all the key components of serotonin pathways, involved in signalling by sensory cells and neurons, despite having only a primitive nerve network (McCauley, Umbriaco et al).
The theme of ego-dissolution and the DMN is also discussed with Robin Carhart-Harris at length in Michael Pollen's (2018) work. It provides a general perspective in which to understand the basis of some of the outstanding claims about the mental states psychedelics induce. As noted, psychedelics have been found to share characteristics both with meditative states and religious contemplation, in which experimenters have found a reduction in the activity of the DFM. Silencing of the internal dialogue in ego dissolution also involves extensive sensory-existential changes in which the boundary between self and other/world becomes blurred. It is important to understand that dissolving of the DMN in the acute psilocybin phase is naturally followed by a reintegration to an active and more functional DMN than in depressive illness. Carhart-Harris extends this blurring to explaining the magical thinking that frequently leads people experiencing deep insights under psychedelics to describe them as veridically true – revealed truths rather than just a personal opinion. He suggests that one explanation of this is that relative judgment that something is just a personal opinion requires separation of subjectivity to carry weight, but in the state of union no such distinction exists.
This raises a fundamental question. Are the insights real or illusory? This is the same question that plagues the question of volitional will. Most people and the law act on the conviction that we are intentional beings who have consequences on the world around us and that we are accountable for our actions. Premeditation is in criminal law the defining foundation of conscious intent that determines the severity of a crime. Some scientists and philosophers attempt to finesse this position by claiming we are simply the product of our circumstances and the causality of brain processes and that the notion of ‘free-will” is just an illusion resulting from evolution requiring us to invest in the notion as a rationale to proceed on the basis of an organismic personal autonomy that doesn’t actually exist. Subjective consciousness then becomes an epiphenomenon, having no causal effect on the material world.
We thus need to assess deep psychedelic experiences by the same token. Reports of these from very astute and trustworthy individuals consistently declare that a genuine veridical experience has taken place, having the nature of truth on the same status as an experience of the physical world.
Aldous Huxley wrote in The Doors of Perception: “Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful. According to such a theory, each one of us is potentially Mind at Large” … “In the final stage of egolessness there is an 'obscure knowledge' that All is in all — that All is actually each. This is as near, I take it, as a finite mind can ever come to 'perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe.”
To a reader not familiar with these states, it is hard to give credibility to the notion that a person under the influence of an agent originally labelled as an “hallucinogen” that is known to have both transcendent and potentially diabolically dysphoric dimensions as Huxley emphasised in “Heaven and Hell” (1956) can also have experiences with the long-lasting therapeutic relief or mystical insight, let alone be literally and veridically true.
Fig 9: (a) Assessments of improvement in depression, anxiety and quality of life up to 6 months after psilocybin study in subjects facing life-threatening cancer (Griffiths et al. 2016) (b) Improvements in subjects with treatment-resistant depression after psilocybin study (Carhart-Harris et al. 2016b), compared with Ketamine (Zarate et al. 2012). Ketamine has similarly shown promise in treatment-resistant depression, though effects do not last as long as those observed with psilocybin. A possible mechanism has been found in the disassembly of perineuronal nets restraining new synapse formation in established learned memories (Venturino et al. 2021). (c) Assessments 2 & 14 months after the psilocybin study Griffiths et al. (2006, 2008).
However this is precisely what a number of studies, where precisely these insights under psychedelics have been repeatedly shown to have long lasting insights and benefits, both in severe depression and in people suffering a terminal condition and in normal people experiencing mystical states (Carhart-Harris t al. 2016b, Griffiths et al. 2006, 2008, 2011, 2016, 2021). The titles of these research papers “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance”, “Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later”, and “Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer” indelibly attest to the genuine long-term effects that these experiences induced.
The latest of these studies (Griffiths et al. 2018) combined the use of psilocybin with meditation and other spiritual practices, echoing the way in which movements such as the Native American Church and the Union Vegetale provide a spiritually conducive context to engender positive outcomes, designed to tap into quantum change experiences – sudden, distinctive, benevolent, and often profoundly meaningful experiences that are said to result in personal transformations that affect a broad range of personal emotions, cognitions and behaviors (Miller, 2004; Miller and C'de Baca, 2001). The discussion notes that: "The study showed robust interactive positive effects of psilocybin dose and added support for spiritual practices on a wide range of longitudinal measures at 6 months including interpersonal closeness, gratitude, life meaning/purpose, forgiveness, death transcendence, daily spiritual experiences, religious faith and coping, and rating of participants by community observers. Analyses suggest that the determinants of these effects were the intensity of the psilocybin occasioned mystical experience and the rates of engagement with meditation and other spiritual practices. Most broadly, as a model system for studying so-called quantum change experiences, which have been described for centuries but which have eluded rigorous prospective experimental analysis, further investigation of psilocybin-occasioned experiences may have broad implications for the development of drug and non-drug interventions in both therapeutic and nontherapeutic applications in order to engender enduring positive trait-level changes in attitudes and behavior and in healthy psychological functioning".
Miller (2004) notes: "The person typically experiences mystical quantum change passively, not a product of personal will or control, and has a difficult time expressing the experience in words. They usually are intensely positive, joyful experiences, and often the person senses the presence of an awe-inspiring transcendent Other. Often there is a noetic element of revelation, a sudden knowing of a new truth. An experience of unity is common; for example, an ineffable oneness with all of humankind, with nature, or the universe. In these respects, the mystical type of quantum change is similar to common reports of near-death experiences (Lorimer 1990). At the most mystical level, quantum changers seemed to become more alike, as if they had in some way glimpsed the same truth. They often voiced the experience of being interconnected with and part of all of humanity and creation. Those who had experienced themselves in the presence of a transcendent Other gave strikingly similar descriptions. They felt awe but rarely fear, for in its presence they had experienced unspeakable love and acceptance. The insightful type of quantum change lacks most of the mystical components save one: the noetic element of sudden realization or knowing with great and sudden force, and in the moment of seeing, the person recognizes them for authentic truth (or Truth). Their effect tends to be a reorganization of one's perceptions of self and reality and a cathartic, ecstatic, sense of relief and release. They knew instantly they had passed through a one-way door through which there was no return. They were changed, freed right then, and knew it immediately. Often, characteristics that had been valued least became most important [spirituality and generosity] , and those that had ranked as highest priorities [such as status and possessions] fell to the bottom".
A further study (Griffiths et al. 2019) compared "God-encounter experiences" under classic psychedelics and naturally. While "the Non-Drug Group was most likely to choose "God" as the best descriptor of that which was encountered while the psychedelic groups were most likely to choose "Ultimate Reality." Most participants reported vivid memories of the encounter experience, which frequently involved communication with something having the attributes of being conscious, benevolent, intelligent, sacred, eternal, and all-knowing. … These experiences were rated as among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant lifetime experiences, with moderate to strong persisting positive changes in life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning attributed to these experiences".
Dr Bill Richards notes that mystical experience isn’t something vague, but a specific form of human consciousness. ‘When it’s expressed through questionnaires you can find evidence of six categories, which [are]: unity; transcendence of time and space; intuitive knowledge (what William James called the noetic quality); a sense of sacredness or awesomeness; deeply felt positive mood, such as joy, peace, love, purity; and claims of ineffability and what we call paradoxicality — that it’s very hard to put these experiences into words and when people try to express it they keep contradicting themselves, that’s the paradoxicality: 'I died but I’ve never been so alive, the ultimate reality was one but it was many, it was beyond time but it included time’ — ultimately the Buddhist claim of the nothingness that contains all reality. And it seems contradictory, but mystics would say the problem isn’t in the experience; it’s in our ability to express the experience within language, at this point in the development of language. And that the answer, the truth is always "both and" rather than "either or”.’
As a warning to unsupported experiences in a bad setting, a survey by Griffiths' group of extreme, challenging experiences (Barrett et al. 2016, Carbonaro et al. 2016), 1993 individuals (mean age 30 yrs; 78% male) completed an online survey about their single most psychologically difficult, or challenging experience (worst "bad trip") after consuming psilocybin mushrooms. 39% rated it among the top five most challenging experiences of his/her lifetime. 11% put self or others at risk of physical harm; factors increasing the likelihood of risk included estimated dose, duration and difficulty of the experience, and absence of physical comfort and social support. 2.6% behaved in a physically aggressive or violent manner and 2.7% received medical help. Of those whose experience occurred >1 year before, 7.6% sought treatment for enduring psychological symptoms. Three cases appeared associated with onset of enduring psychotic symptoms and three cases with attempted suicide. Intriguingly, the degree of difficulty was positively associated with enduring increases in well-being. Despite difficulties, 84% endorsed benefiting from the experience and the researchers noted that the incidence of risky behaviour or enduring psychological distress is extremely low when psilocybin is given in laboratory studies to screened, prepared, and supported participants.
It is extremely significant that facing the fear of immanent death, possibly in pain and debilitation, which is the most real and terrifying crisis any conscious mortal being can face, can be redeemed on an ongoing, not just a transient basis, by a psychedelic experience. This attests to these experiences not being illusory but evidential to the conscious mind as the antidote to the mortal dilemma. This is precisely what “moksha”, the primary goal of all Eastern spirituality, seeks to attain through a lifetime of renunciation and devoted meditation.
It also stands as highly evidential that in their signature work “The Psychedelic Experience”, Leary, Alpert and Metzner (1964) presented a guide for readers to navigate the psychedelic state, framed as a modern representation of the Bardo Thodol or Tibetan Book of the Dead – “The Great Liberation upon Hearing in the Intermediate State” – (Lāma Kazi Dawa-Samdup Eng trans 1927), the Tibetan Buddhist manual for successfully negotiating death and rebirth.
Michael Pollen notes a conversation with Roland Griffiths, in which, despite being a world renowned academic researcher leading the field, he has to pick his words very carefully: "The first time I raised [Bob] Jesse’s idea of the betterment of well people with Roland Griffiths, he seemed to squirm a bit in his chair and then chose his words with care 'Culturally right now that is a dangerous idea to promote’ ". However Roland later commented "We're all dealing with death – this is far too valuable to limit to sick people", afterwards carefully amending it to "This will be far too valuable to limit to sick people".
On the question of authenticity, opinions vary. David Nicholls (2011), the Perdue pharmacologist who founded the Hefter Institute to support psychedelic research and synthesised the psilocybin for Griffith's experiments said "If it gives them peace, if it helps people to die peacefully with their friends and their family at their side, I don't care if it's real or illusion". But Roland Griffiths acknowledges "authenticity is a scientific question not yet answered – all we have to go by is the phenomenology” – i.e. the quality of personal reports. In response to Michael's "staunchly materialist" world view Roland replied "Okay then, but what about the miracle that we are conscious? Just think about that for a second, that we are aware and that we are aware that we are aware! How unlikely is that?” Thus affirming that the problem is universal to consciousness not to the moksha state, as we have noted with volitional will.
Primary consciousness associated with reduction of the internal dialogue and ego-dissolution is not just a question of flawed magical thinking that the mind regresses to, but is shared by psychedelics, meditation and deep religious contemplation, all of which in varying ways seek to calm the internal dialogue, attributed to inhibition of the DMN. Michael Pollen cites a number of themes relating to this, including the undifferentiated inclusive mentality of the child mind advanced by Alison Gopnik who co-hosted a talk with Robin Carhart-Harris (2016), echoing sayings of Yeshua and Don Jose Matsuwa. Gopnik refers to a wider nuanced “lantern awareness” which becomes a starker “spotlight awareness” of the Cartesian theatre in adulthood, which as we age, becomes more and more locked into habitual routines that have been found successful in the past. It also applies to releasing the inability of the ordered mind to think outside the box and to be creative, as opposed to conservative and analytic consciousness, which is strongly history-based, rather than novelty-based.
But there are also outstanding differences between psychedelic experiences and meditative and contemplative ones, which are essential to understand and are pivotal to the central enigma of existential cosmology. Mediation seeks to achieve enlightenment by careful top down control, mediated by equanimity, rejection of grasping desires, one-pointed concentration and compassionate emotion. Religious contemplation seeks repose in prayer and devotion. Thus the person involved finds a degree subjective fulfilment, amid acceptance of a spiritual or religious doctrine they are already committed to. Although these experiences of ego dissolution may induce positive outcomes for the individual, they also tend to confirm established beliefs, rather than open the floodgates to new ideas challenging one’s preconceived assumptions. By contrast, psychedelics are liable to induce insights of a novel and existentially challenging nature, such as the somewhat baffling notion of “the mind at large” as a spontaneous discovery.
Psychedelics provide a complex cyclonic perturbation of existential and sentient consciousness, not a simple “enlightenment pill”. Bill Richards notes: ’The relation of the drug to the experience is not like taking an aspirin to get rid of your headache. What the psychedelic substance … they all seem to be skeleton keys that open up the mind, that give you an opportunity to explore, but where you go and what happens depends on who you are, kind of who you are, your maturity, your life history, your capacity to be able to choose to trust unconditionally, your feeling of safety, your courage. So much more is involved than just taking the drug.’
What we are dealing with in psychedelics is a whole constellation of mental states, depending on the circumstances and mind set of the person involved. They can take on visionary aspects of traditional notions such as soul theft and sorcery and invoke complex detailed visions from which the word 'trip' arises, including specific socio-cultural motifs such as snakes and animistic visionary deities. Some of these can be hilarious, others frightening. Some can be profound, others frivolous or meaningless. Some can lead to messianic delusions and others to creative art, musical composition and scientific discoveries. Albert Hoffman has stated that Karry Mullis, who invented the polymerase chain reaction that is now identified to be the core of molecular biology techniques and essential for Covid-19 testing, told him he credited its discovery to his use of LSD in his student days where he synthesised LSD. It was reported that he was actually coming down from a trip when the idea struck him. We are dealing with an agent invoking as many diverse features as existence can provide. The critical issue underlying this retinal carnival of experiences is how it can reveal underlying experiential knowledge difficult or impossible to gain through any other route.
Their political liberalism dimensions have been confirmed (Nour et al. 2017 , Lyons & Carhart-Harris 2018). Nearly nine hundred participants provided information about their naturalistic psychedelic, cocaine, and alcohol use, and answered questions relating to personality traits of openness and conscientiousness, nature relatedness, – “I am not separate from nature but part of nature” – and political attitudes. Participants also rated the degree of ego dissolution experienced during their “most intense” recalled psychedelic experience. Analysis revealed that lifetime psychedelic use (but not lifetime cocaine use or weekly alcohol consumption) positively predicted liberal political views, openness and nature relatedness, and negatively predicted authoritarian political views, after accounting for potential confounding variables. Ego dissolution correlated significantly with these effects.
Psychedelics clearly have political and revolutionary implications that can lay siege to traditional cultural values. It is admitted that the initial wave of repression of psychedelics was political in nature in response to a social movement rejecting the core tenets of a consumer society polarised between materialistic exploitation and religious and sexual conservatism. Fifty three years later, we find ourselves only moderately emerging from a period of repression lasting half a century, still tightly regulated, so as to be applicable only to scientific studies, largely on pathological conditions of depression and terminal illness, or direct scientific inquiry but not for the betterment of same and healthy people.
There is a deep parallel between the Catholic repression of gnostic elements in the Inquisition that arose ultimately from cross fertilisation of ideas during the Crusades, and of the witch hunts against older spiritual beliefs centred around the ancient European goddess whose practices Christianity replaced and the reaction to the social values emerging from psychedelics in the 1960s. The same end result occurred when LSD become popularised and suddenly, because it had not yet become illegal, huge quantities of very pure acid flooded into rock culture, by devoted underground chemists not seeking financial rewards but for the “common good”, celebrated by the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” citing Leary’s Bardo Thodol, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, while on the East Coast of the US, Timothy Leary was pronouncing “turn on, tune in and drop out” and on the West Coast, the Grateful Dead, the Electric Kool-aid Acid tests and the Merry Pranksters, were blowing young peoples minds, while the infectious ethic of free love was shredding conventional sexual morality. This blew the cover on just how much the political and revolutionary implications of psychedelics were laying siege to traditional cultural values.
Despite the fact that many of these events passed safely without incident, that LSD didn’t split peoples chromosomes, that groups of people hadn’t stared at the sun until they went blind, by the mid-1960s the backlash against the use of LSD and its perceived corrosive effects on the values of the Western middle class resulted in governmental action to restrict the availability of psychedelics by making any use of them illegal. LSD was declared a "Schedule I" substance. The governors of Nevada and California signed bills into law on May 30, 1966 and the rest of the world followed shortly after. The picture hardened with the case of Charles Manson. The prosecution contended that, while Manson never directly ordered the murders, his ideology constituted an overt act of conspiracy.
However that didn’t stop consumption of psychedelics, which have remained an underground transformative staple at music festivals, forming the entheogenic counterpoint to MDMA’s entactogenic love-in experience in the rave party scene. Entheogen (see Ott 1993) is a term that, by its own meaning infers that deity emerges from the sacrament rather than vice versa, confirming the overwhelming impression from this class of agents that they have transcendent dimensions. Stanislav Groff coined the term "holotropic" . But repressive legislation of the war on drugs has still had a mind-numbingly counter-productive effect. People are incarcerated for long periods for simple possession of psychedelics. For nearly four decades they were effectively eliminated from scientific knowledge, or assessment. Society as a whole has had almost no opportunity to figure out what role these profoundly transformative agents have in world culture, despite the fact that the natural entheogens have been used for millennia for spiritual and therapeutic purposes in every culture that has consumed them. This means that the role of entheogens has until subtly in the 21st century, been suppressed entirely by the very world societies that have claimed to be the pillar of scientific enlightenment. At the same time, while psychedelics continue to be used devotedly by an underground network of devoted psychonauts, they tend to be trivialised and used as mere entertainment. Their potential impact on society’s, and the planet’s future, remains occluded as an illegal recreational playground of no confirmed value, or significance.
Entheogenic is a term that, by its own meaning infers that deity emerges from the sacrament rather than vice versa, confirming the overwhelming impression from this class of agents is that they have transcendent dimensions.
Stanislav Groff (1980) notes “In one of my early books I suggested that the potential significance of LSD and other psychedelics for psychiatry and psychology was comparable to the value the microscope has for biology or the telescope has for astronomy. My later experience with psychedelics only confirmed this initial impression. These substances function as unspecific amplifiers that increase the cathexis (energetic charge) associated with the deep unconscious contents of the psyche and make them available for conscious processing. This unique property of psychedelics makes it possible to study psychological undercurrents that govern our experiences and behaviours to a depth that cannot be matched by any other method and tool available in modern mainstream psychiatry and psychology. In addition, it offers unique opportunities for healing of emotional and psychosomatic disorders, for positive personality transformation, and consciousness evolution”.
Currently natural psychedelics are used scientifically in research, and particularly into therapy for pathological conditions of depression and terminal illness. They also continue to be used in some settings for religious and spiritual purposes such as Santo Daime, the Union Vegetale and the Native American Church, much as they have for centuries. Finally they are used recreationally as an illegal but sometimes tolerated fringe activity, partly because they are easy to cultivate and almost impossible to eradicate. All of these uses create a gloss on the phenomenon which clouds its full potential. Recreational use tends to trivialise it and reduce it to the pursuit of pleasure. Spiritual and religious use tends to reinforce existing attitudes, from Christian doctrine to tribal sorcery and witchcraft.
I intend to take this much further, to a cosmological conclusion. I am going to take a Galilean interpretation of Groff’s position that is also going to cosmologically invert the Copernican principle . That is, I am asserting that subjective consciousness does make human observers, by possession of it, privileged observers of, and participants in the universe, and that this invokes upon us a primary responsibility to care for and ensure the survival and flowering of sentient life and consciousness within it.
All the evidence that we have at our disposal indicates that subjective consciousness is manifest in the biota and that only the biota possess it in the fully fledged form we witness it. Notwithstanding the cosmic web, which has fractal similarities to neural tissue (Vazza & Feletti 2020), the brain appears to be the most complex coherent system in the universe, as the cumulative manifestation of all the forces of nature interacting in consummation of their fractal interaction on all scales, from cosmological symmetry-breaking, running through quarks, ptorons and neutrons, atomic nuclei, atoms and molecules, to molecular complexes such as the membrane and ribosome, to cell organelles, cells, tissues, organs such as the brain, societies of organisms and the symbiotic biosphere. We know of no other process in the universe, from black holes to stars and the gas clouds of nebulae, or even dark matter, that cumulatively complete the interaction of the fundamental forces in this way.
The evidence also indicates that, while psychedelics create diverse forms of altered conscious states, spanning the entire spectrum, from the paradisiacal to the diabolical, requiring careful guidance, and having significance varying from the sublime to the ridiculous, they also provide humanity’s most powerful research avenue to discover what the inner dimensions of conscious experience are, complementing experiences of dreaming and other states, with a central avenue which can be induced and explored, both scientifically and personally by the waking mind. And finally, underlying these diverse visionary phenomena is a deeper enlightenment at the centre of this cyclone, which has the potential to resolve what the existential status of conscious experience is cosmologically, in the experience of moksha, transcending the cycle of birth and death.
Working to validate entheogenic experiences and conscious states generally requires a different type of verification from physical to establish a phenomenology of the subjective psychedelic state. Peoples experiences of daydreaming and dreaming sleep confirm that very real events can occur, particularly in dreaming. The nature of space and time in dreaming is also undetermined as some people report precognitive dreams (Dunne 1927). We don't usually assess the reality value of internal mental states as the same as everyday experience of the world, but they still often possesses features which we recognise and identify as having veridical reality. Likewise some psychedelic states form a diverse population from franks delusions to common claims of profound experiences of a life-changing nature.
Ralph Metzner's (2017) radical empiricism approach utilises reality being a conscious consensus: "Over 100 years ago the American philosopher William James said that radical empiricism would not dismiss any observations just because we don't have a theory or model to explain them in our current worldview. For that reason, James allowed drug experiences (with nitrous oxide), mystical visions, parapsychological or psi-phenomena and telepathic communications, into science for consideration and further observations. HH the Dalai Lama has formulated a similar epistemology, by his notion of "first person empiricism" – empirical observations made with our own senses. Repeated observations of similar situations by the same observer or similar observers gradually make the observations less "purely subjective" and step-by-step more objective. So the basic formula of radical empiricism is objective = subjective plus one or more. If only one person sees something, it remains purely subjective, like a fantasy or a dream. But if at least one other person sees it and can say "yes, I see it" it becomes a little bit more objective, and this can have profoundly healing implications. ... So when people speak about "entities" or "spirits" or "demons" or "visions" or "hallucinations" we want to first separate the observations from the speculations. Then we can gather further observations – which might have been recorded in various books or in works of art, and start the process of making systematic comparisons. ... Our intuitions and subtle inner perceptions can be mistaken just like any outer perceptions – and can and should always be subject to repetition and repeated verification".
Fig 11: Left: Curandero (Luke Brown). Right: Particle shower (Pb ion collision LHC).
Just as there are many visions, surrounding one nierika portal to the 'spirit', world,
so there have been a multitude of particle showers, for one Higgs particle discovery.
Future generations will feel cheated by Western culture, discovering that:
(a) A scientific discovery, which has features consistent with being the subjective equivalent of the LHC , a "consciousness reactor" that could give us access to the core cosmological secrets of the universe, had been suppressed for half a century by the very culture that claims to be the climax of scientific enlightenment.
(b) That this had happened because this very discovery was perceived by political leaders to be threatening to a consumption-driven society based on venture capital exploitation of the planet’s resources for financial gain, combined with adherence to a religious belief which requires the drinking of the saviour’s blood and eating His flesh because “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.”
(c) That instead of enabling humanity to ensure its survival and the survival of the diversity of life on this planet on which humanity depends, this repression had caused a 50 year delay in addressing a climate and biodiversity crisis, significantly risking the economic welfare, health and survival of these future generations.
(d) That this repression, reminiscent of the dark ages, has intentionally acted in such a way as to seek to prevent us from attaining moksha or psychic union with the cosmos, the very ideal that lies at the heart of the spiritual and religious quest for enlightenment and transcendence, because it risks unraveling the status quo.
(e) That this could also have critically helped alleviate the planetary crisis that has ensued from human evolutionary emergence as a tribal society, and unfold a symbiotic psychic relationship with reality, just as we are obligately symbiotic with the food and medicinal species on which we depend.
This appears to be the situation we are just beginning to emerge from, and yet still facing today.
There are a core set of reasons why a panpsychic solution to the central enigma of cosmology – the hard problem of consciousness – is critical and why the panpsychic postulate of the existential reality of the mind at large is valid.
Firstly, no matter how subtly we try to monitor brain states, and unravel their biology, chemistry and physics, no assembly of objective elements that has no subjective components can have subjective existence. We may find a dynamic structure of excitons, just as we do in subtle quantum experiments, such as weak quantum measurement and quantum entanglement, but none of these complex structures will have subjective nature if none of the elements do, as we learn from the failure of complex digital systems to demonstrate verifiable features of subjective existence.
Therefore a description founded only on the brain is categorically intractable. On the other hand, all physical experiences of the world around us are actually consensual forms of conscious experience, so it is clearly possible to construct a complete cosmology from consensual conscious experiences.
Secondly, since we know we no longer exist in a flat Earth universe with beaten-dome firmaments, deity or its alternatives have to be envisaged in more subtle ways, as something that stands outside and beyond the universe but shapes it in some manner outside physical cosmology. It is also extremely unlikely that a God who created the universe as we now know it, with symmetry-breaking forces, galaxies permeating the heavens, and on Earth, evolution leading to climax genetic diversity, including parasites and hosts, predators and prey, did so as a simple moral test of obedience.
But we do know that the one and only tangible entity that stands outside and beyond the objective physical universe is subjective conscious existence itself. In fact all religious notions, such as Heaven and Hell are consciously envisioned realms, just as animist spirit realms are conscious visionary experiences and all personal religious experiences of deity, that are not simply religious doctrine taken on faith, including all mystical transformative encounters come as conscious and generally visionary experiences.
All realisable hope of a tangible "deity" existing thus now resides in the realms of consciousness. Panpsychism also explains how "God consciousness" could arise as a conscious interaction with the universe as a whole. This is the same concept as the atman becoming one with Brahman in Indian spiritual philosophy. We have to accept that if such interaction is unreal, then tangible interaction with any form of "deity" is unreal. However if the panpsychic postulate is true then the mind at large has reality as the fully manifest form of the subjective aspect existence on a cosmic basis and then our individual conscious existences are extant as functionally encapsulated instances of the mind at large.
Thirdly, here volitional will has a real part in determining the course of history, thus verifying our veridical autonomy of decision-making, i.e. free will, validating and completing our experience of the world around us. Indeed only in such a cosmology can personal autonomy have any real meaning, as opposed to both a purely physical cosmology in which human actions are ruled by mindless physical circumstance and religious cosmologies ordained by the will of God.
Fourthly, there are fundamental evolutionary reasons why the entheogenic species are bound to occur and why they may be able to induce a form of "primary consciousness" evoking cosmic consciousness or the mind at large, as a result of evolution in a universe governed by fractal laws of nature.
The core neurotransmitters involved are modified elementary amino acid amines going back to the origin of life. Their pathways have been conserved since the foundation eucaryotes, as social signalling molecules, to provide feedback modes ensuring the survival of the collective organism. The brain is effectively a close-knit social organism of neurons and neuroglia communicating almost exclusively through neurotransmitters, with the core pathways, such as serotonin and dopamine continuing to have key conserved survival-related modes to ensure a purely electrochemical brain doesn't deviate from organismic survival. Evolution has honed this by natural selection, so that these modes, as expressed in the default mode network and others, focus on an emotional and cognitive dynamic that gives rise to what we consciously experience as ego. However, this has proven not to be hard wired, but like the senses, is adaptive.
Because individual consciousness is actually an encapsulated form of cosmic consciousness, modified forms of these neurotransmitters produced by other species among them psilocybe, lophophora and psychotria, are able to tweak the serotonin 5HT2a receptor system in such a way as to impede "secondary consciousness", as in the DMN, allowing the conscious brain to revert to an ego-dissipated form of "primary consciousness". It appears that, simply by doing so, a form of long-term potentiation results, which has lasting beneficial effects, by allowing the individual to "no longer see through a glass darkly", in Paul's words, but now "face to face, knowing even also as we are known".
Fig 12: An extreme example of single-celled eucaryote adaption to a quantum mode. The dinoflagellate Nematodinium possesses an occulum forming an eye, with a retina made from coopted chloroplast light sensors and a lens with inset wave plate made from mitochondrial membranes (Gavelis et al. 2015).
Fifthly, a key element of this description is that it gives a succinct, biologically realisable account of how the subjective aspect of reality i.e the panpsychism in quanta becomes coherently evoked in living systems, revealing a coordinated functional relationship with the physical universe. This is a three stage-process, firstly with the formation of excitable cells in archaea and bacteria. Secondly with the symbiosis between archaea and bacteria to form complex eucaryote cells. With cell organelles and nuclei, the excitable eucaryote cell gains the full edge-of-chaos sentience associated with physical quantum modes, from light, molecular vibration and the perturbation of chemical orbitals on the excitable membrane, leading to sensory organelles, social signalling, epigenesis and genetic evolution modified by cellular sentience. This is where the major quantum leap of consciousness takes place. Finally, through dynamic elaboration via neuronal coupling in multi-celled organisms, and genetic diversification of function, we arrive at the complex conscious brains of organisms, utilising coupled cellular sentience, as manifested in the subjective consciousness accompanying brain dynamics.
Sixthly, and finally this involves cosmological symbiosis. It is critically important in this discussion to understand how pivotal symbiosis is to the continuity of life in the universe. When we talk about survival of the fittest and the notion of the selfish gene seeking its own replication, these both occur in the context of natural selection, which is selection by symbiosis with the biosphere as a whole. Apart from a few extremophile archaea whose niches are predominantly geospheric, all evolutionary niches are biospheric, relative to the living diversity of all other species defining the niche, so natural selection is the key vector of biospheric symbiosis. Thus the capitalistic notion of survival of the fittest in the concrete jungle of human economic business as usual is a biospheric tragedy of the commons, (Hardin 1968) resulting only in planetary crisis, as a misaligned manifestation of human tribal origins
Species we see as predatory, or parasitic, also have symbiotic roles in ensuring the survival of their hosts and prey. For example, carnivore predation also avoids their herbivore prey populations going into boom and bust extinction by eating out all their vegetative food supplies. Sexuality is universal in both procaryote archaea and bacteria through a symbiosis between cellular and viral genomes, where plasmids and viruses also serve to exchange genetic material between hosts. Concomitant with the establishment of the archaeal-bacterial symbiosis, eucaryotes established symmetry-broken sperm-ovum dyadic sex to avoid genetic warfare in the symbiotic mitochondria, resulting in the two genetic sexes in each species (more in fungi), each becoming genetically interdependent with one another for survival and hence symbiotic. A key role of eucaryote sexuality is to enable a red-queen race between parasites and hosts, where sexually inherited genomic differences act to prevent total extinction of a monoclonal parthenogenetic host species, so that with very few exceptions, obligatory, or at lest cryptic (intermittent), sexuality is universal.
Cell-virus symbiosis is also rife in the human genome, where transposable elements (TEs) occupy almost half, 46%, of the human genome, making the TE content of our genome one of the highest among mammals, second only to the opossum genome with a reported TE content of 52%. LINE-1 elements which have co-evolved in the human germ line with a history running back to the Eukaryote origin, numbering 100,000-950,000 partially defective copies, around 100 of which remain fully active in humans, and their 300,000 dependent smaller fellow traveller Alu SINEs, together comprise 33% of the human genome. Long terminal repeat (LTR) retro-transposons 8% and DNA transposons 3%. Retroviruses related to HIV also exist in endogenous forms in the human germ-line, comprising up to 5 to 8%.
Having integrated with our germ line, such elements both result in transpositions, which can cause mutations and genetic disease, but have also co-evolved to perform essential symbiotic tasks. Many of the historical transpositions have also caused adventitious mutations, giving the inserted elements key functions in coordinated gene expression. LINE-1 elements are key to forming the blastula, have key expression in neural progenitor cells and are essential in collapsing one of the two X-chromosomes which are poisonous to females except in their germ line. Endogenous retroviruses have provided membrane budding genes which aid the formation of the syncytium, the super-cellular membrane that enables diffusion from the mother to the baby and immunity evasion, which avoids rejection of the embryo. The recombination activating gene protein RAG1/RAG2, essential for the mutational variability of the vertebrate immune system, appears to have evolved from an ancient DNA transposon common to the metazoa.
Fig 13: Symbiosis is ubiquitous and essential to human life. Top Left: Symmetry-broken sexuality is a form of intra-species symbiosis between the genetic sexes. Top right: The symbiosis between archaea and bacteria to form the eucaryotes leading to all complex life. Lower left: Transposable elements occupy nearly half the human genome, have co-evolved with humans since the formation of multi-celled organisms and have inherited key symbiotic roles. Lower Right: Homo sapiens can survive as a species only by symbiosis with the biosphere, within which our very existence inter-depends. Human religious and commercial dominion over nature is evolutionary suicide. "That which you have will save you if you bring it forth from yourselves. That which you do not have within you [will] kill you if you do not have it within you." (Thom 70).
Psychic symbiosis with entheogenic species is also a well-established reality. Although traditional use of mushrooms and peyote has tended to involve collection from the wild, since their rediscovery, sacred mushrooms have become symbiotically cultivated worldwide. Cannabis indica, Papaver somniferum and Erythroxylon coca have each had several millennia of cultural cultivation. Salvia divinorum originated in the Oaxaca region of Mexico, where it has been cultivated and used for centuries by the Mazatec people as a healing herbal remedy, and in religious ceremonies. The species has so adapted to being kept as hidden cultivars, that an event after the pollen tube reaches the ovary is aberrant and no fully developed nutlet has ever been collected from a Mexican plant.
This provides a basis for recognising that symbiosis is a foundational principle of the interactive consummation of the physical universe, invoked as a key manifestation of complementarity, evident in the eucaryote symbiosis between archaea and bacteria, sexual complementarity, and the symbiotic relationship between all living species and the biosphere as a whole, on which we all co-depend. This then becomes extended in the following description as a cosmological principle, both in psychic symbiosis with entheogenic species and the ensuing symbiosis between the organismic and cosmic mind and between the cosmic mind and the physical universe as a result of human symbiosis with the cosmos, leading to planetary reflowering and abundance over evolutionary and cosmic time scales.
Seventhly, this makes the notion of unfolding from encapsulated individual consciousness into the universal cosmic consciousness of the mind at large, clearly and unambiguously identifiable with the traditional notion of moksha – escaping the round of birth and death of mortal existence in union of Brahman and atman and in Buddhist satori .
The Upanishadic notion of atman or inner self, which can become united with Brahman the cosmic self, provides a central vision of this unification. However in the Buddhist perspective, the reality of the self is transcended by the unbroken wholeness and essential voidness of undivided consciousness central to the ability to experience moksha, which requires an approach where there is no dualistic distinction between subjective and objective aspects. As noted in fig 18, the moksha epiphany "is not something you can experience from without, neither is it something just within in the heart's desire", but arises when you completely "let go and give your consciousness back to the universe".
The Chan/Zen notion of Buddha-nature, encompasses the idea that the awakened mind of a Buddha is already present in each sentient being. This Buddha-nature was initially equated with the nature of mind, and meditations introspecting on perceiving the mind as a mirror, but this was challenged by Hui-neng in the Zen doctrine of no mind:
The body is the Bodhi-tree.
|There is no Bodhi-tree
Nor stand of mirror bright
Since all is void,
Where can the dust alight?
The idea of the immanent character of the Buddha-nature took shape in a characteristic emphasis on direct insight into, and expression of this Buddha-nature. It led to a reinterpretation of Indian meditation traditions, and an emphasis on the idea that the teachings and practices are comprehended and expressed "suddenly" – "inghat following the dharma can be achieved only step by step, through an arduous practice, possibly taking several lifetimes. This attests to the validity of entheogenic experiences giving sudden insight of lasting value, contradicting the mistaken notion that genuine enlightenment can be achieved only through a supreme effort of dispassionate top down control through mindfulness and suppression of ego in favour of compassionate equanimity.
Moksha also lies at the source of shamanism and visionaries who initiate and inspire major religions, as exemplified by Yeshua's statements in the Gospel of Thomas – "the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father" (3) – "It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the all. From me did the all come forth, and unto me did the all extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there" (77).
Because psychedelics play directly into the visionary state, in an intense, but consciously negotiable experience, with outstanding transcendent features, it is natural that they should be regarded as central tools, sine qua non, in the discovery process of the central enigma of existential cosmology – the role and function of consciousness in the universe, complementing projects such as the LHC seeking to elucidate the foundations of physical cosmology.
The reality of the mind at large is completely consistent with the biological and physical reality of a human brain in a transformative state where the brain processes supporting consciousness are freed from their boundary constraints and become unbundled from subject-object polarisation. Since the biota are the key and the only manifestations of subjective consciousness we know of in the universe, such mental states may be the key realisable way that cosmological consciousness can become fully manifest. The fact that people have such similar experiences during quantum change attests to their universality and potentially cosmological status and hence to the validity of psychedelics as a key oracle for discovery of the foundations of consciousness in the mind at large. Realising the symbiotic mind at large solves the hard problem of consciousness and the central enigma of existential cosmology, the nature and purpose of conscious existence, thereby resolving the scientific, eschatological and theistic quests in one "fell swoop", in a compact, coherent synthesis.
For the planet to continue to survive over evolutionary and cosmological time scales, climax consciousness is, and has to be, fully sensitive as a complex system to the biosphere. This is necessary to be able manifest a cosmologically conscious response, consistent with perennial survival on evolutionary time scales. The fully evolved consciousness is thus, in its complete form symbiotically biospheric. Its fullest and complete manifestation is biospheric and cannot, in evolutionary terms, be the exclusive provenance of a single dominant species, Homo sapiens.
I next present this cosmological description in a summary form.
Fig 15: Cosmological symbiosis: Cosmos, Nierika and Mind/Brain
Full-scale cosmological overview image
1. 1. The physical universe has a veridical complement – cosmological consciousness, or the "mind at large", the subjective manifestation of the cosmos. Individual human consciousness is an encapsulated manifestation. Individual human consciousness is an encapsulated instance of the whole.
2. The mind at large shapes physical history in the quantum multiverse, through volitional will collapsing the superimposed, quantum-entangled wave functions.
3. Cosmological fecundity: The physical universe is the most complex quantum fractal conceivable in space-time, due to cosmic symmetry- breaking of the four quantum forces – gravity, the weak and colour forces and electromagnetism
4. Consequently emergent molecular action is a complex fractal quantum process, culminating the symmetry-broken interaction of the quantum forces of nature.
5. At the same time, planetary conditions permeate the degrees of freedom for biogenesis due to chaotic dynamics of both gravitation and the other forces.
7. Computational Catastrophe: With the advent of genetic evolution, molecular interaction becomes a complex massively-parallel quantum computer, accumulating adventitious information through mutation and natural selection.
8. Cellular Excitability: Edge of chaos excitable cells gain a coherent encapsulated form of panpsychism, which is adaptive to survival and is thus selected for.
9. Eucaryote symbiosis between the two founding branches of life, archaea and bacteria, triggers a complexity catastrophe.
10. Cellular consciousness: Adaption to environmental modes of quantum perturbation of cell excitability in eucaryotes results in cellular sentience. This is the critical transition to existential consciousness. The transition to brains is a secondary extension.
11. Signalling molecules, such as serotonin, evolve to mediate modes of social interaction conducive to survival in single celled species, also affecting epigenetics and, by selection over the result, genetics.
12. As organisms evolve to become multi-celled, cellular consciousness becomes organismic consciousness through neuronal coupling.
13. Fractal culmination in the Biota: Conscious organisms become the consummating fractal interactive expression of cosmological symmetry-breaking, running from quarks through nuclei, atoms and molecules, to molecular complexes such as the membrane and ribosome, to cell organelles, cells, tissues, organs such as the brain, societies of organisms and the symbiotic biosphere.
14. The excitable brain’s organismic consciousness becomes evolutionarily adapted to aid the survival of the organism and the family.
15. In mammals, this involves limbic emotions, invoking a dynamic network for survival that we consciously identify with the ego.
16. At the same time, the brain, as a closely-coupled society of neuronal cells interacting via the same neurotransmitter types, remains dependent on elementary amine-based neurotransmitters, to modulate key survival strategies, because these arose from modalities directly ensuring the survival of the collective organism in single-celled species.
17. Involution: Again at the same time, given the variety of niches on an Earth-like planet, several species are likely to evolve to synthesise elementary modified amino acid derivatives (e.g. psilocin, DMT, mescalin), capable of altering the dynamics of consciousness in such a way as to bring individual consciousness back into relationship with the mind at large using the same receptor pathways.
Biospheric, Psychic and Cosmological Symbiosis
18. All living species, including humans, survive through evolutionary niches in effective biospheric symbiosis with the planetary whole.
19. Because Homo sapiens, the dominant species on Earth, is caught in an ego-based form of individual consciousness, evidenced in our tribal emergence, our species is not adapted to, and thus lacks the intrinsic ability to care for the planet mindfully enough to avoid exploiting it to the extent that it becomes critically compromised, threatening human survival.
20. Entheogenic species bearing psychedelic neurotransmitter analogues, by tweaking a central brain survival mode at the receptor level, can precipite ego dissolution, leading to moksha – reunion with the "mind at large", thus evoking a psychic symbiosis with humanity complementary to our inter-dependence with food, medicinal, and biosphere-supporting species.
21. This conscious symbiosis enables humanity to find its role as the guardians of the living planet and the flowering of conscious existence in evolutionary and cosmic time scales, rather than becoming its tragic “espèce fatale”, thus resolving the existential and planetary crises, fulfilling the spiritual, religious and scientific quest for the meaning and purpose of intelligent life.
22. Psychic symbiosis is potentially as significant as the symbiosis of archaea and bacteria, to form complex eucaryotes, because the future survival of the planet’s entire living diversity is at stake and it is also manifesting cosmological symbiosis of the physical universe and mind at large.
The key to this paper is not just that psychedelics can induce a type of conscious awareness of the “mind at large”, but that they have a potentially pivotal role in alleviating the climate, habitat and natural resource crises that are precipitating a human-induced mass extinction of biodiversity, through the symbiotic relationship with nature these experiences invoke in the shamanic context where human relationships with nature and its spirit world are paramount.
Traditional religions, sourced in patriarchal moral imperatives and an hierarchical top down business structure to enhance social dominion, based on a scorched-Earth desert philosophy, in which natural life is just a prelude to a Day of Judgment to be consigned to eternal Heaven or the fires of Hell, are tragically ill-positioned to be able to address this existential crisis of humanity and the planet. What is required is a paradigm of autonomous direct personal responsibility to care for the universe and the sentient life within it in immortal perpetuity.
“So what we’re seeing now is a rejection of religion across the world as a hierarchical business model
to connect to spirit and they’re going straight for spirit” – Rak Razam (Stewart 2013).
So the question is not transcendence in its own right, which is superlative, but the responsibility this imbues to cherish and protect the living universe. This is not a moral responsibility, but arises from purposeful symbiosis with the cosmic mind. This is the overwhelming message the psychedelics have communicated to me through countless sessions over 55 years and particularly through the natural entheogens and the symbiotic relationship they invoke. It is not something that proceeds automatically out of the psychedelic experience, but nevertheless is widely shared, in the sense of connection with nature reported in the psychedelic studies and manifest in the shamanic tradition of entheogenic use, where spiritual realisation is accompanied by a sense of integration with nature and interdependence within it.
Fig 15: Pulsations. A group of vegetalistas has taken ayahuasca and through an icaro, Queen Pulsarium Coya they seek to diagnose patients by interpreting the pulse with hands connected to the brain. In the Amazon traditions, such a session may also seek to counteract sorcery by shamans of other tribes. In all cases, there is an intimate coupling between nature and the shamanic experience achieved through the entheogens (Luna & Amaringo 1991).
The reason I have concentrated on natural psychedelics is fivefold:
(1) Entheogenic species are an integral part of the planetary evolutionary endowment of biodiversity.
(2) Natural psychedelics have been used for millennia and are proven to be both safe for the individual and safe for society when used in a guided and protected spiritual, or therapeutic context.
(3) The entheogenic experience of natural psychedelics is powerful and capable of evoking a full psychedelic state, so that, although synthetics present additional features, natural psychedelics are “sufficient unto the day”.
(4) Natural psychedelics are potentially symbiotic cohabitants with Homo sapiens, which already exist in a symbiotic relationship with the cultures and movements utilising them entheogenically.
(5) As long as psychedelics remain illegal, natural psychedelics are verified by their genomes to be pure of synthesis contaminants and are easily cultivated, enabling autonomous use without contact with the illegal drugs market.
There are also a variety of other natural and synthetic agents which can also have profound consciousness-altering effects, including cannabis species (THC), Salvia divinorum (salvinorin-a) and the synthetic drug ketamine, each of which have properties distinct from and potentially complementary to those of psychedelic entheogens. Some of these may also induce forms of Bardo Thodol experience, but classic psychedelics nevertheless take the centre stage (King 2021b).
Fig 16: Evolutionary tree of life (King 2021c) with entheogenic molecules. Preserving the diversity of life and of conscious life in evolutionary time scales is the prime responsibility of our sentient incarnation. Background: Amazon burning.
I have focussed my case on sacred mushrooms because peyote and ayahuasca are hard roads, due to nausea, while mushrooms can be perfectly potent and have no such effects, particularly if ground dried in a mortar and pestle, soaked for 20 min in lemon juice to convert the psilocybin to active psilocin and drunk as a tea, resulting in a shorter, but intense experience that is easily contained in a busy life without fatigue or derangement. They are readily cultivated symbiotically (Stamets & Chilton 1984) and exist worldwide (Stamets 1996).
As Terrence and Denis McKenna stated to the reader in their mushroom growers guide (Oss & Oeric 1976): "You as an individual and Homo sapiens as a species are on the brink of a symbiotic relationship that will eventually carry humanity and Earth into the galactic mainstream of higher civilizations".
"Flickering before us is a dimension so huge that its outlines can barely be brought into focus in the human frame of reference. Our animal existence, our planetary existence is ending. In geological time that ending is now only moments away. A great dying, a great extinction of many species has been occurring since at least the partnership society i prehistoric Africa. Our future lies in the mind; our weary planet's only hope of survival is that we find ourselves in the mind and make a friend that can reunite us with the earth, while carrying us to the stars. Change more radical by magnitudes than anything that has gone before, looms immediately ahead. Shamans have kept the gnosis of the accessibility of the Other for millennia. Now it is global knowledge. The consequences of this situation have only begun to unfold" (McKenna 1992 263).
My entire life has been shaped by psychedelic experience. When I first took LSD in the heady times of 1968, I immediately realised that the universe was the generator of sentient life as a climax manifestation. This became a life long quest as a to establish how and why life exists in the universe. I realised that traditional religions defining life as a preparation for Judgment in Heaven or Hell were corrupt cosmologies in conflict with nature, and while Eastern paths invoked meditative approaches to enlightenment, the fact that, by the traditions’ own admission this could take lifetimes in rounds of reincarnation, also appeared to contradict realisable illumination.
“Such in outline, but even more purposeless, more devoid of meaning is the world which science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave, that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspirations, all the noon-day brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins - all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built. ... Brief and powerless is man's life, on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark …" (Bertrand Russell)
Towards the end of my first academic sabbatical, having also experienced being a sadhu in India and Tibetan Buddhist initiations, I took peyote with the Native American Church and also sacred mushrooms and later made two trips to the Peruvian Amazon to take ayahuasca. During this entire time, my entheogenic experiences were telling me that I needed to act on this knowledge received to protect the planet from a human-induced mass extinction of life.
As a child I had had a dream that I was standing in a parched jungle and all the animals were looking at me with heavy sorrow and disapproving recognition that I was a human that had reduced the earthly paradise to a scorched semi-desert. I had to run from this disapproval and found myself beside an endless queue of people waiting to find work in a dark factory surrounded by smoking chimneys. The dream left a permanent impression on me, long before the climate crisis became recognised. I have also had other formative precognitive dreams evidentially verified before the event.
Fig 17: Left and centre: Microcellular formations generated 1980 in my little lab from HCN and NH3 over H2O, sometimes with HCHO. Right: Spores of a psilocybe species at the same magnification used for size comparison (King 2020a).
I persuaded the university to let me build a small origins of life lab and succeeded in making primal microcells. The research overview has continued (King 2020a).
At the same time, during a mushroom velada in the 1980s, I realised that if the world hadn’t successfully resolved the world’s climate and biodiversity crises by the millennium in 2000, I would make a journey to the Amazon and Jerusalem to make a spiritual vigil to Earth’s natural Eden of tooth and claw and to Jerusalem as the religious nexus point, to pronounce the reunion of woman and man under the immortal banner of the Tree of Life hidden since the foundation of the world in Biblical terms. This I did on an academic sabbatical to the Amazon dedicated to biodiversity and in Jerusalem in the messianic tradition (King 2017), in the calculated assessment that the traditions themselves were not in a robust enough condition in their cosmology to stand the ground of veridical truth. Subsequently I co-authored "Sexual Paradox: Complementarity, Reproductive Conflict and Human Emergence."
I am now in my late seventies and had not partaken of the sacraments for seven years, because of the fact that acute closed angle glaucoma was liable to make me go blind overnight, due to psychedelics causing my pupils to dilate. Finally, having had the lenses of both eyes replaced with cataract surgery, I resigned myself to partake of the mushroom sacrament to return to the source of my life-long inspiration, before I left it so late that I would end up in a terminal condition before circumstances forced me into one last desperate encounter. I took only 1.5 g dried weight with some cannabis butter beforehand, to test a level that an elderly person who had not had the experience before could sustain without discomfort.
This is consistent with research which shows a highly non-linear saturation curve of the 5HT2a receptor with increasing plasma psilocin levels, consistent with a moderate dose of psilocin being able to induce significant effects, with little of the collateral fallout I have sometimes experienced on an heroic dose.
Fig 18: Dose-response curve for 5HT2a occupancy vs psilocin plasma concentration (Madsen et al. 2019). Psilocybin intake resulted in dose-related 5-HT2AR occupancies up to 72%. Plasma psilocin levels and 5-HT2AR occupancy conformed to a single-site binding model established by positron emission tomography (PET).
The resulting quantum change experience is detailed in fig 19, from what I wrote down on my descent the same evening reawakening my sense of life direction, creative insight and transformative urgency, just as my life has been spend on a journey as if I am tacking down a great fjord, with the gybing turn around taken at a velada to regain the pointers on my map of incarnation.
Dissolving the distinction between self and other is pivotal to this process. The internal model of reality supported by the conscious mind has an envelope of characteristics, ranging from our sensory experiences of the external world, to internal somatosensory, emotional and other representations of self and our ongoing thought processes. Thus subjective consciousness in the ego state is dynamically polarised between representations of subjective self and objective world. When these distinctions are released, the distinction between individual and universal consciousness can also become dissolved, leading to transcendence. Entheogens provide a visionary realisation of this deeper, primary consciousness, giving it experiential reality, by opening the doors of perception to the mind at large.
What is truly extraordinary about this process is that releasing the ego state, even transiently over several hours, can result in long-term integrative changes in the psyche, consistent with adaptive long-term neural potentiation, showing that the underlying processes of universal consciousness are not extinguished, but merely suppressed by the evolutionary shaping of the ego, thus attesting to the reality of the entire phenomenon.
Three weeks later, having feverishly worked day and night to achieve it, in completing the first full draft of this article, and the co-conceived accompanying one – Natty Dread and Planetary Resplendence – on replacing the Christian apocalyptic tradition based on the dying Saviour, with the immortal paradigm of the Tree of Life of the living planet, I have traversed my long journey that began in London in 1968.
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psychedelic "mind-manifesting" psychē (ψυχή, "soul"), dēloun (δηλοῦν, "to make visible, to reveal"), as opposed to hallucinogenic – inducing hallucinations and psychotomimetic – inducing psychotic alteration of behaviour and personality.
Galen Strawson (2006), who sees panpsychism as the only way to deal with the hard problem, has an insightful and provocative philosophical defence of his philosophy of consciousness in which he states forcefully; “What does physicalism involve? What is it, really, to be a physicalist? What is it to be a realistic physicalist, or, more simply, a real physicalist? Well, one thing is absolutely clear. You’re certainly not a realistic physicalist, you’re not a real physicalist, if you deny the existence of the phenomenon whose existence is more certain than the existence of anything else: experience, ‘consciousness’, conscious experience, ‘phenomenology’, experiential ‘what-it’s-likeness’, feeling, sensation, explicit conscious thought as we have it and know it at almost every waking moment.” I will not depend on his panpsychist perspective explicitly, as I am advancing a complementary description of the existential condition, but it serves to reinforce the primacy of conscious experience against reductionistic materialism.
An entheogen is a psychoactive substance that induces alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behaviour for the purposes of engendering spiritual development or otherwise in sacred contexts. (Wikipedia)
ergodic relating to or denoting systems or processes with the property that, given sufficient time, they include or impinge on all points in a given space and can be represented statistically by a reasonably large selection of points.