Altered States: Really the Devil’s Playground or just the Next Misunderstood Magic?

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Some fascinating new research has emerged recently on a subject that occupies a station of great controversy in my own mind and also in that of many folks who might be reading this.  For the uncertain: “An altered state of consciousness (ASC), also called altered state of mind or mind alteration, is any condition which is significantly different from a normal waking beta wave state.”  I hope that tonight I can offer some cogent point-counterpoint comparisons that will at least get you thinking, since I know I can’t stop.

In some of the previous articles where I cataloged the points presented at Bible Study,  I referenced a general aspect of Christian beliefs that considers altered states of consciousness to be dangerous and something to be avoided at all costs.  Typically, the reason for avoidance is the fact that the participant is willingly leaving themselves open to various types or influence or attack, namely on the spiritual, in some cases demonic level.  Often opponents of the practice will reference hypnosis as an example, where a person relinquishes their will to another individual entirely, without knowing what might be asked of them or to what humiliation they might be subjected.  There are significant factors regarding hypnosis, however, that are contrary to popularly held impressions of the act.  I personally feel that while it isn’t something to be taken lightly or played with, there is a place for hypnosis in a controlled, professional environment, for the purpose of uncovering repressed memories and the like.

So what is the emerging research that has prompted my exposition on this matter?  Imagine, if you will, the implications of being able to “untangle” your brain via the act of removing previously established neuronal connections, essentially returning your brain to the hyper-receptive state that you enjoyed as a newborn.  Doesn’t that sound interesting?  Sounds like it could be used for a myriad of options, like the following:

  • Perhaps learning multiple languages, something that is simple for a child’s brain to adopt, but adults vainly struggle with because their brains have already assigned all the appropriate language pathways in the brain and associated them with familiar sensations.
  • How about being able to think more creatively, having a more uninhibited imagination, or just being able to connect the hypothetical dots more easily?
  • Here’s a tough one: how about being able to once again see or sense something as an adult that you had once seen as a child, but had successfully convinced yourself of its fantastical nature?

Would these shake your perceptions a bit?  I wouldn’t blame you in the slightest, but perhaps a good shaking is exactly what our perceptions need.  By the way, the drug in this case is lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD or acid.  Yep, acid, the big bad wolf of hallucinogens, when its effects are observed and measured scientifically, can actually demonstrate profoundly positive effects.  As stated by Dr Carhart-Harris here: “Normally our brain consists of independent networks that perform separate specialized functions, such as vision, movement and hearing – as well as more complex things like attention. However, under LSD the separateness of these networks breaks down and instead you see a more integrated or unified brain.”  This is one of the major reasons why experimenters with hallucinogens cite a profound connectedness with the world/universe as a major component of their experiences.  Existence as a whole is so incredibly complex and intimidating that our brains have evolved (or been designed) in such a way that they adapt to only the more important and often used types of stimuli.  Rewiring, then, can offer incredible new opportunities in cognition, creativity, and open-mindedness at the expense of some very brief confusion.  Even micro-doses of LSD have been shown to dramatically increase creativity in professionals by intensifying the connection between the visual cortex and other parts of the brain, essentially making the brain more agile and flexible.

LSD isn’t the only method of achieving these types of altered states, however.  There are of course other chemicals, such as psilocybin (found in “magic” mushrooms), MDMA (ecstasy), and DMT (dimethyltryptamine), a naturally occurring compound found in the human body that is theorized to play an important role in thought processing, dreaming and near-death experiences, as well as meditation and out-of-body experiences.  Altered states of consciousness can also be brought about by physiological factors, such as extreme lack of food or sleep, or even chronic conditions that effect mental state, such as epilepsy.  Lastly, dreaming is regularly considered an altered state of consciousness, and lucid states are often linked with subsequent experiences of astral projection (personal experiences here abound, I will expand another time).

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My question then, spurred not only by this but myriad other concerns as well, becomes this: if altered states can occur so readily, either via naturally occurring chemicals or regular physical changes or simple dreaming, why is the assumption of negativity so prevalent?

I want you to stop, just for a single minute, and consider just how little you and I know about everything.  By everything I mean EVERYTHING.  Be honest with yourself about it, this is important.

It wasn’t that long ago that we had no idea what wifi or even electricity was, and just a short stint before that society was burning witches for damn near everything they didn’t understand.  So as smart as we may feel in this enlightened age, this may just be another example of us thinking we now know everything when really we’ve only reached the next step on an endless upward climb.  Perhaps our assumptions about the unknown these days are yet another representation of Arthur C. Clarke’s most poignant words: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

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Here’s a unicorn.  Could be magic, could be a robot, who knows.

Okay, now perform the imagination test again, yet this time consider these things when you do:

  • Perhaps chemicals are a naturally occurring way for us to reacquire the cognitive abilities we once had, and utilizing them might enable us to attain levels of spiritual connection that we have long since lost
  • Maybe abilities such as lucid dreaming, astral projection, remote viewing, and other such frowned-upon things are simply a next step in the evolution of our mental abilities.  Even in the Bible we were promised gifts such as dreams, visions, discernment, etc.; couldn’t these be something of God that we simply don’t fully understand yet?

Biblical scriptures give us incredible wisdom and numerous answers to our everyday quandaries.  Most Christians need to admit, though, that there are questions arising these days to which the Bible may not have exact answers, only guidelines.  As long as I continue to observe this marked divide between spirituality according to Biblical scripture and the scientific understanding of our universe and its quirks, I will continue to pursue evolving answers with my God and understanding of the new tools that might be at our disposal.

In other words, JARED SMASH! 😉

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