Psychedelic Information Theory

Shamanism in the Age of Reason

Psychedelic Information Theory : Chapter 02

Psychedelic Information Theory

Like dreams, psychedelics are catalysts for generating information in the human imagination. There are many theories about the origin of this information; the subconscious; repressed emotions; the collective unconscious; genetic memory; spirit entities; alien transmission; junk data from neural excitation; and so on. Regardless of the origin it is widely accepted that psychedelics do generate information, and not merely junk data of questionable value. Psychedelics excel at producing salient information which can have a profound impact on the beliefs and identity of the subject.

The information generated by psychedelics is usually personal, but it can become transpersonal as psychedelic insights are shared with friends and the public. The rate of psychedelic information flow can be measured by the amount of explicit influence psychedelics have over any given culture, and the rate of flow is different for every culture. Some cultures repress anything resembling psychedelic information while others make it central to their spirituality.1 Since the cultural revolution of the 1960s psychedelic information flow has erupted into Western culture at an unprecedented rate. This rate of modern psychedelic information flow has had its ups and downs, but overall has remained relatively constant even in the face of global prohibition.2  

The pathway of psychedelic information flow is simple and universally the same: 1) ingestion; 2) internal transmission; 3) internal integration; 4) cultural transmission; 5) cultural integration. Most psychedelic research focuses solely on internal transmission, the second stage of the psychedelic information process which is commonly called the trip. While the trip is certainly interesting it is still only one part of the larger overall process by which psychedelics influence both the individual and culture. Each part of this information process has its own patterns and predictable stages, and different portions of this text will attempt to illuminate one or more of these stages in the service of providing an overall understanding of how psychedelics impact culture. Below is a capsule summary of each stage in the psychedelic information process.


While it is difficult to define why people choose to take psychedelics, each society has its own rules which dictate who is allowed to ingest a psychedelic drug and in what context. In traditional settings ingestion is a spiritual exercise used to gain supernatural wisdom, and dosage is controlled ritually by the shaman. In modern Western culture the traditional rules have broken down and psychedelic ingestion has become complex and somewhat haphazard. In a modern context most people are introduced to psychedelics in mundane recreational circumstances, motivated by hedonism, curiosity, boredom, peer pressure, or rebellion. Sometimes an innate hunger for the mysterious drives ingestion. Typically the psychedelic user is seeking something, however vague that notion of seeking may be. 3

Internal Transmission

Internal transmission is where the psychedelic interacts with the neural network and new information is generated. Information in the psychedelic state is generated spontaneously within visual and audio hallucination; ideas which pop into the subject’s imagination; novel juxtapositions of previous concepts;  and removed perspectives that allow for new holistic analysis. This information can be literal or figurative; it can be abstract; it can come in words or phrases; it can be spoken or sung; it can be visual; it can emerge as epiphanies or brilliant ideas; it can be a recalled memory; it can be delivered by spirit entities in strange languages; and so on. The information density in a psychedelic session is layered, saturated, and colorfully detailed. Much of the information in a psychedelic hallucination may be accurately described as kaleidoscopic noise, but within this noise comes a wealth of salient content.4 

In physical terms psychedelics create new information via spontaneous activation and organization of sensory and perceptual networks. Psychedelic information is experienced via direct neural firing in the neocortex and is transferred to memory via the creation and strengthening of synaptic connections in the neural network.5 Psychedelic information generation takes energy, and the information processing capacities of the human brain are finite, and thus there is an upper limit to the amount of information that can be generated within a single psychedelic session before the brain begins to down-regulate in an attempt to return to baseline.6

Internal Integration

For many reasons there is loss of fidelity in the transmission of hallucinatory information from imagination into memory.7 Like a dream, memories of the psychedelic session must be compressed into manageable snippets that stand out within the larger wash of information. Although psychedelic hallucinations fade quickly they can have lasting emotional impact. How each person deals with the content of each experience is unique to their world view. Some people may choose to ignore content derived from the psychedelic experience; others may cherish anything they can remember and will scrutinize each vision in pursuit of higher metaphysical truth. During this process the information generated during the psychedelic trip is encoded into personal memory by forging and testing new synaptic pathways.

During post-psychedelic integration the subject may begin to re-assess and modify personal beliefs and behaviors. Cryptic and intense visions may be recalled over and over, or the subject may dwell obsessively on novel feelings experienced during their trip. The subject will typically review their psychedelic trip and create a lasting narrative of the journey, including what they experienced and what they learned. Integration is where the subject decides what happened in the experience. The content of the hallucination is not as important as the process by which the subject takes that content and shapes it into lasting memories, beliefs, and behaviors; this is the process of encoding psychedelic information into synaptic networks. Content generation without behavioral integration is essentially meaningless, so the true testament of psychedelic power is not the ability to produce visions, but the ability to imprint new information and transform belief.

Cultural Transmission

Psychedelic visions do not stay in the head; if they did there would be no psychedelic art, no psychedelic music, no psychedelic spirituality, and no psychedelic revolution. Psychedelics activate a process in which the realm of the psychological spills out into the realm of the physical. It is clear from 20th century history that psychedelics can fuel artistic expression, social experimentation, religious movements, and  political activism. There is no other class of drugs which can claim to have such powerful cultural sway.8 If psychedelics only produced hallucinations there would still be legitimate cause for fascination, but psychedelics also influence cultural movements, which makes them a global religious and political force to be reckoned with.

The ritual bonding of social groups though cultural transmission of psychedelic information is a subject that has been overlooked in almost all psychedelic research. Not only do psychedelics produce change at the individual level, they also produce changes at the group or tribal level, and thus they influence change in the social structures and goals of human culture. The spread of psychedelic information can be subtle or explicit, starting with the creation of art influenced by the psychedelic experience and culminating in the indoctrination of others into the psychedelic tribe through ritual sharing of the sacrament. Once a subject has been indoctrinated they too will spontaneously generate psychedelic information and may also begin sharing their new information with others. This information process cascades from person to person until the cultural transmission of psychedelic memes reaches a tipping point and becomes openly adopted and even celebrated by the cultural mainstream.

Cultural Integration

By conservative estimates perhaps 10% to 15% of the population has ever tried a hallucinogen.9 Despite such low levels of exposure the archetypes of psychedelic experience are well integrated into modern culture. Psychedelic subcultures (urban tribes) are active in every city on the planet. Annual psychedelic festivals, raves, and massives draw tens of thousands of people together from all continents.10 Psychedelic influences appear constantly in modern fashion, music, visual arts, film, television, consumer products, marketing, packaging, advertising, videogames, and so on. Despite years of prohibition the promise of psychedelic spirituality and psychedelic therapy is still fresh in the public’s imagination.11 The global cultural integration of psychedelic information may not be  complete, but it is measurably on its way.

It has only been 50 years since the cultural revolution of the 1960s, and the speed with which psychedelics have influenced global culture is impressive. Over the decades the use of psychedelics has jumped generations, and each new generation rediscovers and repurposes the psychedelic ritual for its own needs. There are religious and political forces actively seeking to control or stop the use of psychedelics, but if current trends continue the complete cultural integration of psychedelic information seems inevitable. There may soon come a time when there are more people in the psychedelic tribe than are excluded. When psychedelic indoctrination reaches a majority of any population then that culture can be described as being saturated with psychedelic information. A culture that has become saturated with psychedelic information will naturally recognize psychedelic ritual as a legitimate rite of passage or spiritual practice.12

Psychedelic Information Process

The psychedelic information process is an observable phenomenon that has influenced cultures throughout history and is now affecting modern global culture. At the center of this information process is the pharmacological action of a small number of molecules hitting a tiny subset of neural receptors for a relatively short duration of time. The ongoing information process generated by this small pharmacological interaction goes far beyond the normal range of what we expect drugs to accomplish. Because psychedelics defy pharmacological rationality they are misunderstood, feared, and revered as spiritual in origin. This misunderstanding drives the psychedelic information process into divergent streams of theory and mythology, creating the tapestry of psychedelic propaganda, confusion, and disinformation we have today.

The divergence of psychedelic information and existence of competing schools of psychedelic ideology demonstrates there is no one objective and true psychedelic ideology; any ideology can be influenced and amplified by the psychedelic information process. The psychedelic information process is neutral and ideology non-specific; it applies equally to learning, creativity, mind-control, brainwashing, mysticism, sorcery, and healing. The psychedelic process and psychedelic archetypes can be co-opted by any religious or political group for personal power gain, and psychedelics can be used as weapons as easily as they can be used as medicines or sacraments.13 The only constant between all divergent schools of psychedelic ideology is the physical process that stimulates the flow of novel information through human neural networks. The study of this information process is known as Psychedelic Information Theory.  

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Notes and References

[1] Psychedelic information flow within any culture is a function of religion and politics. Traditional shamanic cultures value psychedelic information as a ritual form of bonding, healing, and discovery, and encourage psychedelic information flow. Industrialized cultures with centralized beliefs view psychedelic information as subversive and anti-authoritarian, and repress psychedelic experimentation out of fear of losing centralized information control.

[2] A close scrutiny of late 20th century history indicates that there was a small decline in psychedelic interest in the late 1970s and 1980s, followed by a global resurgence of underground psychedelic interest in the 1990s, and a complete return to psychedelic research at the turn of the 21st century. Prohibition may slow the flow of psychedelic information, but it does not stop it.

[3] See “Modes of Psychedelic Use”.

[4] The content of psychedelic hallucinations has been described vividly in many places. See “Tripping” by Charles Hayes, or the Erowid Experience Valuts for hundreds of fascinating first person accounts.

[5] See “Psychedelic Neuroplasticity”

[6] Gresch PJ, Smith RL, Barrett RJ, Sanders-Bush E., 'Behavioral tolerance to lysergic acid diethylamide is associated with reduced serotonin-2A receptor signaling in rat cortex.'. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2005 Sep;30(9):1693-702.

[7] Hobson, J. Allan, 'The Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness'. MIT Press, 2001.

[8] Since psychoactive drugs shape politics and warfare around the world the claim that psychedelics are more influential on culture and cultural movements than other drugs can be easily disputed. However, psychedelics are unique in their ability to quickly catalyze tribal subcultures bent on spontaneous altruism, populist activism, and free radicalism.

[9] HHS/SAMHSA, Office of Applied Studies, 'Ecstasy, Other Club Drugs, & Other Hallucinogens'. Internet Reference, 2008.

[10] Modern psychedelic festivals can be traced to the “Be-ins” and “Acid Tests” of San Francisco in the late 1960s, made famous by Tom Wolfe's 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test'. These festivals evolved into Woodstock, the Grateful Dead circuit, the Rainbow Family, Rave culture, Burning Man, the Boom Festival, the Love Parade, and other gatherings around the world dedicated to psychedelic music, art, and culture. Attendance at the largest of these annual festivals is regularly in the tens to hundreds of thousands of people.

[11] The 2006 psilocybin and mysticism study by Roland Griffiths brought new enthusiasm to the notion of mixing psychedelic spirituality with clinical therapy.

[12] It is easy to claim that traditional tribal societies are saturated with psychedelic information, but modern society is not far behind. Western media is filled with psychedelic imagery and fascinated by altered states. In the United States ayahuasca and peyote are already recognized as legitimate religious sacraments within specific churches, and psychedelic drug experimentation is a common rite of passage among university students.

[13] Groups linked to the weaponized use of psychedelics include the Manson Family, the SLA, Aum Shinrikyo, the CIA, and the United States Department of Defense.

Citation: Kent, James L. Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason, Chapter 02, 'Psychedelic Information Theory'. PIT Press, Seattle, 2010.

Keywords: psychedelic, information, theory

Copyright: © James L. Kent, 2010. Some Rights Reserved. Please read copyright information before reproducing.