Psychedelic Information Theory

Shamanism in the Age of Reason

Psychedelic Information Theory : Chapter 01

The Value of Psychedelic Information

A text called ‘Psychedelic Information Theory’ raises the question, “What is Psychedelic Information, and why should we care?” Generally speaking, psychedelic information is any information created in the mind of the subject during a psychedelic experience. Psychedelic information is generated spontaneously in reaction to the psychedelic catalyst. Usually the subject has no control over the information generated in a psychedelic experience. Psychedelic information is often previously unknown to the subject and may appear to originate from an external source or materialize out of thin air. Psychedelic information usually takes the form of visual, audio, and sensory hallucination, but can also be abstract or gestalt in nature. Finally, psychedelic information also applies to any works of art or concepts that originate from or evoke psychedelic experience.

This text focuses primarily on the physiological process underlying the spontaneous generation of psychedelic information, and how that information influences both personal and cultural identity. The fact that psychedelic information makes its way into popular culture is proof that humans find the psychedelic experience valuable, but it is still ambiguous if psychedelics add any real value to culture. Research has shown that spiders are affected by psychedelics,1 as are rats,2 cats,3 monkeys,4 and so on. However, there is little evidence that information other than noise is generated during psychedelic episodes in animals; the experience does not mean anything beyond a specific derangement of the senses. In contrast, the human adaptation to translate subjective experience into meaningful narrative is uniquely exploited by psychedelics. Psychedelics target perception, memory, and the complex emotions attached to symbols and concepts; the core functions humans rely on to formulate belief. Because of this exploit, the result of the psychedelic catalyst in humans is the spontaneous generation of meaningful eidetic information which is then imprinted into semantic memory.

Any perceptual system can have a psychedelic experience,5 but it takes abstract thinking and the interconnection between symbols, concepts, and emotions to make psychedelic information meaningful. Thus, the psychedelic experience does not create information in all forms of consciousness; the psychedelic experience only generates meaningful information in systems of consciousness with the capacity for abstract reasoning via symbolic logic and emotional attachment. Presumably any conscious system which emulates the functions of human abstract reasoning will also similarly generate meaningful information during a psychedelic experience.

The Value of Information

Within the set of information valuable to humans there are domains of descending importance. First there is information valuable to all organisms (biological information), then there is information valuable to all humans (species information), then there is information valuable only to a specific local group of humans (cultural information), and then there is information valuable only to a single human (personal information). All biological information and the most important bits of species information are genetic and are preserved through natural selection. Within the domain of human species importance there is also technological information (such as fire, tools, language, music, agriculture, science, etc.) which are culturally agnostic and serve the needs of the entire species equally. Technological information of species-level importance is equated with high value and will be adopted by all cultures over a short period. Species-level information has high durability and changes very slowly over time.

Cultural information falls in the category of language-based memes and regional or tribal traditions. Cultural information may be shared across cultures or may be restricted to a specific region or subculture. Cultural information is considered to be of medium value, low durability, and changes rapidly over time as the memes and traditions of culture change. Religion and artwork are examples of cultural information that typically only have value to their culture of origin, but occasionally ascend to species-level importance. Finally there is personal information, which is valuable only to a single individual. Personal information changes rapidly, is subject to experience and whim, and is only useful over the lifetime of the organism. Personal information has very low durability and low overall value.

The Value of Psychedelic Information

Psychedelic information is generated within the domain of the personal; yet many people who take psychedelics perceive the information as having species-level importance. There are a few reasons for this phenomena. The first, and easiest, is that psychedelics create states of mania and delusions of grandeur in which the subject feels that he or she is the most brilliant person on the planet, or that they are receiving supernatural prophecy. Secondly, the subject may experience archetypal visions or sensations of transcendence that are perceived to be of high religious or mystical importance. Thirdly, the subject may experience a deconstruction of consciousness associated with animal consciousness, reptilian consciousness, plant consciousness, the Gaian mind, genetic-level intelligence, or deep species memory; information perceived to be of value to all humans or all living creatures. Because psychedelics produce all of these experiences they are routinely perceived as being of high value to the entire species.

Psychedelics are obviously useful in the domain of the personal; shamanism and psychedelic therapy rely on the information function of psychedelics to diagnose and heal. In the cultural domain psychedelics can be employed in ritual to build strong religious or tribal groups; they can be used in healing or sorcery; or they can be a catalyst for innovation and creative expression. Beyond this their value is ambiguous. There are some debates to be made in this area, such as pointing out that Francis Crick envisioned the spiral structure of DNA after he ingested LSD,6 or that LSD helped Kary Mullis think up the PCR process that earned him a Nobel Prize in genetics.7,8 To counter these arguments, both Crick and Mullis had been studying molecular biology for years trying to crack those very problems; LSD cannot take credit for anything more than helping Crick and Mullis organize their thoughts in a new way. We can point to great discoveries as examples of psychedelic information, but only a tiny fraction of all psychedelic information can claim this level of importance. Worse than this, erroneous psychedelic information claiming species-level importance has negative cultural value and dilutes the overall information marketplace, making psychedelic information almost statistically worthless.9

Probability dictates that most psychedelic information will have little or moderate value, and that the rare piece of psychedelic information will have extreme negative or positive value. It also follows logically that the more times a subject takes psychedelics the more likely they will generate information of high positive or negative value. Similarly, the more often a subject takes psychedelics the more likely they are to latch onto and subsequently reinforce information of high perceived value, either positive or negative. In this case the psychedelic becomes an information imprinting tool. In psychedelic imprinting the information is always subjectively perceived to be of high value, even if it is of low or negative cultural value.10

Negative and Positive Information Value

It is easy to demonstrate that psychedelic information has value; cultures that use psychedelics as sacraments place high value on the information they receive; people will trade hard-earned cash for a psychedelic experience. But because the quality of psychedelic information has such a wide range it is easy to perceive psychedelics as having no value or, in the argument of prohibition, negative value. Psychedelic information with negative value can be described as that which is delusional, paranoid, false, or subverts the health of the individual or society. Negative psychedelic experiences, or bummers, are a commonly reported element of the psychedelic experience, but this does not necessarily make the information negative. Some users claim that negative experiences have value because they provide emotional insight; others report that negative psychedelic experiences cause permanent psychological damage, which is extremely negative. In rare cases people act out and harm themselves or commit suicide on psychedelics. Obviously these are extreme examples of negative value, and these extreme examples are usually linked to mixing drugs, drug binging, or overdosing. There is an optimal dose range for any psychedelic substance; reports of negative effects go up once the optimal dose range is surpassed.11

Conversely, there is a range of psychedelic experience that is just as extreme but positive in value; the spiritual or therapeutic or entheogenic experience that adds value to the user and their culture. Having an extremely positive psychedelic experience does not happen by accident; there is nuance involved in getting the proper dose, finding the right setting, and so on. By contrast, having a negative psychedelic experience is almost always an accident due to improper dose or setting. Therefore, the positive value of a psychedelic experience can be predicted and controlled up to a certain dose range, but beyond that the potential positive value drops and potential negative value increases.

Shamanism, or the practice of using psychedelics in ritual, employs specialized techniques to guide psychedelic information along desired pathways. Influencing and imprinting psychedelic information along positive pathways is perceived as spiritual, enlightening, and therapeutic; influencing or imprinting psychedelic information along negative pathways is perceived as mind control, black magic, or sorcery. Although the value of psychedelic information generated in any single episode is ambiguous, the practice of shamanism is a durable technology with species-wide application. Thus, shamanism is a technological subset of psychedelic information with high value to the entire species, even though the practice of shamanism can be employed to both positive or negative effect.

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Notes and References

[1] Christiansen A, Baum R, Witt P, 'Changes In Spider Webs Brought About By Mescaline, Psilocybin And An Increase In Body Weight'. JPET April 1962 vol.136 no.1 31-37.

[2] Butters, Nelson, 'The effect of LSD-25 on spatial and stimulus perseverative tendencies in rats'. Psychopharmacology, Volume 8, Number 6 / November, 1966

[3] Trulson M, Howell G, 'Ontogeny of the behavioral effects of lysergic acid diethylamide in cats'. Developmental Psychobiology Volume 17 Issue 4, Pages 329 - 346

[4] Jarvik M, Chorover S, 'Impairment by lysergic acid diethylamide of accuracy in performance of a delayed alternation test in monkeys'. Psychopharmacology, Volume 1, Number 3 / May, 1960

[5] See "What is Consciousness?"

[6] Rees, Alun, 'Nobel Prize genius Crick was high on LSD when he discovered the secret of life'. Mail on Sunday, 8 August 2004.

[7] Mullis, Kary, 'Dancing Naked in the Mind Field'. Vintage, NY, 2000.

[8] Rabinow, Paul, 'Making PCR: a story of biotechnology'. University of Chicago Press, 1996

[9] The psychedelic community produces a new guru with a "world-shaking" prophecy every decade or so, and the cultural contributions of these gurus trends from pseudo-scientific to outright fantastical. It is often difficult to tell if the actual contributions of psychedelic celebrities outweigh the more nonsensical memes they propagate.

[10] Psychedelic imprinting can take many forms, and in some cases negative information can be imprinted into identity. Brainwashing is the act of imprinting another person against their will, which is viewed as negative. Self-brainwashing is the act of imprinting yourself with negative information either by choice or error. In self-brainwashing negative information typically assumes explicit paranoid or messianic themes. Extreme cases of psychedelic self-brainwashing will mimic elements of psychosis and persistent delusional disorder. See "Psychedelic Neuroplasticity".

[11] Hasler F, Grimberg U, Benz M, Huber T, Vollenweider F, 'Acute psychological and physiological effects of psilocybin in healthy humans: a double-blind, placebo-controlled dose-effect study'. Psychopharmacology, Volume 172, Number 2 / March, 2004

Citation: Kent, James L. Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason, Chapter 01, 'The Value of Psychedelic Information'. PIT Press, Seattle, 2010.

Keywords: psychedelic, information

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