Spirituality, science and drugs in the digital age

Samuel Rayfield further confuses himself in the first of a three-part blog series on contemporary means to spirituality and belief.

dmt

A little background on DMT: dimethyltryptamine, illegal psychedelic drug, typically smoked; known to induce brief-yet-intense excursions to parallel worlds inhabited by beings in possession of truths they will try to convince you are higher than your own. It’s naturally occurring — in plants and potentially your brain — and its natural releases are thought to be linked to perceived alien abductions.

Accounts of DMT-world are often charactered by elf-, alien- or insect-like creatures inhabiting a lush and damp subterranean environment, or a landscape of shifting kaleidoscopic planes, or someplace completely different. Everything’s often erratically and vibrantly coloured, everything’s so utterly and convincingly perfect; all of it engineered to guide you, and only you, to all you’ve been missing out on.

These hallucinations are not entirely explained away by science, but a consensus is being approached. DMT hits at serotonin receptor sites and disrupts the visual processing system, thus explaining the dematerialised, amorphous world supposedly travelled to. The sheer vividness of the experience is thought to be powerful enough to convince the travellers of their destination’s existence and purity, though this is reasonably unproven. Seldom is one’s confidence in their singular memory enough to convince others that something really did happen, nor is one’s logic enough to convince believers that whatever happened probably didn’t.

Despite the scientific invalidity of DMT-world, many who return are convinced of its legitimacy and simultaneous existence. Debate between unquestioning psychonauts and sceptical scientists doesn’t exactly rage (let alone exist), but comparing the two means-to-belief illuminates certain aspects of the nature of belief and subjects believed in.

Fundamentally, scientists seek to disprove assumption by observation and experimentation – thereby, somewhat ironically, developing ideals eventually to become taken for granted, establishing a school of knowledge based on the scientific method. One who has experienced DMT-world may return with beliefs derived from the observations of their experimentation, and while they’re a little antithetical (despite notoriously waywardly narcotic scientists of years gone past), both operate on the penultimate, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

One may operate on a more complex empiricism than the other,  but the two remain tied by this fundamental philosophy. A belief is little more or less than something held to be true, and those who undergo a mystical experience intuitively believe the experience is a source of objective truth about the nature of reality – that is, the hotly contested territory of belief systems past and present.

It’s a place no culture – scientific, religious or otherwise – has not sought to explain. At its theoretical core, science (not without demonstrable reason) points to the Big Bang; religious or spiritual systems seek to attribute ulterior cause to acts of goodwill, misfortune, creation, destruction, etc. Those experienced in the psychedelic realm typically endorse ideas considered “mystical” — universal oneness, the continuation of life after death, etc. — but whether their ideas predate or are resultant of psychedelic drug use is undetermined. Similarly, whether psychedelic drug use leads to an openness of belief, or an openness of belief can lead to psychedelic drug use, is also undetermined.

While the above likely cleared nothing up, next week will be examined music and its effects on spirituality and belief throughout history, with particular attention given to its communal power.

Image: Metin Sanli

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