A Universe of Information
In the context of traditional psychedelic shamanism as practiced in South America, the mythological conception of reality held by the whole tribe stems from the effects of entheogenic plants upon the psyche of the shamanic voyager. And, as the acid gurus of the 1960s testified, worldviews are at stake when it comes to the use of psychedelics. Chemically instigate a change in an individual’s underlying concepts about reality, and culture transforms itself also.
In each of the above cases, reality is the issue at stake, along with the importance of the psychedelic experience in shaping it. Even without a psychedelic experience, Nature demands that we conceive it in some kind of organized way. Because we are woven into the very fabric of the Universe, we cannot ignore its true nature forever. Perhaps, for the most part, we conceive the nature of reality unconsciously, for we all carry around tacit assumptions and beliefs about the world. Like our consciousness, we take many things for granted and may hardly ever reflect upon them. What makes psilocybin so remarkable is its uncanny ability to take one’s precious store of reality concepts and shake them about vigorously so as to reveal just how fragile and shallow-rooted these ingrained beliefs might be. The true nature of reality then becomes a kind of “unfinished business” that simply must be dealt with. This is the clarion call of the psilocybin mushroom advocate. If we really wish to understand the reality process and the sense and significance of human life within it, entheogens offer us a path to the Other, a sentient and intentional agency made of information whose presence and teachings await us.
Assessing the Reality Situation
One cannot stop reality, and this makes its nature formidable regardless of what you believe. The sun warms us or burns us. The cold of winter bites at our flesh and our homeostatic bodies automatically respond by shivering. The relentless rush of our billion-cell biology propels us toward sex, always it seems, making us grope, cling, moan, and shudder. This same biological march also puts us to sleep every night. We awaken, and again there it is--the reality process. We are inescapably bound up in it like grains of sand caught up in an everlasting vortex of wind.
As I remarked in the introduction to this book, whatever you may have read, the ultimate nature of the reality process remains open to question. Science seems always to reveal more mystery as it delves into the heart of “matter.” What is more, science is done first and foremost to gather data. How this data is interpreted is another matter. What is a complex mechanical system to one scientist might be blatant proof of an organizing intelligence to another. And, as for the long sought-after super-theory that will be able to explain the totality of Nature in terms of, say, umpteen dimensional superstrings, or in terms of some convoluted mathematical equation that only a few institutionalized professors can really understand, these are likely to omit an explanation for consciousness and the mysteries of mind. Indeed, such a final theory, such a final equation scrawled upon a blackboard with one fell swoop of chalk, will probably serve only to confuse the average mind rather than enlighten it.
It seems apparent that if we open ourselves to the vast cosmic mystery of existence, then we could do a lot worse than pursue the implications of the psilocybin experience. To consume the sacred mushroom is to launch oneself wholeheartedly into the mystery of being, the mystery of our short existence within this big system we call Nature.
As it is, the nature of the Universe in which we find ourselves is defined by the prevailing conceptual systems built into our culture. In our case, the predominately reductive and materialistic paradigm favored by most of the science community shapes our views about reality. In the traditional scientific outlook that permeates our educational institutions and the media, there is no real room for any kind of transcendental aspect to Nature. Nature is there, Nature is eminently intelligible, we can learn how it works, and that’s really all there is to it. Suggesting that Nature has a spiritual dimension or an intentional quality is anathema to most scientists.
The entheogen advocate will doubtless have a stereotypical image of a hardnosed reductive scientist. It will be a he, and he will be old, scary, and grim faced, always waving a dry finger of admonishment at any talk of a so-called sentient and intentional Other. If psilocybin visions cannot be empirically measured in the lab then forget it, he will say. And if one points to the few scientific experiments that have attempted to quantify the psychedelic experience in some way, our gloomy specter will doubtless pick holes in the methodology and ask for more proof. He would maintain that these experiences are simply too subjective and too personal to base any objective claims about reality upon.
Still, as I hope I have demonstrated, psychedelic phenomenology flies in the face of claims that Nature lacks a spiritual side; or at least the psilocybin experience offers what I believe to be the most compelling reason to grant Nature an intent of some kind. This appears to be a neat and valid side step with which to bypass the bleak presence of the reductive materialist. Indeed, the real possibility that the reality process has a fantastically benign and purposefully smart aspect becomes readily apparent through psilocybin.
Psilocybin represents a catalytic agent of change in the domain of perceived reality, and this is why we shall now pursue the implications raised by the information-based propositions stated at the outset of this chapter. We are now armed and ready to review the bigger picture in the light of the psilocybin experience. This will prove to be astounding, so hold tight.