Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Subjectivity in Hallucinogenic Research

Langlitz' think-piece, "The persistence of the subjective in neuropsychopharmacology: observations of contemporary hallucinogen research" had some interesting hallucinogen-research-porn:

When I arrive in the electroencephalogram (EEG) laboratory the experiment
has already started. The room is lit only by the computer screen showing the
subject’s brainwaves. Looking through the observation window I cannot see
anything at first glance. But as my eyes get used to the darkness I begin to
make out the shaven-headed Zen master dimly illuminated by the monitor
in front of him sitting bolt upright in the leather armchair. A tangled mass of
wires seems to be coming out of the back of his head disappearing in the dark.
Jan is a Swiss meditation teacher in his 50s, to whom has been administered
the hallucinogenic drug psilocybin to examine how it affects his ability to
meditate. The young neuroscientist who invited me to witness this measure-
ment in Franz Vollenweider’s Zurich laboratory ‘Neuropsychopharmacol-
ogy and Brain Imaging’ is excited: while meditating, Jan’s brainwaves are
particularly ‘calm’, he explains to me, showing comparatively strong activity
in the alpha range.

After the measurement, Jan looks serene and happy. The
researcher interviews him to learn more about the experience that went along
with those unusual EEG patterns. Jan recounts that at the beginning he saw
hideous faces and carnivalesque processions of ghosts. But then he remem-
bered the Tibetan Book of the Dead and reminded himself that these were
only projections of his ego. Eventually, he resorted to a simple mantra that he
had learned as a novice, a meditation over two words coupled with special
attention to the physiological processes of inhalation and exhalation. Thereby,
he managed to repel the spooky spectacle and was elevated to a ‘higher state
of consciousness’ culminating in an experience of oneness with the universe.
Much to his surprise and even disappointment this experience of cosmic unity
was associated with the name of Jesus. It must have to do with his upbring-
ing in a Christian family, he muses. He was relieved and delighted when subse-
quently thinking of Buddha further deepened this state of ego-dissolution.
Compared to his everyday consciousness, he says, he gained a much more
profound insight into the fact that the ground of all existence is love. ‘Divine
love’, he specifies, ‘or even better: being.’ This occurred to him as an eternal
truth: ‘It has always been that way and it will always be that way. When
reaching that state’, he tells us, ‘I thought: This is it! This is it!’ The state he
had been striving for during three decades of meditation exercises.

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