Getting high and doing Psi: Research on hallucinogens and psychic ability, Part 1
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite” (William Blake)
In this article, I will provide the beginnings of a condensed timeline of the use of psychedelic drugs in the research of paranormal abilities. Special thanks to David Luke for providing this information in the form of a comprehensive article.
1954 — Aldous Huxley advocates Henri Bergson’s notion of the brain as a filter of memory and sensory experience, whose purpose is to contract perception and reduce the surplus of information to prevent us from being overwhelmed and to allow the survival of the organism. However, Bergson argued that we could have unrestricted access to all information about any point in spacetime if this filter was overcome. Huxley argued that psychedelic drugs could be used in this manner, suggesting that the use of psychedelics toward this end meant that these chemicals were the occasion, rather than the cause proper, of paranormal experiences. These drugs, for Huxley, thus override a kind of “reducing valve” that otherwise constricts what information enters into our mental and perceptual fields, and what is excluded. Thus, there is a conceptual overlap with Dr. Courtney Brown’s hypothesis for the causal mechanism by which remote viewing is possible, namely, the subspace aspect or higher self is able to siphon its information into the lower self or ego through manipulation of this reducing valve.
1993 — Prepubescent children are found to exhibit heightened ESP ability at 3 a.m., when the pineal gland’s nocturnal chemicals are at peak concentrations in the brain, as opposed to 8 p.m. (Satyanarayana, Rao, & Vijaylakshmi, 1993). Intriguingly, this effect was not present among pubescent children. Subsequent research has found that there is a significant enhancement in dream precognition scores at 3 a.m. compared to 8 a.m. (Luke, Zychowicz, Richterova, Tjurina, & Polonnikova, 2010, 2012). This may be because the pineal gland is less active after puberty.
2001 — Vollenweider and Geyer (2001) — Vollenweider and Geyer (2001)
“proposed that information processing in cortico-striatothalamo-cortical (CSTC) feedback loops is disrupted by psychedelics via 5-HT (serotonin) receptor agonism (specifically 5-HT2A receptors), thereby inhibiting the “gating” of extraneous sensory stimuli and inhibiting the ability to attend selectively to salient environmental features. Furthermore, psychedelics are also thought to induce presynaptic release of glutamate from thalamic afferents, leading to a simultaneous overload of internal information in the cortex. It is thought that these combined information overload effects are at least partly responsible for the hallucinogenic experience with these drugs, which are known to induce greatly altered or amplified incoming sensory information, as is indicated by an increased startle effect (Vollenweider, 2001).”
Thus, Vollenweider and Geyer suggest a more specific account of the causal mechanisms for what Huxley and Bergson suggested concerning the role of the brain as a constricting filter or reducing valve that specifies what is useful for the organism’s survival and excludes what it deems irrelevant.
This same year, Roney-Dougal (2001) drew parallels between shamanic trances, psychosis, dream states, and psychedelic states, all of which, he suggests, belong to the same continuum of transliminal states. Transliminality (“going beyond the threshold”) is a concept proposed by parapsychologist Michael Thalbourne, an Australian psychologist at the University of Adelaide, who defined it as hypersensitivity to stimuli, especially material that arises from the unconscious. The original scale used to measure this trait had 29 items, while the revised version was reduced to 17 items, and assessed things like proneness to fantasy and mystical experience, absorption, hyperaesthesia, magical ideation, dream interpretation, and manic experience.
The revised scale was positively correlated with seven types of dream experiences: pre lucid dreams (conscious of possibly dreaming but unsure), archetypal dreams (carrying a sense of awe and fascination and/or encounters with unusual beings), fantastic nightmares (intensely vivid and upsetting dreams), control dreams (a traumatic real event is relived) and night terrors. It is positively correlated, as a tendency, with openness to experience and negatively correlated with tough-mindedness and self-control, and overlaps conceptually with Ernest Hartmann’s concept of “boundaries of the mind” and the related Boundary Questionnaire.
The Boundary Questionnaire consists of 145 five-point scales covering the following 12 areas:
- unusual experiences
- interpersonal relationships
- opinions about children
- opinions about organizations
- opinions about people, nations, and groups
- opinions about beauty and truth.
Research supporting the correlation of schizotypy with transliminality has been found in brain scan studies:
“Transliminality reflects individual differences in the threshold at which unconscious processes or external stimuli enter into consciousness. Individuals high in transliminality possess characteristics such as magical ideation, belief in the paranormal, and creative personality traits, and also report the occurrence of manic/mystic experiences. The goal of the present research was to determine if resting brain activity differs for individuals high versus low in transliminality. We compared baseline EEG recordings (eyes-closed) between individuals high versus low in transliminality, assessed using The Revised Transliminality Scale of Lange et al. (2000). Identifying reliable differences at rest between high- and low-transliminality individuals would support a predisposition for transliminality-related traits. Individuals high in transliminality exhibited lower alpha, beta, and gamma power than individuals low in transliminality over left posterior association cortex and lower high alpha, low beta, and gamma power over the right superior temporal region. In contrast, when compared to individuals low in transliminality, individuals high in transliminality exhibited greater gamma power over the frontal-midline region. These results are consistent with prior research reporting reductions in left temporal/parietal activity, as well as the desynchronization of right temporal activity in schizotypy and related schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Further, differences between high- and low-transliminality groups extend existing theories linking altered hemispheric asymmetries in brain activity to a predisposition toward schizophrenia, paranormal beliefs, and unusual experiences.”
Those who score high on this tend to have lower self-control, lower rule-consciousness, and greater openness to change, abstractedness, as well as sensory hypersensitivity. Other interesting correlations have been found as well.
2011–2012 — Cahart-Harris et. al find that reduced cerebral blood flow in various parts of the brain, especially the area responsible for the “default mode network,” which is important in introspection and high-level constructs like “self” and “ego,” leading to “a state of unconstrained cognition.” Luke suggests here that the disruption of the sensory gating function discussed by Vollenweider and the reduced activity in the default mode network discussed by Carhart-Harris could function as the neurochemical mechanism of action of ESP, regardless of whether psychedelics are present either endogenously (such as natural DMT in the brain) or ingested exogenously.