Research What Are You Reading...On Hallucinations

What Are You Reading…On Hallucinations

Hallucinations are difficult to explain, given that they have no objectively verifiable cause in the way many of our other experiences do. There are psychological states that contribute to them, and past experiences that make us more likely to have them, but their direct cause—to whatever extent they have one—is more difficult to track. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons hallucinations have had diverse explanations over time. Some thought them divine insights, others the result of bad diet, and still others the result of encountering parts of nature not normally perceivable. Even the Wikipedia page lists no less than 11 causes of hallucinations.

Philosophy has had to reconcile hallucinations with many of the claims it has made, such as the assertions that humans are primarily rational, that perception is an impingement upon the senses, and that God would never mislead. Their existence reveals aspects of our reality not easily categorizable using the scientific method or realist epistemologies. But what they can reveal about the nature of human consciousness could potentially revolutionize our understanding of ourselves. Here are some papers whose arguments can help in that process.


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  1. Philosophers have asserted that “humans are primarily rational”?? Oh my… Not any modern philosophers I hope, because such an assertion today would be in direct contradiction to easily available widely agreed upon facts. But anyway, moving along to the topic…

    The most interesting source of hallucinations that I’m aware of is the drug DMT. Here’s a quick intro for those unfamiliar with this substance.,N-Dimethyltryptamine

    For a more in depth examination of DMT check out this hour+ long documentary called The Spirit Molecule.

    Or, if you prefer, the same video can be viewed on Netflix.

    If you watch the video I think you’ll agree that DMT is rich territory for philosophers to explore. I found it fascinating myself and have watched it a number of times.

    The documentary does such a good job of providing an introduction that I won’t attempt to repeat it all here. A few quick points…

    1) A key point of interest for me is that users report they experience a completely different reality which feels more real to them than the everyday experience we call “the real world”.

    2) Of course the question arises of whether DMT allows humans to access another realm than our unaided senses can experience, or whether it is a drug induced illusion.

    3) But this may not be the best question, because it’s essentially unanswerable for now, and whatever the nature of the experience it appears to have a profound philosophical effect on some users long after the drug has worn off. A number of users in the video report that they experienced death while on DMT, found the peace on the other side, and returned to normal life unafraid of what is to come for all us.

    BTW, the video focuses on a scientific investigation of DMT, and a number of academics, scientists, and study subjects are interviewed. It’s not a hippy commune story, just so you know.

    There’s much more to it, and I’m not doing it justice here. Imho, the video is essential viewing.

  2. After you watch the DMT video, we might discuss things like…

    Our eyes capture only a tiny fragment of the electromagnetic spectrum. What we see when we observe reality with our eyes is not “reality” but rather a thin slice of reality. But because we all have essentially the same eyes and all see pretty much the same slice, a group consensus has grown around the notion that what we see in our everyday human experience is what’s real.

    The DMT phenomena suggests, but of course does not prove, that our minds may be in a similar situation. Our rational minds, like our eyes, may see only a slice of reality. The rules of reason that philosophy is built upon are useful within the slice of reality our rational mind can access.

    So, in this theory, reason is not “wrong” but neither is it a “one true way” applicable everywhere. Like our eyes, reason is useful, but also very limited in comparison to reality as a whole. Or so this theory goes.

    What DMT seems to provide is not just an edited version of this reality, such as is the case with drugs like LSD, but rather an experience of a leap in to an entirely different reality. What is experienced may not actually be a different reality, but it seems to be experienced that way at least.

    But the phrase “another reality” isn’t quite right. I believe DMT users are reporting that what they experience seems like an underlying structure of our everyday reality. Not a different place, but a look behind the curtain of this place.

    To return to the eye analogy, DMT may be proving users with access to a wider slice of the electro-magnetic spectrum, so to speak.

    I’ve not used the drug myself and even if I had I wouldn’t be able to claim that the above speculation is correct. I’m claiming only that DMT seems to open a door on many topics which would be of interest to philosophers.

    Watch the video and comment please!

  3. Here’s a link to “The Essential Guide To DMT”. A well written one page overview, with footnotes for those wishing to dig deeper.


    Here’s a 30 minute YouTube vid from a DMT user describing the experience.


    Here’s an article describing what researchers know about DMT, plus more description of the experience.

    Here’s some selected quotes from that article:

    “According to personal accounts, a DMT trip is different to hallucinating on other drugs, such as psilocybin (mushrooms) or LSD, because it takes you some place completely different to this world, as opposed to modifying your relationship with it. ”

    “A common theme among users is the opinion that tripping on DMT feels “more real than real.”

    “In the Amazon, ayahuasca is a combination of DMT and a plant that contains an inhibitor of the enzyme that normally breaks down DMT. The result is a DMT drink that has been used for over 500 years.”

  4. Upon hearing of DMT most people will likely assume that it is just another intoxicant which creates illusions in the brain. Most will probably feel that the fact that DMT creates compelling extraordinary experiences is only mildly interesting because, as they see it, those experiences are just a form of fantasy. This is a reasonable theory which of course could be true.

    This perspective becomes less reasonable if it comes in the form of an automatic assumption which is taken to be an obvious given without examination or investigation. Here’s a quick example to illustrate how vulnerable such assumptions might be.

    Like most of us, I have a cup of coffee in the morning and find the writing flows much easier, almost effortlessly, when my brain is under the influence of caffeine. Does the fact that my brain has been stimulated by caffeine make whatever I’m thinking and writing automatically wrong? Is my mental experience under the influence of caffeine a fantasy realm?

    Or, would it be more accurate to say that caffeine assists my brain in finding concepts and words that would not be readily available otherwise?

    Why do we typically automatically assume that a caffeine influenced experience is real, while a DMT experience is unreal?

    Well of course DMT is a far more powerful drug and the extreme experiences it produces are far removed from our everyday normal human experience. So it’s entirely valid and reasonable to question those experiences.

    But is it valid and reasonable to not question our assumption that DMT experiences are imaginary?

    If caffeine can assist me in breaking the chains of the group consensus, could it be that DMT could give me peek in to the machinery of reality which lies hidden behind the curtain of rational thought?

    PS: If anyone is reading any of this, could you please let me know? You don’t have to enter in a conversation if you prefer not to, just type the word “reading” and hit submit, that will suffice. Thanks!


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