MIND|BODY|WORLD: Outrageous Sensations! What Can We Learn from LSD? Part II

In consciousness on April 18, 2009 at 5:37 pm

What do drugs like LSD teach us?

LSD is actually just a metaphor here. There are plenty of cases in the world which reveal the limits (or rather, the ‘limitlessness’) of human perception. These ‘tales from strange lands’  constantly remind us how our conventional and normal version of reality is a construction of our brains. Change some of the underlying chemistry, and the same brain is capable of experiencing things that, in our conventional mode, we can never even imagine happening…

All brain functions are drug-induced

To quote blogger LSD Research: “Basically, mental experiences are drug-induced experiences, whether they are endogenous produced compounds or exogenous compounds.”  What does that mean?

Exogenous compounds are chemicals in the outside world which a person may take in. LSD is one example. On the other hand, endogenous compounds are natural chemicals which are a part of our body machinery and play a role in running our body. Insulin is an example.

Taking along the message from one neuron to the next, all the way from the eyes through to the brain, are naturally occurring chemicals called ‘neurotransmitters’. When a neurotransmitter is released it interacts with another category of chemicals found on the surface of the next neuron, called receptors. The ultimate action of this interaction is either to activate the neuron or to stop it from activating. Thus different neurotransmitter-receptor combinations in different areas of the brain form the basis for execution of different brain tasks.

The ‘drugs’ we are endowed with limit our ‘reality’

As we saw in the Part I of this post, LSD interferes with serotonin’s inhibitory role in the portion of the brain devoted to visual perception, namely, the visual  cortex. Apparently, serotonin plays a role in the regulation of our perception in face of a bombardment of stimuli at any time from the environment. It seems that the brain has to screen out a lot of information coming in through the eyes in order to optimize our survival as we may not be able to handle such an influx.

In the words of wikipedia: The brain, with which you perceive the world, is made up of neurons “buzzing” at 50 cycles a second, while the world as it exists in reality, is made up of electro-magnetic radiation oscillating at 500 trillion cycles a second. This means that the human brain cannot nearly keep up with the ‘realness of reality.’

Timothy Wilson observes in his book Strangers to Ourselves: the brain can absorb about 11 million pieces of information a second, of which it can process about 40 consciously.

Similarly, Bill Hammel, with reference to time perception, writes:  To a large extent, the assumption of the ontology of time, as we perceive it, is a consequence of our neurochemistry of perception; we have great difficulty in conceiving of other precisely because we are awash in this construction like the proverbial fish in water…… primitively we immediately tend to interpret the world around us in terms of the cognitively processed sensations available to us.

Can reality be directly perceived?

It seems it cannot. So the question really is… how far can we trust ‘evidences’ and ‘proofs’ promulgated by a group of ‘empiricists‘ awashed in the proverbial construction which severly limits what they can and cannot perceive…? In other words, what is the validity of the empirical method in face of a reality that is far more complicated than we like to believe?


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