Posts Tagged ‘sensation’

MIND|BODY|WORLD: Outrageous Sensations!- What can we learn from LSD? Part I

In consciousness on April 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm

LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) is a psychoactive drug which brings about weird changes in our perception.

Before the drug was banned in the late 1960s in view of potential risks in taking it, a lot of research had been done in clinical settings. Many users also published reports of their experiences. Although the effects of LSD vary depending upon the dosage, the mood of the user and the setting, certain common trends have been observed.

Enhanced visual perception

The first prominent effect of the drug is an enhanced sensitivity of our perceptual faculties:

Random details of my surroundings suddenly stood out strongly, and somehow appeared to be ‘meaningful. -Dr. Rudolf Gelpke.

Strange shapes and patterns are seen even when the eyes are closed. When its discoverer, Albert Hoffman, first became intoxicated with it, he reported seeing fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors with his eyes closed. Ordinary objects and surfaces seem to ripple as if breathing.

moire patterns are enhanced under LSD

moire patterns are enhanced under LSD


Often, intense depersonalization is experienced in this early stage. A user realized that “she was unable to distinguish her body from the chair she was sitting on or from her lover’s body.” (Frosch, Robbins, & Stern, 1965). According to Dr. Gelpke, my own hands somehow were in my way: I put them in my pockets, let them dangle, entwined them behind my back . . . as some burdensome objects, which must be dragged around with us and which no one knows quite how to stow away.

Distorted sense of time

Time seems to be stretching, repeating itself, changing speed or stopping (wikipedia).

It felt like everything that was going to happen, everything that had just happened, and everything that was happening for about 3 seconds before and 3 seconds after where I was in time, was condensed into one moment. [http://www.erowid.org/experiences/exp.php?ID=4048]


Colors are heard and voices are seen: synaesthesia

Here is the experience of a 25-year old advertising agent, related by John Cashman, taken from Hoffman’s book:

I think it was several minutes before I realized that the light was changing color kaleidoscopically with the different pitch of the musical sounds, bright reds and yellows in the high register, deep purple in the low. I laughed. I had no idea when it had started. I simply knew it had. I closed my eyes, but the colored notes were still there. I was overcome by the remarkable brilliance of the colors. I tried to talk, to explain what I was seeing, the vibrant and luminous colors. Somehow it didn’t seem important. With my eyes open, the radiant colors flooded the room, folding over on top of one another in rhythm with the music. Suddenly I was aware that the colors were the music. The discovery did not seem startling. Values, so cherished and guarded, were becoming unimportant.

Transcendental experiences

Finally, strange transcendence may be experienced involving ‘ego death’, sensation of ‘being born’ and ‘harmony with the universe’.

The 25-year old agent, quoted above, realizes the presence of a large, pulsating and luminous egg suspended in the room. Slowly the egg dissolves into a flower that, according to him, was like no flower I have ever seen. Its incredibly exquisite petals opened on the room, spraying indescribable colors in every direction. I felt the colors and heard them as they played across my body, cool and warm, reedlike and tinkling.

The petals of this flower are soon perceived as being eaten up by its own black, shiny center “that appeared to be formed by the backs of a thousand ants”. This is followed by the horrifying realization that the black thing was actually devouring me. I was the flower and this foreign, creeping thing was eating me!

Finally, I felt myself dissolving into the terrifying apparition, my body melting in waves into the core of blackness, my mind stripped of ego and life and, yes even death. In one great crystal instant I realized that I was immortal. I asked the question: “Am I dead?” But the question had no meaning. Meaning was meaningless. Suddenly there was white light and the shimmering beauty of unity. There was light everywhere, white light with a clarity beyond description. I was dead and I was born and the exultation was pure and holy. My lungs were bursting with the joyful song of being. There was unity and life and the exquisite love that filled my being was unbounded. My awareness was acute and complete.

Bad trips

Psychedelic Art by Erik Parker

Psychedelic Art by Erik Parker

In a bad trip, the experiences can be terrorizing. This is hell, I thought. There is indeed no Devil and no demons, and yet they were perceptible in us, filled up the room, and tormented us with unimaginable terror. Imagination, or not? Hallucinations, projections? – insignificant questions when confronted with the reality of fear that was fixed in our bodies and shook us: the fear alone, it existed. The experiences of a painter.


Heavenly or hellish, the experiences are intensely meaningful for most users. The above-mentioned painter realizes: I realized that in the horror of the passing night I had experienced my own individual condition: selfishness. My egotism had kept me separated from mankind and had led me to inner isolation… Therefore everything had seemed strange and unconnected to me, so scornful and threatening.

According to Dr. Hoffman: “Such a variety and contradiction of reactions to a drug is found only in LSD and the related hallucinogens. The explanation for this lies in the complexity and variability of the conscious and subconscious minds of people, which LSD is able to penetrate and to bring to life as experienced reality.

How does LSD bring about such changes?

LSD primarily affects by interfering with the normal activity of a chemical called serotonin in those areas of the brain concerned with transmission of visual information. Ordinarily when serotonin-containing neurons are activated, they release serotonin, whose action helps the brain to filter incoming sensory messages. Without the action of serotonin, the brain would be flooded by perceptual and emotional input-particularly visual input-and people would experience more sensations, see more details, distort visual images and even see things not actually there. (Comer, 1995).


Here are the two text references mentioned in this post.

1. Frosch, W. A., Robbins, E. S., & Stern, M. (1965). Untoward reactions to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) resulting in hospitalization. New England Journal Medicine, 273, 1235-1239.

2. Comer, R. J. (1995). Abnormal Psychology, 2nd ed. New York: Freeman and Co. p. 461.

3. The explanation of LSD’s effects in Comer is referenced to Jacobs, B. L. (Ed.). (1984). Hallucinogens: neurochemical, behavioral, and clinical perspectives. New York: Springer.


POINT|COUNTERPOINT: On Prophetic Revelation and “Subjectivity”

In Islam, philosophy, psychology on March 26, 2009 at 7:29 pm

God does not communicate directly with human beings, but He sends His messages to selected persons called prophets who then preach God’s word to the masses. This is the cornerstone of our faith, the point on which the whole institution of religion rests.

This post has been inspired by a little discussion of intellect vs prophetic revelation on Umer Toor’s blog. Umer’s original post was a little conversation between Umer and Master Agha, wherein Umer asks how the Platonic philosophers had approached the concept of God, to which Master Agha replies that: “revelation is essential to understand such questions” since intellect is imperfect.

The first comment on this post was made by Awais Aftab.

Awais Aftab: “Revelation believers always go on about how intellect is ‘imperfect’, but what can be more imperfect than revelation, which is a highly subjective experience of a person [‘Prophet’] passed on by word of mouth and subsequently written and then believed in by a person centuries later who has had no experience even minutely close to that a revelation. And while 2 + 2 = 4 for every man of intellect, every Prophet puts forth his own revelation, dividing the world in different religions. And yet it is logic which is imperfect.”

A number of misconceptions are apparent in this response. Following is my attempt at counterargument.

Rhodora Online:

1. “every Prophet puts forth his own revelation, dividing the world in different religions“. A misconception. There is a systematic difference in the message revealed by Prophets Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad, at the one hand, and the personal wisdom and insights shared by someone like the Bhuddha who didn’t claim he was a prophet but may have been made into one by his devotees later on.

If one is mistakenly including such man-proclaimed ‘prophets’ with the God-sent ones, then indeed the world has a rich tapestry of religions! Otherwise, the message of all true Prophets was the same: There is no god but ALLAH so its only HIM worthy of worship.

“Different religions” were created by scholars long after the original revelations in the earlier Books from Allah had been lost. [To read an illuminating article regarding one relevant example, click here.] An illusion of ‘difference’ may also be created because of i) differences in procedural aspects of living for which God indeed changed guidelines in different prophets’ times (refer: Quran) and ii) differences in tertiary matters with  imprecise guidance in Quran or Hadith, where scholars  conclude differently.

3. “by word of mouth…” As if our prophets were born in the age after the Gutenberg pressEven so, not only the revelations recited by the last Prophet Mohammad (Salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) were instantly inscribed and memorized by his followers, but also his own sayings and doings were meticulously recorded since he was in the best position to interpret the revelations through his exposition and behavior.

2. “yet it is logic which is imperfect” If one cares to read the Quran with an open mind (by which I mean not rigidly insisting upon inflexible preconceived  notions) and peruses the brilliant scholarly expositions of the basic ideology of Quran, one will find enough logic to satisfy one.

Just like atheists find logic enough in their perspective of the world.

A word on logic:

I am a postgraduate in psychology. When we encounter ‘paranoid’ patients we always observe PERFECT logic in their explanations of why they are so convinced that they are being persecuted – tight, irrefutably perfect logic. You cannot win an argument with a paranoid.

Logic is a tool that derives conclusions from a set of premises. We are not arguing logic here, we are arguing PREMISES. So there’s logic in MY view of the world  and there’s a logic in YOUR (Darwin and all) view of the world. The ‘this premise’ or ‘that premise’ is ultimately a CHOICE [la ikraha fi-deen]: a SUBJECTIVE choice.

Why must this choice be subjective? The idea of an objective choice assumes that i) it is possible for us to somehow perceive this world in a totally direct, completely factual fashion [read below on this point], and that ii) all the facts that are needed to make this objective choice must be completely available for consideration.

You cannot solve your math equation unless the requisite givens are there.

On the other hand, do you realistically believe that all that there is to be discovered about this world will be discovered to ultimately PROVE without holes which view was the really PERFECTLY logical one and which premise the perfectly valid one? Even if it could, we will be dead much before;  surely we cannot wait…

4. “a highly subjective experience”: We perceive the sunflower in yellow color. And yet the bees of this world perceive the same sunflower in blue (by which I mean something akin to ultraviolet light). So can you please tell me WHICH is the OBJECTIVE way of perceiving the sunflower? A highly subjective experience for both parties (humans and bees :-), if you ask me!

Carole Tarvis is a PhD in social psychology; Carol Wade took the same degree in cognitive psychology. In a textbook penned by them they write:

Because sensation is a subjective experience, our ideas about reality must be affected by our sensory abilities and limitations. That is, things appear to us as they do not only because of their nature but also because of ours. If the entire human race were totally deaf, we might still talk about pressure waves, but we would have no concept of sound. (p. 200, Psychology, 4th ed., Harper Collins).

If the entire human race was totally deaf, and one person, as a result of a unique blessing from God, had explained to us the concept of sound… Credibility in such cases cannot be decided through the state-of-the-art science because that is always limited by the human limitations of the researchers and the status of the technology they have been able to develop till that point. It is decided by an examination of the proclaimer’s character, his motivation and motives, and the arguments he extends in support of his claims.

May God accept my humble effort.

Awais’ response provoked further illuminating arguments from others. Read them all here.