A Psychedelic Trance

The email read:

Dear Ms. Gita,

V.S. Ramachandran, professor at the University of California, San Diego says, “all the richness of our mental life – all our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, our ambitions, our love lives, our religious sentiments and even what each of us regards as his or her own intimate private self – is simply the activity of the 100 billion neurons in our brain.” Given the above, I think, there are three ways of reaching “God” or “Nirvana” or “ego-less conscious state.”

1. Spontaneous realization as may have occurred in many of the mystics in India and around the world. Ramana Maharishi is a famous example of this. The scientific explanation for this spontaneous realization is through “TEMPORAL LOBE EPILEPSY”.

2. through the practice of Meditation. Buddha is the excellent example. Scientists have hypothesized that blocking all sensory and cognitive input into temporal lobe of the brain during meditation results in the sense of “no space and no time” which is so often described by mystics.

3. Of course, we can always inject chemicals that mimic the naturally occurring neuro-transmitters (like Serotonin) from outside sources that intervene into the neural circuits and produce the “ego-less” state. Some people have theorized that the “Soma” from the Vedas is some form of mushroom that had psychedelic properties. There are other psychedelics that create the same loss of “time-space” sensation and “oneness with the Universe and Cosmos” as observed by several scientific studies including the one conducted with DMT with the help of USDEA (United States Drug Enforcement Agency).

But, is this “non-dual” conscious state the real conscious state as claimed by “Advaita Vedanata” or by Bhagavad Gita?

– Raj Sury

I re-read the whole passage. Was I ready to reply?

God looked on and smiled. Seeing His caressing smile, Science peeped into the email and exclaimed:

Science: You know Lord! Actually all those statements are true. Scientists have experimented on the effect of meditation on the brain activity in Tibetan meditators. The results are revealing.  Using a brain imaging technology called single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) we determined which areas of the brain are active by measuring blood flow. The more blood flow an area has, the more active it is. The front part of the brain or the frontal lobes, which is usually involved in focusing attention and concentration, is more active during meditation. This makes sense since meditation requires a high degree of concentration. But there is also a decreased activity in the parietal lobe. The parietal lobe of the brain is responsible for giving us a sense of our orientation in space and time. Scientists hypothesize that blocking all sensory and cognitive input into this area during meditation results in the sense of no space and no time which is so often described in meditation.

God: (Smiling) So? Just because you can co-relate the experience of meditation to the brain does it lose its significance? You know today the mechanism of the eyes. Does that equate the experience of seeing my child?

Science: Of course we are not negating the value of You my Lord or the experience. But as the email suggests if religion is hard wired in the human brain and can be experienced either by ‘Temporal lobe epilepsy’ or blocking sensory input into the parietal lobe, perhaps soon psychedelic drug culture will spread as an alternative to religious belief!

God: Come again? What happens in the brain to suggest religious beliefs are a mere chemical reaction in the brain?

Science: Lord! The amygdala and the hypothalamus in the brain are major pleasure centers and serve the capacity to experience feelings of intense sexual arousal, fear or conversely rapture. As they contain opiate producing neurons, and opiate receptive neurons, this creates a feeling of numbness and narcotic high. In response to pain, stress, shock, fear, or terror, the amygdala and other limbic nuclei begin to secrete high levels of opiates which can eventually induce a state of calmness as well as analgesia and euphoria. It is this heroin high that explains why an ox, deer, and other animals will simply give up and lie still while they are devoured and eaten alive. Scientists believe it is this amygdala induced heroin high which also contributes to feelings of religious rapture and the ecstasy associated with life after death and the attainment of Nirvana.

God: Hmmm… What happens in the brain when it is stimulated using LSD, DMT or other psychedelic drugs?

Science: While LSD is one of the most potent mood-changing chemicals, DMT drug is a psychedelic chemical naturally produced in the brain of every human being. Of all the psychedelics in the world, DMT drug is by far the most powerful psychedelic known to man. However we have realized that DMT has no beneficial effects in and of itself; rather, the context in which people take them is at least as important. Practitioners and spokespersons of traditional religions may reject the suggestion that spiritual states can be accessed and mystical information gained, through drugs. Those who have undergone certain ‘experiences’ may interpret Dr.Rick Strassman of the Cottonwood research foundation’s suggestion that DMT is intimately involved in these events as a challenge to the “reality” of their experiences. Nevertheless scientists suggest that excessive DMT production, coming from the mysterious pineal gland, is involved in naturally occurring “psychedelic” states.

God: What do you mean by ‘the context in which people take these drugs is important’?

Science: Father! Dr.Michael Persinger of Laurentian University, Canada created an experiment to see if introducing an electromagnetic field across the temporal lobes can induce a moment of religious revelation. While the experiment worked on several people making them experience a different conscious state beyond time and space, it did not work on some people. For instance, when the same experiment of creating electromagnetic fields in the brain were conducted on Richard Dorkins, a confirmed atheist, the result was just a feeling of relaxation and nothing to do with god or religion. So the context is important. Dr. Persinger believes the reason for the failure of this experiment is that Richard has a much lower sensitivity in the temporal lobe as compared to most other humans. Of course he also clarifies that the extreme cases of too much temporal lobe sensitivity are in those who have temporal lobe epilepsy.

God: (With a gentle laughter) So I am a hypothesis to mankind capable of being triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy or electromagnetic radiation! All because the miracle of life by itself is no longer miraculous to man; divine revelation as experienced by brain chemistry is crucial to experience religious faiths eh?

Science: Lord! I understand that co-relating a chemical reaction with the experience does not negate or repudiate the experience. But to return to the email, is the non-dual conscious state propagated by the religious the same as drug induced ‘ego-less states beyond time and space’?

God: All the ingredients that make up a human body can be purchased for a few dollars in any shop. Yet a dead man cannot be revived by you, can he?

Science remained silent.

God: When the blood pressure level in a man drops, doctors immediately prescribe common salt to immediately boost the loss in bodily salts. But do you realize that on a day to day basis no man eats plain salt by itself? In fact I wonder if he even knows the taste of salt. You see, salt is added to all that man consumes to enhance the taste of all that he eats. By itself salt is unpalatable. Similarly, when a chemical dysfunction in the brain causes dis-ease to the human body like say depression, a drug to balance the chemical imbalance in the brain helps the person – like the immediate intake of common salt. However, that is not the normal routine. Like salt enhancing the taste of all dishes, meditation enhances the experience of everything. A true meditator does not feel this unification with all other things only in a euphoria induced state. He perceives this unity at all times, in everything he does.

Science: I understand Lord that self regulating the body to produce the necessary amount of DMT for a calm living is certainly better than an external drug to bring equilibrium to the state of mind. But are the sensations in both the same? I mean is the meditative state the same as the hallucinogenic state?

God: To say it simply, when a person experiences euphoria by chemical reactions in the temporal lobe, it resembles a bell-shaped curve – the effect starts at a point, peaks upwards and gently curves down back to its starting point. That is why man does not retain his sense of elation always. It comes back to baseline. However excited and happy he is, he returns to his ‘normal baseline’. When an external stimulus is used to achieve a state of ecstasy like LSD or any drug, these begin to resemble waves whereby the graph drops down further below the starting point into the negative. Most drug users begin at the baseline, experience a high when under the drug’s influence and steeply drop down to the negative creating a craving for the next dose of drugs. That is why they become addicts. On the other hand, to a true meditator, the spiritual experience does begin at baseline and creates a high during his deep states. Yet the deeper he meditates and the more often he is centered, rather than a curve going up and down, his baseline keeps getting re-invented. Now he cannot be less euphoric with the passing of time. That becomes his ‘normal’ level of euphoria.

Science was in deep thought. Can he really get some proof for all this to relate to his children?

I sat down to write. “Are you a brain or do you have a brain?…

Written by Gita Krishna Raj  |  Published in infinithoughts in March 2010

When Science met God… |  Segment Eight: A Tryst with God  |  Chapter One: A Psychedelic Trance

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