Jason Silva, host of National Geographic Channel’s Brain Games, speaks to the power of suggestibility with regard to psychedelic experiences. According to Timothy Leary, psychedelics augment one’s reactivity to stimuli. By marrying the right external and internal stimuli one can design the subjectivity of their own experience.
Jason Silva: There’s a lot of talk nowadays about the psychotherapeutic use of psychedelics. We’re kind of going through a psychedelic renaissance. It’s been a while since the 1960s. These substances have been repressed, but, you know, mankind has been using and experimenting with entheogenic or God-facilitating substances for millennia. And there was a great essay written by Timothy Leary that I think is a fabulous piece in the '60s called Programming the Psychedelic Experience in which he defined the psychedelic experience as a period of increased reactivity to stimuli both from within and from without. So there’s this increased suggestibility. It’s almost like we dissolve the boundaries and the filters that keep us from sort of being flooded by sense impressions. And so one is in a kind of delicate, suggestible state. So you wouldn’t want to be like driving or having to worry about crossing the street with a red light or a green light when you’re tripping. But the psychotherapeutic use of being in a state of increased suggestibility is that you pattern the input signals.
If you sequence and control what you’re subjected to during this period of heightened sensibility to stimuli, you could steer awareness towards useful spaces of mind. You could navigate that evanescent flux of sensation and perception that Eric Davis says is all we have and all we are toward places of ecstatic illumination. The idea being that you could grab somebody and give them some high-grade medical cannabis and then lead them on a hike as they listen to the Inception soundtrack. And you can kind of curate awareness. You could steer the emotional direction that people go to. We are mediated beings. Our thought, our sense of self is mediated by language; it’s mediated by environment; it’s mediated by culture; and it’s mediated by technologies like cinema and music and so on and so forth. But we also are thick-skinned beings, you know. A lot of times we close ourselves. Hedonic adaptation makes us less sensitive to stimuli, to the mediation. And so we create higher-resolution technologies, you know, 4K cameras, IMAX movie theaters to create a more intense mediation that can scramble our defense mechanisms and take us toward these useful spaces of ecstatic illumination, child-like sense of wonder and so on and so forth. But those external mediation technologies need to be accompanied by internal mediation technologies. That’s why Terrence McKenna used to say computers are drugs and drugs are computers. So we need technologies of inner space to go along with the technologies of the outer space. And the two of them together, I think, are pretty cool because they allow us to experiment with awareness with consciousness and to kind of script or pattern subjectivity.
Eric Davis, one of my favorite writers, is the guy who talks about this notion that what we’re dealing with with these new media technologies whether they be high-resolution, IMAX screens or psychedelic substances is we’re trying to engage the technical material of subjectivity itself. Interiority. We’re trying to harness and pattern interior experience. We’re scripting first-person awareness. It’s almost like we become the director of our own movie from our own POV and we get to take it toward the place that we want. We get to experience the kind of evanescent sense of sensation that we want and that idea is, I mean it’s totally out there, but how cool is it. It’s like — it reminds me of that movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Total Recall, where you’re able to kind of become someone else by implanting this whole unfolding phenomenological experience. And so this notion that we could basically turn our minds inside out. You could pattern the human imagination and sort of turn ourselves into anything we want and experience any possible experience. It’s just something that sounds amazing to me.
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton