Psychedelic Information Theory

Shamanism in the Age of Reason

Appendixes : Chapters

Conclusions and Discussion


The primary tenets of Psychedelic Information Theory dictate that hallucinogens generate information by destabilizing linear perception to promote nonlinear states of consciousness; that these states generate complex nonlinear amplifications of initial conditions provided by set and setting; that these states increase in nonlinear complexity in response to dose of hallucinogen, duration of effect, and strength of sensory stimulation; and that the depth or complexity of psychedelic nonlinear states can be controlled through pitch-timed, rhythmic, or periodic sensory feedback stimulation.

The tenets of the Control Interrupt Model of psychedelic action dictate that top-down feedback control of multisensory perception must be destabilized before consciousness can bifurcate, become nonlinear, and generate hallucination; that the destabilizing interrupt of any hallucinogen can be felt subjectively as a periodic pulsation or interference pattern in the range of human sensory temporal aliasing; that sensory complexity or animated progression of hallucination bifurcates, loops, and converges along the frequency of the periodic interrupt; that each hallucinogen has a distinct sensory interrupt frequency and ADSR envelope based on its affinity and selective agonism in sensory binding pathways; and that the unique interrupt and ADSR envelope created by each molecule is responsible for its unique hallucinogenic patterns and multisensory signatures.

The tenets of Shamanism in the Age of Reason, or Physical Shamanism, dictate that a shaman can intuitively sense the interrupt frequency and ADSR envelope of any hallucinogen simply by ingesting a small amount of the substance and paying close attention to the interference patterns created in perception; that shamanic icaros or standing vocalizations are produced in response to interrupt frequency and ADSR envelope to drive or dampen the amplitude of hallucinogenic interrupt; that driving the amplitude of hallucinogenic interrupt increases depth of complexity in nonlinear information organization; that shamanic dieting and purging is a precursor to destabilizing metabolic homeostasis necessary for holistic nonlinear re-modulation; that bodily transcendence relies on full nonlinear amplification along all cellular signaling pathways, from the gut to the cortex; and that full nonlinear breakthroughs, or psychedelic peak experiences, are only achieved once top-down homeostasis is fully interrupted and the subject releases all inhibitory feedback control over the resulting runaway process.

The basic conclusions taken from the tenets of Psychedelic Information Theory, the Control Interrupt Model, and Physical Shamanism are as follows.

  1. Psychedelics generate information in the human organism via nonlinear feedback amplification of both intercellular (neural) and intracellular (cytoplasmic) signaling.
  2. The nonlinear amplification of sensation exploits excitatory feedback mechanisms used to create lasting emotional attachments to salient sensory patterns in the wake of strong incoming stimulus.
  3. Psychedelic hallucination and expanded states of consciousness represent nonlinear amplification of initial conditions of biology, perception, memory, behavior, and location, otherwise known as set and setting.
  4. Nonlinear amplification of sensation promotes neuroplasticity and cellular regeneration via hormonal and stress-based mechanisms related to cell proliferation and long-term memory consolidation.
  5. Periods of chaotic transition between multi-stable states of consciousness are subjectively perceived as disorienting, confusing, and uncomfortable. Periods where chaotic transitions approach strange attractors and phase-lock into multi-stability are subjectively perceived as ecstatic, beautiful, spiritual, insightful, cleansing, healing, and transcendent.
  6. Extended periods of bifurcating complexity in cellular networks leads to states of consciousness perceived as enlightening, mystical, infinite, god-like, timeless, Gnostic, and omniscient.
  7. Resistance to nonlinear destabilization under the influence of psychedelics results in anxiety spirals, panic, and potentially paranoid and psychotic states.
  8. There is an optimal dose range for any hallucinogen where states of nonlinear organization and strange attractors spontaneously emerge. Moving beyond the optimal dose range results in highly unpredictable, uncontrollable, and problematic states of consciousness resembling psychosis and schizophrenia.
  9. States of nonlinear organization in neural networks can be controlled through energetic periodic drivers, such as music, singing, chanting, and dancing; making psychedelic consciousness multi-stable along a range of complex output generated by small subtle changes in input.
  10. Shamanic healing, entheogenic transcendence, and psychedelic creativity all utilize nonlinear amplification to generate novelty in the form spontaneous organization in cellular signaling systems.
  11. Through entrainment and mutual feedback nonlinear states of cellular signaling can transcend individuals to promote pack mind, group mind, peer bonding, mate bonding, and intuitive nonverbal organization of tribal or familial structures.
  12. Because psychedelics produce uniquely nonlinear states of consciousness, any art which evokes recurrence, chaos, and nonlinear forms will be immediately recognizable as psychedelic.
  13. Nonlinear forms are perceived to be inherently beautiful and spiritual because they are isomorphic of ordered complexity in the generative processes of biology and nature.


The fundamentals of PIT were assembled through formal analysis of hallucinogenic states, shamanic ritual, and subjective reports of expanded consciousness. PIT is a general theory, which means it seeks to model an approximation of nonlinear information complexity emerging into human consciousness and cultural memory. PIT applies physical models and general mathematical concepts like wave mechanics, coupled oscillators, and deterministic chaos to the processes of perception and consciousness. Some components of PITís general theory of destabilization and nonlinear amplification in recurrent perceptual systems can be easily modeled with mathematical or mechanical counterparts; other components are assumed or presumed from observation and published research; and other components are pure speculation or are left purposely vague due to lack of proper research. Some of these assumptions, speculations, and missing pieces are discussed here.

First and foremost, PIT assumes that the human brain acts as a resonant oscillator, and that sensation, perception, and consciousness are the result of time-synchronized interference patterns of recurrent neural spike trains cascading through the cortex. This is not a radical model, it is based on the fundamentals of neural oscillators, periodic drivers, wave entrainment, resonance, and coherence. Entrainment is the capacity for one oscillator to synchronize the frequency of a group of oscillators; resonance is the capacity for one oscillator to drive the amplitude of another oscillator through periodic forcing along a resonant frequency; coherence is when two oscillators phase-lock into stable resonant or harmonic interference patterns to conserve or amplify energy. Classical wave mechanics and the behaviors of feedback controlled oscillating systems are the starting point for almost every concept in PIT. Analyzing perception as a single wave or circuit is a very crude simplification of much more complex sensory process, but the general models of feedback control, destabilization, and chaos apply universally in all oscillating information systems. Framing the discussion of psychedelics and shamanism in terms of the nonlinear dynamics of resonant oscillators may not shine light on the entire psychedelic experience, but it provides the most succinct approximations of sensory amplification and information complexity generated in expanded states of consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of PIT.

By invoking stability and chaos in perceptual networks, PIT also assumes there are specific organized-chaotic states of psychedelic consciousness that act as strange attractors to pull perception towards multi-stable convergence points. PIT also implies that resonant periodic drivers, such as shamanic singing or drumming, can entrain and amplify convergent multi-stable psychedelic states to induce healing, transcendence, and group mind. However, no specific shamanic frequencies or resonant multi-stable convergent states are offered as practical evidence of this theory. Because the published research in the field of psychedelic brain scanning is limited, the assertions of shamanic entrainment and multi-state phase locking are admittedly vague and based solely on subjective reports and observation of shamanic ritual. PIT provides no precise formal definition for what a multi-stable psychedelic state looks like on a scanning device compared to a normal state of consciousness, nor does it say where or how one should scan for the best statistical indicators of such states. This is an issue that can only be resolved through statistical analysis of many controlled psychedelic scanning sessions in the presence of live music or actual shamanic ceremonies vs. mediation or trance dancing. It may be decades before such research becomes available, and even when it is available there is no guarantee it will be conclusive.

Because psychedelics are non-specific amplifiers and produce multiple unpredictable outcomes based on initial conditions of dose, set and setting, the concept of scanning brains to provide a single unified definition of an expanded state of consciousness may be inherently flawed. Psychedelics can demonstrably induce trance, catatonia, hallucination, psychosis, paranoia, mania, and euphoria all in response to unobservable variables provided by dose, set, and setting, so they are demonstrably capable of inducing multi-stable states of altered consciousness. Psychedelic amplification of perception is observably nonlinear in the form of bifurcating multisensory hallucinations, and the nonlinear amplification of perception is observably tied to dose and the strength of incoming stimulus. A model where strong sensory drivers entrain multi-stable states of nonlinear consciousness is a small extrapolation of these simple observations. Technically, any song or chant produced by a shaman can entrain an organized psychedelic state along a range of both chaotic and multi-stable output. Studying the biofeedback effects of spontaneous shamanic vocalization (icaros) in a live group setting may be the best starting place for examining tones and frequencies best suited for driving multi-stable states for each hallucinogen at each dose range. Isolating which songs are best for producing which states at which dose range may ultimately be more of an art than science, relying less on statistical research and more on the shamanís intuitive grasp of synchronizing all the sliding state variables unique to each psychedelic session.

Finding the sweet spots in perceptual oscillator coherence where consciousness diverges from linear and transitions into nonlinear may be elusive, or may involve different indicators for each individual. The conclusion of PIT is that these multi-stable convergence points in expanded consciousness do exist, that they are physical in nature, and that when a subject finds these states they are nothing less than magical. Modeling psychedelic consciousness as a nonlinear forced oscillator allows us to make some predictions based on existing chaos theory. General nonlinear dynamics suggests that multi-stable in forced oscillators may be achieved by nudging limit cycles into period doubled bifurcations of normal system output, with each period-doubling preceded by some critical spiking activity required to drive the phase transition. Mode locking into period doubled or reverse period doubled states is the general model of state bifurcation in dynamical systems, though applying these models to frame perception raises some questions of neural processing capacity. If perception can split itself into multiple states along the order of three times, moving from aliasing 2 simultaneous frames to 4, and then to 8, and then finally to 16 frames of overlapping information compressed into a single frame, this assumes that linear consciousness only uses a tiny fraction of the brainís total frame processing power. Where does the extra power to process multiple frames come from?

The Frame Stacking model assumes that periodic doubling of frame complexity does not necessarily require a full linear doubling of energy or input, but is instead is the result of a nonlinear amplifier driving phase transitions into novel states of complex output. Where and how these phase transitions occur is still a matter for some speculation. The best evidence indicates that psychedelics promote sensory saturation at the apical dendrite columns of the neocortex, leading to destabilization in many thalamocortical and corticocortical binding pathways. Frame stacking may also be related to receding frame information being looped or repeated in feedback circuits between the PFC, basal forebrain, hippocampus, and thalamus. The basal forebrain and thalamus focus attention and expectation of incoming stimulus, the hippocampus marks salient sensory input for memory and learning, so period-doubling bifurcations in these recurrent mid-brain circuits may also lead to pulsating frame-feedback hallucination with high perceived salience. Tracking the mechanics of temporal frame aliasing, frame neutralization, frame regression, and how these mechanisms are exploited by memory and psychedelics remains an area for further exploration.

Finally, the frame model of perception forwarded in PIT is only an approximation of actual perception. While the frame model allows us to put a distinct limit on the rate of human temporal aliasing (roughly 15 frames per second), there is evidence that humans can track multiple moving layers in any one frame. Instead of updating in perfect frames like a film reel, perception is more like a compressed MPEG video or an animation that updates a full keyframe every few frames, and only makes minor layering changes in between each keyframe. For instance, if you are standing in a grassy meadow watching a bird fly through the air, your brain does not have to update the entire frame of the meadow to track the bird, it only needs to update the layer with the motion of the bird. In this way the brain conserves energy and saves state information for those areas that do not need constant updating, and only updates the entire multisensory frame every few seconds or so, such as when you blink or shift your attention from one object to another object.

Tracking multiple layers for each frame adds another level complexity to the simplified Frame Stacking model, and may suggest how psychedelic perception can become kaleidoscopic as layers in the visual frame mirror themselves, stack, drift, and merge. But because the update and release of perceptual layers still falls under the classification of temporal aliasing and filling, the general model still applies. The Control Interrupt and Frame Stacking models are provided as very general meta-level descriptions of how psychedelics may subvert temporal aliasing and filling to produce nonlinear hallucination. The specific pharmacological and neural network models underlying these general concepts are in reality more complex, and detailing their precise interactions would take many volumes. Since PIT was designed to be general model, even if the complexity or location of the pharmacological action may vary, the general assumptions forwarded should apply universally to any hallucinogenic experience.

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Copyright: © James L. Kent, 2010. Some Rights Reserved. Please read copyright information before reproducing.