Psychedelic Information Theory

Shamanism in the Age of Reason

Appendixes : Chapters

Informal Discussion of Topics

The following is an interview-style discussion of topics presented in Psychedelic Information Theory with the author, provided as a summary and general overview of theory for the non-scientific layperson.

What is Psychedelic Information Theory?

The general theory underlying all of PIT is that psychedelics create information when introduced to human neural networks. The spontaneous creation of new information is the essential function of psychedelic activation, and this new information is imprinted into memory and reproduced as music, art, or stories shared with other people. More specifically, PIT presents physical models which describe this generative process, and the dynamics of various psychedelic phenomena like complex hallucination, shamanism, and group mind. 

How does PIT describe psychedelic action?

One way to visualize what I'm describing in PIT is through what I call the "Pond and the Pump House" metaphor. Imagine a perfectly round pond with perfectly still water, with a small pump house sitting on an island in the center. When the pump house is turned on it sends out perfectly circular ripples through the water that, over time, create a neatly ordered standing wave of activity. In this metaphor the pond is the surface of the neocortex; the pump house is the body, heartbeat, and respiration; and the ripples are waves of sensory perception seen in an EEG reading of cortical activity. When the pump is on and moving at different speeds, the ripples on the surface of the pond are active and take on different coherent patterns; when the pump is turned off the ripples fade and the pond becomes still and quiet. These are metaphors for consciousness moving from waking to sleeping states.

Now imagine we add a psychedelic to this model. PIT proposes that psychedelics alter the wave patterns of consciousness by creating a tiny tremor under the pond that vibrates the entire structure. Adding the psychedelic to the system creates a competing standing wave that can be seen immediately in the ripples on the surface. The pump keeps pumping, creating its usual standing waves, but because of the tremor there is a new layer of complexity to the ripple patterns. The tremor adds energy to the system, and as it does the standing waves in the pond become more chaotic. Instead of simple coherent ripple patterns, you begin to see overlapping patterns and fast transitions between multiple standing wave states. The complex interference patterns overlap on themselves and exhibit the formal qualities of a nonlinear feedback system, such as fractals or cellular automata.

The interference pattern in the ripples of the pond described here is how PIT models a competing tryptamine agonist (a hallucinogen) in the finely timed aminergic system of perception, modulated by serotonin and dopamine. This complex interference pattern is what I am describing with the Control Interrupt Model of psychedelic action. According to PIT, each hallucinogen creates a slightly different tremor or vibration in the signaling pathways of multisensory awareness, which in-turn creates a unique and distinct interference pattern in the standing waves of perception. Some hallucinogenic tremors may be big and rolling, others may be quiet and subtle, others may be sharp and disruptive. The difference in tremor speed and feel created by each psychedelic molecule would be accounted for by the differing receptor affinities and metabolic pathways for each hallucinogen.

How do psychedelic interference patterns relate to the techniques of shamanism and psychedelic therapy?

Let's go back to our pond metaphor. Assume there are sand dunes created at the edges of the pond that correspond to the long-term memory of the standing wave patterns created by the pump house. If you check these dunes after each psychedelic tremor you might find new tiny fractals, spirals, curves, cracks, and filigreed patterns etched into the sand. These sand etchings correspond to the memory of the psychedelic experience now embedded in the patterns of the neural network, and these memory patterns then inform behavior, change beliefs, and are presented over and over again in art, music, and philosophy. That is a metaphor for transformative psychedelic therapy.

Now let's assume there is a tribe of people living at the shores of this pond, and this psychedelic tremor hits once a week. It would be perfectly reasonable to assume that these people would adopt the psychedelic sand patterns as a kind of tribal identity, and embed those patterns into their clothes, tattoos, face paints, pottery, and so on. This is exactly what tribes who take psychedelics do; they embed the colorful fractal patterns created on the surface of their brains onto the surfaces of their bodies, their artwork, their walls, and their world. The physical spilling over of complex psychedelic patterns from a single underlying ripple effect is the foundation of PIT. Psychedelic Information Theory studies the movement of complex information from the genesis of initial hallucinogenic interference pattern to the outward organizing effect on belief, personality, behavior, and tribal structure.

Now, to go one step further, assume that whenever the psychedelic tremor strikes, the tribe of people living at the shores all gather in a circle and begin to sing, or stamp their feet, or beat large drums in unison. The songs produced by the tribe will naturally fall into harmony with the tremor and begin to shape the ripples in the pond through harmonic interference. Over time, if the tribe sings loud enough, they will produce a standing interference pattern, or group hallucination, in the ripples of the pond. This can be described as a shared state of consciousness locked through a standing resonant feedback wave. Shaping interference patterns in consciousness through singing or resonant feedback describes the basic ritual techniques of psychedelic shamanism. Through resonant feedback the shaman and the tribe can master the nonlinear dynamics of the interference pattern to work various forms of magic on the surface of the pond.

The Control Interrupt Model reduces hallucinogenic action to a high speed sensory attack and decay envelope. Why did you decide on that model?

While studying the effects of various hallucinogens, I would always notice a carrier wave, or a high-pitched frequency, or a pulsing, or a throbbing, or a tingling, or some kind of stable interference that was familiar to that substance. And after studying various trip reports for various substances, I realized I was not alone in recording these simple observations. This stable interference is often reported to permeate all sensation; touch, hearing, vision, the entire body. I began to measure the frequencies of these pulses and tingles for different hallucinogens and realized that they all fell into alpha and beta states of consciousness, between 4 to 30 pulses per second, and each drug had a slightly different timing and feel to the way the pulses came on and interrupted consciousness. The slower the interruption, the more of a throbbing or stuttering I felt; the faster the interruption, the more of a tingling, vibration, or high-pitched tremor I felt.

At some point in my analysis of different drugs, I would always say, "That stable interrupt frequency is interesting, I should take a closer look at that," or, "Isn't it weird that I always feel this throbbing on this specific drug, which feels very similar to the pulsing I noticed on this other drug." And then as I began analyzing that one simple pulse interaction, I wondered if pulse interruption in frame perception was all that was needed to produce hallucination. Mind machines produce phosphenes within a small range of light pulse frequencies, so what if hallucinogens did something similar in the same pulse range? What if those pulses were the drug's only action, and the throbbing was the perceptual aggregate of modulatory interference at sensory binding junctions? During the process of formally describing the action of these pulses, it became obvious that the pulsing interference was a carrier wave for hallucination, like the flickering frame rate of an animation reel. The pulses created an overlapping hallucinogenic flicker, or an overlapping modulatory ripple, in multisensory awareness, that creates the chaotic substrate for complex hallucination. It was an extrapolation of psychedelic pharmacology that scaled up to make sense in gross perception, which was the exact kind of model I was looking for. 

The more I analyzed the various properties of the flicker or pulsation for each drug, the more I realized that this specific pulsing function was the thing that caused each drug to produce unique geometric hallucinations, like Chladi forms taking on different standing wave patterns on steel plates resonating at different frequencies. I then realized that each hallucinogen could be modeled with a unique interrupt frequency and properties of saturation attack, decay, sustain, and release (ADSR) to describe the onset and feel of distinct hallucinations. An ADSR envelope is a wave modeling technique used in electronic synthesizers to shape the tones and sounds of various musical instruments, but can be used to model the "voice" for any standing wave. The ADSR envelope for each hallucinogen corresponds to receptor agonism and affinity, which naturally shapes the tone and feel of each hallucinogen's unique sensory patterns. After reducing hallucinogenic action to a function of wave interference in perception, it was then only natural to extrapolate hallucination as a cascading event that starts with a small, stable, perturbation in perceptual feedback that grows in amplitude over time to entrain the functional output of the entire system. This model does not rely on anything other than targeted receptor agonism to drive the resulting emergent process.

Why is a wave model of psychedelic action better than traditional shamanic models?

One of the core concepts of physics and science is that every physical interaction can be modeled in discrete packets of energy transfer, and these discrete packets can be statistically interpreted as waves that have formal characteristics of amplitude, frequency, coherence, decay, and so on. This allows a system to be described by predictive physical or mathematical models. Once you break any physical interaction down to a formal wave model, you've essentially described the functionality of the system and can make accurate predictions. Traditional shamanic models are not interested in this level of reductive analysis, but modern science is. PIT fills in some of the formal pieces needed to place techniques of traditional shamanism within the domains of physics and mathematics.

Doesn't reductive analysis take the mystery or artistry out of entheogenic transcendence and shamanism?

There has been a schism in shamanic thought where the drugs have been studied with a reductive pharmacological paradigm, yet the technology of shamanism is still stuck in anthropological or spiritual paradigms. What I am trying to say with PIT is that there is no schism; psychedelic action and shamanism are both fields of physics, they can both be described by physics. This is not a reductive model, it is a unifying model that knits the fields of pharmacology and shamanism together through classical wave mechanics and harmonic theory.

A similar way to look at it might be this. Imagine you were a guitar maker, and you knew precisely how long the neck of the guitar should be, and how tight each string must be, and where each fret must go, and what shape the body should be, all to produce the best and most resonant musical sound. This is an engineering task that can be described by mathematics and harmonic wave theory. However, picking up the instrument and using it to play music that moves people to joy or tears is a process that will always be mysterious and artistic. Nothing has been taken away from the artistry of the musician by describing the harmonic theory at the foundation of the instrument. If anything, the harmonic theory allows the guitar maker to produce a better instrument and the musician to attain better mastery.

How do psi phenomenon like telepathy and group mind tie into PIT's harmonic wave model?

You can think of non-verbal communication betweens tribes of humans in terms of group coherence, like the swarming of insects, schooling of fish, or flocking of birds. For most daily interactions we keep ourselves separated as individuals, but for certain activities we drop into a cooperative mode where identity is less important than fluid or harmonic movement within the pack. In humans this can be seen in team sports like soccer or basketball, in the coordinated movements of military squads, in group dancing, or in the intuitive rhythms of lovemaking. Locking into harmonic coherence with another human or group of humans is subjectively felt as nonverbal communication or psi, sometimes reaching the level of telepathy, or instantly knowing what the other person is thinking. Again, this kind of process should not be analyzed within the fields of parapsychology or mysticism. When you're talking about psi and nonverbal communication, you are talking about synchrony and entrainment between resonant oscillators. That is not metaphysics, it is harmonic theory and physics.

Can you describe a resonant oscillator? How does harmonic resonance apply to the brain?

An oscillator is just another term for a wave or vibration, so any system that has a cycling frequency, which is just about everything, is an oscillator. When two oscillators near each other are vibrating near the same frequency they begin to have overlapping wave patterns, or interference patterns, that can be modeled in terms of complimentary synchrony, harmony, phase differentials, and so on. If two oscillators have complimentary interference patterns they are said to be harmonic, meaning they do not dampen each other's power or amplitude. If the two oscillators interfere in a way that drives both of their amplitudes, maximizing the potential energy of the circuit, then they are said to be in resonant coherence. When an oscillating system phase-locks into resonant coherence with another oscillator, energy is amplified and the phase-locked system becomes self-stabilizing and difficult to dampen or perturb even with a competing interference wave.

Harmonic and resonant feedback are at the center of all self-stabilizing oscillating systems, or self-oscillators. Harmonic wave interference conserves energy and is perceived as beautiful to humans in both the arts and the sciences. Loss of harmonic feedback in coupled oscillators drives chaos and chaotic output; resonant feedback and entrainment creates stable attractors and convergence in chaotic systems. These are the fundamentals of all physical systems that oscillate and trade energy over time. If you examine EEG readings it is obvious that the brain is an oscillator with distinct wave patterns for each state of consciousness, and each neuron is a tiny oscillator passing waves of information through an intricately coupled network. So applying the dynamics of resonant oscillators and harmonic wave interference to human perception and expanded states of consciousness is not a radical or fringe idea, it is a natural extension of existing physical theory.     

So shamanic singing is a form of resonant feedback for stabilizing consciousness in chaotic psychedelic states? 

That is the theory of Physical Shamanism in a nutshell. If you can understand that you can understand almost everything I am modeling with PIT. The interaction starts at the cellular level with a simple pharmacological interference pattern, then erupts into a chaotic ripple across the surface of the neocortex, which then bleeds over into long term memory, informs behavioral changes, and ultimately affects the values of the larger tribe and culture. The chaotic, high-information ripple extends outward over time and goes beyond the confines of the user's mind, expanding into art and media and science and religion and cultural trends. I don't think anyone has ever attempted to deconstruct the entire psychedelic information chain before, let alone attempt to fit it into some kind of physical theory. It is totally new territory.

Clearly, when someone discovers the psychedelic experience they do not keep it to themselves. There is an inherent need to change behaviors and share the experience with others, and that shared experience bounces around the culture and creates resonant interference patterns with shared artwork and reports from other psychedelic experiences, and the amount of detail and spontaneous cultural and tribal organization emerging from this process is enormous. When you attempt to model the psychedelic process with some kind of longitudinal cultural analysis, you see we are dealing with a self-sustaining nonlinear information system that is feeding back on itself through time and producing a disproportionately large amount of output in response to a very small amount of input, which is literally a single pinch of white powder per subject. Somehow, adding that little pinch of white powder ends up changing the world.  

Does PIT present a hallucinogenic scale, like the Shulgin scale, which rates hallucination or expanded consciousness along some metric?

The Frame Stacking Model describes degrees of depth and complexity to hallucination, and proposes that depth of hallucination is equal to potency of substance times dose of substance, saturating and feeding back on itself over duration of effect (which is the nonlinear component), modified by the rate of metabolism for that substance. You could write this description as a mathematical formula, but what it is attempting to explain is that there is a critical dose range for each drug where the depth of hallucination becomes self-sustaining and naturally drives towards a fully animated frame rate of about 8-16 stacked frames per second, like an attractor pulling you towards a "peaking" state. If the dose of psychedelic is too small or you metabolize it too quickly, you only get a slightly speedy or jittery sensation corresponding to interference in perception; no peaking state. But once you find the right dose range and achieve self-sustaining hallucination, you lock into this expanded state where you begin stacking progressively animated frames until you top out around 16 receding frames deep. Anything over 16 stacked frames of temporal depth converges towards infinity and overwhelms human perception.

You could break the Shulgin scale down by depth of hallucinogenic frame complexity if you wanted to, but the model PIT suggests is very generic, like a screen saver algorithm or stacked video feedback loop. The Shulgin scale does not attempt to model this kind of complexity in hallucination, nor should it. PIT is attempting to model a more granular level of sensory detail.

You say expanded consciousness tops out at 16 stacked frames? Why 16 frames?

The number 16 seems a bit arbitrary, but it was the number proposed by the person who first described the Frame Stacking Model to me, and this frame depth was upheld to some degree by my own experimentation with mechanical video feedback as well as a variety of hallucinogenic substances. The frame stacking model is an attempt to quantify the fast rate of progressive animation created by hallucination, and to formalize the rate at which sensation saturates, echoes, stacks, regresses, smears, or overlaps into the subsequent perceptual frame. This is a morphological approach to studying the dynamics of progressive hallucination, and you can measure the liquidity or stretchiness of any hallucination based on this metric of seamless smoothing or aliasing between overlapping stacked frames. After about 16 frames of depth, things tend to trail off and blur together into infinitely receding mist.

With the frame stacking model you can step back and analyze your own hallucination and ask; is it flickering and pulsing like a strobe light, or is it oozing slowly with a high degree of fine detail? The more motion trails you are seeing, the more echoes you're hearing, the more liquid and fluid the hallucination seems, all of that corresponds to the number of simultaneous frames you are stacking. After about 16 layers of temporal frame regression, perception begins to saturate and melt and converge down this white spiral or tunnel into infinity. Experiencing this vortex or tunnel, like your mind being sucked out of your body, is a common sensation on large doses of psychedelics. It may be called ego death, or peaking, or whiting out, or a near-death experience, but it is very much like passing out and going unconscious and leaving your body. It is nearly impossible to have any control over thought, action, memory, or behavior past this perceptual capacity. At this point most people lie down and go astral. 

How do you think PIT will be perceived in the future?

Most psychedelic theory is built around cultural notions of self and spirituality, and because of this most theories typically have a shelf-life of a few decades. Instead of using metaphors, PIT was built around physical models and the best understanding of the physiology of the brain and perception. This gives PIT a much longer shelf-life than previous psychedelic theory. And since PIT avoids spiritual metaphor it is also applicable across all cultures. PIT is not the final word in the field of psychedelic shamanism, but it provides a neat general framework for the study of expanded consciousness. It is my hope that future generations of explorers will read this text and be inspired to evaluate psychedelic phenomena with a more critical scientific eye.

What experiments can be done to test the various models presented in PIT?

PIT is already a working theory. The process and outcomes of shamanism and psychedelic experimentation have already been formalized and tested. Further testing cannot disprove PIT, but it can help refine the level of detail in the proposed models. PIT was informed by existing research from hundreds if not thousands of different sources, including both published scientific literature, traditional shamanic ritual, and underground research from anonymous psychedelic explorers. PIT does not seek to undo research or suggest further avenues for research, but instead proposes a physical model that can tie all existing research together.

All of the models proposed by PIT come directly from studying subjective reports of psychedelic experience and shamanic ritual, and then overlaying these reports with the most current research on psychedelic receptor interaction along various perceptual pathways. All of the models, methods, and techniques described in PIT have been tested in humans and are accurate. Shamanism is already in common practice with only crude spirit models or psychological models to work with. The only thing left to do is refine our understanding of the brain, and as our understanding grows we can look back at the existing shamanic model and ask, "Is it still accurate?" And if the answer is no, then we need to refine the model and make it more accurate. That's the ongoing labor of science.

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