How does the awareness of our brain chemistry affect the experience?


I’ve often compared experiences where I went in without any knowledge with those where I had gathered information beforehand.

I’ve found knowledge to be a contaminant.

The indigenous man doesn’t know or care about science. He is only concerned with direct experience. How does that fit into our ideations about how to do psychedelics? What do you guys think?


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hash, Indigenous, and native peoples have minds that are just as densely packed with ideas about the world as modern humans. Perhaps even more so, as the economy and lifestyle and culture of native peoples is not poorer than ours, it is richer by farm, and their way of life ultimately far more demanding.

We moderns spend a lot of our economic time in an abstracted space, in which we are manipulating numbers and symbols, and operating in virtual. A secretary operating a database, a coder building apps, a drone operator calculating missile trajectories - all virtual, disconnected from sensory experience.

A native person catching fish or clearing plots for planting or making twine is on the other hand working directly in the structure of the planet’s surface. Every motion is pure physics. Every choice means eat or not eat. We moderns think of this as “the simple life” because ewe don’t do it. It’s not simple at all.

They also carry vast libraries of stories, songs, personal relations and histories, memories of where a plant grows and where there are rocks that will break your ankle hidden in the water of a stream. They don’t write this stuff down and then forget it cuz it’s written down. It’s stored in memory, and in their head when they take the molecules.

Anthropologists have been talking about the complex minds of natives for a long time. Yeah, we used to think they had less complex mental lives than moderns, cuz we always think we are the shit. But when we measured and compared, we discovered it wasn’t true, not even close.

Natives have their own equivalent of science. some of it is detailed and accurate, like what plants do what when, and what are they useful for. Some aren’t, like the fairly common belief that women get pregnant because the penis opens the pathway of the vagina and allows spirits to enter.

I’d have to look up the numbers that have been measured, but I think it’s in the area of 10 to 20 times - that is, an adult native typically can describe and recite from memory 10 to 20 times the number of stories that an adult modern can. The stories they consider most important are not immersion in direct experience. They are mythic history, tribe and clan identity stories.

If you want to argue that knowledge is a contaminant, you can’t do it by claiming that native peoples are innocent and don’t have knowledge.


Since this is an interesting topic, I’d like to look a little closer.

You said, “I’ve found knowledge to be a contaminant.”

How is it a contaminant?

It’s important t be as specific as possible when looking at questions of this scale and possible impact. So, what I am asking is for something like specific examples of a specific contaminant event. What was contaminated? How did you know it was contaminated? Did you test for contamination, or did you just get a result that you didn’t like?

Now, I have a number of contamination type stories from personal experience. many many many times I have watched my mind, or indirectly the minds of others, distort the experience in various ways, as a result of preferences, expectations, beliefs, emotional preferences, fears and desires, attachments and repulsions, mistakes of identification, misheard words, and much much more.

Let me give you an example of a story I consider a contamination story.

I was in my twenties, and took LSD the way i usually do, with a visiting friend, and we were doing the type of exploring I like to do, using mild ritual guidances to direct the experience, talking and interacting, sharing visions we were having, etc.

We had been outside in the woods and came back to my house to warm up. I made tea. I used peppermint that I had picked and dried from the bank of a stream that runs near the house.

I drink the tea. It is very strong and the acrid peppermint is very intense in my mouth. It’s the right temp and I down about two thirds quickly.

Sitting there, cup in hand, I think about the peppermint plants. And I am suddenly struck by a conviction, a powerful belief. That I had not picked peppermint, but poison hemlock. I look at the cup, and think about the amount I consumed. And I realize with utter certainty that I have about 30 minutes to live. The dose was not survivable.

My friend had not drunk the peppermint. I reach out and take the cup from him and say, “Don’t drink this. It’s not good.” he has no idea why or what is going on in me.

And then, the LSD increases in intensity by about ten times. I know I am dead. I know how I will die. I will start feeling the suppression of muscles in ten minutes, and suffocate before thirty minutes are over. But I don’t want to panic my friend. I have no antidotes there. There is no way to get me to medical help in time. I will tell him after the paralysis starts, and before I lose the ability to speak. Let him have the ten minutes.

The instant I make that decision, I am hurled into the most intense near-death experiences of my life. It would take hours to describe even the basic outlines. I completely accepted death, and I died. I knew what the dead and the bornless know… It was and remained one of the most importantexperiences of my life, a pivotal point, and it has shaped everything I have done since.

Obviously, I am not dead.

After spending what seemed like hours in death, I came back to awareness in my body. I realize i can see the clock on the stove. A bit more than eight minutes have passed. “Funny,” I thought. "I should have started having trouble with breathing a few minutes ago. I should be feeling terrible right now. But I felt pretty good.

I turn my head to my friend/. i shouldn’t have been able to do that either. I think I said “how you doing”. he startles a bit, looks at me and says “wow I was just having the most intense energy experience. White lights.”

“Me too.”, I said. I lift up a hand. Everything is blazing with clear white light. But my hand functions fine.

And I realize I was wrong. I had not picked poison hemlock. It was in fact peppermint. I stand, which was not easy, and go check the jar. Smelled it. Looked at the leaves. Peppermint. Definitely. I start laughing. I laughed for five minutes, could not speak, could barely breathe. I thought, this is ironic, I might die from not being able to breathe, cuz my ribs hurt from all this laughing.

Now, there is more to the story. But here’s the point.

This is a story of the effect of contamination. I contaminated my experience with a false belief.

Even tho it was one of h best most important experiences of my life, I DID NOT DIE. I wan’;t even near death. I was totally fine all along.

Even tho I know, with a certainty that I can never shake or undo, exactly what it feels like to be dead, what is it that I really know?

I know what it’s like to imagine that you are dead.

Now I think I triggered exactly the same brain chemicals that occur in a near death experience caused by drowning or accident or overdose or any such similar thing. I have spent much effort in exploring that experience, comparing to near-death reports, and more.

But it’s a contaminated experience.

Now, that’s an example of the type of report I’d like to get from you about how you experience knowledge, and in particular scientific knowledge, as a contaminant.


Complex information of brain chemistry is no more substantive than any other acquired structure of information, especially at higher doses. It all breaks down in the light of direct experience.

How does that fit into our ideations about how to do psychedelics? What do you guys think?

The “set” aspect of “set and setting” comes to mind, where “set” ideally involves research on the basics of dosage, onset time, and general effects so as not to overdose or be entirely overcome by fear and confusion and, for example, call an ambulance out of ignorance.

This, as I see it, is not at all the same as accumulating information in a more academic sense.

In the education system it’s usually true that if one simply studies and acquires enough information, the “results” will be better off than if you go in to the exam blind.

This kind of thinking may come along for the ride but psychedelics certainly don’t play by these rules. In my experience they indiscriminately tear down any and all information that the mind may be attempting to hold up as a filter for the raw sense data of experience.

At lower doses and without an intention to “go within”, however, it’s common for the experience to be shaped by the ideas held in the mind - religious symbology in particular is common, however in the context of brain chemistry, I’ve noticed through browsing forums such as Reddit that it’s very common for people to lump their experiences under descriptions of what they’ve learned about the mechanism of action.

This is most pronounced with MDMA, where there’s a huge emphasis placed on the fact that Seratonin floods the system and any profound feelings of “love” and empathy are easily downplayed next to this fact. Like “oh, it was just the seratonin.”

Not only is the mechanism of action for MDMA (and seratonin, for that matter) far more complex and mysterious than chemists and scientists are presently aware of, but the direct experience itself of MDMA can feel simply far too profound to explain away by any acquired knowledge of seratonin or dopamine or oxytocin, unless one is in denial of the all-importance of science, as I see it.

On another level, it’s entirely ass-backwards to be concerned with the science to a greater degree than the implications of the experience itself. All we ever have is experience in the first place, and acquired scientific information is often so far removed from direct experience that, other than the chemists who synthesize these substances in the first place, its usefulness is mostly limited to satisfying an innate curiosity in those who already possess an elementary understanding of science and/or want to further their understanding.

This understanding, though, is the kind that’s built out of concepts and, other than for purposes of production and harm prevention, may be too far removed from direct experience to enrich the experience, especially if one takes a high enough dosage to be immersed in the experience itself without much room to bring along information acquired in the past.