What does the world of modern psychedelic use and research look like? Erik Davis sums it up in less than 4,000 words in his November 2012 essay Return Trip published on the remarkably rocking Aeon e-zine.
What is most spectacular about this essay is Davis’ ability to communicate and disarm the apparent clash between neuroscience, biology and other fields that help scientifically explain the psychedelic experience, and the ineffable experiences of the sacred that commonly emerge during sessions.
Deciphering how the scientific and sacred co-exist and evolve, Davis states:
…despite and because of our neuroscientific bias, anomalous religious experiences are on track to become ever more recognised dimensions of human experience. They are rightfully taking their place as ‘poetic facts’ — experiential claims that the living of life itself makes on us, and whose very persistence constrains the totalising aspirations of purely meat-based science.
There may be no clash between science and the mysterious sacred; rather, we may be on our way to synthesizing complementary truths about our life and time in the universe.
Further exploring the possible enmeshing of science and cosmic consciousness, Davis states:
…the state [of Brazil] has also begun sponsoring a number of ayahuasca studies, the latest of which was published in the November 2011 issue of the journal Human Brain Mapping. A team of researchers in the city of Natal used functional MRI to track how the brains of experienced ayahuasca drinkers behaved during the extraordinary visionary displays occasioned by the brew. By asking participants to imagine internal scenes, and correlating the imaging data with visual tests and psychological measures, the team was able to trace the shifting dance between different brain regions associated with memory, projective imagination, vision, and intentional imagery, and to offer tentative explanations for the intense vividness of the visions.
While such findings can support explanations that banish the spirits from the forest and lock them into our neural circuitry, this sort of research can also be seen, from a different perspective, as mapping the brain’s own potential reconfigurations as a transceiver of information flows — that is, as a reality machine that is as much like a radio set as a computer. While this ‘transmission’ model of consciousness is certainly more speculative, neuroscience is still a long way off from closing the gap between its explanations and the felt flow of consciousness — indeed, according to some philosophers, this gap is simply woven into the nature of things. As such, neuroscience might be seen not as eviscerating traditional accounts so much as weaving them into more multifaceted and open-ended meshworks, where social, cultural, and even cosmic frameworks interlock with neural and biological ones.