The Vast Unknown of Consciousness
Psychedelics, virtual reality, and the future of humanity (Reading time: 3:33)
Inspired by a 3rd-person view of subjective experience
Psychedelics, sober reality, & the feeling of oneness
How I understand the "trip" part of psychedelics is similar to the astronaut floating around a spaceship. In this scenario, sober, ordinary reality is the astronaut in the spaceship doing astronaut things.
When you take a hit of LSD, DMT, psilocybin, peyote, ketamine, or MDMA, you put your space suit on and venture out into the vast unknown of consciousness.
Cue the experience of oneness: seeing yourself not as a person on Earth (the astronaut with responsibilities to attend to), but as a cell actively participating in the organism of reality as a whole.
This perspective requires you to temporarily relinquish your everyday mentality for a time.
I highly recommend acquainting yourself with this feeling at least once in your life (it's possible through years of dedicated meditation, without arbitrarily illicit substances). As with any new perspective, it shifts your behaviour and, with the right mental and spiritual preparation, may bestow clarity and momentum to an intentionally directed life (assuming you figure out how to interrupt the automaticity of consciousness).
However, if you venture too far away from the spaceship, psychosis sets in. Every movement closer to the void slowly weakens your connection to the world. Eventually, you'll lose touch with baseline reality on such an unconscious level that the tether is cut. Once your grip on realit(y/ies) has loosened, it's harder to integrate yourself back into the default reality we wake up in.
Yes, you are but a humble cell in this organism, but you are ALSO a human person here and now, reading this, with hopes, fears, and plans. Different realities evoke in us different emotions, and language is one of our ways of expressing those experiences to ourselves and others.
The stories we tell ourselves about our experiences (from any reality) are only as true as we believe them to be, implying that any story is equally true. So, to unhook ourselves from any one perspective, we must reconcile the concurrent truth of any possible reality: a task we most often do with language.
Language is conceptual, but reality (in the binary sense of being or not being, as compared to the subjective reality of cognitive life) is literal. So, semantics will, at some intersection of meanings that you may independently assent to, give rise to a paradox that our minds weren't built to comprehend. The intersection, however, is literally real nonetheless.
As far as we know, telepathy is the only way to communicate and wholly understand entire states of being without encountering contradictory language. My friend and I call this higher-dimensional understanding, The Beyond.
This gap between language and reality leads to frustration because we instinctively trust that our labels for reality are reality. They are, and they're not - that tree really is out in the world, and the ridges of its bark are as brittle as they look. However, that tree as it stands does not, in and of itself, imply all the conceptual baggage we associate with the word, "tree" (ecology, the paper industry, canoes, etcetera). This is as true of the Self as it is of the tree.
Many of our problems arise from instinctively and wholeheartedly believing our own thoughts and definitions. This automatic response to life leads us into the cycle of circumstance --> tell ourselves an instinctual story of that circumstance to preserve our preexisting understanding of ourselves --> make bad decisions --> circumstance worsens.
We need to experience peace. Inner peace creates space to reflect on the “you” part of the above cycle and restructure it: circumstance --> decide to change our narrative --> make better decisions --> circumstance improves. There's not a lot you can do about the world right now, but there's no limit to how you can change your story of the world.
Reality will always, to some degree, remain a mystery to our biologically grounded three-dimensional cognition. The best we can do is asymptotically investigate oneness from different, and hopefully conflicting perspectives. Hilariously, it's all because the word "fan" is not a literal fan, humming away in the background.
Virtual Reality & Other Means of Escapism
So how does this apply to virtual reality? Virtual reality is another method of straying away from the metaphorical spaceship of morning's sober awareness.
I speculate that the phenomenon is localized to Japan because the island is further ahead in the field than any other country.
We, as humans, do everything we do to fulfill our conscious and unconscious needs in positive, negative, or neutral ways.
Downstream, why spend time going out into the world and risk facing rejection when you can put on a pair of goggles and experience the human-like intimacy of dating from the comfort of home?
The introduction of VR to mass culture has already changed the human experience.
The individuals making up these statistics have been had by VR in the same way as someone who's done too many drugs consistently over a long time. They continually saw away their tether and are destabilized, landing somewhere in between this reality and another.
So, they end up looking to fulfill their human needs in an inhuman environment. That's not to say the automaticity of our being is all wrong - life would be stupidly complicated and most of us wouldn't exist if we had to think our way through every microbiological thing the body does every day.
Virtual reality offers an unprecedented tool for changing our labels and narratives. Every tool is inherently neutral, and it's up to us to decide how to apply it. I think technology's rewards may be worth the risk.
Take a war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example. With virtual reality, we can fundamentally alter their approach to life, overwriting the post-traumatic truth with a kinder one. The human brain can be rewired – mindfulness and meditation have shown us that. But VR will introduce new dimensions to the phenomenon.
A global paradigm shift
The 1960s birthed Steve Jobs, Aldous Huxley, Jimi Hendrix, and others who have - to this day - marked our collective identity. These are profound and lasting cultural shifts. Psychedelics were the virtual reality of the '60s and headsets are the virtual reality of the 21st century. I think we can expect another cultural evolution once virtual reality reaches the masses.
Psychedelics show us that any idea of "real" reality is malleable. Virtual reality allows us to choose our reality. I think we should, but cautiously.
And if it's possible to get lost in an alternate reality, how do we that we're not already lost in this one?
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