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An Account of the Magic Mushroom


High Deer - by Peter Bergson High Deer - Image Courtesy of Peter Bergson

Many people consider their psilocybin experiences as spiritual. This is partly a semantic issue: if one means by spiritual, metaphysical, then this experience is spiritual. What is experienced goes beyond the physical world. Of course one could see a physical cause of the metaphysical experience, viz. that the Liberty Caps' psilocybin is dephosphorylated to psilocin which then mimics the effects of serotonin in the brain's serotonin receptors. This is a physical cause of the experiences; but the cause should not be conflated with the effect. A third-person explanation of an experience is never a sufficient explanation as it excludes the first-person experience. As Thomas Nagel illustrates, though we can theoretically know exactly how a bat's brain operates, we can never know what it is like to be a bat - we cannot enter the bat's first-person perspective. Likewise, though we can know what causes a magic mushroom experience - magic mushrooms plus physiology - we cannot thereby know what the experience is of, and more importantly we cannot thereby know whether that experience is of something that has an ontological status beyond my physical self. In sum, the question is open as to whether magic mushrooms make you only hallucinate or whether they allow your mind to access realities which are normally prohibited by the practical modus operandi of the brain and body.

God: I saw two flowing eyes staring at me. I considered them sentient and I still felt bliss. If I were already religious, I should probably have considered this to be proof of God. However, I realised that if I had not the cultural understanding of God from religion, I could not have interpreted my meeting as one with the almighty. I could also have interpreted this as a meeting with aliens desperate to make connections with human beings, or I could have interpreted it as a demon, or even as Satan. A spiritual experience must still be interpreted, and the tools used for interpretation are significantly cultural. The question though is whether religion emerged from such experiences in the past, or whether religion emerged from power structures or human anthropomorphism, etc. I'd argue that what we now call religion has a plurality of origins, drug-induced experiences being one of many.

Writing of the devil, at one point I believed I was the devil, Satan Himself. This was because, I think now, I saw many occult, demonic images but felt completely at ease; as if the dark spirits were my friends. One image I remember in particular was a sort of waterfall, shaped as a goat's head, from which fell and ran tens of wolves, goats and skulls towards me. It was in black and white but covered simultaneously in multicolour. It was very 'heavy metal', a form of music for which I have a penchant. At another point I saw a streaming wall of skulls and iron crosses. It was hell; but I liked it, I was at home here. So it dawned on me that I was probably the Prince of Darkness. I took this all very light-heartedly though the images were intense. I still wonder whether I imagined this because I enjoy metal or whether metallers use these images because they use, it has been suggested, many drugs from where their inspiration derives.

Before I opened my eyes and entered the world of phenomena once more, another realisation and understanding dawned upon me: What was 'me'? I realised that what "I" is, is only one 'thing' as a word. Really, "I" is a conglomerate of many levels. Though I had come to this thought previously in life via the study of Kant, Nietzsche, and some psychology, I had never properly come to this feeling. At one level, I always considered reason to be there, as a judge, a viewer of what was happening to me. Though reason had lost his power over the body and was very easily side-tracked vis-à-vis 'his' line of thought. I considered reason as something which rolled on the underside of my skull, metaphorically. On another level was the unfolding of 'my' imagination. If this was merely imagination, it was also "I" that was its author. But then on another level still "I", another "I", was watching this imagination unfold. Parts of the mind were watching other parts of the mind, so what part was "me"? Again, one understands how this collection of selves was metaphysical as it would make little sense to say that some physical parts of the brain watched other physical parts. The brain process is a necessary cause of my psychological insight, but not a sufficient explanation. Full understanding of the mind cannot be arrived at solely by physical neurology; other types of scientific criteria are needed which as of yet do not exist. Another level of my self was my body. As I opened my eyes, I decided to try reading. Rather surprisingly, when I opened Nietzsche's 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', the first sentence I encountered was, '"My ego is something that should be overcome": that is what this eye says.'

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Peter runs his own graphic design company HobGob Graphics. If you want truly shroomtastic graphics that are out of this world visit the site now.

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