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Psychedelics and Magic Tricks

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Nathanial.Dread

Rising Star
I've been mulling some stuff over in my head lately, and the conversation about consciousness over in the Science & Philosophy section really brought it to the fore.

I grew up doing magic tricks as a teenager: gimmicky card tricks that I tried to impress people with at parties, with varying degrees of success. There are tons of magic tricks out there that make the seemingly impossible happen before our very eyes and apparently in defiance of rational analysis. It wouldn't be a magic trick if it was easy to figure out - the feeling of 'there's no explanation' is key.

And yet, no one I ever showed a magic trick to thought I was *actually* supernatural. No one assumes that David Blaine or David Copperfield is. Even if we can't figure out the 'trick,' there's an assumption that there is some explanation that is consistent with the laws of reality as we understand them. If you're really interested you can dig into the nitty-gritty world of slight-of-hand and all the quirks of attention that make the illusions possible.

The point of this is to show an example where we can have a conscious perception of a seemingly 'miraculous' or 'unexplainable' phenomena that does not prompt us to radically restructure our own view of the laws of nature. If I did a magic trick and someone decided that their experience was proof that I was Jesus, I'd be deeply concerned.

Why doesn't that happen with the same frequency with psychedelics?

Sure, there are some people who think critically about their experiences, but there seem to be a lot more who dive off the proverbial deep end, taking their experiences at face value as evidence of aliens, other dimensions, religious revelations, and such-like, despite the fact that, if they saw me turn one card into another they'd have no problem saying 'oh there's a slight of hand, I just can't see it.'

Now, I've taken mushrooms, LSD, DMT, mescaline, the whole nine-yards and I understand how powerful these experiences can seem in the moment, but once the drug is metabolized and excreted, the clear next step seems to be critical thinking. The experience of seeing a card come out of someone nose is pretty extreme 'in the moment' but then the moment is gone and you think 'ok, how do I square that with what I already know.'

What, fundamentally, makes a trip different from a magic trick? Is it just because the psychedelic drug flips the 'profound' switch in a way that a trick doesn't?

Blessings
~ND
 
the thing that is baffling and makes me think there may be something wierd going on is that the experiences i've had on DMT seem to be so far removed from normal experience that it feels like they have no buisness being in my head, why would the brain be able to do the things that happen on a serious dose of DMT?

I cant figure out any reason why the things that happen, happen. what is the advantage of them? it all just seems too bizarre. im not a believer spirits and dimension traveling, i believe its all in your head, but i question what it is that lives inside my head.

i think the profound button is a big part of why people believe the things they do about DMT.
 
Profundity, open to suggestion and being fully immersed in the experience rather than just observing an illusion taking place as a third party. It is almost impossible for me to come out of a heavy duty experience without thinking that there is something very bizzarre happening beyond the peripheries of my conscensus reality perception. Where one decides
to go with it once the drugs have worn off is dependant on the individuals own world view and if the resulting conclusions are relatively harmless, or even beneficial it doesn't really matter whether we become deluded or not. We can be fairly convinced as to what is real or not but we never know for sure.

I think that if someone who was tripping was to watch David Blane do an illusion (without knowing that he was an illusionist) they would be far more likely to be led up the garden path.
 
This is a great analogy. As someone who started to fall a little too deep into the new-age rabbit hole when I first got into psychedelics, I'm glad I was able to take a step back from it all and integrate my experiences in a way that aligns with a rational worldview.

This said, I don't think it's quite so black and white. The more I learn about how psychedelics work in the brain the less likely I think it is that we're literally transported to other dimensions or making contact with alien entities--but on the other hand, I think it's entirely feasible that psychedelics give us a wider view of reality than our minds are normally capable of. We may not literally be "seeing" other physical dimensions, but we can visualize them in a way that aligns with what we know about actual spatial dimensions. We may not literally be traversing time, but we can subjectively experience it in a way that confounds our ordinary linear perception and aligns with what we know about time's multifaceted nature. We may not literally become some kind of unified cosmic consciousness, but these kinds of peak experiences align with what we know about the interconnected nature of the cosmos.

I don't think one has to take their psychedelic experiences literally to derive spiritual meaning from them. We know that psychedelics allow us to recognize patterns our minds are not normally optimized to perceive (using your words from another thread), and that in itself has significantly shifted my view of reality in a way that I consider spiritual.

I find there's a lot of polarization in these kinds of discussions between the empiricists and spiritualists, but I've personally found beauty and truth somewhere in the middle.
 
I've always been (and still am), somewhat of a cynic. Even after several breakthroughs, I was still pretty convinced that Hyperspace was a 'trick', albeit a very, very convincing one.

It was only after I read a particular thread on here - where someone described a certain thing that some jesters did to him, which word for word, also happened to me - that I started to question my beliefs just a little....

I can really empathise with folks who get sucked in more deeply than others. The DMT experience is ineffable.
 
Nathanial.Dread said:
What, fundamentally, makes a trip different from a magic trick?


Perhaps seeing a magic trick we can't explain is more in line with what we are used to seeing within our everyday world view. I am sure many of us can't explain a plethora of everyday things like our smart phones, vehicles, how ecosystems work, why the sun keeps shining, or even why our hearts keep beating. There is magic all around us. No radical restructure of the laws of nature needed. Some people are content with enjoying the sunset or the magic trick and some are filled with the need to find out how its done or works.

The psychedelic experience is something that comes from with in us, and can be felt by more than our external senses. A lot different than just watching something external that we can't explain.

Perhaps, even subconsciously, some people feel that they must believe what they have experienced as true because of the implication that if it isn't they can't trust their own mind.
 
Maybe it has to do with the fact that if you see david copperfield doing some magic trick, it's merely messing with the way you perceive the external world to be. Psychedelics not only change the way you perceive yourself, but go way deeper. They change 'perceiving' itself. Maybe therefore, you could see it as sort of bypassing the critical thinking mode.

Or to put it differently: maybe critical thinking is part of the whole 'perceiving machinery'. The whole "all perception is theory-laden" thing. What david copperfield is doing then is merely playing with theory-ladennes by providing input that would normally most likely be associated with theory A, while in fact it's theory B that would best explain what's going on. But in this case, what psychedelics are doing is messing with the machinery itself, critical thinking included.

Maybe not on a counscious level in the sense that critical thinking is impaired. But more in the way in wich critical thinking affects perception.

I think the predictive coding theory could also be helpfull in thís case (see thread "a theory that could help to explain the effect of psychedelics" in the philosophy section of this site). Say that critical thinking is something that occurs on the top-level of the whole neural pyramid. So it would be about the kind of expectations we'd have, realy on the conceptual or even abstract levels of functioning. If psychedelics do indeed shut-down our error-detection module, then it would seem to us, as if the things we perceive would already have been screened for errors and that we simply couldn't find any.

So then it seems to us, as if the things we experience have already undergone a critical-thinking test. And that they've passed.
 
Intresting.
Youd be amazed about the amount of memory that we can collect & even change and edit and stuff.
We basically remember everything we did in our lives and its stored somewhere in the brain (but our dna has even moar info!).
It is not a lie when they say anything u think of you think it into existence, and therefor it has a kind of.. transending or descending effect a thought will go faster and faster deeper and deeper as long as you keep focus on that one subject.
And the concious mind uses its sub concious mind (memory) to relate and puts a movie on of what is happening. Thats why children easily absorb & adapt to new lifestyle/changes/ideas while older people not so fast.
All in all most thoughts we dont hear them directly, but are translated into body language which is or could be called our emotional (<3) side.
-
There are tricksters who play on our emotional side , by coming in with an attitude of high confidence and set a certain rules and say stuff which are not true but people easily fall for those tricks after becoming emotionally attached or even afraid of it!
While the truth is, no one but you have the ability to distinguish fiction from reality.
And that even your own past might scare you out of proceeding trying to feel hopeless.
But i want to end on a good note saying, if u can identify this then you probably are more awake and willing to change.
Instead of closing ourselves to all the posibilities this opens up a new spectrum of receptiveness.
 
Nathanial.Dread said:
If you're really interested you can dig into the nitty-gritty world of slight-of-hand and all the quirks of attention that make the illusions possible.

The point of this is to show an example where we can have a conscious perception of a seemingly 'miraculous' or 'unexplainable' phenomena that does not prompt us to radically restructure our own view of the laws of nature.

...

Sure, there are some people who think critically about their experiences, but there seem to be a lot more who dive off the proverbial deep end, taking their experiences at face value as evidence of aliens, other dimensions, religious revelations, and such-like, despite the fact that, if they saw me turn one card into another they'd have no problem saying 'oh there's a slight of hand, I just can't see it.'


It is not about psychedelics, but life itself.

tseuq
 
While thinking about some of my own experiences in this context, the well-known Arthur C. Clarke quote came to mind: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

My interpretation of this quote up to this point had always been that of technology as manufactured articles of various kinds. Now, forgive me if I've been a bit slow on the uptake regarding this, but thanks to this thread I now see how, through the various methods of producing altered states of consciousness, we come to develop a learning of techniques - therefore a technology - of the mind. And so we develop our minds in ways that are indistinguishable from magic? It can certainly be very difficult for those who have not experienced such altered states to understand the ways of thinking and experiencing of those who have.

The other aspect of psychedelic experience that to me has seemed akin to magic is how under fairly specific circumstances certain substances (psilocybin in particular) have facilitated physical capabilities way beyond my normal range of performance. Of course, this suggests my normal physical performance is typically being limited by mental factors although the simultaneous heightening of awareness was also quite remarkable and included atypical sensory awareness.

To go into greater detail here, the key circumstances were an emotional catharsis with abundant crying while in a prostrate position with direct contact with the ground. My thinking here would be that in part the crying purges cortisol and related stress hormones from the body. The enhanced physical performance that ensued was the ability to free climb on virtually smooth, vertical surfaces which could not be replicated in the sober state some hours later. I recall being able to see the energy patterns it was necessary to follow in order to climb said surfaces.

On the sensory level, the particularly memorable aspect was what seemed at the time to be the ability to feel the bioelectrical fields of passers-by on the other side of a building at a distance of 30 metres or more. It felt like a kind of radar and was distinct from other sensory cues. And at this point it is time for me to conclude this post :)
 
There's something I wonder why nobody even mentioned... and that is the social aspect.

A magic trick is a known social script. The magician establishes a social contract with their audience as an entertainer, based on the cultural knowledge around stage magic. Everyone knows beforehand that everything they will see is a trick. We even downright call them "magic tricks".

Now, there are people who use similar techniques as stage magicians, but without the social contract. Indian gurus and saints for example are known to use sleight of hand and trickery to create the illusion of superhuman feats such as incredible strength, levitation, materializing objects, or surviving long periods without taking sustenance.
And while most skeptics would not believe these phenomena, plenty of people do in fact believe them. (Or, even knowing that there is trickery involved, say that it's just "window dressing for the uninitiated", and that such illusions are just a way to externally express the -otherwise real- spiritual advancement and power of the guru.)

So the "skeptical" approach to stage magic is not skepticism at all, it's prior knowledge.

---

As for the psychedelic experience, I agree that some level of skepticism is pretty important, but I'd really argue whether it shares any similarity with magic tricks other than their "outworldish" nature.

For one, the psychedelic experience is not unexplainable. It is very easy to explain in a reductionist worldview, as a dreamlike vision, plain neural noise.

On the other hand, it's deeply subjective. It's not some guy showing me a card appearing inside an orange, it's my core subjective being changing mode of existence.

Thus, it reveals something about my own existence - regardless of the chemical manner in which it is achieved, the breakthrough is subjectively just as real as everyday consciousness. And whether my body, the computer I'm typing on, or you who read this, are actually really real, and in what manner, leads too far off road. :p

The psychedelic experience is more like, say, cars than magic tricks. Cars seem magical, they move by themselves, at incredible speeds. They do have a mechanism by which they work. But they are not "tricks" or "illusions". ;)
 
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