On why I’ll never attribute my insights to the machine elves

This is an interesting article that argues against the existence of a spirit world that can be accessed through the use of psychedelics. The writer argues from several perspectives: rationality, physicality, psychosis, validation, and danger, and challenges some dearly held beliefs about psychedelics and spirits.

My comment to all this? No shit, Sherlock.

These arguments would stand up just as well as arguments against the existence of a spirit world even if psychedelics hadn’t managed to convince a certain segment of the population that machine elves and tree spirits are real. One of the arguments that can be used to refute the belief that deliberately altering one’s mindstate using a chemical is immoral, is to demonstrate how many other ways one can achieve this, and how many of these ways are associated with trying to find god. So if the attempted outcome is the same (see god), and the route is the same (alter one’s perceptions), then what is wrong with psychedelics? Or so the argument goes. However if there are no spirits, as the writer of the article suggests, then what?

To which I reply, does it matter? Dervishes spin, gurus meditate, some people handle snakes, some chant, some listen to repetitive electronic music and dance till they see god, some take psychedelics. And all claim to be having a spiritual experience through their various techniques. If there are no spirits then which of these techniques for seeking Spirit is morally wrong again? Any of them? All of them? And if the Spirit Without is not there, then which of these techniques is legitimate for seeking the Spirit Within?

In my experience of experimenting with various psychedelic substances and techniques, I have come to the same conclusion as Mr Kent. There is no god, there are no spirits, the things I am seeing and experiencing are not coming from another world. I have had experiences which felt as if I were in another world, through the use of strong dissociatives or hallucinogens (as well as some drug-free trance techniques). I have had conversations with Mother Nature and with the Spirit of the Land, with ancestors and with inanimate objects. I have come out of ‘entheogenic’ experiences with insights which have enlightened me to aspects of my life and personality in ways which have improved them. And yes, I have also scared the crap out of myself on occasion. But you know what? It was all in my head. Is there any reason that a spiritual experience has to be external in order to be valid? Do we really still have to appeal to a higher authority for legitimacy in our own insights?

I would suggest that a more interesting question in the field of psychedelics, rather than “Do spirits exist?” is to look into why so many people are describing similar experiences when using different substances, on different continents. In his book Breaking Open The Head, Daniel Pinchbeck describes the similarities between experiences described by people in South America using Ayahuasca (the oral form of DMT) and those described by people in Africa using Iboga. Both sets of people describe conversing with the spirit of the plant and coming away with insights. So if the plant spirit does not exist, what is happening here? Are these people tapping into a similarity we all have in our humanity in order to gain revelations into themselves? Rather than accessing the spirit world, are they accessing some form of collective consciousness or internal wisdom that we can’t access in our normal mindstate?

And why is this internal wisdom considered ‘less than’ external wisdom, that we feel the need to back ourselves and our methods of accessing this wisdom by trying to prove the existence of god? I would have thought it was greater than – because it shows what the mind is capable of.

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