The book is a mine of information about how the mind processes information, sense data, and concepts under abnormal conditions. Shanon does not disguise his enthusiasm for ayahuasca, but he attempts to maintain a disinterested and naturalistic stance. I have not taken ayahuasca. It does not sound terribly appealing. Her description of the experience , however, is enough to scare you off the stuff for life.

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The book is a mine of information about how the mind processes information, sense data, and concepts under abnormal conditions. Shanon does not disguise his enthusiasm for ayahuasca, but he attempts to maintain a disinterested and naturalistic stance. I have not taken ayahuasca.

It does not sound terribly appealing. Her description of the experience , however, is enough to scare you off the stuff for life. Shanon, however, comes off as a remarkably equanimous guy of good humor and patience, so his accounts do not dwell so much on the dark side of ayahuasca.

He attributes much of his poise to ayahuasca, but I suspect he was fairly upbeat and fearless going in. We are 60 pages in before we come to this blithe passage: Usually, the harshest symptoms of the Ayahuasca inebriation occur during the first 90 minutes following the onset of the effect.

During this time, visions can be very strong and the entire experience may be tough and even frightening. Often the feeling is that the drinker has little or no control over what is happening. Thus, the initial phase of the inebriation is likely to present drinkers with moments of intense struggle. At times, the person who partakes of Ayahuasca feels he or she is losing his or her senses and even going mad.

Quite commonly, people feel that they are about to die. Naturally, all this is likely to generate great trepidation. With experience, however, the fear can be better managed and the Ayahuasca drinker learns to gain more control over the intoxication. Most of the visions he describes are generally rather benevolent, possibly because people who have repeatedly horrific ones stop drinking ayahuasca rather quickly.

Shanon divides the material by subject matter and thematic analysis. The smoke lifted up and it became perfectly clear to me: It was an act of cleansing, of protecting the woman from potential dangers that may be inflicted by evil spirits. There were no visual hallucinations as such, yet, I would not say that the act was merely symbolic. What I experienced was literally this—seeing the casting of a shield against evil powers.

It all seemed to have a very serious and sombre allure, and manifestly, it was all invested with magic. If I were to define what made it all so mysterious I would say that it was the fact that on the one hand everything pertained to another reality, while yet at the very same time it was all real.

Again, no hallucination as such was experienced—technically what I was seeing was real, and none the less it was all utterly non-ordinary, and enchanted.

Another pattern of interpreting-as is one I shall characterize as seeing the particular as generic, or rather, seeing the generic in the particular. The first, which for me was very striking, occurred during the daytime. It was in a village and I, intoxicated, was sitting on a small verandah overlooking the meadows. A farmer a real one was passing by, and I saw The Farmer, the universal prototype of all farmers. Again, as in the previous example, the standard perception and the non-ordinary one are related.

Yet, while normally I would have seen just a farmer, this time I saw The Farmer. While semantically linked, experientially these two perceptions are totally different. I have heard accounts of the very same phenomenon from my informants. In both these cases, ordinary sense data is framed by conceptual interpretation that ordinarily kicks in only at a layer of remove from seemingly immanent experience, revealing that conceptual interpretation was there all along.

Similarly, invocation of Platonic forms occurs repeatedly: The real figure the trees and the visualized one the people were related, but not by means of any overlapping of lines. In other words, the relationship was primarily semantic. Other instances of this kind I have experienced were seeing an imaginary jaguar resting on the branch of a real tree and an imaginary cow standing on a real truck.

Abstract entities may be seen as well. One informant told me he had a grand vision of perfect geometric bodies. Three informants reported grand visions in which the manifold of all forms was seen. Several informants, all with an academic education, explicitly commented that Ayahuasca brought them to the world of Platonic Ideas. Finally, there are visions in which one feels one is encountering the Supreme Good. A major impression these visions had on me is the Platonic conclusion that ultimately, the ethical and the aesthetical as well as the true are the same.

I have heard similar assessments made by many other people. Even in the perception of a particular instance of an abstract concept, we already have the abstract concept in mind. To put it another way: does Shanon have an experience of seeing The Farmer, or does he merely think that he has had an experience of seeing The Farmer? This is a nonsensical question: there is no difference between the two.

The meaninglessness of this question, I believe, points to the effect that ayahuasca is having on him. Classically Cartesian and empiricist accounts are misleading in this regard. While there might be instances where interpretation may be relegated to a separate, secondary process, I am reluctant to regard this as the paradigmatic, general case. Following the philosopher Merleau-Ponty and the psychologist Gibson , I believe that it is impossible to draw a clear-cut line dividing between naked, interpretation-free sensory inputs and interpretative processes that are subsequently applied to them so as to render these inputs into meaningful percepts.

Applied to the example cited, this view implies that, from a cognitive-psychological point of view, if the figure seen was identified as being Jesus, then phenomenologically this is indeed who was seen. Does this deflate the claims that Shanon is making of profound, sublime experience? This is not to say that there are no distinctions—there seem to be multiple levels involved—but that concepts play some part at all levels.

A scene may begin as one of the former kind, gain strength and reach the characteristics of the latter, and then it may perhaps dissipate and turn into an experience that is again primarily visual. What characterizes very powerful experiences of virtual reality is that they involve no progressive process of immersion. Dubious Reactions and Causal Breakage While the experiential nature of the content still stands, we nonetheless have good reason to question the exact constitution of the experiences.

As an example, consider this grand vision Shanon gives: I had the vision, recounted in Chs. Here I think Shanon slips. It is the old Wittgenstein beetle in the box problem. The mind, while amazing, is also amazingly good at tricking itself.

Shanon had some kind of vision, but he also was in a state in which he was clearly disposed to think of his vision experience as amazing. Here is a representative excerpt: On many occasions I saw corridors, one hall opening into another, marvellous wall-paintings, sculptures, and reliefs. Several times, I saw most beautiful painted tiles. In the reports of my informants mosaics appear frequently; an example was described in Ch.

In order to have a reaction to an imagined stimulus X, what was required of that imagined stimulus X? I could have a vision in which I had just read a profound book containing the secrets of life and am left awestruck. The book need not have existed as a conceptual entity in my mind beyond having loose book-like qualities. Since we already know that ayahuasca throws logic out the window, there is no need to think that there was some causal chain in which an actual, fully-fleshed-out conceptual object caused the reactions he was having, or that the reactions were rationally justified.

Consider a more prosaic example. All I have is some pieces of the audio that are what were salient to me. They are fairly vivid, but they are drastically incomplete, and the same would apply to any vision or hallucination I might have. My visual sense, however, is in fact much poorer and I have a much harder time summoning up vivid images; this seems to be the reverse of the norm. When Shanon says: The philosopher of language Austin claimed that we do not just say things with words— rather we do things with them saying being one of these things.

My work on ordinary consciousness has led me to posit that with the silent mentations in our minds i. I have further argued that what consciousness affords is a kind of virtual reality whereby human beings can act even when actual action in the external world is not possible.

My claim has been made on the basis of ordinary consciousness. In the case of nonordinary consciousness the case is even more extreme. I would like to propose that with Ayahuasca the human propensity of world creation is increased manifoldly. As Wittgenstein repeatedly stressed, we have no way of knowing. Specific Neurological Manipulations Notably, the manipulations involved seem to map onto forms of cognition that are associated with isolated aspects of cognition.

The first small detail I would like to mention is disembodied eyes. These are eyes seen floating in the visual space without there being either a face or a body of which they are part. The eyes may be those of human beings, of felines, or without any particular identity. Often, a great multitude of such eyes is seen. These are reported very commonly. Also commonly reported are detached faces, that is, faces without bodies; bodies without faces are also reported.

If, as prosopagnosia suggests, facial perception is handled by a specific mechanism in the brain the fusiform gyrus, also possibly associated with synaesthesia , then the commonality of face-related hallucinations would suggest that ayahuasca is hitting that part quite reliably.

Normally, the span of iconic memory is very brief—it is estimated to be between and milliseconds see Coltheart, ; Baddeley, The time of retention is much longer than normal. A related phenomenon is that of afterimages see Ch. Both phenomena result in a lengthening of the time that perceptual stimuli or their derivatives, such as afterimages are amenable to mental inspection. As a consequence, the scope of the mental transformations that these stimuli can generate is increased.

This indeed seems to fit with the nature of the mental chaos that ayahuasca generates. One example of this outside of ayahuasca is synaesthesia, which clearly involves some layer of semantic data.

Furthermore, on the basis of both empirical data and conceptual analysis, I claim that rather than being secondary, metaphorical processing is primary and non-derivative. As I see it, the very essence of metaphoricity is the creation of new features.

In other words, when producing or receiving a metaphor, cognitive agents draw new distinctions and induce new ways of looking at things. In this process, features are not selected out of prior, given semantic sets; rather, new semantic differentiations are made and new semantic features are generated. It is precisely this that makes metaphor cognitively so important—it is one of the most important mechanisms for novelty in cognition.

The foregoing observations highlight the intrinsic affinity between synaesthesia and metaphoricity.


The Antipodes of the Mind

Start your review of The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience Write a review May 27, Erik Graff rated it really liked it Recommends it for: psychologists, psychonauts Recommended to Erik by: Michael Miley Shelves: psychology I have generally found phenomenological studies, however vital they be at the foundations of empirical science, to be boring. This was an exception. Although he describes the field, he is also at some pains to note that he is not a typical cognitive I have generally found phenomenological studies, however vital they be at the foundations of empirical science, to be boring. Although he describes the field, he is also at some pains to note that he is not a typical cognitive psychologist, normative studies of the domains of consciousness apparently being founded upon information systems models. This book focuses on the phenomenology of ayahuasca-induced states of consciousness. Ayahuasca, a brew concocted from a DMT-rich shrub and a MAO-inhibiting jungle vine, provides, by his account supported by the thousands of other accounts upon which his study is founded, an experience which appears to bear a strong family resemblance to the altered states of consciousness afforded by other psychedelics like LSD.


Benny Shanon

In this work, Shanon provides a rough cartography of the visions and non-visual effects ayahuasca can induce. He writes that he had consumed ayahuasca himself several hundred times and gathered a corpus of empirical data from published literature, structured and unstructured interviews he conducted and his personal experience. In total the corpus comprises some 2, ayahuasca experiences. Exodus He further corroborates his hypothesis with botanical and ethnobotanical information, linguistic considerations, exegesis of Talmudic and mystical Jewish texts, as well as data on the effects of a substance analogous to ayahuasca. Shannon states that his hypothesis is "admittedly speculative". He concludes by saying: Taken together, the botanical and anthropological data on the one hand, and the biblical descriptions as well as later Jewish hermeneutics on the other, are, I propose, suggestive of a biblical entheogenic connection.

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