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‘Spiritual/Philosophical’ is the Deepest, Highest, Most Powerful Dimension of Euphoria

I have been mapping out the major axis of the states of consciousness accessible by humans via the use of psychotropic drugs.

My procedure is: I asked people from all sorts of drug forums online, as well as people in the general population, to answer a survey in which they are required to rate the effects of a drug they have taken (rating them on 30+ attributes such as “cheerful”, “calming” and “mystical”). You can read the methodology and the details of the analysis in here.

The results were very insightful. As it turns out, there are six very large factors (accounting for a large fraction of the variance), three of which roughly describe the three axis of “feelings of wellbeing.” By examining the loading of these three major axis, and the drugs that score high on each of them, I named them as follows:

1. fast euphoria
2. slow euphoria
3. spiritual/philosophical euphoria.

([1] The other three factors are not about wellbeing, so I won’t talk about them here.)

Why are there three kinds of euphoria? Roughly speaking we see various neurotransmitter systems involved on each of these axis.

Fast euphoria is related to dopamine and norepinephrine.
Slow euphoria is related to GABA, NMDA and the opioid system.
Spiritual euphoria is distinctly psychedelic, which so far seems to be predominantly related to serotonin, and more specifically, to the 5ht2a receptor. 

Of the three dimensions of euphoria, the spiritual/philosophical is the deepest, highest and most powerful.

I am aware of how this may sound to a lot of people. People with pre-existing religious and metaphysical beliefs may attribute such euphoria to external entities such as God. In this case, they would not be puzzled about why this kind of euphoria is the best: it comes from “above” - unlike the other two.

Plus, people who shy away from spiritual or philosophical states of consciousness may blame me for proselytizing a particular state of consciousness out of a subjective and culturally motivated preference. 

I don’t assume anything about the underlying nature of the universe when I claim that spiritual euphoria is the highest. This assessment comes from three sources: My personal experiences (such as my blissful ego death at sixteen), other people’s recounts[2], and a cognitive account of the various kinds of bliss. Other people’s reports of altered states of consciousness typically rank positive psychedelic ego dissolution experiences at the top.

When you ask a person who has had strong religious, spiritual or euphoric philosophical epiphanies, they will tell you that the bliss experienced there is not quite comparable to anything else in the range of human experience.

As far as I can tell, Spiritual/philosophical bliss involves the revision of fundamental background assumptions we hold. How we settled on the assumptions is often very obscure from our first-person point of view.  These assumptions are usually not accessible for editing or exploration, and instead run smoothly in the back of our experience.

What is it about psychedelics that enable people to revise these assumptions? Eidetic hallucinations, in a limited sense, help us visualize the patterns that we have previously learned and can recognize. But there is something else going on. We also have the simultaneous expression of otherwise compartmentalized varieties of qualia.

John Lilly would describe this phenomenon as the “interaction between various programs and metaprograms.” An extreme example[3] case is the visualization of tulpas of people you know, together with their beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and mutual disagreements, who can then resolve their differences in your own mind by talking their (virtual) minds out. The co-existence of usually mutually exclusive phenomenologies (previously compartmentalized) is inevitable in high doses of psychedelics. In that state, the mind is forced to confront the implicit incongruities between the various conscious programs it usually runs in the background.

Usually our brain spends a lot of energy making sure that qualia does not build up over time, and that certain kinds of qualia are not associated to other ones. In a psychedelic experience, phenomenologies that had remained separate during one’s lifetime finally meet and interact, and find an equilibrium of forces (which often involves resolution to dismiss one or the other). So you can imagine that long-standing underlying tensions get resolved, and the person experiences relief of a deep kind: implicit, philosophical, relief. Other substances can induce euphoria of other kinds, and I don’t think we have a good grasp on the nature of these euphorias.

The most coherent “big picture” I have been able to think of would go as follows: Our conscious world simulation has roughly three big layers. The first one is our center of awareness, the second is the gestalt, and the third is our background assumptions.

Fast euphoria is usually experienced when a person can focus and refocus his or her attention at will. The center of awareness is more flexible, less rigid, and it has more energy to move around from one state to another.

Slow euphoria also softens the constraints that prior beliefs and sensory input places on our gestalt. If a person is living in a terrible social situation, then heroin or a bath would be a relief, since the unpleasant quality of some social situations is a result of the way we perceive the gestalt. With slow euphoria the gestalt becomes more flexible, and therefore less biting. 

Spiritual euphoriants relax the constraints placed on background assumptions by previous prejudices and social commitments. In the end, the mind can only feel bliss to the extent that it believes reality itself has the possibility of bliss. By relaxing background assumptions about reality and consciousness, you become able to conceive of a world of bliss, of vast corridors of wondrous mind. 

Thus, I don’t really think of these substances as producing bliss on their own. Rather, they simply enable a sort of flexibility that is usually lacking in our minds, and enable us to explore the larger state-space of conceivable worldviews. The state-space is huge, and many heaven-like equilibria exist out there. 

It is interesting to me that “boundless unconditional love” seeks to be shared. When people have these sorts of experiences, they either run away and try to grasp the previous ego structure, or give in and develop a more love-centric, more universal approach to the rest of reality.

When you combine intelligence, motivation and compassion together, you have the recipe for unstoppable, strategic self-less distributed conscious memeplex.

Unlike individualism (and any philosophy that assumes Closed Individualism in the background), the universal love meme has all of the motivations in place to actually collaborate without the need of a center.

Thus I call it a conspiracy, a silent conspiracy that will slowly push towards a world in which no suffering can be found, and ever-renewing bliss and wonder is to be found.


[1] Now, “spiritual” may not really be the appropriate word, since a lot of non-spiritual people can still take LSD and have amazing experienced that they wouldn’t classify as ‘mystical’ or ‘spiritual.’ Instead, they might describe the experience as life-changing and philosophical. So if I were to rename in a more inclusive way the three axis I would instead switch “spiritual euphoria” for “spiritual/philosphical euphoria.”

[2] “I would experience such joy as would be inconceivable in ordinary life - such joy that no one else could have any notion of. I would feel the most complete harmony in myself and in the whole world and this feeling was so strong and sweet that for a few seconds of such bliss I would give ten or more years of my life, even my whole life perhaps.”

[3] John Lilly describes this happening to him during his explorations in the sensory isolation tank under LSD, as related in his book Programming and Metaprogramming the Human Biocomputer.

Andrés Gómez Emilsson is the co-founder and former president of the Stanford Transhumanist Association. He has a Masters in Computational Psychology at Stanford. He has worked at AI companies such as Kanjoya and Klout, and his current research topic is emotional classification with computational techniques and pragmatics.

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