The internet conversation between the science author Clifford Pickover and psychedelic writer James Kent, called The Case Against DMT Elves is quite well known in DMT circles. I think this conversation is worth deconstructing, because it is almost is a parody of how ‘materialistic’ types try and to deny the many mysteries that the DMT state presents to us.
James Kent writes: ”In short, I do not believe DMT is a gateway to an alternate dimension, nor does it induce contact with autonomous elves and alien entities. Yes, DMT produces a vivid otherworldly landscape when ingested, often including elves, aliens, insects, snakes, jaguars, etc. This is true for the majority of people who try it. Some people do not have such vivid responses but many do.
“But the difference between pressure phosphenes and DMT is that DMT is illegal and very hard to come by, so most people never have the opportunity to experience it. If we could all hold our breath for a minute and produce vivid hallucinations of alien landscapes it would seem quite mundane, no more than a mere curiosity of the human condition.”
At this point, many may be thinking that their DMT stash is worthless, far from being precious, and rush to apply pressure to their eyeballs and hold their breath simultaneously. Seriously though, holding one’s breath and pressing one’s eyeballs has never been, nor I doubt it ever will be, in any repertoire of shamanic practice.
“Now don’t get me wrong, DMT is stunning in its effect, no doubt. But, like anything, when you do it many times the magic tends to wear off and reveal itself for what it is; an exotic aberration of the brain’s perceptual mechanics.”
This theory of aberration apparently describes complex phenomena away as a kind of elaborate mistake.
Kent’s first premise is that:
“DMT acts primarily at the 5-HT2A receptor, and disrupts and excites the said receptor. When the visual system is disrupted for any reason we get phosphine activity, which is the visual system’s version of a ‘ringing in the ears’. Phosphine activity is chaotic, but as we all know chaos does not produce random noise, it is familiar and predictable, and produces some damn trippy patterns.”
His second premise is:
“The archetypal DMT ‘entities’ are pretty well categorised, with most people seeing elves or aliens or fairies or angels or some kind of loopy little spirits that dance about and tell riddles.”
In my experience, and that of hundreds, if not thousands of people I have spoken to, is that this is not correct at all. What people often experience is often extremely alien! Experiences of archetypal beings like angels, fairies, elves, gods and goddesses are a welcome and familiar respite from the total alienness of the beings that most people meet. Only very rarely, do I hear of people telling me of meeting fairies, or angels, or elves, or ‘loopy little spirits that dance about’. Most people communicate about beings of much more magnitude and scope than this. Very often people have experiences of these beings carrying out work on them, of healing them, maybe perhaps even of diseases such as cancer.
He sums up saying:
“In short, concrete psychedelic visuals may be nothing more than chaotic visual patterns overlapped with images created from waking dreams.”
The dreamscape and the DMT-scape are two totally different realms. People do not normally meet alien beings within the dreamscape. Normally, the raw data of dreams is parsed by the human mind into symbols or familiar reference points. Psychedelic visuals are not chaotic and the geometry is often considered to be the mathematical world made visible. DMT visuals are normally quite elegant and ordered like highly sophisticated art — , not just ‘chaotic’ and therefore ‘aberrant’.
“Why is the alien/elf archetype so common to the DMT experience? The only answer I have is that we humans must have innate evolutionary wetware that forces our senses to latch onto any piece of anthropomorphic data that pops into otherwise randomly uniform data.…”
Alien is a very broad terminology and there is not one alien archetype. The Whitley Strieber ‘grey’ alien is not unknown in the DMT space, but it is not exactly common either. I have met only a few people who have seen this type of alien after smoking DMT.
“Now, given the amazing swirling kaleidoscopic imagery produced in the typical DMT trip, it is inevitable that anthropomorphic shapes will emerge and then express themselves in even greater detail as the mind latches onto them and ‘dreams’ them into focus.”
So what he is saying, I believe, is that the human brain is making the geometric data into human-like forms. The geometric images he interprets as being generated by the disruption of the 5-HT2A receptor, I would say, does not normally consist of ‘kaleidoscopic swirling’ forms but has an ordered depth and appears more like ‘art’ rather than random noise.
“Given all of this, in a nutshell, the case for autonomous disincarnate DMT entities is closed. All that is needed to produce them is our own over-excited visual system and imagination, and thus Occam’s razor wipes them right off the table and into the fairy-dust bin.”
Firstly, the terminology used here – disincarnate – reeks of the perspective that we humans are at the centre of the world, or that we humans are the only ‘incarnate’ possibility. The word also implies ghosts! Personally, this explanation does not ‘fly’ with me and, I think, most others with extensive experience of good quality natural DMT.
“The fact that DMT ‘consciousness’ reveals itself in so many forms tells me that the ‘messenger’ – be it elf, alien, jaguar, or whatever – is basically arbitrary within the context of the patterns and archetypes our minds tend to pick out of random noise.”
Arbitrary, random, noise. All these words represent again the imposition of the perspective that we are dealing with an aberration – a mistake, a mutated accident. Sound familiar?
“And when you get to the heart of what the typical DMT message is, it is usually something about the environment or living systems or the vast plant consciousness that penetrates our world. The ‘Gaia consciousness’ that infuses the experience is undeniable, and what to make of that I don’t know, other than to entertain the possibility that this ancient plant consciousness actually exists and is attempting to make itself known through the DMT- enlightened mammal brain.”
This is extremely evident!
“If so, then this is the real discovery of the DMT experience, and this is the topic that should be looked at more closely. In the context of DMT being a two-way radio for plant-human communication, the ‘elves’ themselves are nothing more than a cartoon interface for the exchange of information.”
Well, the ‘elves’ are, in a sense, interfaces for the exchange of information. It is well known that a particular character, — a cloaked man –, would appear in people’s DMT experience on the far north coast of NSW in Australia, at a time when people were extracting DMT from only one large stand of acacia obtusifolia trees.
Yet, the interface is often the plants themselves — , they do not need elves in order to communicate with us. They communicate in with images, feelings, emotions, sounds, in essence, just like we do, but without necessarily using language. The communication is more like ‘body language’, and many people say that 90 percent of human communication is body language.
This is a typical DMT report you can find online, written by ‘raven3davis’ on the ‘Drugs Forum’:
“Sometimes I see complex machines which explain how everything works to me. There are many secret languages being spoken and written and everything at the time makes complete sense. Everything is so strange, yet completely comprehensible when you are high. The world is also constantly flowing. In the matter of one second, you might see 1000 different colors, patterns, places, or things. I often get a sense of pushiness from the entities. They always have so many things to do in such a certain amount of time. It is hard to remember what they say to me most of the time (we will explain why later), but the theme is always of good nature.”
I would say this report is completely consistent with my experiences and those of most people I meet.
Whereas James Kent would have us believe something aberrant is occurring in people’s DMT experience. , and yet how can ‘such aberrance’ move people so much? How commonly does random noise move people?
This reminds me of once listening to the Australian broadcaster Phillip Adams, who contended that dreams were only the contents of the subconscious working itself out. My thought at the time was, yes, there are dreams that are the subconscious working itself out. But there are dreams with such meaning and impact you will wake up in the middle of the night in order to remember them. To say that dreams have no meaning is just as awkward as saying that DMT experiences have no meaning, as meaning is clearly felt. The ancient Greeks categorised dream experiences in differing levels of importance and significance and perhaps we would do well to do the same with our DMT experiences! It is clearly the case that individuals are affected profoundly by their DMT experiences. If we contend that the meat of the DMT experience arises out of random noise, this is like saying that the monkeys tapping away on typewriters would create Shakespearean works nearly every time!
While James Kent and perhaps a few people he knows will see ‘tricked out cartoon hotrods’ and mundane objects, this is clearly not the meat and meaning of most people’s DMT experiences, which will often be filled with a sense of incomparable wonder, and awe — and perhaps , even terror and tears.
This is another excerpt of a DMT experience I found on the internet many years ago:
“I began to weep like I never have in my life. The sobbing tears of pure, total bliss ripped themselves from me like a jet passing the speed of sound and tearing the sky to shreds. I thought I would fairly break like a twig from such light filling my being. It was more than I could have ever imagined… the beauty, the power. It filled me and sang with every molecule of my body, every facet of my mind, every piece of my soul. All were in perfect harmony, and for a single moment I knew true, undeniable divinity.”
It is not so easy to just dismiss these experiences as mere sentimentality, mere ‘noise’. Clearly, the people who experience these sorts of things feel there is meaning in it for them!
Yet it is true, that there are lower levels of the DMT experience, just as it appears there are lower- level dreams, with little import or meaning. Much of these levels are often related to not smoking enough DMT, or perhaps , smoking an inferior extract from a young plant or a shoddily manufactured synthetic form of DMT. It is worth noting that good synthetic DMT is not made easily, and that most of it is of an inferior quality. Terence McKenna said that in his whole life, he only encountered high quality synthetic DMT twice. Also, much of what people experience is related to the individual who is smoking the DMT, what they are ready to experience, and also how much DMT the person is willing or able to smoke.
There also are people for whom DMT will not work at all. I know there are times when I smoke DMT that nothing significant happens, if anything, and this is a phenomenon well- known to DMT smokers. If people’s concerns are quite petty and mundane, they may well have quite petty or mundane DMT experiences. But give most people 60-100 mg of a high quality DMT extract (and have them smoke it properly) and they will very often have what Shulgin calls a ‘plus four’ experience.
“PLUS FOUR (++++)
A rare and precious transcendental state, which has been called a ‘peak experience’, a ‘religious experience,’ ‘divine transformation,’ a ‘state of Samadhi’ and many other names in other cultures. It is not connected to the +1, +2, and +3 of the measuring of a drug’s intensity. It is a state of bliss, a participation mystique, and a connectedness with both the interior and exterior universes which has come about after the ingestion of a psychedelic drug, but which is not necessarily repeatable with a subsequent ingestion of that same drug. If a drug (or technique or process) were ever to be discovered that would consistently produce a plus four experience in all human beings, it is conceivable that it would signal the ultimate evolution, and perhaps the end of the human experiment.”
This last point I would disagree with. Even with DMT or 5-MeO-DMT, is this state absolutely repeatable every time? It seems there is a limit to how often this state is ‘handed out’. James Oroc makes this point clear in his book about 5-MeO-DMT, Tryptamine Palace, where in which he states that after many experiences with 5-MeO-DMT, there are definite diminishing returns after you have had some very profound initial experiences.
If every time you took a compound and you had a ‘plus four’ experience, the rarity and preciousness of it would decrease in a sense. Many would have had the experience of smoking DMT and then the experience becoming would have become gradually degraded. This is the point at which one is experiencing collections of mundane objects and various levels of apparently subconscious material.
It is true that the more prepared the person is, the further they will go into the profundity of the states of consciousness that DMT can facilitate. The man who has meditated for thousands of hours contemplating higher consciousness and eating healthy food is going to go far deeper than the man who spends most of his waking time watching the immeasurably lesser lights of TV and eating junk food. Garbage in, garbage out. These beings encountered in DMT states also may also have many human beings to choose from, so why should they interact with you? Many people say they do not experience beings but it’s clear to me that, you need to be quite prepared to meet them. Many individuals just do not meet them and that does not mean they are somehow deficient, or necessarily need to experience them either!
Of course, many human beings are simply just closed-minded. It would be much harder to interact with a human who would not have any conception of the possibility of a being’s independent existence, than one who would tend to accept your existence. Of course , the fast food enthusiast, with what comes out of him often as toxic as what goes into him, is likely to ask why this should matter. It seems there are many who will not display the kind of respect or understanding these beings require in order to appear. Many cultures expend enormous amounts of energy to appease and even please the gods, which is a fundamental aspect of their culture. To meet the ‘gods’ is a privilege, not a right.
James Kent: “As it is, DMT appears to produce amazingly consistent visual patterns in all users. That is a significant fact, and it points to the conclusion that DMT is very simple in its action without a lot of room for variation.”
It is actually quite erroneous that DMT appears extraordinarily consistent in its action! This is very far from a ‘significant fact’. Yes, to some degree, there is a certain consistent quality in the ‘DMT visions’, but the variability in different people’s experiences is still quite extreme. Terence McKenna would say that DMT is idiosyncratic and his version of the ‘machine elves’ is very much overstated in popular culture. Almost never will I hear of people seeing the machine elves that Terence McKenna talked of and many DMT smokers I know wonder what he was talking of about at all.
As soon as we get into over-simplifying a very complex experiential state, we lose the ball. We must understand that many people (if not most within mainstream academia) consider consciousness to be completely dependent upon the aegis of the human brain. The basic and most evident revelation of DMT is that consciousness lies beyond the brain and that the brain is merely one vessel of consciousness. This is something that many, if not most, among the more conscious and engaged members of the psychedelic community can come to a consensus on. Of course, proof and ‘evidence’ in the realm of consciousness can be elusive, but such factors are only necessary in the absence of gnosis, which in itself is clearly the way forward. Agreement among the esteemed is often better than peer review! Again, we come back to the emotional prejudices of materialists who tend to throw in words around terms like ‘new age fairy tale’ and come across in an attempt to position themselves as being the hard nosed, analytical thinkers, and the others as fluffy, non-empirical, and therefore, not at all valid.
James Kent’s analysis, however, comes off as being stripped back and disregardful of the data. As Clifford Pickover states the awe and intensity of the experience, James Kent retorts that people believe what they want to believe. He calls the experience a ‘perceptual distortion’, when people are commonly reporting a state of extreme perceptual clarity. James Kent says he smoked DMT ‘a number of times’, but personally, I cannot see how anyone could understand something this big until they had smoked DMT at least over 100 times! This is the amount number of times I know it has taken myself and many others to really get their head around it – and we are talking of about high doses of smoked DMT smoked over many years.
James Kent appears to assume a paradigm in which all information arises within the closed system that is the human mind/body brain. This view conflicts with the reports from thousands of people who say that the information they receive is very coherent, and actually is very clearly from outside that apparent circuit. James Kent also deconstructs levels of higher meaning to imply delusions of grandeur and egotism – similar to those of traditional western models of dualistic understanding, in which you are a meat puppet, merely a meat body and a meat brain and, of course, there is nothing grand about that.
The label of ‘delusions of grandeur’ implies psychiatric disturbance and, of course, we are supposed to be disturbed by that possibility. In this day and age, you are not always necessarily free to think what you want to think. I once knew a man who said he sees spirits, and this entailed him having to see a psychiatrist who prescribed him medication. He told me that if he said to his psychiatrist he believes these spirits are ‘real’ phenomena, that would be enough to warrant an increase in psychiatric medication — , and possibly an involuntary visit to the psychiatric hospital that could extend for many months. He played along with the psychiatrist quite convincingly and was made to agree with the paradigm that states that such spirits are actually not possibly real. The good news is that, partly through using psychedelics, this man was able to come to peace with his visions and claim the visions were valid data, reduce his psychological dependence on psychiatric medication, and come to peace with ‘the system’.
The ultimate issue here is that in actuality the ‘fantastic’ is not often deemed to be credible within traditional western cultural frames. Yet, the fantastic often appears to be the actual truth – stranger than fiction. This is indeed an aspect of the psychedelic revelation. It does not make sense that such ‘fantasticness’ would be generated out of discordancy and noise. That hallucinations occur at all, as people report them, is fantastic enough! Yet, our current paradigm states that such hallucinations cannot ultimately represent valid data and can only represent corrupt data, and that is because the psychiatric reference book of mental illness, DSM-5 V, does not acknowledge the validity of extrasensory phenomena as a possibly valid aspect of human consciousness.
Many have pointed out that the deeper one goes into investigating the reality of quantum physics, the more fantastic the very basis of reality appears. Yet somehow, the other sciences typically stick to the hard and fast, slow and frozen versions of dualistic reality. So much of James Kent’s work seems to be trying to conform to a certain level of ‘seriousness’ or ‘credibility’, which seems to be a particularly North American phenomena. Within Asian or Russian cultures, say, there appears to be a lot more room for explorative theory and open-minded research than in the West. Besides, true science requires scientific studies and research to be carried out – not just theory and conjecture.
Within James Kent’s perceptions, all human meaning is stripped away as unnecessary personal subjectivity. His work typifies the ‘mammoth hunting’ approach where all phenomena is assumed to be known and all unknowns are considered undesirable. There are very few human elements within his words, which only communicate of superficial optical phenomena. And the reason why this phenomenon is being generated is said to be because of ‘agonism’ of certain receptors.
The arrogance of James Kent’s views can be clearly viewed in one of his sentences from his book, Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason:
“In many ways these sacred songs or icaros are attempts to recreate the voice and tone of the pharmacological interaction at various stages of the psychedelic experience.”
Well, that is not what the singers of the sacred songs say! He has presented a theory and now wants us to believe the shamans do what he says. I doubt most shamans have any concept of ‘psychedelic experience’. He then goes on to say the shaman is, in fact, only matching the periodic frequency of the hallucinogenic interrupt!
James Kent argues that much of the phenomena people experience in the psychedelic state is due to set and setting, the mindset or mind state and environment in which taking the compound occurs. Again, this perception is not allowing for the possibility that there is incoming data from outside of the brain, which is overwhelmingly what appears to be the case. But to accept the existence of this data requires a complete shift in paradigm for secular western materialists; to understand that we are not alone and that the physical reality is not the only reality. Reading James Kent’s words, one is left with the sense that even though he feels he has explained so much, nothing he says essentially helps us to truly enquire into or understand reality, or truly transform our thinking through our relationship with our reality. He wants to us to close the case and believe that his explanation and interpretation is all that we need.