The DMT Experience
One minute, you’re experiencing everyday reality as you have for the majority of your adult life. There’s a world outside you, you live in it, and you know pretty much how it works. You feel pretty grounded. A minute later, you suddenly wake up and realize that everyday reality wasn’t what it seemed. You’re home, in a different dimension spending time with other beings. You remember that this dimension is the real world and that your life on earth was a trivial, temporary distraction, a game you decided to get lost in for a while. After spending a near eternity here, this other dimension gradually comes apart and you find yourself back in the everyday world.
This is the kind of experience that can occur if one ingests a “breakthrough” dose of vaporized DMT, typically between 25 and 60 mg. The term “breakthrough” refers to this phenomenon of experientially breaking through to another place. This is often called “DMT space” or “hyperspace”. After a breakthrough experience, one is left with plenty of questions about the nature of reality. Is this other dimension as real as it seems? Is it just a hallucination? Or is this world the hallucination? How can we ever know for sure?
If one takes the experience of hyperspace at face value, it would seem that we live in a multi-layered reality. It would also appear that the ingestion of this simple compound DMT functions as a method to traverse these layers. Many who attempt to grapple with the DMT experience are left with pictures of reality of this kind. Rick Strassman, author of the DMT: The Spirit Molecule and DMT and the Soul of Prophecy, has argued that DMT might have been engineered into us by the God of Abraham to allow us to connect with a divine realm beyond everyday reality. In his book Alien Information Theory, neurobiologist Andrew Gallimore argues that this world is a simulation constructed by aliens and that DMT is the escape hatch.
Could the DMT Realm Be Real?
What are we to make of the seeming reality of the DMT realm? Could it simply be real? In order to answer this question, we have to be precise about what we are asking. When we use the word “real” here, what is meant is that it doesn’t only exist in the subjective experience of the individual, in their imagination. If it were real, it would exist outside the individual in a way that could be independently verified by others. It would be objective. The real question, therefore, is whether the contents of the DMT experience represent objective or subjective phenomena. This also captures what is meant by the claim that it is a hallucination. If it is a hallucination it is purely subjective, existing only in your mind.
Testing for Objectivity
For something exists objectively, we should be able to test its existence. Proposals have been made for experiments in which investigators could do just that with the DMT realm. Strassman and Gallimore teamed up in 2016 to publish a method that would allow an individual to stay in the DMT state for as long as they wanted. Gallimore has suggested that this approach could form the basis for systematic exploration of the DMT realm by trained psychonauts. Entities could be asked questions and tested to see if they show signs of existing in a truly objective sense. No matter how convinced one is that the DMT experience is a pure hallucination, there can be no real objection to people testing their hypotheses in this way–that’s what science is all about.
“The Brain Can’t Do That”
It is common to hear DMT psychonauts proclaim as a fact that the human brain is incapable of generating the DMT experience. While the DMT experience is deeply surprising, no one on earth can make this claim. The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe. We are only at the beginning of understanding its astounding complexity. We have no idea what kinds of experiences it is incapable of generating.
Is Everyday Reality Real?
The flip side of wondering if the DMT experience is real is wondering if this reality might not be real. The sense of the hyper-reality of DMT space can leave one with the feeling that this world is less real than hyperspace. One might be left suspecting that they are in a dream or a simulation, perhaps something like the matrix. The danger here is of the black hole of solipsism, worrying that you are the only mind in existence. If that were the case then even though people seem to be interacting with an objective world that exists in between them, it could all be occurring in your mind. This is a trap that one cannot reason oneself out of. It is a philosophical concern often born of anxiety and is, fortunately, one that can dissolve as one feels safer in the world.
The doubt that can be cast on everyday reality as a result of a DMT breakthrough experience actually brings us closer to the truth of our situation. We typically feel like the world outside us exists exactly as we see it. We feel like we exist inside our heads and effortlessly peer out at a world of colors, objects, and motion. In actual fact, the world outside us has no appearance at all. We exist in a whirl of quantum mechanical energy that doesn’t look like anything in itself. We invent appearances in order to navigate this world. The patterns of our experiences map onto real patterns in the world. Hot and cold things really do have different properties even if they are not actually red and blue.
In order for our simulation of a world of appearances to work, we need to believe it, we need to feel as if it really is the world we’re navigating. By experimenting with altered states, however, we can discover that our picture of the world around us is actually a controlled hallucination that is useful for our survival. This doesn’t change the fact that the world it maps onto really does exist in between us, in an objective sense.
Generating Seemingly Real Worlds
If we understand our experience of the world around us to be a controlled hallucination, we can realize that generating seemingly real worlds is something our individual mind is capable of doing. Not only is it capable of doing it, it is arguably one of its main functions. This takes us a huge step in the direction of seeing the DMT realm as a subjective phenomenon. What is harder to explain, however, is the content.
Themes in the DMT Experience
The DMT experience shows consistent patterns across individuals. It is typically vibrant and colorful and is often made up of spaces, like rooms and corridors. Eyes are a very common feature of these spaces and are often seen tiling multiple parts of the environment. The experience of interacting with seemingly autonomous entities is also a very common experience. The big open question that needs to be explained by the “hallucination” account of the DMT experience is why such a simple molecule unlocks such a bizarre and consistent pattern of subjective phenomena. To date, no theory that does this has been proposed.
All in the Mind?
While science has yet to provide an account of the DMT experience as a hallucination, clues from the experience can point us in the direction of this conclusion. As outlined above, generating seemingly real worlds is exactly the kind of thing that our minds are capable of. Furthermore, if DMT boosts a certainty signal in the brain, it could easily produce a feeling of connecting with a world that is “more real than real”. The experience of perceiving beings is a deeply human experience. Our mind has the capacity to generate the impression of connecting with others both while awake and in dreams.
What’s more, the presence of eyes is a strong clue that we are dealing with a biological phenomenon. Humans are born with a strong innate ability to recognize eyes. It seems very plausible that DMT may be generating a seemingly spatial geometric hallucination that is plastered with deeply resonant biological imagery like eyes. At least, that seems more plausible than the idea that the aliens of hyperspace just happen to like wallpaper covered with human eyes.