This. Existence. Forever. After a seeming eternity in a trippy psychedelic experience, your mind begins to reassemble itself. Suddenly, you’re back in the room. You feel completely back to normal and realize that only 10 minutes have passed. What the hell just happened? The real question is: What can 5-MeO-DMT show us about consciousness?
One minute you’re in an ordinary room. The next, you’ve collapsed into a state of pure being. There is no longer any differentiation between what is you and what is not you. There’s just existence, being effortlessly beheld in the light of consciousness. There’s just eternal being and the realization that that’s all there ever was and ever will be. And that’s what you are. There’s the knowledge that what you truly are, this beingness, will survive your death. All of your pain and suffering wasn’t what you thought it was. It was all a trivial side-show compared to what is going on.
The Structure of Experience
Since you’re reading these words, it’s safe to say that you are conscious. For instance, your conscious experience of understanding these sentences likely involves a sense of the text existing outside of yourself. Then, of you having the experience of reading it. You are the subject and, in this case, the words are the objects of your attention. This is how we typically experience the world – parts of our minds are seen as ourselves and other parts as outside of ourselves. If splitting up one’s mind in this way sounds odd to you, you’re on the right track. Surely my mind is all “me”? After all, it’s “my” mind. This is one of the core insights that the 5-MeO experience can reveal.
Dividing Up the Mind
What happens in a normal experience that makes us think that our mind is divided in some sense? If the sound of a bird appears inside your mind, that mental experience is part of you. However, while the sound exists in your mind, it signals the existence of something outside of your mind. The sound itself is a mental experience, but it is triggered by physical sound waves that exist outside of you and emanate from another physical organism –the bird.
Perception and Survival
It isn’t evolutionarily beneficial for you to feel like every part of your mind is equally “you”. Your experience pulls off a strange trick in which it seems to take on an incredibly real 3D structure of a world of objects with you located in the center of it. In fact, it’s similar to how the pixels of a video game gives the impression of a character running around in a world. While there appears to be a whole world with a being existing in it, what’s really happening is that there is a flat 2D screen of pixels. There is no real difference between the character and the environment. The 5-MeO experience is similar to scrambling the pixels in the video game and realizing there was always just the 2D screen–but in this case, the screen is consciousness.
Concepts and Objects
Nevertheless, this trick of dividing up experience goes beyond the separation between you and your environment. Everything you experience is chunked up into concepts, into experiences of separate objects. But, where does the trunk of a tree stop and a branch of a tree begin? In reality, there is no dividing line but your mind doesn’t care. It uses concepts like “trunk” and “branch” to help us communicate and navigate in the world. The downside of this process is that we can take our concepts too seriously and think they genuinely exist “out there” in the world. Moreover, 5-MeO DMT melts these illusory divisions in the mind. Ultimately, putting one in touch with the truth that both consciousness and reality are single, indivisible wholes.
When one ingests a dose of 5-MeO-DMT, the way one normally experiences the world is altered. The concepts and categories you typically use to organize your experience fall away and you’re left with a deeper insight into the nature of the mind. One conceptual division is more fundamental for our experience of the world than any other, the division between what is you and what is not you. When this boundary in the mind falls away, you’re left in an enlightened state, free from suffering. As is well attested to in Buddhism, this illusion of being a separate self, otherwise known as ego death, is at the root of all suffering–get rid of the illusion and you get rid of suffering. In a matter of minutes, the experience will prove this truth, ultimately answering the question: ‘What can 5-MeO-DMT show us about consciousness’?
Consciousness and The Self
The duality of self and not-self that usually structures our mind is incredibly pervasive. In fact, many scientists and philosophers think of this sense of self as being crucial for consciousness, even as being the same thing as consciousness. The 5-MeO experience disproves the idea that a sense of self is necessary for consciousness in a matter of seconds. The self disappears but the consciousness remains. There can be no clearer demonstration that consciousness doesn’t depend on a sense of self. Rather, consciousness comes first and the sense of self appears within it.
Consciousness and The Brain
Like other classic psychedelics, 5-MeO acts on the serotonin 2A receptor. These receptors exist on the surface of brain cells in the cerebral cortex, ready to respond to serotonin released by the brain. Due to its structural similarity to serotonin, 5-MeO can also plug into these receptors to modulate brain areas where this receptor is found. Interestingly, our brains make DMT. The experience of 5-MeO shows us that the brain is involved in structuring experience into concepts.
However, the core of consciousness, the knowing quality that illuminates what is experienced, goes unaltered under 5-MeO. The light of consciousness shines as bright as it ever did. Since the core of consciousness isn’t affected by this radical change in brain activity, the effects of 5-MeO suggest that the brain itself may not be the origin of consciousness. One alternative to the idea that the brain generates consciousness is that consciousness exists at the level of the organism, embodied in its environment.
The Nature of Reality
Many psychonauts come away from the 5-MeO experience feeling as if they’ve gained insight into the nature of consciousness and the nature of reality outside of their individual mind. One way this can occur is to see through the illusory division that one had previously created by taking concepts too seriously. You can go from thinking the world out there is made of separate objects to realizing that those divisions only exist in your mind. Reality out there, therefore, isn’t divided in the way you previously thought. This is a valid way for us to discover the truth about the world outside us from our own subjective experiences. Many go further, claiming the nature of this undivided reality outside of our individual minds is itself made of consciousness. Not to mention, there is DMT in nature.
Consciousness as a Simulation
Our conscious experience gives us the impression of being in direct contact with a real world. As strange as it sounds, the physical stuff the world is made from has no objective appearance. It doesn’t look like anything. In order to navigate around in this space and survive, lifeforms had to be equipped with conscious experience. Consciousness can be thought of as like a simulation of what the world around you could look like.
It doesn’t matter that red things aren’t actually red out there in the world. What matters is that the simulation patterns match the patterns in the outside world enough for you to navigate around it. You experience three dimensions of space subjectively, allowing you to move around in the three physical dimensions that exist outside of you. We don’t typically realize that what we’re seeing is a simulation in consciousness, not the actual world beyond.
Does Only Consciousness Exist?
A core property of consciousness is its ability to give the convincing impression that what it presents is a real world beyond us, not simply an appearance in consciousness. After a 5-MeO experience, it’s not surprising people come away feeling they have seen a “reality” made of consciousness. The core answer to ‘What can 5-MeO-DMT show us about consciousness?’ is within us.
This is what consciousness does; it gives the impression of being in contact with reality beyond us. Further, gaining insight into a reality beyond your mind by seeing through illusions is completely valid. When it comes to gaining new information about the nature of the outside world through private subjective experience, however, we currently know of no mechanism by which this can happen. On the other hand, we have every reason to believe that it’s exactly the illusion our minds can create.
What Can We Learn From 5-MeO?
Without the experience of altered states, we might conclude from our everyday experience that the world is made of separate objects, we are one such object, and consciousness is a property of a “self”.
What Can 5-MeO-DMT Show Us About Consciousness?
The 5-MeO experience shows us that the conceptual division between “objects” exists in the mind, not in the world, and that these divisions can be transcended. It shows us that the core of consciousness is beyond concepts and this isn’t disturbed by altering brain activity.
Moreover, it shows us our mind isn’t truly divided into self and other. Both our experience and the world beyond are indivisible wholes. It shows us that there are deeper truths about our experience, truths that can be known directly. Perhaps most importantly, it shows us that there is a way out of suffering. It shows us a perspective on reality that allows us to transcend our dissatisfaction and feel connected to all that ever has, and ever will, exist. ‘What can 5-MeO-DMT show us about consciousness?’ is the answer to the question itself.