How Can You Ever Know Yourself?


One of the strange things that can happen when you’re on acid is that everything becomes foreign. New logics are installed in your brain temporarily. Different chemicals, seemingly different organs are used to interpret life during a trip. For example, atoms are invisible to us normally. But when you’re tripping, it’s like you’re putting on a different set of goggles that allows you to see, or to feel, atoms and thus you lose all spatial reasoning. Everything clumps together. Everything is connected and you see it atom by atom.  Or you take a walk and you see the wheels on the car, but you interpret these wheels as simply extensions of human legs. Or sometimes the whole world can fade. The chemicals takeover in such a way that your eyes fail you and you escape into your own mental abyss. You can’t even see with your own eyeballs! You’re physically blind and what is playing out is only a cerebral projection. And you think, is this the world? Is the world just chemical perception? And your physical body, and the physical bodies of others, the fact that Tokyo is a place on a map, or that the Empire Building stands on an island at 1,454 ft – these all lose relevance; in fact, you can actually convince yourself that these things don’t exist. That all of that “out there” emerges not from an external place, but from the mind’s eye…The delusions of psychedelics are uncanny. They rip us away from complacency. They aren’t real. But we don’t know what is really real, that’s perhaps the only thing we do know.

The body is a strange place. Talking about your body is even stranger. If you think about it, there is actually no way for you to ever see what you truly look like, to see your body in reality. You can look at yourself in a mirror and get some artificial sense of your appearance. You can record yourself with a camera from every angle and watch this footage. You can even have an out of body experience and watch yourself this way. But you can never see yourself interacting in the world as a body among other bodies, without mediation. Paradoxically, you are the nearest to yourself and the furthest away from yourself.  You are a mystery to yourself.

A song about religion, about drugs, about insanity goes:

You will believe you are mad,
You will believe you’ve gone insane.
But I tell you if you follow the secret window…
You will penetrate this darkness,
Oh yes there’s many a man or woman
That’s been put in the insane asylum
When this has happened to them
And they’re sitting there today, people think they’re insane
But they saw something that’s real

It happens. People take too many psychedelics and they don’t come back to the normal configuration of the world. They “fry” their brains.  They melt away on the trip. They cross the rubicon. I’ve felt myself pushing these boundaries of sanity. With the chemical change, your assumptions no longer make sense; it dawns on you the parameters of your body are only convenient, not an actual boundary for the definition of self – as all your identity slips through the cracks and you (or something akin to you) fly somewhere completely unrecognizable; what is there left to do? Like muscles breaking at the gym, your mind breaks. And it hits you – perhaps this new insight, this new mental dawning will actually be too much to recover from.  You looked into the abyss, and the abyss swallows you. Sometimes though the abyss can be a portal and instead of breaking you: it teleports you to a higher, more positive level of consciousness. But even then you still remain a mystery to yourself, still a human body waiting for time to end.

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image – Pablo Picasso