Some Thoughts on Christopher Bache's "LSD and the Mind of the Universe"
Maps, Memory, & The Future of Philosophy
Most well-seasoned psychonauts have returned back from DMT worlds, “realms of quantum light,” and experiences of ego-less enlightenment to exclaim, “I can’t explain it! You have to try it yourself!” If they did explain it, it would ruin it, reshaping the ineffable experience into a tidy narrative, constricted by language, altered by constructive remembering. A friend without inner-voyaging experience may meet them with a glazed-eye, uncomfortable silence - similar to telling someone you just saw Bigfoot.
It’s to be expected that when we return from our ketamine, lysergic, and tryptamine explorations, we’re working with things beyond our current epistemological, linear, and material understandings of the world. Anything we can assemble from these realms is a rough construction, a map of the territory. We preface our speculations with, “Based on my experience.” However, there are some consistencies, some truths, some idea of what to expect from the territory based on the map.
Thankfully, Christopher Bache has returned from 73 well-documented excursions into the high-dose LSD experience (500-600 micrograms per trip) to provide us with an ordered map, a cosmic narrative, of this chaotic, ever-evolving territory. Though he allows us to look at his map, he warns us countless times that the descriptions he provides are inadequate because “the categories of thought derived from space-time do not lend themselves to remembering clearly or translating into words experiences of realities that lie outside space-time.”
As Robert Anton Wilson would exclaim, “The map is not the territory!”
Frankly, I think he has pieced together a spectacular map, especially given the tools available (language, memory, and creative translation). Yet, Bache’s guide, Diamonds from Heaven - LSD and the Mind of the Universe stretches the reader’s mind while meeting them where they are.
Published in 2019, twenty years after his final voyage, the professor of philosophy and religious studies stepped out from hiding in plain sight to reveal to his network of professors, family, students, and friends that for two decades (including a six year break), he had been experiencing powerful death-rebirth cycles, visions of the future of man, and multiple, ecstatic and agonizing trips into what he calls “The Ocean of Suffering.” However, he embraced the suffering for the sake of the benefits: gaining a deeper understanding of his ego and “Deep Time,” and eventually embodying what he calls “Diamond Luminosity,” a knowledge that “the radiant bliss of immeasurable impartiality lies beyond all self-reference and beyond all personal hopes and fears.”
There is much to be said about this cosmological narrative of Becoming, and I’ll let the author share the details of his stories from 1979-1999. However, I’d like to highlight and play with two big ideas that stuck out for me in his book: The first is regarding memory and the second is about the future of philosophy.
Using Stanislov Grof’s psychedelic therapy protocol for each of his sessions, Bache prepared a small, private room with a mattress, purge bucket, and sitter - his wife and clinical psychologist, Carol. After a grounding ritual, he spent about eight hours on 500-600ug of LSD exploring his inner space. Accompanied with a predetermined playlist of music: Gentle music to center and calm, then something powerful for the build-up, followed by a period of “expansive” music, and concluding with gentle music for the return to baseline. As memory of these deep experiences can be lost quickly following re-entry, and since note-taking is nearly impossible in such dissociated states, Bache spend the next day re-listening to the music - in order - and documenting the previous day, still in a slightly-altered state, yet now with the ability to translate.
Bache writes, “By listening to the music in this porous state, with my verbal functions restored, I found that I was able to reenter the edges of my experience and get it down on paper more effectively.”
Though he doesn’t get into the neuroscience of this process, research about the neural map we call the brain’s “connectome” is beginning to point to how this recollection-by-music may be occurring. We can think of the connectome as a network structure made of billions of neuropathways (electrical connections between firing neurons) which represent the sensations within reality one is experiencing internally or externally.
For example, as a child, say you ventured down into your grandmother’s basement. Sensing a musty smell, your brain’s connectome receives the two (of many) pieces of information: [musty smell] + [grandma’s basement]. The two are interlinked and “imprinted” as neural motifs, symbols. Years later, you smell the must again, triggering a memory about your [grandma’s basement]. In theory, what has happened is the connectome imprint of [musty smell] has been accessed when the [musty smell] of the connectome is activated. Because the [musty smell] is linked with the imprinted memory of [grandma’s basement], the memory of the basement arises with the smell.
Though this is a rough, theoretical sketch of what may be happening in the brain, we can find this technique useful in the way we prepare and integrate our psychedelic experiences. First, the intention is set to be aware of the “imprinting process” of our connectomes: We can physically or mentally note what is happening while a song is playing. After the session, we can fire up our neural code and “stand at the edge of the well,” as the author puts it, to revisit and remember what was imprinted during the experience. Think of what may be happening in your brain when you get a rush of nostalgia from an old song that “really takes you back.”
We can take this idea a bit further, to recognize a couple of inherent features:
1. We are “recording” the internal and external experiences we have - real, unreal, or otherwise.
2. We can use other mediums to help in the “recording” and remembering process.
In this analogy, Bache used music to imprint his connectome with two interlinked neural codes: the music selection and the internal psychedelic experience. And because the music helped shape the internal psychedelic experience, the connection between the music and [the experience] becomes more interconnected, allowing for more synchrony and easier access through re-firing of pathways through the replaying of the music. When it comes to curious explorers using psychedelics (or any ritual), we have a tool for improving our ability to integrate them into our storied experience of living: music.
My second idea is relative to the author’s academic background. Bache makes is clear from the start that he is approaching this work as a philosopher, attempting to map whatever territory befell him. Though, he does not take an Aristotelean approach of binary materiality. His philosophical method of inquiry is inspired by William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience and consists of three basic steps:
1. To systematically push the boundaries of experience in carefully structured psychedelic sessions,
2. To make a complete and accurate record of your experience immediately following each session, and
3. To critically analyze your experience, bring it into dialogue with other fields of knowledge and with the experiences of other psychedelic explorers.
To boldly go, to bring back what you can, and sort it out with other explorers - A hero’s journey, for sure.
What Bache contends, is that our current materialist ontology is incapable of appropriately integrating the psychedelic experience. Aristotelean logic, linear time, and our symbolic representations (language) can’t handle the complexity of these experiences. He proposes that a social current of open dialog and increased psychedelic use precedes a new age of philosophy.
And he’s onto something big here. As our worldview becomes more global, our genders and power systems becoming deconstructed and decentralized, and we continue to acknowledge and respect another’s “felt experience,” the old models of philosophy fall apart. In our information age, one person’s well-researched truth becomes equal in another’s antithesis, “agreeing to disagree” then synthesizing the dialectic into an unconscious relativism. With psychedelics, something more grand presents us with a challenge, not only of worldview, but of physiology and base “materiality:” Are we real? What is “real?”
The technologies which await us in the next decade - artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, brain interface devices, a global Internet of Things, gene modification, etc. - will further blur the lines within our current binary ontology. A possible quantum future may bring “both-and” and “maybe logic” into our mental frameworks. Psychedelics, Bache implies, may be what helps us through this transition.
Finally, I think it’s necessary to point out the gratitude which exudes from the book, and in turn, myself for his psychedelic work and writing. Bache is endlessly grateful for his ability to work in this space, to receive the blessings from “the Beloved,” and to pass on the documentation to future and fellow psychonauts. I think fellow explorers have embodied that deep appreciation of existence, a love for whatever “allowed” us the ability to be, and for the awareness of that Being. But the repeated and expected viciousness of some of the experiences he was reluctant to share (especially during a session called The Killing of the Children), highlights the gratitude he gained for the Diamond Luminosity that followed as well as the suffering itself.
Along with the challenge to continue with the practice - despite life and career events - Bache explains his frustration with keeping his life a secret. “Living in the psychedelic closet is just as damaging to your soul as living in any other closet where you are forced to hide the truth of your being.” The book serves as his “coming out” to the world, and, I think, a source of encouragement for the many others who are mapping psychedelic territories. Even if we are working underground, the fruits of our psychic labor are sure to be plentiful; We can continue to explore, document, integrate, and “tune in,” knowing that one day we can present something novel and useful for the Others.
As a seasoned psychonaut, I can only imagine the amount of courage, honesty, and tenacity that it took to continue with the practice and finally boil it down to a digestible 319 pages. The psychedelic community is sure to grow in size and in complexity, and because of Christopher Bache’s gift to us, we can be very thankful to have another guide when finding our way through these experiences.