Altered Consciousness

I'm going to try to describe the experience of being on LSD. Not to reflect on any particular one of my own or to talk about meaning or existential questions, but rather to try to encapsulate what makes it an experience that so often eludes description.
Imagine your conscious experience is a house. The house is an anchor, a context; you have a clear idea of where you've been and where you're going—a chronological chain of events. Each moment of conscious experience is a room. Each time you enter a room, your experience is contextualized by the interrelated components of the house. You are aware that you came from a previous room, you know why you are in the room you are, and you know which room you plan to enter next (although you don't know exactly what the experience will be like, you can easily imagine some approximation). It's this sense of continuity that gives our conscious experience coherency.
LSD does away with all of that. It's common to feel a dissociation from time, and that's because the continuity that threads your moment to moment experience together has become unwoven. You are still moving from room to room, but each time you step into a new room all of the memory of the previous room is simply gone, and along with it the context of your immediate experience.
It's rightly called a "trip" because you become a passenger to your own conscious experience. Without continuity, you simply weave between rooms absent the sense of causation and purpose that ordinarily draws boundaries on your experience. Because of the lack of context—the memory of immediately previous experience—each moment exists entirely and perfectly on its own. You may never truly understand the phrase "living in the moment" until you are on LSD.
If, in day to day life, you remember something important (a task you were supposed to do, for example), you can immediately contextualize it. You know when and why you were supposed to do it, and you're aware of actions you can take to rectify your oversight. But a trip strips you of this continuity, so you cannot "remember" to do anything; rather, your thoughts are more like a loop—likely some external stimuli would shift your consciousness attention to the task (if you had been sweeping the kitchen, you'd wander the house until you saw the broom again), and in doing so whatever you were doing the moment prior will simply be gone from memory and the task at hand (or, the thought of it) will consume the entirety of your experience...
at least, until some sensory input distracts you, or you simply wander into another room. Then the task you were just doing will be gone from memory and you will find yourself in a new place.
Most powerfully though, and possibly most frightening, is that the experience of mere thought can be identically as real as an actual sensory experience. So you are walking your dogs and pass a neighbor's house. You imagine a conversation with that neighbor. In the moment you are imagining that conversation, it is as real to you as if it were really happening. In that moment, the entire experience that led to that thought—you walking your dogs past their house—is utterly gone, brought back only by the external stimuli around you. The wind, the sounds of birds or cars, the tugging of the dogs on their leashes, etc. It is impossible for you to contextualize your imaginary conversation. You have no sense of how long you were thinking about it. It's only by looking at the sunset, or discerning where you are in the neighborhood, that you can piece together a broader narrative.
It's ultimately sensory experience that weaves it all together, albeit loosely. I imagine that if one were to spend a trip in a Stranger Things style sensory deprivation tank, you would have no concept of where you were, how long you were there, or how long you might stay. But since you're constantly bombarded by external stimuli, your behavior manifests as a sort of extreme absent-mindedness. If you converse with someone, you'll ramble between thoughts and forget how they were supposed to be connected. At any given time you'll be totally coherent and seem, to the uninitiated, fully lucid—perhaps just "chatty" or a little ditzy. You may find yourself able to expound deeply on any given subject, and can often find new insights into problems that had long vexed you. A trip does indeed provoke creative thinking. But it's when you attempt to thread your thoughts together that the ruse is up, and your (hopefully patient) listener would have to guide you back to your previous thought.
This is also why a "bad trip"—or, more accurately, a "challenging trip"—is a thing. Imagine a distressing thought, whether a long-repressed memory or a more immediate matter of concern in your day to day life. You step into the room that is that thought, and your presence there consumes the entirety of your conscious experience. Without continuity of memory—those other rooms connecting together—you aren't aware of why you are thinking about it, or what you intend to accomplish by reflecting on it. To be clear, it isn't as though you are reaching for those things, either; the thought does not lend any such context. You are simply there. Without external stimuli to lead you into a new room, you will remain fixated on the room around you and the rest of the house ceases to exist. As the effect of the drug fades, you can be left with the sense that you wanted to escape the room, but were unable. Of course, that's not exactly true; you impose such narratives after the fact. You experienced that loop of thought completely untethered from broader desires about what you'd prefer to do with your time. You were on a trip; you simply supplied the (mind)set and setting, and your consciousness took you away.

And that is why set and setting are so important. You may feel euphoric and your heightened senses can be overwhelmingly stimulating. The world breathes and shifts as your brain tries to piece together a coherent visual narrative. But those components are really tertiary to the experience, which at its core is a fundamental shift of consciousness. If you strongly wish to avoid dwelling on certain topics, it's easy enough to have a friend nearby to distract you (a "trip sitter") or to trip somewhere with enough external stimuli to keep you from being stuck in a single loop of thought. It is only when you embrace the uncertainty of the journey, though, that it offer the greatest rewards.


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