Monday, January 23, 2006

The Brain as reducing valve. How to make Reality slip through.

"Reflecting on my [mescalin] experience, I find myself agreeing with the eminent Cambridge philosopher, Dr. C. D. Broad, "that we should do well to consider much more seriously than we have hitherto been inclined to do the type of theory which Bergson put forward in connection with memory and sense perception. The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful." According to such a theory, each one of us is potentially Mind at Large. But in so far as we are animals, our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet."

- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception. Pg 23.

"Mescalin inhibits the production of [the enzymes that regulate the supply of glucose to the brain] and thus lowers the amount of glucose available to an organ that is in constant need of sugar. " (Pg 24)

"These effects of mescalin are the sort of effects you could expect the administration of a drug having the power to impair the efficiency of the cerebral reducing valve. When the brain runs out of sugar, the undernourished ego grows weak, can't be bothered to undertake the necessary chores, and loses all interest in those spatial and temporal relationships which mean so much to an organism bent on getting on in the world. As Mind at Large seeps past the no longer watertight valve, all kinds of biologically useless things start to happen. In some cases there may be extra-sensory perceptions. Other persons discover a world of visionary beauty. To others again is revealed the glory, the infinite value and meaningfulness of naked existence, of the given, unconceptualized event. In the final stage of egolessness there is an "obscure knowledge" that All is in all- that All is actually each." (Pg 26)

Huxley also describes "two other, less effective aids to visionary experience": carbon dioxide and the stroboscopic lamp (ex. The Dream Machine). As for carbon dioxide, Huxley describes how a mixture of seven parts oxygen and three parts carbon dioxide produces in those who inhale it physical and psychological changes, including brief visionary experience.

He continues,

"In light of these facts it becomes easy to understand the rationale of yogic breathing exercises. Practiced systematically, these exercises result, after a time, in prolonged suspensions of breath. Long suspensions of breath lead to a high concentration of carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood, and this increase in the concentration of CO2 lowers the efficacy of the brain as a reducing valve and permits the entry into consciousness of experiences, visionary or mystical, from 'out there.'

Prolonged and continuous shouting or singing may produce similar, but less strongly marked, results. Unless they are highly trained, singers tend to breathe out more than they breathe in. Consequently, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the alveolar air and the blood is increased and, the efficiency of the cerebral reducing valve being lowered, visionary experience becomes possible. Hence the interminable 'vain repetitions' of magic and religion. The chanting of the curandero, the medicine man, the shaman; the endless psalm singing and sutra intoning of Christian and Buddhist monks; the shouting and howling, hour after hour, of revivalists- under all the diversities of theological belief and aesthetic convention, the psychochemico-physiological intention remains constant. To increase the concentration of CO2 in the lungs and blood so to lower the efficiency of the cerebral reducing valve, until it will admit biologically useless material from Mind-at-Large - this, though the shouters, singers and mutterers did not know it, has been at all times the real purpose and point of magic spells, of mantrams, litanies, psalms and sutras."

- Aldous Huxley. Heaven and Hell. Appendix I, Pg 143-145

The Sufis have created what is by far the most efficient and powerful way of all the religious traditions. Instead of relying on continual singing or shouting or mantras in which more breaths are exhaled than inhaled, they simply stand up and continually repeat "Hu! Hu! Hu! Hu!" "Hu" being both a forceful expelling of air and one of the ultimate names of God. This is the fastest and most efficient way to build up more carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood, making the brain (which functions as a reducing valve) less efficient at filtering out all the other material from Mind-at-Large, of "everything that is happening everywhere in the universe", and so Ultimate Reality slips through and visionary experience is attained.

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