February 4, 2021

I recently got stoned for the first time in several years with Caleen. Whoa buddy. Like no time had passed at all. Instantly back where I was when I was a 24/7 stoner (about from 2007 to 2015).

I thought I might try to write about what it’s like for me. I think everyone’s experience is distinct, like a fingerprint of your soul. Caleen and I talked about it a little bit. She just always gets giggly. Not me. Sometimes, but unfortunately not usually.

Almost the first thing that hits me is the overwhelming sense of being. Like… simply the fact of existence and sensory input is too much to bear. In normal day life this is not a problem, of course how else could I function? My god, thinking back.. how did I function stoned all the time? The answer is there in my memory and it is this: with great difficulty. I never gave up trying. Out of maybe thousands of deeply conflicted confrontations with the nature of my existence in this reality, I never let go and never gave up on the fact that whether I like it or not it is.

I’m not sure the adjective “horrifying” is something that will make sense without some expansion. And I guess that’s kind of central to my experience. If I can explain why it is horrifying, then maybe I can understand it better.

Let’s start with focusing on a single sensory input. Vision, let’s say. That’s usually the first thing I become hyper aware of- and I think it makes sense, being sort of the most primary of human senses.

When I got high the other night, almost immediately I became hyper aware of my sense of vision. Being aware isn’t itself scary, of course. Being a naturally inquisitive person, and especially under the influence, I start to ask questions. Almost every single time. Why do I have vision? What am I seeing here? It’s in moments like this where questions like this aren’t satisfied by answers like “Well, photons are massless particles (bosons, actually) that travel at the maximum speed limit of the universe whose wave combination behavior can be described by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. And because our eyes are photosensitive, the energy conveyed by a photon interacting with our eyes results in the experience of color”.

No, I hyperfocus on what experience is. And it gets me into trouble. If I can describe it in computer science terms it might be something like a recursion stack overflow. It’s deeply unsettling, whatever it is.

Even sober, sometimes I get into this mood I think most philosophers and scientists in the history of the world must get at some point. It’s fascinating to be able to describe a feature of reality with such detail.

But it doesn’t really get at the heart of, like, why though?

Most experimental physicists I’ve ever read say something along the lines of “Yeah, it’s crazy. But all we can do is report what we find even if it seems insane.” So, my stoned mind really wants to think more about this, presumably under the impression that the effects of a plant no less a child of the universe than it can help connect it better to its true nature. Sober minds far more educated than mine can’t make sense of it. Maybe altering the perception of reality can help. And honestly, sometimes it feels like you finally have it figured it out only your brain is so distorted you have no human way of communicating it even to your later sober self. But that’s not when things are scary, that’s more of a “Well that’s too bad, but also remember the time you left a very important post it note to yourself that said ‘they observe you when you observe them’? Yeah, man. Great stoner thought.”

There’s a lot of paths a mind in an altered state can wander when asking questions like this. One of them is to doubt the fabric of reality altogether. That’s maybe the scariest one, because when you start to think that maybe your experience is really just a virtual reality helmet inside an inception style simulation inside the real reality… and critically you begin to actually believe this well… scary ideas can become scary reality quickly.

One of the ways I’ve managed this in the past, and it came in handy the other night is to force myself to acknowledge the inputs of my senses and only the inputs of my senses as reality. My thoughts are complicated machinations informed by and developed around decades of a mixture of pleasure and abuse, and therefore the primary thing not to trust.

If what I see right now is a woman offering nice words and calming behavior, I choose to trust that. My inner turmoil about how well I actually know this woman I have been close friends for a decade is garbage. That is a symptom of an unwell mind, possibly (obviously) one under the influence of an intoxicant. What is real right now is Caleen being a good friend. What my mind is doing is playing tricks with my senses. Given that it’s kind of hard to exist outside of one’s own mind, when it start playing tricks it can be really hard to realize it.

Now, this might seem obvious. And it is, from a place of sobriety. But in the moment when your mind is doing these things (you sort of asked it to do) your mind is telling you every single thing your senses are telling you are potential lies. The only way to win is maintain a part of your mind that questions everything, even itself. That concept only raises more questions. “How can a piece of a mind exist outside itself?” If minds are in anyway similar to a computer, well it’s not unlike asking a computer to report its current CPU usage. Which processes are dominating. Silicon can do, why shouldn’t neurons?

But nothing I’ve described answers what I call the question of experience, also known as the hard question of consciousness. And maybe nothing ever will. It is, after all, at the heart of what millenia of philosophy, religion, and science have been asking.

I’ve tried to paint a relatable picture of what it’s like for me. In actuality, it can be vastly more intense than doubting a friendship, or even reality. Imagine the kinds of things that you could let your mind replace reality if you let it. That’s what makes it truly horrifying, when every aspect of reality comes into question. From your fridge to your fingers to your friends.

Now, I’d love to dig into why my experience is not consistently giggily like Caleen’s, but I’m afraid that touches on some personal stuff I’m not ready to get into right now. Suffice it to say, it’s a mix of my experiences in life and a deliberate combination of no fear and punishment gluttony.

I would normally never publish something like this, but I’m getting into a stage of life where I think I’m pretty clearly safe to do so. And that is refreshingly nice to be able to say.