Reality is reflected by the operational state of your brain. When you are sober, reality is fundamentally absurd (some might say pointless, and one might argue that it is not only pointless but fundamentally flawed). In this state, you do not even realize that the present even exists; you are in a constant state of Person Manager 2014, calculating and evaluating but never actually playing the game yourself.
You do not even realize this is the case and that this is what you are doing and this is how you are living your life, until you have an extreme experience, perhaps induced by a psychedelic drug or near-death experience. Suddenly, lots of things you took for granted about reality and did not realize could change, change. You realize that lots of things you took for granted about reality were actually just made up by you, or your subconscious… in fact, everything was made up, generally based on reasonable inferences, of course, not just whimsied up randomly, but still inherently a creation of your mind. You realize that you are in some ways living in your own little bubble of reality, walking around in a reality made up by your brain (in some sense… walking around inside your own brain).
Because psychedelic drugs can fundamentally change reality, they can be extremely useful. Other drugs like stimulants or depressants may give you a new appreciation of reality, but not to the extent of psychedelics (or hallucinogens, depending on the terminology), because psychedelics can change far more about the way you experience reality: more boundaries can be broken, the experience is more personal, introverted and meditative. An analogy: if normal reality is like being a trucker, stimulants or depressants may cause the truck to go faster or slower, maybe causing you to notice the road a little more and appreciate its true nature a little more, but psychedelics can change the truck into a smaller car, or a tank, or an octopus, or God, depending on how much you take. There are truly no limits to the intensity of a psychedelic experience and people who take these drugs do not generally crave more and more, never getting as high as they want to, like other types of drug users or drug addicts. People who take psychedelics are very careful of dosage not because of the threat of physical harm, like takers of other drugs, but because the psychological intensity can quickly become far beyond what the drug taker, in their sober state, imagined was possible, potentially resulting in the most terrifying and worst experience of their lives.
If the truck analogy doesn’t make sense, that’s OK, because in some ways, it shouldn’t. The sober brain state is not capable of understanding the changes in reality that psychedelics may produce. How knowledge may be retained or transferred between different states of brain functioning is a difficult question. Based on my own personal experience, it is possible to retain at least some knowledge from a psychedelic state of functioning to a sober state of functioning, but it doesn’t seem like a whole lot, depending on the intensity of the experience. That is not to say that psychedelic experiences may not change a lot about the sober state, but I don’t think that it is that much compared to the significance of the experience. In fact, many people claim to “black out” on high doses of psychedelics and claim to remember almost nothing. They may feel significantly different, once they become sober, but there can be no doubt that an experience so strong that they “blacked out” is just impossible to understand in conventional terms.
Many people take these drugs and are not enlightened, and that is because the drugs cannot accomplish enlightenment by themselves. They change the way reality is perceived, which may allow a mind to make judgments about reality and the nature of their self.
I believe they are perhaps a necessary or at least critical component of a sane lifestyle, allowing you to reset and not just escape a reality that may seem monotonous or maniacal in its absurdity, but to reflect and reconsider things which may be beneficial for other people. There may be some risk that taking these drugs may cause a person to believe that their sober state of functioning is inherently pointless or even downright dysfunctional when never complemented with other states of functioning.
A person may not “do” much in a non-sober brain state, when looked at from the point of view of a sober person. This brings up some questions regarding what “doing” is. When people get out of bed and walk around, are these physical or mental things they are doing? Because subjective experience is the most fundamental aspect of reality, I would argue that “doing” is fundamentally a mental concept and not an objective concept. Two people walking at the same speed in roughly the same place may be “doing” completely different things, psychologically. A person may look at someone sitting on a couch and claim that they are not doing anything, when in fact, they may be having an intense psychedelic experience where they feel like they are doing lots of things, darting from concept to concept, trying to understand what is going on, exploring their mind, etc. The experience may have been far more interesting than the sober experience of something “conventionally” interesting, like going for a run or talking to coworkers. People may go for a run or talk to coworkers with very little conscious effort. Most of their conscious effort is probably spent constantly maintaining and updating an abstract representation of reality, both time and space. People keep track of where they are both in terms of their body’s physical location as well as where they are located on a giant timeline: it is this hour of the day, I am this old, I am this far through task X which takes 50 minutes.
It makes a lot of sense for the sober mind to function this way. Our minds adapted to function this way because DNA cares about what happens in the physical reality. The goal of DNA is to perpetuate, and it does this by creating complex machines (organisms and animals) that are capable of not only navigating, but surviving the real world and out-performing other organisms. In order to navigate physical reality, mechanisms must be put in place to keep track of what just happened, and to make abstractions about the nature of time and space, so that a strategic physical action can then be performed. What good is it to DNA for your body to lose its ability to keep track of time and space? It’s no good. There are very good reasons why our bodies are designed to do this.
However, this constant keeping track of what’s going on and updating and maintaining our interpretation of reality can lead us to be stressed out, annoyed, depressed, or just simply not happy. We are naturally attracted to shiny things and bigger things and more stuff, but having more and more stuff to keep track of, and more responsibilities as a result of us having a more complicated strategy to acquire more stuff (such as working more jobs or doing some other complicated activity to get more money) seems to inevitably lead to a state where a person feels overloaded with responsibilities and things to keep track of. You might say: good, that’s what they’re supposed to do! What good is it diverting resources away from these responsibilities and toward smelling the flowers? And how do I choose to allocate time for enjoyment? How can it be enjoyment if I am constantly keeping track of the fact that I have allocated the next 5 minutes for enjoyment?
The answer, in my opinion, is that the whole idea of enjoyment as a strategic and temporary diversion of cognitive resources from the overall goal of conquering the physical reality, towards “enjoyment time” does not make any sense and does not work. In fact, the phrase “enjoyment time” can be used to illustrate, through its sterility and lameness, how fun does not exist in a strategic view of reality as anything other than a means toward a strategic end. There may be lots of people who enjoy constant strategy, and, in fact, enjoying the process of strategizing is probably inherent to humans, but only to a certain degree. If the strategic process can never be escaped from, it may lead to not only the feeling of being overwhelmed, but also frustration, confusion and angst due to the seeming absurdity of reality. I think that is how most people view meditation or a psychedelic experience as a strategic opportunity to perhaps gain some creativity or new ways of thinking that will help the ultimately, of-course-more-important goal of conquering physical reality. This is a worthy start, but there is more to explore here.
What is fun? I would argue that fun happens when the strategizing stops, and the constant maintenance and updating of the greater representation of reality goes away with it. I think it is possible for most people to grasp this idea in its basic form, but I don’t think you can truly understand it unless you have experienced it yourself. The fact is that we are trained over the course of our lives to handle a larger and more complex workload of responsibilities as life goes on. Adults never have fun like kids do because their perception of reality cannot be fun, and their sober state of functioning has reached such a developed level of management, updating, strategizing, etc, that their reality can never really change that much. Sure, they can go for a walk or go to a restaurant or go to a foreign country, but the same things are always going to be in the back of their minds, both consciously and subconsciously. They have constructed a more and more detailed representation of reality as life goes on, without even realizing the extent of it. They achieve a baseline state, which sounds good in some cases, right? Like if you cut your toe and you don’t freak out and think you’re going to die; you don’t cry like a child in situations that are now simple to you. But you also don’t have fun like a child. And rather than this baseline being simply neutral, I believe it is skewed in the negative direction because updating and maintaining this representation of reality comes at the cost of being at least somewhat overwhelmed all the time and being stressed out because of it. After all, I would wager that most people are more than just a little nostalgic about their childhood, despite all the benefits they have as adults.
There are some adults that do seem to have a lot of fun and to some degree I have to chalk it up to the fact that their brains simply do not operate in this maintaining and updating way to the extent of other people. Some people claim that they can be totally caught up in their latte and forget about everything else in the world, and others find this idea absurd. I think that genetics play a large role in this.
A more developed, more comprehensive updating and maintaining process, and a more complex representation of reality can be stressful not just because it may be overwhelming, but also because that reality is fundamentally absurd. We can’t know any absolute truths about anything, even if absolute concepts help us conquer physical reality. Some people might say that, ultimately, reality makes no sense and leads toward nothing. Some people claim that this gives us freedom, but what is freedom in this sense other than not trying to figure out the one thing that seems strategically the best to do; what is freedom but a lack of thinking?
The majority of us are bound to be sober most of the time, so what are we to do? How can we avoid this constant, pointless strategizing? I am of the personal opinion that psychedelic drugs (including marijuana) may be the only way or at least by far the most effective way of disrupting the strategizing and having a more balanced cognitive state overall. Most people may think they have stopped strategizing when they have not, or simply claim that it’s not possible because their meditation session did not work. I would hope that eventually everyone stops being religious in pretty much any way other than culturally, and after that I believe that people will need psychedelic drugs, meditation and perhaps lifestyle changes in order to be happier and function optimally physical reality.
Why did I say that reality is “reflected” by the operational state of the brain? Why didn’t I say reality is “produced” by the brain? I say this because I know for certain that experience exists, but I don’t know if physical reality really exists, whatever “really exists” means. I don’t really have an opinion on a lot of things, like whether or not time is an illusion. It seems to me that most people have the idea in their heads that time, all of time, passes at this constant rate. That seems to me to be false, especially when you consider that Einstein said those things about spacetime. One thing I do sort of have an opinion on is my belief that reality only partially manifests in the physical realm, and that’s why we get, among other strange things, weird quantum phenomena that make no conventional sense. I believe that just like we can only see wavelengths of light within our visible spectrum, we can only physically interact with a certain spectrum of reality, the physical reality (of course I guess reality is not entirely physical when you get into wave/particle duality, so please forgive my generalizations and overall physics ignorance). In this sense I do not believe that consciousness is produced by the physical brain, I believe that physicality is only a subset of all reality. Of course there is some relationship, but I believe there is just a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that we cannot see. As for whether or not we have free will, I’m not sure what free will means, or whether or not we can have more or less free will depending on the operational state of our brain, but it does feel like we sort of do. But do we? I don’t know.