I have been interested in the brain for a while, its capacities, functioning, its role within the body. Youtube at some point presented me some videos about psilocybin. After some more information, checking safety and addiction, it seemed safe and non-addictive so I gave it a try. The first time amazed me so I gave it a second try one year later.
What you will read below is the experience and insights it has brought me. It was so profound that I had to write it down and share. You will read how I finally understand how the brain functions, creating awareness and our “self”.
The sensations and thought process (observe and understand)
As it was my second time, I understood the signals. A sense of sleepiness starts to come up. I knew I will want to close my eyes so off to bed and let it happen.
Things start to change, I start to feel cold although I’m in bed covered and with a sweater. The feeling of the body starts to disappear, it returns when I think of my hand for example but attention goes away completely. Sometimes there is a pulse of warmth behind my ears. A welcome warmth because I feel cold. Not a constant pulsing, not in line with my heartbeat.. Where is my heartbeat? it is so weak I can hardly feel it.
It is as if my body is slipping away. Then a sensation comes like a sound in the distance that rapidly approaches getting louder and at its loudest I snap my eyes open and it is gone. It felt like a life surveillance, a life pulse running through my body making sure life remains.
Then I realized it is my own brain scanning the body to make sure it keeps functioning. The brain is in control and it depends on the body to survive.
I started to get strange imaging, shattered, mixed. Constantly switching between 2 images, back and forth. What is that?
I start to realize, the brain needs to observe itself. This is strange, the brain created an observer that monitors itself. But the brain is itself and the observer. I start to understand, the brain created cognition to be aware but it also needs to evaluate itself, observe that everything is OK. It needs to check that the lungs are still functioning to bring in oxygen.
The observer has the role to interact with the surrounding. It controls external stimulation to protect the core but it also controls the core to so that it behaves properly with the external world.
It isn’t really an observer, more like an agent. Agents monitor and regulate. It is an active state. A lot of energy goes into this active state. Energy is important.
The brain is very powerful. If it gets distracted, if it doesn’t monitor then it risks dying. It must monitor the body. It is so powerful and complex. This reasoning requires energy. That is why I feel cold, don’t move and in this dream state. My brain has set the energy consumption of the body to the minimum. As much as possible is going to the brain.
The brain is trapped in a body and depends on it for its survival. It must monitor the body. This is why cognition exists. To extend the brain with the body and care for the body. What stops us from eating our own arm? The brain has to be aware that this is an extension of itself. Awareness.
This is why self-awareness, cognition, exists. An understanding of the body by the brain and how to use it for its own survival.
I start to understand multiple personalities. self-awareness, personality is a creation of the brain. It also had to create this observing cognition, it also created the agent cognition. Are we really one person? One brain yes, but multiple persons, working coherently together. They are not persons, the are more like functions each with their role to play in the totality.
The brain needs a stable core, the main cognition, for survival thinking and decision making. The other functions are supportive to keep the core stable. The core needs to reason and gain insights. This is a fundamental property, this is what learning is about and how the brain builds on what has been learned.
Processing requires reasoning and gaining insights. In an active state this cannot be done. Energy either goes to the active state or to this processing. That is why we dream, to minimize the active state so that we can process events, impressions. Reasoning about it to understand the meaning, how to deal with it. Knowing how to deal with it requires gaining insights. This is why we reason.
I’m starting to understand the brain, I’m starting to understand my “self”. The brain is a collection of cells, it is in a master-slave relation with the body in order to keep itself alive. The master is depend on the slave. The brain can be a danger to itself if it doesn’t monitor and take care of the body.
I understand now what the purpose of dreaming is. Processing these events, impressions or they will influence the core cognition, distracting it, no longer making optimal decisions.
The brain is complex. It is fascinating how I can observe myself and at the same time be myself. I realize observing is an active state, that too draws energy.
This whole session was a constant flux between observing myself and being myself. I had to observe myself, my thoughts, my body to learn about myself, the brain mass, how it functions.
All these thoughts and observations.. what I was doing was reasoning and gaining insights.
Am I right about all this? Absolutely. Why? Because these are my thoughts and my insights. They are right for me and that is what counts. We all need to create our own insights and they are true because they are ours.
When all is processed, our core cognition is stable. It is centered and doesn’t get distracted easily. This is when you are calm, serene, relax. This is where you are “OK” and can truly express everything is “fine”. No anxiety, no aggressiveness, no happiness.
No happiness? Happiness is not a balanced state. It is an escape from negativity, it is a distraction from what is not processed.
The core can experience emotions in different directions but should always return to the center. It cannot afford chronic influence because this core is responsible for survival.
Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia … all these ‘psychiatric’ disorders start to make sense now. They all impact the functioning to have a stable core.
As you get into the dreaming state, you start to feel cold.
What we have below is a view on my hart rate. In yellow you see the decline that started after taking the psilocybin. For comparison, my heart rate during sleep averages at 50 bpm but in this case it went down to 39bpm!
In light blue you see the movement level. As I got to the lowest heart rate, my movement stopped for an hour.
I felt hunger throughout this time and a bit of the hunger noise in my stomach so I got up to eat. It was not easy to walk, a bit like you are drunk. The fine tuned control wasn’t there.
After eating, I went to lay on the sofa and continued again into dreamland, roughly from 4pm to 5pm.
Indicated in magenta is the period across which I could feel it being effective. But even after that the thoughts keep on running.
I have written about how energy is regulated via the hypothalamus. It turns out that psilocybin reduces blood flow to the hypothalamus which explains why I got cold, reduced heart rate and felt hunger. When the hypothalamus perceives low energy, in this case caused by the reduction in blood flow, it regulates the body to reduce energy consumption, free stored energy and stimulate energy intake (hunger).
The cooking though made me realize what our brains are capable of when they are able to fully use the energy. I cooked chopped up bacon and eggs. I always like the egg yolk to remain complete and running but I never succeed in that.
First the bacon, I was staring at the fat and somehow I was able to see the color of the bacon at the bottom via the color of the fat. When I flipped the bacon, it had exactly the color that I was seeing. Is it an illusion or was I able to know somehow?
Now for the egg yolk.. I moved around the bacon and egg white with a fork (!) Moving around flipping bacon and egg white without touching, without moving the egg yolk. The end result was perfect. Nicely colored bacon, egg white fully cooked and egg yolk complete and still liquid. I never succeeded, perhaps never bothered to try? But I did it this time, the focus was so intense.
What I learned from all this learning
The brain in a box
Physically, the brain, a group of cells, cannot see. It cannot feel nor hear. It does receive electrical impulses, stimulation generated via the nerves. This is problematic because how do you know what all these impulses mean? How do you know the difference between an impulse that means a difference in temperature versus an impulse that means someone touches you?
That question is already wrong, “touching you”? You, the brain isn’t being touched, it’s the body in which you sit as a brain.
The brain had to evolve to generate cognition, a way to create self-awareness, a way to understand that the body in which it is sitting forms one complete part with itself, under its control.
Like a robot that is switched on and discovers that it has arms and legs and that it can control these parts. The brain has to consider this body as part of its “self” in order to understand that it needs to take care of this body.
The brain needs to use this body to survive. It needs to control the body in order to stay alive. Obtain food for both the brain and the body, breathing, stay away from negative body impact, prevent from being attacked. The brain has to take care of the body for its self-interest in surviving.
This cognition, this self-awareness is a projection of the complete unity of the brain and its body and its surrounding. This cognition is created to consolidate the totality and take decisions to succeed in survival of this unity.
The stable core, centered “self”
Throughout the day, we experience events which leave impressions in our memory. The brain needs to learn from these events, it has to evaluate, it has to reason about it in order to learn what it means and understand. Future evaluation/decisions make use of all these gained insights.
Throughout the day, the brain cannot spend the time and energy doing this. Such a processing is energy intensive so it is done during sleep where movement stops, feeding, visual observation and evaluation etc.. all these activities stop so that the brain can redirect the energy towards this processing.
This processing is crucial. This processing means reasoning about it and gaining insights. Once insights are achieved, the reasoning is no more necessary. If this process cannot take place, if those insights are not generated then these impressions remain active.
Such unprocessed impressions destabilize the cognition. The agent and the observer both are active states and becomes mixed up with these impressions that have not been processed and put aside. When that happens, the decision making to enhance survival becomes endangered.
As an example, a traumatic experience, for example the loss of your child, is hard to process. The enormous amount of grieve, sadness, stress will keep you from being able to process and lead to a state of depression. This influences decision making so that you don’t feel like getting up in the morning, you don’t find anymore joy in life, you don’t feel like eating etc..
The cognition that needs to be stable is no longer stable, it is distracted by such a trauma so that it cannot take the optimal decisions anymore to survive.
Psilocybin is used with success to treat depression. Whatever the cause, they are able to process these impressions, reason about it and gain insights.
For those living in the UK, you can watch a BBC documentary where they followed a trial using psilocybin to treat depression. Otherwise you can also see the documentary here. The documentary is called “The Psychedelic Drug Trial”.
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