A commonly reported feature of the DMT experience is that of impossibility. In the DMT space, one can be left astonished to witness objects, events, and beings that one regards as undeniably impossible. But does impossibility mean exactly in terms of the DMT experience? And are users correct in their apprehension (if that’s possible) of impossibility during the experience and in maintaining this belief when the experience is over? In the discussion on the difficulty of remembering DMT experiences, I reflected on how the perception of impossibility may help to explain the amnesiac tendency of DMT; but here I believe it would be fruitful to assess this experience of impossibility in more depth, as it raises some very deep questions about the limits of human perception, knowledge, and consensus reality.
During my first profound experience with DMT, I was perhaps most struck by this certainty of feeling that what I was witnessing was impossible, law-defying. The geometry and objects in this space were transforming themselves in impossible ways, like a hyper-dimensional Rubix cube. I was suddenly able to perceive 4D objects, like a tesseract, as if they were 3D objects. I could also describe it as like visiting a world based on Escher’s drawings of impossible objects, spaces, and architecture; however, everything made perfect sense, in that activity was occurring in this impossible realm in a reified manner. There was an orderliness and novel lawfulness occurring, I just had no reference point to recognise it or understand it.
Yet despite there appearing to be a concreteness and realness to the events unfolding, I was still utterly astonished at what I judged to be objects breaking the laws of physics as I knew it. Additionally imposing was the apparent lack of causality, the breakdown of cause and effect that I was familiar with; there were occurrences and activities that were manifesting without me being able to delineate an antecedent event leading to a subsequent event.
I remember thinking to myself, If I could just take a video of this back with me, I can change what scientists think is possible in the physical universe. I felt like a baby in the cot, looking up at some alien baby mobile, or impossible toys self-transforming above me. It was like the astonishment a hominid ancestor would experience if they examined our modern technology. But the ontological shock was far more intense than that. This was alien technology so advanced that it was beyond all comprehension.
So how can I – and others – get to grips with this shockingly real first-hand experience of impossibility during the DMT experience? In offering some explanation of what could be going on, it will be illuminating to refer to the work of Dr Andrew Gallimore, a computational neurobiologist, pharmacologist, and chemist who takes a special interest in the implications of the DMT experience.
The Reality Switch Hypothesis
In his book Alien Information Theory: Psychedelic Drug Technologies and the Cosmic Game (2019), Gallimore presents his unique theory that the Grid (consensus reality) is made up of Code (laws of nature) created by the Other (alien hyperintelligent programmer), and that DMT transforms the brain in such a way that we gain access to the HyperGrid (the hyperdimensional realm, where hyperdimensional entities reside; these entities are the people in consensus reality who have won the Cosmic Game: those who have successfully transcribed their mind to hyperspace, now without physical form in consensus reality). This mingling of simulation theory, theology, and altered states will seem wildly imaginative and even outlandish to some – but Gallimore’s cosmology can at least provide a way of making sense of the impossibility of the DMT realm.
Gallimore makes use of McKenna’s assertion that during the DMT experience, “[w]hat happens is, the world is completely replaced, instantly, 100 percent. It’s all gone. And what’s put in its place, not one iota of what’s put in its place was taken from this world. It’s a 100 percent reality channel switch.” Likewise, Gallimore claims that “the DMT world bears no relationship whatsoever to consensus reality.” Many users strongly resonate with this description of DMT as a ‘reality switch’. Before exploring how DMT achieves this supposed change in the reality channel (where things become impossible), we need to outline Gallimore’s analysis of how the brain constructs consensus reality (where things are possible).
Gallimore’s hypothesis depends on the premise that reality is, in essence, made up of information, defined by Gallimore as that which “is generated when a system selects between a finite number of possible states”. A system is any concrete or abstract thing “that can exist in any one of a distinct number of states at any point in time”. The example he gives of a system is a coin, with its two possible states being heads or tails. This is an uncontroversial point. Gallimore’s more contestable conclusion based on this premise, however, is that “we will find nothing at the ground of reality other than information”. For Gallimore, we can define all particles by finite quantity alone. For example, we can define an electron entirely by a set of four numbers: N (energy level), L (angular momentum), M(L) (direction of angular momentum), and M(S) (spin angular momentum). Following this analysis, he states:
And since, of course, all matter is composed of these particles, this means that all matter can be defined by a finite amount of information. In fact, everything within the Universe is nothing more than quantised—digital—information.
This particular view of reality has been critiqued, which we will turn to later, but for now, let’s continue with Gallimore’s extension of this view to the mind. He posits that each:
neuron can only generate a single action potential at a time—a single “bit” of information—the massively interconnected network of billions of neurons, each connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, are capable of generating and processing colossal amounts of information.
It is this information, generated by trillions of action potentials per second, that manifests as your phenomenal world. … [Your] visual world is this information being experienced from your subjective perspective—from within.
Thus, information processed by neurons in the brain (itself an organ made up of information) is what generates conscious experience. However, framing matter as information doesn’t resolve the hard problem of consciousness (i.e. this doesn’t explain how the activity of anything non-conscious – be it neurons viewed neurobiologically or as information – produces subjectivity, consciousness, perception, feelings, and so on). Nevertheless, this is the perspective on the mind that Gallimore adopts in order to describe how reality switches from consensus reality to DMT reality.
Networks in the brain that control the structure and flow of information ‘sculpt’ our model of the world: consensus reality. Through the course of evolution and individual development and experience, this model is improved and refined. The purpose of this model is to help us navigate the world in such a way that aids our survival and reproduction; the model helps us avoid dangers and threats, locate food, find mates, and make survival-enhancing decisions and predictions.
The brain is tuned to the environment and tests its model against the sensory information it receives from the sense organs. The brain’s model predicts what sensory information it will receive, with the model updating based on any unexpected sensory input (interpreted as ‘error signals’). The brain also filters out any information it correctly predicts; after all, information processing carried out by the brain is energy-intensive and so the brain avoids processing information that’s already part of the model in order to save energy. Gallimore states:
This constant, real-time, testing and updating against sensory information allows your brain to tune into the environment, locking you into what we might call Channel Consensus Reality.
The notion that the brain creates a model of the world is neither new nor contentious. Anil Seth, professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, noted in a 2017 Ted Talk that “we don’t just passively perceive the world, we actively generate it,” going so far as to refer to consensus reality as a shared and collectively agreed upon hallucination (since, as Gallimore highlights, the brain ‘guesses’ what is happening based on its collection of stored information, or the model of the world).
This model of reality is also robust, as it is what our dreams are based on, yet since we are disconnected from the waking world while dreaming, the dream world is at once familiar and unstable. Interestingly, the dream world, like the DMT world, allows for so-called impossible experiences (e.g. people having shapeshifting abilities or gaining the ability to fly). According to Gallimore, this is because the elements of our model of reality can be rearranged in unusual and unconstrained ways, as the model is not constantly being tested against sensory information. However, the kind of impossibility experienced in dreams is markedly distinct from the more astonishing impossibility experienced in the DMT realm. Gallimore’s explanation of how DMT alters the brain may help shed light on this distinct phenomenological character of the DMT experience.
Firstly, classic psychedelic compounds, in general, bind to the 5-HT2A receptor in the brain, which plays an important role in constructing our model of reality. Brain imaging studies conducted by Robin Carhart-Harris from Imperial College London have shown that, under the influence of psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD, normally well-ordered patterns of brain activity become disorganised and networks formerly disconnected from each other become connected to each other. The brain becomes highly connected but also, as Carhart-Harris calls it, “entropic”, meaning disordered.
From the subjective point of view of the person who has taken the psychedelic, the world changes from being predictable and stable to unpredictable and unstable. The brain’s model of reality starts to disintegrate and becomes less successful at predicting sensory information, leading to an increase in error signals. In addition, psychedelics effectively remove the filter that avoids processing information that matches the brain’s model since the brain’s ability to predict sensory information has been perturbed. Information that is usually filtered out, then, becomes something novel and fascinating.
Normally with error signals, the model would update to accommodate them, but under psychedelic stimulation, the brain cannot form a coherent and stable model, so the error signals remain. In an attempt to create a successful model, the brain shifts from state to state, leading to the subjective experience of an unstable, constantly shifting world. We observe this, too, in the fMRI brain imaging studies, where the psychedelic-stimulated brain changes in a disorderly fashion, showing several different patterns of neural activity. This is the brain trying to ‘retune’ itself, according to Gallimore. But this is how classic psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD affect the brain. For Gallimore, the situation with DMT is quite distinct.
While DMT also acts on the 5-HT2A receptors, the compound seems to switch the brain to a completely different channel, rather than simply put it into a disordered state. Instead of attempting to construct the normal waking world, an entirely new model (world) is created. Gallimore argues that the breakthrough DMT experience is not felt to be chaotic and confusing, although perhaps for some it might – moreover, some ‘breakthrough’ experiences with other compounds may be felt to be orderly and clear. In any case, the breakthrough DMT experience, in the words of Gallimore, involves:
fully realised worlds of crystalline clarity…replete with a diverse ecology of intelligent beings eager to communicate with the tripper. The switch from Channel Consensus Reality to Channel DMT is swift, efficient, and complete.
And like with psilocybin and LSD, modern brain imaging studies help to corroborate this view, which the likes of Gallimore and McKenna have felt confident to profess, based on the subjective felt quality of the DMT experience. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports described how DMT changes the brain, based on the use of an electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures the electrical activity of neurons in the brain. Researchers utilised EEG to observe how DMT altered neural oscillations (or brainwaves): rhythmic or repetitive patterns of neural activity that fall under different frequencies, with distinct frequencies serving various functions. For example, alpha-oscillations have been associated with the brain’s ability to create a model of the world and predict sensory information.
Brain imaging studies with LSD and psilocybin show a weakening of these alpha-oscillations, which may help to explain the breakdown of the model of reality under the influence of these compounds. These effects were likewise seen in the 2019 study on DMT; however, this was accompanied by an increase in the strength of lower frequency oscillations, specifically delta and theta oscillations, which also increase in strength in the dreaming state. The researchers noted that this combined decrease in alpha oscillations and increase in delta and theta oscillations led to “apparent order amidst a background of disorder”. Yet Gallimore contrasts the DMT world with the dream world, saying it is “utterly incomparable and must be constructed using an entirely different model”. The new order indicates, for Gallimore, that the brain has achieved a new stable channel: ‘Channel DMT’.
The new model created by DMT could occur in two different contexts: the new model could be receiving information from a normally hidden and inaccessible independent reality or it could be constructed without sensory input, as in the case of dreaming. Gallimore prefers the former explanation. This is because he believes Channel DMT is so starkly unlike Channel Consensus Reality, so it could not possibly be built based on the model that dreaming is built on.
Higher Spatial Dimensions
Another intriguing aspect of Gallimore’s reality switch hypothesis is his suggestion that, under the influence of DMT, we can perceive extra dimensions, beyond the three spatial dimensions that constitute consensus reality. In his review of Alien Information Theory, philosopher of mind Peter Sjöstedt-H refers to Immanuel Kant, who argued that it is not necessary for space to have just three dimensions. Kant argued that space:
has the property of threefold dimension … is arbitrary … . A science of all these possible kinds of space would undoubtedly be the highest enterprise which a finite understanding could undertake.
Since Kant, mathematicians have demonstrated that extra spatial dimensions were not paradoxical, with such dimensions being invoked to describe the nature of reality coherently. In Kaluza-Klein theory, a fifth dimension (a fourth spatial dimension alongside the presumed three of space and the dimension of time) was introduced as a way to integrate the gravitational field and the electromagnetic field into one unified field. Einstein did at one point consider the higher dimension of Kaluza-Klein theory as real. In a paper titled ‘On a Generalization of Kaluza’s Theory of Electricity’ (1938), Einstein and P. Bergmann state: “[W]e ascribe physical reality to the fifth dimension.” Higher dimensions do not have to be immaterial.
Kaluza-Klein theory was a precursor to string theory and M-theory in physics, the former proposing the existence of 10 dimensions (nine spatial dimensions and one time dimension) and the latter postulating 11 (10 spatial dimensions and one time dimension). These extra spatial dimensions are curled up to a very small size; curled up so tightly that we don’t notice them. Like with Kaluza-Klein theory, these extra dimensions aim to unify different theories of how reality manifests; M-theory and string theory attempt to give a unified description of the four fundamental forces (electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and gravity) and in turn reconcile Einsteinian general relativity (our accepted theory of gravity, concerning the macro world) with quantum theory (relating to the micro level of reality). The problem with integrating the two is that the laws governing objects break down when we observe the quantum level of reality (how particles like electrons behave).
According to string theory, both gravitational theory and quantum mechanics can be unified by hypothesising the existence of tiny vibrating strings, with different kinds of vibrations relating to different kinds of particles. The specific number of spatial dimensions proposed by M-theory and string theory is thought to be the number necessary for the strings to vibrate in all the various ways that account for the varieties of particles in the universe. A space with more than three spatial dimensions is known as hyperspace, a familiar term in the DMT lexicon that in the latter context refers to the realm that one visits in a DMT breakthrough experience. For Gallimore, DMT allows one access to genuine hyperspace, that is, space of more than three dimensions. He states that in the presence of DMT:
the brain re-emerges from Cell states sensitive to the HyperGrid’s orthogonal dimensions. [The] brain is transformed into a higher-dimensional processor within the HyperGrid. … [The] brain is itself constructed from this information … . As DMT floods the brain, the profound changes that occur in the information it generates are observed from a completely unique subjective perspective.
You will recall Gallimore’s assertion that Channel DMT is a model based on information from a normally hidden, mind-independent reality – and this includes extra spatial dimensions that we do not – and cannot – perceive when tuned into Channel Consensus Reality. For Gallimore, DMT ‘tunes’ the brain so that it can receive information from orthogonal (right-angled) dimensions. When DMT floods the brain, the brain itself also changes, transforming into a hyperspatial object, existing within Gallimore’s proposed hyperspatial HyperGrid. We do not perceive these extra spatial dimensions by means of any new extrasensory abilities. In the same way that we can perceive objects in dreams without sense organs, Gallimore opines that hyperspace can reveal itself directly through brain stimulation. In the psychedelic transfiguration, when the brain turns into a hyperspatial object, the DMT user also becomes part of hyper-dimensional reality.
For Gallimore, “confronting DMT means confronting the truly impossible” (emphasis added). With his reality switch hypothesis in mind, I believe that it can, if founded, provide an account for how one can experience the impossible, although this does depend on how exactly we are defining impossibility. On the other hand, there are some potential issues with Gallimore’s hypothesis that may discount the notion that DMT allows genuine experiences of the impossible, in which case we will have to consider other ways of explaining the so-called impossibilities encountered in the DMT world.
What is ‘Impossible’?
What does it mean to encounter the truly impossible on DMT? With regards to the reality switch hypothesis, we may suppose that what is possible and impossible is relative to the particular model we are ‘tuned into’. The impossibilities in the DMT realm would be impossible relative to consensus reality, as the way in which things occur or behave in the DMT space could not possibly manifest in consensus reality. But in the context of the DMT realm, what is occurring must surely be possible (relative to that realm) since it is occurring.
In philosophy, there is an important distinction between the impossible and the always impossible (or impossible in principle). Say, for example, you are running late for work. You have a meeting starting in five minutes, but the quickest possible route to work involves an hour of travel time. In this sense, it is practically impossible for you to make that work meeting (but not impossible in principle). To give another example, over 100 years ago, we could not have flown to the moon; it was technologically impossible. This is a kind of relative impossibility, referring to that which is impossible at some point in time.
Contrasting with relative impossibility is the always impossible, which we may also call the absolutely impossible. This stands for something impossible at all points in time. There is, nonetheless, widespread disagreement about whether so-called absolute impossibilities are always impossible. On the one hand, there are certain statements referring to states of affairs that are logically impossible because they involve contradictions. As a case in point, you could never meet a married bachelor, for all bachelors, by definition, are unmarried.
Then we have the three laws of thought, derived from Aristotle, upon which all rational discourse is based: the law of identity (each thing is identical with itself), the law of non-contradiction (contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time), and the law of excluded middle (either a proposition is true or its negation is true – there is no middle ground between truth and falsity). However, it should be noted, some forms of non-classical logic reject supposed ‘laws’ like the law of identity and the law of the excluded middle; Buddhist philosophy is full of contradictions that challenge Aristotelian logic; and psychedelic mystical experiences may also feature contradictory and paradoxical experiences (e.g. the feeling of being everything and nothing at the same time).
In terms of mathematical statements, 2+2 could never equal 5, as it is not mathematically possible; it can never manifest, in any universe, in any reality. Moreover, in the artwork of M.C. Escher, we can see ingenious representations of geometric impossibilities (in the form of impossible objects and architecture) that could not exist in actual reality. Disputes about what is impossible in principle centre on different sorts of questions, however, such as whether it will always be impossible to explain subjectivity and consciousness in purely scientific terms. It is not clear whether this hard problem of consciousness is intractable; some philosophers are adamant that it is, whereas others believe science will someday be able to offer a persuasive picture of how non-conscious matter leads to the emergence of conscious states.
Now, when we think about the impossibility encountered in the DMT realm, it would seem, on the one hand, that experiences of impossibility pertain to relative not absolute impossibility. People are not returning to consensus reality convinced that they experienced logical or mathematical impossibilities, for what would that even mean? Instead, it appears that what is so astonishing is the confrontation with relative impossibility, with relative impossibilities that you would assume simply cannot be witnessed or experienced as a mere human observer in consensus reality. This might include perception of higher-dimensional objects and spaces, different laws of nature, alternate realities, and the quantum level of reality, as well as extraordinary experiences like time travel, including to the farthest reaches of cosmic time – to the birth of the universe itself.
However, here we step into ambiguous territory since, just like the question of the hard problem of consciousness, there will be differences in opinion as to whether consciously experiencing some of these states of affairs is absolutely impossible or not. For example, we can look at 3D renderings of 4D objects, but would it ever be possible, such as in a DMT-altered state, to genuinely perceive or visualise a 4D object? Also, semantically, it may not make sense to refer to the perception of different laws of nature in action as even relatively impossible since if DMT allows such perception at this moment in time, then we are talking about what is possible. What is witnessed may be extraordinary and have the appearance of impossibility yet nonetheless fall within the realm of possibility.
Thus, when people speak of experiencing the ‘impossible’ on DMT, it is not clear whether this refers to the colloquially impossible (what we imagine is not possible) or the philosophically impossible (what is either relatively or absolutely impossible). In the case of the latter, if one experiences what philosophers and scientists insist is genuinely impossible (either relatively or absolutely), then the DMT state would show that it is possible to experience some kind of presumed impossibility.
Assessing the Reality Switch Hypothesis in the Context of Impossibility
Using the reality switch hypothesis, we can allow for the possibility of perceiving higher dimensions – which we may deem impossible – by referring to distinct models of reality made up of distinct information, with DMT shifting the information towards a model that makes the perception of – and existence in – higher dimensions achievable. But there are some potential issues with the reality switch hypothesis that may undermine the idea that experiences of the impossible are veridical, and they could mean we need an alternative hypothesis to explain the subjective sense of impossibility on DMT. Sjöstedt-H takes issue with how Gallimore defines all matter as information, in his assertion that matter is nothing more than information. Sjöstedt-H states:
There is an invalid transition from definition to existence. The definition of something is not itself the existent reality of that something. One could define a person by numbers representing their height, weight, age, and IQ—but to claim that this information…itself was the person, would be to mistake the representation for the reality, the map for the territory, the sign for the city. Likewise, our numerical representation of a particle does not at all mean that the particle is its representation. The information about a particle should not be confused for the reality of that particle—even if we accepted that such information was finite—just as the information you receive about a planet should not be confused for that planet itself. This error is a typical example of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness: mistaking an abstraction (a part) for the concrete actuality (the whole).
Information points to or represents the actual reality but it isn’t the actual reality itself. Furthermore, the way in which information represents reality will always be an incomplete picture of reality. A thermometer telling us the temperature does not exhaustively tell us what heat is. Information certainly tells us something about an object but it does not provide a complete description of an object, as Sjöstedt-H emphasises. If the assumption that matter is just information is unfounded, then it becomes difficult to argue that tuning into a different model of reality is due to simply a change in information.
A further unsubstantiated idea – assuming here that everything boils down to information – is how the conscious mind (in either consensus reality or DMT reality) emerges out of information. The hard problem of consciousness is just reframed, although perhaps made even harder, due to the extra difficulty or showing how the mind is created from code, rather than the real objects and relations that the code signifies. If we reject the premise of matter as information, it is unclear how DMT would change the reality of matter itself (i.e. brain activity, functions, and processes) in such a way that could lead to veridical experiences of the impossible.
Another potential flaw in the reality switch hypothesis is that the experience of the impossible seems to depend on the idea that Channel DMT is unequivocally distinct from Channel Consensus Reality – this stark difference helps to explain why occurrences in the DMT realm could not possibly be experienced in consensus reality. Yet, while Gallimore claims the features of Channel DMT are “entirely unrelated” to Channel Consensus Reality, many DMT-esque features bear a relationship to features of Channel Consensus Reality, including elves, rooms, temples, and landscapes. Of course, trying to describe the uniqueness of the DMT state in anything but language based on consensus reality would be impossible, which means we may just have to be confident in the incomparable nature of the DMT experience in the absence of language. Ineffability is, after all, a hallmark feature of the DMT experience.
Here I feel a crucial distinction needs to be made, between that which is impossible and that which is impossible to describe. Both kinds of impossibility may converge, whereby the impossible is also impossible to describe, but if we concede that they can be separate, whereby you can experience a new kind of possibility that is impossible to describe, by what standard can we conclude the DMT breakthrough experience is both impossible and ineffable, rather than just ineffable?
I believe there is no easy answer to this question since we cannot record subjective experiences like video footage and show it to the world, nor can we (not yet, anyway) allow other people to sit inside our minds and see the world as we see it, as in the film Being John Malkovich. A parsimonious explanation would tend to prefer the conclusion that what one experiences on DMT is ineffable but not actually impossible, but not everyone who experiences DMT will personally accept this sceptical and less exciting perspective, even though the felt sense of impossibility is fascinating and mysterious in its own right.
Can DMT Allow Access to Higher Spatial Dimensions?
Leaving aside the specifics of the reality switch hypothesis, it is generally questionable whether DMT can truly allow one to access hyperspace, that is, a space with higher dimensions, the experience of which may be felt to be impossible. Sjöstedt-H underscores two issues with making this link between DMT and higher dimensions.
Firstly, we do not know for certain that there exist more than three spatial dimensions. The idea of hyperspace, including the notion of 10 dimensions of space existing, is logically possible, but possibility does not imply existence. Something can be possible without being actualised. As of yet, the existence of one or more dimensions beyond the ordinary three has not been verified, nor – as Sjöstedt-H points out – do we know how they could be verified. There is moreover the possibility that we could reach a unified theory of everything at some point in the future without having to presume extra, tightly curled up, infinitesimally small dimensions. The second issue Sjöstedt-H raises relates to the question of whether “DMT induces a veridical (objectively real) perception of that objective hyper-reality rather than inducing a hallucination of such a reality.” He continues:
If the brain can produce dreams which are not veridical, then why can it not produce DMT worlds that are not veridical? There are some minor suggestions relating to the feeling of familiarity and the perception of regularity, but these alone are not particularly persuasive.
Sjöstedt-H concedes that the DMT experience is vastly different from dreams, so the causes of the DMT experience will no doubt be different too. He additionally accepts the possibility that the DMT experience could be explained by postulating extra dimensions. Currently, however, there does not appear to be a substantial reason to prefer the explanation that DMT provides a veridical perception of extra dimensions that actually exist; in fact, such an explanation may be less parsimonious than the alternative explanation that experiences of hyperspace and the impossible are hallucinatory.
We should be wary of the tendency to sometimes prefer the more seductive, dramatic explanation to the more cautious and less assuming. It is understandable to think that calling the DMT experience a hallucination muddies or devalues the experience, but as already opined, a hallucinated reality is not void of interest and mystery, nor does it have to be something negative or lacking in value, simply because it does not refer to a mind-independent reality.
I think it would be useful to explore some alternative explanations of how one experiences the impossible on DMT. One way DMT may afford the perception of higher spatial dimensions, which is impossible in the normal unaltered state, is by way of granting the mind access to more information about the world. This relates to the reducing valve theory of the mind, first put forward by Henri Bergson, adopted by C.D. Broad, and then subsequently popularised in Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, with Huxley feeling confident about the veracity of this theory, after having reflected on his experiences with mescaline.
Bergson came to believe that the human brain and nervous system served an eliminative function, rather than a productive one. By this, he meant that the purpose of the brain and nervous system is to keep stimuli and information out of conscious awareness. Huxley used the term ‘reducing valve’ to describe this function of the brain. In The Doors of Perception, he quotes Broad, who said:
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.
If the reducing valve of the mind did not exist or it allowed all information in at all times, it would, as Huxley argues, make survival impossible. Reiterating Broad’s point, he states:
To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funnelled 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.
On mescaline, Huxley was flooded with what he calls ‘Mind at Large’, the conscious mind with the filters of the brain and nervous system removed. More than 50 years after Huxley promulgated the reducing valve theory of the mind, scientific research into the effects of psychedelic drugs would come to vindicate the idea. In 2016, researchers from Imperial College London published a landmark study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing the results of the world’s very first images of the brain on LSD.
One of the key findings from the study was that LSD decreases communication between brain regions that constitute the default mode network (DMN), a collection of hub centres that we now know restrict the amount of sensory information that enters conscious awareness. The DMN is essentially the reducing valve that Huxley had in mind; it controls communication between brain regions, creating a somewhat segregated brain. The 2016 study notes how LSD disintegrates the DMN, increasing communication between brain regions that don’t normally communicate with each other. Since the DMN has also been referred to as the neural correlate of the ‘ego’, when the DMN disintegrates, the result can be the feeling of ego dissolution, as well as the feeling of oneness or unity, which we can correlate to the greater degree of connectivity in the brain.
This weakening of the DMN and, in turn, increased communication in the brain, is also said to contribute to the experience of ‘seeing with eyes shut’, of having complex, dreamlike visions in the absence of stimuli, as well as the alleviation of certain negative patterns of thought, belief, and feeling, as LSD allows new and often healthier patterns to emerge. We know that ayahuasca likewise causes a significant decrease in activity in the DMN, with researchers associating altered states of consciousness in general with the modulation of the activity and connectivity of this reducing valve.
An enticing question is whether the weakening of this reducing valve, in the presence of DMT, can allow access to higher dimensional objects and spaces which would normally be blocked out of conscious awareness, due to their irrelevancy in the context of everyday biological needs, survival, and reproduction. On this account, the experience of the impossible – whether veridical or not – results from the reducing valve losing its control and powers of repression.
Broad-Smythies Theory and DMT
Is it possible, as sentient creatures, to perceive more than three dimensions? And can DMT provide such a window into this unfathomable perception, which may be felt to be impossible? In trying to arrive at an answer to these questions, with the reducing valve theory in mind, it is worth turning to the Broad-Smythies theory of higher dimensions, which derives from Broad (already mentioned with respect to the reducing valve theory) and neurophilosopher John R. Smythies, who was influenced by Broad’s work.
Smythies was interested in the relationship between phenomenal space – the space of imagination, dreams, psychedelic experiences, bodily sensations, visions, and so on – and physical space. In a 2003 paper titled ‘Space, Time and Consciousness’, published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Smythies posits that:
Phenomenal space and physical space are simply different spaces, different parallel universes, whose contents are causally related. Here ‘different spaces’ does not mean that one is real and one is abstract, but that both are real but are topologically external to each other. A real space can be defined as that in which some thing moves about. In which case, the physical body moves in physical space, and the body image (as well as dream images, etc.) move in phenomenal space. The causal relations postulated here are of the simplest Humean type, i.e. whenever a certain event A occurs in a brain a correlated event B occurs in the relevant part of a sensory field or other subdivision of a consciousness.
Interestingly, Smythies – based on the ideas of Broad – proposes that both physical space and phenomenal space can exist in n-dimensional space (a space where ‘n’ stands for any number of dimensions; thus physical space and phenomenal space are not necessarily restricted to three spatial dimensions, as is suggested by our everyday consensus experience). Smythies refers to Broad’s work Scientific Thought (1923), in which the latter states:
For reasons already stated, it is impossible that sensa [Broad’s term for sensations] should literally occupy places in scientific space, though it may not, of course, be impossible to construct a space-like whole of more than three dimensions, in which sensa of all kinds, and scientific objects literally have places. If so, I suppose, that scientific space would be one kind of section of such a quasi-space, and e.g. a visual field would be another kind of section of the same quasi-space.
What Broad is arguing here is that conscious experience, not just matter, can exist in a space of more than three dimensions. Smythies similarly asserts: “There is no a priori reason why we should not develop the ability to appreciate directly an n-dimensional spatial system.” The Broad-Smythies theory of higher dimensions says that physical and mental spaces are two different cross-sections of a common higher-dimensional space, and they are linked by both higher-dimensional spatial and causal relations. Smythies clarifies the point in the following manner:
To give these new causal interactions physical meanings we can use the four-dimensional solid the tesseract, which is made up of eight cubes. We can locate the physical world (+ the brain) in one of these cubes A, and the phenomenal space of a consciousness in another adjacent cube B. We can then draw a line from any point in the brain in space A to any point in the consciousness module in B… The causal interactions between a brain and its consciousness module can be expressed by this new higher-dimensional vectorial system.
The common-sense notion that we live in three-dimensional space, Smythies contends, “may be merely a visual illusion created by the virtual reality aspect of our mechanisms of perception.” Physics has indeed revealed that extra dimensions are mathematically and physically consistent with the universe we inhabit; the originality of the Broad-Smythies Theory, however, lies in its claim that consciousness can also reside in n-dimensional space. This theory, Smythies suggests, “is a variation of brane theory in physics”.
Brane theory, like string theory, also relies on the notion of n-dimensional space, but where it differs is that the supposed extra spatial dimensions that exist are large rather than small – in fact, these larger dimensions may even be infinite, in contrast to the infinitesimal size of strings, which are assumed to be on the scale of the Planck length (1.6 x 10-35 m). The introduction of these extra, large dimensions is, like with string theory, intended to solve certain problems in physics and lead to a unified theory of the universe.
According to brane cosmology, we live in a brane-world (a four-dimensional space-time) enclosed in a higher-dimensional space-time. Unlike string theory, the extra dimensions are not (normally) invisible because they are so compact but because they form a parallel universe – or parallel universes. However, not all of the branes need to be parallel to our own. They can also intersect our brains, creating effects that you would not see if interpreting the universe using standard cosmological models. If such interactions between branes do, in fact, take place, then this should make brane theory testable, at least in principle. In brane cosmology, the all-encompassing higher-dimensional space is known as the ‘bulk’ or ‘hyperspace’.
According to the Broad-Smythies theory of consciousness, “all the contents of consciousness — including our visual sensations — lie in a space, or brane, of their own outside the physical universe” (Smythies, 2003). Smythies adds: “The human organism thus may extend beyond the physical body to include a consciousness module (composed of the various sensory and image fields plus perhaps a subjective Self) located in a brane of its own.” In this way, our consciousness can exist in higher dimensions, alongside existing in three-dimensional space.
Indubitably, this is a highly speculative consideration, yet what is even more speculative is the proposal that DMT allows genuine cognisance of higher-dimensional space. It is not clear to me by what mechanism this could occur. There are a number of reasons why it is confusing – at least from my point of view – to offer up DMT as the chemical messenger that transposes our consciousness into n-dimensional space or, rather, gives us access to such consciousness that exists in such space all the time.
I certainly do not disagree with William James’ statement in The Varieties of Religious Experience: “Our normal waking consciousness… is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different…” But it remains to be seen whether individual consciousness in higher dimensions, including higher-dimensional strings or branes, are separated from our known universe by the ‘filmiest of screens’, as James phrases it. DMT does rapidly – almost instantaneously – dissolve the screen of ‘consensus consciousness’, which we soon realise to be thin and fragile, resulting in ‘forms of consciousness entirely different’; but whether consciousness resides in actual dimensions entirely different is a much thornier question to try to answer.
Let’s begin with the assumption that extra spatial dimensions are tightly curled up and on the scale of the Planck length. Can conscious states truly exist on this scale and in the manner in which they are experienced subjectively under the influence of DMT? For the physicalist, it might appear unthinkable how consciousness could manifest at such a minuscule level of reality. If we suppose that subjective awareness, conscious states, and the sense of self depend – in some way not precisely clear but at least partially clear – on the complexities of the evolved brain, then how do such states manifest at the level of microcosmic strings? This latter level of reality may also be complex, but there is not the kind of complexity seen with the brain, the kind of complexity that might be essential for human consciousness.
This is one reservation I had with Jeremy Narby’s book The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge (1998), where Narby hypothesises that the common visualisation of DNA molecules and structures seen under the influence of ayahuasca is awareness of one’s actual DNA. There was no clear explanation as to how consciousness can ‘shrink’ to this molecular level or why such a capacity would have developed in the human organism.
Nevertheless, there are some avenues for trying to resolve the issue of consciousness existing on the scale of the very small, including the realm of tiny, extra dimensions. For instance, if we incorporate the Broad-Smythies Theory into the equation, we can postulate that individual consciousness already resides in these extra dimensions; it’s not as if the brain in three-dimensional space, flooded with DMT, changes in such a way as to allow consciousness in three-dimensional space to shrink down to the level of infinitesimal strings. Instead, there is an inexplicable mechanism by which DMT allows access to sensations and experiences in n-dimensional space.
We might speculate, in a way similar to Gallimore’s reality switch hypothesis, that DMT changes the brain itself into a hyperspatial object; after all, Broad-Smythies Theory assumes that the brain also exists in n-dimensional space. Yet there is still no mechanism presented as to how DMT – or why DMT in particular – allows this ‘tuning into’ n-dimensional space. How does the event of ingesting a specific compound, all in three-dimensional space, result in the event of ‘tuning into’ or ‘waking up in’ n-dimensional space?
A Panpsychist View of the Mind
To help bolster Broad-Smythies Theory, we can put forward another way in which consciousness can exist on the microcosmic level, even if we cannot answer intelligibly how DMT grants a human individual to be conscious on this level. In the philosophy of mind, panpsychism is the view that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of the universe; it exists – to some degree – in all matter, at every scale. Panpsychism is not a novel view in philosophy; Baruch Spinoza and Arthur Schopenhauer espoused it in some form, but it has seen a re-emergence in the philosophy of mind in more recent times, as a method for resolving the hard problem of consciousness.
Since cognitive neuroscientists and physicalists cannot (yet, or perhaps ever) explain why certain brain states should be correlated with consciousness, with the subjective, first-person point of view, panpsychism attempts to offer a solution. Its proponents – such as contemporary philosopher Philip Goff – argue that all matter has an inherent mind-like quality and that complex consciousness as we know it is the result of simpler forms of consciousness in matter (e.g. neurons) combining.
There are different forms of panpsychism and the one just described is known as constitutive panpsychism, which says all facts about human and animal consciousness are constituted of facts about more fundamental forms of consciousness; in the case of Goff’s formulation, these are facts about microlevel consciousness (this is a specific form – the most common form – of constitutive panpsychism, known as constitutive micropsychism). There are various defences and criticisms of panpsychism – both in general and in its specific forms – that deserve lengthy consideration. But for the purposes of this discussion, if we take panpsychism to be true, then consciousness, in some form, would exist at the level of strings in n-dimensional space.
The problem, nevertheless, is that if consciousness becomes simpler on smaller scales, then strings must have the simplest form of consciousness, based on the assumption that they are the most fundamental constituents of matter. The DMT experience, on the other hand, is arguably a complex conscious experience – there is not just a basic awareness going on, but rather more complex states, including imposing visions and intense emotional and mystical states. And if we are supposing that the perception of higher-dimensional objects is part of the DMT experience, then it is hard to see how such perceptions are taking place in the realm of strings, since strings, while higher-dimensional, are not theoretically at the complexity of n-dimensional objects.
Then there is the additional issue of how individual consciousness, which involves a sense of self and is more complex than the basic consciousness of matter, can exist (with the self intact) at the level of super tiny strings. We might try to resolve this issue by proposing that consciousness exists at this level when the self disappears in the DMT state, leaving only the pure awareness that many users report – and perhaps this pure awareness is consciousness in its most basic form, as consciousness stripped of all content. However, people can also have DMT experiences that involve perceptions of hyperspace and n-dimensional objects, felt to be impossible during and after the experience, while still having the self and more complex forms of consciousness intact.
Another way of interpreting the experience of impossibility in the DMT state, while maintaining the framework of panpsychism and Broad-Smythies Theory, is to suggest that DMT grants perception of higher-dimensional branes, instead of higher-dimensional strings. On this account, during a breakthrough DMT experience, one can perceive – and exist as an individual consciousness in – dimensions larger rather than smaller than the normal three dimensions of space. But with this account in mind, we should ask: Is it any more likely an individual can cognise, with eyes closed, extra dimensions if they are large or infinite compared to if they are infinitesimal?
According to panpsychists like Goff, the complex consciousness of people emerges out of the fundamental, simpler, combined consciousness of atoms. Complexity in consciousness coincides with the complexity of forms. If we suppose that the brain and consciousness in a higher-dimensional brane would be more complex than the brain and consciousness in three-dimensional space, based on the extra dimensions involved, this might help explain some of the experiences that take place on DMT. For example, if a higher-dimensional brane is infinite in extent, consciousness, as it exists in this brane, would be infinite too – and interestingly, of course, a sense of infinite consciousness and omniscience can feature in the mystical-type and God-like experiences associated with DMT. These are experiences that often feel ‘impossible’.
Here it is worth mentioning, though, that Broad-Smythies Theory does not necessarily have to commit to extra dimensions existing at any particular scale, such as the infinite or the infinitesimal. We can imagine phenomena in three-dimensional space also existing in an orthogonal, higher spatial dimension, and in this dimension, such phenomena could be larger in a sense without being infinite. For instance, a tesseract has a greater volume than a 3D cube but the volume does not have to be astronomically large (volume in more than three spatial dimensions is known as hypervolume). Consciousness, similarly, may be more complex in higher dimensions, without necessarily existing in a brane of infinite extent. There may, indeed, be other ways of explaining experiences of infinite consciousness or omniscience (such as the brain becoming highly connected under the influence of DMT).
On the other hand, returning to string theory, could the extra dimensions of strings not also add enough complexity to account for the complexity of consciousness involved in the DMT experience? As already stated, on the panpsychist account, consciousness at this minute level of reality must be as basic as it gets, so it is hard to imagine how these simpler forms of consciousness – even if they exist in higher dimensions – combine to create the complex states associated with the DMT experience. This is assuming that, in the DMT-altered state, one’s consciousness is itself existing on this scale of things, rather than DMT somehow transforming the mind into a sort of microscope or detector that is merely observing matter on this scale. The latter scenario seems equally baffling.
Now, in terms of how simple consciousness combines to create more complex consciousness, this problem would apply to the assumption of larger, higher dimensional branes as well. This is known as the ‘combination problem’. It is one common criticism made against the panpsychist view on consciousness. Philosopher David Chalmers states in his article ‘The Combination Problem for Panpsychism’:
The combination problem can be broken down into at least three subproblems, reflecting three different aspects of phenomenal states: their subjective character (they are always had by a subject), their qualitative character (they involve distinctive qualities), and their structural character (they have a certain complex structure).
Tying this problem into our discussion on DMT and branes, we can ask: How does consciousness in lower, smaller dimensions combine to create the more complex consciousness in higher, larger dimensions, accounting for the subjective character, qualitative character, and structural character of the DMT experience? There is no adequate solution to this problem that I am aware of because the general consensus among panpsychists themselves is that there is no wholly satisfactory solution to the combination problem. (It should be stressed that the combination problem is an issue for physicalists as well: How do physical parts, such as neurons, combine into a whole, single consciousness?)
You can assume a different form of panpsychism to constitutive micropsychism, such as constitutive cosmopsychism, a top-down approach that says all facts about consciousness are grounded in consciousness-involving facts at the cosmic level. The foundation of reality, for the constitutive cosmopsychists, is the ‘cosmic mind’, if you will – and the attraction of this kind of panpsychism is that it does not have to assume that consciousness exists at the micro-level; human and animal consciousness is instead explained by consciousness at the larger scale.
Constitutive cosmopsychism appears to find consonance with the idea that consciousness could exist in an infinitely large higher-dimensional brane. The universe as a whole, or the brane as a whole, would be fundamental and have its own kind of subjective experience. This could be one possible reason why DMT users often feel their experience is ‘more real than real’, that they find themselves immersed in ultimate reality (which is to say nothing of how probable such an explanation is). But even if this were the case, constitutive cosmopsychism falls prey to the reverse of the combination problem, which Chalmers calls the ‘decomposition problem’: How does macroexperience give rise to microexperience? This is as seemingly intractable as the combination problem previously outlined.
Evaluating the Reducing Valve Interpretation of Higher-Dimensional Space
With panpsychism removed from the equation, we can still hypothesise that DMT allows perception of – and existence in – higher-dimensional space. But this is not to say that there is a superior proposal for the mechanism involved. Earlier, it was proposed that the disabling of the DMN (the brain’s reducing valve) via DMT could be the mechanism by which we can cognise dimensions normally hidden from sober, constrained consciousness. However, this explanation has its own unique pitfalls. We still need to ask the question: How does the inhibition of the DMN modulate consciousness in such a way that your consciousness ‘shifts’ to awareness of – and immersion in – n-dimensional space?
Other tricky questions also arise, such as whether any of your consciousness remains in three-dimensional space while the DMT experience is going on (some may argue if it is, then the complete breakthrough has not been achieved, but we can also suggest that both three-dimensional and n-dimensional consciousness are existing simultaneously; you are just totally tuned into the latter – or perhaps even partially tuned into both at the same time, indicated by the perception of higher-dimensional space alongside some awareness of consensus reality).
Moreover, it is not only DMT that has been found to disempower the DMN but other classic psychedelics as well, such as LSD. Yet reports of the impossible are generally more common when it comes to DMT than in cases of LSD or psilocybin experiences, which would suggest that something extra alongside the disabling of the DMN accounts for such experiences, or that the weakened DMN is not a significant factor – or even a relevant factor – in the explanation of these experiences.
Also, not everyone will be convinced that Broad-Smythies Theory is true, which is understandable, given how puzzling it is to imagine subjective, first-person consciousness existing in a spatial dimension beyond the three we are familiar with. In the absence of Broad-Smythies Theory, the notion of perceiving higher dimensions under the influence of DMT may not be impossible, but this is still a contentious claim, as it entails a host of other problems.
Can the Brain Detect Higher Dimensions?
Excluding Broad-Smythies Theory, we could postulate that DMT allows perception of higher dimensions and objects (perceived as impossible) without making the further claim, as Broad-Smythies Theory does, that an individual consciousness also exists hyperdimensionally. Think of the act of observing the micro-level of reality through a powerful microscope, such as the electron microscope (which allows you to see individual atoms). By using this device, you can consciously perceive reality at the level of atoms, but we would not say that your subjective consciousness – including your sense of self – is transported into this level of reality through the act of perception. Your individual consciousness is still anchored in the macroscopic world, but through the use of the electron microscope, it gains a new awareness of the microscopic world.
Similarly, in the DMT state, one can experience the impossible yet still have the thinking mind and the subjective self intact (this is one distinct feature of the DMT experience that McKenna noted and which other people attest: you can be immersed in a different world, yet your mind can sort of operate as normal; there is still a ‘you’ thinking and reacting to what is going on).
Thus, we can think of DMT as modifying the brain so that it becomes a detector of higher dimensions. One glaring issue with this proposal, however, is the question of how DMT modifies the brain in such a way that can be described in naturalistic terms. Even if we say that DMT turns the brain into a higher-dimensional detection device by disabling the DMN, this does not resolve the issue – the brain may be highly connected in this state, but why should that grant it the perception of so-called impossible geometries, objects, and worlds?
From an evolutionary perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to think that DMT transforms the brain into a detector of other dimensions or impossible objects. After all, the nervous system is an evolved system and its capacities of cognition and perception are fundamentally based on adaptive value, even though, of course, we can harness this evolved system in a way that goes beyond concerns of mere survival, advantage, and reproduction. The salient point, nevertheless, is that as an evolved system, our capacities have to be worth it, in an evolutionary sense. Cognition and perception are energy-intensive capacities and so the energy that goes into them must be worth the benefit they confer – and palpably, this is the case.
But what, we may ask, would be the evolutionary advantage of having the capacity to perceive genuinely higher dimensional spaces and objects, which is achievable through the chance discovery that a specific compound can be isolated and vaporised, smoked, or injected? Surely, such a capacity would be energy-intensive and entail unique mechanisms and processes. Yet it seems strange to think that the nervous system would evolve this capacity since firstly, as just stated, it takes a high degree of chance for an organism to even realise the capacity, and secondly, it does not seem to have any adaptive value, at least none that I can see for our biological existence in three-dimensional space.
On the other hand, we could view this capacity of the brain as an unintended byproduct of a capacity – or capacities – that evolved based on utility in three-dimensional space. This is quite a grand speculation, though. It essentially implies that by virtue of a happy accident, our brain has long been a potential detector of hidden levels of reality, with abilities that no human-invented device currently possesses or may ever possess.
A Non-Naturalistic Account of the Impossible
Here I want to point out that a naturalistic account of DMT is by no means the only explanation available and that perhaps a non-naturalistic or partially non-naturalistic perspective might help to illuminate how one can come to experience the impossible on DMT, whether that is ‘impossibility’ in the colloquial sense or the philosophical. For example, the writer Graham Hancock is sceptical of the assumption in materialist science that the brain generates consciousness. As he states in his books Supernatural and The Divine Spark, he believes it is equally possible (since all measurements would stay the same) that the brain is a receiver or transceiver of consciousness.
According to this hypothesis, the brain is a modulating or tuning device, with its relationship to consciousness being like that of a TV to a TV signal – consciousness manifests in the particular way it does for us in the way that a TV signal manifests as moving pictures on the TV screen. You can destroy a TV set, but this does not destroy the TV signal, which Hancock suggests may be analogous in the case of consciousness. Where this hypothesis diverges from the example of the TV set, however, is that both the TV set and TV signal are purely physical phenomena, whereas Hancock is proposing that the physical brain acts as a junction point between the material and immaterial realms of reality (with consciousness here taken to be something fundamentally immaterial).
With this hypothesis in mind, we could say that what DMT does is affect the modulating function of the brain, perhaps even disabling it completely, allowing an individual to temporarily manifest as consciousness as it exists at different levels of scales of reality (e.g. the quantum, the cosmic, the hyperspatial, the alternate, and so on). We would understandably never think it possible to consciously exist in and observe reality in this way, which would make users likely to label the experience as ‘impossible’. There are clear similarities between this view of consciousness and those subscribed to by Gallimore, Broad and Smythies, and the panpsychists.
One objection to Hancock’s hypothesis, nonetheless, which ties into the way it is disanalogous with the TV example, is that this dualistic view of the world has some explanatory gaps. When Hancock claims that the brain could be the junction point between the material and the immaterial, I’m reminded of Rene Descartes’ argument for substance dualism explicated in his Meditations, which states that the mind is a fundamentally different substance to that of matter. The problem is that this substance dualism, which Hancock is also invoking, runs into what is known as the ‘problem of interactionism’: How can the immaterial interact with the material?
Descartes attempted to resolve the issue of how the mental affects the physical, and vice versa – in his work The Passions of the Soul – by positing the existence of ‘animal spirits’, which he described as “a very fine wind, or rather a very lively and pure flame”. Conscious experiences emerge out of the way in which the animal spirits flow through the brain, with their movement controlled by the pineal gland. Of course, Descartes’ animal spirits were never detected and besides, this substance does not adequately resolve the problem of interactionism since we have to ask: What kind of substance is an animal spirit? Is it physical, mental, part-physical and part-mental? Whichever way it is framed, the problem of interactionism remains, for we can still question how a substance is meant to connect the physical and the mental, regardless of the nature of the substance.
Hancock’s transceiver theory of consciousness equally falls prey to the problem of interactionism. He does not propound an extra substance that connects immaterial consciousness out there in the universe to the physical brain, but even if he did, he – or proponents of the theory – would need to explain how the physical compound DMT alters the physical brain so that immaterial consciousness is affected, with an individual’s consciousness tuning out of consensus reality and tuning into confounding levels of physical reality or landscapes of immaterial reality. In terms of the latter, the impossibility of the DMT experience may relate to the visceral experience of being free-floating consciousness, consciousness without form, which on a naturalistic or materialistic account of things, we may instinctively reject as impossible. However, the problem of interactionism still leaves open the question of how physical events (in this case, using DMT) can lead to such changes in non-physical consciousness.
Smythies’ Extended Materialism
Smythies also presents a theory of consciousness fairly similar to Hancock’s, although with quite different philosophical underpinnings. Smythies’ view on consciousness is known as extended materialism or material dualism, an ontologically dualist yet monistic theory of consciousness.
It is ontologically dualist because it posits that consciousness “is located in a space (brane) of its own that encloses the phenomenal space of a consciousness,” a space which is external to the brain and the physical world more generally. Hence, Smythies divides up reality into phenomenal space and physical space, both enclosed by higher-dimensional branes – phenomenal and physical branes – that are ontologically and topologically distinct. The dualism pertains to there being two different kinds of matter. But the theory is also monistic because only one fundamental type of substance is assumed, that of a material nature. Smythies does not assert that consciousness is immaterial like Hancock does.
Smythies believes that one advantage of extended materialism “is that it enables us to look at the possible nature of after-death experiences in a rational manner.” He concedes that the idea of an ‘after life’ being real and in a different dimension is unorthodox and likely to receive pushback, but he adds:
it does not require any great stretch of the imagination to see that the assumption that we live in a 4D spatio-temporal world is just that—a metaphysical assumption generated by our failure to understand how our own organisms work—particularly those parts mediating perception. There is nothing necessary about a 4D world. The Universe could have any number of dimensions, and its subsections could contain any number of different kinds of events. To think otherwise is mere parochialism.
Contrary to the widespread religious view that an immaterial soul enters the ‘next world’ after physical death, Smythies notes (using a similar TV analogy as Hancock):
The new paradigm suggests that a human consciousness module is located in this ‘next world’ already, and that its view of what was previously regarded as the (one and only) world (i.e. the physical universe) is mediated by a complex multidimensional TV-like mechanism strung out in, and between, two branes. In this view the physical world becomes a communication device between individual consciousness modules located in different branes. Therefore, on the death of the physical body, most of the consciousness module would become redundant, as there would now be no brain for it to interact with. However, the Self could remain, and perhaps the sensations, that used to be organized by the brain via the visual and other sensory fields, could rearrange themselves, or be reorganized by something else, into new forms of experience.
Smythies additionally proposes that extended materialism could help explain extrasensory perception (ESP), such as telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis. In the DMT experience, there is often the feeling of gaining access to a much larger – or even the total – store of knowledge. William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, claimed that one essential feature of the mystical experience was what he called a ‘noetic quality’: the sense that one has access to a higher plane of profound, indubitable knowledge – there is the feeling of insight into truths normally hidden from view. The illuminations and revelations are pregnant with significance and importance yet remain inexpressible, often frustratingly so. Coupling this aspect of the DMT experience with Smythies’ extended materialism, ESP experiences like seeing into the future could be explained by the kind of access DMT grants us – to consciousness as it exists in the higher-dimensional brane that encloses the normal phenomenal space we inhabit.
Furthermore, according to the block universe theory, introduced by Einstein in 1915, the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously and are all equally real. As Einstein put it, “The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” In the philosophy of time, this worldview is known as eternalism. This is a natural consequence of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which places time as a fourth dimension and part of the physical structure of the universe itself. The past and the future exist eternally, so long as the universe exists eternally.
Of course, it is deeply counterintuitive to think of the past and the future as being as real as the present and being equally reified; it is especially difficult for us to think of the future as already manifest, as everything that has happened and will happen as complete. But this may simply be an imaginative limitation imposed on us due to the kind of evolved brain we have. We have evolved to remember the past in the form of memories and plan for the unrealised future, with the immediate present being the only thing that is real or that which has the ‘most’ reality.
Based on Einstein’s block universe theory, however, reality is presented in a quite different way: the past does not vanish into unreality; it still exists, while the future is already written. All events are contained in the universe as a block. One variation of the block theory universe, known as the growing block universe theory of time, postulates that the past and present both exist while the future does not. Through the passage of time, more of the universe comes into being, so the universe is still a block, but its space-time grows in volume over time.
Assuming the original block universe theory for a moment, if we combine this view with Smythies theory of consciousness and ESP, we can hypothesise that certain DMT experiences – such as exploring the annals of the past or the far reaches of the cosmic future – involve gaining the perspective of the higher dimensional brane that encloses the 4D block universe. In this way, people who report witnessing the birth of the universe itself or visiting highly advanced beings of the future may not be hallucinating such experiences. Veridical experiences of this sort, which you might think are impossible, would then enter the realm of possibility.
Revisiting Smythies’ ideas on so-called ‘after-life’ experiences, I think it is worth pointing out that extended materialism is not necessary to explain such experiences and that, moreover, it might not be the most parsimonious explanation available. While not exhaustive, there are scientific explanations of the near-death experience that certainly carry a lot of weight. This point also applies to the question of ESP and DMT experiences like seeing into the future. Extended materialism may not be necessary to explain such phenomena, with perhaps simpler and more persuasive explanations at our disposal.
In addition, there is a dearth of evidence relating to ESP. While Smythies’ extended materialism might provide a theoretical basis for the occurrence of ESP phenomena, there is no solid evidence base to support any of the claims associated with ESP. Studies on ESP are often highly flawed, yielding unconvincing results. And finally, for philosophers who think that human consciousness is as it is because it is embodied (i.e. it is inextricably enmeshed with our body, an evolved biological product), the notion of human consciousness existing external to the brain may seem very unlikely or downright impossible.
A Lesson From Edwin Abbott
On the question of whether it is impossible for a three-dimensionally bound being such as ourselves to perceive higher dimensional spaces and objects, it will be enlightening to turn to Edwin Abbott’s book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884). This novella tells the story of a two-dimensional world (called Flatland) with geometric figures as its inhabitants, including the narrator, who is a square called A. Square. In the story, Square and fellow 2D inhabitants can see each other as straight lines of different sizes or as points; you would only see a point if a shape – such as a triangle – rotates, in which case a point, rather than one of its sides, is in line with your vision. Later, Square dreams of visiting a one-dimensional world (called Lineland), but the inhabitants, who are points, cannot see the narrator as a square since they live in a one-dimensional world. They only see Square as a set of points on a line.
After this dream, a three-dimensional sphere from a three-dimensional world (called Spaceland) visits Square but because the narrator lives in a two-dimensional world, he can only witness the sphere as a circle. The sphere levitates up and down through the plane of Flatland, allowing the Square to see it in cross-section as an expanding and shrinking circle. Recall, though, that for any Flatlander, all shapes are seen as lines, so this movement of the sphere through the plane of Flatland will be perceived by a 2D being as a line appearing out of nowhere, growing in size up to a maximum length and then shrinking until it disappears. Square is taken aback by the sphere’s ability to grow and shrink seemingly by will as well as to disappear and magically reappear in a different place (by re-entering the plane) – and such a reaction is understandable, given that no 2D inhabitant or object in Flatland stretch, shrink, and disappear out of view.
Although the sphere tries to explain the concept of the third dimension, Square simply cannot grasp it; he cannot conceive of thickness, height, or breadth, nor the fact that the sphere came from above him since the idea of ‘up’ and ‘down’ makes no sense. This spherical stranger then allows the Square to view Flatland from a 3D perspective by plucking him up and giving him a bird’s eye view of the 2D world. This newfound perspective allows Square to see the inside of all the houses and the insides of all the Flatlanders. Square describes this experience as follows:
An unspeakable horror seized me. There was darkness; then a dizzy, sickening sensation of sight that was not like seeing; I saw space that was not space: I was myself, and not myself. When I could find voice, I shrieked aloud in agony. “Either this is madness or this is Hell.” “It is neither,” calmly replied the voice of the sphere, “it is Knowledge; it is Three Dimensions: open your eyes once again and try to look steadily.” I looked, and, behold, a new world!
Following this almost mystical experience, Square prostrates before the sphere, endowing this strange entity with divine qualities, becoming a disciple of the sphere. After being shown the third dimension, Square tries to convince the sphere of the possibility of a fourth dimension and then dimensions higher still, but the sphere becomes frustrated with Square’s speculations, commanding him to be silent. But Square continues, impassioned as he is by the prospect of dimensions beyond that of the third; eventually, the sphere sends Square back to Flatland in disgrace. Once back in Flatland, Square attempts to preach the “Gospel of the Three Dimensions” to his fellow 2D inhabitants, but to no avail.
There is a curious correspondence here between Square’s stunned, reverent reaction to the revelation of the third dimension and the DMT user’s claimed vision of a spatial dimension higher than that of the three we live in. In the DMT realm, the impossible objects and beings encountered – which might, in fact, be higher-dimensional objects and beings – are staggering and are often imbued with a sacredness, a certain profundity deserving of awe and respect. It might also be the case that DMT offers the kind of novel vision enjoyed by Square, where one can view the 3D world from the 4D perspective, which similar to Square’s experience, is felt as an overwhelming revelation. If you were suddenly able to adopt this higher dimensional vantage point, would it be any wonder if, upon return to your three-dimensional world, you raved about the ‘impossibility’ of what you saw?
Of course, it is harder – perhaps even impossible – to concretely imagine any direction we could move that would give us a higher-dimensional vantage point, nor what our 3D world would look like from this new perspective. Nonetheless, by applying the same logic involved in Abbott’s thought experiment, we can at least open ourselves to the possibility that there is a higher-dimensional space we are inhabiting; the only problem is that, like Square, we would somehow need the fourth-dimensional equivalent of being ‘taken up’, revealing another dimension that was there all along.
We can try to get a sense of the fourth dimension or a higher dimension than that by utilising the thought experiments employed by Abbott. If a tesseract were to visit Spaceland, the inhabitants of Spaceland would see a cube magically appear since the cross-section of a tesseract on a 3D frame is a cube. This would apply to other 4D objects as well. The cross-section of a glome (a 4D sphere, also known as a hypersphere) in 3D space would be a sphere. Like Square, inhabitants of Spaceland – so inhabitants of the very 3D world we live in – would be astonished to witness a sphere appear out of nowhere in mid-air, or if it travelled through our 3D frame, growing and shrinking in size, as in the case of the sphere’s visit to Flatland.
Theoretically, in the world we live in, if a higher-dimensional object entered 3D space, we would see its cross-section, which would not necessarily be a geometric shape like a sphere since everyday objects we are familiar with often have complex shapes; so the cross-section of the complex 4D object we see would be quite different to the cross-section of a hypercube or hypersphere.
However, the experience of impossible geometry and objects in the DMT state does not seem to centre on the sight of cubes and spheres magically manifesting and changing (although this is undoubtedly an arresting experience in itself). The impression, rather, is that of seeing higher-dimensional geometry and objects in the fullness of their higher-dimensional nature – this is what affords the experience such a strong sense of impossibility; after all, who can imagine any object being in front of oneself and self-transforming in the fourth dimension, or any higher spatial dimension?
During the experience, one feels confident that what is being seen is a higher-dimensional object or space as it truly is, which has not – and cannot – be visualised or portrayed in any way close to its true nature in the 3D space we are familiar with. We can, for example, create Klein bottles as 3D glass objects, but a true Klein bottle lives in four dimensions. And in the DMT state, there seem to exist self-transforming Klein bottle-type objects that are entirely different to our 3D renderings, although the object ‘makes sense’, as in, it has as much reality as does the appearance and behaviour of 3D objects we are familiar with.
Another possibility is that what one is seeing in the DMT state is a cross-section of 5D geometry or a 5D object. In the case of a 5D hypercube (also known as a penteract), the cross-section in 4D space would be a tesseract. Thus, one could be traversing multiple dimensions, witnessing, for instance, a 4D object in 4D space, as well as – or exclusively – the cross-section of a 5D object in 4D space, or directly seeing a 5D object in 5D space, and so on. The reported experience of increasing complexity or impossibility in the DMT state might, theoretically, pertain to this movement through increasingly higher dimensions in the overall n-dimensional manifold (but who knows how many spatial dimensions might be implicated).
An n-dimensional object like a tesseract is a mathematical object in the same way a cube is. We would not say that perfect, purely mathematical cubes exist in reality, but there are certainly real objects that are close approximations to cubes and we can create cube-shaped objects. If someone is perceiving a 4D object, such as a tesseract, in the DMT state, then we would not say this object exists in actuality, unless we assume that mathematical objects, of any dimension, exist in a sort of Platonic realm, normally hidden from view.
The impossible objects of the DMT realm may be approximations of a tesseract or some other n-dimensional object, or we may use a term like ‘tesseract’ to describe the object as a kind of analogy, as the poverty of language and limits of experience mean we cannot accurately use any mathematical object to describe the more complex object seen. In the same way, real-life complex objects like trees can be described in terms of fractal geometry, but the object itself looks different from an abstract geometric object.
In this vein, the impossible objects of the DMT realm – or some of them, anyway – could be more like n-dimensional fractal objects. In fractal geometry, for example, a quaternion Julia set is a 4D equivalent of a 2D fractal; this is an example of what is known as a hypercomplex fractal. We can render 3D images of the quaternion Julia set, which is a 3D slice of the 4D geometry. But the quaternion Julia set is theoretical. If we doubt that such geometry exists independently, as we do with cubes and tesseracts as mathematical objects, we could still nonetheless postulate that approximations to 4D fractals exist.
We may alternatively or additionally suppose that for each fractal object in the 3D world (e.g. a tree), such an object exists in a higher dimension too, as a higher-dimensional fractal object. Nevertheless, during the DMT experience, it does not seem that what one is perceiving resembles any object of consensus reality, fractal or not. The impossible object is utterly alien and unfamiliar.
But the question arises: Is the impossible object of the DMT realm an actual object perceived or an imagined one? The problem with the former claim is that this would involve invoking a hidden realm of objects that DMT-altered consciousness makes us privy to. Applying Occam’s razor, we might reasonably suggest that such a claim overcomplicates matters since it makes unnecessary assumptions; it multiples entities beyond necessity. On the other hand, it is not out of the question that there may exist 4D beings with their own 4D versions of objects we have, such as toys and contraptions, the kinds of objects often perceived in the DMT realm. However, this still does not resolve the further question of how DMT allows us to bridge the gap between the third and the fourth dimension.
Turning to the latter claim about imagination, a different issue arises, namely: What does it mean to imagine an impossible object that does not actually exist? We can, of course, imagine 3D objects and images, but based on the suggestion that the impossible DMT object is n-dimensional in nature, what possible reference point or powers of imagination could let us visualise, for example, a tesseract as it truly exists in 4D? Russian mystic philosopher P.D. Ouspensky notes in his book Tertium Organum (1912): “A great power of imagination is necessary to transcend the limits of our perceptions and to visualize mentally the world in other categories even for a moment.” Perhaps DMT is the catalyst that allows for such transcendence, allowing us to imagine the normally unimaginable.
Regardless of what is underlying a ‘higher-dimensional’ object of DMT space, the perception of it is still overwhelming. The so-called higher-dimensional object becomes a sublime object; it takes on a kind of grandeur that is both beautiful and overpowering. Like in the case of Square’s enlightenment, there is a feeling of reverence towards the higher-dimensional object or entity – it has the sublimity of the vastness or power of nature but with apparent intelligence behind it. There is also the feeling, as in the case of Square, that one has been granted access to a great cosmic secret that must be relayed to the uninitiated upon return. As McKenna said of the DMT experience:
Why this is not four-inch headlines on every newspaper on the planet I cannot understand because I don’t know what news you were waiting for, but this is the news that I was waiting for.
Explaining Impossible Objects Using Einstein’s Block Theory
There is another intriguing way in which to interpret the impossible objects witnessed in the DMT realm – and this involves turning out attention back to Einstein’s block theory of the universe. You will recall that this theory casts all events as simultaneous. Objects have a path in 4D spacetime, known as a world line, which is the history of spacetime locations of a particular object. But this path, this world line, always exists in the block model of the universe. Of course, this does not accord with our human subjective experience of the world since we perceive a flow of time, an order of events, with objects changing over time, and their past formations being merely memories and their future formations not yet realised.
But with time inextricably woven into the fabric of space, creating spacetime, a single unified structure, the reality of objects and events becomes something quite different from our everyday conscious experience. Just as all of space exists outside of us, so does all of time. The French physicist Louis de Broglie explained it in the following way:
Each observer, as his time passes, discovers, so to speak, new slices of space-time which appear to him as successive aspects of the material world, though in reality the ensemble of events constituting space-time exist prior to his knowledge of them. . . the aggregate of past, present and future phenomena are in some sense given apriori.
One possible explanation for the experience of impossible objects would be that one is witnessing the whole ensemble of events, the world line of an object, rather than having a perception of reality confined by the illusion of the flow of time. However, there are some issues with this suggestion. Firstly, if such objects are being perceived with eyes closed or open, what are these objects being perceived? The more complicated and unnecessary assumption would be to posit that these impossible objects actually exist but are normally hidden, rather than to stay open to the possibility that the DMT-altered brain can produce confounding geometric hallucinations.
The physicist Roger Penrose states that in the universe described by special relativity, “particles do not even move, being represented by “static” curves drawn in space-time. Thus what we perceive as moving 3D objects are really successive cross-sections of immobile 4D objects, past which our field of observation is sweeping.” The impossible objects of the DMT realm, then, might be immobile 4D objects (4D here including the dimension of time). The perception of a single object would be overwhelming in itself, but even more astounding would be the perception of multiple such objects, rapidly appearing, disappearing, and swiftly replaced by another unfathomable object, before there is any time to properly view the object and process the experience. But again, since these experiences usually happen behind closed eyes or as experiences overlaid on consensus reality with eyes open, the question remains of what exactly these objects are and where they have come from, assuming that they are real and not hallucinatory.
Furthermore, the so-called impossible objects, events, and entities of the DMT realm often do not appear as static, immutable things, flashing in an out of view like snapshots; instead, they appear self-transforming, fluid, and in motion as the experience progresses. It is not as if the illusion of movement disappears. There is, a lot of the time, a greater degree of movement, reaching frenzied levels of activity, in fact.
Reflections on Impossible Objects and Worlds
I would like to offer some of my own thoughts and interpretations of the impossibilities of the DMT experience, partly to present a more conservative analysis, but also to provide as wide a variety of perspectives as possible. Firstly, if we assume that the experiences of the impossible on DMT are non-veridical, in that they do not refer to an actual reality and consist of immersive visions and hallucinations, then what could account for experiences of the breakdown of the laws of physics and causality, and the perception of impossible objects?
I propose that there are certain qualities of the DMT experience that could give a strong, persuasive impression of such experiences: this would include, for example, the high degree of novelty present during the experience. There can, of course, be differing opinions on the implications of this novelty – such as whether it is produced by the brain alone or whether it implies a freestanding reality – but I would argue the profound newness and alienness of the experience does not necessarily imply impossibility. We should try to avoid conflating the confounding with the impossible. The experience could be both at once but I see no convincing reason, no empirical evidence, to prefer the explanation that states the DMT experience is both confounding and impossible, rather than just confounding.
Another relevant quality of the DMT experience to bring up is that of rapidity. The DMT experience is known to proceed with immense speed, with the architecture, entities, and objects of the space manifesting, moving, changing, and self-transforming too quickly to keep up with. This could be another contributing factor in the confounding quality of the experience, interpreted as impossible.
A third quality of the experience that could evoke a sense of impossibility is the high degree of complexity of the experience. Like with other psychedelics, DMT increases complexity in the brain, as shown in the 2019 Imperial study on the neural correlates of DMT. This increased complexity refers to the greater diversity or entropy seen in the brain. According to the ‘brain entropy hypothesis’ of the psychedelic researcher Robin Carhart-Harris, alluded to earlier, psychedelics achieve many of their effects by increasing unpredictable and chaotic activity in the brain, which he uses the term entropy, derived from physics, to denote.
Under the influence of a psychedelic such as DMT, brain regions that do not normally communicate become communicative, with brain changes also being less predictable compared to the sober mind. The increase in complexity of brain activity underlies many of the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics, but experientially, such brain changes can also translate into highly complex perceptual, cognitive, and emotional experiences. And in the DMT state specifically, the general experience is quite rapid, a high level of complexity is achieved quickly, and the world is intensely enveloping, as is characteristic of DMT – and I propose that these phenomenological qualities can understandably lead to an impression of impossibility.
In terms of specific experiences or claims about the DMT experience, I also think some more cautious explanations can be useful. Take, for instance, the experience of the law of causality breaking down: the perception of events or effects happening without causes. Unlike in everyday reality, in the quantum realm, causes don’t necessarily precede effects. Quantum entanglement, whereby the action of one particle instantaneously affects another at a distance, challenges the accepted view that an event causes another event later in time. One theory also suggests that at the scale of particles, cause and effect can sometimes occur in loops, with the effect actually causing the cause.
It could be tempting to suggest that the DMT-altered mind allows one to experience the operations of reality on the quantum level. An alternative explanation for the perceived dismantling of causality is that disturbances in time perception, such as time ceasing to exist or becoming meaningless (which is often tantamount to the same thing), could account for the experience seeming to unfold without a causal chain of events. After all, our normal perception of time is intimately related to the experience of cause and effect we take for granted. However, causality – not just the experience of causality – is arguably more than simply temporal succession, even if the context of time is an essential component of causality. We can say that causation takes place when the temporal succession of two events is supplemented by a continuous physical connection that provides the link between the two such events.
It would be a jump to conclude that causality does indeed break down during the DMT experience based on the idea that causality is nothing more than temporal succession, and since the subjective sense of time – as a passage of time – disappears, then so would causality presumably. Again, there can be an apparent lack of causality and this experience can understandably be thought of as impossible.
Another specific experience I would like to draw attention to is that of impossible architecture and objects. One commonly reported feature of the DMT experience is travelling through Escher-esque, maze-like, labyrinthine spaces. The artwork of M.C. Escher, specifically his depictions of impossibly shaped architecture and worlds, is very reminiscent of the spaces one can find oneself in after taking DMT.
I would firstly question how closely the DMT space resembles Escher’s worlds, for they may bear some similarity, without having the exact form of the impossible shapes and geometries seen in Escher’s work. Since it would be impossible for Escher’s worlds to actually manifest, beyond the clever 2D and 3D representations of them, at most we can state that the DMT experience involves visions or hallucinations of Escher-type illusions and impossible shapes.
This does raise an interesting question, though, of how the brain could conjure up an Escher world: Would it come purely from one’s memory of seeing Escher’s drawings or seeing complex or perplexing geometry and projecting the label of ‘Escher-like’ onto it since it is the most accurate description available? Or is Escher-like architecture a projection of brain architecture, in the way that other geometric and fractal hallucinations are? Both questions are quite difficult to answer. In terms of the latter, it seems somewhat easier to explain how hallucinations of possible geometry are generated – as a result of brain architecture – rather than Escher architecture, assuming that it is impossible shapes being visualised rather than something very unlike impossible shapes or Escher worlds, which happen to be described as ‘impossible’.
Similarly, when thinking of impossible objects (the geometry of which Escher utilises), none of these are objects that can manifest in an objective sense, as in the object could not physically exist in the way it appears to the eye. It is geometrically impossible for this to be so. There are many impossible objects we can render in 2D and 3D – and these are extremely confusing to look at. Notable examples of such objects include the impossible cube, Penrose stairs, the Penrose triangle (which the mathematician Roger Penrose described as “impossibility in its purest form”), and the impossible waterfall. Many of the objects of the DMT realm seem to have some quality of these shapes. Even if these DMT objects are not impossible cubes or triangles, they may be even more complex shapes that maintain the same kind of geometric impossibility.
As with Escher’s worlds, it is hard to verify if these DMT objects are similar or dissimilar to – or close equivalents of – impossible objects. If they are close equivalents, then we can only speculate as to how the brain produced visualisations of such objects, which appear to be seamlessly transforming in geometrically impossible ways as well.
As well as excluding veridical experiences of geometric impossibilities, I argue it is reasonable to exclude logical and mathematical impossibilities as manifesting in the DMT realm. There are many taken-for-granted truths deemed to be always impossible or impossible in principle – and while some of these impossibilities may turn out to be possible, in some sense, I think the most definitive examples of things that are always impossible would include contravening the most basic logical principles. Moreover, to reiterate, the collapse of these logical principles is not that relevant to the DMT experience, as this is not what most people are reporting when they describe the impossibility of the experience; such impossibility pertains more to the space, objects, and events unfolding.
Also, even if we entertain the notion of fundamental logical principles disintegrating, all sensible discussions about the experience will end. As a case in point, take the law of non-contradiction, which says that a statement is either true or false. If you have a statement like “I experienced the impossible on DMT”, logically, the proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time (assuming that ‘impossible’ here has been clearly delineated). But in the absence of the law of non-contradiction, we could say the proposition is both true and false, which is a kind of meta-contradiction since it means it is both true and false that the experience took place and did not take place. It becomes meaningless and nonsensical to talk about anything, including the DMT experience, if we discard the laws of thought.
With respect to the impossibility of the DMT realm, I believe the previous discussion highlights that we can view the experience in the following four ways:
- The impossible-to-describe
- The impossible-to-imagine
- The possible interpreted as impossible
- The impossible visualised
Expanding on these categories, in turn, the first relates to the unique ineffability of the DMT experience; the second relates to that which cannot be imagined in waking consensus reality (e.g. hyperbolic geometry) and only imagined under the influence of DMT – or even perhaps another psychedelic; the third refers to experiences or events previously thought to be impossible, soon realised to be possible, such as one’s consciousness sitting in a higher spatial dimension; and the fourth signifies impossible geometrics, objects, and worlds that are visualised but not actualised.
It should be underlined that these four options are not mutually incompatible; in fact, they could all simultaneously be true, all applying to a single DMT experience or multiple experiences. Yet doubt and scepticism should ideally help us to pinpoint the options that are most likely to be true. Personally, the first option seems the most uncontroversial; I think most would agree that the sheer impossibility of describing the DMT experience, in a way that does it true justice, is a core feature of the experience.
I could then grant that the second appears very likely, in that the experiences had in the DMT realm could not realistically be imagined in another context, especially in waking consensus reality and even other altered states, although it is not unheard of for similar ‘impossibilities’ to arise when different psychedelics are used.
But when it comes to the third and fourth options, I have to admit some difficulty in asserting whether they are likely or unlikely. Intuitively, some of the speculations outlined concerning Broad-Smythies Theory seem far less likely to be true than the first two options, but this could very well be due to an impoverished and restricted imagination. Finally, in terms of the impossible visualised, this again seems less likely than the first two options, but not as hard to imagine as some examples relevant to the third option.
While by no means exhaustive, I hope that this discussion has offered at least a wide range of ideas on how impossibility may manifest during the DMT experience. This phenomenological feature of the experience no doubt gives rise to many more questions than are answered. But this unending mystery is what makes the experience so fascinating to explore.