A quick attempt at highlighting some of LSD’s most important attributes:
- It increases the amount of qualia experienced per “moment of consciousness” (this manifests as changes in the intensity, brightness, complexity, layering, etc. of the experience. cf. tracers).
- It increases the number of symmetries you can use to organize said qualia (this gives rise to unusual geometry on high doses, as well as exotic phenomenal time).
- It increases the range of possible valence (the distribution of valence per moment of consciousness on psychedelics follows a long-tail distribution, where some of the most intense moments of bliss are literally orders of magnitude bigger and more energetic than the median amount of bliss on the state or sober. I am convinced that this is a real thing, and that this fact will be shown scientifically in the future. It will require us to be able to generalize valence measurements to exotic brain states, but it will be done).
- It increases the range of qualia varieties and values which form the building blocks of one’s world-simulation (for instance, one may experience novel qualia that has some resemblance to smell and some resemblance to a certain kind of touch, but which is not just a synesthetic mix of the two, but which belongs to a genuinely new category of qualia. Presumably such qualia was not recruited for information-processing purposes by natural selection, but that does not mean that it couldn’t find some applications for qualia computing and post-Darwinian aesthetics).
Of the above, the most ethically relevant attribute is (3) – which is also the most profound when considered in light of what humans care about.
I really think that the majority of sensible people who happen to experience a- let’s say- sense of bliss and wholeness that would score a 113 out of 10* in a happiness scale, and which crams 4 or 5 times “more qualia” within each moment of experience, should understandably realize at that point that “there is more, much more, to reality than we usually believe”. The experience is a proof-of-concept of what reality is capable of consciousness-wise; and evidence that we live in vastly sub-optimal configurations of qualia relative to the love and beauty that we could live with instead.
Now, which precise intentional content gets annealed as a consequence of a high-valence experience is a matter of the tripper’s ability to make sense of the experience, along with the power of the conceptual tools at his or her disposal. Independently of the specific things that LSD makes people believe in, I emphasize that one should not forget the key revelation. The key fact to never forget is that valence can go way, way, up. Valence can reach values way above the upper region of one’s everyday experiences. This insight is both true and agnostic about the semantic content of the specific revelations people experience.
When scientifically proven, the realization that there is a long-tail distribution of suffering and wellbeing ought to revolutionize how we make utilitarian calculations. This will give rise a very generative view, which I call “long-tail ethics”.
Just as Effective Altruism made us think about the long-tail nature of “lives saved per dollar”, long-tail ethics, more broadly, will make us ponder the implications of the fact that the bulk of bliss and suffering are concentrated in high-energy states of consciousness. By first getting rid of the negative extreme, and then finding adaptive regions of the positive extreme, we will find -what feels like it anyhow- our true home. In a sense our true home is, and has always been, in the form of a peak-valence region of the state-space of consciousness.
Without this understanding, one is simply “missing the key to the plot of reality”.
*Given a scale where 10 marks the maximum bliss a human can have without strong changes to brain chemistry.