HP: What exactly is “symmetrical texture repetition”?
JE: Symmetrical texture repetition is just one of many complex visual distortions or alterations which consistently occur throughout psychedelic experiences on substances such as LSD, Psilocin, Ayahuasca, Mescaline, 2C-B, 2C-E and many others.
It can be described as the organization of rough textures within the external environment becoming mirrored repeatedly over its own surface in an extremely intricate and symmetrical fashion that is consistent across itself. This remains at an unchanging level of extremely high detail and visual clarity within both a person’s direct line of visual focus and peripheral vision.
How it feels like to symmetry-unify from the inside, a case study:
Onion Article Headline 2016: Synesthetic Couch-Texture Not Quite Ready to Merge with Lamp Turned Space-Filling Line System, Says It Needs to Make Itself More Spiky First
Inside Alice’s acid-filled brain today, we are now about to experience for the 6th time or so how various blobs of textures are trying to merge into a coherent super structure. According to local sources, Alice is currently feeling a sense of awe and anticipation as the two big texture clusters in her field of vision are beginning to interact with each other. She is excited to notice that one of them is “calling” the other into it, and giving it ideas on how to “plug in geometrically” with it.
Alice, who reportedly took 160 micrograms of LSD roughly 3 hours ago, narrates how it felt like to make a super-symmetrical system in her visual-kinesthetic field for the 5th time:
“I don’t know if this was the result of alien intelligences messing up with my brain, perhaps a mystical vision about how my ancestors’ experiences connect to mine, or if it was just a strange quantum-entanglement phenomenon in consciousness currently undocumented in the scientific literature, but duude! That one time the couch texture blob made itself more spiky in order to merge with the the space-filling lamp… that was awesome. I look forward to it happening again, but now also including the carpet, walls, and my hands. Leave no texture behind – the resonant symmetry super-structure can make room for everyone.” – Said Alice, in closing.
Psychedelic Symmetry: A Window Into the Information-Theoretic Properties of Experience?
My friend Tim who had not done LSD for many years, responded to this sudden 5 hit dose by going into a state of complete dissociation. He lay down on the forest floor with glassy eyes, muttering “It is TOO beautiful! It is TOO beautiful!” and he did not respond to me, even when I stared him straight in the face. He reported afterwards that he found himself in a giant Gothic cathedral with the most extravagantly elaborate and brightly painted ornamental decorations all around him. This too can be seen as an extreme form of the regularization discussed above. Under the influence of this powerful dose, Tim’s visual brain could no longer keep up with the massive irregularity of the forest around him, and therefore presented the forest in simplified or abbreviated form, as the interior of a Gothic cathedral. It captures the large geometry of a ground plane that supports an array of vertical columns, each of which fans out high overhead to link up into an over-arching canopy of branches. The only difference is that in the Gothic cathedral the trees are in a regular geometrical array, and each one is a masterpiece of compound symmetry, composed of smaller pillars of different diameters in perfectly symmetrical arrangements, and studded with periodic patterns of ribs, ridges, or knobby protuberances as a kind of celebration of symmetry and periodicity for their own sake. There is a kind of geometrical logic expressed in the ornamental design. If part of the cathedral were lost or destroyed, the pattern could be easily restored by following the same logic as the rest of the design. In information-theoretic terms, the Gothic cathedral has lots of redundancy, its pattern could be expressed in a very much simpler compressed geometrical code. In Tim’s drug-addled brain his visual system could only muster a simple code to represent the world around him, and that is why Tim saw the forest as a Gothic cathedral. Under normal conditions, the additional information of irregularity, or how each tree and branch breaks from the strict regularity of the cathedral model of it, creates the irregular world of experience that we normally see around us. This suggests that the beautiful shapes of ornamental art are not the product of the highest human faculty, as is commonly supposed, but rather, ornamental art offers a window onto the workings of a simpler visual system, whose image of the world is distorted by artifacts of the representational scheme used in the brain. The Gothic cathedral gives a hint as to how the world might appear to a simpler creature, a lizard, or a snake, to whom the world appears more regular than it does to us, because its full irregularity is too expensive to encode exhaustively in all its chaotic details. Of course the flip-side of this rumination is that the world that we humans experience, even in the stone-cold sober state, is itself immeasurably simpler, more regular and geometric, that the real world itself, of which our experience is an imperfect replica. In the words of William Blake, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
Why Does Any of This Matter? The Deceptively Profound Implications of Psychedelic Symmetry According to Cognitive Scientist Steven Lehar
But there was one aspect of the LSD experience that had me truly baffled, and that was the fantastic symmetries and periodicities that were so characteristic of the experience. What kind of neural network model could possibly account for that? It was an issue that I grappled with for many months that stretched into years. In relation to Grossberg’s neural network, it seemed that the issue concerned the question of what happens at corners and vertices where contours meet or cross. A model based on collinearity alone would be stumped at image vertices. And yet a straightforward extension of Grossberg’s neural network theory to address image vertices leads to a combinatorial explosion. The obvious extension, initially proposed by Grossberg himself, was to posit specialized “cooperative cells” with receptive fields configured to detect and enhance other configurations of edges besides ones that are collinear. But the problem is that you would need so many different specialized cells to recognize and complete every possible type of vertex, such as T and V and X and Y vertices, where two or more edges meet at a point, and each of these vertex types would have to be replicated at every orientation, and at every location across the whole visual field! It just seemed like a brute-force solution that was totally implausible.
Then one day after agonizing for months on this issue, my LSD observations of periodic and symmetrical patterns suddenly triggered a novel inspiration. Maybe the nervous system does not require specialized hard-wired receptive fields to accomodate every type of vertex, replicated at every orientation at every spatial location. Maybe the nervous system uses something much more dynamic and adaptive and flexible. Maybe it uses circular standing waves to represent different vertex types, where the standing wave can bend and warp to match the visual input, and standing waves would explain all that symmetry and periodicity so clearly evident in the LSD experience as little rotational standing waves that emerge spontaneously at image vertices, and adapt to the configuration of those vertices. Thanks to illegal psychotropic substances, I had stumbled on a staggeringly significant new theory of the brain, a theory which, if proven right, would turn the world of neuroscience on its head! My heart raced and pounded at the implications of what I had discovered. And this theory became the prime focus of my PhD thesis (Lehar 1994), in which I did computer simulations of my harmonic resonance model that replicated certain visual illusions in a way that no other model could. I had accomplished the impossible. I had found an actual practical use and purpose for what was becoming my favorite pass-time, psychedelic drugs! It was a moment of glory for an intrepid psychonaut, a turning point in my life. Figure 2.6 shows a page from my notebook dated October 6 1992, the first mention of my new theory of harmonic resonance in the brain.
Featured image credit: Simon Haiduk