Psychedelics and Meditation: Everything Is Consciousness
Modern quantum theory and ancient vedic philosophy meet.
Posted September 16, 2022 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods
- Research into psychedelics and meditation, the best tools we have to understand consciousness, suggests that everything is consciousness.
- Psychedelics and meditation help one's consciousness to "turn around" and experience itself, resulting in the mystical experience.
- The mystical experience is knowing your self, which is commonly reported as the experience of becoming one with all that exists.
In 1931, the father of quantum mechanics, Max Planck, said, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.” Since then, quantum mechanics, the foundation of modern science, has continued to move closer to the startling and revolutionary conclusion that everything is consciousness—albeit reluctantly.
If science is telling us that everything is consciousness then it would make sense to review the research on consciousness to see if there is evidence corroborating that conclusion. What are the most powerful tools we have to explore consciousness? Arguably, they are psychedelics and meditation.
How Do Psychedelics Work?
Michael Pollan, in his book about psychedelics, How to Change Your Mind, writes that “the idea that psychedelic drugs might shed some light on the problems of consciousness makes a certain sense. A psychedelic drug is powerful enough to disrupt the system we call normal waking consciousness in ways that may force some of its fundamental properties into view.” Most researchers studying psychedelics feel the compounds do cause fundamental properties of consciousness to become evident.
What is the main effect psychedelics have on the mind that might allow us insight into consciousness? In an opinion piece entitled, “How do psychedelics work?” psychedelic researcher, Robin Carhart-Harris, writes that “psychedelics initiate a cascade of neurobiological changes that…ultimately culminate in the relaxation of high-level beliefs.”
Psychedelic Research and Ego Dissolution
Possibly the highest-level belief that we all hold is the necessity of our egos for us to be alive. To experience, during a psychedelic session, the dissolution or “death” of one’s ego, as subjects commonly report to researchers, is said to be similar to experiencing physical death, but after the ego is gone, the subject is surprised and relieved—they are still alive and experiencing. If who and what we believe we are (our ego) were to dissolve shouldn’t there be nothing left?
Some psychedelic researchers have concluded that after the ego dissolves what is left is the experiencer, the subject, the “I”, or consciousness. They have postulated that in our normal waking consciousness, the subject, or the experiencer, continually but incorrectly identifies with the ego, while experiencing the ego as an object of its perception. But if the ego is no more then the subject, or the subject’s consciousness, has nothing else to identify with other than itself. The subject’s consciousness becomes self-aware.
Michael Pollan writes of his own psychedelic-induced experience of ego dissolution: “The sovereign ego…was simply no more… Yet something had succeeded it: this bare disembodied awareness, which gazed upon the scene of the self’s dissolution with benign indifference. I was present to reality but as something other than my self. And although there was no self left to feel, exactly, there was a feeling tone, which was calm, unburdened, content. There was life after the death of the ego. This was big news.”
What is Left After Ego Dissolution?
Is there a model of the mind that makes sense of the finding from psychedelic research that there is “life after the death of the ego” and makes sense with quantum mechanics’ reluctant conclusion that everything is consciousness?
Vedic philosophy, an ancient and still relevant philosophy from which the theory and practice of meditation comes, is just such a model. It says that in every instant of perception there are three elements: the subject or experiencer (rishi), the object of experience (chhandas), and the process of experience (devata). Vedic philosophy holds that all three—subject, object, and the process of perception—are made of consciousness. In this model, the ego is a constant object of perception. If the ego dissolves then the subject’s consciousness, in search of an object, may “turn around” and become aware of, may begin to experience, itself. As the subject’s consciousness experiences itself, the subject begins to experience and realize that its "self" is one with the universe. Vedic philosophy holds that consciousness becoming conscious of itself is the cause of the mystical experience.
Psychedelic Research and the Mystical Experience
Psychedelic researchers commonly hear about another phenomenon in addition to ego dissolution during psychedelic sessions: the mystical experience. The mystical experience has been defined as a sense of unity, or the experience of becoming one with all that exists. How do we explain the cause of such an experience? Is it a hallucination or is it an experience of a higher reality?
Vedic philosophy’s explanation of the mystical experience is that the subject’s awareness, which is typically outwardly focused on experiencing external objects of perception, “turns around” and takes as its object perception itself. Becoming aware of itself, it experiences a sense of unity, or the experience of becoming one with all that exists. In accord with Vedic philosophy's model of the mind, those who have had the experience of their consciousness becoming aware of itself report that everything is consciousness.
The Goal of Meditation Is Consciousness Experiencing Itself
For thousands of years, meditators have reported the mystical experience of becoming one with the universe. Many have suggested that, though psychedelics and meditation are very different, the mystical experience each can induce are identical. This would indicate that, though the path is different, both meditator and psychedelic user arrive at the same place. What is that place? It is when the meditator’s awareness “turns around” and becomes aware of, and conscious of, itself. The mystical experience during meditation, outside of meditation, and during a psychedelic session all corroborate what quantum mechanics has indicated about our universe.
For about 100 years, science has been moving toward the conclusion that everything in our universe is made of consciousness. What is consciousness? One of the first things we do if we want to understand something is to examine it with our five senses. How can we examine consciousness with our senses? Psychedelics and meditation may be the two best ways to facilitate the sensory examination of consciousness. The research concerning those who have done so suggests that they have found that their consciousness is part of everything in the universe and that everything is consciousness. Subjective experience, in this case, is in harmony with objective science.
Pollan, M., (2018). How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, Allen Lane.
Stace, W. T. (1960). Mysticism and Philosophy. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher.