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Value-engendering psychoactive environmental dynamic

Psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations (Part #5)

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Mythical and magical relationships to the environment: Points made above highlight the degree to which current society is both value deadend with respect to many values brandished as tokens and, in some cases, hypersensitive to the implications of particular interpretations of selected values. The first condition is characteristic of alienation for which compensation is typically sought, notably through the use of psychoactive substances. Beyond alcohol and nicotine, of widespread concern is the use of psychoactive drugs.

As an academic interpreter of religious experience, Mircea Eliade held that early peoples considered that the reality and value of any phenomena was associated with its first appearance, especially in the case of the sacred as described in myth regarding that sacred time. No value was therefore attached to subsequent historical events. Modern man, in denying the sacred is therefore obliged to invent values and meaning to define purpose an overcome spiritual aridity. Myths have thus been held by some to be a saving gnosis that offers avenues of eternal return to simpler primordial ages when the values that rule the world were forged.

It is intriguing to contrast the focus on psychoactive drug use with what is understood of environmental awareness in the so-called pre-modern period of humanity. As documented by Jean Gebser followed by Ken Wilber, and summarized by Jean Houston (Life Force: the psycho-historical recovery of the self, 1993), and more extensively by Jennifer Gidley (The Evolution of Consciousness as a Planetary Imperative: an integration of integral views, Integral Review, 5, 2007) who endeavours to integrate the integral theoretic narratives of Rudolf Steiner, Jean Gebser, and Ken Wilber, who each point to the emergence of new ways of thinking that could address the complex, critical challenges of our planetary moment.

From these perspectives, the current mental stage was preceded by periods of individual and social consciousness characterized by:

  • an archaic (uroboric) stage: pre-individual, ego-less and identified with the environment and embedded therein, namely the sub-conscious ground out of which humanity emerged
  • a magical (or typhonic) stage: group- or clan-identified consciousness involving a participation mystique with no clear demarcation between inner and outer realities, the orchestration of the one being undifferentiated from the other -- achieving a magical rapport between the experiential body and the external reality being a preoccupation
  • a mystical stage: in which an imaginal relationship was established and sustained through symbols and myths enabling the development of skills and processes to engage with those imagined spiritual forces

The currently exhausted "mental stage" has notably been characterized by the value and ethical challenges of materialism which Gebser saw as leading to a value and ethical dead end for which there was no remedy through the metaphysical presumptions of the values as conceived. The emergent stage of consciousness (championed by Ken Wilber through other language) he termed the integral stage, characterized by the radical immersion of humanity in the world.

The pre-rational engagement with the environment is well characterized by the Renaissance initiatives of such as Marsilio Ficino and his preoccupation with "natural magic" and the appropriate configuration of its supporting aesthetics. This influence is still to be found in the symbolist understanding of "correspondences" paralleling those of a scientific nature that have sought to displace them (Theories of Correspondences -- and potential equivalences between them in correlative thinking, 2007).

It is appropriate to see the status of values in the final throes of the mental stage as bearing a remarkable resemblance to what that stage frames as the "superstition" characterized by earlier stages and their continuing traces. For, whereas "super-stition" involves the superimposition of invisible and scientifically unproven levels of significance on phenomena (omens, etc), values might also be seen as attributing a form of significance to phenomena which is meaningless within a scientific worldview. Values might then be understood as the essence of "superstition". Use of psychoactive drugs may be understood as a "technical" effort to recover (or reactivate) other forms of relationship to the environment.

There is a curious irony in the degree to which misapplication of the scientific method has "deadened" the cognitive relationship to the environment such that psychoactive drugs offer greater meaning and "science" is much challenged to attract the young into its ranks by evoking their "curiosity". It is also curious that, despite the implied "double standards", there are pressures in society to magically evoke (without such drugs) what "science" must necessarily consider meaningless and non-existent -- namely values.

Drug-induced psychoactive relationships to the environment: Although "psychoactive" is most generally defined in terms of affecting mental processes, almost all the literature focuses exclusively on psychoactive substances, whether understood as drugs or medication (for example James Neill (A Rationale for Psychoactive Gardening: rebuilding our indigenous relationship with plants, 2004; the University of Hawai. The Psychoactive Biotechnology Project: Local Knowledge in a Global Context).

These have been a focus of considerable controversy and their use has been variously made illegal, despite recognition of their value as entheogens facilitative of spiritual practice down the centuries (Thomas B. Roberts, et. al. Psychoactive Sacramentals: essays on entheogens and religion, Council on Spiritual Practices, 2001). Such usage points to the manner in which psychoactive drugs may induce value-enhancing experiences.

The marginalization of use of psychoactive drugs is especially ironic given the increasing interest of the military in enhancing the cognitive capacity of combattants using drugs. Publicity has been widely given to their current use by military pilots on missions (Mark Thompson, America's Medicated Army, Time Magazine, 5 June 2008; Ian Sample, Wired Awake, The Guardian, 29 July 2004; Bruce Falconer, Defense research agency seeks to create supersoldiers, National Journal, 10 November 2003). Little is said of their use by those who command them from "war rooms".

Of major relevance to any relationship with values in the future are current explorations by the US Defense Intelligence Agency of ways of transforming perceptions of the battlefield environment -- including use of "pharmacological landmines" (Jon Swaine, Future wars 'to be fought with mind drugs', Telegraph, 14 August 2008; Ian Sample, Understanding of the brain could transform battlefield of the future, The Guardian, 14 August 2008). This is clearly relevant to understanding of "value warfare" and any future "battles for hearts and minds" -- including such use by "others" with questionable values, as explored by bioethicist Jonathan D. Moreno (Mind Wars: brain research and national defense, 2006).

"Biological warfare" could take on a totally unsuspected dimension as an instrument of "psychological warfare" in "crusades" and "jihads" of the future, purportedly for the furtherance of "universal values" -- potentially even in the anticipated Armageddon (Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence, 2004). Fundamental values may well be induced and manipulated by such means, if only to inhibit social unrest and discontent -- as is the practice in institutionalized health care.

Non-drug psychoactive processes: The drug focus tends readily to lead to the assumption that the term "psychoactive" is of relevance in no other contexts. This obscures the extent to which aesthetic experience, induced or not, may have a psychoactive dimension as was recognized by Ficino through "natural magic". There is literature on psychoactive music which corresponds to preoccupations with the role of sacred music -- presumably psychoactive -- and antipathy to some forms of dissonant music (eg diabolus in musica). Symbols and text may notably be psychoactive, as discussed elsewhere (Moving Symbols, 2008; Psychoactive Text Warning. 2007). Pornography of course constitutes an extreme case.

Of greater interest, however, and of relevance to values, are the following exploratory uses of "psychoactive".

Requirement for strategically significant psychoactive environments: Curiously it could be argued that those most committed to manipulating and enhancing psychoactive relationships are advertisers, image managers and those marketing initiatives on behalf of clients under the heading "public relations". These skills at total concept management and spin may require careful attention to the interface with their audience -- wrapping them in a managed news environment. Such efforts are to be contrasted with the public information programmes of intergovernmental initiatives, such as those of the United Nations, where the focus is on panel and poster portrayals -- effectively confronting people with billboards. This is to be contrasted with the many arguments, recognized in museums and exhibitions, for interactive environments to facilitate learning and engagement.

Of particular interest is the insight of Gamakumara Upali (Psychoactive environment (pSE) is a 'must' for service industry, 2005) of the Sri Lankan Institute of Quality Science Consultants, who argues:

I have coined this word "Psychoactive-Environment" (pSE) to describe the cyclical nature of the phenomenon that individual's behaviour influences the society creating a Psychoactive Environment and the Psychoactive Environment "in-turn" affects individual's behaviour and its effects on productivity....Until the pSE becomes either positive or negative, it remains neutral and in such situations 'productivity', moves into stagnation followed by depression - a slow dying state... A distinct feature of pSE is that it takes precedence over all the other elements of productivity because pSE is a result of individual's behaviour and attitudes. Activity levels of pSE vary from culture to culture and time to time.

Of related interest is a form of therapy associated with Neuro-linguistic Programming as articulated by James Lawley (When Where Matters: how psychoactive space is created and utilised. The Model Magazine, January 2006) regarding the creation of psychoactive space and its use in symbolic modelling:

Once a space becomes psychoactive for a person they are effectively "living in their metaphor". Then, when something changes in that perceptual space (often spontaneously), more of their mind-body is involved. This usually produces a more embodied and systemic change than just "talking about" changing. The experience is not necessarily accompanied by a large display of emotion or catharsis -- affect does not equal effect -- but the client knows something has changed, even if they are unable to articulate it at the time.

As noted in earlier documents (Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, Clean Space: modeling human perception through emergence, 2003; Metaphors in Mind: transformation through symbolic modelling, 2002) the creation of such psychoactive space combines the work of David Grove with the latest developments in self-organizing systems theory and cognitive linguistics. The authors regard "clean space" as an extension of symbolic modelling because, it facilitates the client to self-model; it requires "clean" interventions; and it works directly with the metaphoric realm. Would such preoccupations be unfamiliar to any shaman?

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