I wish I could speak in technicolor

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What LSD and brain hemorrhages say about our brain.

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Sarahana | January 17, 2011

Two estranged lovers inside our brain.

Two estranged lovers inside our brain.

While researching for his book The Psychedelic Club, author Don Lattin came upon this 1950s video, in which Dr. Sidney Cohen attempts to record a first hand account of a normal woman's LSD experience:

When the doctor asks how she feels inside, she says — surprising herself with her own realization — that there is no inside. Whether it's brain injury, an out-of-body experience, drugs, or a successful meditation, I can't help noticing that a feeling of “bliss” or “oneness” in such rare occasions is often accompanied by the inability to sense the self as a shelled, isolated being. This reminds me of Colin Wilson's 1988 book, Beyond the Occult, in which he seeks scientific explanations behind paranormal activities; this I read at an impressionable young age.

Wilson wrote at the time that under normal circumstances, communication between the two hemispheres of the brain is restricted because of corpus callosum, a thick bundle of neural fibers that divides them. When you think of something as “my mind”, perhaps you are only feeling the presence of the dominant left hemisphere, where language and logic reside. When you have a strong intuition or an unreasonable fear, however, those originate in your right hemisphere. But there are rare moments, such as those encountered during a successful meditation, when the two halves feel as one, producing a tranquil state of being “unicameral”. Strange things will happen under this condition: you may feel that you are floating, sometimes above your own body, or you may hear the sound of the drop of a needle as if it were broadcast over speakers.

In 1996, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte suffered a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere, which swung her back and forth between a blissful state of oneness with the universe and a panicked voice that instructed her: “call the doctor! call the doctor!” This blissful state is starting to sound familiar, eh? Did she experience it because her left hemisphere was going out of commission, or because the hemorrhage allowed “unicameral” communication as the left was beginning to lose its dominance?

In the video, the subject is unable to describe what she is seeing, experiencing, prompting her to say, “I wish I could talk in technicolor”. If language resides in the left hemisphere, then does it mean that what is knowable to us, which is necessarily within the realm of language, is limited to what the left hemisphere can transcode into language-friendly ideas?

More on all this fun stuff in forthcoming posts, of course.

Related link: Harvard Psychedelic Club: 1956 Footage Of Housewife's Acid Trip

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