Originally published in 2010 by the Translinguistic Press ‘The DMT Chronicles: Parmenides, Plato, and the Psychedelic’ is written pseudonymously by Terence Turner. The book chronicles the author’s numerous experiences with magic mushrooms, DMT and LSD, against a backdrop of personal enlightenment and philosophical musings.
Turner tells us that Terence McKenna’s comment that psychedelics are to psychology what the telescope is to astronomy, lies at heart of his DMT journey. Indeed, the psychedelic guru’s threads of thought are printed throughout The DMT Chronicles—a book that begins with a McKenna quote about DMT and those pesky little critters the Self-Transforming Machine Elves; from evolution to dominator culture. The danger of DMT, McKenna tells us in the opening quote, is “the possibility of death by astonishment” and Turner’s voyage into the DMT world, in search of elves and philosophy, is indeed astonishing.
The book began life as a post on the psychedelic forum Shroomery called The DMT Chronicles: Traversing beyond the Psychedelic, which was eventually published by Krystal Cole of NeuroSoup, in NeuroSoup: Yearly Review 2008. However, Turner did the not feel it was a complete piece and the result of his additions and expansions are to be found here. Set against the autobiographical backdrop of significant experiences with the powerful but short-lasting hallucinogen dimethyltryptamine (DMT), Turner attempts to highlight striking similarities between the Greek philosophers Parmenides and Plato and the psychedelic experience.
“Psychedelic kindly prevent us from being mentally and philosophically handicapped. They take us outside of the cave, and the majority of them, such as Psilocybin, Psilocin, Mescaline, and LSD, transport us to the Color, that realm of perceptional reality that is more significantly authentic than the prior reality of the everyday, ordinary perception that we are naturally entrapped in” (Turner 2010, 106)
In the beginning of his experiences he deals with the Color—the psychedelic, perceptual discombobulation that one experiences before having an actual psychedelic breakthrough. Within this zone the author sees a variety of creatures and apparitions and he makes contact with Psychedelic, who later takes the form of an Elf Goddess. The Goddess is essentially the epistemological value of taking psychedelics. To begin with her lessons are framed within typical psychological language – ego-death for example. She reveals knowledge, and discusses the nature of what Turner experiences, enlightening him slowly through subsequent lessons. As part of this, the Goddess says that the philosophers Parmenides and Plato also had experiences with her and that their philosophies reflect their coming to terms with it.
What ensues then is an attempt to synthesise and explain, largely Plato’s, philosophy within the context of the psychedelic experience; this occurs with both the Goddess and a number of teachers he meets along his way in the book. Various different Platonic dialogues, including The Symposium, Parmenides and Timaeus, are employed to investigate the philosopher’s theory of forms, allegory of the cave, thoughts on religion etc.. This is done very meticulously by the author and reads very easily unlike many philosophical diatribes. Suffice to say, the explanations given by the narrative voice of the Goddess merge Plato and the psychedelic very nicely, and the concept works well as a psychedelic text.
Interestingly, McKenna’s dominator culture ideas give the book a particularly socio-political edge, but not an altogether original one. It is the type one finds peppered throughout psychedelic literature. For example, Turner discusses the Apogeic Man; a historical figure who recognised that the human unconscious is a driving force in our ‘need’ to alter consciousness. This figure used psychedelics to overcome the culture of the hunter-gatherer and usher in the agricultural era, but then manipulated the need through replacing the centrality of psychedelics with “Creation”. While both alter consciousness, the latter is not a deconditioning agent and instead forces a cultural acceptance. The upshot being that we are conditioned to a particular alteration of consciousness that now keeps us trapped. Psychedelics, therefore, not only provide our necessary need to alter consciousness but also guards us against those who wish to control the individual.
“When I was sixteen, I started smoking marijuana. Why? Well, I started smoking for the same reason the majority of cannabis users smoke: To simply obtain an escape from reality. In other words, I started smoking to get fucked up. A lot of people use drugs for this reason, and I was simply one of those people, attempting to escape the pains of everyday life” (Turner 239).
While I fundamentally disagree with the above observation—I don’t believe the majority of teenagers smoke cannabis to ‘escape’ reality but rather enhance it, or indeed simply for social bonding—Turner himself begins to see a very different view through his philosophical discoveries. Having been embodied by one of the Self-Transforming Machine Elves, he decides to give up taking them because he feels that he realises both ‘realities’ come from the same (Platonic) Form. In other words, he realises that the world is psychedelic anyway and that we all participate in it. While this is perhaps a good observation, it demonstrates the limitation of understanding the psychedelic in Platonic terms. The revelationary element of the experience introduces the problem in the first place. Had, instead, he had seen psychedelics as a means for a creative transformation, externally, then perhaps he may have found reason to continue his exploration.
In the end, this is a fascinating text that neatly explores the ideas it sets out at the beginning. But while it may lack some philosophical context, using the narrative to explain his reasoning but not explore it, it does provide a wonderful entry point for the reader to engage with psychedelics philosophically. As such, it is well worth a read for all the psychonauts out there.