Inner Paths to Outer Space by Rick Strassman et al
This literary review was written by, and is reproduced here with the expressed permission of, Dr. David Luke. Originally appeared as: Luke, D. P. (2008). Inner paths to outer space: Journeys to alien worlds through psychedelics and other spiritual technologies, by Rick Strassman et al. [book review]. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 22 (4), 564-569.
Inner paths to outer space: Journeys to alien worlds through psychedelics and other spiritual technologies. By Rick Strassman, Slawek Wojtowicz, Luis Eduardo Luna, & Ede Frecska. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press (2008). Pp. 344 & 24 colour plates (£13.99). ISBN: 978-159477224-5
I was particularly keen to read this text having read Rick Strassman’s (2001) earlier book, DMT: The spirit molecule, in which he documented his extraordinary medical research administering the potent psychedelic neurochemical, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), to human volunteers. After receiving intravenous injections of DMT, Strassman’s participants reported a range of exceptional phenomena from entity encounters and alien abduction-like experiences to near-death like experiences. The spirit molecule documented the whole experimental process whereby over 60 participants received a combined total of 400 doses of DMT. It concluded with the theory that the near-death experience (NDE) is caused by the action of DMT in the pineal gland, where Strassman speculates it is made because DMT is known to occur naturally in the human body. The book currently under review, Inner paths to outer space, is the natural sequel to that book in that it considers the DMT-induced entity encounters and alien abduction like experiences from Strassman’s research in further depth, particularly in the contexts of quantum physics, science fiction and shamanism, proposing that access to alien worlds in outer space occurs in the inner space of the psyche.
Having four authors, three of whom hold medical degrees and one a PhD, the book could almost be an anthology but it has just enough continuity in the chapters to read like a single text, the backbone of which consists of the earlier human DMT research of Rick Strassman, who contributes four of the twelve chapters. The first three of Strassman’s chapters essentially précis The spirit molecule, though this time without detailing the lengthy beurocratic process he had to endure in attempting to conduct the research, and thankfully this time Inner paths has an index as well as a notes section and references. These three chapters map out the bizarre territory of the DMT scenario, drawing on a number of examples of entity encounter experiences, especially of the alien kind, which are loosely compared to spontaneous alien abduction experiences. As in the previous book it is pointed out that both DMT entity encounters and alleged alien abductions are experienced as being “more real than real” and, for instance, that both may feature alien operations and the insertion of probes.
Compelling as this cursory comparison is, a systematic analysis of the correspondences between these two experience syndromes would have been well received at this point in Inner paths, because a more thorough analysis is still wanting – although Hancock’s (2005) recent book made some attempt at this. Nevertheless, despite the apparent similarities, the classic “greys” themselves are absent from DMT experiences, as Barušs (2003) has pointed out. What is conspicuous from the examples of drug-induced experiences presented in Inner paths, however, is the prevalence of contact with insectoid entities, particularly praying mantis-like beings, although it is not pointed out that these also frequently occur in abduction experiences. This strange fact, had it been mentioned, alongside the rest of the similarities between DMT and abduction experiences might indicate that we are truly dealing with the same entity encounters – one spontaneous, or perhaps hypnotically-induced, and the other drug-induced. Although, alternatively, the constructivist argument would suggest that the chemically induced experiences have been influenced by the parallels drawn to alien abduction experiences extant in the public domain, especially those occurring since the most outspoken psychedelic commentator of the last 30 years, Terence McKenna, reported contact with insectoid aliens on psilocybin a few decades ago (McKenna & McKenna, 1975). Nevertheless, the universal prevalence of particularly praying mantis-like aliens in DMT and other tryptamine reports seems worthy of more detailed investigation as it seems to better support a kind of perennial philosophy rather than a constructivist argument –because this specific mantis feature appears not to have been widely popularised in the psychedelic literature and yet it has been widely reported. Unfortunately, none of this is discussed in Inner paths.
Aside from his three integral chapters, Strassman also adds a valuable chapter at the end of the book that acts as a fairly comprehensive guide on how to conduct psychedelic group experiences safely and meaningfully. This subtext of the book, as a guide to experiencing psychedelic states, happens to compose a fairly substantial theme, as the second of Luis Luna’s chapters also offers a guide to what might be expected when taking ayahuasca, the Amazonian jungle decoction that gives extended DMT experiences. The other of Luna’s chapters offers a fascinating, but condensed biography of his extensive involvement in the anthropological and ethnobotonical investigation of ayahuasca-use in South America. Both of his chapters offer wonderful insights into the indigenous use of the DMT-rich brew, such as how the shamans introduce other plants to the ayahuasca so that their visions may reveal the healing properties of the added plant. Of particular interest to parapsychology it is well known that ayahuasca was once called “telepathine” because of its apparent telepathic, precognitive and clairvoyant-inducing properties, but we also discover from Luna how shamans of the Shuar tribe take the decoction to also create the future, not just see it. Furthermore, it is described how alien abduction-like experiences also occur on ayahuasca, as we might expect, as well as out-of-body experiences, glossolalia, entity encounters and ostensible shapeshifting and past-life experiences. Given the similarities between experiences on DMT and ayahusaca it is no surprise then that the chapter by Slawek Wojtowicz on psilocybin- and psilocin-containing “magic” mushrooms also recounts NDE’s and science-fiction sounding alien entity encounter experiences with this substance too, because we learn that the active molecule in these fungal substances, psilocin (4-hydroxy-dimethyltryptamine), is a very close chemical relative of DMT.
Having laid out the basic background and phenomenology, however, it is not until we come to Ede Frecska’s three chapters about halfway into the book that we arrive at any concerted effort to account for the ontology of these exceptional tryptamine-family induced experiences. His first chapter draws the basic distinction between scientism and the culturally relativistic approach to explaining the phenomena, and while he purports to offer a neutral argument, he clearly falls on the side of the latter – but not without good argument. Offering a number of examples of shamanic divination – explained either in the consistent terms of the action of spirits, or from a number of varying sceptical perspectives – Frecska deftly demonstrates that Occam’s razor is a double edged sword for sceptics because under this rubric the consistent shamanic perspective has far greater parsimony than the numerous sceptical explanations.
Frecska then uses such further logical gymnastics to springboard into his own dichotomous conception of quantum-based psychology, in which the ordinary perceptual-cognitive-symbolic mode is contrasted with the direct-intuitive-nonlocal mode. The latter mode being one in which quantum processes supposedly occurring in the brain’s microtubule system engage a state of interconnectedness that allows for parapsychological phenomena to occur. The implication being that DMT can activate such states, and this harks back to Karl Jansen’s (1999) earlier idea that Bell’s theorem arose in synchrony with the use of the psychedelic anaesthetic, ketamine, allowing humans to directly experience nonlocal space-time through the dissociative effects of this molecule.
Frecska then dazzles us with some further intellectual back flips, such as a poetic comparison between the mediumistic effect of channelling and the tunnelling effect in physics (although itself completely unexplained), because both involve the location of information where it would not ordinarily be expected. Yet, despite his obvious depth of knowledge on the possible quantum processes of consciousness, Frecska tends to assume the poetic appeal of his notions of local and nonlocal perception at the expense of acknowledging his theory really is just that, a theory, and is not actually substantiated by either physics or psychology thus far. Nevertheless, misquoting Einstein, imagination probably is more important than truth, and the 24 beautiful, futuristic colour plates of chemically-induced sci-fi landscapes and beings, by artists Pablo Amaringo, Karl Koefed, Robert Venosa, Martina Hoffmann and the author Slawek Wojtowicz, indicate that this book is as much, if not more, for a psychedelic sci-fi audience as a scientific one.
Frecska’s following chapter, however, goes a complicated conceptual step further and attempts to account for the alleged interspecies communication that occurs between shaman and plant by introducing the concepts of topological geometrodynamics, a concept so complex and yet so casually introduced into the text that the reader’s understanding must, by necessity, become the hostage of their imagination. As a psychologist rather than a physicist I would have found such intellectual quantum leaps exhausting had it not been for some of the more down to earth twists and turns in this chapter as support for the possible consciousness of plants, such as Darwin’s apparent conception of the root structure of plants as a neural network. This is no doubt a thorny point of departure from Darwinism for most modern scientists but Frecska also confronts us with the fact that underground mycelia networks among single mushroom organisms can span 11,000 acres or more, and certainly have more interconnections than neurons in the human brain. Are these mushrooms in some sense conscious? Shamanic wisdom among those that consume psychedelic fungi for their input on the interspecies communication argument would say so.
Perhaps the most unsatisfying chapter of the book is Frecska’s third, which takes a perplexing tangent into the possibility of earthly paleo-contact with ancient alien entities by rummaging through a range of archaic Middle Eastern texts, including the bible. After shakily building up this rather New Age idea over nearly thirty pages, Frecska casually knocks it down again at the end of the chapter by suggesting that such antediluvian alien encounters were actually DMT-induced entities experienced “…through nonlocal, extradimensional connections within the multiverse” (p.254), whatever that means exactly.
I had mixed feelings about Frecska’s chapters, especially his last one, because on the one hand he made some observations highly contiguous with my own recent investigations into the ontology of DMT-induced entity encounters (Luke, 2008), such as the consideration of the Enochian “watchers” – the fallen angels – as possible DMT entities, and yet I feel he could have made a more concerted effort to offer some ontological speculations about the reality of these DMT entities, given that so much of the book is concerned with them.. Rather we are left with the feeling that these entities are merely drug-induced, albeit by drugs that are naturally present in our brains and which may be able to help us access nonlocal information. But, does this imply a neurotheological-like reductionism for the existence of these entities, or a support for the perennial philosophy, or something else altogether? The authors don’t really speculate much on this, unfortunately, although in their defence neither do they ever promise that they will.
Finally the last couple of chapters by Wojkowicz discuss some other related aspects of the speculated DMT-alien matrix, such as the late John Mack’s research with hypnotically recalled abduction experiences and Weiss’ past life regression therapy. Connecting the possible past with the possible future, Wojkowicz also discusses some of the apocalyptic future visions that can be found within the altered states literature, specifically that of the anthropologist Hank Wesselman and writer Gary Renard, who both foresaw a fair amount of planetary doom and gloom round the corner. Though some of it, especially that concerning the supposed “Westernercide” forthcoming from the new Iranian premier, might be best kept quiet.
In conclusion, however, I found Inner paths to be a highly stimulating and worthwhile read, even though I was a little disappointed that the reality of the aliens wasn’t probed a lot more and that the insectoids weren’t satisfactorily dissected. I also think that, without a more detailed analysis of the discussed phenomena, Strassman might seem to be trying to have it both ways by proffering DMT as the cause of both NDEs and alien abductions. He might be right of course, but what then of the differences between aliens and NDEs, or can we expect a UFO waiting for us at the end of the tunnel of light when it’s our turn to do the mortal coil shuffle? Furthermore, Frecska also throws sleep paralysis into the DMT mix but we might be more cautious of heralding DMT as the ultimate paranormal chemical catalyst, at least until further research can be done, because any one molecule that explains everything essentially explains nothing. In any event this book raises many fundamental questions about the nature of reality that have barely been asked in the scientific community, let alone answered, and I strongly urge all researchers of consciousness to read it.
Barušs, I. (2003). Alterations of consciousness: An empirical analysis for social scientists. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Hancock, G. (2005). Supernatural: Meetings with the ancient teachers of mankind. London: Century.
Jansen, K. L. R. (1999). Ketamine (K) and quantum psychiatry. Asylum: The Journal for Democratic Psychiatry, 11 (3), 19-21.
Luke, D. (2008). Disembodied eyes revisited. An investigation into the ontology of entheogenic entity encounters. Entheogen Review: The Journal of Unauthorized Research on Visionary Plants and Drugs, 17 (1), 1-9 & 38-40.
McKenna, T., & McKenna, D. (1975). The invisible landscape: Mind, hallucinogens and the I Ching. New York: Seabury Press.
Strassman, R. (2001). DMT: The spirit molecule: A Doctor’s revolutionary research into the biology of near-death experiences. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press.