Cyberdelics: The Trippy Machines
My article on Breaking Convention is out – the largest conference on psychedelic research in Europe, taking place at Greenwich University in London.
There was so much going on during the three days, and I could have written ten articles about it.
My focus in this one, which was published in this week’s edition of Weekendavisen (Danish national newspaper, is on the cyberdelics at the conference, in particular The Lucia no. 3 (the hypnagogic light machine) and the Isness installation (a virtual reality experience for four people made by computational physicists (+ team) at Bristol University.
The article is here (paywall): The digital trip machines.
A translated extract (not prettily translated, yet, but effectively!):
It is afternoon in a semi-dark room at Greenwich University in London, and I’ve just tried the wildest machine I’ve ever experienced. Since I put on a virtual reality headset for the first time in 2013, I have grown used to sensory-enhancing experiences provided by machines. I know that a VR headset can transport me into an entirely new reality in an instant. I’ve grown accustomed to having my expectations exceeded – year after year, as the technology improves.
But this experience beats them all.
The machine itself doesn’t look high tech in any way. There are no wires, no gadgets on the body and no glasses to wear. I just have to sit in a chair in front of a lamp connected to a computer. I close my eyes and I know that soon, bright, flashing lights aimed at my face will penetrate through my closed eyelids. That is all.
But the next thing that happens is so wonderful and surprising that I have to do somersaults with my language capabilities to describe it.
I’m sitting in front of the lamp because I’m attending the bi-annual Breaking Convention: Europe’s largest conference on psychedelic research. For three days there are academic lectures on the latest knowledge in the field on all floors of Greenwich University’s stately buildings; from anthropologists with expertise in the use of psychoactive plants by Mayan Indians to brain scientists focusing on MRI scans, microdosing and the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat mental disorders.
A large area on the ground floor of one building is, under the title The Cyberdelics Showcase, dedicated to installations where different kinds of technology mimic the psychedelic experience or transport us into altered states of consciousness in other ways.
In the morning hours on the first day of the conference I am standing in line, ready to be signed up for as many of the various VR installations as possible, including the meditation booster Healium, which measures my brain waves and sends visual feedback directly into the VR glasses on how relaxed and focused I actually am during my meditation, and the ambitious ‘Isness’ installation created at Bristol University, where four people are inside the virtual reality experience at the same time.
Wearing VR headsets and haptic gloves, me and three other conference attendees are transformed into silent, collaborative light beings who can juggle and manipulate the molecular structures between us. Computational physicists have created the experience to demonstrate how solid matter is nothing but concentrated energy. Novo Nordisk has expressed interest in the technology which they will be using for nano-design.
After hovering around like a light being with molecular manipulating superpowers for 40 minutes, I understandably think that I’ve reached the pinnacle of the conference, technologically speaking.
Still, I feel very excited as I sit alone the day after in front of the lamp in the dark room. Compared to the Isness installation, which filled a whole room with wires, HTC Vive headsets and motion sensors, the lamp in front of me really doesn’t look special; just like an advanced designer lamp (with a hint of a dentist vibe) connected to a computer. But it turns out to be a portal to the biggest experience of the year.
I close my eyes. The bright white light of the lamp starts to flash. And immediately, a wonderful fractal dance of miraculous colors unfolds in my head. I rush through tunnels of kaleidoscopic patterns. Sizzling networks in yellow and turquoise rise and disappear. Thousands of deep blue and black circles explode into a star-shaped pattern so beautiful that I can feel it in my stomach. The second after, I am sent through a new, neon-colored swath of interwoven shades. Peacock Green! Glowing orange! I’m in a cosmic roller coaster of light.
It is a very interesting sensation, seeing these complex and intertwined geometries with my eyes closed. There is no distance between the patterns and me. Mentally, I can try to place the passing colors on the inside of my eyelids. But that’s not where I see them. They are closer, inside my head, and wonderfully intense. The colors are so juicy that I feel I can drink them.
When the light stops flashing, I am immediately back “in the real world”, with a wonderful sensation in my body, as if I was a Tibetan monk who has meditated so deeply that I am ready to levitate. Calm, super focused and wonderfully comfortable.
The machine I’ve just tried is a ‘hypnagogic light machine’, also called ‘Lucia no. 03 ‘. It was created by two Austrian doctors, the psychiatrist Dr. Engelbert Winkler and the clinical neurologist Dr. Dirk Proeckl, who has brought the machine to Breaking Convention since 2011 and give a talk on their work the following afternoon in a crowded room in the neighboring building.
Originally, they built the machine to simulate a near-death experience. Winkler was very interested in the American psychology professor Kenneth Ring’s research into the positive effects that people who have been through a near-death experience experience. “It is extremely interesting that an intense experience, which lasts only a few minutes, can have lasting positive effects, similar to many years of intense psychotherapy,” says Winkler.
He began using hypnosis to send his patients (with anxiety disorders, for example) into a similar state. And he quickly discovered that when he used a bright light to help them stay in the trance state, the treatment was much more effective. Next, Proeckl suggested that they combine the bright light of the lamp with strobe effects to simulate a tunnel experience. This is how the first prototype of the lamp was made, partly consisting of remodeled components from the coffee machine in their office.
When they first sat down in front of the machine, they were quite amazed by the unexpected visual effects. […]
[translation to be continued…]