What Happens When a Blind Person Takes LSD?

By Neuroskeptic | March 30, 2018 1:10 pm

How do blind people experience psychedelic drugs? This is the topic of an interesting, but unusual, paper just out in Consciousness and Cognition.

lsd_braille

The paper’s authors are University of Bath researchers Sara Dell’Erba, David J.Brown, and Michael J.Proulx. However, the real star contributor is a man referred to only as “Mr Blue Pentagon”.

Blue Pentagon (“BP”) is the pseudonym for a 70 year old blind man who reports taking large quantities of LSD and other drugs during his career as a rock musician in the 1970s. (“Blue Pentagon” was his favorite brand of LSD.)

How the researchers came to meet BP is not stated.

Much of the paper consists of BP’s accounts of his experiences under the influence of hallucinogens, and this is what makes the article rather unusual, as parts are more reminiscent of a late-night conversation than an academic paper.

For instance, here’s how BP describes the impact of LSD on the perception of music:

During my psychedelic experiences, whenever I listened to music, I felt as if I was immersed in the most beautiful waterfall ever. The episode of the waterfall was the nearest I ever came to experiencing anything like synesthesia.

The music of Bach’s third Brandenburg concerto brought on the waterfall effect. I could hear violins playing in my soul and found myself having a one hour long monologue using different tones of voices. I remember they sounded extremely unique! LSD gave everything ‘height’

…The waterfall experience was limited to one specific piece of music: Bach’s Brandenburg concerto number 3. It was almost tactile, but it was so outside my normal parameters of experience that it was the only way I could express it.

BP goes on to discuss trippy tactile experiences:

I felt like I was in a fairyland, in a surreal reality where everything I touched was extremely velvety, almost as if it had a very soft patina on top. Sometimes I could not clench my hands as tight as I wanted to, or maybe I did and did not realise.

Once I took acid and marijuana at the same time and I wanted to feel everyone’s faces so that I could tell each person what I thought of them just by touching their faces. It was a very strange experience as their skin felt so soft, but their eyes, noses and mouths were in some way distorted.

One thing BP says he never experienced were visual hallucinations. Notably, he was born blind, and had never experienced sight in his life.

Dell’Erba say that this is the first qualitative account of LSD experiences in a congenitally blind individual. The lack of visual hallucinations in such cases has, however, been reported previously.

The authors also emphasize the synaesthesia-like nature of some of BP’s reports, notably the Bach-waterfall experience quoted above, which they say could be described as auditory-tactile synaesthesia, albeit the experience may have gone beyond these two senses: “BP… could only make reference to the non-auditory aspect of the musical experience by describing it in tactile terms”

At the end of the day, then, it sounds like ‘you had to be there’ in order to know what it was like for BP to take LSD.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: drugs, papers, select, selfreport, Top Posts
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  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

    If you want visuals, then N,N-dimethyltryptamine. GI tract monamine oxidase rapidily catabolizes it, so sublingual, snorted/smoked, or injected. Ingesting MAO-inhibitors (pharma or passion flower fruit, etc.) renders it orally available. Inhibited GI MAO will not degrade tyramine in anything aged, fermented, cured, pickled, etc.. Your blood pressure spikes and you stroke out. Death by chocolate is achievable.

    Strive for intellectual puberty. Be your own cause.

    • psychedelicsanta

      Would be interesting to hear their experiences, but not sure if a congenitally blind person would experience visuals with any hallucinogen.

      • https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUwbGJwCdp96FKSLuWpMybxQ Lee Rudolph

        but not sure if a congenitally blind person would experience visuals with any hallucinogen.

        What might it mean to say, of a particular congenitally blind person, that he or she was “experiencing visuals”? I presume that neuroscientists like our host could determine whether (e.g.) patterns of activity in the visual cortex (etc. etc.), that—in (1) sighted persons and (2) non-congenitally blind people—correlated with those persons’ reports of their “visual experiences”, (A) while going about their normal lives and (B) while dosed with hallucinogens, were also present (or absent) in the congenitally blind person’s brain. But some or all of that might not correlate, or might correlate strangely, with the congenitally blind person’s (verbal) account of his or her “experience”. And then you could throw in other senses (“point where you see X”, “move your hands to follow X”). And you could (try to) compare the experiences of two different congenitally blind persons.

        We’ll never get this past the IRB. Let’s just take the dope ourselves and peace out.

        • dzScritches

          “We’ll never get this past the IRB. Let’s just take the dope ourselves and peace out.”

          Times are changing, and most psychedelic drugs have remarkably safe profiles. Maybe we’ll see proper experiments like this conducted one day.

    • TLongmire

      That’s not for visuals, that’s for being transported to another dimension.

  • Mad Mikey

    “The authors also emphasize the synaesthesia-like nature of some of BP’s reports, notably the Beethoven-waterfall experience quoted above…”

    Umm, it was Bach.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Oh dear! Thanks. Fixed

  • dzScritches

    “One thing BP says he never experienced were visual hallucinations.
    Notably, he was born blind, and had never experienced sight in his life.”

    Naturally he wouldn’t report having visual hallucinations. Even if he did actually experience them, he wouldn’t know that they were visual experiences, having never had one before, and so would never report such experiences as visual.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Yes, I wondered about that too. In fact I’m not sure it makes sense to ask whether an experience is “visual” or not in this case. How could the visual-ness be verified or falsified?

      • dzScritches

        It makes about as much sense as it does to ask whether or not ‘seeing’ something in a dream is a visual experience, I would say. I’m not too sure on the answer to that one either, though – I certainly *feel* like I’m having a visual experience while dreaming, but those ‘visions’ aren’t correlated to anything happening in reality. So are they really visual experiences at all?

        • https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUwbGJwCdp96FKSLuWpMybxQ Lee Rudolph

          I certainly *feel* like I’m having a visual experience while dreaming, but those ‘visions’ aren’t correlated to anything happening in reality.

          How do you know, without further investigation, that they’re not correlated to some of the many other things happening in your body (including your brain), which I take to be “in reality”? One kind of conceivable correlation—that might (for all I know) already be provably present or absent in the huge body of data that must have been collected over the years on REM sleep—would be between particular patterns of “rapid eye movement” and (reported) feelings of having had particular sorts of “visual experience while dreaming”. Other correlations that might be sought could be between, on the one hand, (1) relations (such as correlations…) between particular sorts of “visual experience while dreaming” and particular sorts of bodily behavior (be they in the brain or elsewhere in the body) and, on the other, (2) relations between particular sorts of visual experience while awake and particular sorts of (non-visual) bodily behavior. None of this seems obviously impossible to study or obviously irrelevant to the matters in question (thought it may be both!).

          • Czev

            Actually there is a good amount of evidence that when we visualize things in dream like states or simply when askedato picture things iniour heads, some of the very same circuitry is activated as when we actually see things – mainly primary and secondary visual cortex and hippocampus in cases where subjects are told to mentally navigate a known place.

      • David Pierce

        Helen Keller’s OBEs suggest that the blind may in fact have visual experiences of a sort, and “hallucinations” is a loaded term that is best avoided in such discussions. Further, the nature of psychedelic experience is such that it can, in fact, inform the experiencer of what sort senses he or she may be working with — including those beyond the consensually-accepted six.

  • Trut Tella

    Erowid already reported this, like, decades ago, man.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Erowid was my inspiration for studying neuroscience.

  • Charles Wilson

    “Naturally he wouldn’t report having visual hallucinations…”

    Well…Mebbe. From an old SciAm article on Inverting a Sphere (Making the outside turn inside and inside out without introducing a crease), a blind mathematician reported that he understood it and could talk about it step-by-step. Was it a “Visual” experience? I dunno. All we have is the Language of Experience.

    • https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUwbGJwCdp96FKSLuWpMybxQ Lee Rudolph

      I’m sure there have been successful congenitally blind mathematicians, possibly even ones whose work involved geometry or topology. The three blind topologists that (I think) are best known are Lev Pontrjagin, Bernard Morin (whose explicit, geometric “eversion of the sphere”—shown to be possible, but not made explicit, by Steven Smale—was the topic of the article you refer to), and Emmanuel Giroux. According to Wikipedia all were born sighted and remained sighted for at least 6 years (Morin). So, absent any evidence (including possible testimony from any of them that I haven’t come across—I never looked very hard) to the contrary, I have no reason to doubt that their very successful visualizations were different in kind or quality from other, sighted, mathematician’s successful visualizations.

      The interesting question (to me) has always been, how alike (or different) are various different mathematicians’ visualizations, and how could we tell? I know what my own are like. I’m a “low-dimensional topologist”, meaning that most of the mathematical spaces I work with are of dimension 3 or less, and occasionally 4. I’m only casually acquainted with Pontrjagin’s and Morin’s work, but certainly Pontrjagin worked in all dimensions, and probably Morin did too.

      I know Giroux’s work better—about 15 years ago, a surprising connection appeared between what he was doing just then in “contact geometry of 3-manifolds” and a couple of theretofore not obviously related things I had worked out starting about 15 years before that; the connection sparked a lot of further work by others that’s still going on, and is increasingly difficult for me to follow… Anyway, when he talks about that stuff, he certainly uses the same kind of visual and haptic language the rest of the low-dimensional-topology research community does. (“Haptic language” importantly including gestures: sometimes proofs really do come down to hand-waving!) Does that mean that what—if anything—he “sees in his mind’s eye” is the same as, similar to, or entirely different from what others in the field do? And does he do other bodily things when he’s thinking about mathematical objects? (Sometimes my tongue gets involved, sometimes my eyeballs and the musculature surrounding them. Probably that’s just a habit of long standing and not originally intrinsic to whatever is going on in my mind. But it would be nice to know. It would even be interesting, though probably not at all nice, to have that musculature temporarily immobilized with, say, curare, and try to think mathematics.)

      I don’t know of any serious research on this topic, investigating and comparing professional mathematical visualizers (nor even professional visualizers whose work is far from mathematics). Why don’t people with MRI machines want to look at us? (Or do they?)

      • Charles Wilson

        “Anyway, when he talks about that stuff, he certainly uses the same kind of visual and haptic language the rest of the low-dimensional-topology research community does. (“Haptic language” importantly including gestures: sometimes proofs really do come
        down to hand-waving!) Does that mean that what—if anything—he “sees in his mind’s eye” is the same as, similar to, or entirely different from what others in the field do?…”

        Richard Feynman: “Perhaps unsurprisingly, Feynman’s (1988) description of his synesthesia
        is equally visual: “When I see equations, I see the letters in colors – I don’t know why. As I’m talking, I see vague pictures of Bessel functions from Jahnke and Emde’s book, with light-tan j’s, slightly
        violet-bluish n’s, and dark brown x’s flying around. And I wonder what the hell it must look like to the students…”

        This is the puzzle of language. In a way, it’s all we have except that doesn’t tell us much – I tell of a headache and how my head feels as if it is “being hit with a ball peen hammer…”. It is an internal state being described by external language. Except – what is this “External/Internal” divide? A cow cannot tell her calf that a particular plant may be poisonous but we can tell others. “Bessell functions…with light-tan j’s…” are pictured in our minds but where do the pictures come from? We don’t know. Even the “light-tan” descriptor Feynman used is a puzzle. Where did that “dash” symbol come from?

        CW

      • TLongmire

        Why don’t people in your field take LSD(microdose?) to better understand complex multidimensional problems?(Or do they?)

        • https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUwbGJwCdp96FKSLuWpMybxQ Lee Rudolph

          I know one who did, but am not convinced it was helpful.

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About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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