Personal Project: Perceptual Occulsion, Waking Hallucinations

by phil on Tuesday Feb 17, 2004 11:04 AM
perceptual occlusion

What if your imagination was of such high resolution that it could occlude your current perceptual process? Like what if when you wanted to see a pink elephant, you could fool your senses into believing that it was there. This skill would be akin to hallucinations-at-your-will. You would be able to have fantasies that were as real as the real world; you would then have your own, personal holodeck.

I too would want this holodeck, and so I've embarked on a new mini-project. I've made some progress so far, and I have a laundry list of starter techniques.

To begin understanding how to create your own hallucinations, we must first understand natural ones. One case is in vivid dreaming. This is when your dreams are of such high resolution that you feel like you could read text. Another type is while you're on LSD. In both cases, neurotransmitters determine the experience.

The brain is filled with neurotransmitters, which compose the chemical medium for inter-neural communications. Get it: neuro-transmitters. Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Acetylcholine are common examples. In the case of LSD and vivid dreaming, serotonin is the lead actor. Or rather, serotonin is the lead un-actor.

Serotonin inhibits hallucinogenic manifestations. And during REM sleep and acid trips, serotonin is either silent or inhibited. Without serotonin to block hallucinations, your perceptions are occluded with your imagination.

I'm unaware of how to affect serotonin without illegal drugs or sleeping. However, this article suggests anti-depressents may do the trick. I've also googled for non-chemical alternatives, and I found some products that use sound to induce these states. I'm skeptical of these devices, though, because if they did what they were supposed to, they'd be as popular as legalized LSD.

Nonetheless, I'm trying non-chemcial, non-sleep based approaches to perceptual occlusion. The basic strategy is to convince myself that I am actually perceiving what I'm imagining.

Visual techniques (example, green pen floating 3 feet in front of you):

- Look at the target space and mentally draw lines around the imagined object to give it a sense of space.
- Imagine the negative space surrounding the object. So in the case of the green pen, you would imagine a rod-shaped hole in the background.
- Focus your depth of vision to the same depth as the pen. So instead of focusing on the wall, try to blur the background and pretend you are looking at something nearer to you. Use a proxy object as an aide, like your hand. Place your hand where the target object is, focus on it, then remove the hand while still maintaing your depth of vision.
- Open and close your eyes while imagining the object is there.
- Ask yourself aesthetic questions, like, "what is green?"
- Consider what the effect of the object is on other objects in the space. For example, if you were visualizing the green pen floating in front of a wall, invoke the mental construct of a blank space being dotted by something.

Physical sensation techniques (imagining you were grabbing a baseball on the table):

- Find a surface with the target texture. Then use one hand to feel its texture, and another hand pretending to feel the imagined surface. So if you are feeling something rough like paper, rub your left hand on a piece of paper while your right hand feels around the space occupied by the object. The sensation on the left hand will translate into sensation on the right-hand, and your mind will connect the texture-sensation with the shape of the target object.
- Imagine yourself tripping over the object. Like if your hand were to move across the space occupied by the fictious baseball, simulate the sensation of it hitting the ball and being slowed down by its presence.
- Do muscle mediation techniques. Like focus on individual muscles and try to relax them. I did this once for a half-hour, and afterwards, I was able to re-create physical sensations at will. Your mind-muscle control systems can be fine-tuned through this process.

Psychological techniques:

- Keep telling yourself it's really there. Have faith that you are not fooling yourself.
- Create situations that are anchored in the context of the imagined object being real. In the case of the baseball, imagine a dialog like this: "Hey Phil, can you toss me a baseball?" "Sure I got one right here!" and then I turn fast and reach my hand over with the expectation that its there. Or, I don't even have to turn and look, I can just reach around behind me for the object.
- Think of things you would be doing if the object were there. Act as if its there and its presence matters. You could imagine that if a person were standing next to you, you'd feel some heat from her, or that you'd be distracted and would want to talk to her.

Overall strategy:

We perceive objects as gestalts, or configurations of symbols. When we see a baseball or a green pen, it's not like we have an internal digital camera where a 1280x768 pixel image is captured and processed. Rather there are a combination of side-perceptions that cohere into singular perceptions. When visual input arrives, for example, they come in as a few lines, some shape, negative space, depth, and color. Then there are memorized constructs: in the case of the green pen, we would recall the memory of what the pen-templates and the green-templates. And there are also emotional and volitional percepts that come into play as my previous example techniques show.

So if your percepts of the object being there can flood the percepts of the object being absent, then you will have finally tricked your mind.

Personal project status:

The first time I tried this seriously was when I was at a 2-hour long Christmas mass in the Philippines. The sermon was in tagalog, so I couldn't focus on what was being said. To ease my boredom, I did the muscle-relaxation form of meditation. I started by drawing attention to my right thumb and trying to relax it. After 8 seconds, it didn't respond. But after 15 seconds, my thumb twiched and I could feel that relief was arriving there. I then did the rest of the muscles in my body until thirty minutes had gone by. At this point, I had a direct connection between imagined sensations and the muscles in my body. I could simulate whatever I wanted to feel. However the simulations became so real that I had to stop doing them; I was afraid I was going to act out my fantasies.

I have also used perceptual occlusion to help me draw. I would first imagine the lines I wanted to draw before I put pen to paper. This process helps if what appears on paper to match what appears in your mind.

Another time I tried this project was last night. I used the other techniques, like the paper-surface one, to imagine the existence of people. This was powerful as lo and behold, for a few seconds I was able to dupe myself into believing my fantasies were real. Unfortunately, I would get too excited by the sensations that I would then lose focus. Plus, the project required so much effort that I got tired after ten minutes.

The initial effort involved in perceptual occlusion may be a detterrent to continue on. However, I think once you get good at it, the payoff will be worth it. I'll let your imagination run wild thinking of the kind of fun you could have with this.

Note: Yes, I AM aware of what you might notice is the "pink elephant" in this discussion. That is, one of my primary motivations is to heighten sexual fantasies. Its embarassing to talk openly about this though, but I know you all would crave this hallucinogenic device were it to exist.

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