Many readers of this site will be familiar with the idea of getting out of their minds, but could they do it without chemicals? Yes, we all have the power to mess with our consciousness through meditation, hypnosis and the like, but they’re no good if you want to go really hardcore and replicate the high of a near-death experience from the comfort of your own home.
‘Why exactly would anyone want to do that?’ you may ask.
Read on and that question will be answered, alongside a whole host of loftier questions, such as:
‘Do current world events show that the human race is on the brink of a change of consciousness?’
‘Have rulers of the world systematically suppressed the minds of their people ever since the fall of the Greek Empire?’
‘Do we really possess a ‘third eye’?’
The answers will come from Dr Dirk Proeckl and Dr Engelbert Winkler: architects of the Lucia No3 Hypnagogic Light Machine and highly eminent thinkers in the fields of psychology, psychotherapy and neurology.
But first some background on the machine.
The basic premise is to shine white light through the closed eyelids of the user in order to induce a ‘hypnagogic state’, i.e. the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep. The Lucia No3 is controlled by a series of pre-programmed light cycles ranging from a couple of minutes to over an hour, all with varying degrees of light-intensity. For a more detailed summary of what the machine is like from a user’s perspective, check out the earlier article we did on R$N where we put Ivan Smagghe in the hot seat of the Lucia No3 and asked him to share his experiences.
What makes the machine particularly newsworthy at the moment is the increasing amount of scientific data that appears to show the benefits of hypnagogic states, and then alongside that, the growing body of evidence that demonstrates the machine’s ability to put people in those states on a consistent basis. Some of the most significant studies are here in the UK, which is what brought Dirk and Engelbert over from Austria last month. Hotfoot from their last appointment (a somewhat surreal but successful demonstration of the machine inside the Austrian Embassy in Kensington), they took some time out to tell the story of how the machine came to be, its present-day role in academic study and what the results of these studies might mean for the future consciousness of the human race.
Dirk starts from the beginning:
“When we started, the idea was to induce with hypnosis a kind of near-death experience because people who were having a near-death state of consciousness were having healing experiences. To simulate the effect we thought a neural stimulation, a bright light and a flickering light could be a good idea.”
It was Engelbert’s own near-death experience that was the inspiration for the project.
“We used our old Espresso machine from the office to make the first lamp!,” he says.
“So we tried it and then thought ‘let’s see what happens next.’ We saw all these bright colours and we thought ‘where are those colours coming from?’. So by asking the question, ‘what is it that we’ve done here?,’ we found out about mind machines and all these other things. But the most interesting thing was when we went to a big conference in Stockholm.”
This was the ‘Toward a Science of Consciousness’ conference - an annual event bringing together some of the most revered names in the field. The legendary Roger Penrose was a guest that year.
“We were there with our tent to protect the surroundings from the flickering light, and there was a little lady I watched standing near the tent who I could see was very interested in what the people said when they came out of the tent.”
That was Yulia Ustinova, scientist and author of the book ‘Caves and the Ancient Greek Mind’.
“She’d been through all the reports of the philosophers in Greece…. Aristotle, Herminus etc. and she translated all these texts in her work. They said exactly the same as the people coming out of the tent. She was astonished because she’d never heard anything like that before in that context. This coincidence is what got us interested in the Ancient Greek Mystery Cult Experience.
We found out they had caves with darkness and a sensory deprivation experience, and then it brought people to another part of the cave where there was a fire and a wheel in front of the fire. People could turn the wheel and it would start flickering, and that’s what induced that extreme experience they described with the colours.
So we did exactly the same as they did in their time, and in the same way as 2000 years ago we see with our clients that it’s totally unpredictable to tell them ‘if you do this you will have that’, but if you find ways of helping them go into it deeply, then the outcome, every time, is most profound.
The Ancient Greek Mystery Cult Experience was also an experience for a spiritual reason - a reason of self, questioning… it was like a gift which you took with you and you had to wait until after the experience to know what kind of gift you would get.”
Six years on from the chance encounter at the conference and the machine is now a fundamental part of academic study in this country. Dr David Schwartzman of the University of Sussex is now onto his second study, having already proven the credentials of the machine with the first. Dirk elaborates:
“If you take a psychedelic drug to generate a certain therapeutic effect, you can induce the drug in different kind of doses, but the only possibility to direct what happens then is the setting around the consumption of the drug. The research from the University of Sussex showed the lamp can really induce a disassociated state of consciousness just like with those drugs. But differently to the drugs, the person has more control of it and can decide how deep to go and what to use it for. By changing the frequencies we can influence the experience directly.
For all people who are interested in generating the effect of psychedelics, the lamp is a very useful thing because it’s legal.”
By comparing ‘EEG’ readings from the brains of subjects using the machine with readings commonly associated with different states of consciousness, the machine is helping to build an understanding of the neural connectivity of the brain. It is neural connectivity that holds the key to any hallucinogenic or out-of-body experience, i.e. the altered state of mind is a result of the varying connectivity between different pre-existing networks in the brain.
Engelbert explains further:
“The default mode network is what keeps our daily experience and also experience of ourself working. Psychedelics [and now the machine] have the effects to lower the activity of this network which gives a chance for transformation to a new kind of network.
For me of special interest was with the EEG patterns of people sitting in front of the lamp in Dr Schwartzman’s study. We found these same patterns that look like harmonics go to the very end of the sheet, but according to Dr Schwartzman, they don’t actually end there - it’s just the end of the sheet. Usually there is not much activity in anyone’s brain at this range so that’s why the EEG measures no further, but there is definitely evidence of more brain activity from the lamp.”
Dr Schwartzman has already stated that the second study (due to be published this summer) will contain some very exciting findings. Engelbert continues:
“This is something which is involved in the research he’s doing now, and it’s sensational. It’s possible to make a connection between a psychedelic disassociated state of consciousness on the one hand and then on the other hand a more complex neural activity which shows a higher form of complexity. So you can see on a scientific level how this level of consciousness is over the normal level of daily consciousness. This is indeed a groundbreaking thing for science.”
And now for the even bigger questions. Going back to the earlier conversation where it became apparent just how knowledgeable the Ancient Greeks were about altered states, just how differently might the human race have been if the Romans hadn’t come along? Is there any evidence that some of this thinking about consciousness has been suppressed by conventional science and/or those in power in the centuries since?
“There are times when people are stopping people gaining knowledge about certain things. Maybe it’s the machinery or the routes of the matrix that keep us thinking about things in a different way. At some point I think this system crashes because the construction doesn’t take you through this any more, and at these times, as in the 60s and as in other former times, it emerges. It’s not a thing of the Romans to have blocked something, but it was just the time.”
“It’s well known to researchers that complex institutions lose their main interest. They are built for protection, just like a human organism. So our governments - all the governments are doing all the same things in their way. They’ve lost track with their primary intent and are now trying to regenerate themselves, but that’s not something unnatural - that’s totally in our nature.
By suppressing all things which are unwanted but are otherwise part of the human constitution will not remove them, but will make them uncontrollable. The question is how to deal with that. There is something going on in the world now which is extremely interesting.”
If there ever truly was a ‘world order’, you can bet your life that any media commentator prone to cliche is currently going out of their way to say how much it has changed. And you can bet your life again that a large portion of the audience will have no faith in the truth of that media commentary anyway. Engelbert goes on:
“The people are trying to virtualise themselves and that might be a kind of collective reaction, a fear reaction to the feeling that we are on the brink of a change consciousness. A change of consciousness where we are realising what we always thought were facts are not true.
People like Donald Trump shows us nobody believes in anything anyway. Even if people say something’s untrue the response can be ‘yeah, but it doesn’t matter’.”
Could this perhaps be a positive? If the world’s leaders are so openly making it up as they go along to suit their short-term ends, at least the public know what the rules are. There is surely a limit to how much power anyone can have if nobody believes them.
“Imagine a clever psychotherapist as the US president instead of Donald Trump?,” Engelbert suggests. “It’d be like Clockwork Orange!!”
‘Clockwork Orange’ really could not sum up better what the scene looks like when you walk into a room when someone’s in the middle of a session on the Lucia No3. On second thoughts, ‘Clockwork Orange goes to the dentist’ is probably even more accurate. Engelbert is a bit more comfortable with a different analogy:
“I would say the lamp is just a kind of portal which opens and it’s totally up to you… what are you looking for when you cross that portal? Are you looking for something nice and beautiful which you would want to enjoy, or is it that you are interested in a special question like ‘what will happen when I die?’ Then you can use that portal to research that question for yourself.
The best thing is to play for yourself and believe nobody! Because nobody knows what they’re talking about as soon as they start to talk about the brain. Be sure of that!”
In one fell swoop Engelbert has dismissed the validity of the entire interview; not that he really cares. After an hour’s conversation with Engelbert and Dirk you realise just how much joy they take from the vagaries of it all. To them the machine is a mere conduit for someone else’s amusement or study, not a solution in itself. And yet, almost by accident, it is beginning to provide solutions.
Stay tuned for part 2 of the series, where we explore how musicians can use the machine to enhance the creative process.
Fancy going for a trip on the Lucia No3? Dirk & Engelbert’s UK partners Mount Analogue will be exhibiting it at About Balance in Brighton from April 22-23, and Breaking Convention in Greenwich from June 30 - July 2.