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A psychonaut (from the Greek ψυχοναύτης, meaning literally a sailor of the mind/soul) is a person who uses altered states of consciousness, intentionally induced, to investigate his or her mind, and possibly address spiritual questions, through direct experience. Psychonauts tend to be pluralistic, willing to explore mystical traditions from established world religions, meditation, lucid dreaming, technologies such as brainwave entrainment and sensory deprivation, and often psychedelic drugs (entheogens). Because techniques that alter consciousness can be dangerous, and can induce a state of extreme susceptibility, psychonauts generally prefer to undertake these explorations either alone, or in the company of people they trust. Therefore, they are averse to using altered consciousness in a social or "party" context. Psychonauts generally regard the latter sort of use as irresponsible and dangerous.
Goals of psychonautic practices may be to answer questions about how the mind works, improve one's psychological state, answer existential or spiritual questions, or improve cognitive performance in everyday life.
Additional recommended knowledge
The term "psychonaut"
While some psychonauts abstain from psychoactive drugs and discourage their use, others encourage it, and the term "psychonaut" is often misinterpreted as implying frequent drug use. Most psychonauts maintain that their use of altered consciousness is different from social or recreational use, and their use may or may not have a religious or spiritual significance to them.
According to Jonathan Ott, the word psychonaut was originally coined by the German author Ernst Jünger.
Use of the term
Psychonaut is a modern term used to describe one who uses trance technologies and, more specifically mind-altering substances, more for their ability to act as entheogens than for their inebriating (or social) effect. In effect, they are used as a means to achieve states of mind in which different perceptions, unhindered by everyday mental filters and processes, can arise. Psychonauts believe that when a mind-altering substance is used with this intent, its effects can be life altering and are not mere hallucinations. An alternate description is that while some aspects of the experience may be hallucinatory, the realizations caused by those hallucinations and the mental, emotional and long term impact of the experience are real, usually positive, and enduring.
The term is often associated with neoshamanic practices; however, many distinguish between the mental exploration of the psychonaut and authentic, healing-oriented shamanic practice.
Associated concepts, technologies, and practices
Psychonautics may be considered an attempt to generate a user's manual for the human brain. Unlike psychology, which is concerned with understanding other people, psychonauts are more concerned with understanding themselves, and the process of self exploration; accordingly, they engage in direct exploration of themselves and their own thought processes.
As such, psychonauts seek to experientially understand mental process and functioning and employ such knowledge in their activities. Key to this is auto-modification of brain wave frequencies, which can lead to quite distinct perceptual states; a detailed examination and understanding of one's own thought processes, habits, and beliefs is also sought. Hallucinatory states, drug-induced or otherwise, are seen as a form of subliminal symbolism or as a real but distinct reality; as with other processes of the mind, psychonauts seek to understand these. These states often simultaneously dissociate the mind from the ego and offer a subjective view of one's mental processes. Psychological theories and concepts are also often taken into account, particularly those of Carl G. Jung and Abraham Maslow.
This is also ideally practically applied in bettering one's self through the knowledge of one's own thought processes; with this understanding and heightened perception of one's own internal dialogue, it is thought that one is more able to control his own ego, and detach oneself from what is seen as a herd mentality common to modern culture.
Mythical archetypes and concepts
Psychonauts, as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, place emphasis on various mythical archetypes and concepts, believing that these are useful to coming to understand one's own thought patterns and the nature of existence, reflecting realities and meanings that should be understood, rather than being irrelevant fantasy. As in shamanic practice, the Axis mundi is often employed, often overlaid with chakras and other relevant concepts of bodily function; the Kabbalist Tree of Life and its chakra-like sephirot is one notable example of this in mythology. The nature of karma is often explored in trying to understand one's own situation, actions, and relation to the outside world.
Psychonauts are often interested in metaphysics, the branch of philosophy dealing with the ultimate nature of reality or existence; it is thought that in coming to some understanding of how the universe functions and the nature of existence, one would be better able to govern themselves accordingly and integrate their life experiences.
Technologies and practices
The technology and practice most often associated with psychonauts is the use of psychedelic drugs for mental exploration. The method of use varies widely; such usage is often (but not always) entheogenic and informed by traditional shamanic uses of psychedelic drugs and rituals surrounding such usage.
Some psychedelics and dissociatives commonly used by psychonauts include:
Though avoided by most modern psychonauts, certain species of the Nightshade family have been used for psychoactive purposes throughout human history. The most common of these is Datura stramonium, which is classified as a deliriant, not as a psychedelic or entheogen. Datura is rarely used by psychonauts because control and lucidity are lost in a delirious state, and the experience is often not remembered. Similarly, psychonauts often prefer to consume salvia via the "quid" method, rather than inducing an intense, short-lived trip associated with smoking extracts. With deliriants like datura, self-inflicted injury and even death are quite common.
Cannabis is often used individually, or in combination with many hallucinogens to amplify and extend the experience.
As dreams are considered by psychonauts to be a window into thought processes, many keep dream journals in order to better remember dreams and further their understanding of their own symbolic internal dialogue. Many attempt to not only remember their dreams, but engage in lucid dreaming, in which one is consciously aware of their state while dreaming.
Certain types of meditation, such as those practiced in eastern religions. This can range from Zen-type meditation where the user focuses on their breath or a koan, or repeating/focusing on a mantra in one's head, as done in some forms of Raja Yoga. Transcendental Meditation is also practiced by some psychonauts.
Ritual is often employed for purposes of grounding and centering one's self, to set one's focus and intentions, and to instill a conception of the significance and depth of psychonautical practice. Repeated use of ritual may also train the brain to associate certain activities and states of consciousness with specific situations, creating deeper experiences and allowing one to more easily enter altered states of consciousness.
Other technologies and practices employed include:
Psychonautic practice, especially when it involves the use of psychedelic drugs, is regarded by some as risky, undesirable, and dangerous. Many mental illnesses (e.g. schizophrenia, autism, narcolepsy, attention deficit disorder, mania) are known to result from altered states of consciousness and thought patterns, and the intentional increase of the brain's pliability is considered by some to increase the risk of mental illness. Long-term use of psychedelic drugs may induce hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, and certain meditation practices can cause a similar condition known as kundalini syndrome. However, as altered-consciousness therapies have proven effective for improving peoples' overall health, the controlled and informed pursuit of at least psychonautic practices is generally considered safe.
Psychonauts tend to be libertarian in social ideology, with a firm commitment to individual responsibility. Therefore, they tend to be risk-averse in comparison to other categories of recreational drug users. In general, they eschew the most dangerous and addictive drugs (e.g. cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin), finding them to be crude, toxic, and devoid of educational value. Since the goal of meditative and psychedlic practice is to disenslave oneself, the use of addictive drugs is clearly contrary to that goal. Additionally, psychonauts are often more likely to use drugs with established shamanic traditions, since they have more evidence of safety.
List of psychonauts
Scientists, philosophers and writers:
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Psychonaut". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.