(design/edited Leo Edelstein and Yanni Florence, associate editor Judith Elliston)
Pataphysics Magazine Interview with Karl Jansen
from the Psychomilitary issue
Pataphysics: What led you to research the effects of ketamine?
Karl Jansen: I have always been fascinated by the interface between brain and mind, and the amazing things that happen near and at the interface such as the near-death experience. That ketamine can induce a near-death experience, and provide apparent access to the quantum sea, is very exciting.
P: When did you first have ketamine? How would you describe that experience?
KJ: I had a motorcycle accident in India in the 1980s. It was in the south, while I was doing a grand tour of the Hindu temples and mountain caves. They still make those single-cylinder Enfields down there, the old kind that you see in WWII films. The roads are about that old too! Anyway the bike disappeared into a big hole in the road and I had a spontaneous near-death experience of a classical kind: rapid movement through the plumbing of the Universe, coming out into the Light, unspoken communication with the Light about my existence... then I came back. It wasn't long after that that paramedics arrived and gave me a big shot of ketamine-they use it a lot there in situations like this. Wham! I was back having the near-death experience again. It was the same space alright. Later I thought: I have to know more about this drug and what it does.
P: In your recent book, Ketamine: Dreams and Realities, you discuss the potential of ketamine to create spiritual/religious feelings in the user via their near-death experiences. Have you felt any shift of this type since having ketamine?
KJ: Ketamine certainly has the potential to generate spiritual experiences while people are affected by the drug. Whether those experiences have a lasting effect on beliefs about the Universe, Life and Death is a separate question. There are certainly some people who report persisting changes in outlook, but we don't have the figures to say how many, what type of persisting changes, and how long those changes last. We're in the realm of anecdotes here, although researchers are 'closing in' on ketamine here and there. Some ask the question 'is it schizotypy or is it spirituality?' Schizotypy is a medical/psychological word for 'magical thinking,' i.e. it labels this type of thinking as 'schizophrenia-like.' There are some recent papers in a journal called Addiction noting that some ketamine users have an increase in 'schizotypy.' That's probably not what you have in mind though. Now your question is about me personally. It's difficult to answer for n = 1 because there are so many uncontrolled variables. The most 'para-normal' experience I ever had didn't involve any kind of substance. It was during holistic massage. That resulted in some fairly persistent changes in outlook re. certain types of complementary medicine. However, those changes in outlook have worn off in some respects lately. I was recently in Atlanta, giving a speech at a conference there. The conference was called 'Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?' and was sponsored by the Secular Humanists, CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) and the Skeptical Inquirer. Many of the books sold there were from CSICOP. I read some of those books and found myself convinced by some, although not all, of their arguments. They take things too far, and I cannot support the easy dismissal of fetal memory, for which fact scientific evidence continues to grow. I shared a platform with Raymond Moody, author of Life after Life. I went to Atlanta thinking that I really didn't disagree with some of Moody's stuff, and if they were expecting a hot debate they would be disappointed. However, Moody had gone to Atlanta thinking the same about me! He has, in fact, largely abandoned the position he may have held implicating that the NDE is evidence for life after death, and has now taken up a more rationalist/secular humanist position-that is why they asked him to speak. The whole conference was preaching to the converted-they hadn't invited any spiritual/religious people at all! My belief in pre-birth memories was regarded as a heresy in this environment. But I haven't changed my mind about those, and am confident that as we learn more about the fetal brain, science will support the concept.
P: John Lilly once described himself as being a visitor in the palace of his mind. In relation to his use of ketamine & flotation/isolation tanks, what do you see as the significance of Lilly's 'excess'? Have his experiments & writing been influential on your investigations?
KJ: John's experiments and writings have certainly influenced my investigations at many points. He made tremendous but deceptively simple contributions to our understanding of the mind and how it constructs a sense of reality, sacredness and meaning. On a more prosaic level, I also learnt a great deal from him about ketamine dependence, and the pitfalls that can beset the self-experimenter. The significance of Lilly's excess? I agree with John's echoes of the ancients that we should start with the Know Thyself injunctions, but I doubt the wisdom of discovering ourselves by self-dissection and destruction. John himself was sometimes aware of the issue that his experiments interfaced with personal masochism at many points. What he called scientific exploration and 'exploring the parameters' looked like deliberate self-harm to many of us. Sometimes he had insight into that. His psychoanalyst told him that his idea about putting thousands of micro-electrodes into his own brain was frankly masochistic. In later years, after the ketamine binges written about in The Scientist, John became addicted to cocaine, and this too was presented as an acceptable excess as it was an exploration of the relationship between Freud's use of cocaine and his sexual theory (see the interview in my book). At one point that 'experiment' involved John hammering his penis to the wall during a cocaine binge. It's hard to say whether adventures over-the-edge tell us what's out there for everybody, or just tell us about one person's dreams. I certainly don't think there are Earth Coincidence Control Offices. Still, at the end of the day John lived longer than many clean-living risk-averse folks, and we were sorry to see him shuttling off the mortal coil at last.
P: Within an increasingly ruptured capitalist epoch, does ketamine provide a key into a discarded human telepathic potential?
KJ: Ah, we wish! But the facts... what are the facts? There isn't any sound evidence to support that view, just personal opinions and anecdotes. I suspect that John Lilly might answer 'yes' to that one, if he were still with us. So far, the telepathic experiments carried out under sensory deprivation-like conditions (the Ganzfeld experiments) have not convinced me. I can recommend a book called The Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal by Kendrick Frazier. I am personally doubtful that such telepathic potential will be shown in properly designed and controlled experiments. It is very easy to be led astray by one's own experience of the world, for the 'inside' to become the 'outside,' but take that process too far and you are on the path to self-deception, and beyond that madness...
P: Do you feel that the shaman figure might emerge in the West at present?
KJ: The shaman figure has always been with us, in recognized or unrecognized form, although that particular term is not always used for the role. Right now some DJs act as shamen-they have all the ancient aids: all-night gatherings, trance dance, substances, and the beat, beat, beat of the drums, and the flash of lights like the fires on the beaches and in the jungles...