It could be said that the ruling human tendency in the past few decades has been one of improving communication. From more and more innovative phones to social media, and from video calls to virtual reality, so much time and effort have gone into enhancing the way we communicate with each other, and the way we express ourselves to be understood in an authentic way.
Technology has gone a very long, amazing way in this area. New, awe-inspiring innovations that defy imagination come to light constantly. The possibilities seem endless.
All of this fascinates Jason Silva, famed Venezuelan-American TV personality, filmmaker, futurist and speaker, who recently shared a new, awe-inspiring innovation with us: Cybernetics. That is, the overlap of psychedelics and cybernetics. And if you struggle to understand how those two can go together, don’t worry: it gets confusing before it becomes very, very clear – and exciting.
Technology Is Psychedelic
Before going further, let’s get to know Silva a little, understand what he does best: he describes himself, first and foremost, as an artist and a communicator. “I use digital filmmaking to express myself and to create what I hope to be artful and poetic renderings of deeply meaningful ideas, the kinds of ideas that are intoxicating, that, when we contemplate them, when we entertain them, they are just ravishing,” he explains.
Silva is also a fierce defensor of entheogenic substances, which have fueled and inspired his life and his work. As a matter of fact, he’s been doing this for quite some time: this year marks the ten-year anniversary of this piece, where Silva is referred to as “a young Timothy Leary wormholed into 2012.” The TV personality also discussed psychedelics and cannabis in this same column back in 2019.
With that job description, it’s no wonder he decided to merge two of his passions (psychedelics and technology) into one. Typically, when we talk about psychedelics we not only refer to altered states of consciousness, but also to the expansion of the mind. As for cybernetics, we usually think about computers and digital tech. But how do those two overlap?
“Technology is an extension of human creativity. I think technology is literally psychedelic”, Silva states. “The etymology of the word ‘psychedelic’ is to manifest the mind. Technology is a manifestation of the mind. And we use our tools and technologies to extend our reach, overcome our boundaries and transcend our limitations. This is a narrative that is close to my heart that I’ve been keynoting on for a decade.”
By the way, as Silva points out, this is not a novel idea. John Markoff’s book “What The Doormouse Says”, explores this idea, as does book From Counterculture to Cyber Culture. Both explore the relationship between cybernetics and psychedelia in the 60s, particularly in Silicon Valley. “Psychedelics ended up having this huge influence on how we thought about technology,” Silva points out. “Eventually, we kind of came to see technology and computers as the new LSD”.
Nowadays, we hear more and more often that we are amidst a psychedelic renaissance, a renewed interest in psychedelics and their therapeutic potential. All while technological innovations skyrocket: it’s no wonder some are putting the two together.
“We’ve had these moments in the sixties with psychedelic mind expansion and again in the mid-nineties with cyberpunk, and I think now it’s happening again,” Silva assures. “We are entering a cyberdelic era, where the metaverse is finally rising again: the human dream of sharing mind space with one another, creating a virtual dream space where we can run simulations and test out new ways of running in society and work together in virtual environments.”
More on that later.
Silva’s new project, Cyberdelic Dreaming (alluding, of course, to the famous song “California Dreaming”), has a lot in common with his previous work, where he talks about a subject he’s passionate about with a stream-of-consciousness style. But now he’s spicing it up.
“I get to talk about these things that I’ve already been talking about, but in a way where people are literally seeing what I’m talking about,” he explains. “When I’m talking about the future of technology, or about virtual realities in the metaverse, people are literally seeing the experience happening around me.”
All of this sounds very interesting, surely… but what does it look like? Honestly, like most things related to psychedelic experiences, it’s hard to put into words. And as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
The visuals are actually quite similar to what being on mushrooms feels like (which is a thing filmmakers usually struggle to do well). They are generated with an AI that basically translates what Silva says to images, and blends them with the background or his body. The result is breathtaking, beautiful and definitely trippy.
“I want to pioneer a new visual language for talking about the future of consciousness, the future of creativity, and the future of technology,” Silva shares. Ambitious, right? But not at all impossible.
So, How Does It Work?
While Silva has been transmitting philosophical ideas with visuals for some time now, this visual concept is quite innovative. And the way he arrived at this result was quite serendipitous.
A person who goes by the name “The Hueman Instrument” reached out to him. Silva recalls: “He was fumbling around with some of these generative AI, I think it’s called Disco Diffusion Open Notebook. And he sent me a 45-second clip that he took from my Burning Man rant… When I saw what these videos were generating, I called him immediately.”
He was absolutely awestruck, like the thing he’d been looking for all his life had finally fallen into his hands, unprompted. “I worked with many different editors over the years for my videos, and I’m very hands-on, very specific in how I direct and in what I want my editors to do.”
And, even though the results were great, none of them can compare to this new technology, which allows Silva to express his ideas and thoughts with incredible accuracy and beauty.
“You know, because my videos are ‘stream of consciousness,’ there’s no script. I am bringing something as authentic as possible,” he says. “But when I’m bringing visuals, I want to be very precise about the kind of visuals we use. So when he sent me this 45-second clip, we immediately connected.”
So how does this innovative form of AI work? Silva explains that it’s “pretty similar to how our imagination sees shapes in the clouds. There’s a name for that.” There is, it’s pareidolia. You’re welcome. “The AI will generate images based on elements in the landscape or in the frame. But you have to give it specific prompts so that what it generates is coherent with what I’m saying.”
That’s actually the hard part: the duo has to get very specific with the prompts. In that regard, Silva shares, “the nature of the prompts is going to be only as sophisticated as the nature of your education.”
But even after having accomplished such a unique feat, Silva still wants to take this innovation further. And he will, thanks to technological breakthroughs like VR, AI and other acronyms.
“People talk about virtual reality as the manifestation of the psychedelic dream of sharing our consciousness with one another,” he explains. And that is exactly what he’s set out to do.
“Eventually, it’ll be happening around them,” he continues. “When we go full immersive virtual reality. Imagine a world where we can have VR just like in that cyberdelic video: I’m moving my hands and everything moves like paintings around me, like sorcery, magic. Virtual reality environments where I can give a lecture and everything around me walks and weaves according to my speech. It’s where we’re heading.”
I think virtual reality is going to be a way for us to step into our dreams, just like in movies.
Communicating, Healing And Sharing
Silva’s videos are undoubtedly beautiful, but it would be naive to assume that beauty is his only motivation for making them.
For years now, Silva has been outspoken about his interest in mental health, and particularly in the ways entheogenic substances can help. Big part of this psychedelic renaissance we’re living through has to do with scientific breakthroughs in relation to psychedelics and their applications for a variety of conditions, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and others. These substances might be the key to solving our current mental health crisis.
And Silva is quite passionate about this topic as well. He shares: “I’m very excited about what’s happening in psychedelics and mental health. I think the future of the human psyche is something that needs to be addressed in an era where more people die by suicide than die from natural disasters and armed conflict combined.”
This is why so much of his content is centered around psychedelic healing. “A psychedelic experience can transform your psychology for the better. And yes, now we have a better understanding of the science. We have an understanding of the mechanisms of action. We have an understanding of how these substances work in a way that we can quantify and make the case to the FDA for decriminalization.”
But science is only one aspect of this matter. There is also the spiritual, inner effect, incredibly hard to put into words. Hard, but not impossible, and this is exactly what Silva intends to pursue.
“We don’t always have something that shows how this experience can transform a person from the inside,” he says. “Because that belongs not to science or journalists: it belongs to poets, to artists,to songwriters, to filmmakers. Deeply rich interior experiences, ineffable experiences beyond ordinary language.”
It is this ineffability, this creative challenge, that sparks Silva’s passion. “I am a communicator who isn’t satisfied until I have articulated something seemingly ineffable and established emotional synchrony with you,” he admits. “Like: You’re on my wavelength. You’ve seen my experience. I’ve shared my experience. And I think any musician or artist or filmmaker can relate to that, with wanting to share subjective experience, to share experiences from the inside. That really governs the nature of how I express myself.”
To share, one must be able to make oneself understood with ease. In other words: be accessible. And accessibility was a concern present while developing “Cyberdelic Dreaming.” This is why, for example, we seldom see Silva’s face distorted by the AI.
Silva explains: “The ideas I talk about, some of them can make people nervous or anxious about the future. That’s part of the power of making it accessible: I have to be charismatic. I’m your Willy Wonka! I’m your guide in this magical world.”
Indeed, some people need a little help to get used to this era of exponential change and technological disruption. This gets complicated by the fact that everyone is different: some need a more visual approach, and others may prefer tactile or auditory stimuli. In other words, set and setting apply to many things besides psychedelics.
Take the example of the metaverse, a foreign concept to most people that could use the Cyberdelic Dreaming format as an introduction. To better comprehend this coexistence between physical reality and virtual reality, many will need an accessible tool. And Silva aims to facilitate it.
“There is more and more feeling of chaos and vertigo in the world. Society is being sort of lambasted by just massive disruptions,” he voices. “But most people don’t even understand why. In a world powered by technology, people need to understand the nature of exponential tech, the nature of things like Moore’s Law, so that they have better literacy, to better make sense of these disruptions and potentially leverage them to address the grand challenges of humanity rather than just panicking. Right?”
But the inevitability of change doesn’t particularly scare Silva. On the contrary: it excites him. “I’m always looking for new and artful ways to communicate just how much things are changing and how they might continue to change,” he admits.
Awe And Wonder
So. Silva has concerned himself with making the Cyberdelic Dreaming accessible, beautiful, and meaningful. But that’s not enough for him: he wants it to be awe-inspiring. Because awe, as any old psychonaut can tell you, awe and wonder, are some of the main components of the psychedelic experience. And, many argue, the most important.
“The qualities of beauty and awe and wonder are huge,” he says. “Awe is described as an experience of such perceptual expansion that your mental maps and your limiting beliefs and your assumptions are just obliterated to accommodate yourself to what you’re seeing. It’s like seeing the Grand Canyon or an image of a black hole.”
“I have no frames of reference for this,” he concludes, struggling to find words to describe the concept. Again, ineffability occurs often when dealing with psychedelia.
Nonetheless, psychedelics are still illegal and stigmatized, and most people aren’t really keen on experimenting with them. Although there is one entheogen that is getting more and more popular by the day: good old cannabis. This plant is also capable of inspiring awe, wonder and creativity.
Silva himself is no stranger to this use. “I’ve had many psychoactive experiences, but I would go and say that my primary plant ally is cannabis,” he shares. “I’ve used cannabis intentionally as the psychoactive agent for creativity for two decades. And I think the power of cannabis lies in how it boosts semantic priming. It sort of expands your network of associations. So when you engage with an idea, you come up with all these different associations that are related to it. It’s networked thinking. It turns your brain into a mind map of associations. And cannabis is also associated with increased aesthetic appreciation.”
Indeed, many of us have been initialized in spirituality by this plant. When we are angsty, cynic teenagers, weed makes everything fascinating again. And that sticks with you. That is what awe and wonder are about.
Moreover, Silva actively pursues this sensation, this state of “stupefied amazement”, as he calls it. “I’ve always had this longing to put myself in that state because it brings me back to life,” he adds.
And it is crucial to cling to it. In Silva’s words, “some people might call it mindfulness, but I have a filter of awe and wonder, which is the only way that I can engage with the world. Without that, I become disengaged. And that’s a kind of death.”
But his real ambition is to share that state with others, “because awe and wonder are an antidote to cynicism, to jadedness, even to depression and anxiety, because you’re basically birthing people again, you’re getting rid of their self, of their autobiographical mind, their self models, their maps and machinations, their assumptions. And you’re hurling them into virginal terrain to see something for the first time without the encumbrance of your assumptions. That’s another key goal that I’m aspiring to.”
You were warned: Silva is ambitious. And he’s also confident that his videos achieve this goal, “in a really fresh, new way because you’ve never seen anything like it. I really want people to see them because nobody’s ever seen anything like it. And it just needs to be seen… It really does feel like a kind of sorcery.”
“There’s a great phrase that Erik Davis used to describe, DJs or filmmakers or modern shamans,” he adds. “He calls them ecstatic technicians of the sacred. And so I was like, yeah, that’s what I want to aspire to be. Because we’re employing imagination and technology, consciousness and tech.”
“I haven’t been this inspired in such a long time,” he shares. “And I just want to blast people’s hearts and minds open.”