People talk about how subtle psychedelic hallucinations can be. As long as your eyes are open, they say, objects may appear different — more vibrant, breathing in and out, or covered with patterns — but they won’t morph into faeries and slithering monsters like they do in the movies. Unless, of course, you take a heroic dose; then anything is fair game.
You can intentionally produce open-eye visuals that are every bit as intense as closed-eye visuals.
The degree to which you hallucinate is within your control. If you’re inexperienced, then the naysayers are usually right — you won’t see tree branches melting into a three-dimensional fractal universe before your eyes. But with practice, anything’s possible.
This is important: You can intentionally produce open-eye visuals that are every bit as intense as closed-eye visuals. That may sound obvious to veteran psychonauts, but there are plenty of people who haven’t learned this yet.
A tarp: The same tarp when you’re on acid:
So, how to hallucinate? In this post I’ll outline one method. It’s easy, and reliably produces open-eye visuals — even without the aid of psychedelics, if you’re patient. I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with the idea, but it seems to be largely unknown or at least underrated.
I present to you, the Perception Scope! The point is to isolate a particular texture, removing its real-world context so your imagination can fill in the details. Basically you section off a tiny corner of the world and let your subconscious mind go nuts with it.
You will need:
- a detailed texture or surface to look at
- music or a soundscape (optional but highly recommended)
- a cardboard toilet paper tube (optional)
- psychedelic agent of your choice, or marijuana (optional but recommended. Only where legal, of course)
- imagination (absolute must)
A note about the signal-to-noise ratio
Your brain is designed to separate signal from noise, always trying to build an accurate model of the world while discarding irrelevant sense-data. We get so skilled at this that we don’t even notice the static — the world appears clear and consistent, in sight and sound and touch.
This exercise aims to maximize the noise so that you can apply your own signal to it. You want to reverse the normal function of the senses, corrupting the signal fidelity by turning up the self-generated “noise.”
One way the brain eliminates noise is to track changes in visual input. During normal waking consciousness, when your eyes are moving around frequently, your brain stays focused on external imagery. But if there are no changes to the visual input — like when you close your eyes to go to sleep, or stare at something for a long time — your brain starts to shift to internally generated imagery, which is dominant in dreaming.
This works for other senses, too. That’s why sensory deprivation tanks cause people to hallucinate sights, sounds, feelings, and even motion through space. We can take advantage of this natural tendency by staring at an unchanging texture, causing the brain to shift towards internally generated imagery.
The Method (short version)
Here are seven steps to start producing open-eye visuals.
Step 1: (Optional) Turn on or get high. Psychedelics are ideal, though cannabis also works. Sobriety is more difficult, but still possible. One of the best times for this method is the tail end of a trip, when you think you have come down.
Step 2 (Optional): Play music or a soundscape of some kind. Put your headphones on and turn it up!
Step 3: Find a suitable canvas. A rich texture is best — pebbles, leaves, asphalt, and fabric are all good examples. If you’re not tripping, a dimly lit environment is preferable. (Candlelight is fantastic.)
Step 4: Assemble the lens. Form a makeshift telescope with one hand and put it up to your eye. Use your free hand to cover the other eye.
Step 5: Relax and free your mind. Point your “scope” at the texture. Let go of labels and categories, and allow yourself to creatively interpret incoming sense-data. Stay loose and suggestible. Expect novel imagery and subtle movements as though they are the most natural thing in the world.
Step 6: Maintain focus. Stare at one point and do not shift your gaze for at least a minute. Patience is key. Visions intensify gradually over time.
Step 7: Adjust the variables. After a few tries, change it up. Get closer or further from the subject. Change the lighting. Use a new canvas. Change the psychoactive agent or the dose.
Too complicated? Just remember the most important part: stare at a texture without moving your eyes. If you stare at something long enough, your brain will start to get creative.
Want to try it right now? Stare at one point on this tree bark for at least a minute, and watch what happens.
Since this is largely a mental technique, I’ll elaborate on the subtleties of each step.
Step 1: Turn on or get high
The Perception Scope is ideal for psychedelic trips, especially on low doses or in the later hours when you’re not seeing much. You may be convinced that your trip is over, but the Perception Scope will show you otherwise. It also works when sober, but more slowly, and with less intensity.
Remember, we are hard-wired to suppress visual anomalies during normal waking consciousness. Like meditation and lucid dreaming, having visions is a skill that improves with practice. Have patience!
Step 2 (Optional): Play music or a soundscape
This encourages creative visual phenomena by giving your imagination a soundtrack to work with. I frequently experience visions that match the music in my headphones. It’s like the most immersive music video you can imagine. And remember, non-musical soundscapes can be even better!
Step 3: Find a suitable canvas
Find an ambiguous texture and rest your gaze upon it. By “ambiguous” I mean a texture whose real-world context is readily forgotten. Almost any detailed surface works: a patch of grass, asphalt, speckled rocks, a leaf, clouds, wood grain, linoleum. You’ll paint this canvas with your mind.
Something translucent and backlit, like a vivid tapestry or curtain with sunshine coming through, can be especially psychedelic. And a bit of depth is good — bark or carpet, for example. Depth lends an extra dimension to the visions.
Some canvases work much better than others. Lying down and looking up at tree branches at night has worked wonders for me. And night or day, drifting clouds can be a revelation!
Once, on mescaline, I stared at sparks rising above a campfire and saw dozens of pink, luminescent jellyfish, floating through the cosmos with streamers trailing behind them.
A note on lighting: The Perception Scope work in any lighting if you are tripping. If you are sober or high on marijuana only, then I recommend dim lighting. The darkness decreases the fidelity of the image, causing your eyes to make creative errors.
Step 4: Assemble the lens
Form one hand into a makeshift telescope and put it to your eye. You want the diameter of the “tube” to be about an inch. I find it most comfortable to touch my thumb to my first two fingers. You can easily adjust the diameter by tightening or loosening your hand.
A toilet paper or paper towel tube works well for this purpose. It’s the high tech version for truly enterprising vision-questers. Extra points if you decorate it!
Now close your other eye, or better yet, cover it with your free hand. I prefer to cover it because squeezing one eye shut gets tiring, and will distract you from the task at hand.
Step 5: Relax and free your mind
This is the meat of the method; the preceding steps are just setup. If you develop this skill enough, you won’t even need to use the “scope,” especially in a dark environment. I’ve gotten to the point where, on a moderate dose of any psychedelic, I can transform my entire visual field into fanciful moving images that are completely unrelated to my surroundings.
Relax, get comfortable, and free your mind. Let go of the need to identify and categorize incoming sense-data. The brick work is no longer made of bricks, just an abstract pattern. The trees become nameless blobs of texture. Forget that you are looking through a tunnel, and let the little circular image become your entire world. New patterns will appear; acknowledge and encourage these visions.
Experience with meditation will serve you well here. If labels cross your mind unbidden — “This is really just a patch of grass!” — don’t get upset with yourself. Let the thought pass, and keep focusing. Leave your mind open to alternative interpretations of the image, like a child looking at clouds. As you embrace these flights of fancy, your mind will fill in the details. The resulting image will wander further and further from concrete reality, released from the tethers of names and categories. With practice, you will actually forget what you are looking at and give in to the visions completely.
Expectation is a huge part of it. Prime your mind to expect movement. Convince yourself that you are looking at some kind of high-resolution electronic display, and that immersive animations are not only possible but commonplace. With this mindset and some patience, every surface can become a personal 3-D movie.
Your job is to turn this… …into this.
Step 6: Maintain focus
You may be tempted to move your eyes around, especially if your mind is running in hyperdrive thanks to a chemical catalyst. Resist the urge! Focus on a single point. Blink rarely.
As any experienced psychonaut knows, patience is key. Hallucinations intensify the longer you stare at something. After a few seconds, the image begins to wobble. Then the textures start to dissipate into semi-transparent layers, stretching and rolling in different directions. Before long all remnants of the actual object are gone, replaced with content straight from your unconscious.
Sober, the process is similar but much slower and less intense. What may take 5 seconds on LSD can take 5 minutes of sober staring.
Once a surface starts to look like a 2D display of moving imagery (like a cartoon or a movie), try to add depth. Try looking through the canvas, or focusing on the space in front of it. In time, the visions evolve into a fully 3D environment.
Let go. If you are comfortable, relaxed, and mentally flexible, you may get so immersed in the experience that you forget your surroundings. As in dreaming, you are reduced to pure awareness, detached from your body and the real world.
One time while hiking in the woods, I stared into a leaf until its countless green cells became a long tunnel of stained glass windows, surrounding me on all sides. When I came back to myself, I was surprised to find myself in the woods again. It’s the same sense of disorientation as waking up from a vivid dream — “Whoa, I’ve been in bed this whole time?” You can lose yourself in a musical-visual experience that replaces reality, all without closing your eyes.
Step 7: Adjust the variables
Visions vary widely depending on the canvas, lighting, “chemical lens,” and your general state of mind.
Try adjusting the “aperture” (diameter) of your scope. As you get the hang of it, you may be able to produce open-eye visuals with a larger field of view, especially in darkness.
If your canvas is something nearby, you can affect the lighting just by moving closer to it. As your hand approaches the surface, it will naturally block out the light and darken the subject. This can be good because our eyes are not well-suited to seeing in darkness, so obscuring the image reduces the signal-to-noise ratio — exactly what you want.
In time, producing visions from ambiguous textures will become second nature (and you will grow less self-conscious about peering through an imaginary telescope). The scope “hardware” will become less and less necessary, until you can dream up fantastic visions with both eyes open.
And make no mistake — perceptual flexibility is a skill, one with real-world applications. Hallucinations are just the beginning. I’ll talk more about what we can learn from our visions in a later post, so stay tuned.
Give it a shot
Now that you’ve got the idea, stare at this tree bark (courtesy of WittyDesign) for a couple minutes. Focus on the center, and don’t move your eyes. If you’re in a dim environment with no movement, you probably don’t even need the “scope,” although it never hurts. If you stare for at least 60 seconds, it should get a little trippy.
When you get it
Does it feel like you’re a kid again, charting unknown territory with nothing but a cardboard telescope and your imagination? Good! The whole point is to unlock the childlike sense of wonder and playfulness that exists within all of us.
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