In the throes of a psychedelic experience, it’s easy to get caught up in the visuals. Easy to get lost in the fractal patterns, breathing surfaces and strange, shifting textures that pervade the tripper’s world. Colors are more vivid by orders of magnitude, surfaces seem more detailed, lights are brighter and the hidden beauty of all everyday objects and beings seems to burst forth like spring blossoms.
But how might that experience feel to someone who has never known color or light? How might someone who was born blind, experience a hallucinogenic drug?
Like a waterfall of music, apparently.
Meet Blue Pentagon, the subject of a recent study, published in the journal "Consciousness and Cognition." Blue Pentagon (which, is sadly, a codename) is a 70-year-old congenitally blind man who performed as a professional rock musician through the '70s. Consequently, he did a lot of drugs, including serious doses of LSD — which were the focus of this study.
Some of Blue Pentagon’s most vivid memories of LSD were of listening to music. Music, he says, became more of a physical sensation than an auditory one.
“During my psychedelic experiences, whenever I listened to music, I felt as if I was immersed in the most beautiful waterfall ever,” he told the researchers. “The music of Bach’s third Brandenburg concerto brought on the waterfall effect. I could hear violins playing in my soul and found myself having a one-hour long monologue using different tones of voices. I remember they sounded extremely unique! LSD gave everything ‘height.’”
Blue Pentagon could physically feel that song — an effect known as synthetic synesthesia. When this happens, the mind is mixing up sensory inputs and people hear color or smell sound. In Blue Pentagon’s case, it was auditory-tactile synthetic synesthesia; he was feeling music cascading over him like water.
It makes sense. Those who have had their own psychedelic experiences know the effects don’t just stop at the visual level. Everything gets trippy: noises, smells, tastes, the feel of things, your own emotions, the meaning of words … all of it takes on an altered, mystical semblance. Partially enhanced, partially distorted.
And for someone who has been blind their whole life, whose other senses have compensated for lack of sight, and in all likelihood, become stronger than normal, that means another world entirely.
“I felt like I was in a fairyland, in a surreal reality where everything I touched was extremely velvety, almost as if it had a very soft patina on top,” he added. “I wanted to feel everyone’s faces so that I could tell each person what I thought of them just by touching their faces. It was a very strange experience as their skin felt so soft, but their eyes, noses and mouths were in some way distorted.”
Blue Pentagon’s testimony is a testament to the incredible powers of LSD to alter the human perception and experience. Even beyond our knowing. Because LSD, and other chemicals like it, touch something far deeper than the six senses; they embellish our awareness in more ways than we could possibly imagine.
And, at least for the congenitally blind subject of this study, that turned Brandenburg concerto #3 into a tangible waterfall. One that drenched him in psychedelic beauty.