Unity and interconnectedness

Self Excited Circuit by John Archibald Wheeler
This symbol depicts the universe as a self-excited circuit. It was originally created by the late theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler in his 1983 paper Law Without Law. The eye represents the self and the line directly opposite represents that which it is perceiving within the external environment. The two sections are connected into each other via arrows to demonstrate that it is a singular and unified system.

Unity and interconnectedness refers to a feeling in which one's sense of self becomes temporarily expanded to include one or more concepts or systems that would not typically be included within one’s sense of individual identity. For example, this effect can cause a person’s sense of identity to include their surrounding environment, the universe as a whole, or an object they are interacting with. The resulting feeling of unity or interconnectedness may then often feel extremely profound and also inextricable to the person experiencing it.

This experience is frequently interpreted as the removal of an illusion that there ever was a genuine separation between the self and the surrounding environment. The destruction of this illusion is then often described as some sort of profound “awakening” or “enlightenment.”

Feelings of unity and interconnectedness most commonly occur under the influence of psychedelic and dissociative compounds, such as LSD, DMT, ayahuasca, mescaline, and ketamine. However, they can also occur during well-practiced meditation, deep states of contemplation, and intense focus.

Levels

There are four distinct levels of unity and interconnectedness a person can experience. These levels are presented below and are organized from least to most complex.

Level 1

Unity between specific external systems

At the lowest level, this effect does not induce unity between the person’s self and a previously external system, but instead can be described as a perceived sense of unity between two or more things which are usually perceived as separate from each other within the external environment.

There are an endless number of ways in which this level can manifest, but common examples of the experience often include:

  • A sense of unity between specific living things, such as animals or plants and their surrounding ecosystems.
  • A sense of unity between other human beings and the objects they are currently interacting with.
  • A sense of unity between any number of currently perceivable inanimate objects.
  • A sense of unity between humanity and nature.
  • A sense of unity between literally any combination of perceivable external systems and concepts.

Level 2

Unity between the self and specific external systems

At this level, unity can be described as a feeling that one's identity has come to include a specific external system or concept within the immediate environment, particularly those that are currently the subject of a person's attention. This creates a sensation of becoming inextricably "connected to", "one with", "the same as", or "unified" with whatever the perceived external system happens to be.

There are an endless number of ways in which this level can manifest itself, but common examples of the experience often include:

  • Becoming unified with and identifying with a specific object that one is interacting with.
  • Becoming unified with and identifying with another person or multiple people. This is particularly common if they are engaging in sexual or romantic activities.
  • Becoming unified with and identifying with the entirety of one's own physical body.
  • Becoming unified with and identifying with large crowds of people. This is particularly common at raves and music festivals.
  • Becoming unified with and identifying with the external environment, but not the people within it.

Level 3

Unity between the self and all perceivable external systems

At this level, unity can be described as feeling as if one's identity includes the entirety of their immediately perceivable external environment due to the perceived loss of boundaries that had previously separated the individual from the things around them. The effect creates a sensation that a person has become "one with their surroundings.” It creates the compelling perspective that someone has become their environment, and this conscious environment is now experiencing itself through the point of view of the person’s individual sensory awareness.

It is at this point that a key component of the high-level unity experience becomes extremely noticeable. Once a person's sense of self has become attributed to the entirety of their surroundings, their experience of interacting with those surroundings is fundamentally transformed. For example, when a person is typically interacting with a physical object, it feels as though one is a central agent acting on the separate world around them. However, while undergoing a state of unity with the currently perceivable environment, interacting with an external object commonly feels as if the whole unified system is autonomously acting on itself without a central, separate agent operating the process of interaction.

Level 4

Unity between the self and all known external systems

At the highest level, this effect can be described as feeling as if one's identity is simultaneously attributed to the entirety of the surrounding environment and all known concepts that exist outside of it. These known concepts typically include all of humanity, nature, and the universe as it presently stands in its complete entirety. This feeling is commonly interpreted by people as "becoming one with the universe".

When experienced, the effect creates the sudden perspective that one is not a separate agent approaching an external reality, but is instead the entire universe as a whole experiencing itself, exploring itself, and performing actions upon itself through a specific point in space and time, specifically, the person experiencing the effect. People who undergo this experience commonly interpret it as the removal of a deeply embedded illusion, with the revelation often described as some sort of profound “awakening” or “enlightenment.”

Many reported experiences of level 4 unity and interconnectedness share common themes of a religious and metaphysical nature, which are often interpreted as profound realizations. These are described and listed below:

  • The sudden and total acceptance of death as an aspect of life and existence. Death is no longer felt to be the destruction of oneself, but simply the end of this specific point of a greater whole, which has always existed and will continue to exist and live on through everything else in which it resides. Therefore, the death of a small part of the whole is seen as inevitable and not worthy of grief or any emotional attachment.
  • The subjective perspective that one's conception of "god" or “godhood” is identical or similar to the nature of existence and the totality of its contents, including oneself. This typically entails the intuition that if the universe contains all power (omnipotence) and all knowledge (omniscience), is the creator and sustainer of existence, then the universe and its contents could also be understood as "god".
  • The subjective perspective that one, by nature of being the universe, is personally responsible for the design, planning, and implementation of every single specific detail and plot element of one's personal life, the history of humanity, and the entirety of the universe. This naturally includes personal responsibility for all humanity's sufferings and flaws, but also includes its acts of love and achievements.

Further reading

Similar accounts of the experience of unity with the universe and the apparent illusory nature of the self can be found across a surprisingly large variety of independent religious, philosophical, and psychological sources. A number of these have been collected and listed as a set of documented examples below.

  • Oneness is a philosophical position arguing that there is only one thing which all things are not separate from and that it works together as a unified system of behaviour.
  • Dialectical monism is a philosophical position arguing that the appearance of duality arises from the mind's need to impose divisions and boundaries upon an essentially unified whole. Thus, for the dialectical monist, reality is ultimately one, but can usually only be experienced in terms of division.
  • Aztec philosophy was to a large extent based on the concept of teotl, a unifying life-force which created the entire universe from itself, through itself, for itself, by itself. While seemingly separate, all things, including living beings, were ultimately merely facets of teotl, and were essentially one. The Aztec culture was also known to be heavily permeated by use of psychedelics and other entheogens, from which these views might originate.
  • Oceanic feeling is a state within psychology which is described as a sensation of an indissoluble bond of being connected with the external world in its integral form.
  • Nondualism is a philosophy found within many religions which states that there is no difference between the concept of the external environment and the self.
  • Alan Watts is a philosopher who spoke extensively about the illusory nature of the self. His lectures can be found for free on the YouTube . His book “The Book on the Taboo of Knowing Who You Are” is dedicated to a formal explanation of the philosophies and logic behind this perspective and can be found within the form of a free PDF.
  • Samadhi is a Buddhist concept described as a state of mind in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object.
  • The Ego-Tunnel: The science of the mind and the myth of the self is a scientific book that discusses the concept of an illusory self from the perspective of modern neuroscience and psychology.
  • The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts and cosmonauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface.
  • How LSD Makes Your Brain One With The Universe - NPR.org
  • Sam Harris: The self is an illusion - YouTube

Personal Commentary

Without any question or hesitation, I undoubtedly believe that this particular transpersonal effect is by far the most important and significant state of mind the psychedelic experience has to offer. I have been fascinated by this effect for around a decade now and first came to learn of its existence as a teenager through the numerous first hand accounts given to me by my close friends. This effect was further solidified in my mind as something of extreme significance after I found the works of Alan Watts through his philosophical lectures and writings. I then proceeded to dive headfirst into meditation and obsessively contemplating the supposedly illusory nature of the self on a daily basis. I even found that on more than one occasion, I could lead people into experiencing states of high level unity by simply saying the right words to them during heavy psychedelic trips.

However, despite my borderline obsession with this subjective effect and its associated philosophical frameworks, I found that no matter how heavy a dosage of a psychedelic I consumed, I could never experience this state of mind for myself. This led me to the conclusion that regardless of how common an occurrence this effect was for many other experienced psychedelic users, my extreme fascination with it must be the exact thing that is preventing me from experiencing it for myself. This caused me to inevitably let my guard down for what was to come. Approximately two years later while under the influence of ayahuasca, I spontaneously found myself undergoing a state of level 4 unity for the first time in my life. This happened on two separate occasions within a month and, at the time, were by far the most profound and lifechanging psychedelic experiences I had ever undergone in my entire life.

In the years after these two experiences, I have since undergone states of unity on two other occasions, both of which were under the influence of 4-HO-MET and also less than a month apart. These experiences seemingly came out of nowhere and I cannot for the life of me understand or figure out any causal factors or correlations behind the triggering of this state of mind. As far as I can tell, it seems that certain individuals are much more prone to it than others, but almost everybody will inevitably experience this if they trip regularly enough over a long period of time. It does not seem to be dependent on the dosage or the psychedelic in question, although set and setting seems to be at least somewhat of a factor. Situations involving beautiful nature, deep contemplation, and philosophical conversation can often cause it to come about, but not in a reliable or reproducible fashion. It therefore seems that states of unity and interconnectedness must arise organically and out of a situation in which the person either comes to a conclusion of their own accord, or perhaps where some subconscious process of the mind is allowed to independently arise in an autonomous manner.

At this point, I cannot deny that I personally believe the common conception of a separate self is merely a construct of human perception. In fact, I would go even further and state that based upon my extensive research, this widely held position is both philosophically and scientifically justifiable. However, I want to make it clear that I do not have any desire to convince people of that here. Instead, I simply aim to document the subjective experience of this perspective in a manner that is as comprehensive and reasonable as possible. This is with the hope that people far more intelligent than me can someday use this article as a template for furthering our collective understanding of this profound and absolutely fascinating state of mind.


Tags

cognitive
psychedelic
transpersonal state

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