I Don't Need Drugs, I'm High on Light, Baby
Welcome to a future where you can trip balls without pissing away precious serotonin.
Last Sunday, instead of getting drunk and fat on beer and roast dinner at the local pub, I headed off to Islington to trip balls in the back room of the Candid Arts Centre. However, there were no drugs involved. Instead, I tweaked my third eye using stroboscopic light stimulation, which sent me on a visionary journey into the cosmic mind-hole.
This crazy experience was delivered to my brain by a piece of apparatus called Lucia No. 3, a device that consists of a lamp surrounded by LEDs that hangs off the end of a pole, which the participant sits in front of with their eyes closed. The device is hooked up to a computer which controls the patterns of light that mind-fuck your brain onto some other plane of existence. This psychedelic light machine is the work of Dr. Dirk Proeckl (neurologist and psychologist) and Dr. Engelbert Winkler (psychologist and psychotherapist), who have teamed up with Maria Lopes to form Traveller Unlimited – an experiential art project where you are the artist. It’s a bit like doing drugs, but without the comedown and achy jaw.
The author, tripping the fuck out
The device works by affecting alpha brain waves and stimulating something called the pineal gland – so called because it looks a bit like a pine cone (srsly) – which is located in the centre of the brain. The pineal gland, which is functionally and anatomically linked to other centres of the brain, reacts to both the intensity and rhythms of the light, triggering a visionary reaction – akin to rushing on pills – in the person’s mind.
In the experience I had, you wore headphones with trance-like (naturally) music playing to drown out external noise. After a few moments of closed eyes and darkness, I could suddenly see bright colours and formless shapes whizzing past: Orange-tinged geometric designs, a pyramid, some microscopic organisms or particles that I couldn’t quite make out, along with other structures and psychedelic palaces streaming past my peripheral vision. This went on for 20 minutes while I wondered if I’d be stuck like this forever, but then it ended and I was back in the room with my fellow astral travellers asking how it went. “Wow,” is all I could muster.
Afterwards, Dr. Proeckl suggested I might have experienced some form of synaesthesia (the condition of seeing music as colour), which would account for all the bright colours I "saw". Supposedly, each experience is different depending on the user. One woman said she felt like her brain had been literally sliced open and exposed to the world.
The pineal gland is a strange part of our brain and it has been linked with the esoteric third eye, which has been written about in every mystical tradition – Gnostic, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shamanism, etc, etc. Advanced yogis are able to use it, and it’s supposed to suspend our linear notion of space-time. It has therefore been associated with extra-sensory perception and a whole bunch of other super powers. If this all sounds a bit hippy-ish, that’s because it hasn't really been explored by many people who don't do this mystical stuff on the regs while listening to The Doors and wearing sandals. But, from what I experienced, I'd say that the skinheads, the clergy and the mobile phone salesmen are really missing out.
The association of the pineal gland with the mystical third eye is more than just symbolic, as it’s considered that the pineal cells share a common ancestry with the retinal cells of the eye. In certain reptiles and living fossils, like the lamprey, a parietal “third” eye is still present, usually in the middle of the head.
What Winkler and Proeckl have created is a piece of technology that uses the harmonics of flickering light to act like a cross between drugs, meditation and a video game. This allows you to peer through those doors of perception and witness the nondualistic visions of a higher state of consciousness, just like in that acid trance track by Josh Wink from the 1990s.
Dr. Proeckl and Dr. Winkler have been studying the effects of light on humans for some time, testing it out on their clients. The first Lucia was a hacked coffee machine with the inner parts removed and some lamps and electronics put in instead. They also knew that light had played an important part in those mystical traditions of yore. People had been getting mad-crazy high off light for centuries.
The small event I went to on Sunday, which featured no more than five people including myself, is part of their quest to find out more about how the device affects people. Just a small part of the device’s journey from therapy machine to artistic tool and onwards to something the Daily Mail can get shit-scared about.
Photos by Maria Lopes.