In his famous song “Imagine”, John Lennon describes a utopian state of freedom and harmony, and he anticipates his audience’s reception: “You may say I’m a dreamer (…).”
„Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.“
The Underestimated Value of Imagination
As states of consciousness, dreaming and imagining certainly have a lot in common. They differ from the normal waking state of consciousness especially concerning the experience of more intense imagery. Generally, when we think about our capacity of imagination, we often think of it as a kind of visual daydreaming – a handy ability mainly utilized by artists and other creative people. We tend to underestimate how crucial our use of imagination is in our everyday life.
In fact we rely on your imagination all of the time in our everyday lives not only when we think creatively, but also when we make decisions. You may decide not to go skiing next week because you heard the bad weather forecast and imagine it to be very cold and nasty in the mountains. Anticipating the cold wind up there in the mountains, you can literally feel a shiver going down your spine. As this example shows, you do not only visually “picture” situations in your mind when you use your imagination; you also imagine sounds, tastes, smells, feelings, or moods. In his seminal book Human.The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique, neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga reminds us how powerful a role imagination plays in our lives:
“Imagination also allows us to time travel. We can go in the future and back to the past. An event may be long in the past, but I can replay it in my imagination from memory. (…) Likewise, I can project in the future. I can use my past experience of an emotion and apply it to future circumstances. I can imagine how I would feel, for example standing at the open aircraft door with a parachute on my back (terror, which I have felt in the past and did not enjoy) and decide I can bypass this adventure.”
Of course, there are more important decisions in life than those about whether we want to go skiing or jump out of a plane. When we make decisions about whether or not to marry our
beloved partner, we might go through several processes of imagination: “Can I see us getting along also in times of a crisis? Do I enjoy the thought of having her on my side as a mother of our children? Will she still make me a better person in twenty years?”
It is easy to see how the capacity of imagination leads to an evolutionary advantage, as the neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran observes:
“When you imagine something – as when you are rehearsing a forthcoming bison hunt or amorous encounter – many of the same brain circuits are activated as when you really do something. This allows you to practice scenarios in an internal simulation without incurring the energy cost or risk of a real rehearsal.“
Briefly, then, imagination is not just a nice-to-have ability mostly developed in creative professionals: we all heavily rely on our imaginative capabilities every day.
The Enhancement of Imagination During a High
It is important to be reminded of the importance of imagination to our cognition itself to understand the importance of the enhancement of imagination during a marijuana high. Many users of marijuana have reported that they have more imagery when reading or thinking about a situation. Also, they can imagine situations much more vividly while high. When Harvard professor Charles Tart send out questionnaires for his psychological study On Being Stoned, many users of marijuana endorsed the following statements for moderate levels of a marijuana high:
“If I try to visualize something, I see it in my mind’s eye more intensely, more
sharply than when straight.“ (…)
„If I try to have an auditory image, hear something in my mind, remember a sound, it is more vivid than when straight.“ (…)
„If I try to imagine what something tastes like, I can do so very vividly.“
„I can experience vivid tactual imagery, imagine what things feel like and feel their texture very vividly in my mind“
As a concrete example, here is one report from a mandolin player in a bluegrass group, who reports that he likes to practice playing high:
„I might smoke before playing. I play in a group, and I’ll sit down and do a couple of hits to put a little edge on while I’m playing. When I’m stoned, I can visualize musical relationships more easily. The other day, I was practicing scales on the mandolin, double lines of scales in intervals. Playing them high, I made more sense out of them, and finally understood when and how they might be useful in my playing.“
(in: High Culture. Marijuana in the Lives of Americans, William Novak 1969)
Why don’t we connect the dots?
Many marijuana users have experienced several enhancements of imagination themselves and have described how they use these enhancements. Some have reported that they can better visualize objects or faces and use this in their artwork, musicians feel that they can better imagine how various instruments work together and use this for musical compositions, whereas other like to get high and start cooking, using the enhancement of their imagination to come up with new ideas for food compositions, imagining how certain spices or herbs would taste with certain vegetables.
I believe that most marijuana users have experienced the enhancement of imagination during a high in some form, but underestimate the incredible cognitive potential of this effect. Why don’t they connect we dots?
I think there are several reasons why we usually underestimate the potential of this imaginary enhancement. First, a still ongoing disinformation campaign that lasted for decades has led us to focus on the risks of marijuana instead of looking at its potential (and many of the risks, as we now know, have been invented by spin doctors). Second, we usually consider imagination only as visual imagination; but as stated above, imagination is much more than that. Third, we tend to look at the process of imagination as a sort of conscious daydreaming and forget that we unconsciously rely on it way more often in our everyday thinking. Also, and importantly, we tend to think more of other psychoactive substances like LSD or psylopsybin when it comes to enhanced imagery and imagination, because they bring full blown visual trips.
Once we understand that marijuana has the potential to enhance our imagination, and how important imagination is to our cognition in general, we can better understand so many reports of scientists, artists, writers and other people who have used this enhancement for various purposes.
Scientists have often described how their imagination helped them to come to solutions to problems and great ideas. One of Einstein’s greatest insights came when he imagined what it would be like to ride on a beam of light, and the chemist Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz saw the Benzene ring in a reverie of a snake biting its tail. The designer Philip Starck reported in an interview how he actively uses his dreams to better imagine and visualize new designs in 3D.
A marijuana high will not turn you into an Einstein, a Kekulé, or a Philip Stark. But it may help you to better imagine situations, objects, smells, sounds, tastes or tactile sensations. If you are able to „ride your high“ and to use this enhancement, it may well help you to make important decisions, to vividly remember crucial events in your life, or to come up with life changing ideas.