Breakthrough – Similarities between the plot of contact and the subjectively experienced effect of DMT

In the film Contact (1997) the protagonist Ellie Arroway makes contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence as a part of the SETI project. She gets plans for a construction that makes it possible to travel to their planets. The vehicle is being built and Arroway is allowed to try it out. What she experiences matches in an astounding number of points with anecdotal reports of the effect of n,n-dimethyltriptamine (DMT) on the human mind. DMT is presumed to be contained in all living beings, which means it is an endogenic substance, and it is structurally simpler than serotonin (quasi not much more than an amino acid). At the same time it is the most psychedelically effective substance through exogenic consumption, and evokes visionary states of inconceivable extent. At a high dose, a so-called breakthrough may occur. In this case, the everyday reality is completely abolished and a new dimension is opened up to the respective consciousness. The best analogy would be a very plastic dream. What is this experience of Ellie, which the DMT travelers can also experience? The following points represent her journey in a chronological order.

  • The experience is initiated by a loss of perceived stability of objects in space.
  • The sound of an intense noise comes to mind.
  • Arroway is drawn into a kind of tunnel, which is characterized by impressive coloring and patterns and is passed at high speed.
  • An immediate connection with a higher intelligence is initiated.
  • The tunnel leads to a bright light source. Once the tunnel is passed, the so-called breakthrough has taken place.
  • The universe will no longer be experienced as “out there”, the subject and the object fuse.
  • A kind of space ship is seen by the protagonist, a strange world is experienced.
  • The limitations of time and space are lifted. The protagonist (or at least the audience) has visions of the future.
  • The morphing of the objects in space – here the space capsule – takes extreme proportions.
  • A new world in the form of the alien planet system can be admired.
  • Geometrical dimensions of unimagined beauty are revealed. The protagonist speaks with rapture: “It is so, so beautiful.”
  • The experience is inexpressible and unpredictable, since it does not correspond to the normatively learned usual world. Arroway is amazed: “I had no idea. They should have sent a poet. “
  • The protagonist floats without a capsule in the room. This can be interpreted both as an out-of-body experience and as a symbol of the abolition of duality (Arroway’s mind and the universe as a unit).
  • It lands on a beautiful beach, a locus amoenus, which, on the one hand, exceeds the usual imaginative power and on the other hand is felt as real as an earthly place.
  • Arroway looks at a colored vortex of extreme beauty on the principle of sacred geometry.
  • Her deceased father appears. Two DMT motifs are linked directly to this fact: 1. The establishment of a direct connection to ancestors. 2. The reconnection with traumatic experiences of the past for healing and integration. An equally regular motive of breakthrough experiences is the contact with (subjectively) perceived alien entities. Not infrequently, they are described as endowed with a higher wisdom. This can also be understood as a higher stage of consciousness which communicates with the personal consciousness of everyday life. In spiritual circles such a high level of consciousness is termed as a “higher self.” In terms of classical psychoanalysis, this means that the unconscious in the naked sense and the “I” enter into conscious contact.
  • The aliens are insofar projections of the depths of the own mind. Since the everyday-mind is not able to make sense of it, it interprets the experience as alien.
  • Arroway’s conversation with a form-changing alien corresponds structurally or metaphorically to a conversation between everyday self and “higher self.”
  • The Alien says, “To fill the emptiness we have each other.” The most important message of this conversation is therefore the emphasis of love as a basic principle of a successful life.
  • When the protagonist returns from her perspective, hardly time has passed. From the point of view of other participants, the space experiment has failed. Experienced time and actual time radiate radically from each other. While DMT works in fact only a few minutes, subjects often describe the time experienced as very extended up to eternal. It is hard to believe that only 10 minutes have passed.

It should be noted that such positive experiences with DMT can only be made by those who are willing to let go and surrender to the effect of the substance. The potential reason for so many consistencies can only be explored very theoretically. Perhaps the script writers James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg were inspired by a DMT experience. The film is based on the novel Contact of the astronomer Carl Sagan, who was known for dealing with the “expansion of consciousness” and the opening up of new dimensions in various forms. Possibly, however, the parallels are also based on the fact that the archetypical structure of a radical psychedelic experience is expressed here. Due to the simple chemical structure of DMT, its global occurrence and its boundary expanding and other psychedelic effects, it is not too far-fetched to consider that this molecule plays a decisive role in the conscious living of our world. Intuitively, the film captures the basic structure of the radical visionary expansion of consciousness that causes exogenously administered DMT in high doses. At the end of the film, Arroway must defend their experience against skeptics. A large part of the people who have had a corresponding experience with DMT can identify with her conclusion, and in principle also everyone who has had a corresponding mystical experience: ” I… had an experience… I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision… of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater then ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone! I wish… I… could share that… I wish, that everyone, if only for one… moment, could feel… that awe, and humility, and hope. But… That continues to be my wish.”

Breakthrough in Contact:

Anecdotal reports of a breakthrough with DMT:

Alien-contact and DMT:

Rick Strassman, DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experience. 2001

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