how to change
(2018) by Michael Pollan
prologue – a new door
the advent of les can be linked to the revolution in brain science that begins in the 1950s, when scientist discovered the role of neurotransmitters in the brain.. to treat a variety of disorders: mental, alcoholism, anxiety, depression.. 50s and 60s seen as miracle drug
acid trips of 60s proved disruptive.. new drugs gave way to moral panics
something unexpected and telling .. beginning of 90s..well out of view of most of us, a small groups of scientists, psychotherapists, and so called psychonauts, believe that something precious had been lost from both science and culture, resolved to recover it..
today – psychedelic renaissance..
specifically, the psychologist felt tha lsd gave her *insight into how young children perceive the world. kids’ perceptions are not mediated by expectations and conventions in the been-there done-that way tha adult perception is; as adults, she explained, our minds don’t simply take in the world as it is so much as they make educated guesses about it..
lsd appears to diable such conventionalized, shorthand modes of perception and by doing so , restores a childlike immediacy and sense of wonder, to our experience of reality as if we were seeing everything for the first time
perhaps doesn’t have to be this way.. we don’t have to be whales in sea world..
imagining how to maintain our *not yet scarmble dness.
what is striking about this whole line of clinical research is the premise that is it not the pharmacological effect of the drug itself but the kind of mental experience it occasions – involving the temporary dissolution of one’s ego – that may be the key to changing one’s mind
habits are undeniably useful tools, relieving us of the need to run a complex mental operation every time we’re confronted aw anew task/situation. yet they also relieve us of the need to stay awake to the world: to attend, feel, think and then act in a deliberate manner. (that is, from freedom rather than compulsion)
if you need to be reminded how completely mental habit blinds us of experience, just take a trip to an unfamiliar country. suddenly you wake up.. and the algos of everyday life all but start over, as if from scratch..
the *efficiencies of the adult mind, useful as the are, blind us to the present moment.. we’re constantly jumping ahead to the next thing.. we approach experience much as an **ai program does.. w our brains continually translating the **data of the present into the terms of the past, reaching back in time for relevant experience, and then using that to make its best guess as to ****how to predict and navigate the future..
one of the things that commends travel, art, nature, work, and certain drugs to us is the way these experiences, at their bes, block every mental path forward and back, immersing us in the flow of a present that is literally wonderful – wonder being the by product of precisely the kind of unencumbered first sight, or virginal noticing to which the adult brain has closed itself (it’s so inefficient)..
what i’m struggling to describe here is what i think of as my default mode of consciousness. it works well enough, certainly gets the job done, but what if it isn’t the only, or necessarily the best, way to go thru life..?
william james: ‘no account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.. at any rate.. *forbid a premature closing of our accounts w reality‘
*focus on cure ios city would do that
perhaps there is value in cultivating a *greater amount of what i’ve come to think of as neural diversity
*yeah.. like a ginorm small amount
neurotribes.. et al
psychedelic.. coined in 1956 (despite the downside of the 60s countercultural baggage).. from greek means simply ‘mind manifesting’ .. which is precisely what these extraordinary molecules hold the power to do
1 – a renaissance
uni of chicago psychiatrist and drug abuse expert harriet de wit tried to address this tension, pointing out that the quest for experiences that ‘free oneself of the bounds of everyday perception and thought in a search for universal truths and enlightenment’ is an abiding element of our humanity that has nevertheless ‘enjoyed little credibility in the mainstream scientific world’.. the time had come, she suggested, for science ‘to recognize thee extraordinary subjective experiences.. even if they sometimes involve claims about ultimate realities that lie outside the purview of science
rick doblin believes fervently in the power of psychedelics to improve humankind by disclosing a spiritual dimension of consciousness we a ll share, regardless fo u religious beliefs or lack thereof. ‘mysticism is the antidote to fundamentalism’
compared w rick, bob jesse is a monk. there is nothing shaggy or uncareful about him.. now in his 50s prefers to do his work out of public view, and preferably from the one room cabin where he lives by himself in the rugged hills n of san fran off the grid except for a fast internet connection..
47 min talk from 2014 – [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuwkDgyIuao]
rolland griffiths 2015 tedmed [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81-v8ePXPd4]
13 min – show mystical type experiences.. bio normal.. why are we wired to have salient/sacred experiences of interconnectedness.. provide basis of ehtical moral code.. i think there’s something about mystical experience tha trelaties intimately to nature of consciousness.. i thin kthie inner knowing is at the core of our humanity.. investigation of this inner knowing can give rise to profound world view shifts.. that most peopel find unimaginatbl.e. .. *a model of how to get there
all 3 of these guys focus.. is showing this spirituality ness from drugs ..scientifically
‘bob jesse is like the puppeteer.. the visionary guy working behind the scenes’ – katherine maclean (worked in roland griffiths’s lab from 2009-2013)
(on me deploying the term ‘recreational use’ at his cabin – inside out house): bob: ‘maybe we need to reexamine that term..typically, it is used to trivialize an experience. but why? in its literal meaning, the word ‘recreation’ implies something decidedly nontrivial.. ‘
this achievement (getting bell labs and at&t to support gays) formed bob’s political ed.. impressing on him the value of working behind the scenes w/o making a lot of noise or demanding credit..
‘the idea that brains create consciousness.. an idea accepted w/o question by most scientists.. is a metaphysical assumption , not a scientific fact’ (dalai lama).. bingo jesse said.. ‘and for someone w my orientation.. agnostic ,enamored of science.. that changes everything’
people feel they have been let in on a deep secret of the universe, and they cannot be shaken from that conviction. as james wrote, ‘dreams cannot stand this test..’
science has little interest in, and tolerance for, the testimony of the individual.. curiously much like an organized religion.. which has a big problem crediting direct revelation too.. but it’s worth pointing out that there are cases where science has no choice but to rely on individual testimony.. as in study of subjective consciousness, which is inaccessible to our scientific tools and so can only be describe by the person experience it.. here phenomenology is all important data. however, this is not the case when ascertaining truths about the world outside our heads..
the problem w crediting mystical experiences is precisely that they often seem to erase the distinction between inside and outside..
by way of these ‘elders’ and his own reading, jesse began unearthing the rich body of first wave psychedelic research, much of which had been lost to science.. he learned there had been more than 1000 sci papers on psychedelic drug therapy before 1965, involving more than 40 000 research subjects.. to treat: alcoholism, depression, ocd, anxiety at end of life.. frequently w impressive results.. but few of the studies were well controlled by modern standards, and some of them were compromised by the enthusiasm of the researchers involved..
of even keen interest to bob was the early research exploring the potential of psychedelics to contribute to what, in a striking phrase, he calls ‘the betterment of well people’..
stanislav grof.. one of pioneers of lsd assisted psychotherapy (esalen institute): ‘psychedelics would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology or the telescope is for astronomy’
Grof is known, in scientific circles, for his early studies of LSD and its effects on the psyche—the field of psychedelic therapy. Building on his observations while conducting LSD research and on Otto Rank‘s theory of birth trauma, Grof constructed a theoretical framework for prenatal and perinatal psychology and transpersonal psychology in which LSD trips and other powerfully emotional experiences were mapped onto a person’s early fetal and neonatal experiences. Over time, this theory developed into what Grof called a “cartography” of the deep human psyche. Following the suppression of legal LSD use in the late 1960s, Grof went on to develop a theory that many states of mind could be explored without drugs by using certain breathing techniques. He continues this work as of 2015 under the trademark “Holotropic Breathwork“.
maté trauma law..et al
at least officially, such workshops ended when lsd became illegal.. grof began teaching instead something called holotropic breathwork.. *a technique for inducing a psychedelic state of consciousness w/o drugs.. by means of deep, rapid, and rhythmic breathing, usually accompanied by loud **drumming..
*maybe try detox.. via self-talk as data.. to get us back to natural state (ie: get the whales out of sea world; get the shell back on the turtle; get us to quit being other people; .. et al to eudaimoniative surplus aka: meadows undisturbed ecosystem]
bob jesse gets invited to meeting at esalen.. (after lsd illegal.. esalen used to plot campaigns).. while there.. learns a groups of therapists and scientists would be gathering in big sure to discuss the prospects for reviving psychedelic research
no one there was taking up the ball – of spiritual potential.. so.. he made a decision to seek a leave of absence from oracle.. and launched council of spiritual practices..
jesse’s council had meeting at esalen 2 yrs in.. decided he should invite outside as well.. invited bob schuster – part of bush and reagan war on drugs
johanson (schuster’s widow on why he would go to that meeting): ‘he was open minded to a fault..he would talk to anyone..’.. like many in the nida community. schuster well understood that psychedelics fit awkwardly in to the profile of a drug of abuse; animals, given the choice, will not self administer a psychedelic more than once.. upon being w him.. reports.. ‘gem of a human being’
he (schuster) had great time.. and also make some key contributions to the group’s deliberations.. ie: warned jesse off of working w mdma.. which he believed as toxic to the brain.. he also suggested that psilocybin was much better candidate for research than lsd… largely for political reasons: fewer people had heard of it.. so no baggage
jesse was less interested in people’s mental problems that w their spiritual well being..
shortly after meeting. schuster gives jesse most important contribution.. telling him about roland griffiths.. ‘the investor beyond reproach.. and a scientist of the first order’..
griffiths had shared w schuster his growing dissatisfaction w science and his deepening interest in the kind of ‘ultimate questions’ coming up in his meditation practice.. led to griffiths and jesse collab on 2006 study of psilocybin at johns hopkins
missing pieced.. most of drug trials griffiths had run involved baboons and other non human primates.. add.. bill richards.. probably has more experience guiding psychedelic journeys in 60s and 70s than anyone alive.. w exception of stan grof..
(bill on how hard it is to describe these spiritual experiences): ‘there are words we need that don’t yet exist.. we’ve got 5 crayons when we need 50 000 different shades’
‘i have never doubted the validity of these experiences’ richards told me.. ‘it’s also what abraham maslow was talking about.. though abe could get there w/o the drugs.. he could just lie down in the backyard and have a mystical experience. psychedelics are for those of us who aren’t so innately gifted’
i think we are all innately gifted w that capability.. but it gets taken out of us thru all the supposed to’s of life.. so we may need the drugs or detox to get there.. but only as a temporary jolt back to our natural state.. (currently we are like whales at sea world.. turtles w/o a shell .. et al)
richards recalls: ‘we would all sit around the conference table talking about how we were going to train the hundreds if not thousands of therapists that would be needed to do this work. (and look, we’re having the same convo again today)
dang.. then i’m not so very hyped about this.. we need something that needs no training..
‘the johns hopkins experiment shows – proves – that under controlled, experimental conditions, psilocybin can occasion genuine mystical experiences. it uses science, which modernity trusts, to undermine modernity’s secularism.. in doing so, it offers hope of nothing less than a re sacralization of the natural and social world, a spiritual revival that is our best defense against not only soullessness but against religious fanaticism. and it does so in the very teeth of the unscientific prejudices built into our current drug laws’..
2 – natural history – bemushroomed
a quotation from william blake that neatly aligned the way of he scientist w that of the mystic: ‘the true method of knowledge is experiment’
everything as experiment
all the experimenting was s man made pills .. made to resemble the natural mushroom.. and lsd that came from natural fungus..
was there some benefit to the mushroom in being able to change the minds of the animals that eat it..?
paul stamets – mycoremediation – his term for the use of mushrooms to clean up pollution and industrial waste.. one of the jobs of fungi in nature is to break down complex organic molecules; w/o them, the earth would long ago have become a vast, uninhabitable waste heap of dead but undecomposed plants and animals..
in his view.. there is scarcely an ecological or medical problem that mushrooms can’t help solve.
on stamets speaking for the mushrooms in the same way that dr seuss’s lorax speaks for the trees..
‘mushrooms are bringing us a message from nature’ he likes to say. ‘this is a call i’m hearing’
the biggest organism on earth is not a whale or a tree but a mushroom -a honey fungus in oregon that is 2.4 miles wide.. stamets contend that the mycelial networks are in some sense ‘conscious’: aware of their environ and able to respond to challenges accordingly..
experiments w slime molds have demonstrated these organism can navigate mazes in search of food – sensing its location and then growing in the direction .. the mycelia in a forest do link the trees in it root to root, not only supplying them w nutrients, but serving as a medium that conveys info about environ threats and allows trees to selectively send nutrients to other trees in the forest… a forest is a far more complex, sociable, and intelligent entity than we knew, and it is fungi that organize the arboreal society..
in recent years the practice of mulching w wood chips has vastly expanded the range of a handful of potent psilocybes.. they now thrive in all those places we humans now ‘landscape’.. gardens, parks, prisons, campuses, courthouses, police stations..
stamets: ‘plants and mushrooms have intelligence, and they want us to take care of the environ, and so them communicate that to us in a way we can understand .. we just need to be better listeners..
‘mushroom have taught me the interconnectedness of all life forms and the molecular matrix that we share.. ‘ – stamets
‘i think psilocybes have given me new insights that may allow me to help steer and speed fungal evolution so that we can find solutions to our problems’ especially in a time of ecological crisis, he suggests, we can’t afford to wait for evolution, unfolding at its normal pace, to put forth thees solutions in time.. let the depatterning begin..
alexander von humboldt (19th cent): ‘nature everywhere speaks to man in a voice familiar to his soul’
stamets.. in the humboldtian mold.. he too is an amateur in the best sense.. self taught.. uncredentialed, and blithe about trespassing disciplinary borders.. he too is accomplished naturalist.. he too hears nature’s voice and it is his imagination – wild as it often is – that allow shim to see systems where others have not.. such as what is going on beneath our feet in a forest.. i’m thinking for ie, of the ‘earth’s internet’ ..’ the neurological network of nature’ and the ‘forest’s immune system’.. three romantic sounding metaphors that it would be foolish to bet against..
what strikes me about both stamets and many of the so called romantic scientists.. is how very much more alive nature seems in their hands that it would soon become in the cooler hands of the professionals.. .. these more specialized scientists (a word that wasn’t coined until 1834) gradually moved science indoors and increasingly gazed at nature thru devices that allowed them to observe it at scales invisible to the human eye. these moves subtly changed the object of study – indeed, made it more of an object..
instead of seeing nature as a collection of discrete objects, the romantic scientists – and i include stamets in their number – saw a densely tangled web of subjects, each acting on the other in the great dance that would come to be called coevolution..
‘everything is interaction and reciprocal’ – humboldt
they could see this dance of subjectivities because they cultivate the plant’s/animal’s/ microbe’s/ fungus’s.. eye view.. perspectives that depend as much on imagination as observation ..
i suspect that imaginative leap has become harder for us moderns to make. our science and tech encourage us in precisely the opposite direction, toward objectification of nature and of all species other than our own.. .. that older, more enchanted way of seeing may still pay dividends..
emerson: nature always wears the colors of the spirit.. ‘
nature does in fact teem w subjectivities – call them spirits if you like – other than our own; it is only the human ego, w its imagined monopoly on subjectivity, that keeps us from recognizing them all, our kith and kind..
huston smith once describe a spiritually ‘realized being’ as simply a person w ‘an acute sense of the astonishing mystery of everything’.. faith need not figure.. maybe to be in a garden and feel awe, or wonder in the presence of an astonishing mystery, is nothing more than a recovery of a misplaced perspective, perhaps the child’s eye view; maybe we regain it by means of neurochemical change that disables the filters (of convention, of ego) that prevent us in ordinary hours from seeing what is , ..
if those dried up little scraps of fungus taught me anything it is that there are other stranger forms fo consciousness available to us, and whatever they mean, their very existence, to quote william james again, ‘forbids a premature closing of our accounts w reality’..
3 – history – the first wave
when feds came down hard on timothy leary in mid 60s hitting him w a 30 yr sentence of attempting to bring a small amount of marijuana over the border in 66.. he turned to marshall mcluhan for some advice.. the country was in the throes of a moral panic about lsd.. inspired in no small part by leary’s own promotion of psychedelic drugs as a means of personal and cultural transformation .. an invitation to america’s children not only to take mind altering drugs but to reject the path laid out for them by their parents and their govt.. including the path taking young men to nam..
marshall’s advice – you must be known for your smile.. confident attitude is the best advertisement
the larger than life figure of leary has also obscured from view the role of a dedicated but little known group of scientists, therapists, and passionate amateurs who, long before leary had ever tried psilocybin or lsd, developed the theoretical framework to make sense of these unusual chemicals and devise the therapeutic protocols to put them to use healing people.. many of these researchers eventually watched in dismay as leary (and his ‘antics’) ignited what would become a public bonfire of all their hard won knowledge and experience
in telling the modern history of psychedelics, i want to put aside the leary saga, at lest until the crack up where it properly belongs.. to see if we can’t recover some of that knowledge and experience that produced it w/o passing it thru the light bending prism of the ‘psychedelic 60s’
hoffer: ‘would a controlled lsd produced delirium help alcoholics stay sober?’
use single high dose lsd session to induce an episode of madness in an alcoholic that would simulate delirium tremens, shocking the patient into sobriety.. in half cases (of 700) – treatment worked
skinner – no point getting into the mind – it was a black bos.. work w psychedelics sparked a revival of interests in the subjective dimensions of the mind
found out.. that volunteers on lsd didn’t experience maddening.. but positive.. ‘being united w whole world’.. also found it mattered where this happened.. setting ness
stan grof found tha under moderate doses of lsd his patients would quickly establish a strong transference .. recover childhood traumas.. give voice to buried emotions.. and in some.. relive birth experiences.. esp if a difficult one
most famous.. cary grant 1959.. had more than 60 sessions and by end declared himself ‘born again.. stripped my ego away’..
peter schwartz eventually realized that ‘everyone in that community’ – referring to he bay area tech crowds in the 60s and early 70s, as well as the people in and around stewart brands’ whole earth network ‘had taken hubbard lsd’…
why were engineers in particular to taken w psychedelics..? schwartz thinking it has to do w the fact that unlike the work of scientists, who can simplify the problems they work on ‘problem solving in engineering always involved irreducible complexity.. you’re always balancing complex variable you can never get perfect, so you’re desperately searching to find patters. lsd shows you patterns..
‘i have no doubt that al th eat hubbard lsd all of us had taken had a big effect on the birth of sv’ – schwartz
whole earth network brand would subsequently gather together (peter schwartz, ester dyson, kevin kelly, howard rheignfold, and john perry barlow) and play a key role i redefining what computers meant and did, helping to transform them from a top down tool of the military industrial complex – w the computer punch card a handy symbol of organization man – into a tool of personal liberation and virtual community, w a distinctly countercultural vibe..
brand thinks lsd’s value to his community was as an instigator of creativity.. one that first helped bring the power of networked computers to people (via sri computer visionaries such as doug engelbart and the early hacker community) but then superseded by the computer themselves.. ‘at certain point, the drugs weren’t getting any better.. but the computers were’ – brand
after his experience at ifas, brand got involved w ken kesey and his notorious acid tests, which he describes a s ‘a participatory art form that led directly to burning man’.. ‘lsd.. gave us permission to try weird shit in cahoots w other people’
ok.. that .. or just freedom to be 5 again..
timothy leary cam late to psychedelics.. by time he had launched the harvard psilocybin project in 60 there had already been a full decade of psychedelic research w 100s of papers and several international conferences.. leary seldom made reference to his body of working.. preferring to give impression tha this own psychedelic research represented a radical new chapter in the annals of psychology..
in 60.. future of psychedelic research looked bright.. yet w/in 5 yrs.. completely shifted.. a moral panic about lsd engulfed america.. what happened..? ‘timothy leary’ is the too obvious answer to that question.. just about everyone i’ve interviewed .. has prefaced his /her answer by saying ‘it’s far too easy to blame leary’.. before proceeding to do precisely that.. ie: flamboyant psych prof w a tropism bending toward publicity.. good or bad.. did grave damage to the cause.. but too.. drug itself moving from lab into culture..
59 leary was hired by harvard.. 60.. began questioning psychotherapy’s effectiveness… leary would often talk off top of head about things he knew nothing about
leary .. at least for first year or two at harvard .. went thru motions of doing science
leary did do some original work theorizing the idea of ‘set’ and ‘setting’..
leary gives lsd to allen ginsberg.. allen: ‘we were going to teach people to stop hating and start a peace and love movement’
62 – controversy around harvard psilocybin project hits newspapers.. turning leary into a celebrity and hastening his and alpert’ departure from harvard.. in a scandal that both prefigured and helped fuel the backlash against psychedelics that would soon close down most research..
upon being thrown out of harvard.. leary and alpert: ‘who control your cortex?’ they wrote in the crimson – which is to say, to students. ‘who decides on the range and limits of your awareness? if you want to research your own nervous system, expand yoru consciousness, who is to decide that you can’t and why..
leary: ‘wer’e thru playing the science game’ (62).. returns to cambridge.. now, leary and alpert were playing the game of cultural revolution
leary plan: ‘to introduce as many american to ‘the strong psychedelics’ as it possibly could in order to change the country one brain at a time. .. would take 4 million lsd users and this would happen by 1969′
actually 2 million by 1969.. had indeed blown the mind of america, leaving the country in a substantially diff place..
leary to prison.. for small quantity of marijuana.. escapes.. then to algeria.. into arms of black panthers.. who confiscated his passport and held him hostage.. he escapes again.. this time to switzerland.. .. luxurious refuge until us govt persuades swiss to jail him.. on to vienna, beirut, kabul.. where he finally seized by us agents and remanded to an american prisons.. now max security and for a time solitary.. but the persecution only fed his sense of destiny..
alpert becomes ram dass.. and writes book – be here now.. 1971
leary: ‘lsd more frightening than the bomb.. the kids who take lsd aren’t going to fight your wars.. aren’t going to join your corporations..’.. did happen.. but almost certainly would have happened w/o ti leary
10 yr long cia experiment .. to discover whether lsd could somehow be weaponized.. .. gone awry
charles grob.. ucla.. 1998.. would play an important role in the revival of research.. ‘by blurring boundaries between religion and science.. w emphasis on set and setting..
so maybe this, then, is the enduring contribution of leary: by turning on a generation – the generation that, years later, has now taken charge of our institutions – he helped create the conditions in which a revival of psychedelic research is not possible..
1966 – find a sympathetic ear.. in senator robert f kennedy whose wife ethel had reportedly been treated w lsd .. but kennedy got nowhere.. leary and the drugs themselves had made drawing such distinctions impossible..
turns out that the events of neither 1966 nor 1976 put an end to psychedelic research and therapy in america.. moving now underground, it went on, quietly and in secret..
1979.. old men reminisce.. leary, osmond, cohen, stolaroff, harman, and hubbard..
4 – travelogue – journeying underground
what after all is the sense of banality or the ironic perspective, if not two of the sturdier defenses the adult ego deploys to keep from being overwhelmed – by our emotions, certainly, but perhaps also by our senses, which are liable at any time to astonish us w news of the sheer wonder of the world..
not yet scrambled.. ness
getting back to being 5 again..
if we are ever to get thru the day, we need to put most of what we perceive into boxes neatly labeled ‘known’ to be quickly shelved w little thought to the marvels therein, and ‘novel’ to which , understandably, we pay more attention, at least until it isn’t that anymore. a psychedelic is liable to take all the boxes off the shelf, open and remove even the most familiar items, turning them over and imaginatively scrubbing them until they shine once again w the light of first sight.. . it seems to me there is great value in such renovation, the more so as we grow older and come to think we’ve seen and felt it all before
unless. . we totally live differently.. or rather.. back to naturally.. ie: ginorm smaller; slower; .. so that wonder doesn’t overwhelm and we don’t feel the need to box things.. (i think most of that comes from supposed to‘s and whales in sea world.. et al..
so yeah.. perhaps psychedelics as temp placebo.. but not needed once we detox ourselves back to ourselves..
it didn’t last, however, and in time i gre disappointed tha tthe experience hadn’t been more tansformative..
it’s because it has to be all of us at once.. ie: a leap
these so called bayesian inference (probability) serve us well most of the time, speeding perception while saving effort and energy, but they can also trap us in literally preconceived images of reality that are simply false..
it turns out that bayesian inference breaks down in some people: schizophrenics and according to some neuroscientists, people on high doses of psychedelics drugs, neither of whom ‘see’ in this predictive or conventionalized manner. (nor do young children who have yet to build the sort of database necessary for confident predictions)
perhaps confident predictions are a disturbance to undisturbed ecosystem
this raises an interesting question: is it possible that the perceptions of schizophrenics, people tripping on psychedelics, and young children are, at least in certain instances, more accurate – less influenced by expectation and therefore more faithful to reality – than those of sane and sober adults..t
spot on man.. unscrambled is our natural state..
crazywise et al
could it be there is another ground on which to plant our feet
indeed.. we have to get out of sea world
to cultivate this mode of consciousness, w its exceptional degree of selflessness (literally) requires us to transcend our subjectivity or – it comes to the same thing – widen its circle so far that it takes in, besides ourselves, other people and , beyond that, all of nature.. now i understood how a psychedelic could help us to make precisely that move, from the first person singular to the plural and beyond. under its influence, sense o four interconnectedness – that platitude – is felt, becomes flesh. though this perspective is not something a chemical can sustain for more than a few hours, those hours can give us an opp to see how it might go. and perhaps to practice being there..
it seemed doubtful i could maintain my grip on this outlook for the rest of the day, much less the rest of my life, but it also seemed worth trying
totally could if it was all of us.. because of the interconnectedness.. has to be all of us to work..
5 – the neuroscience – your brain on psychedelics
(esp Robin and Alison bit and carhart-harris entropy law)
‘if the only way we can access the unconscious is via dreams and free association.. we aren’t going to get anywhere.. surely there must be something else’.. he asked his prof if that something else might be a drug.. his prof sent him to read a book called realms of the human unconscious by stanislav grof..
carhart harris thinks that psychedelics render the brain’s usual handshake of perception less stable and more slipper.. he suspects that there are moments during the psychedelic experience when confidence in our usual top down concepts or reality collapses, opening the way for more bottom up info to get thru the filter.. but when all that sensory info threatens to overwhelm us, the mind furiously generates new concepts (crazy or brilliant, it hardly matters) to make sense of ait all – ‘and so you might see faces coming out of the rain..
‘that’s the brain doing what the brain does’ – that is, working to reduce uncertainty by, in effect, telling itself stories..
by adulthood, the brain has gotten very good at observing and testing reality and developing reliable predictions about it that optimize our investment of energy (mental and otherwise) and therefore our chances of survival
really? i don’t buy that
uncertainty is a complex brains’ biggest challenge, and predictive coding evolved to help us reduce it.. in general the kind of precooked or conventionalized thinking this adaptation produces serves us well. but only up to a point
i don’t think it serves us well at all.. only serves whales in sea world well .. at least.. so far as it keeps them there
precisely where that point lies is a question robin carhart -harris and his colleagues have explored in an ambitious and provocative paper titled ‘the entropic brain: ..’ the question at its heart is, do we pay a price for the achievement of order and selfhood in the adult human mind.. the paper concludes that we do.. while suppressing entropy (in this context a synonym for uncertainty) ..the brain ‘serves to promote realism, foresight, careful reflection and an ability to recognize and overcome wishful and paranoid fantasies’ at the same time this achievement tends to ‘constrain cognition’ and exert ‘a limiting or narrowing influence on consciousness’
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEsc0j0kmqI – 30 min convo in 2017]
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZIaTaNR3gk – 16 min tedx 2016]
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9vNDRGveYs – 1 hr w russel brand 2017]
14 min – on what we have to bring to this indigenous practice.. ability to break it down to understand it
52 min – on hearing other’s stories – seeing thru their eyes
53 min – rosalind on connectedness..
1:02 – one common theme coming out of this.. ‘oh my.. my self was a construction.. built up.. not actually real’.. once that happens.. common thing is .. seeing us as all one
for all his ambition his affect is strikingly self effacing and does little to prepare you for his willingness to venture out onto intellectual limbs that would scare off less intrepid scientists
the entropy paper asks us to conceive of the mind as an uncertaitny reducing machine w a few serious bugs in it.. the sheer complexity of the human brain and the greater number of different mental states in its repertoire (as compared w other animals) make the maintenance of order a top priority, lest the system descend into chaos..
? maybe it should..?
magical thinking (a much more anarchic – no rules – form of primary consciousness.. from long ago) is one way for human minds to reduce their uncertainty about the world.. but it is less than optimal for the success of the species
success defined in what way..?
a better way to suppress uncertainty and entropy in the human brain emerge w the evolution fo the default mode network.. carhart harris contends.. a brain regulation system that is absent or undeveloped in lower animals and young children.. along w the default mode network, ‘a coherent sense of self or ‘ego’ emerges’ and w that the human capacity for self relection and reason.. he calls this more highly evolved mode of cognition.. secondary consciousness.. pays deference to reality and diligently seeks to represent the world as precisely as possible’ in order to minimize ‘surprise and uncertainty (ie entropy)’
the article offers an intriguing graphic depicting a ‘spectrum of cognitive states’ ranging from high entropy mental states to low ones.. at the high entropy end .. he lists psychedelic states; infant consciousness; early psychosis; magical thinking; and divergent or creative thinking. at the low entropy end.. he lists narrow or rigid thinking; addiction; obsessive compulsive disorder; depression ; anesthesia ; and finally, coma.
wow – that’s huge
carhart harris suggests that the psychological ‘disorders’ at the low entropy end of the spectrum are not the result of a lack of order in the brain but rather stem from an excess of order. when the groves of self reflective thinking deepen and harden, the ego becomes overbearing. this is perhaps most clearly evident in depression, when the ego turns on itself and uncontrollable introspection gradually shades our reality..
carhart harris believes that people suffering from a whole range of disorders characterized by excessively rigid patterns of thought – including addiction, obsessions, and eating disorders as well as depression – stand to benefit from ‘the ability of psychedelics to disrupt stereotyped patterns of thought and behavior by disintegrating the patterns of [neutral] activity upon which they rest’
so it may be that some brains could stand to have a little more entropy, not less..t
this is where psychedelics come in by quieting the default mode network, these compounds can loosen the ego’s grip on the machinery of the mind, ‘lubricating’ cognition where before it has been rusted stuck..
‘psychedelics alter consciousness by disorganizing brain activity’ carhart harris writes.. they increase the amount of entropy in the brain, w the result that the system reverts to a less constrained mode of cognition..
‘it’s not just that one system drops away’ he says ‘ but that an older system reemerges’ @RCarhartHarris .. t
that older system is primary consciousness, a mode of thinking in which the ego temporarily loses its dominion and the unconscious , now unregulated, ‘is brought into an observable space’.. this, for carhart harris is the heuristic value of psychedelics to the study of the mind, though he sees therapeutic value as well.
worth noting that carhart harris does not romanticize psychedelics and has little patience for the sort of ‘magical thinking’ and ‘metaphysics’ that they nourish in the acolytes – such as the idea that consciousness is ‘transpersonal’ a property of the universe rather than the human brain.. in his view, the forms of consciousness that psychedelics unleash are regressions to a ‘more primitive’ mode of cognition.. w freud, he believes th tat the loss of self, and the sense of oneness, characteristic of the mystical experience – whether occasioned by chemistry or religion – return us to the psychological condition of the infant on its mother’s breast, a stage when it has yet to develop a sense of itself as a separate and bounded individual..
for carhart harris, the pinnacle of human development is the achievement of this differentiated self, or ego, and its imposition of order on the anarchy of a primitive mind buffeted by fears and wishes and given to various forms of magical thinking.
while he holds w aldous huxley that psychedelics throw open the odors of perception, he does not agree that everything tha comes thru that opening… is necessarily real.. yet.. he also believes there is genuine gold in the psychedelic experience..
too much entropy in the human brain may lead to atavistic thinking and, at the far end, madness, yet too little can cripple us as well.. the grip of an overbearing ego can enforce a rigidity in our thinking that is psychologically destructive.. it may be socially and politically destructive too, in that it closes the mind to info and alt points of view
in one of our convos.. robin speculated that a class of drugs w the power to overturn hierarchies in the mind and sponsor unconventional thinking has the potential to reshape users’ attitudes toward authority of all kinds; that is the compounds may have a political effect. many believe lsd played precisely that role in the political upheaval of the 1960s
‘was it that hippies gravitated to psychedelics, or do psychedelics create hippies..? nixon thought it was the latter.. he may have been right’ .. robin believes that psychedelics may also subtly shift people’s attitudes toward nature, which also underwent a sea change in the 60s.. when the influence of the dmn declines, so does our sense of separateness from our environ..
‘the brain operates w greater flexibility and interconnectedness under hallucinogens’ (a high entropy brain)
when the brain operates under the influence of psilocybin.. thousands of new connections form.. linking far flung brain regions that during normal waking consciousness don’t exchange much info.. in effect, traffic is rerouted from a relatively small number of interstate highways onto myriad smaller roads linking a great many more destinations.. the brain appears to become less specialized (ie: talking mostly w/in silos) and more globally interconnected, w considerably more intercourse, or ‘cross talk’ among its various neighborhoods..
the increase in entropy allows a thousand mental states to bloom, many of them bizarre and senseless, but some number of them revelatory, imaginative, and , at least potentially, transformative..
entropy in brain supplies diversity of raw material on which selection can then operate to solve problems and bring novelty in to the world.. .. and aid to creativity.. to thinking outside the box..
franz vollenweider has suggested that the psychedelic experience may facilitate ‘neuroplasticity’.. but so far .. all highly speculative
carhart harris argues in the entropy paper that even a temporary rewiring of the brain is potentially valuable.. esp for people suffering from disorders characterized by mental rigidity.. disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility – entropy – in which more salubrious (health giving) patterns and narratives have an opp to coalesce ..t
am thinking.. a case for no training.. ness
the idea that increasing the amount of entropy in the human brain might actually be good for us is surely counterintuitive
to me.. very intuitive..
most of us bring a negative connotation to the term: entropy suggests a gradual deterioration of a hard won order, the disintegration of a system over time.. certainly getting older feels like an entropic process – a gradual running down and disordering of the mind and body.. but maybe that’s the wrong way to think about it.. robin’s paper got me wondering if, at least for the mind, aging is really a process of declining entropy, the fading over time of what we should regard as a possible attribute of mental life..t
certainly by middle age, the sway of habitual thinking over the operations of the mind is nearly absolute, by now, i can count on past experience to propose quick and usually serviceable answers to just about any question reality poses, whether it’s about how to soothe a child or mollify a spouse, repair a sentence, accept a compliment, answer the next question, or make sense of whatever’s happening in the world..
who says any of those are working.. not to mention.. good even if they did
w experience and time, it gets easier to cut to he chase and leap to conclusions – clichés that imply a kind of agility but that in fact may signify precisely the opposite: a petrification of thought
indeed.. whales in sea world..
a flattering term for this regime of good enough prediction is ‘wisdom’
a false term
reading robin’s paper helped me better understand what i was looking for when i decided to explore psychedelics: to give my own snow globe a vigorous shaking, see if i could renovate my everyday mental life by introducing a great measure of entropy and uncertainty into it..t.. to see if it wasn’t too late to skip out of some of the deeper grooves of habit that the been-theres and done-thats of long experience had inscribed on my mind
today we can do that.. for/with 7 bn – ie: 1 yr to be 5 ness..
one of the most interesting things about a psychedelic experience is that it sharpens one’s sensitivity to one’s own mental states, esp in the days immediately following.. the usual seamlessness of consciousness is disturbed in such a way as to make any given state – mind wandering, focused attention, rumination – both more salient and somewhat easier to manipulate..
if the neuroscientists are right, what i’m observing in my mind (spectrum ranging from contraction to expansion) has a physical correlate in the brain: the default mode network is either online or off; entropy is either high or low.. what exactly to do w this info i’m not sure yet..
1 yr to be 5 ness.. wake us up.. more highs (so to speak).. meaning.. more wonder, wandering.. whimsy.. eudaimonia
by now , it may be lost to memory, bu tall of us , even the pyschedelically naive, have had direct personal experience of an entropic brain and the novel type of consciousness it sponsors – as a young child..
1 yr to be 5 ness
baby consciousness is so diff from adult consciousness as to constitute a mental country of its own, one form which we are expelled sometime early in adolescence..t
is there a way back in?..t
yes.. today.. we have the means to facil the chaos simultaneously while detoxing/reseting us
would allow all of us to leap/reset in sync
talk to me man.. we can get to a nother way (our natural way) to live
the closest we can come to visit that foreign land as adults maybe during the psychedelic journey.. this at least is the startling hypothesis of alison gopnik.. who happens to be a colleague of main at berkely
alison and robin come at problem of consciousness from what seem like completely diff directions and disciplines, but soon after they learned of each other.. they struck up a convo that has proven to be remarkably illuminating.. at least for me.. in april 2016.. their convo wound up on stage at a conference on consciousness in arizona.. where they met for first time
both offer ‘altered state’.. that in a number of respects is a strikingly similar one.. she (alison) cautions that our thinking about the subject is usually constrained by our own restricted experience of consciousness, which we *naturally take to be the whole of it..
not naturally.. schooled to take it that way
she calls ‘professor consciousness’ .. ‘the phenomenology of your avg middle aged prof’
all of us really..whales in sea world..
‘if you thought , as people often have, that this was all there was to consciousness you might very well find yourself thinking that young children were actually y less conscious that we were’.. because both focuses attention and self reflection are absent in young children.. gopnik asks us to think about child consciousness in terms of not what’s missing from it or undeveloped but rather what is uniquely and wonderfully present – qualities that she believes psychedelics can help us to better appreciate and.. possibly.. re experience
cure ios city.. as detox
adults – spotlight/ego consciousness of adults.. .. w a point/goal.. vs lantern consciousness of children.. attention more widely diffused allowing the child to take in info from virtually anywhere (by this measure, children are more conscious than adutls, rather than less)..
being *inexperienced in the way of the world, the mind of the young child has comparatively fewer priors, or preconceptions, to guide her perception down the predictable tracks. instead, the child approaches reality w the astonishment of an adult on psychedelics.. t
rather.. *inexperienced in the ways of sea world.. huge diff
gopnik believes that both they young child *(5 and under) and the adult on a psychedelics have a stronger predilection for the high temp search; in the quest to make sense of things, their minds explore not just nearby and most likely both ‘the entire space of possibilities’..t
these high temp searches might be inefficient.. higher rate of error.. require more time/energy.. yet there are times.. only way to solve a problem
actually.. if we let go of all the supposed to’s.. (this isn’t a mechanical/efficeincy problem) .. we’d have the time/energy.. (not to mention the regenerating energy from living this way) to ie: follow our whimsy/wonder.. everyday
meadows undisturbed ecosystem
gopnik has tested this hypothesis on children in her lab and has found that there are learning problems that 4 yr olds are better at solving that adults.. these are precisely the kinds of problems that require thinking outside the box..
rather.. that require thinking.. once you have a box.. not so much thinking.. as looking for right fits
ie: kids getting calaculus thinking.. ie: mathematical thinking .. more than hs/college/prof
the short summary is, babies and children are basically tripping all the time
high on life.. as we all should/could be
6 – the trip treatment – psychedelics in psychotherapy
tom insel: it doesn’t surprise me at all.. that the same treatment should show promise for so many indications..
andrew solomon traces links between addiction and depression.. as well as between depression and anxiety..
robin.. a first stab at a unified theory of mental illness .. a happy brain is a supple and flexible brain, he believes; depression, anxiety, obsession and the cravings of addiction are how ti feels to have a brain that has become excessively rigid or fixed in its pathways and linkages – a brain w more order than is good for it..
the therapeutic value of psychedelics, in carhart harris’s view lies in their ability to temporarily elevate entropy in the inflexible brain, jolting the system out of its default patterns..
epilogue – in praise of neural diversity