Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Ultimate Skeptic's Head Trip (Part 3)

I'm at the third psychedelic post of prose which has spewed forth from my fingers. If you haven't read the first two, you may want to:
` I've spent most of Part 1 focusing on common misconceptions about psychedelic (literally "mind-expanding") drugs, and some of their effects on one's senses and sense of self, etc. -- although I did let Jennifer Ouellette do most of the talking.
` Part 2 is my own lengthy overview about some of the reasons why skeptics would find psychedelics interesting (including their roles in religion, art, and science), along with some of my strange encounters with people who seem somewhat 'on the inside, looking out'.

Since time has been short for writing, I've been exploiting material I've written over the previous months and expanding it into blog post form.
` This third post has actually taken a little work because it is a complete bastardization of the other two bits of psychedelically-themed emailage that I sent to the same person. The first involved some commentary on two articles that two different people had sent me links to in early July, which I read before getting back to packing up my stuff into storage.

That's when I went to The Amazing Meeting 2014 for science and skepticism (with minimal fear and loathing) in Las Vegas -- this time sleep-deprived in advance! Good thing there were plenty of opportunities to rest from all the chaos!
` As usual, my rambling around was quite mind-altering, from chats with myriad skeptics at the South Point to backstage with Penn and Teller at the Rio. It left me feeling almost energized, in a excitingly drained sort of way.
` I even spent much of my time seeking out people who found all this mind-bendingness fascinating. Even Captain Disillusion (who as I understand is from some kind of continuum), seemed spellbound by how they affect individuals and culture.
` With my podcast recorder, I interviewed various people about mentalism (Jonny Zavant), hypnosis (Matt Baxter) and psychedelics (with a neuroscientist whose name you probably wouldn't recognize), amongst other topics and skeptic-type folk.

I had also interviewed my email recipient before I had turned more of my podcasting interests towards such mind-bending topics. As I was back to podcast editing again in my new chaotic environment, I found a reason to send him one last email.
` This, then, is my lovely bastardization, which, like the original, starts out with my commentary on an article sent to me from Mind Unleashed called, Scientists Studied What Psychedelics Do to the Brain, and it's Not What You've Been Told.
` It refers to this placebo-controlled study, which shows that long-lasting psychological growth and increased openness can indeed be achieved with proper psychedelic therapy, particularly after a relatively high ego-dissolving dose.
` I recommend reading both. In the article, my eye was caught by such paragraphs as:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Ultimate Skeptic's Head Trip (Part 2)

This is the follow-up to a post/email containing a presentation by Jennifer Ouellette on psychedelics research, as well as a few words on ignorant criticism of said research by so-called skeptics.
` If you haven't seen it, please do, I'll wait. :-)
` This time, I even left in the questions that I originally directed at the email recipient, and since those have gone unanswered, I leave them to my readers here to ponder and comment on:

As I've said, psychedelics are like the ultimate skeptic's drug, and were once more openly popular among scientists for expanding their imaginations and problem-solving abilities:

Francis Crick, according to those who survived him, discovered the double helix by using his LSD-expanded mind as something like a molecular CAD program. Kary Mullis said that he probably would not have invented PCR without the use of LSD.

Many other visionaries, such as Steve Jobs, Richard Feynman and John C Lilly, all considered LSD an important part of their lives and work. Really. I even just found an article about it. (And noticed that Jennifer Ouellette gave it a +1.)

I'm curious to know your probably-snarky thoughts on this method of scientific theorizing and modeling.

Similarly, many great philosophers and artists were into these drugs for the opportunity to stretch their minds in a way impossible to do otherwise.

That changed when masses of hippies began stretching their minds in criticism of the Nixon Administration, which responded by banning "those dirty hippie drugs". This also shut down the work of psychedelics researchers and sought to ruin it for hip people in general.

In her interview on Skeptic's Guide at NECSS, Jennifer did mention her own mind-stretching trip, although I'm not sure if she brought it up much otherwise. Greg Dorais directed me to another interview, on Science for the People.

Starting at minute 32, Ouellette talks about how she went from being not into drugs other than alcohol to being "that person at the party", and described what it was like.

She also explains about how psilocybin (which is similar to LSD) apparently reduces the filtration of the senses (making them more vivid), as well as reducing self-concepts. As she points out, "Part of constructing one's mind and perception is imposing restraints on what you can perceive."

Strangely, the ego or self is something one doesn't notice until one no longer senses its weight around one's consciousness. And what is the "I" that is experiencing the world with the ego cast off like some coat?

It is awareness, without the social matrix programming stretched across one's perceptions. Without that part of our self-process, we can see zen-like, as through new eyes. Dozens of new eyes. I've learned there is a lot to this:

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ultimate Skeptic's Head Trip (Part 1)

Now that I have a chair and some amount of privacy for the moment, I can continue, then persist. Although there are The Amazing Meeting posts in the works, I already have a backlog of pre-existing material.
` I actually emailed a version of this post on June 7, to a skeptical activist who was both at Skepticon 5 and seems to be afraid of using any substance besides the mind-narrowing drugs caffeine and tobacco:

"Psychedelics aren't good for escapism. They're going to make you think."

"That is the shocking and revelatory thing that people experience with psychedelics. We have this unconscious feeling that we have always been who we are, and we don't realize that we are just a construct."

-- Robin Carhart-Harris

You have mentioned your fascination with Heather Berlin's talk at NECSS, about how one's involuntary processes can decide to say, pick something up, before your voluntary mind does so. Thus, I was wondering if you'd seen this talk by Jennifer Ouellette while you were at Skepticon 5.

I've just run across the video of it where she talks about the drugs that allow one to see one's own deep, unconscious processes weave into a narrative of a self. I thought that if you hadn't seen it before, you might find yourself drooling in five dimensions.

I most appreciate the fact that Ouellette dispels a lot of cultural myths about psychedelics, spread by the mass media, etc, while at the same time describing some of their actual effects, science, and history. It's good to know that I'm not the only one with this interest!

I count myself among those in the skeptical community who might call psychedelics the ultimate skeptic's or thinker's drug, because of the way they engage one's critical faculties, creativity, self-concept, and create various experiences which point to the roots of spiritual beliefs.

The truth is, many scientists, artists, and philosophers have credited psychedelics for inspiring their work, and this doesn't surprise me. Plus, as Ouellette describes, these drugs seem to have real potential for various medical uses, including preventing or breaking the cycle of substance abuse.

Bafflingly, certain others of the skeptical community insist that these drugs cannot be used in most of this research, including (as Ouellette experienced) in studying the self construct. These same people have apparently never even read about this research, and are happy to continue with their ignorance.

You'd think more people who label themselves skeptics would be jumping at the chance to clear up all these misconceptions and promote the facts, as skeptics are supposed to do. Yet at the same time, some others seem more interested in perpetuating the myths.

These particular people will roll their eyes if I say there are no cases of brain damage, addiction or death directly from LSD, yet won't bother searching for case reports to disprove me.

If I tell them about psychedelic synesthesia that allows one to "look" at one's own mind (and perhaps even brain structures!), these same people would just dismiss that as pseudoscience without even checking to see whether their assumption makes sense.

Though these "skeptics" aren't exercising their critical thinking faculties, they tell me that I am the one who needs to be more skeptical!

Interestingly, although many skeptic and atheist activists love discussing the world's religions, few of them seem to know that there are religious texts and clear pictures showing that magic mushrooms were used in churches, temples, etc.

If you've never heard of any of this, then you will find my next post to be a strange trip indeed: I will continue my own overview of this subject and discuss some of the more bizarre false ideas I've heard about psychedelics, including ones from so-called skeptics.

Although I was very interested in the squarely-outside perspective of the person I sent this email to, I never got any response. If anyone else would like to comment on this post, and on Ouellette's discussion, I would very much appreciate it!

Or maybe you would prefer to check out the strange trip of Part 2 before commenting...

Monday, August 4, 2014

There's so much I need to catch up on, where to start? How about...

Not only is my computer currently connected to the internet, but it's fast enough to access my unpublished drafts -- for months I was worried that they had been erased because the 'posts' page wouldn't load up. I can't say how often I will have a stable connection, but when I do, it makes blogging so much simpler.*

There's so much to write about, including my trip to The Amazing Meeting, what I've learned about hypnosis, the crazy drama coming at me from all angles, and what I've been doing to avoid losing my mind and being without a place to live or transportation.

My daily life in an 8-person dwelling continues to be rough, but at least I don't have to maintain a sizeable grow-op while preventing the death of an incoherent, abusive partner who emotionally blackmailed me out of blogging, taking care of my health, getting out of the house to save my sanity, contacting other people to maintain my counterstories, etc.

As far as writing goes, I'm so overwhelmed with material and may need a while to pick through my blog drafts and notes in order to figure out the optimal next post.

Believe it or not, it was Karl Kruzelnicki who got me to realize that I need not feel ashamed of needing to take so long to write anything, and that this is not a sign of some 'mental illness' as I was led to believe.

And so, I am standing up, with my laptop balanced at just the right height for my hands to type without straining the tendons in my wrists.

It's strange what posture does to one's mind -- I've spent the past year and a half doing physical rehab for injuries I've had most of my life, and it's done wonders for my attitude!

For example, one's glutei maximi are supposed to be around the side of grapefruits, but mine (on the citrus glute scale) were the size of a lemon and a lime in 2012. Walking and standing were always a struggle, even with an hour of cardio a day, because I was building up the wrong muscles!

Atrophied glutes are literally the center of my foot/ankle/hip/shoulder/neck problems, and building them up to normal size allows me to stand up and walk straight, with hardly any limping or cowering. When my muscles are firing more normally, I don't feel the emotional instability, fear and defensiveness because I'm not struggling to hold myself up physically.

My left foot can now plant almost normally, as long as I keep grinding the deforming callus off, and that keeps my hips and knees at the right angles. But enough of that nonsense!

Anyway, I'm standing now because I refuse to sit down to write, simply because all the seats and chairs around the house are little more than one foot high, and I can no longer tolerate sitting either with my knees crunched up or my legs stretched across the floor -- it has both musculoskeletal and emotional effects.

Yes, it is possible to stack objects on top of chairs, however it is difficult to maintain my balance, especially since the chairs are not level. If I'm going to sit, I need to have my feet flat on the floor and to be able to sit up straight like I teach my muscles to do every day in rehab.

Speaking of rehab, I'm about to leave to get a new gym membership. When I get back, I'll continue writing, but about things other than my ass making me feel empowered.

[Edit: August 9th I found a chair on the side of the road that's of the right height, and isn't even broken, so enough with all this standing nonsense! My feet are much happier as well. :-) ]

*My normal methodology is to either start by researching on the internet, or to start writing about something I have been learning about otherwise until I run into uncertainty. Then, I do more internet research until I realize how unimaginative and inaccurate my post would have been if I had just kept writing without bothering to learn more.

Basically, I alternate between writing and checking until my original post has been massively re-written for both accuracy and interestingness. Whilst I'm doing this, I copy and paste a lot of links, photos, quotes, and add other formatting, which is a real chore to type in manually when I'm getting it from another form of internet access.

Such as my iPhone, which has a very slow 3G connection and won't load up half the websites I want to look at. But wait, Spoony, didn't you get a Galaxy tablet that you said you would be using to surf the interwebs while homeless? Yes -- and I've never been able to connect it to the internet!

So yes, while it is possible to type up a blog post on a word processor that isn't directly connected to the internet, it's vastly simpler and easier when it is. Especially when my brain is addled from my living situation -- hence I spend a lot of time away from the house!