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:

Our normal habits of mind essentially dictate what we tend to notice in the world and what input we tend to ignore. By tuning down the filters, people can suddenly "see" what they've been missing and re-evaluate what they need to pay attention to most.

In this condition, one can also be particularly open to hypnotic suggestions as they watch their self spring into existence. Like a super-hypnotic flow, one can simply toss out harmful and limiting views of things and re-order one's priorities so that one's everyday self can move more freely.

In this way, psychedelics can be likened to a "reset button", which can be used to change one's personality, and can be directed by therapists and cult leaders alike. Not surprisingly, these unique experiences force the brain to spontaneously form new connections, thus breaking hardened neurological habits and creating masses of novel configurations.

Shock therapy works on a similar principle of forming new connections, although that involves a chemically-induced paralysis and coma while having brain-damaging seizures. It's almost as exciting as being dead, I suppose, unless there really are treasures of heaven to behold.

Which brings us to Mushroom Jesus. That's right -- in centuries past, at least some Christians used the holy sacrament of the mushroom in order to commune with Jesus and God. There is much clear artistic and textual evidence -- here are some examples.

There is similarly good evidence that shows many religions around the world -- including Hindu, Buddhist, Egyptian, Greek, Mayan, Aztec, Olmec, etc. -- are based on people's interpretations of what happens when they trip out on psychedelic mushrooms and plants.

Psilocybin, found in many mushroom species worldwide, can expand the mind like a tardis of multi-sensory input -- also known as "the spirit world". In this lucid dream-like state, one can see in many directions at once and even change the shape of their "spirit body".

The Amanita muscaria mushroom, which is common throughout the world and its religions, contains muscimol. This is chemically quite different from psilocybin and the other classical psychedelics, although it is trippy in its own way.

Its effects commonly include growing bigger and smaller like Alice in Wonderland, "spirit body" transformation, gnomes, a state of complete zen, colored clouds moving by, experiencing the "warping" of time and space, following the loop of one's consciousness through "inner space", hearing celestial music, and controlling what one sees through imagination.

I think that both types of mushrooms explain a lot about religion, don't you?

I should probably mention that Jesus is more strongly associated with the red and white amanita -- as are fairies, gnomes, were-jaguars, and Super Mario Bros. Even Adam and Eve are depicted as eating of the spotted red Mushroom of Knowledge.

I'd love to hear what you have to say about this, considering that the only treasure of heaven you've encountered during communion was that disease-infested spoon. I shudder to think what Mushroom Jesus would have to say about that!

Oh yeah, and if you're looking for a good resource about His Fungal Holiness, as well as Mayan amanita enemas, and the Soma of the Rig Veda, you might want to bookmark this website:

Mushroom -- a veritable trip into archaeology!

Now I bet you're wondering what it looks like to be able to peer into your own head from multiple angles at once. This phenomenon ranges from being able to see as on a split screen video game to an all-around sphere of inner vision.

Can you imagine being able to see all the way around, inside your head? Upon opening one's eyes, one's vision can appear as a small patch out in front of oneself for a moment before re-adjusting.

Yes, really. I don't know what that says about one's potential sensory capabilities, but it sounds damn interesting, doesn't it?

And as for what can be seen in this way, it is often described as something like a computer-generated virtual reality world designed by M.C. Escher and Roger Dean. Sometimes, this world appears to consist of more than three spatial dimensions, like some sort of mathematical hyperspace.

In "psychedelic space", one can "see" what appear to be hypershapes the way they would "actually look" in four dimensions. Yes, really. One can also view the same object from more than one angle at once, without the use of Cubism.

As you can imagine, describing all this would be a bit like A. Square going on about the third dimension of "upward, not northward". It cannot be comprehended by those who haven't stepped outside of Flatland.

Also in this wonderland, one can find surreal landscapes, fantastic floating architecture, fractals, and Technicolor patterns that transform and flow like liquid, sometimes revealing multiple planes of visuals as they move.

Amid this churning geometrical world roam "beings" that resemble insects, plants, dragons, aliens, deities, and self-transforming kaleidoscopic "machine elves". These visions are often said to resemble the architecture and artwork from the religions mentioned above, and surely not by coincidence!

Some modern-day artists represent their psychedelic experiences in paintings, much as musical artists represent the psychedelic "spaces" they entered via the careful manipulation of sound.

One of my favorite psychedelic artists is Robert Venosa -- and here's a good representation of his breathtaking and unique art.

Another notable such artist is Alex Gray -- his work is very different in style, but just as stunning.

I'm curious to know -- how would you guess psychedelic drugs have affected these artists' abilities? How do you think their art could be better if they hadn't done those drugs?

In the same vein, I wondered if you had learned much in college about the multi-sensory synesthesia and inner worlds that are evoked by psychedelic music. I'm guessing, not nearly as much as some students. ;-)

If you want your music to have certain qualities, it does help to understand something about its effects on the psychedelic mind.

For example, rhythm can be used to determine the pace of motion in psychedelic space, as well as affect the movement of patterns, which one can both see and feel perturbing the shape of one's "avatar body".

The reverb effects one uses can determine the size and shape of the "hyperspace" surrounding one's "inner eye", whereas musical mood can affect the general atmosphere of that space.

Even the left-right positioning of tracks can become a sort of all-encompasing surround-sound inside of this space: Each track has its own distinct plot in space, and can be heard and even "followed through space" separately from the other tracks.

It's extraordinary to think about what else people have reportedly noticed about music itself from this perspective. If you were somehow in one of Aldous Huxleys mescaline trips, you might think of these effects as creating a most fantastical and abstract "feelie".

It would be as though the music itself is movie film, and one's mind (including one's "astral body") is the projector of these surreal scenarios, looking much like computer graphics as far as the inner eye can see.

Which is, of course, why computer programs can be used to make reasonably "accurate" representations of the visuals that people commonly report.

If you have never seen any videos of such Vonneguttian fractal "machines", this should give you an idea of some of the patterns I'm talking about. You might want to keep it in mind while composing:

Upon viewing this, a few people have flat-out told me that psychedelic visuals could not possibly look that amazing and precise. In actuality, they can look more amazing than that, and without pixellation and glitches -- such is the power of the human computer.

Of course, I'm curious to know what you think of all this synesthesia stuff. Have you spent much time considering its role in composition, psychedelic/progressive or otherwise?

If you've made it this far in the text, give yourself a pat on the back. It's been a hike, I know, and it's about to get even more interesting:

By now I expect you would understand the deepness of my disappointment that many "skeptics'" refuse to even look into articles on this subject, even ones published in Skeptic and Scientific American.

Thus, these so-called skeptics remain thoroughly convinced that "real scientists" are just as uninterested in psychedelics as they are.

I dare say that you would be astonished by the creationist-like level of ignorance and logical fallacies on psychedelics that I have encountered, especially among people who ought to know better.

For example, some people that I've talked to/emailed who identify themselves as members of the skeptical community say that psychedelics research is essentially worthless. One of the most "unusual" questions that any such person has asked me can be summed up as:

"Let's say a psychedelics researcher hallucinates that they were abducted by aliens. Why would you think that those are actual aliens, rather than the effect of a drug? Don't you think it makes more sense to look for aliens in outer space?"

Yes, really. It's incredible the kinds of batshit beliefs one is presumed to hold just for having an interest in this particular topic.

Another one of my favorites is the assertion that it's "unscientific" to study consciousness with psychedelics because: "There is no possible way to learn about normal consciousness by studying the mind in an altered state."

Right, just like it's impossible to study what normal brains do by studying the ones that have damage to certain places or are otherwise altered.

Welcome to the world of stuff that makes me bang my head against the wall!

You probably didn't know there was a world of "psychedelics-deniers" within the skeptical community, did you? For as many skeptics that I find who are particularly keen on the subject, there seem to be others who display creationist-like levels of ignorance and fallacy.

These same people even scoff at the idea of critically looking at one's self-process while not firmly embedded in it. Anyone who believes this is possible, they say, clearly has no idea what drugs can do to people's minds.


Then again, these same people seem to be too afraid to examine their own minds very closely even without drugs. One step at a time, I guess.

I believe the reason for this hostility is because these people have been conditioned with this idea that "drugs are bad, M'kay?" and feel threatened when they hear anything to the contrary.

In fact, they usually feel compelled to inform me of all the horror stories they have ever heard about psychedelics getting out of control, as though I am unaware of the dangers.

I then inform them about the standard "set and setting" protocol used in all psychedelic research, which effectively prevents these situations from happening: Since psychedelics amplify emotions, it is vital to have a positive mindset and to be in pleasant surroundings.

A lot of people wouldn't know that, so they may well take psychedelics in an overwhelming environment, with the wrong people, or in order to "run away" from their troubles -- which one can expect to backfire spectacularly.

Invariably (or so it seems thus far), the person who is so eager to tell me about the horror stories has also never heard of this protocol. Out of ignorance, they guess that it has nothing to do with mainstream psychedelics research, and is just some kooky idea.

The main thing I've noticed among these particular people is a broader fear of losing control. Some of them won't even have one drink because they think it will somehow impair their judgment for the rest of their lives.

I think this is because they have this idea that they are supposed to die with a 'virginal brain', and so they want to make sure they don't ever mess it up. Somehow they seem to think that being a 'drug virgin' makes them more complete as a person.

This includes people who will not hesitate to undergo a chemically-induced coma for surgery, or months of chemotherapy, which does a hell of a lot more damage than a shot of vodka or a hit of any other "recreational" drug. Yet, they will continue to profess this opinion, which puzzles me greatly.

Considering that Oullette has had quite a fun and memorable taste of LSD, I can only imagine her reaction to the smug superiority that some have expressed about this sort of ambition.

It is probably a bit like most people's reaction to deaf people who want to absolutely make sure that they never experience the sensation of hearing before they die.

Such a person's identity is so narrow that they think that having a novel sensory experience would ruin them as a person, or at least would not be worth the trouble, so they just don't want to find out.

Some of these people will even make sure their hard-of-hearing kids never get hearing aids so as to prevent them from the "harmful" influence of the hearing world, etc. etc.

And I would say to them:

Your self-control has really gotten out of control, to the point where it's controlling you, hasn't it?What's that like, not having a choice over your self-control?

Is it important to increase or decrease your levels of self-control? You should probably try to gain control of your self-control, right?

Of course, they wouldn't hear me anyway. However, I do say these sorts of things to people who become deathly afraid at the thought of taking psychedelics, or even of other people doing so. Then, I direct them to a very excellent book by Albert Hofmann, the unwitting discoverer of LSD -- also highly recommended by Ouellette.

It's called LSD: My Problem Child, and you can read it online here. It covers the general history and science of psychedelics, and even the research on how they affect creativity. These experiments do not show that psychedelics hinder creativity at all, as you seem to think -- although they can affect motor skills if one tries to be creative while under their influence.

The psychedelics deniers will probably never read this book, but if you find it worthwhile to take the time and effort to comb through it, at least you can say (with smug superiority!) that you did.

Whether you do or don't read it, I'd like to leave you with a few quotes from Hofmann. On his 100th birthday in 2006, he famously said;

"LSD wanted to tell me something. ... It gave me an inner joy, an open mindedness, a gratefulness, open eyes and an internal sensitivity for the miracles of creation."

..."I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD. It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be."

Indeed, most research subjects who take part in psychedelics for the first time report that it is an utterly transformative and life-changing event, often the most significant event in their entire lives.

They will even talk about how barbaric the anti-psychedelic laws are for cutting people off from one of the most important experiences that a human can have.

Since psilocybin mushrooms grow in the dung of cattle and antelope, it is likely that our ancestors have discovered such experiences millions of years ago. It's quite possible that these mushrooms helped to transform our species as well as cultures to be the way they are today.

Even if you never take the red pill or have that conversation with the badger down the hall, you may find this quote from Hofmann's book to be useful in your everyday life:

"In studying the literature connected with my work, I became aware of the great universal significance of visionary experience. It plays a dominant role, not only in mysticism and the history of religion, but also in the creative process in art, literature, and science. More recent investigations have shown that many persons also have visionary experiences in daily life, though most of us fail to recognize their meaning and value. Mystical experiences, like those that marked my childhood, are apparently far from rare."

Keep in touch with those moments,


P.S.: I don't know if you have ever seen this moronic video, but it makes me want to laugh and/or cry profusely at Alex Jones. He gets "really real" about how the "machine elves" are part of the conspiracy to wire humans into pods like in The Matrix.
` "The bible says don't do DMT because it opens up other worlds"?! Somehow I don't think the prophets would agree.

And that's more or less an email I sent last June.

In it, I've hope to have made a point of demonstrating that psychedelics can be of interest to those of the skeptical community beyond using them to expand one's skeptical mind.
` There are all sorts of scientific, philosophical and religious connections, as well as popular misconceptions, all surrounding this subject. Not to mention, crazy conspiracy theories and new age woo that would make many a skeptical eye roll.

Aren't those the types of things skeptics are always talking about? How did people come up with ideas about the spirit world?

That may be the end of this email, but there is plenty more -- Part 3 raises the intrigue!


  1. Scepticism, like sexuality, is a continuum, there is no hard defining line that if you are on one side you are a sceptic, on the other you are a believer. We are all sceptics, we are all believers.

    Next time ask them if their thoughts on the subject are set in stone or if they are willing to consider the evidence and be wrong. Ask them in front of as many people as possible. If they say yes then ask them what level of evidence would be required for them to change their mind and would they be willing to look at the evidence and research you have.

  2. Thank you Harry, for pointing out the shades of gray. Everyone has their sacred cow, but a "real" skeptic is defined by the willingness to change their belief.

    I have actually asked a few such people if they would be willing to consider evidence to the contrary, and they said that of course they would -- but then gave some excuse or other why the evidence was not worth their attention.

    One such person, when informed that the mushrooms on his salad contain carcinogens when uncooked, actually *yelled* that Amanita muscaria contains lethal amatoxins like its pale cousin the death cap.

    He didn't seem to realize that although amatoxins are impossible to survive, there are millions of people who eat this mushroom on a regular basis, for food and for mind-altering purposes.

    There is absolutely no amatoxin in Amanita muscaria, and death reports from it are almost unheard of -- which makes sense, otherwise the Christians and Mayans wouldn't have used it in their religious rituals.

    When he heard this, instead of accepting the living proof before him, he changed the subject. He does the same thing with other topics he doesn't like -- yet he's the head of a local skeptic's group!

    I've encountered this very same phenomenon with other "skeptics", so I get the idea that they aren't so skeptical as they profess. Asking them about what evidence they would need to consider, rather then just trying to tell them that there is evidence, seems a better approach for them.

  3. I just remembered why that one guy (who has a PhD in biology) didn't want to look at psychedelics research: He claimed that it didn't exist.

    However, I also remember someone telling me that there was a post about psychedelics research on his facebook page, so maybe he decided it exists after all.

  4. I love this and all your other posts, at least the ones I've read so far! I can't find psychedelics here in Kenya so I want to start growing mushrooms myself. Any resources on how to start?


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