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July 10, 2006 11:16 PM   Subscribe

A landmark rigorous study, 36 years after Walter Pahnke's Good Friday study ocuments the ability of psilocybin - the chemical in "magic mushrooms" - to trigger mystical experiences. 16 of 24 participants, who had no history of psychedelic use, rated the drug episode (after 2 months) to be among the 5 most meaningful experiences in their lifetime. A longer 40-year follow-up by MAPS on those who took LSD under the supervision of psychiatrist Oscar Janiger in the 1950s, found qualitatively the same result.
posted by daksya (236 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Finally, science has demonstrated that I was correct in claiming that the most meaningful experience of my teenage years could be so powerful.

Boo yahh.
posted by NeoSpud at 11:23 PM on July 10, 2006


Having taking shrooms, I definitely agree. That said the 'meaningfulness' goes down each time you take it, obviously.

Also, if you asked these people 2 years, or 20 years after the experience, rather then 2 months, I think the salience would go down as well.
posted by delmoi at 11:45 PM on July 10, 2006


Finally, science has demonstrated that I was correct in claiming that the most meaningful experience of my teenage years could be so powerful.

Well, not exactly. It just proves that people who take shrooms all say it's awesome. It doesn't really prove they are awesome.
posted by delmoi at 11:47 PM on July 10, 2006


delmoi - It just proves that people who take shrooms all say it's awesome. It doesn't really prove they are awesome.

Where subjective experience is concerned, what's the difference?
posted by daksya at 11:51 PM on July 10, 2006


WSJ Go Ask Alice
posted by hortense at 11:55 PM on July 10, 2006


Meet Dr Alexander Shulgin, groundbreaking scientist and explorer of the human mind - inventor of 80% of the world’s known hallucinogenic drugs.
posted by MetaMonkey at 11:57 PM on July 10, 2006


I was watching the American Master's episode on Cary Grant. Grant tripped over 100 times on pharmaceutical LSD. I always knew that he and Groucho and a lot of those guys were using it but I never really knew the extent.

Can we get a counterpoint in the form of a nice stern lady w/ a tight perm and a power suit with some reefer madness stories now?
posted by well_balanced at 11:58 PM on July 10, 2006


Ah, well, just another data point adding to the evidence that we should end prohibition now.
posted by Justinian at 12:10 AM on July 11, 2006


That WSJ article is sloppy reporting. Consider me not surprised.

WSJ - "Two-thirds described the effects of the drug, called psilocybin, as among the five most meaningful experiences of their lives.

But in 30% of the cases, the drug provoked harrowing experiences dominated by fear and paranoia.
"

The reporter's conflating two different instruments. One instrument asked 24 participants to rate the experience. 3 said it was the single-most meaningful; 13 said it was among top-5; 3 said it was among top-10; 4 said it was once-in-5-years, and 1 said once-in-a-year. As for the fear, the paper says, "with a high dose of psilocybin 31% of the group of carefully screened volunteers experienced significant fear and 17% had transient ideas of reference/paranoia.". It is not explicit whether the 31% refers to the full complement of 36 participants or the 24 above who answered the meaningfulness question. 31% of 24 is 7.44, whereas 31% of 36 is 11.16, so I suspect the latter is the case.

Later on.. A third of the participants said the experience with psilocybin was the single most significant experience of their lives, and an additional 38% rated it among their top five such experiences

Doesn't jive with the figures from the study.
posted by daksya at 12:10 AM on July 11, 2006


Here's a recent post on ayahuasca.
posted by homunculus at 12:13 AM on July 11, 2006


I have recently been playing around with the idea that psychedelics trigger some kind of stress reaction, after hearing a recent radio interview with a stress researcher who mentioned the release of catecholamine hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine.

The old Aldous Huxley "Doors of Perception" theory seems, after a long look, to be pretty much totally bogus. His general premise was that the brain filters out most of the stimuli it receives and that psychedelics open that gate to allow more information into the brain and allowing the user to somehow grasp reality on a deeper level. While it might feel like that is happening, the reality for most is that the next day the user is not actually any more enlightened than you were before.

That being said I would have to agree that dropping acid for the first time was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
posted by sophist at 12:15 AM on July 11, 2006


sophist - His general premise was that the brain filters out most of the stimuli it receives and that psychedelics open that gate to allow more information into the brain and allowing the user to somehow grasp reality on a deeper level. While it might feel like that is happening, the reality for most is that the next day the user is not actually any more enlightened than you were before.

That doesn't disprove the theory unless he claims that the filters are removed instead of inhibited during the episode. That said, I don't subscribe to this theory, with respect to perceptual distortion at regular doses. Ego dissolution is a whole 'nother thing.

-------

One thing I don't like about this present study is the drug session conditions:

"The participants were instructed to consume a low-fat breakfast before reporting to the research unit at 0800 hours, about 1 h before drug administration. A urine sample was taken to verify drug-free status, and the participants were encouraged to relax and reflect before drug administration. The 8-h drug sessions were conducted in an aesthetic livingroom-like environment designed specifically for the study. Two monitors were present with a single participant throughout the session. For most of the time during the session, the participant was encouraged to lie down on the couch, use an eye mask to block external visual distraction, and use headphones through which a classical music program was played. The same music program was played for all participants in all sessions. The participants were encouraged to focus their attention on their inner experiences throughout the session. If a participant reported significant fear or anxiety, the monitors provided reassurance verbally or physically (e.g., with a supportive touch to the hand or shoulder)."

Remember these are psychedelic-naive subjects, for whom "Some expectancy effects are unavoidable because it would be unethical not to inform both the participants and the session monitors about the range of possible effects with hallucinogens.". The music, a powerful modulator, is not of their choosing; they aren't at home or in a familiar place; they're asked to lie down on a couch with a blindfold.
posted by daksya at 12:28 AM on July 11, 2006


Some uses of psychedelics may still be medicinal...

Psilocybin and LSD can also relieve the pain of a rare condition known as cluster headaches (aka suicide headaches, an unfortunate incurable and very painful disease) and can help migraines as well. Currently, there has been a study at Harvard that supports the information and a group called cluster busters that have been researching the results for years. There is a bit of extra info in this old Wired magazine story LSD: The Geek's Wonder Drug?
posted by spacelux at 12:44 AM on July 11, 2006


No post on hallucinogens would be complete without a link to erowid. Experiment safely, kids. Set and setting, etc.
posted by Eideteker at 12:45 AM on July 11, 2006


Finally, science has demonstrated that I was correct in claiming that the most meaningful experience of my teenage years could be so powerful.

You do realize this post is not about masturbation, don't you?
posted by dhammond at 1:04 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


There is no doubt that taking mush was one of the best moments of my life. It's an experience completely to its own. There's also no doubt that taking mush (separate incident) was one of the worse moments of my life, enough so that it took me several months if not a year to overcome certain aspects of the psychological effects. I still think it's worth trying at least once though.
posted by furtive at 1:07 AM on July 11, 2006


Just watch out for The Fear. Bring a wingman to remind you, "Hey, you're on drugs." It can be easy to forget once reality starts cracking. Relax and keep your hands and feet inside the cart at all times.
posted by quite unimportant at 1:29 AM on July 11, 2006


My feeling is that you really ought to 'titrate'. The first time take a little, then gradually increase the does. It's really easy to get "greedy" if you have access to a lot of shrooms and just take a shitload, which can lead to bad trips. I did become very afraid tripping once when it seemed like the walls were closing in on me and my room was being 'squished', it really seemed like the room was longer in the east-west direction then in the north-south direction and that the room was shrinking. Then after a few seconds I decided the overwhelming fear was kind of interesting and then I thought the whole thing was kind of cool.

The next day I realize the room really was wider then it was long, and that I had just never noticed it.
posted by delmoi at 2:06 AM on July 11, 2006


The paper on cluster headaches treatment referenced in one of spacelux's links("study at Harvard") is available as a PDF.
posted by daksya at 3:13 AM on July 11, 2006


If people weren't so stupid, we'd have drugs which really did make you more creative, intelegent, able to remember temporarily, and detailed instructions on how to use them (side effects, habituation issues, etc.).

It'd be WAY cool to: move to another country, start taking an intensive an intensive langauge course, and get stem cell & drug treatments to make it easier to learn the language.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:34 AM on July 11, 2006


Tune in, turn on...
posted by loquacious at 4:26 AM on July 11, 2006


Damn hippies. Drugs, including psychedelics are about getting fucked up, not mystic experiences.

My first experiences with acid and the various magic mushrooms, peyote, mescaline, ketamine and what have you were all extreme, wild, joyous, exciting, terrifying, etc. etc. But they weren't any more meaningful than my first line of coke or slurp of GHB were.

I have to wonder if the folk participating in the trial believed in such things as mystic experiences, or were religous, which would obviously have a huge impact on their interpretation of a hallucinatory experience?

That said, a period a year or two ago when mushrooms were my sole drug of choice for several months did have a positive impact on my mental health, like those in the article it changed [me] in beneficial ways, such as making [me] more... optimistic and patient and, best of all, less depressed (and so, perhaps as a direct result of using mushrooms, I currently have stopped using all hard drugs, after a period of occasional weekly or monthly use, which came after more than a decade characterised by constant daily use).

So I guess it pisses me off that possibly beneficial chemicals are being tarred with the 'mystical' brush by medical researchers as well as hippies, something which will likely hold back their acceptance in medicine.
posted by Pock Suppet at 5:01 AM on July 11, 2006


Come to think of it, some of what I wrote above is silly - I might just as easily say that my cynical, atheist and hedonistic outlook had a huge impact on my interpretation of psychedelic experience. And that outlook is quite probably the non-standard one.

I just can't stand hippies ;-)
posted by Pock Suppet at 5:04 AM on July 11, 2006


they weren't any more meaningful than my first line of coke or slurp of GHB were.

To you, perhaps. To others not. You missed out I'm afraid. Many do.
Twenty-two of the 36 volunteers reported having a "complete" mystical experience
Wow. This does seem a very high ratio. Either they were not ordinary volunteers or the experimenters had some damn good 'shrooms. None of this explains why we should treat these subjective reports with any more credibility that we treat the ravings of a drunk. We do of course, even the Wall Street Journal admits a grudging respect, but why?
posted by grahamwell at 5:37 AM on July 11, 2006


atheists are stupid
posted by fritx at 5:41 AM on July 11, 2006


all the dogma and none of the content.

Wow I haven't been here since 2001 and I still have the cookie. This is the power of the magic toadstool at work.
posted by fritx at 5:43 AM on July 11, 2006


My only experience with shrooms was completely ruined by my brothers coked up friends, who arrived unannounced and spent a half hour sticking their heads in front of my face, going "Hey, you okay? You okay?" at a million miles per hour.

Coke and shrooms, man. They do not mix.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:53 AM on July 11, 2006


grahamwell: To you, perhaps. To others not. You missed out I'm afraid. Many do.

I suddenly feel like I'm reading the Left Behind series.
posted by RGD at 5:58 AM on July 11, 2006


Coke and shrooms, man. They do not mix.

Cokeheads in the same place as folk on mushrooms certainly don't, but coke can be very handy to have around if you're on mushrooms - even a small amount can stop a nasty trip dead in its tracks, in a 'Oh, hang on a minute, I'm not being pursued by horror-goblins of doom, I'm just high on mushrooms!' type way.

To you, perhaps. To others not. You missed out I'm afraid. Many do.

How condescending. I honestly don't think I missed out - it seems reasonable to assume that all folk taking mushrooms have similar experiences, it's the post-trip interpretation that differs. I'm sure if I was to describe some of my mushroom experiences as objectively as possible - eg., I once found myself believing completely that I was attuned to nature to such a degree that I could control the weather with a stick I'd found in a field - many people would say 'You had a deep and powerful mystical experience then'. I'd say I was hallucinating that my movements were having an impact on the clouds and sea, and my altered mental state made it possible to accept these hallucinations as evidence of supernatural powers.

Er, anyway, going by the second half of your comment, we pretty much agree with each other...
posted by Pock Suppet at 6:14 AM on July 11, 2006


I took shrooms in 1981 in Negril Jamaica and then went snorkeling on the reef. At the time I was a collegiate swimmer. I felt like I was in this bright beautiful womb. I examined a school of barracudas as they examined me. I knew; not in words, that they were as curious about me as I was them. I followed lots of wonderfully colored fish in the coral just to be one of them. There was a huge Manta Ray that swam over the reef down the deep side wall. Effortlessly it seemed to fly in the water and I was able to swim with it side by side until it got dark from diving so deep down the wall. The Jamaican guide was amazed and said I must be part fish, boy was he ever right. I also took a huge dose of Hawaiian Baby wood Rose Seeds in Texas at a lake around 1977. Ran around the lake holding on the trees and bushes saying "we are one" It has been many year since and I remember them as if it was yesterday and feel that God let me peek behind the curtain.
posted by Rancid Badger at 6:27 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sorry, didn't mean to condescend. However we don't agree - I've been in situations where a superficially similar group have taken exactly the same amount of exactly the same 'shrooms and have had radically different experiences. Same set, same setting, different outcomes. It's not just the interpretation (although I agree that can differ radically too), it's the nature of the experience itself.

Hallucinogens are unlike other drugs in this respect if no other, you really can't tell what will happen and what effect it will have. I guess this is because it triggers an aspect of brain chemistry that is a cascade of some kind and that varies widely from one person to the next.

You're right of course, at the end of the day it comes down to narratives, which can vary widely even if they were describing the same experience. However (to get back into my 'left behind' mode) there is something else.
posted by grahamwell at 6:28 AM on July 11, 2006


But in 30% of the cases, the drug provoked harrowing experiences dominated by fear and paranoia.

If you're not scared witless, you're not being confronted with the possibility of enlightenment.
posted by jimfl at 6:33 AM on July 11, 2006


However we don't agree - I've been in situations where a superficially similar group have taken exactly the same amount of exactly the same 'shrooms and have had radically different experiences.

Oh for sure, I only meant that in the most general sense, as in 'weird stuff happens when you take them'. (Though that said, I have known a couple of people who seemed to be pretty much immune to mushrooms, or were perhaps already strange enough that the effects didn't strike them as out of the ordinary!)

I guess this is because it triggers an aspect of brain chemistry that is a cascade of some kind and that varies widely from one person to the next.

That's just reminded me of DMT - folk report remarkably similar experiences taking it, involving encounters with intelligent beings ('Machine Elves' is Terence McKenna's stupid name for them) who try to, or do, impart information to the DMT-taker. This apparently happens across different cultures, regardless of context, etc.

Combined with the fact that DMT occurs naturally in the brain, and is thought by some to have a role in dreaming, if I were to do DMT and have one of these typical experiences, maybe my 'Mystical? My arse!' views would change somewhat (I do rather like the silly idea that these 'Machine Elves' are a product of human consciousness, that we can access through use of a drug - but hope it would still be an 'Oh, what an interesting aspect of brain chemistry!' thing for me, or that I would see it as something possibly explaining the common themes in myths and religous texts, not a 'Woo! There are little gods inside us all!' type thing.)

I took shrooms in 1981 in Negril Jamaica and then went snorkeling on the reef

Wowsers. That was a pretty crazy thing to do. Glad it turned out okay!
posted by Pock Suppet at 6:52 AM on July 11, 2006


I still remember my first (and one of my only) shroom experiences was sitting up on a hill in the Stone Circle at the Glastonbury Festival as the sun came up. As the trip started, the sky expanded until it took up over 180 degrees of my field of vision, the clouds began to dance, the tents shimmered in the dawn light, and I still had the presence of mind - just - to remember that this was all in my head, I was going to be OK, and that I could just sit back and enjoy the show. Which I did, although I wasn't prepared for how long the effects lasted in the end - I can remember struggling to sleep hours later in my tent, having collapsed where I sat, staring at the drops of dew which still moved in ever weakening patterns.

It was all I had hoped for and more.

Never had as good a time in my susbsequent experiences, but I am glad I had at least one "mystical" trip.

By the way, I can't remember if I saw this here a few days ago, but YouTube has a pretty trippy "stare at the patterns" video that does a pretty good job of making your eyes go a bit funny and simulating the effects of low-order hallucinogens.
posted by LondonYank at 7:03 AM on July 11, 2006


Of, relating to, or stemming from direct communion with ultimate reality or God

If you take that line from the definition of mystical, I would absolutely consider it applicable to every experience I've had with psilocybin. I'm not a religious person, I've never felt a religious high or enjoyed going to organized services. I would say I have experienced extreme spiritual movements that I would have not been exposed to outside of the context of ingesting the drug. I would say the definition is applicable, and it's something I would not easily ascribe to situations where I've made it a priority to get fucked up - a term I relate to alcohol or barbiturate abuse. I wouldn't even classify my experiences with other hallucinogens and dissasociatives as mystical, more like a frenetic implosion of consciousness.

In my opinion, every religious prophet or visionary was simply hallucinating and their grand visions were filtered out, watered down and codified into stories of creation and other nonsense long after their passing. I'm not alone.
posted by prostyle at 7:06 AM on July 11, 2006


Many have tried to classify mystical experiences, to draw up a list of indicators. The most famous is William James for whom the four defining marks of a mystical experience are ineffability, noetic quality, transiency and passivity. There's a slightly different take on the subject here and as you can see it's notoriously difficult to define, let alone to understand.
posted by grahamwell at 7:38 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


The old Aldous Huxley "Doors of Perception" theory seems, after a long look, to be pretty much totally bogus. His general premise was that the brain filters out most of the stimuli it receives and that psychedelics open that gate to allow more information into the brain and allowing the user to somehow grasp reality on a deeper level. While it might feel like that is happening, the reality for most is that the next day the user is not actually any more enlightened than you were before.

Sorry, but this paragraph seems, after a long look, to ignore so many reports of previously-ignored details of the phenomenal world becoming foregrounded (or at least noticeable) during psychedelic experience that I have to wonder where this speculation came from. It's certainly not in the study pointed to in the FPP.
posted by digaman at 7:43 AM on July 11, 2006


My experience: twenty trips, all of them fun, one or two of them truly "mystical." The only bad trip was when I was looking into a mausoleum (great idea: take acid and wander around alone in a cemetary!) and my faint image in the copper plate turned into the Face of Death (a woman/goddess) but it wasn't so bad...I knew I was on drugs!

Many many years later, after many truly wonderful non-drug-related mystical experiences, I took some mushrooms in a forest...and all I experienced was a malfunctioning brain.
posted by kozad at 7:54 AM on July 11, 2006


While it might feel like that is happening, the reality for most is that the next day the user is not actually any more enlightened than you were before.

This is a very tricky kind of reasoning to use when it comes to objectively measuring subjective experiences. It's rather like saying, "While 25 subjects reported feelings of 'love,' 'attachment,' and 'devotion' toward the subjects identified as their 'significant other,' lab tests confirmed only elevated pulse and heart rates, increased galvanic skin response, and releases of endorphins in the presence of these 'others.'"
posted by digaman at 7:56 AM on July 11, 2006


How can the experience be meaningful if it's entirely in your head? These drugs just confuse the ordinary processes of the brain, so how technically, is this even an experience. Hell, are you even sure you had the experience, or did the drug create a memory of an experience that did not occur as you remembered it? In other words, the drug clearly screws with you minds ability to perceive the world, why couldn't it also affect your minds ability, qualitatively or quantitatively, to remember the experience?

These trips are completely imaginary. It's a hallucination, not an experience. Can a dream be a meaningful experience? How about a thought?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:00 AM on July 11, 2006


delmoi writes "Well, not exactly. It just proves that people who take shrooms all say it's awesome. It doesn't really prove they are awesome."

That's a bit of an apple-and-oranges argument, isn't it? In the first sentence people express that a drug is awesome, but in the second you are implying that the same people aren't awesome... it's entirely possible (nay, reasonable) to think that the two statements aren't incompatible at all.
posted by clevershark at 8:02 AM on July 11, 2006


I miss mushrooms.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:13 AM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel, do you have any kids? How do you know you "love" them? Have you ever had a relationship? How do you know? A security camera simply captured you walking beside Ms. or Mr. X during the period of your alleged "affair." Are you sure that certain chemicals in your bloodstream released in the presence of that person weren't screwing with your brain?
posted by digaman at 8:15 AM on July 11, 2006


Can a dream be a meaningful experience? How about a thought?
Neuroscientists have proposed a simple explanation for the pleasure of grasping a new concept... The "click" of comprehension triggers a biochemical cascade that rewards the brain with a shot of natural opium-like substances...^
Please, do tell me more about the ordinary processes of the brain... I'm sure your comprehension of them and their subsequent interactions is bulletproof.

These trips ascii character collections transferred to a server on the internet are completely imaginary ephemeral data.

Does that make this conversation less real, less meaningful? Can you be any more obtuse?
posted by prostyle at 8:17 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel - these drugs do indeed (just) confuse the ordinary processes of the brain. That's why you shouldn't drive or operate machinery. Your senses and reason don't stop working though, they have slightly different material on which to work.

And that's the interesting thing. To use a crude analogy, you've been staring at the same view all of your life. Try walking around a bit, stroll up the hill and see the familiar landscape from a new perspective.

You ask, can a dream be a meaningful experience? We owe the periodic table among many advances to a dream - a dream that allows otherwise incomprehensible elements to fall into place. psychedelic dreams can have that quality.
posted by grahamwell at 8:20 AM on July 11, 2006


While you guys were all talking and debating I got all the shrooms.

Now you all sound purple. Stop that.
posted by illiad at 8:32 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


This message has been brought to to you, in part, by psychedelics.
posted by digaman at 8:33 AM on July 11, 2006


Does that make this conversation less real, less meaningful? Can you be any more obtuse?
posted by prostyle at 11:17 AM EST on July 11 [+fave] [!]


I'm obtuse? Really? Read your quoted passage again:

Neuroscientists have proposed a simple explanation for the pleasure of grasping a new concept...

The key here is that there is something external or objective in relation to your perception that forces your brain to react to it. A hallucination is entirely subjective, you are seeing things that are not there because you are not actually seeing them. This is what I don't understand - you know the things you are seeing are not real, like kozad's mystical image above, but it's almost as if you want them to be real, and the trip is enough to convince you that there's more to reality than what you see.

There certainly may be more to reality, but I'm willing to guarantee that it isn't on a level that you can see projected into our macro world. At best is some e/m interference with the operation of our brain that affects how and what you think about, but in a way that seems perfectly ordinary.

But I notice that you focused on the "opium-like cascade" part of the quote, i.e. the "pleasure" of grasping the concept, not the concept itself - the subjective sensation. And that's what drug trips are about of course. Feeling something new.

digaman: Love is by definition subjective. The other things you mention, how do I know I was in a relationship, etc., I know because I remember them? How can I trust that memory? Because other people share (or claim to) those memories from their perspective.

Nobody can have the same trip as you do. They can have it in the same place and time, but the "experience" of that drug trip is again, entirely in your head.

grahamwell's comment is interesting, but the example I think fails because again you have an instance where the person was working very hard in his conscious state to integrate objective things in the work into the conceptual framework in his mind. He didn't just go to sleep one random day and dream the periodic table.

And to say that we owe these advances to a dream discounts the countless hours of work. The hallucination comes without the work.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:41 AM on July 11, 2006


I hate to break it to you, pastabagel, but according to your view of things, your life is as imaginary now as it is on drugs. Or are you saying that people who take other mind-altering substances, such as antidepressants, alcohol, or caffeine, are also living hallucinations, not experiences, until the effects wear off? Or that when someone sees a bear, and it triggers a release of chemicals that induces the "fight or flight" reflex -- is that now a hallucination? What about when you eat a bagel or some pasta and your brain chemistry alters to instruct more blood to flow to the gut? Are you trippin'?
The point is, there is no experiential value to the "we are nothing more than chemicals in our brain" view of things. It's a useful model for science, with practical applications, but not particularly relevant when discussing spirituality, mysticism, or really anything having to do with subjective human experience.
posted by haricotvert at 8:44 AM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel, I'm sorry, but you're just playing word games to justify previously-held beliefs. The form of the periodic table did indeed come to Mendeleev in a dream -- a dream that, of course, he wouldn't have had without doing lots of research into the elements beforehand. The creation of the Internet and the personal computer were inextricably tied in with the psychedelic experiences of people who invented them, but of course they wouldn't have happened without the work to manifest the subjective experiences of the original trips. If Allen Ginsberg hadn't been writing poetry for years beforehand, he certainly couldn't have simply eaten peyote and written "Kaddish," or eaten a tab of acid and jotted down "Wales Visitation" -- but who can say that those poems would have taken the forms they did without the catalyzing experience provided by the drugs? Experience and thought are not to be unraveled in this universe by simply declaring one real and the other meaningless without some kind of external confirmation. That's Philosophy 101, Buddhism 101, History of Religion 101 -- in fact, Human Life 101. It's hard to imagine human culture without granting a measure of reality to the subjective experiences that produced it -- even before the objective "products" appeared in the culture.
posted by digaman at 8:52 AM on July 11, 2006


Yes, I realized it was a new concept. Thanks for being pedantic, as if I would have overlooked such a fact.

...you are seeing things that are not there because you are not actually seeing them.

Yeah, this is productive.

But I notice that you focused on the "opium-like cascade" part of the quote, i.e. the "pleasure" of grasping the concept, not the concept itself - the subjective sensation. And that's what drug trips are about of course. Feeling something new.

Well, a shot of opioids isn't exactly a mechanically subjective sensation. If the chemical release does exist as a process it's not only interesting because the resulting stimuli, but the imperative function it has had on our development. Nonetheless, apparently the thought of a "new concept" scratches these points off the board and we're left with your ridiculously dense inquisitions, posed with all the eloquence of any random dialog culled from The Matrix.
posted by prostyle at 8:53 AM on July 11, 2006


not particularly relevant when discussing spirituality, mysticism, or really anything having to do with subjective human experience.

Agreed. But the rest of your argument glosses over my point.

I am not saying we are nothing more than chemicals. Our perception is of course subjective. But what we are perceiving, the thing in front of us, is not. Just because my perception of a tree in front of me may be subjective and influenced by chemicals, mood, diet, etc. doesn't change the fact that the tree is there.

Furthermore, imagining a tree in front of me does not actually place one there.

Does anyone tripping really think they are seeing things that are always objectively present but invisible when straight(sober?).

I can understand that these drugs make you think of things in new ways, combine things it ways you wouldn't normally, and every once in a while those trippy thoughts actually carry into the normal world.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:54 AM on July 11, 2006


I took shrooms in the early 80's. I was at a farm in southern Virginia, way up in the Blue Ridge mountains. After an hour or so I felt nothing but nausea, then went outside and projectile vomited. Real firehose stuff. And then just as suddenly, the nausea stopped, I felt wonderful and the trip began. I walked up a nearby hill to watch the sun come up, but as I was walking, I noticed the most beautiful shimmering pastel patterns on the grass (I can remember thinking they looked just like the artwork on the Led Zep Houses of the Holy lp, with the naked children climbing the rocks) So I walked halfway up this hill staring at the gorgeous colors, and when I finally looked up, there was a huge buck deer about 20 feet away from me. Massive antlers. We just stood there staring at each other for what seemed like 30 minutes or so. No fear, just a kind of mutual wonder.
He didn't talk to me or anything, but it was rather special.
posted by vronsky at 8:57 AM on July 11, 2006


The 8-h drug sessions were conducted in an aesthetic livingroom-like environment designed specifically for the study.

What torture. I would hate to spend a trip cooped up in a room. I need to get away from boxes in that condition. I prefer mountain locales.

I also have a similar sentiment to jimfl about the Fear. All of my most intense, insightful and fulfilling trips have had elements of deep terror. Lots of fun.

Also, if you asked these people 2 years, or 20 years after the experience, rather then 2 months, I think the salience would go down as well.

For me, it's been over twelve years since my last trip (with mushrooms) and I think it just as salient today as I did the day after.
posted by effwerd at 9:03 AM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel, my point in commenting on Mendelev's dream is that sometimes 'altered states', be they dreams or trips or 40 days in the desert, can help us to make sense of problems that have long eluded us. It's partly an answer to the hidden question - "how can anything valuable come out of pure introspection" - sometimes after months of not being able to see the wood for the trees, that's just what's needed. On preview I think you got the point.

Does anyone tripping really think they are seeing things that are always objectively present but invisible when straight(sober?).

Well funnily enough, yes. One of the things that the brain does is recognise patterns. In fact the brain is rather good at this and needs to be to navigate in our three dimensional world of sharp edges. There's a threshold though, the point a which the brain stops looking. The threshold is probably set by very utilitarian factors.

'Shrooms in particular change this threshold and you start looking for, and noticing patterns in everyday objects at a scale and of a subtlety that is outside of the normal threshold. Are they there? Well yes, they are. You can draw them, you can point them out. Can you see them normally, no, for good utilitarian reasons. That doesn't make them any less real.

I found this wonderful comment in the Ayahuasca thread, it's the wisest thing I've ever read about psychedelic experience.
It feels as though they are mapping a complex experience along very simple, readymade literary conventions.

Oh and Thorzdad, you need to come here.
posted by grahamwell at 9:04 AM on July 11, 2006




Pastabagel, I'm sorry, but you're just playing word games to justify previously-held beliefs.

What previously held-beliefs? The only previously held belief I have is that what you see on a a drug trip isn't there. A point someone conveniently glossed over. Now, are you suggesting that what someone sees on a drug trip is actually happening in the real world?

Experience and thought are not to be unraveled in this universe by simply declaring one real and the other meaningless without some kind of external confirmation.

I'm not declaring thought meaningless. What are you talking about? I'm simply asking if a drug trip is a "meaningful experience". It is not an experience:

1 a : direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge b : the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation.

Jesus, I didn't think people would take this so personally.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:07 AM on July 11, 2006


Does anyone tripping really think they are seeing things that are always objectively present but invisible when straight(sober?).

The answer to this is a big yes.

One personal example: I didn't understand John Coltrane's music until I heard a performance of "India" while on acid in college. Beforehand, his playing struck me as atonal, needlessly frenetic, and disorganized. There was a lot about jazz I didn't understand at that point -- for instance, Thelonious Monk's music seemed unpleasantly dissonant, and I didn't hear the humor and warmth in it.

After a single hearing of "India" on LSD in a friend's dorm room, however, I was able to comprehend what Coltrane was doing -- the extended musical structures he was inventing, the way he was developing a narrative tension between the drones of the accompanying tambouras and his own sax lines, and the yearning and passion that infused what had previously seemed to be cold and calculated. The understanding gained in that single experience was permanent: I understood Coltrane's music, and a universe of contemporary jazz around it (including Monk's), in an entirely new and visceral way afterwards -- as hundreds of CDs in my room now attest.
posted by digaman at 9:13 AM on July 11, 2006 [2 favorites]


These trips are completely imaginary. It's a hallucination, not an experience. Can a dream be a meaningful experience? How about a thought?
10:00 AM

I'm not declaring thought meaningless. What are you talking about?
11:07 AM


If that wasn't your intention you shouldn't have so carelessly conflated the processes.
posted by prostyle at 9:20 AM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel: This is a good discussion, don't get upset if people are wanting to engage you!

The only previously held belief I have is that what you see on a a drug trip isn't there. A point someone conveniently glossed over. Now, are you suggesting that what someone sees on a drug trip is actually happening in the real world?

I think part of the confusion here is talking about the physical world that you can see from outside, and the interior world that you have to interpret. Drugs change the way the human brain works, and can lead to different interpretations of the world.
posted by anthill at 9:27 AM on July 11, 2006


The entire experience of taking psychedelic drugs can be seen as a participatory exercise, Pastabagel, and thus, by your definition, an experience. With altered neurochemistry, every interaction that someone who's tripping has with the world around them is an experiment. Expected and accustomed reactions to the surrounding world no longer occur. But the "experience" isn't just whatever physical actions one performs - otherwise, one would say that my friend who hates roller coasters is having the same experience as I am when we're strapped into our seats and being carried up a three hundred food hill. However, our experiences differ, because of the way we process the experience - his dislike of heights and subjective lack of enjoyment of altered-G moments makes his experience very different from mine. Similarly, if one does the same thing with or without hallucinogens, or even in a different mood, the experience changes - the physical actions may be the same, but the way we process it is different. That the changes are entirely due to biochemical changes in our brains doesn't make the differences between the experiences "imaginary."

Saying that a psychedelic trip isn't an experience because it's "all in your head" and "imaginary" doesn't make sense, since everything one does is filtered through one's mind. Without the mind, and the way it filters information, no experience can be meaningful.
posted by ubersturm at 9:43 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


So I'm repelling down Mount Vesuvius when suddenly I slip, and I start to fall. Just falling, ahh ahh, I'll never forget the terror. When suddenly I realize "Holy shit, Hansel, haven't you been smoking Peyote for six straight days, and couldn't some of this maybe be in your head?" And it was. I was totally fine. I've never even been to Mount Vesuvius.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:02 AM on July 11, 2006 [2 favorites]


'Shrooms in particular change this threshold and you start looking for, and noticing patterns in everyday objects at a scale and of a subtlety that is outside of the normal threshold.

I agree with this 100%. My second time eating shrooms I found myself staring at a stucco wall. A few hours earlier this wall just looked like it had random bits stuck to the wall, but while I was tripping I could immediately 'see' the pattern the builder used as he applied the stucco. After the trip I could still 'see' that pattern if I looked for it, but it mostly just looked like regular stucco.

As for mystical experiences, on that same day I mentioned above, I had to sit down because the effects were so strong, and I found myself meditating. I got the impression that somehow if I wanted to I could force my body to 'shut down' It was sorta freaky...

Also, once in Lake Tahoe, I was looking at a large field full of little flowers, and suddenly a gust of wind blew through and made all the flowers jitter around like crazy. It was so awesome that I almost fell over.
posted by hellphish at 10:07 AM on July 11, 2006


Hellphish, I've had the same experience, coming from a technical / engineering background the most interesting parts of mushroom trips have been perceiving patterns, for example the expression of the wind in grass, the expression of long-term wind in the growth of trees, fractal branching of plant structure, that sort of thing.
posted by anthill at 10:19 AM on July 11, 2006


Siorry. Okay, what I'm suggesting is that a drug trip is a qualitatively different "experience" than having a meaningful experience without the aid of a drug.

Let's take digaman's example. He says he was moved when, on acid, he heard Coltrane. Good. We must acknowledge, however, that other people have been moved by Coltrane when they weren't on drugs when they heard them. I'm not placing a moral value judgment, I'm suggesting the two circumstances are different.

In the latter, the same neurochemical framework that perceives the world on an ordinary basis was moved by this music. In the former case, the acid trip case, the neurochemical framework was different. So is the experience really hearing the music, or is the affect of the altered framework? Which dominates, the music, or the drug?

My point is, in the case of the straight person hearing Coltrane, we know something objective about the music - that it moved someone. We can say this because the perceptual framework is the same relative to hearing other works of music, seeing other things etc. In other words, the framework hasn't changed, but the person was moved/"had a meaningful experience" therefore it was the music that did it.

In the acid case, we don't really know, objectively, whether the music is moving/meaningful, because there's a second hugely important variable to consider - the altered drug state. Can you say for certain that you would not also have had a meaningful experience if while you were tripping, but unbeknownst to you, I switched out the Coltrane for something like Bay City Rollers?

And musn't you, as having been the one with the altered state, also aknowledge the possibility that the drug created a feeling of understanding the music when no such congnitive understanding took place? In other words, the drug can mess with perception, but can't they also mess with cognition, i.e. trick you into thinking you understand something that you don't, and that you wouldn't have thought you understood if sober?

I know my argument is wandering in part because I'm tryingto articulate thought that isn't fully developed.

Maybe what I'm not hearing is people saying that the structured thinking that is created in the brain to function in the real world and communicate clearly with others also, by that very structure, impedes certain other kinds of non-linear or metarational understanding, and that the drug is needed to temporarily dismantle the structure.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:23 AM on July 11, 2006


That's one of the classic psychedelic phenomena that belies the term "hallucination": discerning patterns that are actually there but were previously imperceptible.
posted by digaman at 10:23 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel: I think you're hearing it pretty clearly. You got it.

In the end they say 'by your fruits you shall know them'. The fruits of psychedelic experiences are ultimately our lives, how they are changed and the people we become as a result.

As a teenager I had a difficult relationship with my father. My first psychedelic experience helped me to put that relationship into context and understand his frustration. As a direct result we were able to become close again. The change in myself, my manner and attitude was something he remarked upon with surprise. I didn't elaborate but I was grateful and thought it an encouraging sign. I might have got there without psychedelics but it would have taken a very long time.

Your mileage may vary.
posted by grahamwell at 10:26 AM on July 11, 2006


Do you suppose this is why the Iron Chefs are always throwing down with the truffles? Those judges always seem a little half-baked to me. God knows they're expensive enough to be saturated with hallucinogenics!
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:29 AM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel, I urge you to do some more research into basic neurology to more deeply understand the contingent nature of what you take as "objective" or "non-altered." Start with any number of Oliver Sacks' great books, such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat or Awakenings, or V.S. Ramachandran's Phantoms in the Brain. Your statements contain a lot of unexamined assumptions that deserve examination so that you can better understand the tool you use to comprehend experience -- the complex, heavily filtered, changing-state, surprisingly plastic, distributed network called the brain. You don't even have to get into reading about psychedelics yet -- just start with gaining a deeper understanding of the nature of the "ground state."
posted by digaman at 10:32 AM on July 11, 2006


grahamwell: I might have got there without psychedelics but it would have taken a very long time.


Sorry if I sounded somewhat snarky above, grahamwell, but that is what I was getting at, that all of these awesome, mystical, connecting experiences are within the reach of a mind unaided by drugs. That hardly makes yours less meaningful, of course, but I just find it somewhat saddening when people like to believe they have been able to see behind the curtain of humanity somehow, pitying those who ignore drugs.

Umm, in short, I'm just taking back that earlier comment.
posted by RGD at 10:36 AM on July 11, 2006


I confess, I thought your earlier comment was spot on.
posted by grahamwell at 10:38 AM on July 11, 2006


I think Pastabagel is being systematically misinterpreted in this thread; the argument is a little frustrating to follow because the two sides are at cross-purposes over the term "experience." Pastabagel is using a somewhat technical and narrow definition of the word while his opponents are going for a looser "any subjective phenomenon is an experience that I have undergone."

For my part, though, I agree entirely with Pastabagel. You can get food-poisoning and dream that you're the lord of the universe--it doesn't mean that you gained deep insight into the mystical underpinnings of the universe, it just means your brain got its wires crossed. Now, thinking about the dream may lead you to useful and positive reflection upon how you understand yourself and your position in the world--but then so might watching The Sopranos or reading King Lear. The usefulness of the dream/trip to later self-understanding is no proof of the metaphysical "truth" of the dream (which would also be my response to the Mendeleev case).

Digaman's example of suddenly "understanding" Jazz seems to me to demonstrate the weakness rather than the strength of the "drugs show us something real" argument. He listened to Jazz stoned and suddenly "understood it." But what about all the people who "got" Coltrane and Monk without listening to it on acid (I instance myself as a known example). Do they have some "mystical" connection to the music of which they are unaware? All Digaman's example shows is that being under the influence of drugs provided an occasion for him to listen to this music in a way that he hadn't done before. But so what? Everyone can recount examples of suddenly "getting" some art form that they hadn't got before. Any one of a thousand different life experiences can be the trigger that takes us from bafflement to enjoyment. The fact that acid happened to facilitate this in Digaman's case doesn't suggest that acid was in any meaningful sense revealing to him something he would otherwise have been incapable of understanding, any more than Mendeleev would have been incapable of arriving at the Periodic Table of elements without his helpful dream.
posted by yoink at 10:40 AM on July 11, 2006


Spring of my first year of university, early evening, I'm walking across campus with two friends, just starting on my first (and only) acid trip. I see two of my business-school classmates coming the other way, looking over in a let's-make-friendly-professional-smalltalk sort of way. I offer up what was probably a pretty spacey "Hey, guys." One of them says, "Have you started the economics assignment?" I start to laugh, and the laugh becomes totally uncontrollable. They shuffle off nervously, and I'm soon reduced to literally rolling around on the ground in hysterical peals of laughter. The notion of an economics assignment becomes a Kubrickian monolith to the absurdity of economics, rote learning, the utter nonsense I'm currently studying, the path my life's on just then.

I transferred into history the following autumn. I write for a living now. These things are not incidental to the fit of hysterics over the economics assignment.

That was 14 years ago. I still think of it as a profound turning point. "Mystical"? It fundamentally altered my priorities and my perception of what a meaningful life was, so yes, I'd call that mystical.

Pastabagel, you sound like you're trying to ask about economics assignments for most of this thread. Then you got to this point, and I think you got it:

Maybe what I'm not hearing is people saying that the structured thinking that is created in the brain to function in the real world and communicate clearly with others also, by that very structure, impedes certain other kinds of non-linear or metarational understanding, and that the drug is needed to temporarily dismantle the structure.

The drug dismantles the structure almost completely in some cases. (The "bad trip," I think, mostly describes a structure that can't be even provisionally reassembled to allow a single coherent thought such as "This is just a very powerful drug.") And if you're open to it, some of those structures just don't seem much worth reassembling.
posted by gompa at 10:44 AM on July 11, 2006 [3 favorites]


digaman: I'll take your advice on Sack, but can you give me some examples of what you mean?
posted by Pastabagel at 10:44 AM on July 11, 2006


16 of 24 participants, who had no history of psychedelic use, rated the drug episode (after 2 months) to be among the 5 most meaningful experiences in their lifetime.

For control purposes and for this study to have any value, maybe they should take into account whether their lives had any meaning up until that point. I mean, psylocybin is likely to seem more meaningful than, say, going to Wal-Mart, but perhaps less so than (off the top of my head) spending a year digging wells for clean water in African villages.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:44 AM on July 11, 2006


pastabagel: Maybe what I'm not hearing is people saying that the structured thinking that is created in the brain to function in the real world and communicate clearly with others also, by that very structure, impedes certain other kinds of non-linear or metarational understanding, and that the drug is needed to temporarily dismantle the structure.

That's exactly right, in my experience--not just plain sensory input, which does have perceptual filters removed, but also this happens at a conceptual level, also; one simply thinks about things differently, in a less-biased, more objective way (as grahamwell mentions).


sophist: [Huxley's] general premise was that the brain filters out most of the stimuli it receives and that psychedelics open that gate to allow more information into the brain and allowing the user to somehow grasp reality on a deeper level. While it might feel like that is happening, the reality for most is that the next day the user is not actually any more enlightened than you were before.

That's not quite an accurate recounting of Huxley's perspective--yes, he does say that it appears the brain becomes MUCH MORE aware of stimuli, but doesn't editorialize about deepness. Huxley found his experience profound because he became aware of how much more he could be aware of. By expanding the perceptual range that registers on one's consciousness, psychedelic drugs make one aware that your brain receives far more information than is relayed to your consciousness--thus his titular allusion to William Blake,
"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thru' narrow chinks of his cavern."
When one trips, you aren't communing with God, or the universe, or whatever; you're communing with yourself, with the way your organism perceives and conceives, and when those barriers of ego (and other constructions of consciousness) are pushed back, feelings of deep communion with nature, etc., often result.

For some people, this is a profound experience. Is it the only way to have such experiences, or realizations? Nope. People who are dogmatic about the benefits of psychedelic drugs are dogmatists. But that doesn't change that this particular class of chemicals has some, um, very unique effects on mind, and should be studied in much greater detail than they've been previously.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:48 AM on July 11, 2006 [3 favorites]


Yoink, agreed, but Pastabagel himself made the key point. Our minds/brains are creatures of habit. The whole structure of our schooling is designed to give us the right habits. Those habits are useful and there for a purpose, but they also limit us.

Sometimes we can't break out of those patterns of thought, perception and understanding without a little help. That's sad, but it's a fact. Psychedelics can open new avenues of awareness and understanding - my favourite metaphor is perspective - as such they are just a tool, but one whose utility should be judged by their results and not dismissed out-of-hand because of the way they work.
posted by grahamwell at 10:50 AM on July 11, 2006


The same argument can be made from the other side, that is, people who take psychedelic drugs routinely discount certain "revelations" that they receive if they no longer seem interesting or useful once they come down. That is, Digaman will be happy to tell us that acid made him grok Coltrane, but if he'd had a similar experience listening to Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini ("Listen, man, this is God trying to send me a message") the story would fall into a completely different genre--it would be "I was so fucked up one night I thought that..." not "At last I understood...."

Similarly, if Mendeleev had woken up dreaming that a giraffe was threatening to run away with his mother and set up a lithography business he wouldn't have said "hmmm, perhaps there's a scientific breakthrough hidden in that dream"--he would have just said "dreams are weird shit."

If the "mystical" aura surrounding the subjective drug experience can only be "ratified" by sober reflection after the fact, that suggests simply that only those experiences that we are already willing (for cultural and personal reasons) to consider as being of the mystical "type" will be seized upon as evidence of what the drug is "telling" us. But that is so obviously circular and self-serving (i.e., the drug can only "reveal" to us what we already suspect, or wish to believe--jazz is "deep," being one with nature is sublime etc.) that if arguments like this were being employed in defense of any conventional religion I suspect that many, even most, of the posters in this thread would be deeply skeptical.
posted by yoink at 10:52 AM on July 11, 2006 [3 favorites]


*Sacks

gompa, it's fine if that's what you're saying, I don't actually agree with that thought, because I've seen no evidence that that's even how the mind works, and no argument supporting it.

More to the point, I'm wondering (as in I'm not sure if I agree with this myself or not) if the drug trip is a way to cheat understanding. Think of all the things that are supposedly better on acid - almosts universally they are concepts, art, music, theories, etc that operate on many levels at once and require a certain amount of insight "Why am I thinking this? Why does this thing make me think of something unrelated, and do other people think this, or is it just me?"

Casually dismissing something profound as "better on acid" is to acknowledge that the thing in question is on other levels, but that those levels are inaccessible. I'm saying that they are accessible with some applied thought and by investigating the context. They do not require altering the ability to think.

Also, the fact that drugs can make a mundane experience seem profound tells me not that the mundane is profound, but that the drug changes how you identify things as profound.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:00 AM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel,

have you ever done a hallucinogen? Curious here.
posted by Dantien at 11:10 AM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel, I think what digaman was trying to get at is the fact that there is no such thing as "unaltered" thought. Did you have coffee today? A little hung over perhaps? Hungry? Headachy? Is it a little hotter or colder than usual? Didn't get enough sleep last night? You're brain is always altered somehow.
posted by muckster at 11:10 AM on July 11, 2006


Rather in agreement with yoink, I'll quote a little more from ori's post in the Ayahuasca thread.
I am always resistant to this type of trip report, since they always peddle to a populist notion of what a profound experience must be like, which always boils down to a holistic vision of universal suffering and absolute love (in other words, a remarkably Christian experience.) The trip itself is invariably a kind of carnival of ghouls and spirits who emanate by turns terror and empathy. It feels as though they are mapping a complex experience along very simple, readymade literary conventions.

My personal experience had been that the higher the dose, the less you can account for the derangement using simple narratives. Certain meridian experiences are like vanishing horizons of comprehensibility. They are plateaus of consciousness so far beyond language that it is impossible to talk about them; I can only describe them negatively, as non-lingual, non-sensical, etc.
The infuriating thing about the mystical is that it cannot be approached with words, yet that seems such a cop-out, surely everything can be expressed in words if you try hard enough. Make an effort man! As you try you find yourself expressing cliches of various kinds and before long have completely misrepresented the experience.

My point is that the mystical contains its own validation. That is extremely problematic, but there you are. What you do after having such an experience is try to understand it and cast it in an acceptable form. This usually ends in tears.

However, that the mystical experience deepens your everyday appreciation of things that you think you ought to appreciate, I can't see the harm in that.

An interesting counterpoint for me is Salvia Divinorium. I don't know if you've ever tried it but IMHO it's absolutely horrible. I feel myself becoming one with a packet of instant chocolate powder. Where's the merit in that? It proves your point I think, I choose what jump-starts I'll make to my conciousness based on my pre-existing beliefs as to what has merit. Becoming one with a packet of Cadbury's Solo is not one of them.
posted by grahamwell at 11:10 AM on July 11, 2006


I think few people would say that the core of a psychedelic experience [or any lessons one might take away afterwards] is not something that can be approached or learned in any other way. Of course they're not the only source of insight, or the only way one can have a beautiful or mystical experience! Psychedelic drugs can, however, be a tool, something that makes the mind more receptive to looking at and experiencing things in different ways. Does that mean that digaman could never have enjoyed Coltrane without acid? Of course not. However, it might have been much less likely that he would eventually have been in a mood/state of mind/etc. where he was willing to listen to the music without his preconceived notions about jazz. Psychedelic drugs can fairly reliably bring about an openness to experience that one can't necessarily achieve on command in real life.

Pastabagel's narrow definition of "experience" is of limited use here, since both the action and the value of psychedlics lie in the mind - in altered perception and cognition, and the things that can be learned from or learned in that state. The "truth" of a trip or a dream seems like a non-point - perhaps digaman would've found most music entrancing while tripping [although it's not my impression that that's necessarily the case], but whether that was a "true" experience, he was able to gain insight form it. One can learn from simply "having one's wires crossed" - there's no need for there to be meaning inherent in the thing that causes the crossing of the wires, or for the perceptions caused by the crossed wires to be "true." The fact that psychedelic experiences aren't necessarily all "true" or that some of the insight gained in such an experience can be gained in other ways doesn't mean that they have no value.
posted by ubersturm at 11:14 AM on July 11, 2006


They do not require altering the ability to think.

I agree with this, but not with the implied value judgment. Short-circuiting a process is often a key step in learning, a way of showing you where you need to go. Since we're talking about jazz already, an example that springs to mind is the teaching of improvisation. Many teachers have young students learn famous improv solos by rote, so that they can learn what great improvisation 'feels like'. This is coupled (by good teachers) with rigorous training in the conceptual and technical skills needed to improvise on your own (as well as other elements).

By learning great solos, a students gets a feel for what he or she is aiming for, that they can't yet do. Same with psychedelic drugs--in digaman's (I think) story about Coltrane, it made him aware not only of the intrinsic characteristics of the music, but that he had had a prejudice about that music that was preventing him from even going down that path in the first place. For him, it was singularly valuable. YMMV.

Also, the fact that drugs can make a mundane experience seem profound tells me not that the mundane is profound, but that the drug changes how you identify things as profound.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean here, but my sense of that experience is that, in paying very mindful attention to otherwise mundane things, I (to keep the Blake thing going) "...see a world in a grain of sand,/ And a heaven in a wildflower:/ Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,/ And eternity in an hour."
posted by LooseFilter at 11:14 AM on July 11, 2006


The way I look at this (dozens of mushroom experiences and counting), in our normal lives, our senses filter out alot of the input coming into us. I feel mushrooms, and do a slightly different extent LSD, removes those filters and allow us to see the universe far more unbound than before.

I've never hallucinated something like a tree that wasnt real. What I usually see is a real tree but far more detailed and profound. Part of that profundity is a dismantiling of the barriers our conscious mind puts between "self" and "external objects" when there really isnt one. When these doors of perception are flung open during the psychedelic experience, our minds natural function is to find patterns and understanding in the chaos of the input stream. That interpretation brings spiritual awakening, or abject terror, or whatever. It doesnt change the fact that we are receiving more input than we are used to (and as we get used to tripping, these inputs become manageable and we become accustomed to them).

nothing inherently spiritual in mushrooms. nothing inherently spiritual in any tripping. and no, we arent seeing things that "aren't there". I say we are seeing more of reality that isn't filtered out in normal sensation. What we interpret it as is completely subjective, but so is our day-to-day life. It's fundamentally no different, but these experiences allow us to rewire our brains without the obstacles of social conditioning and such. Truly remarkable. I wish everyone was required to experience this once...it changes you...
posted by Dantien at 11:17 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


No, I've never done a hallicinogen, though I've had weird night terror/ waking dream experiences that were decidedly different than either waking or dreaming, but I guess that isn't the same.

But let me head you off - please don't resort to the cliche that unless I've tried it, I can't talk about it. I can turn it around quite easily.


muckster - If that's what digaman meant then it seems a pretty basic concept. Of course your brain is always altered. But I think we can agree that the acid trip is well above and beyond the everyday fluctuations, can't we?

Again my point still stands, that if two people are experiencing the same thing with one person adding the drug, and they both have a meaningful experience, in the case of the person taking the drug, we can't rule out the drug as having contributed a feeling of meaningfulness regardless of the experience.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:20 AM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel: What previously held-beliefs? The only previously held belief I have is that what you see on a a drug trip isn't there. A point someone conveniently glossed over. Now, are you suggesting that what someone sees on a drug trip is actually happening in the real world?

Robert Anton Wilson make the point in Sex and Drugs is that most recreational drug use is psychedelic not psychotic. Psychedelic effects usually just mean that a person's perception is tweaked. Psychotic effects involve actual hallucinations.

And musn't you, as having been the one with the altered state, also acknowledge the possibility that the drug created a feeling of understanding the music when no such cognitive understanding took place? In other words, the drug can mess with perception, but can't they also mess with cognition, i.e. trick you into thinking you understand something that you don't, and that you wouldn't have thought you understood if sober?

I think this is definitely the case. Television was a lot more fun when I was recovering from surgery, and taking hefty doses of prescription opiates. Once I recovered, I returned to a state of cognition where I'm forced to consider how the average citizen of the U.S. can watch 4 hours a day without suicidal depression.

And a lot of this comes down to how you define "meaningful." yoink nails it in describing how we examine those experiences post-hoc. My experience with shrooms was an acute and detached awareness of my chronic back pain. It was definitely different from the norm, but not really "mystical."

Of course an ex accused me of being a "natural stoner" because of the way I look at the world.

On preview:
Also, the fact that drugs can make a mundane experience seem profound tells me not that the mundane is profound, but that the drug changes how you identify things as profound.

Except that "mundane" and "profound" are just post hoc labels that we slap onto ideas an concepts? For example, today we take the theory of gravity for granted, but that was not the case in the time of Galileo.

grahamwell: My point is that the mystical contains its own validation. That is extremely problematic, but there you are. What you do after having such an experience is try to understand it and cast it in an acceptable form. This usually ends in tears.

Which is why I've found it pointless to try to explain some aspects of my life. I've had "mystical" experiences (a word that I hate for its connotations) that have profoundly shaped the ways I view the world.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:22 AM on July 11, 2006


I'm just saying man, if you HAD experienced a psychedelic mindstate, many of your questions would be answered.
posted by Dantien at 11:25 AM on July 11, 2006


Also, the fact that drugs can make a mundane experience seem profound tells me not that the mundane is profound, but that the drug changes how you identify things as profound.

I do think Pastabagel is on to something here. Specifically that the mind/brain classifies experiences by degree of importance. To use another clumsy metaphor, it's as if there's an additional byte in the record, the setting indicates how important the perception is. Very occasionally I find this malfunctioning in my normal life, usually this is a deja-vu, where I become convinced that something very ordinary has some extraordinary significance, something is about to happen, something important. I interpret this as a memory but actually its a false setting of the importance flag.

Drugs can play havoc with this flag, indeed that's part of their charm and why they are such a cure for boredom. As a result it's very difficult to untangle the effect of the drug from the true importance (or otherwise) of what was experienced and a healthy dose of scepticism is in order.
posted by grahamwell at 11:26 AM on July 11, 2006


If the "mystical" aura surrounding the subjective drug experience can only be "ratified" by sober reflection after the fact...

I don't think that's the case, and I'd posit the inverse: eat an eighth with me, hike into the woods, sit down and wait an hour and then tell me it's not mystical - to my face. 'Cause we can sit around and bullshit all day, but I'd like to see some of you just try to keep a straight face as you deny the drug is having any effect on you. You'd be rolling on the ground chatterboxing before you could stammer out another denial.

Casually dismissing something profound as "better on acid"...

I haven't actually seen that happen here. Digaman referenced his increased musical appreciation, but other than that nobody has said "you won't get X if you aren't on Y". There's a bit of a divergent discourse running through this thread, where certain individuals have taken an exploratory path and feel like sharing that experience and others are here to judge their recollection. Personally I find it to be a pointless conversation, much like the famously mis-quoted characterization of the argument stated, "Dancing about architecture".

The fact remains that there is much to be learned by studying these drugs, especially in regards to mental illness such as Schizophrenia and other severe disorders. If only people weren't automatically set at odds with each other over the value of these experiences and could simply agree to view things objectively we wouldn't have such divergent conversations. I personally see little value in sharing the experiences through standard dialog after the fact (outside of clinical studies or storytelling), and would relate most hallucinogenic forays to lyrics from Rosetta Stoned:
Overwhelmed as one would be placed in my position
Such a heavy burden now to be the one
Born to bear and read to all the details of our ending
To write it down for all the world to see
But I forgot my pen shit the bed again
Typical
I think the passage reflects on the inherent duality involved in the experience. You become a bit selfless by definition, performing a cognitive Jekyl & Hyde. To a point, your motor functions may even become impaired or modified, all the while the most grand visions you've ever experienced dance through your head. Yet you can't share them, you can't relate them.

...please don't resort to the cliche that unless I've tried it, I can't talk about it. I can turn it around quite easily.

Heh, no, you cannot.
posted by prostyle at 11:28 AM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel: Again my point still stands, that if two people are experiencing the same thing with one person adding the drug, and they both have a meaningful experience, in the case of the person taking the drug, we can't rule out the drug as having contributed a feeling of meaningfulness regardless of the experience.

Well, it seems here that you are proposing a fallacy that "meaningfulness" is just out there waiting to be discovered. I don't think most modern theories of "meaning" would agree with this concept anymore.

But why are we considering the drug as a priveleged case over such other commonly accepted thing that serve to alter the ways in which we percieve the world? Why not look at sermons in context with the ceremonial aspects of religious service in contrast to classroom lectures?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:32 AM on July 11, 2006


prostyle,

I agree with your assessment. My concern is that some people seem focused on proving that psychedelic experiences are "drug-induced" and therefore either devoid of meaning or disconnected from reality. I posit that there is no distinguishable difference between each perception of reality. One just probably has that annoying haze filter that comes with any movie scene with Cybil Shepard.

Questioning anyone's "reality-tunnel" (to use the great RAW's term) puts some people into a tizzy. Try talking about the existence of God with my father. He can't even participate in the conversation since his worldview doesn't allow dissent. Some people are terrified that there is another level of experience that is as true and valid as the one they are living. It's a shame really, since they seem to be missing out on so much beauty.
posted by Dantien at 11:34 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't think that's the case, and I'd posit the inverse: eat an eighth with me, hike into the woods, sit down and wait an hour and then tell me it's not mystical - to my face. 'Cause we can sit around and bullshit all day, but I'd like to see some of you just try to keep a straight face as you deny the drug is having any effect on you. You'd be rolling on the ground chatterboxing before you could stammer out another denial.

So, prostyle, if someone on drugs thinks that "Itsy Witsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" is God's most important message to mankind and resolves (while still high) to undertake a mission to preach God's divine revelation, you're saying that once they come down they would be turning against a genuine divine revelation if they said "man, that was weird" rather than actually heading out to preach the Itsy Witsy Word?
posted by yoink at 11:37 AM on July 11, 2006


I'm just saying man, if you HAD experienced a psychedelic mindstate, many of your questions would be answered.
posted by Dantien at 2:25 PM EST on July 11 [+fave] [!]


Actually, I think I'd be asking better articulated questions than I am now.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:43 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


And yes, a lot of what people get out of psychedelics has something to do with what they took with them into the trip. Again, I don't see that as a bad thing - I've heard of people using psychedelics to gain a new perspective on problems in their life. The ability to view things in a different way for a while can be invaluable - and in some situations, it can be really hard to get out of certain habits of thinking and believing without something to jumpstart the process [whether that something be a drug, meditation, whatever.]

I don't think that most people who've meddled with psychedelics expect that every aspect will have equal meaning [as yoink almost seems to be implying that they do or should.] Psychedelic drugs are a somewhat blunt tool, and opportunities for real insight and profound experiences come side-by-side with the ability to stare at the paint moving on the wall, not because it's profound but because it looks cool. Similarly, I'm sure that most of Mendeleev's dreams were, indeed, weird shit, like most dreams are. That not every single aspect of the experience [nor, indeed, every experience] is fraught with profound meaning doesn't mean that it can never mean anything... sort of like one's day-to-day experience, that way. Similarly, the fact that one might need to reconsider insights later on doesn't mean that every insight has no value [after all, I have the same problems with ideas in my daily life.]
posted by ubersturm at 11:48 AM on July 11, 2006


My concern is that some people seem focused on proving that psychedelic experiences are "drug-induced" and therefore either devoid of meaning or disconnected from reality.

I don't think anybody is saying the drug experience is "devoid of meaning." I think that we're saying that the "meaning" is derived by post-hoc exegesis rather than being "sent" to you or "revealed" to you by a genuinely "mystical" (that is to say, metaphysical) experience. That's what I mean about the comparison to reading a novel or a seeing a movie. I'm entirely willing to accept that your experience of "oneness with the universe" may radically alter your beliefs about the world and your place in it. I just don't see even the slightest reason to believe that what you experienced corresponds in any way at all with the real nature of the universe.

Similarly, I believe that dreams are, for the most part, inherently meaningless--but that doesn't mean that one can't use them as the basis for profound reflection upon one's life. One can use any narrative whatsoever as a starting point or framework for thinking about one's life (look at the work that Freud did with the Oedipus story--look how productive so many people have found that work); where we go wrong is in thinking that the productiveness of the work we do with the narrative in some way proves the narratives inherent validity.

I'm quite sure that if I did mushrooms in the forest I'd be full of mystical feelings about my oneness with nature. Two centuries of Romantic and post-Romantic thought about that will have primed me to experience the effects of the drug in precisely that way. After I come down, I will have at my disposal centuries of mystical writings and shared cultural frameworks for interpreting the experience of that erosion of identity--of course it will "make sense" for me to interpret this as some kind of revelation that the ego and the object are originally one, that "not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come" into this world etc. etc.

But none of that is remotely an argument that my subjective experience of a drug-induced vision of "oneness" tells me anything "real" about the actual nature of the world or of my relationship to it.
posted by yoink at 11:52 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


So, prostyle, if someone on drugs thinks that "Itsy Witsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" is God's most important message to mankind and resolves (while still high) to undertake a mission to preach God's divine revelation, you're saying that once they come down they would be turning against a genuine divine revelation if they said "man, that was weird" rather than actually heading out to preach the Itsy Witsy Word?

Nah, what I put forward was the suggestion that I'd like to see someone deny the mystical feelings at the time of the experience. For the most part, I'd consider reflecting back on anything "revelatory" during a hallucination as a pointless exercise, let alone revolving around it as the spoken word. Every time I trip there's half a dozen "omfg I need to write this down" moments, they come and go. It's nothing to fret about one way or another, just part of the ride - kind of like life when I'm not tripping. If any fun is to be had after the fact, it's trying to make heads and tails out of your insane chicken scratch. Remember? I forgot my pen
posted by prostyle at 11:55 AM on July 11, 2006


But why are we considering the drug as a priveleged case over such other commonly accepted thing that serve to alter the ways in which we percieve the world? Why not look at sermons in context with the ceremonial aspects of religious service in contrast to classroom lectures?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:32 PM EST on July 11 [+fave] [!]


A fine question - I personally don't. Sermons are lectures + moral teaching, I think. In fact, I believe that if you really really really really want to, you can trigger a "touched by God" religious moment through force of will alone. I see no reason you can force you brain into an altered state if you pray/mediate on it long enough.

And regarding turning it around, I certainly can:

Because you have tried psychedelic drugs, you are unable to perceive how imparied your mental functioning has become, because the part of your mind that would perceive this is also impaired.

See? It's fun.

I'm not judging anyone experiences, choices, or even anyone's recollections of them. I simply saying that psychedelic drugs by their very nature break down the walls between memory, recall, and perception, so that what would ordinarily be academic discussions of "how do you know your memories really happened" for example become far more relevant in this context.

You use a tool to observe the world, everything you see or feel or experience uses this tool. Then you alter the tool. Can you really compare what you see feel experience with the altered tool to what you saw when it was unaltered?
posted by Pastabagel at 11:56 AM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel -- one of the things that neurologists have learned in the last couple of decades, with Sacks and Ramachandran as particularly accessible examples, is that we think of as "unaltered" consciousness is, in fact, a highly filtered (and highly useful!) interface generated by the brain over a much more chaotic and provisional set of inputs, outputs, and feedback loops. It is "real" and "universal" in the same sense that Windows is the "real world" of computing -- which is to say, the vast majority of people use it; but that doesn't mean that Apple users (predictably, I am one) or Linux programmers aren't doing "real" computing.

By studying people with cognitive deficits or unusual modes of cognition (such as autism), neurologists like Sacks and Ramachandran have greatly widened our understanding of how this interface is created in the brain, and how diverse the "front ends" of these individual interfaces are, even in people who are considered "normal." In other words, so-called normal, unaltered, non-psychedelic consciousness varies greatly from person to person. The brain is not simply a window (or a "tool," as you put it) through which you look out passively at the "real world." It is an active participant in the creation of a limited, highly-filtered model of the external world that enables you to walk around, talk, and perceive things on some baseline common level with others, even though their way of perceiving the world may, on closer examination, diverge widely from yours.

So to dismiss an experience as merely the product of an altered state is to gloss over the fact that baseline consciousness itself is highly determined by a complex, networked set of interactions in the brain, including constantly fluctuating sets of chemicals that generate the GUI that we call "the real world." Psychedelics temporarily alter those interactions in subtle ways that produce potentially dramatic -- and sometimes illuminating or edifying, and sometimes mundane or harmful -- temporary changes in the interface.

There is a tremendous amount of cultural prejudice embedded in phrases like "messing" with perception. In many cultures, psychedelics like mushrooms and peyote have been used for thousands of years as part of traditional initiation rituals into what those cultures consider to be real reality, as opposed to the half-sleep of the uninitiated mind. You can dismiss this or laugh at this, but you can obviously also laugh at the notion that munching on a saltine is partaking in the body of Christ, or that these funny painted papers in our wallets are worthy of being exchanged for real goods and services. It's a matter of perspective.

The differences between objective "experience" and subjective "thought" are not so easily discriminated at the level of neurology. Reality is not something that is simply out there, waiting to be imbibed wholesale, any more than the World Wide Web simply sits somewhere waiting to be "tuned into" accurately by anyone with a browser. What we conveniently and necessarily call reality is a neurological construct that changes and varies from person to person -- and varies much more widely than we thought 30 years ago. Psychedelics can dramatically demonstrate that process -- but so can love, depression, meditation, close attention, or any number of other things that fall within the bounds of what we call normal.
posted by digaman at 12:00 PM on July 11, 2006 [5 favorites]


Pastabagel - How can the experience be meaningful if it's entirely in your head?

Because all your existence is in your head. Including your perception of other people and their testimony that it's not. This dichotomy between objective and subjective is the product of a worldview where the phenomenal world is divided into ego and not-ego ("these are my hands", "that table is not part of me"). Potential for independent agency is then granted to phenomena seen as not part of the ego. However, since all perception & cognition is self-mediated, such a distinction is arbitrary and subject to change as experience entails.

The key here is that there is something external or objective in relation to your perception that forces your brain to react to it. A hallucination is entirely subjective, you are seeing things that are not there because you are not actually seeing them.

This strongly indicates that you haven't taken a psychedelic.

From the commentary by Solomon Snyder on this paper:

"The different effects elicited by these drugs have led to different names. They are designated “psychotomimetics” because one can reasonably argue that individuals taking the drugs have lost contact with reality and are, hence, psychotic. They are called “hallucinogens” because of the perceptual distortions. However, frank hallucinations—seeing or hearing something that doesn’t exist at all in the environment—are rare. Rather, visual and auditory perceptions are notably intensified and altered. Subjects report synesthesia, a seeming transmutation of the senses, e.g., visualizing sound waves upon hearing a loud noise."

But what we are perceiving, the thing in front of us, is not. Just because my perception of a tree in front of me may be subjective and influenced by chemicals, mood, diet, etc. doesn't change the fact that the tree is there

How do you know?
posted by daksya at 12:02 PM on July 11, 2006


I don't think that most people who've meddled with psychedelics expect that every aspect will have equal meaning [as yoink almost seems to be implying that they do or should.]

But, ubersturm, surely you see the problem with that statement? If you're trying to tell me that these experiences give you access to genuine mystical knowledge that you would not otherwise be able to access, but then you tell me "oh, of course, sometimes they just tell you weird shit that means nothing" I have to ask "o.k., how do you know which of the experiences are "revelations" and which are just "weird shit"? To which your only reply can be "well, the revelations are the ones that tell me things that I can recognize as being deep and profound [i.e., the things you are predisposed to see as the kinds of things a proper mystical revelation should tell you]" whereas the "weird shit" ones tell you things that are obviously stupid ("Itsy Witsy etc is the word of God).

But that is clearly circular. That means that these drugs can only ever "reveal" to you truths that you in some sense already "know." What if the great metaphysical secrets of the universe "really are" contained in "Itsy Witsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini"? The drugs can't "tell" you this because although they give you that "experience" while you're on them, you discount that experience as "meaningless" afterwards.

Because there is no way of telling what is "mystical revelation" and what is just "weird shit," in other words, except by these circular means, there is no reason for me to believe you when you tell me that any one particular experience you had while on drugs was "really" revelatory.
posted by yoink at 12:03 PM on July 11, 2006 [2 favorites]


Pastabagel, your reversed "you can only really understand" statement doesn't really make any sense, unless you believe [contrary to most studies done on psychedelic drugs and the people who take them] that all psychedelic drugs have a permanent "impairing" effect and that a person can no longer think normally, even when nominally sober. There's a lot more evidence for the assertion that it's hard to understand a psychedelic state without having experienced it than there is for the assertion that people who have done psychedelic drugs can never experience a normal state again.

The altering we're talking about is like putting a different lens on a camera - all pictures taken with that new lens will be different, but the camera will be the same when the old lens is replaced. That's a more accurate kind of tool analogy. [And again: when one brings up more minor psychoactive stuff, like alcohol or caffeine or hormones induced by stress, how many of us can be considered to be able to see the "unaltered" world by your definition?]
posted by ubersturm at 12:04 PM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel - My point is, in the case of the straight person hearing Coltrane, we know something objective about the music - that it moved someone. We can say this because the perceptual framework is the same relative to hearing other works of music, seeing other things etc. In other words, the framework hasn't changed, but the person was moved/"had a meaningful experience" therefore it was the music that did it.

Wrong. You never step into the same river twice. Memory is always on-going. If you hear a John Coltrane track first, and then a Pink Floyd album, your brain has been affected and changed by the Coltrane experience. The difference between alteration of the brain: by psychedelic or when "sober" that the former is dramatic and the latter mundane (since you are used to it all your life). Hence you perceive yourself remaining the same thorughout, but you don't. Every moment of experience, your substrate changes. In fact, that's how experience occurs.
posted by daksya at 12:08 PM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Nah, what I put forward was the suggestion that I'd like to see someone deny the mystical feelings at the time of the experience.

Well, prostyle, that's fine--but then, not a single person in this argument disagrees with this. We all agree that while undergoing the experience of a psychedelic drug you are likely to have subjective experiences which seem full of mystical significance to you. The question under discussion is whether or not this is in any meaningful sense a genuine "revelation" of some deeper truth about the world.

If you think that there is no point in thinking about the experiences you had while under the influence of the drug after that influence is worn off you also have no dog in this fight.
posted by yoink at 12:09 PM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel: You use a tool to observe the world, everything you see or feel or experience uses this tool. Then you alter the tool. Can you really compare what you see feel experience with the altered tool to what you saw when it was unaltered?

Then how can we talk about any experience at all? My cognition changes noticably from hour to hour over the course of a day. Does this mean that I can't talk about the way I experience things before breakfast, because my view of the world shifts after breakfast?

yoink: Because there is no way of telling what is "mystical revelation" and what is just "weird shit," in other words, except by these circular means, there is no reason for me to believe you when you tell me that any one particular experience you had while on drugs was "really" revelatory.

But on the other hand, doesn't this continual revaluation of beliefs happen with regular experience as well? (An example from here on metafilter posted yesterday.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:15 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink - The question under discussion is whether or not this is in any meaningful sense a genuine "revelation" of some deeper truth about the world.

I don't know this can be answered. Unless you know the truth, how does one assess if what one 'knows' is the truth? This applies to all denominations of belief: religious, atheistic, personal..etc What matters is your personal comfort. As Bertrand Russell, what most people want is not the truth but certainty i.e. consonance. The former is only pursued because of an expectation that it will lead to the latter.
posted by daksya at 12:15 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink, I've never claimed that psychedelic drugs are likely to give me genuine, unsolicited mystical knowledge. [For that matter, I'm similarly skeptical that, sober, I'm going to have a mystical revelation.] If you've read what I've said, I consider psychedelic drugs to be more or less a tool. Among other things, I think that they're potentially useful for getting a new perspective on stuff that you already know. This experience can be very profound, and I would call it mystical, in a way, but it appears that I define a "mystical" experience rather differently than you do. I've got a very modest sense of what's mystical and spiritual - finding beauty in things, discovering something new or seeing something in a new light - that's close enough to 'mystical' for me, and that's stuff that psychedelic drugs have plenty of potential in helping with, in my opinion.

So no, I don't hold truck with the idea that psychedelic drugs are necessarily a way to tap the Deep And Mystical Truths About The World, or anything along those lines, and I agree that what one finds meaningful in an experience is shaped by one's preconceptions and existing beliefs. That said, I don't see any contradictions in sorting through all of the sensory and cognitive stuff in a trip and finding something of worth in it [saying, after a brief obsession with that Itsy-Bitsy song you keep mentioning "heh, that was weird, but my earlier thoughts about the way I relate to other people - those were useful"] - or of using the experiences there as a starting point for something meaningful, post-trip.
posted by ubersturm at 12:16 PM on July 11, 2006


The question under discussion is whether or not this is in any meaningful sense a genuine "revelation" of some deeper truth about the world.

Yoink, everything that you're saying about psychedelic experience could be used to discredit or qualify to the point of irrelevance any spiritual or philosophical insight whatsoever, psychedelically derived or not. In fact, your statements could be used to discredit virtually any subjective experience.

For instance, when I was about 13, I figured out that I am gay. At the time, homosexuality was not only a crime, it was considered a psychological disorder. Of course I felt that I was "in love" with my best friend; of course I felt "oppressed" by the prevailing views of homosexuals in the media and in my community -- I had teh gay, so I saw the whole world through that funhouse mirror!

But then again....
posted by digaman at 12:17 PM on July 11, 2006


The question under discussion is whether or not this is in any meaningful sense a genuine "revelation" of some deeper truth about the world.

I don't know how that was made the point of conversation, but it is truly silly.

If you think that there is no point in thinking about the experiences you had while under the influence of the drug after that influence is worn off you also have no dog in this fight.

That's not what I said. You asked specifically about revelatory expansions, explosive moments of supposed clarity. I suggested that I find them to be just that, and little more, not worthy of extra inspection. That doesn't mean I write off the experience as a whole when it's over. Much like the entirety of this conversation, you keep throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Not everything is entirely productive all the time, which is another reason these drugs are mostly referenced as "recreational". There's very little black and white in the world, let alone in the realm of psychedelics.
posted by prostyle at 12:24 PM on July 11, 2006


But on the other hand, doesn't this continual revaluation of beliefs happen with regular experience as well?

But what I'm describing is precisely the opposite of the "continual reevaluation of beliefs." It is the continual circular re-confirmation of beliefs which is the peculiar nature of all "religious" belief. The turkey gizzard guy in your link is getting confronted with claims about the world and the nature of the world that he can test in experience. The claim that "you and the tree are one" is one that cannot be tested and cannot be proven wrong. To say "take this drug and you too will see that you are one with the tree" is not at attempt to "prove" or "confirm" the hypothesis of man-tree-oneness, it's an attempt to elicit the same subjective "feeling" in someone.

But if I spin myself around and around in a circle I will eventually feel as if the world is heaving up and down. If I get you to spin in a circle, chances are that you too will feel that way. This isn't "evidence" that an earthquake has taken place, however. If I were culturally preconditioned to believe that "earth heaving up and down" is a sign of God's love for me, then I'm sure I'd attribute great meaningfulness to the feeling I get when I spin around, and I'd think that it was terribly terribly important to induce others to spin in that way, and I would keep saying to people "look, until you've experienced that spinning you'll keep believing in a God-deserted stable world, but once you spin you realize you live in a God-drenched world heaving with his Divine Love." And every time I spin around and feel that heaving I'll be filled with the spirit, and on the odd occasion that I spin and don't get dizzy I won't think "hmmm, that proves God is absent" I'll just think "I must have done something to displease Him" or "I can't have spun in the Right Way" or something.

This seems to me to be exactly and perfectly analogous to the "psychoactive drugs lead to genuine mystical experiences" line of argument.
posted by yoink at 12:25 PM on July 11, 2006


And by the way, it strikes me as obvious that the True Secrets of the Universe do reside in "Itsy Witsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini." How could they not, since that song is part of the Universe, and thus must contain the DNA of existence, whatever that may be?

Personally, I'd rather hear those Secrets examined and revealed by Coltrane, Steve Reich or Bach. Or Walt Whitman and Shakespeare. Or Kubrick and Kurosawa. But that's just a matter of taste.
posted by digaman at 12:26 PM on July 11, 2006


Yoink: If you think that there is no point in thinking about the experiences you had while under the influence of the drug after that influence is worn off you also have no dog in this fight.

Prostyle: That's not what I said. You asked specifically about revelatory expansions, explosive moments of supposed clarity. I suggested that I find them to be just that, and little more, not worthy of extra inspection.


Prostyle, I can't understand what you are trying to say. I'm wrong to say that you think "there is no point in thinking about the experiences you had while under the influence of the drug after that influence is worn off" but you say those experiences "are not worthy of extra inspection." How are we at odds, again?

Or are you arguing that this "supposed clarity" is actually more than "supposed"? Are you saying that it is a genuine "clarity"--a "seeing further" than we normally see? If so, then you are making the claim of "genuine revelation" which you yourself describe as "silly."
posted by yoink at 12:29 PM on July 11, 2006


And by the way, it strikes me as obvious that the True Secrets of the Universe do reside in "Itsy Witsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini." How could they not, since that song is part of the Universe, and thus must contain the DNA of existence, whatever that may be?

And if that's the deep insight which LSD reveals to the user, count me out.
posted by yoink at 12:33 PM on July 11, 2006


To be clear: I suspect that one can use psychedelics to "discover" or piece together some truth that was already more or less there, somewhere in one's mind and in one's influences. I think that the process of doing this can feel profound and mystical, and that experiences and insights from a psychedelic experience can be analyzed for further meaning afterwards. I don't see any reason why the sorting of information needed to pick these experiences out of the noise is ultimately any different from the sorting we do in our daily lives [or why it necessarily makes the experience suspect.] On the other hand, I also don't see psychedelics as a gateway to some communal subconscious or Ultimate Truth.

That said, "meaningfulness" and "mystical experiences" and "revelations" aren't really things one can define objectively, and questioning whether or not they are real when they happen during a psychedelic experience just brings us back to wondering how we can tell that they're real when drugs _aren't_ involved either. That's also why I disagree with Pastabagel's claim that if two people are having meaningful experiences, and one's on drugs, we can't tell that the they're having a real one - how can we tell that the other one is "real" either? Sometimes I stop and see a sunset and say "damn, that's gorgeous," and it feels very profound. Mostly, I don't. I'm not sure why it makes sense to say that the biochemical variations that led me to have a meaningful experience just then [endorphins from finding out I got a job? adreneline from jogging a mile? who knows?] are qualitatively different from other psychoactive chemicals that alter my experience of the sunset. Psychedelics might be on the far end of the spectrum of psychoactive chemicals affecting how we percieve and deal with the world, but there's a lot of [very natural] variation, and there's not really a single "normal" state.
posted by ubersturm at 12:34 PM on July 11, 2006


Or are you arguing that this "supposed clarity" is actually more than "supposed"?

Quite the opposite, my use of supposed was an attempt to reference my belief that these revelatory moments are not inherently true or useful insights. I believe those kinds of thoughts can be facilitated by experimentation, but a concrete relationship between them and reality is doubtful. That is not to say I do not enjoy reflecting on past trips, but rather that those most seemingly profound moments are just that - apparitions, to be enjoyed and then released. I think we probably agree with each other on the basics, we're just coming from different backgrounds.
posted by prostyle at 12:40 PM on July 11, 2006


if that's the deep insight which LSD reveals to the user, count me out.

No problem, yoinks. I wouldn't bother with Zen practice, keeping company with the ill or dying, or a deep committed relationship either if I were you, since all of those also tend to uncover profound significance in tiny, daily things that are usually dismissed as mundane.

As a Zen student might say, meet me in 10,000 years and let me know how your approach works out.
posted by digaman at 12:46 PM on July 11, 2006


Trips are difficult to describe to people who have never done it. Saying the experience isn't "meaningful" is absurd without a normative definition of "meaningful", and how could you ever have something like that?
posted by delmoi at 12:51 PM on July 11, 2006


No problem, yoinks. I wouldn't bother with Zen practice, keeping company with the ill or dying, or a deep committed relationship either if I were you, since all of those also tend to uncover profound significance in tiny, daily things that are usually dismissed as mundane.

To me, the real question is why the users of psychedelic drugs are so unbelievably smug and self-satisfied. It's always "you couldn't possibly understand you puny little man." Take this as a case in point.

Please notice, digaman, that I have never once denied--indeed, I have explicitly stated--that one can use drug experience (and dreams, and novels, etc. etc.) as a pathway to genuinely helpful and revelatory self-reflection. All I am arguing is that the subjective experiences you undergo while under the effects of the drug cannot be privileged as somehow "more real" or "more true" than any other experience. Attending the dying can be (as I have had recent reason to experience--thanks for bringing that all back up for me) a profoundly moving and thought-provoking experience. It offers us an opportunity to reflect upon our own mortality, upon the nature of human life etc. etc. It does not, however, give us privileged access to some "truth" about the human condition that is not accessible to those who have not yet had reason to attend the ill or dying. This is all I am claiming about drug use.
posted by yoink at 12:56 PM on July 11, 2006


Wrong. You never step into the same river twice. Memory is always on-going. If you hear a John Coltrane track first, and then a Pink Floyd album, your brain has been affected and changed by the Coltrane experience.

Let's not split hairs. I realize your mind changes with each passing moment and as a result of what happens at those moments. I'm calling that baseline level X.

Person A hears Coltrane at level X and level X changes to level X + e.

Person B starts at baseline level Q. They drop acid, and now they are at level 10^Q. They listen to Coltrane. They are at level 10^Q + e. How significant is coltrane relative to the drug in this example, where e ~= X ~= Q, and you only perceive the total?

I realize its mathematical but you get my point. Ordinary conditions + stimulus, vs. oridinary > changed to extraordinary + stimulus.

And before we get any more lectures about neurology, I'd like to point out that neuroscience acknowledges that it knows very little about how the brain works. It knows that certain chemicals have certain effects, but it cannot explain why. We know how neurons, synapses, dendrites, etc realte to one another, but science does not know how the content of a memory is stored in one, how recall works, etc.

Certain paradigms may be instructive, but they are just that. Regarding my tree example above, that daskya addressed, we know the tree is still there because physics predicts it will be, and physics hasn't been proven wrong on this point yet.

What it boils down to is this: You perceive things, you think about them, and you feel them emotionally. But scientifically speaking, it all happens in the space inside your skull. If you introduce something into that sapce in your skull that changes how you perceive, think, or feel, it is my opinion that the change, the resulting experience, is inauthentic because it resulted from a overwhelmingly large distortion of the apparatus. It doesn't mean you didn't feel happy or scared or transcendent or whatever, it means you basically hotwired your brain to feel that way.

I fully expect to get slammed for that, but consider this:

If I create an exact, down to the last atom and decibel of sound, virtual reality reproduction of Pacific Coast Highway, and you put on the VR goggles/brainstem insert and drive down it, can you say you've driven on Pacific Coast Highway?
posted by Pastabagel at 12:57 PM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel, I'd read a little more deeply in neurology before you attempt to sum up the state of the art for the purposes of dismissing it. There have been a lot of advances in the last couple of decades. There's a distinct difference between saying "Science doesn't know yet precisely how evolution works" and claiming that "Even scientists admit that evolution is just another theory."
posted by digaman at 1:07 PM on July 11, 2006


That's also why I disagree with Pastabagel's claim that if two people are having meaningful experiences, and one's on drugs, we can't tell that the they're having a real one - how can we tell that the other one is "real" either?

BTW, this thread is awesome.

That's not at all what I meant. They are both having a real experience, but they are not experiencing the same thing. The one on drugs is having an altered view of it, and the alteration is so signficant that it drowns out everything else. When the drug user says they get Coltrane, my feeling is that they didn't really understand it, they just got the feeling of understanding.

That feeling is most definitely real, it's just not related solely to the music.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:11 PM on July 11, 2006


Yoink, everything that you're saying about psychedelic experience could be used to discredit or qualify to the point of irrelevance any spiritual or philosophical insight whatsoever, psychedelically derived or not. In fact, your statements could be used to discredit virtually any subjective experience.

Digaman, of course I could apply that to "any spiritual insight." I don't accept "spiritual" accounts of phenomena--I'm an atheist. So, yes, I'm criticizing claims of "mystical" knowledge--it's not surprising that my argument for doing so applies to mystical knowledge in general.

As for "philosophical" insight--it depends what you mean by philosophy. There are many philosophical claims which can be tested, or which can help to clarify my understanding of the world. The very skepticism about the "spiritual" that I'm evincing is a "philosophical" claim.

For instance, when I was about 13, I figured out that I am gay. At the time, homosexuality was not only a crime, it was considered a psychological disorder. Of course I felt that I was "in love" with my best friend; of course I felt "oppressed" by the prevailing views of homosexuals in the media and in my community -- I had teh gay, so I saw the whole world through that funhouse mirror!


I'm struggling to see the relevance of this. There's lots of objective evidence for the opression of gay people, both at the time you were 13 and currently. Are you saying that there's some symmetry between me saying "I don't see any good reason to believe that you received genuine insight into the actual structure of the universe while under the effects of l.s.d" and some whackjob religious person saying "I don't believe you're really gay, just because you say you are"?

I find it hard to believe that you don't see the difference between those two claims, but let me spell it out for you. When you say "I want to have sex with people of the same gender as myself" you are making a claim about something that only you can possibly know anything about, and that in no way affects me (unless I myself see you as a desirable sexual partner).

When you make a claim about the structure and meaning of universe, then you make a claim that has significant implications for me. If you tell me that unless I accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour I will burn for all eternity in hell, it is important for me to assess whether you have good grounds for that claim. Simply saying to me "I had a vision of Jesus in a dream and he assured me that this was the case" is not likely to convince me.

By exactly the same logic, when you say to me "when I take drugs I can see that the universe has a mysterious mystic DNA that is present in everything--including the musical structure of Itsy Witsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" you are making a claim that it is important for me to know whether or not to take seriously. Of course I have an interest in understanding the universe I inhabit. Of course it is important for me to know if the songs I listen to (or fail to listen to) have something to tell me about that universe. If, on the other hand, I can demonstrate that the conclusions you draw about the nature of the universe from your drug experiences are entirely untestable, based solely on the same kind of circular logic that the Jesus-guy's claims are based on, then there is no reason for me to care two hoots about the experiences you have, unless I have personal reasons to care about you as an individual.
posted by yoink at 1:15 PM on July 11, 2006


Person B starts at baseline level Q. They drop acid, and now they are at level 10^Q. They listen to Coltrane. They are at level 10^Q + e. How significant is coltrane relative to the drug in this example, where e ~= X ~= Q, and you only perceive the total?

Except that there is no "baseline level". And you have missed the point completely. You have preassigned these base levels (without having experienced psychedelics), but they're irrelevant. The point is both the psychedelic experience and regular experience occur in your head. Their evaluation also occurs in the head. And this evaluation where psychedelic experience is valued more, equal, or less than regular experience is also a product of the head. So these value judgements have no external or "objective" reference to validate them.

If I create an exact, down to the last atom and decibel of sound, virtual reality reproduction of Pacific Coast Highway, and you put on the VR goggles/brainstem insert and drive down it, can you say you've driven on Pacific Coast Highway?

Yes, because there's no difference for me, between the two environments.

we know the tree is still there because physics predicts it will be, and physics hasn't been proven wrong on this point yet

So, people 2000 years ago didn't expect the tree to remain. Physics hasn't much to do with it. Again, you have answered a different question. I'm not asking how do you know if the tree is still there i.e. you still see it, but how do you know it "really" exists? My point is that this line of questioning is impotent and more importantly, irrelevant. Whether the tree is there or not, all that matters is whether you see it or not, and how it behaves for you.
posted by daksya at 1:20 PM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel, I'd read a little more deeply in neurology before you attempt to sum up the state of the art for the purposes of dismissing it. There have been a lot of advances in the last couple of decades. There's a distinct difference between saying "Science doesn't know yet precisely how evolution works" and claiming that "Even scientists admit that evolution is just another theory."
posted by digaman at 4:07 PM EST on July 11 [+fave] [!]


You'll note that I said something akin to the former, not the latter. I do know the state of neurology, and while the biological structures are known, the processing of information using them is not. Do you remember your last birthday? Great. Does science know how all the details of that memory are stored? Where does the birthday cake part of the memory go? How about the conversations you had? The smell of the candles? Are they even stored? What about the parts that you don't actually remember, but that you fill in, e.g. was your friend's boyfriend wearing a red tie, or a blue tie? If you dont remember, why does the the tie, in your memory of the event, have a color? I know there's a psychological, cognitive science answer to these questions, but they are way to high level to be useful here.

Unless I've been in a coma for 30 years, there aren't hard science answers to any of this yet. While I haven't read Oliver Sacks, I certainly have read extensively about the hard science of neurology, at least enough to know there isn't an information theory of the brain yet.

This is why I'm trying to argue away from this, because if science had the answers, there'd be no discussion because we would know exactly why a drug experience is different.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:28 PM on July 11, 2006


By the way, can I ask all of those people who are making the radically solipsistic and subjectivist claims in this thread ("how do you know what's "real"" -- "what's the difference between your biochemistry and drugs" and so forth) if they think there is any use at all for words like "delusion" or "mirage" or "dream."

The leap to "well, prove that I'm not dreaming RIGHT NOW" is simply one of those argument-stopping tactics that serves to suspend rational debate. Of course we could all be the dream of a caterpiller that is being dreamt by a butterfly and so on and so on. So what? If you leap to pyrrhic skepticism all that gets you is more skepticism. If we can't tell dream from reality then the drug-induced dreams (how do you guys know you ever actually took any drugs? How do you know you're not just dreaming about the drugs you thought you took? blah blah boring blah) don't get any more "mystical" or "real"--they just one more mirror in the hall of mirrors.

But, face it, the very fact that you can all point to your drug experiences as clearly delimited, clearly defined experiences (how many variations on the "it was years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday" are there in this thread?) shows that in practice you see a very clear distinction between "normal experience" and "altered experience." Iin practice we know very well, very reliably, very predictably, the differences between "normal cognition" (repeatable, testable, sharable etc.) and "drug-influenced cognition." That "normal cognition" depends upon an insanely complicated dance of chemical interactions in the brain no more suggests that "normal cognition" is the same as "drug-influenced cognition" than the fact that they are both forms of "the movement of air" means that hurricanes are indistinguishable from tornados.
posted by yoink at 1:28 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink - if they think there is any use at all for words like "delusion" or "mirage" or "dream."

There is, and a purely functional one. If in the desert, I see a tree. I come closer, and notice nothing, then I call that a mirage. Doesn't matter if the tree was "really" there or not. If there is still an "illusory" tree present, providing "illusory" shade, that's all matters for my comfort.

But, face it, the very fact that you can all point to your drug experiences as clearly delimited, clearly defined experiences (how many variations on the "it was years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday" are there in this thread?) shows that in practice you see a very clear distinction between "normal experience" and "altered experience."

Not at all. It just shows that our cognition creates distinctions, i.e. "it's day", "it's evening", "the commercial's playing" and "the movie's back on". You have chosen to retain this distinction only between "normal" and "drug" experiences, but that's one instance of the basic psychological operation, not the only.
posted by daksya at 1:36 PM on July 11, 2006


For the record, I'm an atheist too. But theism and the belief that it is possible to make deep insights into the nature of reality are not the same thing. For instance, science is an example of the latter, and most scientists don't require God as the First Hypothesis.

By exactly the same logic, when you say to me "when I take drugs I can see that the universe has a mysterious mystic DNA that is present in everything--including the musical structure of Itsy Witsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini"

Yoink, now you're seeing drugs where there weren't any. Flashback, perhaps? My Grand Unified Itsy Witsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini Hypothesis didn't mention drugs, and wasn't about drugs. It was an assertion that if you could truly understand the nature of anything in the Universe at the most profound level -- including a stupid song -- you would understand the Universe. Granted, that's a classic gnostic assertion, but I bet a lot of physicists would agree with me.

This is an awesome thread, but I have to go. Carry on all, and thanks for open minds on all sides!
posted by digaman at 1:36 PM on July 11, 2006



If I create an exact, down to the last atom and decibel of sound, virtual reality reproduction of Pacific Coast Highway, and you put on the VR goggles/brainstem insert and drive down it, can you say you've driven on Pacific Coast Highway?

Yes, because there's no difference for me, between the two environments.


There may be no difference for you, but that isn't the point. The point is, in the example, that there never occured in the history of the universe the event in which you were in a car driving along the set of points in space that comprise Pacific Coast Highway.

we know the tree is still there because physics predicts it will be, and physics hasn't been proven wrong on this point yet

I'm not asking how do you know if the tree is still there i.e. you still see it, but how do you know it "really" exists? My point is that this line of questioning is impotent and more importantly, irrelevant. Whether the tree is there or not, all that matters is whether you see it or not, and how it behaves for you.
posted by daksya at 4:20 PM EST on July 11 [+fave] [!]


IF this is true, why would you want to cast further doubt on what is real by introducing a substance that affects how you perceive reality? It seems very pointless and almost nihilistic.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:37 PM on July 11, 2006


Not at all. It just shows that our cognition creates distinctions, i.e. "it's day", "it's evening", "the commercial's playing" and "the movie's back on". You have chosen to retain this distinction only between "normal" and "drug" experiences, but that's one instance of the basic psychological operation, not the only.

But Daksya, when you say "our cognition creates distinctions" do you mean that it creates those distinctions ex nihilo? In other words, are you arguing a radical solipsism: that you're dreaming up metafilter, you're dreaming up the computer you're writing on--that your mind might suddenly throw a switch and dream that your an eight-legged space alien on mars, and there'd be no way for you to recall the previous "metafilter human" dream?

If that's the case, I cannot--of course--give you a counter argument. Radical skepticism can never be disproven. But you also render yourself entirely irrelevant to this discussion. You don't know if you ever actually had any drug experiences. You don't know if drugs have any consistent effects on the minds of the people that take them. Maybe it's purely a coincidence that on the occasions you took drugs your mind "threw a switch" a reinvented the rules of the world.

I realize that settling for a pragmatic defence of the "reality of reality" is always a little deflating, but without it you've really got nothing at all to offer in the way of an argument for or against the "mystical" power of drugs.
posted by yoink at 1:45 PM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel - The point is, in the example, that there never occured in the history of the universe the event in which you were in a car driving along the set of points in space that comprise Pacific Coast Highway

Whose history?

Yours, or mine. All statements of history are made and acknowledged by subjects. Ultimately, if it does not make a noticeable difference in the vector that is my phenomenal existence, it's as relevant as the "parallel dimensions" from science fiction stories, or the independent universes created from other Big Bangs.

why would you want to cast further doubt on what is real by introducing a substance that affects how you perceive reality?

As I've tried to reiterate, what's "real" does not matter. My experience is all there is, for me. As long as I am comfortable with psychedelics or organized religion or bungee-jumping or anything at all, that's all there is relevant.
posted by daksya at 1:45 PM on July 11, 2006


But Daksya, when you say "our cognition creates distinctions" do you mean that it creates those distinctions ex nihilo?

It's irrelevant. The functionality of those distinctions is what matters. So how they came about only matters as far as what you wish to happen next or what happens next.
posted by daksya at 1:47 PM on July 11, 2006


you've really got nothing at all to offer in the way of an argument for or against the "mystical" power of drugs.

Eeek -- well just one more post.

Sorry, but there's a vast literature of anthropological studies of traditional communities that use psychedelics to gain insight into the nature of reality. Straight with the Medicine is just one good example -- there are hundreds.

It's fine to dismiss all of this accumulated human experience with an ironic wave of the hand, but it's not OK to insist that it doesn't exist.
posted by digaman at 1:52 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink: "look, until you've experienced that spinning you'll keep believing in a God-deserted stable world, but once you spin you realize you live in a God-drenched world heaving with his Divine Love."

Frankly, I reckon we're all spinning, but it's difficult to really understand that without getting dizzy once in a while. Man.
posted by Drexen at 1:54 PM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yoink,

You do realize that the spinning around and around until the world heaves and is an example of God's love is a pretty accurate representation of the mystical rituals of the Whirling Dervishes? Either you knew that or it was serendipity. how do you know you aren't tripping right now?

Pastabagel,

you speak of the "one on drugs is aving an altered view of it, and the alteration is so signficant that it drowns out everything else" and yet claim never to have experienced this. So could it be that your assessment is so way off base as to be irrelevant? Tripping does not "drown out everything else"...not by a long shot sir.

Again, until you've swam in this river, you can only point to it. But as we all know, pointing to it is not the same as swimming in it and one cannot understand the river by gesturing to it.
posted by Dantien at 1:55 PM on July 11, 2006


It's irrelevant. The functionality of those distinctions is what matters.

But you're trying to play the game both ways. You want to say "well, all we have are these functional distinctions." And then you want to turn around and say "but on the other hand drugs give me access to the 'really-real' from which position I can see the falsity of those functional distinctions."

It makes no sense to say "the functionality of those distinctions is what matters" and then turn around and say "what's 'real' does not matter. My experience is all there is." "Real" is a good "functional" term--one we use quite predictably and successfully day after day ("Is the terrorist threat as Bush describes it real?" "Is global climate change a real problem?"). If you want to say "well the only 'real' things are things that I happen to believe" that's fine, but once again it seems to exempt your arguments from any serious meaning. You could be arguing that you have an invisible giant friend who is a rabbit, but I have no reason to consider the possibility that that is "real" unless you're willing to think of some way in which I can test that hypothesis.
posted by yoink at 1:57 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink - And then you want to turn around and say "but on the other hand drugs give me access to the 'really-real' from which position I can see the falsity of those functional distinctions."

Where have I said or implied that? Cite?

It makes no sense to say "the functionality of those distinctions is what matters" and then turn around and say "what's 'real' does not matter.

There's no contradiction at all!

"Real" is a good "functional" term--one we use quite predictably and successfully day after day

But that has nothing to with 'reality', but with behavior. If I let go of the pen from my hand, it'll drop. That's behavior, and that is a functional concept. Its reality or irreality is what's irrelevant.
posted by daksya at 2:03 PM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


You know, I think those like PastaBagel are subtlely claiming that the universe as perceived is the same universe that we all inhabit. Are we trying to come to a final "this is the nature of the universe" realization? I doubt it's coming dude. There is no objective universe out there to discover. It's all based on perception and social contract.

It also may help for some of those in this thread to stop calling hallucinogenics "drugs". Maybe it's subtely influencing your opinion to lump mushrooms in with Heroin and Meth? To many, it's not a drug but a medicine or a tool.
posted by Dantien at 2:03 PM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yoink: you've really got nothing at all to offer in the way of an argument for or against the "mystical" power of drugs.

Digaman: Eeek -- well just one more post.

Sorry, but there's a vast literature of anthropological studies of traditional communities that use psychedelics to gain insight into the nature of reality. Straight with the Medicine is just one good example -- there are hundreds.

It's fine to dismiss all of this accumulated human experience with an ironic wave of the hand, but it's not OK to insist that it doesn't exist.


Digamen: sheesh--talk about arguing dirty. You took the SECOND HALF of a sentence and simply ignored the first half. For the record, what I wrote was:

I realize that settling for a pragmatic defence of the "reality of reality" is always a little deflating, but without it you've really got nothing at all to offer in the way of an argument for or against the "mystical" power of drugs.

For you to adduce the mounds of anthropological evidence that people have often thought that drugs induce a "mystical" state is so wildly irrevelant to this argument in general and to my specific argument in the sentence you (selectively) quote from, it makes my head spin.

To put it most simply: unless you agree that there is some shared reality in which these anthropological reports exist, then those reports are irrelevant to this argument.

Now, it also so happens that those anthropological reports are, almost without exception, evidence of other peoples' beliefs, not evidence as to whether or not those beliefs were justified. You say that you are an atheist. The fact that we know that billions of people through the ages have believed in personalized gods would not, I imagine, impress you as evidence for the existence of those gods, would it?
posted by yoink at 2:05 PM on July 11, 2006


You do not need the drugs to trip it's just easier to achieve an altered consciousness. I have done sweat lodges and Sun dances. They will bring you to a point were your preconceived reality fails and you enter into the other state (world, dimensions, what ever those things are that cannot be put into words), Sweats and dances were you go 4 or 5 days without drinking, sitting in a black lodge were the only thing you see are the twinkling of the grandfathers (hot rocks) you can see into the rocks and the twinkling are the stars in the sky. Several days of that and then to drag around a buffalo skull with it tied into your skin with hook dancing around and around; until it tears through flesh (what a metaphor). Then boom, you break thought, no pain and the epiphany of being is the bow that send you flying into the next world. I could go there to a lesser degree by swimming. Racing a 200 fly and you go into a tunnel. There are lots of ways to get "there" When the white man sailed into the "new" world, the Indians could not see the ships that were right in front of them. This is because they had no point of reference. Oliver Sacks article of the blind man, who could finally see after 40+ years of blindness, could not see as you or I. When he went blind again he was more at ease with the world. The drugs let me see that there was more than I see in this world. With my eyes now opened it was not hard to see outside my own existence. When Krishna showed Lord Arjuna the universe as it really was, it threw him into psychic shock. Krishna was kind in giving him the boon of forgetfulness. The body is a great thing. It allows one to see on a finite level, so that things get done. A body in time is constraining as well, and to not be able to appreciate this before death is to be not fully human.
posted by Rancid Badger at 2:06 PM on July 11, 2006


Yoink,

You do realize that the spinning around and around until the world heaves and is an example of God's love is a pretty accurate representation of the mystical rituals of the Whirling Dervishes?


Yes. And?
posted by yoink at 2:11 PM on July 11, 2006


When the white man sailed into the "new" world, the Indians could not see the ships that were right in front of them.

Uh....what?
posted by agregoli at 2:16 PM on July 11, 2006


I should make a correction: the FPP text says that this current study occured 36 years after Pahnke's; it should be 42/43 years. I mistakenly used a 1969 Pahnke paper as the reference date.
posted by daksya at 2:26 PM on July 11, 2006


The idea that the "Indians" couldn't see Columbus's ships seems to have originated with that font of fuzzy pseudo-scientific nutjob ideas, "What the Bleep Do We Know." It is, of course, a patently absurd claim. A) we have no records of what the native Americans thought of the ships. B) Columbus certainly gives no account of any difficulties the natives might have had in perceiving his presence. C) We know of thousands of cases of "first contact" where people who had never seen European ships were perfectly able to see them on first acquaintance D) Just how dumb do you think these people were? "Large floating thing made of shaped wood" is hardly a concept so radically unfamiliar to native Americans in 1492 that they would have simply blanked out before the sight of it. They had seen (and made) large constructions made of wood. They had seen (and made) floating man made vessels. It's like trying to claim that the first time you encountered a computer you weren't able to see it because it was so wildly different from typewriters.

Of course, if "reality is all in the mind" it's hard to know how we can agree that there was someone called Columbus, or America, or ships....
posted by yoink at 2:31 PM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel, the thing is, you're still saying that there's an absolute definition of a "meaningful experience." To use your example, maybe their girlfriend's the one who's playing Coltrane for them, and it's more her than the music that's making the moment meaningful. Maybe my first experience of the drone band 5ive felt meaningful not just because of the music but because of the company, and maybe I first listened to speed metal because I was pissed off. In all of those cases, altered neurochemistry [naturally altered, not drug-altered] may be changing the experience, and the meaning. There's no absolute "normal" meaningful experience that a drug-related one differs from. There's no way to measure an experience to see whether it's meaningful, or where the meaning's coming from.

And yoink - one can make a distinction with regards to psychedelic states and such in the same way one makes a distinction between night and day. At noon or midnight, it's pretty obvious which is which, but things may not be so clear at dawn or dusk. In practice, drug-related states and what you call a "normal state" are two ends of a continuum, and when you're at one extreme, it's pretty easy to say which end you're on [which is why people find it easy to talk about their drug-related experiences.] However, there are plenty of non-drug-related moments when one's not at the "normal" extreme - perhaps you're tired, or perhaps you're full of endorphins and adreneline after a run, or perhaps you're in love, or perhaps you've just stopped dead in your tracks because the sunset today is so damn gorgeous [in other words, moments when your own neurochemistry's in a certain sort of state.] In any of those moments, if you stopped to think about it, you might realize that parts of the way you're perceiving things resemble the way you perceive things in a drug-altered state. Of course, since these are more subtle, and since we know that we are in a "normal" state [no drugs], it's easy to dismiss the differences. [Similarly, there are times when thoughts are closer to a dream-state than a "normal" state.] I don't take the relationship between "normal" neurochemical perturbations and drug-related ones to be a reductio ad absurdum proof that we might be imagining everything. Rather, I take it as reason to think that one's experiences in an altered state can have [though of course they don't always have] as much validity as non-drug-related experiences, and can be useful and even profound without having to be "real."

[Also, note that there are plenty of people who are talking about psychedelic drugs without attributing special mystical revelations {of the sort you define, rather than the sort one might also be able to have upon examining and one's life to them unaided}, and for that matter without acting particularly smug. The vast majority would probably also state that Native Americans were capable of seeing Columbus' ships.]
posted by ubersturm at 2:35 PM on July 11, 2006


This thread is fascinating but I can't help but feel that we hit the Uncertainty Principle of Psychedelics a while ago--those who've never done them can't possibly know what they're talking about, and those who did can't be trusted because they were on drugs. End of discussion?
posted by muckster at 2:48 PM on July 11, 2006


Rather, I take it as reason to think that one's experiences in an altered state can have [though of course they don't always have] as much validity as non-drug-related experiences, and can be useful and even profound without having to be "real."

Well, I've already agreed that one can get "useful and even profound" results from drug-induced experiences. So if that is all you want to argue, we're on the same page. I think the devil, though, is in the details: what do you mean by "validity" and what do you mean by "profound."

When I watch a movie, it feels incredibly real. Watching a movie of a rollercoaster, say, I might find myself leaning to "counterbalance" the turn, or feel my stomach flying up as we drop down a steep descent. But does the experience have the same "validity" as the real deal? Well, no. I "know" what the difference between the two experiences is, and there are many useful tests I can do to confirm them (i.e., getting out of my seat in the theatre is not a suicidal act). To insist on the importance of the difference between the "real" and the "virtual" experiences is important--it can mean the difference between life and death. The same is true with drug-enduced euphoria and those "twilight" states of "ordinary consciousness." That is, if I'm on acid, I might conceivably think "I have the power to stop traffic with my mind"--so it's probably a good idea to make sure that I'm not in a position to put that hypothesis to the test before I drop acid (yes, I'm aware that the horror stories about people thinking they're able to fly and so forth on acid are largely untrue, but you'll agree it's possible). If I'm in a "twilight" state I might feel euphoric and omnipotent, and I might attempt to do something I can't actually do (jump over a fence that's too high, lift something that's too heavy) but I'm almost vanishingly unlikely to think I can do something that actually breaks the laws of the physical universe.

Similarly, what do you mean by "profound." If you mean "as a result of these subjective experiences, I meditated upon the nature of life and reality and it lead me to some incredibly profound thoughts about the universe" then I'm happy to believe it (although no one has offered anything in the way of profound insights here other than two-bit mysticism).

But if you mean the experience itself was "profound"--in the sense that during the drug-induced distortions of normal consciousness you were in fact directly witnessing deep and normally hidden truths about the nature of the universe, then I have to say that I simply do not believe that, and I do not see what possible evidence you could offer to suggest that that is the case.
posted by yoink at 2:50 PM on July 11, 2006


There are a lot of smart, well-informed, thoughtful posts in this thread, but I perceive a subtext going on. This comment, to me, is most telling:

To me, the real question is why the users of psychedelic drugs are so unbelievably smug and self-satisfied.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but this seems to be the underlying current in most of the exchanges in this thread, dressed up in arguments about different facets of cognitive science, drug psychology, ontological tributaries, etc. But what's really being argued is the same thing I got into lots of arguments about in college: friends who took psychedelics and loved them tended to become zealots about it, and those who chose not to were often put in a position of defending that choice. Or, in less open-minded circles, those who chose to try them were demonized for taking evil drugs by smugly self-righteous abstainers.

Those making points about perception, what we know about how it is created, and how these chemicals can tweak it, have a fine point. Those talking about finding non-chemical ways to the same ends, or wondering about the 'validity' (whatever that means) of psychedelic experiences also have interesting points. I just feel like someone needs to out the morality-debate-subtext to this thread and be honest about it.

Or maybe I've taken too many drugs and am delusional. (and on preview, ditto uberstrum.
posted by LooseFilter at 2:51 PM on July 11, 2006


)
posted by LooseFilter at 2:52 PM on July 11, 2006


Oh come on, Loosefilter, you don't think that this comment (to which I was responding) achieves critical levels of smugness?:

I wouldn't bother with Zen practice, keeping company with the ill or dying, or a deep committed relationship either if I were you

"If you don't believe that psychoactive agents are a true and necessary path to enlightenment, you aren't fit to engage in any of the most important aspects of ordinary human life"--that seems a fair summation of Digaman's "argument" there. I thought I was pretty restrained merely qualifying it as "smug."

Given that I've made no argument that people shouldn't use drugs, and have willingly conceded that drug use may well be a road to genuine and useful insight, I don't see how I'm "demonizing evil drugs" as a "smugly self-righteous abstainer."
posted by yoink at 3:00 PM on July 11, 2006


To me, blue smells like gasoline. Hot dogs taste blue. Therefore, I don't eat hot dogs. But reading MetaFilter does make me lightheaded.
posted by effwerd at 3:02 PM on July 11, 2006


But I will cop to "demonizing loose claims of metaphysical insight" as a "smugly self satisfied skeptic."
posted by yoink at 3:06 PM on July 11, 2006


this thread is awesome.

it's going to be even more awesome when i read it again tonight after smoking a bowl and having a dogfish head 90 minute IPA.
posted by lord_wolf at 3:13 PM on July 11, 2006


fuzzy pseudo-scientific nutjob ideas Yes so is evolution. Ideas and reality are all about cultural consensuses. Not all of us do agree that Columbus discovered America. Light extends into wavelengths that we cannot see, we agree that it does exist and define it. A large sailing ship with weird white people was something we were not familiar with, it hardly makes us dumb. Most of the account of contact with the white man (not just Columbus) is not something our people wrote about as ours was a spoken history, So the "thousands" must be the white trespassers, who stole our land and our history. Again Oliver Sacks, the Doctor in the movie Awakenings is much more adroit and explains all this much better than I can. His books: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales, just to name a few. Of course he is a board certified Neurologist one of those "fuzzy pseudo-scientific nutjob". He does take mail at 2 Horatio Street #3G, New York, NY 10014 and you could explain to him how the mind works. Better yet he might take you Yoink, as a new patient at his offices at the NYU-Mt. Sinai Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.
posted by Rancid Badger at 3:15 PM on July 11, 2006


Rancid Badger: find me a citation where Oliver Sacks says that Native Americans were unable to see ships with white people on them when they first arrived in the New World, and I'll eat my wife (sorry, I meant "hat").
posted by yoink at 3:17 PM on July 11, 2006


Poor Oliver Sacks getting held up by everyone as proving that "reality is all in the mind." How do you think Sacks determines which people are in need of treatment and which are not? Do you think he just flips a coin? Sorry, do you think he just dreams up coins and then invents the idea of flipping them?

Oliver Sacks is a scientist. He believes the world is real, testable, with much of its behavior predictable and repeatable. If he did not, he would not have been able to discover so many useful and interest things about the ways in which the mind works and, sometimes, fails to work. The idea that the chief lesson of "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat" is that we have no way of reliably telling the difference between wives and hats is heartbreakingly (for Sacks) wrongheaded.
posted by yoink at 3:24 PM on July 11, 2006


I have given you 2 books and the Author. I think you would find much more pleasure and interest in reading his stuff that me citing. He really has a great style and is very funny in a droll way. Cognitive science is a new frontier and even B&N has a number of great books on the subject back in the science section. I wish I was young enough to do a PhD in it. You think not being able to see the ships is strange, that’s lightweight. The deeper down the hole you go it just gets stranger. Said Alice to herself, `in my going out altogether, like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?' And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle is like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.
posted by Rancid Badger at 3:41 PM on July 11, 2006


Poor Oliver Sacks getting held up by everyone as proving that "reality is all in the mind."

Hopefully I'm not included in that "everyone," because I'm a close friend of Oliver's and have thought long and hard about his work, as well as discussed it with him, and written about it myself. I certainly wouldn't sum up his perspective by saying that "reality is all in the mind" -- but his work certainly casts light on how, even in non-psychedelicized minds, a picture of reality that seems whole and all-encompassing is constructed out of partial and approximated contents. I was specifically invoking his work to refute the idea that reality exists outside of our minds to be passively "received" by our brains, as if we were looking through a telescope at the moon. The image of reality that we perceive is highly shaped, limited, and enhanced by our minds, and Oliver's writings illuminate that constructive, creative, active process.
posted by digaman at 3:45 PM on July 11, 2006


I was initially surprised that the National Institute on Drug Abuse would support research with a potentially positive result. But I should have guessed that was not the case.

That NIDA statement explicitly makes clear the NIDA is a partisan agency in search of data that support their conclusions, rather than the other way around.
posted by daksya at 3:51 PM on July 11, 2006


Sacks is just the one the public is most familiar with. He writes for a general audience. Dr. Irving Biederman of USC and Prof. Emilio Bizzi of MIT are great
posted by Rancid Badger at 3:52 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink: Given that I've made no argument that people shouldn't use drugs, and have willingly conceded that drug use may well be a road to genuine and useful insight, I don't see how I'm "demonizing evil drugs" as a "smugly self-righteous abstainer."

That comment was not directed at you personally, and apologies if it seemed that way; I intended it as summation of typically dogmatic positions about drug use that I encountered when such issues were urgently important, in college.

My point, directed at the thread in general, is about an unarticulated emotional subtext of the conversation that appears to me to be the primary source of disagreement in it. (Especially since so many comments are written adversarially when they mostly agree, and are really debating semantics of 'meaning' and so forth.)
posted by LooseFilter at 3:56 PM on July 11, 2006


Rancid Badger: I've read the two books you cite, and much more of Sacks's work. I asked you to give me a citation for this patently absurd belief about native Americans and European ships because you offered Sacks as your "proof" that this really did occur. I think you have profoundly misunderstood the nature of Sacks's argument, but you're the one making the bizarre claim, so I think the burden of proof is on you.
posted by yoink at 3:57 PM on July 11, 2006


This is a weird thread.

To me, anyone who might claim to have had some supernatural "truth" "revealed" to them through "mystical" means is suspect, sober or tripping. Hell, even claiming to have an absolute truth is suspect. Anyone who thinks that acid or shrooms are some conduit for communication into some actual supernatural dimension of truth has probably taken too much. Anyone who disposes themselves to believe these things after the fact is equally disturbed. But then again, I haven't read any comments in this thread that state any of those things. (I might've missed them.)

On the other hand, those dismissing the value of these insights simply because they occurred while intoxicated don't seem to value the emotional impact of the insights in and of themselves to those individuals who had them. Either that or they're conflating the personal value of the insight with some imagined attempt at defining an absolute truth about objective reality. As evidenced by this earlier yoink comment: When you make a claim about the structure and meaning of universe, then you make a claim that has significant implications for me.

Maybe it's more about the bad experiences yoink has had with psychedelic enthusiasts who have tried to convince him of their whacked out ideas they had while tripping.

It's not about finding out the secrets of the universe. It's about being in a state where you think you might find some secret of the universe. And then giggle over it while you try to put into words; or maybe try to dance it.
posted by effwerd at 3:58 PM on July 11, 2006


Digman that is just awesome that you are friends with OS and colleague of his as well! That earns my admiration and respect. I would be excited just to have met him.
posted by Rancid Badger at 3:59 PM on July 11, 2006


The image of reality that we perceive is highly shaped, limited, and enhanced by our minds, and Oliver's writings illuminate that constructive, creative, active process.

Sure. I don't think anyone in the thread is a naive realist. But to say that my picture of reality is the product of a complex series of (largely unconscious) inferences, guesses, constructive infill and so forth in no way whatsoever suggests either that A) reality is in any useful or meaningful sense a subjective "creation" of the mind or B) altering the functioning of that complex biochemistry by introducing psychoactive drugs is a pathway to "mystical" knowledge that is in some way inherently superior to the "mediated" knowledge available to the mind in its "normal" state.

Sacks is actually a great example of what can and can't be learnt from "altered states." The "Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" isn't getting some "mystical" insight into the interchangeability from a universal perspective of wives and hats. His brain is just not working properly. On the other hand, someone like Oliver Sacks is able to meditate upon such a disfunction and produce profound meditations on the human condition by thinking about the implications of such subjective experience. Similarly, it is perfectly possible to imagine someone taking psychoactive drugs and meditating productively upon their effects on him--or her (again I note, for all the strained claims of "mystic" experience in this thread, no one has offered a usable or sharable insight remotely on the order of one of Sacks's pieces that came from that experience). But that meditation would be the source of the "profundity"--the drug-induced vision by itself is on the same order as the man mistaking his wife for a hat--a glitch in the brain, not a "mystic revelation."
posted by yoink at 4:10 PM on July 11, 2006


Oliver is a very sweet and lovable guy, as well as one of the most brilliant people I've ever met. I consider myself very lucky to have known him.

By the way, Oliver himself is no stranger to psychedelics. He told me that taking them in his early days in California helped him understand and empathize with the non-standard mindstates of his patients. I mentioned this in an in-depth profile of him that I wrote for Wired several years ago. Researching that story is how we met.
posted by digaman at 4:11 PM on July 11, 2006


altering the functioning of that complex biochemistry by introducing psychoactive drugs is a pathway to "mystical" knowledge that is in some way inherently superior to the "mediated" knowledge available to the mind in its "normal" state.

I'm getting a little weary of disputing reports of statements that I never made -- in this example, that I supposedly said that psychedelics provided some "inherently superior" bla bla bla -- so I'm gonna split this thread for now, as it devolves into a game of telephone. But it has been fun.
posted by digaman at 4:16 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink - no one has offered a usable or sharable insight

How is that a required precondition for the validity of an insight?
posted by daksya at 4:22 PM on July 11, 2006


I'm getting a little weary of disputing reports of statements that I never made -- in this example, that I supposedly said that psychedelics provided some "inherently superior" bla bla bla

For someone willing to quote half a sentence of mine that so as to fabricate an argument I never came close to making, you're pretty sensitive, Digaman. As for these statements you "never made" check out this:

In many cultures, psychedelics like mushrooms and peyote have been used for thousands of years as part of traditional initiation rituals into what those cultures consider to be real reality, as opposed to the half-sleep of the uninitiated mind. You can dismiss this or laugh at this, but you can obviously also laugh at the notion that munching on a saltine is partaking in the body of Christ, or that these funny painted papers in our wallets are worthy of being exchanged for real goods and services. It's a matter of perspective.

And this:

Sorry, but there's a vast literature of anthropological studies of traditional communities that use psychedelics to gain insight into the nature of reality. Straight with the Medicine is just one good example -- there are hundreds.

You say "see--lots of people believe this is a path to a heightened understanding of reality" it is hardly unreasonble of me to answer you saying "but that's not a path to a heightened understanding of reality." I'm not ascribing that belief to you in particular (although you aren't being very clear about whether or not you do believe it), but it is a belief that you have instanced, in more than one post, as one that deserves our respect. I disagree.
posted by yoink at 4:27 PM on July 11, 2006


no one has offered a usable or sharable insight

How is that a required precondition for the validity of an insight?

Daksya, it's not--it's a required precondition for anybody but the holder of the insight having any reason to care. If you come to me and say "I just had the most important insight into the nature of the universe," I will, naturally, say "Wow, so what was it?" If all you can say is "well, I can't in any way describe it to you, and it has no implications for your life or behaviour or beliefs" then all I can say is "well, that was nice for you."

If you say "I got it through eating this mushroom--if you eat it too you will also get it" all I can say is A) how can I know if I do get it--you can't tell me what your insight was, so I won't know if I had the same one, B) you'll never know if I got it, because I won't be able to tell you what it was, C) you can't know it was the result of the mushroom, because you can't know if the mushroom has the effect of producing that insight (remember, no one can share it, therefore you can have no testimony about how it "tends" to get produced), D) you can't, yourself, ever be sure if the "insight" is genuine or delusional because you have no way of testing it.
posted by yoink at 4:37 PM on July 11, 2006


All these words... Reminds me of an old man from long ago, who said

"He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know."
posted by symbioid at 4:43 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink, as I said earlier, I'm not the sort of person who believes that psychedelic drugs magically unlock some Secret Dimension of the Mind or Hidden Truth or whatnot. By profound I meant primarily "has a strong and lasting effect on the person who's tripping," where by lasting, I mean that their post-trip life is actually changed in some way. By valid, I meant that conclusions reached or ideas conceived with the aid of psychedelic drugs can be as correct or as important as ideas conceived without the help of drugs. [That is to say, the involvement of the drug doesn't automatically render all conclusions reached meaningless.] In other words, psychedelic drugs can be a useful tool [particularly with experience and carefully selected dosages and conditions] - a sometimes-easier way to get to and reassemble sorts of the "mediated" knowledge that we already have, or to achieve a state wherein one is more receptive to new ideas and to the rethinking of old ones.

[Note also that the kind of profound stuff I've heard people talk about is often profound mostly on a personal level - "Ah, this is why I have so much trouble relating to this person, and these sorts of changes might help." Stories like grahamwell's. Since they're so personal, they don't make good stories to put on forums like Metafilter or in Erowid's experience files. After all, which sounds more exciting - "I was one with the universe and blah blah blah" or "I worked through some of my interpersonal difficulties"? That, and the fact that you tend to get more nutty evangelical people discussing psychedelic stuff in public. The lunatic fringe of every group is always the most visible, as are the annoying sorts. Although really - I'm sure most of Sacks' peers couldn't communicate their observations of similar patients nearly as well as he does, so complaining that a small sample of internet-people talking about some pretty disparate things can't communicate their {often non-verbal} experiences with the fluency and insight of Sacks is sort of silly. Similarly, it's silly to act as if everyone suggesting psychedelic drugs can be useful automatically also believes that they're an automatic gateway to a shared mystic experience and the secrets of the universe - as several people in the thread have noted, many people who encounter such drugs have more mundane expectations & experiences.]
posted by ubersturm at 4:45 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink: The turkey gizzard guy in your link is getting confronted with claims about the world and the nature of the world that he can test in experience.

Actually, I was not referring to the turkey gizzard guy. Over the course of the discussion, a person made a FPP based on one assumption, found that assumption to be problematic, and then decided on a different theory. Why is your statement that meaning is justified post hoc pecular to drug-induced states.

The claim that "you and the tree are one" is one that cannot be tested and cannot be proven wrong.

Certainly. However, while positivism works really well with some claims, it works less well with other claims. I can't prove that I love my partner, and you can't prove that I don't. However, the bulk of evidence and experience seems to be that I do love my partner.

Since I'm a bit more fond of pragmatism than positivism, the fact that some of my beliefs don't stand up to a positivist standard does not particularly bother me. (Note that positivism its self probably can't hold up to its own standard of truth.)

To say "take this drug and you too will see that you are one with the tree" is not at attempt to "prove" or "confirm" the hypothesis of man-tree-oneness, it's an attempt to elicit the same subjective "feeling" in someone.

You seem to be spending a lot of time attacking a position that I don't see anyone else here advocating. Taking drugs proves nothing other than the observed fact that drugs (for most people) alter cognition. What I'm getting at is that Pastabagel seem to be arguing that any meaning attached to experience while on drugs should be rejected a priori.

When I took shrooms, I experienced pain in my back in a different way. I experience back pain most days of the week, and I have doctors and physical therapists who can provide mechanical explanations as to why my back hurts. Is the knowledge obtained under the influence of shrooms something that should be rejected simply because I was on shrooms at the time?

Pastabagel: If you introduce something into that sapce in your skull that changes how you perceive, think, or feel, it is my opinion that the change, the resulting experience, is inauthentic because it resulted from a overwhelmingly large distortion of the apparatus.

Then to follow this argument to its logical conclusion, must be conclude that thought while under the influence of caffeine, alcohol, or anti-depressants is therefore inauthentic?

Or for that matter, what about people with cogenital or habitual distortions in how they perceive reality? Should we reject anything that people with mood disorders and synthesia say about their experience as "inauthentic?"

Or to put it another way, why should my psychadelic and synthetic experience of back pain be treated as inauthentic while I was taking shrooms, and authentic when I'm taking codeine + tylenol (two substances that alter the perception of pain)?

Here we get into a thorny philosophical problem. How do we establish such a "baseline" of cognition? Is it reasonable to assume that your cognition is the same as mine? I hope not, my cognition as a person with a mood disorder is kinked in ways that probably would not be adaptive for you. On the other hand, those ways of thinking about relationships were adaptive in some fucked up situations. There is quite a bit of evidence that cognition is adaptive and situational to some degree.

I don't think we can really have a "baseline" for perception and cognition, much less set limits at which we can say that an experience automatically becomes "inauthentic."

After multiple previews, what ubersturm said.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:00 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink - If you say "I got it through eating this mushroom--if you eat it too you will also get it" all I can say is

A) how can I know if I do get it--you can't tell me what your insight was, so I won't know if I had the same one

You don't know if you will get it. But curiosity should be enough. Imagine this bizarre thought-experiment: suppose your eyelids have been congenitally-taped shut. I tell you that if you remove the tape (and tell you how), you will experience this new phenomenon. You ask me to describe vision, but your current vocabulary and semantics have evolved to deal with a visionless word, and hence description is meaningless. You then ask "how do you know I too will see if I severe the tape?". The answer is I don't know. Maybe you will, maybe your thalamus/LGN can't handle visual input; maybe it can but it turns out you are very, very sensitive to light, and hence vision becomes a liability rather than an asset. There's no guarantees.

B) you'll never know if I got it, because I won't be able to tell you what it was

That won't matter. I took them and valued them. I'll take you at your word whether you found value or not. But it is essential to me for you to discover that value. That's upto you.

C) you can't know it was the result of the mushroom, because you can't know if the mushroom has the effect of producing that insight (remember, no one can share it, therefore you can have no testimony about how it "tends" to get produced)

I can't correlate the causality across subjects, but I can notice that the effect occurs consistently a few minutes after I eat this thing, and use that for inductive purposes.

D) you can't, yourself, ever be sure if the "insight" is genuine or delusional because you have no way of testing it

That's true of almost all beliefs, including theism or atheism. There was a recent physics paper that some universal "constants" were slowly changing. Beliefs are models, which constantly change. If your requirement is that you pop a psychedelic and *boom* get introduced to 'The Eternal Truth', then even I agree that's pretty unlikely. What's more likely, as this current study shows, is that people have experiences very similar and equally important relative to other profound experiences in their lifetime. Now, I put it to you that many other people, including many looking for the "truth", have taken such substances and described their experiences as getting them closer towards this goal. Typically such testimony is adequate for promoting human exploratory enterprises, including scientific studies.
posted by daksya at 5:05 PM on July 11, 2006


daksya - disappointing, but not surprising. As I think I've said here before, we've got these classes of drugs that have incredibly interesting effects on the mind. You'd think that they [or new, more targetted drugs developed from them] would be a way to study the human mind and how it works. An opportunity, in other words, that'd be worthwhile even if they didn't have any particularly useful effects for the individual, though of course like many people, I think they can. Instead, all research that doesn't consist primarily of "drugs are bad and LSD is as dangerous as heroin" is stifled, and there's almost no research at all going on in humans. It's really too bad.
posted by ubersturm at 5:08 PM on July 11, 2006


Correction: it is not essential to me for you to discover that value. That's upto you.
posted by daksya at 5:08 PM on July 11, 2006


I have to say, and I knew this would happen, that the moment I answered that I had never done drugs, everyone started dismissing what I said.

Two things:

1. I lied. (Or did I?)

2. Did the author of the study take the drugs?

Why should any of this change the argument?

Again, until you've swam in this river, you can only point to it. But as we all know, pointing to it is not the same as swimming in it and one cannot understand the river by gesturing to it.
posted by Dantien at 4:55 PM EST on July 11 [+fave] [!]


I see. Realize that what you wrote means you can not comment intelligently about living a life without the influence of drugs.

Or for that matter, what about people with cogenital or habitual distortions in how they perceive reality? Should we reject anything that people with mood disorders and synthesia say about their experience as "inauthentic?"

Their feelings in that condition are not inauthentic becasue they are natural - it's how their brain is made. Taking drugs to get the same effect is obviously less authentic than the effect arising naturally.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:04 PM on July 11, 2006


Pastabagel: Their feelings in that condition are not inauthentic becasue they are natural - it's how their brain is made.

How their brain is "made"? In case you believe in evolution, you probably know that the process isn't considered teleological. Nothing "designed" brains to be this way or that way. Dogs have a different sense of vision, so it is believed. Which species has the more 'authentic' experience of space?

This ontological divide between 'natural' and 'artificial' is commonly encountered; how is it defended?

------

A dose of trippy YouTube.
posted by daksya at 6:22 PM on July 11, 2006


Imagine this bizarre thought-experiment: suppose your eyelids have been congenitally-taped shut. I tell you that if you remove the tape (and tell you how), you will experience this new phenomenon. You ask me to describe vision, but your current vocabulary and semantics have evolved to deal with a visionless word, and hence description is meaningless. You then ask "how do you know I too will see if I severe the tape?". The answer is I don't know. Maybe you will, maybe your thalamus/LGN can't handle visual input; maybe it can but it turns out you are very, very sensitive to light, and hence vision becomes a liability rather than an asset. There's no guarantees.

Ah yes, no one here is arguing that drugs give you mystical knowledge--just that taking drugs is like being a blind may gaining vision.

Sigh. Daksya, please look at the post you are responding to. I said that IF (please note the word, it's small but important), IF your experience "was neither usable nor sharable" then all of those conditions I described apply. The claim that "if you take that bandage off your eye, you will have access to a sharable, testable, new medium of viewing the world" is both "usable" and "sharable." So it is therefore COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT to our argument.

Kirkjobsluder--actually, most of my arguments here have been rooted in pragmatism, not positivism. I'm not a positivist. "Testability" is important in pragmatism as well as in positivism. As for the validity of "love"--I think you overstate it's privacy and its ineffability. In fact we form hypotheses about other people's feelings all the time, and we gain useful knowledge about those feelings all the time. It's merely a cheat for you to demand "positivist" knowledge of feelings like love as the only "valid" knowledge so as to be able to say "hey, we don't really know that someone loves us" to allow a veil of ineffability to hang over the supposed "knowledge" gained through psychodelic drugs.

I can explore the claim that "A loves me" or that "I love A" and can strengthen or weaken my belief in either claim. I can make no useful or meaningful exploration of the claim that "I am one with the universe."
posted by yoink at 6:36 PM on July 11, 2006


Great article Digaman! I met him once at a meet and greet and he was very kind to me.
posted by vronsky at 6:48 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink - The claim that "if you take that bandage off your eye, you will have access to a sharable, testable, new medium of viewing the world" is both "usable" and "sharable."

Read my post again.

The claim is sharable: "remove bandage and experience vision" -> "take LSD and have mystical experience".

The effect is usable to those who experience it: if you see, you can engage with space fluently -> if you trip, you can gain insight.

But the insights aren't sharable: Green looks like this -> So & so things happen in a trip.
posted by daksya at 6:48 PM on July 11, 2006


Thanks, vronsky!
posted by digaman at 8:10 PM on July 11, 2006


Man oh man, you guys are getting so heavy. I just want to groove on these shimmering pastel patterns with vronsky.

Those were the days.

This clip of a 1963 test of British soldiers taking LSD is a classic. If you haven't seen it, it's madatory viewing. Also interesting: My acid trip with Groucho.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:10 PM on July 11, 2006


Fantastic to see that so many of you have heard the Good News! A lot of right-thinkers in this thread today.

Brothers and Sisters, I beseech you - don't keep the secret. Don't be ashamed or reticent about your positive psychedellic drug experiences. Witnessing in this thread is only the first step - get out into the real world and share the Good News with those around you - coworkers, colleagues, family and friends.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:10 PM on July 11, 2006


Damn, I knew I shouldn't have had that double espresso. Trying... to.... calibrate.... back.... to..... normal..... can't..... trust.... myself....
posted by digaman at 8:19 PM on July 11, 2006


It's funny, as I read this thread I kept hearing, "The Tao that can be written is not the true Tao." We can circumnavigate "the truth(tm)" and describe it's ever-shifting borders but we never quite get there do we? Someone above used a mirage metaphor and I think that is spot on.

Grahamwell:The infuriating thing about the mystical is that it cannot be approached with words, yet that seems such a cop-out, surely everything can be expressed in words if you try hard enough. Make an effort man! As you try you find yourself expressing cliches of various kinds and before long have completely misrepresented the experience.

My point is that the mystical contains its own validation. That is extremely problematic, but there you are. What you do after having such an experience is try to understand it and cast it in an acceptable form. This usually ends in tears.


Absolutely. There are limits to what language can describe and mystical experiences, whether drug-induced or naturally occurring (an artificial distinction), definitely fall here.

Thanks to all for this wonderful thread.
posted by skepticbill at 9:23 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink: Kirkjobsluder--actually, most of my arguments here have been rooted in pragmatism, not positivism. I'm not a positivist. "Testability" is important in pragmatism as well as in positivism.

Certainly. However, the definition of "testability" that you invoked was a strictly positivist one, "proven wrong." Pragmatism supports the view that some beliefs may be valid, even if they cannot be tested to a standard at the same level of "proven right" or "proven wrong." That is, it is reasonable to believe or disbelieve a claim biased on the weight of available evidence. In fact, we are forced to believe because the weight of available evidence rarely rises to the level of proof (no possible doubt), instead, we make due with much more modest levels of support such as "beyond a reasonable doubt" or "preponderance of evidence."

As for the validity of "love"--I think you overstate it's privacy and its ineffability. In fact we form hypotheses about other people's feelings all the time, and we gain useful knowledge about those feelings all the time. It's merely a cheat for you to demand "positivist" knowledge of feelings like love as the only "valid" knowledge so as to be able to say "hey, we don't really know that someone loves us" to allow a veil of ineffability to hang over the supposed "knowledge" gained through psychedelic drugs.

Well, the key point question is "what is love?" A large chunk of this comes down to one of the main reasons why pragmatism started off with behaviorist theories of mind. I can't really make hypotheses about the subjective internal states (such as love) of other people. I can make hypotheses about various forms of behavior, I can make hypotheses about physiological response, I can make indirect hypotheses about self-reporting of internal states, but the current state of the art is that I have no way to reliably measure your internal subjective emotional state.

Now of course, I could correlate a a bunch of behaviors and physiological responses and come up with an instrument that I claim has a high degree of statistical validity and reliability. But I can't use that instrument to prove or disprove anybody's subjective experience of "love." Perhaps they know how to work the test. Perhaps they got statistically lucky about the test. Perhaps this test does not deal well with how "love" is constructed across cultures.

This is the kind of thing that people who design psychometrics struggle with and debate all the time. Or for that matter, it's a basic problem of scientific instrumentation. The instruments we use to measure a phenomenon are not identical to the phenomenon. This makes it impossible to fully prove or disprove any claims about the phenomenon using those particular instruments. In fact, I don't think the word "proof" belongs within five miles of science, except for the exceedingly rare application of showing that theoretical equation X can be derived from theoretical equation Y.

But to reiterate, I didn't demand a positivist standard of validity. You did. Pragmatically speaking, you can't reject a statement like "you and the tree are one" a priori because it can't be empirically "proven wrong." Science can't "prove wrong" any claims, it can merely reveal that some claims suffer from a profound lack of supporting evidence. And perhaps this is not an empirical claim at all. Perhaps it is a moral metaphor, perhaps it is an aesthetic metaphor, perhaps it is a state of personal identity. There are other methods of making valid knowledge claims beyond the scientific method. Mathematics for example.

And I'm not arguing that knowledge gained from altered states of existence is ineffable. Some of it is, some of it is not. Some of it is tacit, some of it is not. My argument is that we shouldn't accept or reject a claim like "you and the tree are one" simply because it came out of an altered state of consciousness. From a pragmatic view, such a statement can useful. Some people might use such a statement as an expression of the carbon cycle, others as a statement of a moral imperative.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:42 PM on July 11, 2006


yoink: I can explore the claim that "A loves me" or that "I love A" and can strengthen or weaken my belief in either claim. I can make no useful or meaningful exploration of the claim that "I am one with the universe."

The a priori rejection of one claim and not of the other strongly suggests that you are not approaching this from a pragmatic viewpoint. I can think of some reasonable ways to explore that claim:

First of all, what exactly is being communicated by that claim? Is it one of simple identity: "The universe and I are the same entity." Or is it one of subset: "I am a material being." Is it one of analogy: "What goes on in my body is analogous to what happens in the universe."

Once you have figured that out, you can go on to explore other things. Like is this a useful moral proposition? Is it a useful assumption? Is it a nice metaphor that can be used for....

Pastabagel: Their feelings in that condition are not inauthentic becasue they are natural - it's how their brain is made. Taking drugs to get the same effect is obviously less authentic than the effect arising naturally.

Which highlights another one of those meaningless buzz-phrases that serve to obscure these kinds of discussion. What is meant by "natural?" I've long since learned that "natural" almost always means some idealized moral state that is to be accepted without question.

So what we've come down to is that experiences while on certain other substances are inauthentic because they occured through a consious agency. Ok, then are alterations in perception due to religious ritual, S&M or exercise also inauthentic?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:07 PM on July 11, 2006


*still reading avidly*
posted by Drexen at 3:31 AM on July 12, 2006


Here's a little game that might amuse.
Place your hand over one eye and stare out of the window for thirty seconds. It's important not to move your head.

Imagine, during those thirty seconds, that you've always been like this, one-eyed, your head fixed in position. That what you see now is all you have ever seen.

Now take your hand away from the other eye.

That's what it's like.
A couple of things about this. Firstly you can understand what it is for an experience to contain its own validation. Secondly, imagine describing the experience to someone who has never experienced stereo vision - without using concepts that presuppose binocularity.

You could try - the one-eyed man will have an inductive understanding of depth, from learning by experience when one object is occluded by another. You on the other hand will have gained a very different, intuitive understanding, one that cannot really be communicated in one-eyed language.
posted by grahamwell at 4:16 AM on July 12, 2006


You could try - the one-eyed man will have an inductive understanding of depth, from learning by experience when one object is occluded by another. You on the other hand will have gained a very different, intuitive understanding, one that cannot really be communicated in one-eyed language.

grahamwell, that's very similar to my "you can't explain blue to a blind man" analogy, which I've used to explain why literal belief in anything about (say, for instance) the afterlife is simply not possible. An embodied person simply lacks any meaningful frame of reference to non-embodiment.

It really is apropos here--if you've never had your consciousness altered (and I mean really altered, not just sleep-deprived, caffeine-binge altered), there is a frame of reference you lack, which often makes conversation along these lines very difficult. It goes back to the eariler comment about some experiences being truly ineffable, particularly profound ones. Lacking a common frame of reference, such experiences are communicated as best language allows, by metaphor or however.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:37 AM on July 12, 2006


Kirkjobsluder--o.k., you got me with the loose use of "proven wrong" (a phrase I used precisely once). You realize, of course, that a pragmatist uses expressions like "real" and "unreal" and "proven" and "disproven" all the time, but does so with the unspoken caveat "within the normal rules of the language-games in which those words apply." So, sure, there is a sense in which "the fact that my computer exists" cannot be "proven" to be true any more than the proposition "my walls are talking to me about the mysteries of the universe" can be "proven" to be true. But you've really badly misunderstood the implications of pragmatism if you think that the conclusion we are to draw from this is "talking walls and computers should be treated as equally real."

I still think you're trying to have your mushroom and eat it too here. Within the ordinary rules of the language-games we play--the only ways we have available to us to use language to reliably make sense of our world--it is clear to me (and, I would suspect, to you too) that the profound noetic convictions of somebody under the influence of psychodelic drugs that they are "one" with the universe, or that they are receiving messages from their drywalling, are not--in a purely pragmatic sense--"real" in the way that the messages they receive on, say, Metafilter, are "real." It is also clear that a large part of what defines the "reality" and "unreality" of those two classes of experience is, precisely, "testability."

My argument is that we shouldn't accept or reject a claim like "you and the tree are one" simply because it came out of an altered state of consciousness. From a pragmatic view, such a statement can useful.

O.K., it's time for me to say for perhaps the fourth or fifth time that I am NOT making the claim that insights derived from pharmaceutically altered states of consciousness are ipso facto to be rejected. Of course, if you have been unable to, say, solve some mathematical equation and then, after dropping acid, the solution is whispered to you by the aspidistra that solution is perfectly valid IF and ONLY IF you subsequently confirm it when no longer high. That is all I'm saying.

When you say that I can make all kinds of "pragmatic" uses of the insight that "the tree and I are one" I think you're stretching the word "pragmatic" almost to breaking point. You offer a variety of glosses for the claim, but those glosses are either woefully inadequate to the nature of the claim (e.g. "I am a material being") or, from a pragmatic perspective, meaningless.

The significance of the noetic conviction that "the tree and I are one" is mystical (remember that word that was in the FPP--the one I've been trying to argue with throughout this thread?)--if all it boils down to is "well, we're both composed of various minerals and chemicals" then it's simply a truism, and hardly evidence for the superior insights we can gain from "mind exanding" drugs. If the claim here is that drugs give us knowledge otherwise unavailable to us--i.e. "mystical" knowledge--then the claim that "the tree and I are one" must be a claim of some kind of ineffable, "spiritual" union. Any of the other, testable, kinds of claims that you offer are ones of precisely the kind that I have readily conceded are imaginable, but which, in this case, are also utterly trivial.

So what do we make of this "spiritual" oneness with the tree, then? What are the "pragmatic" consequences of that "spiritual" oneness that you suggest? How do I go about pragmatically "testing" the implications of that insight into "spiritual" unity? Any suggestions?
posted by yoink at 10:06 AM on July 12, 2006


And, P.S., Kirkjobsluder, if I can't test that claim of "spiritual" unity with the tree, why should I respect that claim--why should I grant it any validity--any more than I would the claim of a schizophrenic that he is hearing the voice of Napoleon telling him to wear a crown, or any more than I would George Bush when he tells me that Jesus speaks to him, or any more than I would a whirling dervish who tells me to spin my way to God?

Why should I be impressed, that is, with another person's sense of deep conviction without any other kind of (pragmatic) proof?

And if you say "well, you should" then I have to ask you how you choose? Would you say that George Bush is clearly right to obey the inner urgings of Jesus that prompted him to go to war in Iraq? On what possible grounds would you say that he should ignore that internal conviction of divine sanction, if you don't think that there is ever any way of putting such convictions to any meaningful "test"?
posted by yoink at 10:15 AM on July 12, 2006


Yoink: you've made your point, over and over again. You're allergic to the word "spiritual." In fact, you're allergic to the very idea of transcendent experience. It offends you.

That's fine. Believe me, George Bush claiming divine guidance makes me want to puke too. But plenty of worthy people in history who did inarguably good works -- from Bach to Dorothy Day to Gandhi to Martin Luther King to Walt Whitman -- claimed that some mystical or transcendent insight was their primary inspiration. You can keep grinding away at the lack of "pragmatic" "proof" for their claims, but one could also assert that their good works were the proof. Ultimately, until you point to the good works that you've done in your own life as "proof" that a disbelief in mystical insight makes you a worthier person than they were, I'm going to stay open to the idea that there might be something to it.
posted by digaman at 10:55 AM on July 12, 2006


Digaman, if you don't want to argue about an FPP that claims that psychedelic drugs lead to genuinely "mystical" knowledge, perhaps this isn't the thread for you.

As to your "arguments." You know nothing about my life, but it's really sweet and helpful of you to assume that it's completely worthless; clearly this is the kind of superior moral insight that psychedelic drugs give a person.

The argument that "people who believed in mystical forces have done good things" is about as useful as the counter argument "people who didn't believe in mystical forces have done good things"--i.e., not at all.

You say that George Bush's claim to mystical guidance "makes you want to puke." Why? Give me a defense of that attitude that doesn't make the rest of your argument an example of flaming hypocrisy and I'll be genuinely surprised.

If you try the "but see where Bush's mystical claims lead" line then you're just arguing in a circle. "mystical insights lead to good behaviour--I know they're genuinely mystical because of the good behaviour that they lead to."

So--when somene drops acid and tell me "suddenly I understood the world" I'm meant to be impressed by that claim. But when someone else prays to Jesus and says "suddenly the lord spoke to me and told me to bomb Iraq" I'm meant to say "that's clearly nuts." Why?
posted by yoink at 11:05 AM on July 12, 2006


...if you don't want to argue about an FPP that claims that psychedelic drugs lead to genuinely "mystical" knowledge, perhaps this isn't the thread for you.

That's hilarious, because even if you did "want to argue about an FPP that claims that psychadelic drugs lead to genuinely "mystical" knowledge" this still wouldn't be the thread for you. You've been beating down a straw-man that was assembled by those who are malevolent and derogatory towards drug users and their reactions (or in this case "ratings") of their experiences. Nowhere in the study or the links does anyone make the claims you have been so obsessed with dismantling.
posted by prostyle at 11:15 AM on July 12, 2006


Nowhere in the study or the links does anyone make the claims you have been so obsessed with dismantling.

I notice that several people have said this. It seems odd, then, that people keep arguing against what I'm saying, and do so with such angry vehemence. If you agree with my position, then why not just say--"yes, you're right"? (This is to leave aside the obvious fact that several people in this thread have explicitly argued for the genuine mystical insights derived from hallucinogens--but I'm interested for the moment in those who say "no, of course there's no access to Absolute Truth or anything like that" but then remain upset and indignant at any argument which suggests that the experiences undergone under the influence of hallucinogens have no special claims to profundity or deep "insight."

My suspicion is that there are many people (Digaman pretty clearly outs himself as one in his last post) who, while deeply uncomfortable with "traditional religions" and reflexively hostile to anyone proselytizing for any specific metaphysical "explanation of everything" nonetheless yearn for some kind of "spiritual" truth (well, not "truth"--absolutes make them uncomfortable--let's say "intimations"). So when I say "drugs don't give you access to some mystical relevation" they can scoff heartily and say "of course not, how absurd--no one takes drugs and suddenly gets the answer to life, the universe and everything." But when I further say, "nothing 'learnt' via hallucinogens has any special validity--the only "knowledge" one can derive from that experience is knowledge that can be confirmed by later, sober, experiment" then suddenly everybody's inner Carlos Castaneda leaps to the fore.

So, if you agree with me, prostyle, that the noetic conviction of "special insight" experienced while under the influence of drugs is simply itself a symptom of that experience and in no way to be given any special regard, why not just say "you're right"?
posted by yoink at 11:46 AM on July 12, 2006


Prostyle spoke for me. It's not enough for you, yoinks, to attack the notion that psychedelics may catalyze authentic mystical experiences. You will not be happy until you think you have proven somehow that the very notion of mystical experience is absurd, because it can't be pragmatically proven. As I say, that's fine. I wouldn't want to try to pragmatically prove the existence of love or beauty either, mostly because if you've ever been in love, you know what it is, and citing endorphin-release studies in love's defense is waste of everyone's time.

You know nothing about my life, but it's really sweet and helpful of you to assume that it's completely worthless;

Citation, please. That's not what I said or even thought. You're probably a very smart guy. I just got a little exhausted by your tireless attempts to discredit the entire notion of mystical experience. That has nothing to do with making constructive criticisms of the FPP. As I say, it's more like trying to deny the existence of love because it can't be demonstrated pragmatically.

If the existence of love seems obvious to you, try to reframe the idea of mystical experience as love that has no specific individual object. That's close.
posted by digaman at 11:47 AM on July 12, 2006


Oh, and P.S. Prostyle, the claim that "no one is arguing that drugs lead to mystical experiences" is unbelievably rich coming from you of all people. Here's your first entry into this discussion:

Of, relating to, or stemming from direct communion with ultimate reality or God

If you take that line from the definition of mystical, I would absolutely consider it applicable to every experience I've had with psilocybin

posted by yoink at 11:51 AM on July 12, 2006


My suspicion is that there are many people (Digaman pretty clearly outs himself as one in his last post) who, while deeply uncomfortable with "traditional religions" and reflexively hostile to anyone proselytizing for any specific metaphysical "explanation of everything" nonetheless yearn for some kind of "spiritual" truth (well, not "truth"--absolutes make them uncomfortable--let's say "intimations").

That would make me a confirmed homo. Of the sapiens type.
posted by digaman at 11:52 AM on July 12, 2006


yoink: o.k., you got me with the loose use of "proven wrong" (a phrase I used precisely once).

Your sloppiness goes quite a bit beyond the single use of the phrase "proven wrong." As in the case below:

But you've really badly misunderstood the implications of pragmatism if you think that the conclusion we are to draw from this is "talking walls and computers should be treated as equally real."

Which is a good thing. I'm having a great deal of trouble understanding, even with the usual flexibility "within the normal rules of the language-games in which those words apply" where this conclusion has been stated. I have merely claimed that there may be more ways to consider "testability" than were permitted in your initial statement.

Breaking up your run-on sentence.

Within the ordinary rules of the language-games we play--the only ways we have available to us to use language to reliably make sense of our world--

Is there an assumption here that language is the only way to reliably make sense of the world? I mean, I can make sense of how to "bend" a note on the harmonica, but I can't explain how to do it in language.

...it is clear to me (and, I would suspect, to you too) that the profound noetic convictions of somebody under the influence of psychodelic drugs that they are "one" with the universe, or that they are receiving messages from their drywalling, are not--in a purely pragmatic sense--"real" in the way that the messages they receive on, say, Metafilter, are "real."

Well, back up a bit. I just checked and I didn't say anything about "real." But if you you are going to invoke pragmatism, you have to acknowledge that pragmatism does not always accept correspondence to relatively stable "objective" phenomena (aka "reality") as the only way to consider the validity of a proposition.

So for example, the Supreme Court just ruled that the U.S. goverment must treat detainees according to the Geneva Convention. The validity of the SCOTUS decision has little to do with a "testable reality." Instead, we have a set of propositions about idealized government that are considered to be pragmatically useful, and this decision is valid in that it is coherent with some of those propositions.

Of course, if you have been unable to, say, solve some mathematical equation and then, after dropping acid, the solution is whispered to you by the aspidistra that solution is perfectly valid IF and ONLY IF you subsequently confirm it when no longer high. That is all I'm saying.

Certainly. And all I'm saying is that depending on the nature of the claim, there might be more ways to "confirm" than either mathematical proof or scientific inquiry.

When you say that I can make all kinds of "pragmatic" uses of the insight that "the tree and I are one" I think you're stretching the word "pragmatic" almost to breaking point.

Well, if I'm stretching the word "pragmatic" to the breaking point, then what do you think about Pierce's theory of semiotics, Dewey's theory of democracy, or James' theory of belief?

If you want to drop a claim that you are using a pragmatist system, then you have to accept the fact that none of the key movers and shakers in developing pragmatism limited it to just looking at claims about an external "reality."

And on the contrary, some of those glosses are meaningful in terms of pragmatist theory (Piercian semiotics comes right to mind.)

The significance of the noetic conviction that "the tree and I are one" is mystical (remember that word that was in the FPP--the one I've been trying to argue with throughout this thread?)... If the claim here is that drugs give us knowledge otherwise unavailable to us--i.e. "mystical" knowledge--then the claim that "the tree and I are one" must be a claim of some kind of ineffable, "spiritual" union.

Well, yes. It's a word that I think should be dropped from this discussion because we don't have a consensus as to what it means. You seem to be arguing for one meaning and ignoring the fact that not everyone here agrees with that interpretation.

Trying to break this out, the experiences I would call "mystical" (not necessarily drug induced) have included the following:
1: extreme emotional affect
2: tacit knowledge
3: a sensation of empathetic connection

In that the knowledge obtained from those experiences was tacit rather than verbal/analytical, I would say that it was special knowledge. However, the nature of tacit knowledge is that it can't be easily communicated or shared. Nor would I say that such knowledge involved fundamental insights into the nature of the universe.

So what do we make of this "spiritual" oneness with the tree, then? What are the "pragmatic" consequences of that "spiritual" oneness that you suggest? How do I go about pragmatically "testing" the implications of that insight into "spiritual" unity? Any suggestions?

Pragmatism is not just limited to truths about the reality of the universe, but also to ethics, asthetics, and moral philosophy. So the "spiritual" oneness might be good if it inspires Whitman, Rumi or Beethoven. It might be good if it leads a person to pro-social or environmental behavior. It might be good if as a metaphor, it leads a researcher to consider chemical signaling in plants in a different way. It might be good if, as a metaphor, it helps to communicate a concept.

To use a related example, about four years ago I had a "mystical" experience (see above for how I defined that) in which I perceived that other animals are capable of profound levels of suffering. Prior to this experience I had read all of the analytical arguments for and against "animal rights." The tacit knowledge from that made it impossible for me to stand on the fence. After that experience, I was forced to conclude that my double standards of non-violence against human beings and eating meat was problematic.

Now here is the thing, I don't feel that arguments for or against animal rights can be objectively settled one way or another. It all depends on which assumptions you commit to up front. Now pragmatically speaking, that experience was useful in that it helped to settle one bit of cognitive dissonance. Is it generalizable beyond an N of 1? I doubt it.

Why should I be impressed, that is, with another person's sense of deep conviction without any other kind of (pragmatic) proof?

You shouldn't, and I never claimed otherwise.

On what possible grounds would you say that he should ignore that internal conviction of divine sanction, if you don't think that there is ever any way of putting such convictions to any meaningful "test"?

Who has said that there is not any way of putting such convictions to a meaningful test? Certainly I have not. I have only argued that there are more "meaningful tests" (and more tests of meaningfulness) than a scientific correspondence to an external "reality."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:58 AM on July 12, 2006


For what it's worth, yoinks -- to totally "out" myself, as you put it -- my own personal idea of mystical experience is pretty damned pragmatic. I'm a guy, sitting on this planet, OK? There are lots of other planets and stars and galactic clouds and other stuff for billions of miles in every direction -- and a whole lot of nothing. Quantum physicists also tell me that this entire apparent universe around me is possibly only one of several alternate superstrings unfolding in space-time. That's getting pretty out there, but we're still in the realm of real science. Then neurologists tell me that even the model of this Out There Infinite Universe in my mind is floating on top of vast neural processes of which I am aware of only an infinitesimal part.

To me, "mystical experience" -- OK OK, let's call it something else -- let's call it The Itsy Witsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini Experience -- is about using my infinitesimal brain on my minuscule planet in my backwater superstring to get a glimpse of the Big Picture that contains all of that. My own favorite version of the IWTWPDB Experience has the flavor of Bodhidharma's statement: "Vastness, nothing holy." Which is the same as "everything holy," in a way. But maybe you don't want to go there.

We're here. Where are we? That's what I'm after -- via psychedelics, philosophy, just shutting up for a minute or two here and there, or paying very close attention to... well, anything. That's what I'm after.

Notice: no God or Billions of Holy Warriors Raining Down fron the Sky or angels singing or Carlos Castaneda turning into Johnny Cash turning into a coyote after Homer eats a big fat chili. Just science -- but all of it, at once, intuitively, in a passing moment that is not inherently more important than any other moment; but also no less important. And before I die. That's what I'm after. I can't speak for anyone else, and barely for myself.
posted by digaman at 12:04 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Prostyle, the claim that "no one is arguing that drugs lead to mystical experiences" is unbelievably rich coming from you of all people

You need to tighten up your terminology and frame of reference, because you're bleeding out. What I refuted was your statement directed towards the orientation of the post, which I saw to be inapplicable. The post does not, as you say: claims that psychedelic drugs lead to genuinely "mystical" knowledge.

It's interesting that you scoff at me for relating my previous "experiences" to the definition of mystical, while continually framing my statement under your derailed notion of "genuinely mystical knowledge". I am amazed you find this incessant behavior so engaging, if nothing else.

...why not just say "you're right"?

Because being absolutely correct is not what life is about, let alone this conversation.
posted by prostyle at 12:13 PM on July 12, 2006


yoink - the only "knowledge" one can derive from that experience is knowledge that can be confirmed by later, sober, experiment"

What is evident is that certain states are privileged for certain aspects of knowledge - I can't see the computer monitor with my eyes closed, and I can't smell with my nose blocked. I can't do either task with the other. But you have never explained the justification for the ontological divide between sobriety and intoxication, with respect to gathering knowledge. The converse of your claim would be that sober epiphanies only have value if they hold under intoxicated reflection. Which is equally as absurd. Insights gained when sober may turn out to be successfully "tested" and still change after that and so can insights initiated when intoxicated. This stress on repeatability is the result of a search for some eternal Truth, which seems unlikely in any state. You are treating the sober state as some prescribed (maybe even 'designed') privileged state, instead of it being the result of the happenstance of evolution. Some people are synaethestic, some color-blind, some gifted, some disabled. This normative sober state is as much a convenient fiction for the purposes of bonding, as the concept of the 'average person'.

The reason I believe that certain psychedelic intoxication may have privileged access to certain deep insights is because at high doses, or for certain propensities, they induce ego death, which is decidedly the polar opposite of the chief characteristic of the mundane sober state. Maybe I'm mistaken but that's for me to figure out.
posted by daksya at 12:19 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


yoink: --but I'm interested for the moment in those who say "no, of course there's no access to Absolute Truth or anything like that" but then remain upset and indignant at any argument which suggests that the experiences undergone under the influence of hallucinogens have no special claims to profundity or deep "insight."

The problem is that you seem to be making multiple arguments:
1: hallucinogens have no special claims to profundity or deep "insight" about the universe.
2: some claims that come out of altered states of consciousness can be rejected a priori.
3: the only reasonable standard of testing such claims is (you seem to be a bit fuzzy on this)
4: your position is the only "pragmatic" one.

The problem is that you leave no room for agreeing with you on some points, and disagreeing with you on other points. It is entirely possible to agree with you on #1, and think that you are overly hasty and sloppy on #2-4.

Digaman, if you don't want to argue about an FPP that claims that psychedelic drugs lead to genuinely "mystical" knowledge, perhaps this isn't the thread for you.

At least one of the points of disagreement here is that "mystical" is ambiguous. I'll just come out and say that I'm profoundly uncomfortable with the term because of the wide range covered by it.

But when I further say, "nothing 'learnt' via hallucinogens has any special validity--the only "knowledge" one can derive from that experience is knowledge that can be confirmed by later, sober, experiment" then suddenly everybody's inner Carlos Castaneda leaps to the fore.

There are a wide variety of ways that one can "confirm" knowledge. Science, math, law and the arts have radically different standards. Validity against an external reality is irrelevant to Kubla Khan by Coleridge. Obsessing over the relationship between Coleridge's pleasure dome and historic Mongolian emperor is missing the point.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:37 PM on July 12, 2006


I confess some sympathy with yoink. Whenever I want to make some claim for the importance or validity of mystical insight there's a nagging doubt, which I think is the same as yoinks - what kind of statements are these? They are certainly not scientific truths. How do I know that they are true, or even that they are meaningful?

There's an uncomfortable anecdote:
When William James was researching "The Variety of Religious Experience", he checked out nitrous oxide. While high on the drug, he "discovered the secret of the universe". He quickly wrote down his discovery, so that he wouldn't forget it when he came down off the drug. Upon later reading what he wrote, he found the following: "higgimus hoggimus, woman's monogamous. Hoggimus higgimus, man is polygamous".
When I'm tempted to say that "All is one" I remember that rhyme.
posted by grahamwell at 1:11 PM on July 12, 2006 [2 favorites]


trying to deny the existence of love because it can't be demonstrated pragmatically.

Love that isn't demonstrated pragmatically is a pretty odd kind of love. I know my parents loved me because they cared for me, because they sympathized when I was hurt, because they were interested in what I did and what I believed, because they tried to help me be a better person, because they were outraged at any wrongs I suffered, because they would laugh at my crappy jokes and be joyful at my life's successes etc. etc. etc.

Now, you may say "ah ha! but what if they were actually being paid to do all that, how do you know they really loved you"--but that's just the point of my objection to Kirkjobsluder's IMO erroneous appeal to a kind of pragmatic relativism. The central insight of pragmatic philosophy is that that "ah ha!, but what if..." argument is always available. "But what if the tree is really just a hologram...but what if the person you are talking to is really just a robot..." The pragmatic response to these things is "yes, but so what"? It's not "oh noes, now I'll have to treat everybody as if they might be a robot!"

As for a divine love: I know that the devout person loves what they conceive to be God because that person (pragmatically) performs the rituals laid down for them in their religion, constantly invokes their deity's name in the ordinary actions of their life, attributes the successes in their life to the action of that God etc. However, if you ask me "how do I know that God exists" I have to say--I have no useful evidence to suggest any such thing. And if you ask me, then, "does God love his/her believers" I have to say "the question makes no sense, since I cannot even find a way--pragmatic or otherwise--to establish the existence of this 'God'."

Similarly, if you tell me that your hallucinogens teach you that you are one soul with your Mr. Coffee, all I can say is that statement has no practical meaning for me. If you say "take this drug and you'll see what I mean" then all I can say is "I may experience the same deep belief in my oneness with the Mr. Coffee, but that cannot amount to an 'insight' if that belief leads to no practical consequences."
posted by yoink at 1:17 PM on July 12, 2006


Breaking up your run-on sentence.

Kirkjobsluder. I was about to concede the entire argument--because, clearly, anyone writing a run-on sentence in the rigorous formal context of an Internet discussion group is worthy of no respect whatsoever--but then I noticed that it's not a run-on sentence. It's a sentence with two clearly demarcated (by double hyphens, indicating em-dashes) parenthetical comments.

So now I'm wondering: does your inability to parse a slightly complicated sentence deserve some kind of patronizing put-down on my part, or should I leave that for the truly petty-minded?
posted by yoink at 1:27 PM on July 12, 2006


The problem is that you seem to be making multiple arguments:
1: hallucinogens have no special claims to profundity or deep "insight" about the universe.
Yes, I have made that claim.
2: some claims that come out of altered states of consciousness can be rejected a priori.
No, I have not made that claim.
3: the only reasonable standard of testing such claims is (you seem to be a bit fuzzy on this)
I have proposed no "single reasonable standard of testing"--you are the one who assigned "correspondence to external reality" to me. I did not propose that and do not think it coherent. What I am asking for is simply a "pragmatically useful" test--sharable, stable etc.
4: your position is the only "pragmatic" one.
I have never said any such thing. I have said that certain specific arguments were "not pragmatic." That is not even remotely similar to arguing that there is "only one true pragmatism."

So, one out of four. Pretty impressive for someone who can't recognize a run-on sentence.
posted by yoink at 1:36 PM on July 12, 2006


Right... tough issue here..

This is unfamiliar territory.. even for the experienced..

When it comes down to it... it's all about me..

How could an outside observer possibly understand.. let alone make judgements..
posted by Raoul.Duke at 1:48 PM on July 12, 2006


yoink - I have proposed no "single reasonable standard of testing"

earlier: the only "knowledge" one can derive from that experience is knowledge that can be confirmed by later, sober, experiment"

yoink - So now I'm wondering: does your inability to parse a slightly complicated sentence deserve some kind of patronizing put-down on my part, or should I leave that for the truly petty-minded?

later - Pretty impressive for someone who can't recognize a run-on sentence.

This is ignoring that the "question" is already a put-down.

Still awaiting a response on why the sober state is privileged "pragmatically".
posted by daksya at 2:06 PM on July 12, 2006


After reading this thread for this long, one is tempted to say that psychedelics are a specific prescription for a specific disease. But one will not say that, because saying it would diminish what they actually are. And so, one will go.
posted by digaman at 2:15 PM on July 12, 2006


Validity against an external reality is irrelevant to Kubla Khan by Coleridge. Obsessing over the relationship between Coleridge's pleasure dome and historic Mongolian emperor is missing the point.

I was wondering, by the bye, when someone would bring up Coleridge--a man whose life was largely destroyed by an addiction to opium, and whose great poetic achievement was brought to an almost dead stop once he became an addict (not that that proves anything, of course--lots of great artists have been high as kites and still productive).

The relationship of Coleridge's pleasure dome to the historic productions of the Marco Polo's "Great Khan" hardly exhausts the significance of the poem, although it's more important that you seem to realize. It is important for Coleridge that the great Khan was a real person, for example, with real power in the world. It was important that he based his poem closely on the historic account of the Khan's pleasure dome in Purchas's Pilgrimage.

But leaving that aside, Coleridge's poem is all about the evanescence of the state of "vision." It is redolant with Coleridge's high-keyed anxiety that "vision" may not be trustworthy, may not be "meaningful."

"Could I revive within me, / That symphony and song, / To such deep delight t'would win me / That with music loud and long, / I would build that dome in air / That sunny dome, those caves of air" etc. (I'm quoting from memory, so that may be inaccurate). Note the "could"--Coleridge knows the vision has scattered, he knows that all he is left with is rags and patches, and he fears deeply (see the later "Dejection: An Ode" for an elaboration of this theme) that perhaps the vision is meaningless, nothing but the baseless fabric of a dream.

That's all profoundly moving--but "Kubla Khan" is not an "ineffable vision of unity"--it's a real poem in the real world that we can both read and refer to and whose meaning therefore has pragmatic consequences for us. Unlike, for example, the opium-induced dreams that Coleridge may or may not have had which may or may not have prompted him to write the poem.
posted by yoink at 2:19 PM on July 12, 2006


yoink: --but that's just the point of my objection to Kirkjobsluder's IMO erroneous appeal to a kind of pragmatic relativism. The central insight of pragmatic philosophy is that that "ah ha!, but what if..." argument is always available. "But what if the tree is really just a hologram...but what if the person you are talking to is really just a robot..." The pragmatic response to these things is "yes, but so what"? It's not "oh noes, now I'll have to treat everybody as if they might be a robot!"

I've not made an appeal to "pragmatic relativism." I've only pointed out that pragmatism is, well, pragmatic, and comfortable with the principle that different types of claims might require different methods of evaluation.

What I have said is that evaluating "I'm one with the universe" depends on whether it is a statement of physical phenomenon, a moral assumption, or a poetic turn of phrase. If it is a claim to physical phenomenon, then you use the scientific method. If it's a moral assumption, you start doing thought experiments on the consequences and see what kind of conclusions you reach. If it's a poetic turn of phrase, then you look to aesthetics. No matter which way you go, you might come to a conclusion that it's a good statement or a bad statement.

I have not argued for relativism, in fact I have argued against it.

Do you really fail to read the argument put before you, or is there some kind of an agenda that pushes you to engage in arguments that have not been made?

However, if you ask me "how do I know that God exists" I have to say--I have no useful evidence to suggest any such thing. And if you ask me, then, "does God love his/her believers" I have to say "the question makes no sense, since I cannot even find a way--pragmatic or otherwise--to establish the existence of this 'God'."

Well, there are a couple of ways to approach this. James argues that belief in God and God's love for his/her believers is arguable as an assumption of moral philosophy regardless of whether there is any evidence for God as a physical phenomenon. From there, you can establish the value of that claim based on whether belief leads to good behavior or bad behavior.

You don't have to agree with this argument. But I don't think it's one that can be just dismissed with a hand-wave.

It's a sentence with two clearly demarcated (by double hyphens, indicating em-dashes) parenthetical comments.

Certainly, and even with the clear demarcation it was an excessively complex and byzantine mash-up of multiple sloppy ideas.

As for "patronizing" and "petty". Please. You called this dance. If you want to chill, I'll be happy to join you. Just don't complain that others are responding to you in the tone than you established.

2: some claims that come out of altered states of consciousness can be rejected a priori.
No, I have not made that claim.


Then you agree that there are ways through which one might be able to investigate claims such as "there is a god" and "I am one with the universe"? If you say up front these claims are categorically untestable across all dimensions of knowledge, then you are making the claim that they should be rejected a priori.

3: the only reasonable standard of testing such claims is (you seem to be a bit fuzzy on this)
I have proposed no "single reasonable standard of testing"--you are the one who assigned "correspondence to external reality" to me. I did not propose that and do not think it coherent. What I am asking for is simply a "pragmatically useful" test--sharable, stable etc.


And I've pointed to at least two.
1: One can consider those claims in terms of moral philosophy and examine the positive and negative effects of belief in that claim. (ala James)
2: One can look at those claims as a metaphor and consider the semiotic relationships involved. (ala Pierce)

4: your position is the only "pragmatic" one.
I have never said any such thing. I have said that certain specific arguments were "not pragmatic." That is not even remotely similar to arguing that there is "only one true pragmatism."


Ok, I'll conceed on that. I will just point out that some of the specific arguments that you claim are "not pragmatic" are some of the more influential arguments for pragmatism. Of course, there is no reason for you to agree with James' Will to Believe but it's hard to argue that it is not one possible application of pragmatist philosophy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:24 PM on July 12, 2006


yoink - I have proposed no "single reasonable standard of testing"

earlier: the only "knowledge" one can derive from that experience is knowledge that can be confirmed by later, sober, experiment"


Daksya, "confirmed by experiment" does not in any way suggest or imply that those experiments must be based upon a single standard of "correspondence to reality" or any other "single standard."


Still awaiting a response on why the sober state is privileged "pragmatically".

Because, "pragmatically," we define our "sober state" as the state in which the world is as little as possible subject to illusion and distortion. "Pragmatically" (i.e., in practice) we say "when I'm pissed out of my mind and see little pink elephants, I'm not 'really' seeing little elephants, I'm cognitively impaired."

I don't think you actually want an explanation of why the sober state is privileged "pragmatically"--you want an explanation of why the sober state must be privileged "absolutely." Sorry--I don't have one. It is of course possible that the world one sees on eating mushrooms is an immediate and direct perception of the world as it "really" is. How could I disprove that? All I'm saying is that someone's conviction that this is the case may be true, but uselessly so from a pragmatic perspective.

This is ignoring that the "question" is already a put-down.

"Gasp!" No? OMFG! That's like deep 'n shit. What kind of drugs did you have to take to get that insight?
posted by yoink at 2:27 PM on July 12, 2006


Certainly, and even with the clear demarcation it was an excessively complex and byzantine mash-up of multiple sloppy ideas.

Translation: yes, you're right, but now I'm just going to throw some irrelevant insults at you because I'm having a little temper-tantrum.

"Excessively complex" is a relative term, Kirk. I'll agree that it was "excessively complex" for you.
posted by yoink at 2:29 PM on July 12, 2006


And I've pointed to at least two.
1: One can consider those claims in terms of moral philosophy and examine the positive and negative effects of belief in that claim. (ala James)
2: One can look at those claims as a metaphor and consider the semiotic relationships involved. (ala Pierce)


Neither of these tactics addresses the validity of the original claim. To claim that "I behave better if I believe that I am one with my Mr. Coffee" is a testable claim. It is therefore precisely of the kind that I have explicitly said that I accept. It leaves, however, the "mystical" claim that you "actually are one with your Mr. Coffee" in exactly the same place. You may think that's sufficient to merit the term "spiritual"--there are few others who would.

The second leaves us in much the same place that Coleridge's poem does. Once again, it is the post-hoc production of some claim that is generated by the hallucinogenic experience. The claim's relationship to that experience (and to the validity or otherwise of that experience) is irrelevant to the significance for me of the "metaphoric" claim. I'm happy to think about the metaphorical implications of the claim "dude, you and the Mr. Coffee are one" (it doesn't take long) but any work I do with that metaphor is utterly and completely unrelated to any claims for the "mystical" significance of the actual experience of the hallucinogen.
posted by yoink at 2:37 PM on July 12, 2006


P.S. Kirkjobsluder, since you are so keen on James, consider this little nugget from his "Varieties of Religious Experience":

Once more, then, I repeat that non-mystics are under no obligation to acknowledge in mystical states a superior authority conferred on them by their intrinsic nature.

Hey, waddaya know. James is on my side!
posted by yoink at 2:45 PM on July 12, 2006


Oh, and Kirkjobsluder, while we're being petty:

Breaking up your run-on sentence.

That's a sentence-fragment; you meant to end with a colon.

I wonder if there's an expression for this? "Hoist by your own pettyness"? "Self-snarkification"?
posted by yoink at 3:04 PM on July 12, 2006


yoink says All I'm saying is that someone's conviction that this is the case may be true, but uselessly so from a pragmatic perspective. where a pragmatic perspective indicates "our "sober state" as the state in which the world is as little as possible subject to illusion and distortion.". I don't see any support put forward for this pragmatism. Only that sober state is pragmatic, by definition, and since that is so, intoxicated states are pragmatically useless.

yoink - No? OMFG! That's like deep 'n shit

"Translation: yes, you're right, but now I'm just going to throw some irrelevant insults at you because I'm having a little temper-tantrum."
posted by daksya at 3:11 PM on July 12, 2006


yoink - No? OMFG! That's like deep 'n shit

"Translation: yes, you're right, but now I'm just going to throw some irrelevant insults at you because I'm having a little temper-tantrum."


Hey, that's nicely done. Although I don't think I insulted you there--I just intimated that what you said was self-evidently true. Still--nicely played.
posted by yoink at 3:13 PM on July 12, 2006


yoink: But leaving that aside, Coleridge's poem is all about the evanescence of the state of "vision." It is redolant with Coleridge's high-keyed anxiety that "vision" may not be trustworthy, may not be "meaningful."

If you agree that Coleridge's poem has meaning and value regardless of whether it is "trustworthy," if you consider your own literary analysis of it valid, then you agree with the basic principle I've been putting forth.

Daksya, "confirmed by experiment" does not in any way suggest or imply that those experiments must be based upon a single standard of "correspondence to reality" or any other "single standard."

Well, actually it implies either a specific way of testing claims, or that you are being sloppy in using the term "experiment."

Translation: yes, you're right, but now I'm just going to throw some irrelevant insults at you because I'm having a little temper-tantrum."

No, it means that the sentence was excessively complex and loaded with multiple unsupported claims and assumptions that appeared to be only marginally related to each other. I couldn't ask a question about one without tearing the entire thing apart. My apologies if you found offense with that.

Was it snarky to point that out? Probably, and I apologize if you found it offensive.

Neither of these tactics addresses the validity of the original claim. To claim that "I behave better if I believe that I am one with my Mr. Coffee" is a testable claim. It is therefore precisely of the kind that I have explicitly said that I accept.

If you accept the claim that belief in Mr. Coffee leads to positive conseqences, then from a pragmatist moral philosophy, that belief is warranted. Of course that belief might be unwarrated in terms of physical phenomenon. But I'm not willing to assume that a person who makes that claim is making a claim about physical phenomenon.

It leaves, however, the "mystical" claim that you "actually are one with your Mr. Coffee" in exactly the same place.

However, not everyone is using "mystical" in those terms.

Once again, it is the post-hoc production of some claim that is generated by the hallucinogenic experience.

If you read back over the history of this discussion, I agreed with this yesterday. My disagreement with you is that you seem a bit too hasty in your interpretations and rejections of hallucinogenic claims. You also seem a bit too narrow in your choice of defining "validity."

P.S. Kirkjobsluder, since you are so keen on James, consider this little nugget from his "Varieties of Religious Experience":

Once more, then, I repeat that non-mystics are under no obligation to acknowledge in mystical states a superior authority conferred on them by their intrinsic nature.

Hey, waddaya know. James is on my side!


You do realize that it's not my position that mystical states have a superior authority?

That's a sentence-fragment; you meant to end with a colon.

Thank you, I will be more careful in the future.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:14 PM on July 12, 2006


If you read back over the history of this discussion, I agreed with this yesterday. My disagreement with you is that you seem a bit too hasty in your interpretations and rejections of hallucinogenic claims. You also seem a bit too narrow in your choice of defining "validity."

Which you know, isn't that big of a deal as long as you are consistent about which set of theoretical assumptions you use to define "validity."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:23 PM on July 12, 2006


If you accept the claim that belief in Mr. Coffee leads to positive conseqences, then from a pragmatist moral philosophy, that belief is warranted.

Ah, but you are too hasty. I accept that the claim is testable. I don't accept the claim. In general, my experience suggests that beliefs in the mystical endorsement of our actions leads to negative outcomes. I return to the example of George Bush and his belief that Jesus has told him to invade Iraq. You still haven't offered me any way within your understanding of the terms "mystical" and "validity" that this claim can be "pragmatically" shown to be "invalid."

The problem with James's "true belief is belief that helps us deal with the world" way of approaching religious belief (and he himself is fully aware of this, and is much more tentative about that position than you suggest) is that in the end we need a moral framework within which we can judge the question "are you living well"? Is Bush living well by ordering the invasion of Iraq? Well, if you accept his religious premises he is--doing God's will is living well regardless of the outcome. God, after all, can always pick up the pieces and sort everything out.

So from my point of view, how am I "acknowledging the validity of someone's mystical experience" if what I am saying is "so long as your unprovable belief does not inconvenience or outrage me, I'm happy to respect it, but as soon as you do something unpleasant or wacky I'll switch to calling it a delusion"? I find it hard to find a principled distinction between "tolerating someone's wacky delusion" and "acknowledging the validity of someone else's mystical intuitions" on that basis.
posted by yoink at 3:28 PM on July 12, 2006


yoink: Ah, but you are too hasty. I accept that the claim is testable. I don't accept the claim. In general, my experience suggests that beliefs in the mystical endorsement of our actions leads to negative outcomes.

I didn't say you did. And I agree with you that beliefs in the supernatural endorsement of our actions tends to lead to negative outcomes.

But accepting that the claim is testable is incompatible with your earlier statements that there is no way one can evaluate that claim.

You still haven't offered me any way within your understanding of the terms "mystical" and "validity" that this claim can be "pragmatically" shown to be "invalid."

I have not offered because you have not asked?

You initially asked for a way that these claims could be testable. Now you agree that these claims can be testable, and you've also answered your own request here. It's possible that the moral actions derived from a claim are harmful. It's possible that they lead to a contradiction. Both of these possibilities would invalidate the original claim.

So from my point of view, how am I "acknowledging the validity of someone's mystical experience" if what I am saying is "so long as your unprovable belief does not inconvenience or outrage me, I'm happy to respect it, but as soon as you do something unpleasant or wacky I'll switch to calling it a delusion"?

Well, what do you mean by "acknowledging the validity of someone's mystical experience"? Taking this at face value, just as a matter of polite civility I think we are forced to take other people's experiences as valid unless they become an inconvenience or outrage. I can't validate or invalidate your experience of love for your mom. All I can do is accept it unless you mummify her and start killing people at a hotel.

Schermer who writes the skeptic collumn for SciAm had a great piece on this. Mystical experiences are real. He's had a few himself. The million dollar question is whether they are a quirk of how our brain works (my theory), or some deeper connection to the supernatural.

If you mean something like, "why should we adopt opinions informed by mystical experiences as valid?" I will say again that there is no reason why you should.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:48 PM on July 12, 2006


I have not offered because you have not asked?

Yoink, above: And, P.S., Kirkjobsluder, if I can't test that claim of "spiritual" unity with the tree, why should I respect that claim--why should I grant it any validity--any more than I would the claim of a schizophrenic that he is hearing the voice of Napoleon telling him to wear a crown, or any more than I would George Bush when he tells me that Jesus speaks to him, or any more than I would a whirling dervish who tells me to spin my way to God?

Why should I be impressed, that is, with another person's sense of deep conviction without any other kind of (pragmatic) proof?


No, I asked.

You initially asked for a way that these claims could be testable. Now you agree that these claims can be testable, and you've also answered your own request here.

You have clearly been misunderstanding me throughout. I say that the claim "I had a mystical experience that gave me extraordinary insight into the real nature of the universe" is untestable. I freely (and repeatedly, ad nauseam) accept that the claim "as a consequence of my vision I am now able to do X observable thing" is testable. Whether it be "solve this equation" or "treat animals more kindly" is of no consequence. They are in both cases open to "experiment" (and please note that you are quite incorrect that the word "experiment" entails any belief in a positivistic "correspondence" theory off truth: I can "experiment" with my emotional responses to music, I can "experiment" with how funny I think a story is--in neither case is this making a claim about some correspondence to the "really real").
posted by yoink at 3:58 PM on July 12, 2006


Man, I should know better than to step into this, but I do have a (hopefully) short response to your recent post, yoink. If I may quote myself from much earlier in this thread: My point, directed at the thread in general, is about an unarticulated emotional subtext of the conversation that appears to me to be the primary source of disagreement in it.

I think I was right, but mistook the objection: several commenters early on in the thread appeared to me to be adversarial more because of a moral objection to drug use, than purely on intellectual grounds. Your comments initially, to me, smacked of that, what with the questioning the validity of any possible experience with psychedelics.

Now I realize that when you say "mystical experience" you're also thinking "religious dogmatism":

I return to the example of George Bush and his belief that Jesus has told him to invade Iraq.

I think most of the people (though I don't mean to presume), when they commented specifically on the significance of psychedelic experiences they'd had, referred to emotional truths about themselves or significant relationships, or about an enlargement of perspective of themselves in the world, or of humanity in the world, etc. They (as many subjects in the study cited in the FPP) continue to cite those as important insights, and thus value the experience highly, because they continue to accrue positive results in their lives.

This is not a dogmatic position; it becomes dogmatic when it is the only frame of reference you choose, the sole wisdom you consult, and--most especially--when you believe it is infallible and that everyone else should to.

I think it is a mistake to allow the malformed, dogmatic, and controlling manifestations of spirituality currently most influential in much of the world to corrupt mysticism or spirituality as an important component of a balanced, healthy human being. If anyone, for any reason, comes to believe that his or her mystical or spiritual insights are infallibly true for all of us, and seeks to impose such, the insight--or source of it--is sort of beside the point, isn't it? It's the impulse to power and control that is the heart of the matter.

Besides, George Bush can think God or whomever wants him to do what he's doing; it doesn't change the fact that, to anyone who's read the New Testament, he sort of missed the point of most of what he's supposed to believe.
posted by LooseFilter at 4:23 PM on July 12, 2006


Loosefilter, I respect the spirit of your intervention, but it doesn't seem to me to solve any problems.

Thanks, by the way, for being more upfront about what you thought my position was earlier. I would have thought that the fact that I say over and over and over again that I don't disapprove of people taking drugs and that I accept that drugs might lead some people to useful and valuable insights would have given a teensy clue that this was not my position. But, hey, better late than never.

The problem, though, with your position is that it is like the one I outlined above ("My suspicion is that there are many people...who, while deeply uncomfortable with "traditional religions" and reflexively hostile to anyone proselytizing for any specific metaphysical "explanation of everything" nonetheless yearn for some kind of "spiritual" truth (well, not "truth"--absolutes make them uncomfortable--let's say "intimations").)

I don't quite understand what sense it makes to say "I believe I had an insight into the nature of the universe--well, sorry, I sort of believe that. I'm not going to be dogmatic or anything."

Let me put it this way: God appears to you in a vision (attendant angels, trumpets blaring--the works) and says "I have chosen you as my vessel upon earth, you must go forth and preach the word that all who eat oranges will be cast into the fiery pit for all eternity! All others, provided that they watch "The Wedding Singer" before they die, shall be granted eternal bliss." What's your "non-dogmatic" response to such a vision? As far as I can see you have two choices. Either you think "oh my God, time to check into the psych unit (or, "time to dial back the hallucinogens")" or you get out there and start spreading the word. God didn't say "I want you to kinda, sorta, occasionally tell people--hey dude, you know, mandarins are really nice too."

Similarly, if Jesus spoke to Bush, doesn't that trump the Bible? Again you're saying that the "mystical" experience gets indulged only as a kind of game: "hey, I'll act as if God really did speak to me! But of course, if it involves anything that conflicts with "normal" morality or "normal" definitions of the real I'll discount it." So we just return to the same old circle. The experience gets counted as "deep insight" if, and only if, it confirms some previously held belief (or suspicion) about what the "true" nature of the universe is.

So once more, I am left feeling that it is a strongly justified position to say that I have no reason to regard someone's report of a subjective "insight" into the nature of the universe and their place in it experienced under the influence of hallucinogens as having any inherent validity.
posted by yoink at 4:44 PM on July 12, 2006


Oh, and p.s., can I just add as an aside that this is something about the contemporary etiquette on "discussing religion" (particularly in America) that simply befuddles me. That is, it's fine for anybody to affirm their own religious belief, but it's rude and oppressive for anybody to question anybody else's.

This strikes me as a position that could only make sense if you thought religious belief was a kind of childish make-believe--like being a big fan of a sports team. If you genuinely believe that that there's an immanent force in the universe who intends to punish many people for all eternity after they die if they don't acknowledge him as "God" while they live, what possible excuse could you have for not preaching that word every chance you get? When you face your God are you going to say "well, I was busy and stuff, so other people's eternal damnation seemed less important than, you know, my job, and those movies I went and saw, and those TV shows I watched etc. etc."

Similarly, if you think that the belief in God is a delusion that leads to socially harmful outcomes, why on earth wouldn't you argue with people who hold that belief and do what you can to lessen the grip that that (to you erroneous) belief has on other people's lives?
posted by yoink at 4:56 PM on July 12, 2006


I don't quite understand what sense it makes to say "I believe I had an insight into the nature of the universe--well, sorry, I sort of believe that. I'm not going to be dogmatic or anything."

Well, that's not the sort of insight I referred to, and it's not the insights claimed by many who advocate value in the psychedelic experience. I thought I had insights into the nature of the universe (and shit) when I was 19, but I grew up. Secondly, I'm not sure what kind of weirdly objective universe you inhabit, but for me the subjectivity of any emotional or spiritual truth is all that's important. So I probably wouldn't try to convince you of it.

So once more, I am left feeling that it is a strongly justified position to say that I have no reason to regard someone's report of a subjective "insight" into the nature of the universe and their place in it experienced under the influence of hallucinogens as having any inherent validity.

Again, why on earth would my emotional and/or spiritual insights need validity for anyone but me? Your mistake is thinking I care what you think of my experiences. The people in the referenced study rated an experience they had inside their heads as meaningful--not a specific insight, mind you, but the experience itself. So, for you to find out if it has any meaning for you, you'd have to experience it yourself and then evaluate. I can't objectively convince you of the validity or importance of an experience.

That's the difference between the subject at hand and dogma. Religious dogma is belief, specific belief. I think it's a mistake to conflate experience and belief. (You have a specific concept of drug-induced mysticism that you're projecting onto the conversation, I think.)

Finally, That is, it's fine for anybody to affirm their own religious belief, but it's rude and oppressive for anybody to question anybody else's.

Are you assuming I'm religious? Or that I have a specific dogma to which I ascribe? Careful you're not projecting some more.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:26 PM on July 12, 2006


Are you assuming I'm religious?

Loosefilter, I labeled this as an "aside"--it was a line of thought prompted by my response to you, but no longer part of that response. O.k? It assumed nothing about your position or beliefs.

As for the first part of your response. Sure--I've agreed (ad infinitam, ad nauseam) that people under the influence of hallucinogens can have "emotionally powerful" experiences that help them to achieve "real insights" into their lives. So what?

Clearly such an experience doesn't warrant the word "mystical." Clearly this is not what many of my interlocuters in this thread are arguing for--because when I say "sure, you can have experiences that are profoundly revelatory for you, but they're not mystical insights into the nature of the universe" people don't reply "oh, no, of course not--we have nothing to argue about" they reply "well, no, not you know mystical in the sense of absolute truths but well spiritual, you know, mystical in the sense that allows me to patronize you as emotionally dead because you don't agree with me." (search for "keeping company with the ill or dying" for an example of such patronization).

When you say that the problem with mystic insight begins when someone asserts that their views are "infallibly true" then you seem to be suggesting that there is some other position, "holding mystic insights which are fallibly true," which I was suggesting ends up in a reductio ad absurdam. Again, if you have a drug-induced vision which tells you "I and the tree are one being" and that in turn leads you to reflect upon your place in the world, and that in turn leads you to reconcile with your father and become a happier and more settled person, that's great. However, the "valid" part of that process seems to me to begin at the point that you "reflect upon your place in the world." The vision of oneness with the tree isn't a "fallible truth" or a "provisional truth" or anything else. It's a drug-induced malfunction of the brain. That it leads to you thinking deep and useful thoughts is nice, but it would be an error to reflect back on that experience and think "hey, something good came of this--clearly there must be something to this man-tree-oneness thing."

Similarly, if you trip and smash your head on the sidewalk, and someone comes to your aid and you eventually settle down with that person, the good consequences of that accident don't make that accident a "sign from God" or "providential"--despite the fact that many people do in fact think that way.
posted by yoink at 5:43 PM on July 12, 2006


Hm. It appears that you have no idea what an experience with psychedelic drugs is like. Since William James was brought into this, I leave with his thoughts on the matter:
[... ] our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question,-for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality. Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge toward a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance.
(Also, I applaud your conversational determination. I'm not sure what you've been out to prove--intellectual points aside--but I hope you've proved it.)
posted by LooseFilter at 6:30 PM on July 12, 2006


they all converge toward a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance.

And, once again, I say that his inability to resist ascribing "metaphysical significance" to this experience is no kind of an argument for the correctess of his ascription.
posted by yoink at 7:04 PM on July 12, 2006


yoink: You asked about testability. Then you asked about falsifiability. These are two different concepts that overlap in some theories, and not in others.

They are in both cases open to "experiment" (and please note that you are quite incorrect that the word "experiment" entails any belief in a positivistic "correspondence" theory off truth: I can "experiment" with my emotional responses to music, I can "experiment" with how funny I think a story is--in neither case is this making a claim about some correspondence to the "really real").

It depends. If you are talking among people for whom epistemology is a big deal, an "experiment" means a specific method that is compatible with some epistemologies, and incompatible with others. An experiment addresses a particular type of question, and results in a particular type of truth claim.

You can be sloppy when you use the term "experiment" in talking about epistemology. If I treat that term with an equivalent level of imprecision, I have advisors, editors and reviewers crawling up my ass. Technically speaking, you can't do an experiment without a treatment and control. What you call experiments above, are actually "case studies."

(And from a pragmatic point of view, I think this kind of sloppyness leads to some misunderstandings about the nature of science, and should be avoided.)

Clearly such an experience doesn't warrant the word "mystical."

Well again, I think that in many respects you are setting up an almost straw-man definition of "mystical" that is not shared by everyone in this discussion. A few people have argued that mystical experiences involve deep insight into the universe, most have not. Why you continue to fight against a particular definition of "mystical" as if it was the only one in use is baffling to me.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:05 PM on July 12, 2006


Some primary information sources:

Press Release
Q&A with lead author
Full Paper (PDF)
Commentaries & Journal editorial (PDF)
posted by daksya at 1:21 PM on July 13, 2006


Space mushrooms.
posted by homunculus at 8:38 PM on July 18, 2006


In 2000, the Dutch Ministry of Health commissioned a risk assessment study of psilocybin mushrooms since they were being sold in smartshops which were increasing in number.

The executive summary of the study(PDF) says:

"The Coordination Centre for the Assessment and Monitoring of new drugs (CAM) has carried out a risk assessment on psychotropic mushrooms containing the active substances psilocin and psilocybin.

This drug is not associated with physical or psychological dependency, acute toxicity is largely limited to possible panic and anxiety attacks and, in terms of chronic toxicity, the worst that can happen are flashbacks. Consequently, the use of paddos (hallucinogenic mushrooms) does not, on balance, present any risk to the health of the individual. The product is relatively easy to come by, yet there is little adequate information available to users. The quality of the product is unreliable and the quality awareness of those who sell the product is, for the most part, lacking. On the other hand, we have been pleasantly surprised by findings relating to the scale of use, the vulnerability of the user and the number and seriousness of incidents reported. The risk to public health is therefore judged to be low. This drug adversely affects the user’s reactions (including his or her ability to drive), but there is no danger of it lowering his or her violence threshold. Since usage is usually confined to the home or the open air, there is no inconvenience caused to other people. The risk to public order is therefore judged to be low.
"

As of 2006, there are an estimated 120-150 smartshops in the Netherlands which sell psilocybin-containing mushrooms.

----

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction released a thematic paper on 06/26/2006 - Hallucinogenic mushrooms: an emerging trend case study.
posted by daksya at 9:03 PM on July 18, 2006


"well, no, not you know mystical in the sense of absolute truths but well spiritual, you know, mystical in the sense that allows me to patronize you as emotionally dead because you don't agree with me."

I don't think that thats the case. Its more akin to trying to expain the concept of "yellow" to a blind person. You can talk about wavelengths, absorption and emission properties, electronic transitions, etc as long as you care, but you don't know yellow till you see one. Yoink, Postabagel, you guys are arguing about something that you have not experienced with people that did. I'm pleasantly surprised how well your tediousness has been tolerated.
I am left feeling that it is a strongly justified position to say that I have no reason to regard someone's report of a subjective "insight" into the nature of the universe and their place in it experienced under the influence of hallucinogens as having any inherent validity.
Ok. So you don't. Is anyone claiming that you should? What about insight into the nature of the universe and one's place in it as experienced under normal day-to-day life? Is it really more valid? Furthermore, what does "inherent validity" mean?

Having said that, I have never taken mushrooms or any other phychoactive drugs myself. Yet, at least.
posted by c13 at 9:17 PM on July 18, 2006


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