Steven Johnson, whose new book Mind Wide Open is about his experiences hacking his own neural chemistry, just mentioned in an email that there seems to be a lot of interest in his book, and now I've stumbled onto a web site on "Psychedelic Futurism". Cultural interest in consciousness expansion and psychedelia was high (pardon the pun) in the late sixties, and again in the early- and mid-nineties. Given our 21st century devolutionary spiral, perhaps we need a permanent resurgence of psychedelic idealism?
What matters is that these transcendent states are valid in themselves and what we do with them. Who cares whether such sublime experiences are arbitrary brain states produced by a flood of serotonin and endorphins or are something else? As Hans Moravec has repeated often, simulated experience is for all philosophical purposes as real as non-simulated experience. And besides, how could we tell the difference? How do we know we are currently not in some kind of hyper-advanced "matrix" simulation or in the mind of a much greater entity?
Well, on one hand, if drugs were going to save us, they would have already.... but for every Leary or Wilson, there seem to have been fifty people who burned out, died of smack or would up working in gas stations wondering what happened to their lives... The casulty rate of the 60s seems horrendous.
Rave generation seem to have done a bit better, but I vividly remember london ravers from the early 90s who'd spend the entire week alone, isolated, then open up like burning flowers for one night, try and put it back together the next, and slug through the next week. What was amazing was how isolated a lot of those kids were the rest of the time...
I'm not saying that Carl Sagan didn't need a joint, you know? But I think that drugs are very close to being as big a problem as a solution in our culture and that's a problem with recommending changes in drug policy. Without some new technology, be it chemistry, religion or ritual, I don't think the current generation of psychedelic culture is all that different from nuclear power: it gets the job done, but with profoundly problematic issues.
I do think we're a culture in desparate need of the ecstatic, unitary vision which psychedelics offer to some people. But if we can't contextualize that experience more successfully and give people better ways of integrating back into the real world, I wonder if the benefits really outweigh the risks all that much?
Where is Mr. Natural when he's needed to run as an independent?
Everything would have worked out great in the last PE (psychedelic era) except it was ILLEGAL ... low self esteem, Hello?
Obviously, nobody should be allowed to psychedelicize beyond the 4th grade unless they promise to publish the results, under current political realities.
Problem is, people take the stuff and forget to register to vote.
Hi. I'm the editor of this new blog - Future Hi. Vinay, I think you hit the nail on the head. I agree that drugs (as they are) in and of themselves are not the answer - the rave culture and all the burn-outs prove this adequately. MDMA came closest to providing a more specific beneficial experience. Unfortunately it has toxicity issues. There is no reason why these same states can not be emulated in the future safely and effectively. In the meantime what is needed are tools to integrate experience, and I think a lot of the methodologies that have become popular since the sixties - massage, rebirthing, yoga, came into wide use for that reason.
On the biochemical front, I seriously recommend everyone who has a chance to read the brilliant online book, The Hedonistic Imperative, found here:
Just heard a report on NPR about the devastating effects of cocaine today in Boston on lower middle class and middle class white kids. I think hard and bitterly about the same kind of reports on the urban Afro-American community over the last thirty years.
If paronoia is the true reality - we can see the deliberate destruction of another community of the poor underway in the USA today. The First world is going to be reduced to a Fourth world where the super rich control your thoughts, your soul and all your chemical processes and can watch everything you did today.
This is far from the psychedelic visions of the Sixties, when we were all 'up there together' for a brief glorious time, until the vision was hijacked by the non-participants in Hollywood (it is the same story today) such as Spielberg and his 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'.
We live and learn...
They are talking about Heroin in Boston not Cocaine. Afghanistan is the the big player here...paranoia or reality?
it wasn't afghani heroin mentioned on NPR as the culprit (altho it's a problem*), but cheap columbian heroin** ($4/bag, 80-90% pure!) or as eric stoltz sez, "coke is fuckin' dead as disco.*** heroin's comin' back in a big fuckin' way." :(
So, context.... In a lot of ways, I see the big issue with psychedelics is that they give people a taste of something which many of them decide is realer than real life.
I was fortunate in having been exposed to hinduism and yoga before psychedelics, so I got a chance to say "ok, this is a quick peek at a reality which can be attained by other means - and now I'm going to work my butt off to see if I can stabilize my consciousness in some condition closer to this realm" - i.e. I knew there was a ladder to climb.
But a lot of my more western compatriots were basically left stranded with no belief in altered states except through chemical intervention, leaving them which a choice between returning to their old world, or continuing to take substances... very problematic situation indeed.
What do you think? Are there distinctly western paths which people can use to maintain these states, or are all trippers going to wind up yogis in the end?
Pardon me if I seem dense today (it is Monday), but Jon what do you mean by this statement:
"Given our 21st century devolutionary spiral[...]"?
Wish I could make an enlightened comment about psychedelic futurism, but I haven't had a chance to read the links yet.
I would disagree with you that psychedelics are different are less real that real life. Most people say that when the doors of perception are cleansed, that is precisely what they mean... they see reality for what is for the first time in their lives - a pluralistic every changing dance of energy. Psychedelics show us there are alternatives to consensus reality, and in that respect they are very important.
Your positive framework that you inherited from your culture no doubt helped you tremendously over most western trained minds. The eastern mindset has already been exploring these states for millenia, and are there more wise in exploring them safely and effectively.
I don't think there are distinctly western paths, I think all the paths explored by all the yogis, shamans, magickal adepts and other psychonauts will prove useful and enlightening and act as guideposts and cautions for future exploration.
Odd to see references to cocaine and heroin in a discussion of psychedelic perception.
I personally thought the drugs associated with psychedelic experience created fast-food versions of an experience that is more relevant to meditative exercises or something along the line of Gurdjieff's concept of "self-remembering."
Re. 21st century devolutionary spiral: I'm referring to the unfortunate reactionary blitz post 2000 election and post 9/11. It's like the 50s, only the television is worse. (We admittedly have better gizmos, though.)
As I'm sure you already guessed, I agree with you 100% about "self-remembering", Gurdjieff et al.
Thinking about futuristic ways in which drugs can expand the consciousness is also a part of the transhumanist movement. Future psychedelic drugs will hopefully improve upon the complaints mentioned about the current ones, but they likely won't be engineered or discovered unless by chance (unless Moby (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/30/technology/circuits/30moby.html) had his way). There's nothing that says fundamentally that man can't use external tools to enhance his experience. That drugs haven't been the magic bullet yet doesn't prove anything about the limits of the abilities of drugs. Their popularity doesn't seem to be on the decrease and I wouldn't forecast that for the future.
As mentioned, The Hedonistic Imperative (http://www.hedweb.com) website/book is a good place to start reading for people interested in this topic.
What is odd about talking about psychedelics, cocaine and heroin? Are they not all drugs? Don't they all contribute to changes in human perception and the creative process as documented in countless works of art - music, dance, painting, etc.? Please tell me what's the difference - other than a kind of snobbery?
> Are they not all drugs?
Certainly. Arsenic and strychnine are also drugs, and they certainly contribute to changes in human perception.
Tomo - the NYTimes link is no longer available. Can you send me a copy of the article? It sounds interesting.
RE: "a discussion of psychedelic perception."
here're some psychedelic research/advocacy sites :D
Paul: Sorry, I left a paren at the end of the URL mistakenly. It is: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/30/technology/circuits/30moby.html
LSD, mescaline, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, Prozac, Tylenol.. these are all drugs. Some drugs mask pain, some make you experience euphoria, some make you less unhappy, some fix your body in other ways. Psychedelic drugs have a specific property to them. They temporarily provide alternate world views, whereas heroin numbs pain in basically the same way we naturally release chemicals to deal with pain and cocaine stimulates the body and brain in basically the same way we are stimulated when we get excited.
Are you related to the Great Lebowski, dude? What's with the smart mouth reply? Have you ever used psychedelics? Do you know what art is?
As I said, you need to get off the smarter-than-thou-ego-trip you are on right now and start listening to yourself.
Good Luck ... You need it!