We are pleased to welcome as July 2013 Author of the Month Tom Roberts, discussing his new book The Psychedelic Future of the Mind. After reading his article, please join Tom on the AoM Message Boards to further investigate the concepts and ideas he puts forth. Tom's full bio appears at the end of this article.
Hello, Fellow Hancock Site Readers,
These 3 excerpts from The Psychedelic Future of the Mind present a trimmed down form of what I see as the book’s 3 biggest ideas. Their importance rests on what I judge as their answers’ broad scope to the question, “What does it mean to be a human?” A list of the “merely big ideas” follows at the end of this article.
But first, a few words about this book’s unique perspective on psychedelics.
This book looks forward, not backward. Experiences beget ideas, and The Psychedelic Future of the Mind is an exploration of some ideas psychedelics engender. Based on a collection of pieces of scientific research, case studies, anecdotes, and other information about psychedelics, this book asks, “When all these pieces are assembled, what do they tell us about what it means to be a human, about our minds, and about the future?”
Where might psychedelic ideas take us?
In Western culture, we are transitioning from an era of word-based religion to an era of experience-based religion, a change that may turn out to be as broad and as deep as the religious transformation five hundred years ago when text-based religion replaced the then dominate rite-based religion’s place at the center of religion. Two other ideas support this one; 1) mystical experiences form a foundation of religion that gives rise to beliefs, rituals, ethics, and organizations, 2) under the right conditions, psychedelic plants and chemicals can—but do not always—produce mystical experiences.
Around 1500, moveable type and the printing press democratized access to religious texts. The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation followed. General literacy and public education became important so that people could read religious texts. The growing importance of words nourished reason and science. While older religious observances of the prior period continued, new word-centered activities such as reading texts and interpreting them overlaid and overcame the older religion-as-rite era. New interpretations resulted; new churches flourished. Most important, text became an increasingly powerful source of religious ideas and a standard for judging them. Over time the locus of Western religious activity shifted from rites to reading, from observances to Bible, from participation to verbalization.
We need only look at our current religions to see. In contrast to pre-1500, we approach religion verbally—through words. Texts, speaking, beliefs, sermons, catechisms, creeds, dogmas, doctrines, theology, and so on—all these are words. This overemphasis on words shows up today in the way we describe religions—as sets of
wordy beliefs. To us, thoughts (cognitive processes) form religion. If we ask someone about his or her religion, we expect to hear about beliefs, not what rituals that person performs. The older rites certainly remain but lie obscured beneath a five-hundred-year-year blizzard of words.
Four questions and their respective answers point to a new stage of religious
development that is unfolding: a transition from word-based religion to a new era of experience-based religion, one whose foundation is an intense, personal experience of the sacred.
How would a direct primary spiritual experience affect someone?
A volunteer in the psilocybin study at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute’s Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit answers this way: “The complete and utter loss of self . . . The sense of unity was awesome . . . I now truly do believe in God as an ultimate reality”
If this happened regularly, how might wider society change?
Stanislav Grof, summarizing one of the effects of LSD psychotherapy, says: “Even hard-core materialists, positively oriented scientists, skeptics and cynics, and uncompromising atheists and antireligious crusaders such as Marxist philosophers suddenly became interested in a spiritual search after they confronted these levels in themselves”.
What if religious studies programs, divinity schools, seminaries, religious orders, and
similar religious educational institutions could teach their students to know this?
Psychotherapist Frances Vaughan, describing her own LSD-based experience, conducted when LSD was legal: “I understood why spiritual seekers were instructed to look within . . . My understanding of mystical teaching, both Eastern and Western, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Sufi alike, took a quantum leap”.
What if this happened fairly regularly?
Data from the fourteen-month follow-up of the Johns Hopkins psilocybin study states that “33 percent of the volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as being the single most spiritually significant experience of his or her life, with an additional 38 percent rating it to be among the top five most spiritually significant experiences” Today entheogens—psychoactive plants and chemicals used in a spiritual context—democratize access to primary religious experience.
Just as the 1500s word-based reformation evolved into today’s religious, social, and political world, will today’s experience-based reformation give birth to its distinctive future?
After recognizing the Singlestate Fallacy—the erroneous idea that all useful abilities reside in our ordinary, default mindbody state—Multistate Theory proposes substituting the word mindbody for consciousness in its theory. Then it challenges many of the social sciences and humanities into expand into wider mindbody territories of human experience.
Mindbody states are overall patterns of cognitive and bodily functioning at any one time. They are composed of body plus mind considered as one unified whole, such as in the commonest states of wakefulness, sleeping, and dreaming. The word mindbody also avoids the ambiguity of the word consciousness, which is used in different ways in different disciplines and in common language. Confusion arises when people think that they are talking about the same thing when they use the same word. The uses of the word consciousness listed here, however, make it clear that the meanings are quite different, though at times overlapping.
Common language 1—Consciousness means awake and interacting normally with the environment: for example, “She is conscious now, but last night she was asleep,” and “After being in a coma for three days, he is conscious.”
Common language 2—Consciousness refers to what one habitually thinks about, to what is typically “on one’s mind” such as, “She has good ecological consciousness,” or “His money occupies the center of his consciousness.”
Politics and the social sciences—Consciousness means the thoughts and feelings one has constructed due to one’s place in society, for example, proletarian consciousness or women’s consciousness.
Philosophy—Consciousness refers to a self-reflective sense of “I”: one thinks and can reflect on oneself and on one’s thinking. In this case, the word self-reflexiveness would be more precise and avoid ambiguity.
Religion and spiritual discussions—Consciousness means level of spiritual development as in, “His mystical experience raised John’s level of consciousness.”
Psychology 1—Consciousness is the sequence of what one attends to second by second; what passes through one’s mind becomes the stream of consciousness.
Psychology 2—Here consciousness refers to different overall patterns of mind and body functioning at any one time, as in Tart’s “altered states of consciousness.” This meaning is the one I suggest replacing with mindbody. This will allow cognitive studies to avoid ambiguity and provides a way of specifying a particular pattern of mind plus body functioning at any one time.
Residence. The third major concept in the multistate theory is residence. Our mental and physical capacities reside within mindbody states; that is, mindbody states are the programs that express, or produce, outputs—our behavior, sensations, and thoughts. To access the outputs, we first achieve the states that contain them. As we move from one state to another, we observe that some of our cognitive processes, perceptions, feelings, and abilities become stronger in some states and weaker in others; processes in one state have their analogs in others. This leads to an enormous question that blows the roof off nearly all the topics that psychologists, cognitive scientists, and humanists study:
How does [insert a topic here] vary
from mindbody state to mindbody state?
Applying the Central Multistate Question
How does/do __________________ vary from mindbody state to mindbody state?
To sample the opportunities that the Central Multistate Question and its paradigm offer, try inserting the topics below into the question above...
To invent additional hypotheses, questions, and intellectual agendas, insert your favorite topics.
As we move from one state to another, we may also discover new, unsuspected abilities—ones that do not exist in our ordinary state. Systematic exploration of all mindbody states and inventorying their resident abilities are two huge mind-mapping tasks that remain in the quest to fully describe the human mind and to develop it fully.
Possible/impossible. Generally when we say a specific human behavior or experience is possible or impossible, we are tacitly implying but seldom acknowledging that we mean “in our ordinary awake state.” Rare and unusual abilities and even some so-called impossible abilities and events may seem impossible to us because we have looked for them only in our default awake state. As we systematically examine other mindbody states, however, we are likely to find skills and experiences that don’t reside in our ordinary state. In addition to alerting us to examine how an ability that we recognize, say, problem solving, varies from state to state, the concept of residence also alerts us to extend our vision of possible human functioning to abilities and events that do not reside in our default state.
Experimental Humanities. The section above, “The New Religious Era,” hints at how it is now possible to develop a new specialty of experimental religious studies. Philosophers can do similar experiments. How does mind vary from mindbody state to mindbody state? Do default-state philosophical ideas hold in other mindbody states? What are we to make of these changes? Thanks to psychedelics and other psychotechnologies, philosophers can move beyond armchair speculation to study their topics experimentally too. Just as religion is moving beyond its word-anchored past, so can the humanities.
Just as programmers can write a large number of new programs and apps for electronic devices, cognitive designers using psychotechnologies (ways of producing mindbody states) can compose a large number of programs for our minds. These programs and their applications are not limited to states we now know of; it may be possible for future cognitive scientists to invent new, hitherto unknown, synthetic mindbody states containing new cognitive processes, possibly with their respective applications for human needs. This might be done by inventing new psychotechnologies, sequencing current or new psychotechnologies in innovative series, or by combining them into new recipes. The singlestate fallacy frowns on this possibility: multistate theory sees designing and creating new cognitive processes as inventing the future of the human mind.
Without our recognizing it, the Neurosingularity Project (the application of the neurosciences to building bigger and better brains) has already started. Much of the information above marks milestones along this road. Current neuropsychology is (among other things) mapping the human mind and many of its complexities. There is still a long and exciting way to go. A full map must include all mindbody states and all their respective abilities and biological correlates.
The multistate chapter mentioned the possibility of combining existing mindbody psychotechnologies, both chemical and behavioral, to produce new mindbody states. There we considered only new mindbody states as they might affect our current brains, but biological sciences raise the possibility not only of enhancing our current brains’ activities but also designing and growing advanced brains, even bigger heads for bigger brains.
Existing psychotechnologies provide enough leads to keep generations of psychologists, biologists, and their many friends and relations busy. And the scope of the Neurosingularity Project will grow even more as new psychotechnologies are invented and imported from other cultures: the number of mindbody combinations and sequences multiplies. When brain enhancement is added, the number of possible psychotechnology recipes and sequences multiplies again.
For future mindbody inventors—perhaps we should we call them neuroarchitects, cerebralengineers, mindartists, or cognidesigners—the possibilities of the Neurosingularity Project and the human future are endless.
In this brief article, we have tasted 3 psychedelic ideas that enrich the humanities and liberal arts, and although we haven’t mentioned how the arts have benefited from psychedelics, this is already widely recognized. Besides the Humungous Three—1) the transition to an era of experiential relation, 2) Multistate Theory, and 3) mind design— psychedelics offer an additional swarm of “merely big” ideas. Here are some of my favorites:
Chapter and page numbers refer to The Psychedelic Future of the Mind. Book reviews and elaborations on these ideas reside at: http://niu.academia.edu/ThomasRoberts
AB, Hamilton College
MA, University of Connecticut
Dr. Roberts's relevant major publications:
He is a founding member of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, co-founder of the Council on Spiritual Practices, creator of Rising Researcher sessions, and originated the celebration of Bicycle Day. He teaches Psychedelic Studies in the Honors Program of Northern Illinois University. Taught since 1981, it is the world’s first university-catalogued psychedelics course. He was a Visiting Scientist in the psilocybin research team at the Johns Hopkins Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit in 2006. More publications, PowerPoints, and info are at: http://niu.academia.edu/ThomasRoberts
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