Author Topic: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences  (Read 1748 times)

Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« on: December 29, 2018, 12:08:39 AM »
I recently read How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan. It’s a fascinating book which describes the history of psychoactive substances as well as current experimental treatments for mental health problems. It is also a memoir of a sixty-something atheist exploring psychedelics for the first time. He tried four different psychedelics, always under the administration of guides, either underground/outlaws or in labs. People using psychedelics are very open to suggestion and therefore “set and setting”, one’s mindset and environment, significantly influence the experience. The substances he tried were psilocybin (mushroom), LSD (artificial chemical compound), DMT (the venom of the Sonoran toad), and ayahuasca (Brazilian plant compound). He describes his experiences on these substances, which seem pretty consistent with other reports: the dissolution of self, derealization, feelings of openness, connectedness, profundity and perceptual distortions. Still, they are entertaining, e.g. going into labor and giving birth to his son. 

The use of psychedelics in treating depression, anxiety and addictions are very interesting but because this is an atheist forum what I would like to discuss are spirituality and subjective experience. It's obvious that substances have influenced spirituality and religion (look up the "stoned ape theory'). Many people, including atheists, describe having profound and life-changing “spiritual” experiences while using psychedelics, particular when certain psychedelics are used at higher dosages.

Brain scans (fMRI's) have shown that the default mode network (DMN) areas of the brain are suppressed in people undergoing psychedelic sessions. The DMN can contribute to elements of experience that are related to external task performance and is also active when the individual is thinking about others, thinking about themselves, remembering the past, and planning for the future. The hypothesis is that when the DMN temporarily loses its dominion the unconscious, now unregulated, comes to an observable space and different areas of the brain that don't normally operate directly form connections. It is interesting that the brains of experienced meditators look very similar to those on psilocybin, both dramatically reducing activity in the DMN.

So scientists have some idea of what is going on in the brain when people use psychedelics and we also know that people experience profound and “mystical” experiences when the DMN is suppressed through psychedelics or meditation. So my question is this: if we know what neural switches to flip to produce a mystical experience does that in any way invalidate that experience? Pollan asked a woman who said she had a spiritual experience that question:

I asked her the question that gnawed at me whenever someone recounted such a mystical experience: “How can you be sure this was a genuine spiritual event and not just a drug experience?” “It’s an irrelevant question,” she replied coolly. “This was something being revealed to me.” There it was: the noetic sense William James had described as a mark of the mystical experience. 

Is a mother's love for her baby any less because her brain is being flooded with oxytocin and other hormones? Is the common realization under psychedelics that “Love is everything” less meaningful? Should people trust their subjective experiences or look to others to confirm what is "real" and valuable?
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”

― Pema Chödrön

Offline Baruch

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2018, 12:12:59 AM »
The real mental chemicals are already in your brain.  You don't have to use supplements, but sleep deprivation might be necessary, to drop the veil between being awake and being in a dreaming state (hypnosis, hypnopomp, hypnogog).

The secondary effects can be very nice, such as when I was under the first time I have my cataracts operated on.  The anesthesiologists never got it quite that right for later operations ;-)  I had a great sense of relaxation and clarity (maybe I am usually short on sleep).

I suspect psychedelics have been demonized, even when used by doctors in genuine medical situations.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2018, 12:18:37 AM by Baruch »
𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎌𐎀𐎍𐎎𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀𐎟𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎁𐎀𐎍𐎉𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀
luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Offline Hydra009

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2018, 12:27:22 AM »
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So my question is this: if we know what neural switches to flip to produce a mystical experience does that in any way invalidate that experience?
A thorny question.  We know for a fact that human behavior is ultimately tied to brain chemistry.  This is the reason psychedelics frequently produce mystical experiences, after all.  Yet, people are very loathe to ascribe their more profound feelings (particularly romantic love and religion) to chemicals.

Like many things (death and atheism come readily to mind), this quickly becomes a "this can't be true because it makes me feel bad" situation.  Thus, highly motivated people are prone to seek an alternate explanation that's a bit more palatable.  Declaring it irrelevant and reasserting the realness of the mystical experience seems like the easiest solution.

Offline Baruch

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2018, 12:30:36 AM »
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A thorny question.  We know for a fact that human behavior is ultimately tied to brain chemistry.  This is the reason psychedelics frequently produce mystical experiences, after all.  Yet, people are very loathe to ascribe their more profound feelings (particularly romantic love and religion) to chemicals.

Like many things (death and atheism come readily to mind), this quickly becomes a "this can't be true because it makes me feel bad" situation.  Thus, highly motivated people are prone to seek an alternate explanation that's a bit more palatable.  Declaring it irrelevant and reasserting the realness of the mystical experience seems like the easiest solution.

Yes in general.  Tied to brain chemistry?  Yes, but not solely that.  Hardware without software just sits there.  There is no need to seek explanations anyway.  And IQ people typically are bad at EQ.
𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎌𐎀𐎍𐎎𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀𐎟𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎁𐎀𐎍𐎉𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀
luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Offline Hydra009

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2018, 12:31:59 AM »
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Should people trust their subjective experiences or look to others to confirm what is "real" and valuable?
This question ought to have its own thread.  But suffice it to say the latter.  Emphatically the latter.  You have no idea the problems associated with people prioritizing their "gut" above all else.

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2018, 12:34:25 AM »
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The real mental chemicals are already in your brain.  You don't have to use supplements, but sleep deprivation might be necessary, to drop the veil between being awake and being in a dreaming state (hypnosis, hypnopomp, hypnogog).

Pollan was able to enter an altered state when guided through rapid, deep, rhythmic breathing. This was before he tried psychedelics.

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I suspect psychedelics have been demonized, even when used by doctors in genuine medical situations.

The efforts by activists to get America's leaders, Silicone Valley and the general public to use psychedelics followed by the backlash is an interesting story. I know you know about the MK Ultra program's attempt to weaponize LSD. Timothy Leary didn't help matters. People in the 1960's had reasons to worry about how people were using psychedelics. Unfortunately, the response was to completely demonize psychedelics and abandon promising research.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2018, 12:37:03 AM by GSOgymrat »
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”

― Pema Chödrön

Offline Baruch

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2018, 12:39:07 AM »
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This question ought to have its own thread.  But suffice it to say the latter.  Emphatically the latter.  You have no idea the problems associated with people prioritizing their "gut" above all else.

True.  But not much interest here in that.  Most already are long ago locked into their own opinions ;-)  And no, you don't know me.  Most women have more EQ than IQ, and men the opposite.  As a former husband, I know this for a fact.  However you may mean "impulsivity" ... which isn't entirely different from mere sentimentality.  Impulsivity is valuable only in a few life critical situations.  In most cases, taking the time to consider things two or three move ahead, is much better.
𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎌𐎀𐎍𐎎𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀𐎟𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎁𐎀𐎍𐎉𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀
luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Offline Baruch

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2018, 12:42:37 AM »
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Pollan was able to enter an altered state when guided through rapid, deep, rhythmic breathing. This was before he tried psychedelics.

The efforts by activists to get America's leaders, Silicone Valley and the general public to use psychedelics followed by the backlash is an interesting story. I know you know about the MK Ultra program's attempt to weaponize LSD. Timothy Leary didn't help matters. People in the 1960's had reasons to worry about how people were using psychedelics. Unfortunately, the response was to completely demonize psychedelics and abandon promising research.

Correct.  A few people still hod-carry for the value of medical use of psychedelics.  Pranayama is the standard intro technique of breath control for meditation.

Ram Das, who was a friend of Timothy Leary, is closer to my own view, though his Hindu guru was quite open about drug use anyway.  The point I think is that in American culture, we tend to "entertainment" everything.  I don't think recreational use of drugs has any wisdom, ordinary or transcendental, to it.  Americans are poet-tasters, not poets, profits not prophets.

On "dream state" ... have sweet dreams ...

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« Last Edit: December 29, 2018, 12:51:05 AM by Baruch »
𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎌𐎀𐎍𐎎𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀𐎟𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎁𐎀𐎍𐎉𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀
luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #8 on: December 29, 2018, 12:51:14 AM »
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Ram Das, who was a friend of Timothy Leary, is closer to my own view, though his Hindu guru was quite open about drug use anyway.  The point I think is that in American culture, we tend to "entertainment" everything.  I don't think recreational use of drugs has any wisdom, ordinary or transcendental, to it.  Americans are poet-tasters, not poets, profits not prophets.

Americans don't really do sacred very well. Everything gets branded, packaged and commercialized.
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”

― Pema Chödrön

Offline Baruch

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #9 on: December 29, 2018, 12:52:05 AM »
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Americans don't really do sacred very well. Everything gets branded, packaged and commercialized.

Amen, Brother GSO!  Can we get a big Amen from the banana gallery?

PS ... the use of psychoactive drugs and mass hypnosis in warfare never stopped.  We just don't know about it.  Well ... it seems to me that the cat is pretty much out of the bag for the last three years.  Almost all politics now is based on adulterating the food supply and mass hysteria.  Spontaneous ergotism and random mass delusion ... I think not.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2018, 12:55:30 AM by Baruch »
𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎌𐎀𐎍𐎎𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀𐎟𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎁𐎀𐎍𐎉𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀
luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #10 on: December 29, 2018, 01:31:37 AM »
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This question ought to have its own thread.  But suffice it to say the latter.  Emphatically the latter.  You have no idea the problems associated with people prioritizing their "gut" above all else.

I do try to follow the maxim, "Lead with the head and the heart will follow."

Still, I'm not completely convinced surrendering my judgment to others is ultimately in my best interest or that the wisdom of the crowd is going to produce the best solution. Having one's family or community arrange who one marries may be the rational choice, particularly if one's judgment is clouded by pesky hormones, but I would prefer to make my own decision and live with the consequences. Arrange marriages may have a low divorce rate but I suspect it has everything to do with cultures that have arranged marriages make dissolving those marriages very difficult.
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”

― Pema Chödrön

Offline Baruch

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #11 on: December 29, 2018, 06:25:44 AM »
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I do try to follow the maxim, "Lead with the head and the heart will follow."

Still, I'm not completely convinced surrendering my judgment to others is ultimately in my best interest or that the wisdom of the crowd is going to produce the best solution. Having one's family or community arrange who one marries may be the rational choice, particularly if one's judgment is clouded by pesky hormones, but I would prefer to make my own decision and live with the consequences. Arrange marriages may have a low divorce rate but I suspect it has everything to do with cultures that have arranged marriages make dissolving those marriages very difficult.

You have to take responsibility for yourself, and yet be socially responsible.  Originally marriage had nothing to do with lust, that is what prostitutes were for.  Marriage was a property arrangement between the two sets of parents, it had nothing to do with what the groom or bride wanted.

Divorce being difficult, because it would be an abrogation of contract.
𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎌𐎀𐎍𐎎𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀𐎟𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎁𐎀𐎍𐎉𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀
luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Offline aitm

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #12 on: December 29, 2018, 08:23:59 AM »
I would not be surprised if any psychedelic experience was closely related to the "spiritual" upbringings of that culture/religion. I am unaware of anyone conceiving an idea without a background to support it. By that I would mean that it is probable that early man could imagine a type of floating boat by simply observing ants floating on a stick in a river, but not likely he could envision a cruise liner.
A humans desire to live is exceeded only by their willingness to die for another. Even god cannot equal this magnificent sacrifice. No god has the right to judge them.-first tenant of the Panotheust

Offline Baruch

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #13 on: December 29, 2018, 10:13:07 AM »
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I would not be surprised if any psychedelic experience was closely related to the "spiritual" upbringings of that culture/religion. I am unaware of anyone conceiving an idea without a background to support it. By that I would mean that it is probable that early man could imagine a type of floating boat by simply observing ants floating on a stick in a river, but not likely he could envision a cruise liner.

The use of drugs and trance by a shaman are prehistoric realities.  Usually however, the use of drugs was controlled by social convention, they weren't for recreation or to induce sociopathy, as they are today.
𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎌𐎀𐎍𐎎𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀𐎟𐎍𐎜𐎜𐎟𐎁𐎀𐎍𐎉𐎀𐎀𐎚𐎀
luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Re: Psychedelics and spiritual experiences
« Reply #14 on: December 29, 2018, 02:05:15 PM »
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Most women have more EQ than IQ, and men the opposite.  As a former husband, I know this for a fact.

So, you were married to one woman and that gives you knowledge of all other women?
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"Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child,"
Ecclesiastes 10:16
Or: Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is batshit crazy.

 

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