Sunday, January 5, 2020

Reading Up on Psilocybin in the Age of Trump

In my usual scattershot way, I got turned on to Michael Pollan's recent book called How to Change Your Mind when I turned on a holiday re-run of a 60 Minutes segment about research into psychedelics for addiction, PTSD, and terminal cancer despair recovery.

Silly me, I thought 'oh yeah, so that's the solution!' People dissolve their egos, realize that the main cosmic force truly is love and then we reform humanity as part of, rather than apart from, nature. A sort of reversion to the hive forms of social creatures with presumably less impact on the planet.

These excursions can excite dormant parts of my memory, which also always reminds me why I can and could never be a scholar. I just don't have the mind for it, always dropping more threads of thought than I can track; leaving go of promising directions for my unguided research and then really quite forgetting about them.

It's all a good reminder than ones own personality is really the only reliable organizing principle, which really explains why all the excitement about the transformative qualities of psychedelics has mostly led - via computer technology, perhaps - to an acceleration of already settled trends, whether those be good, bad, or indifferent.

So tech moguls seem to harness their psychedelics inspired insights into the godhead of the cosmos to enhance their own abilities to expand their personal impact. Sort of like the way the Ivy League works now, where there are diminishingly few graduates anymore who went for the education, per se. Some might graduate and want to do good, but that always seems attached to the ego enhancements that is the actual purpose of the Ivy leagues to confer.

I'm an Ivy Leaguer who has remained a schlump, and that somewhat deliberately. There are plenty of us. We regard ourselves vaguely as failures, even while being somewhat proud for not selling out. Perhaps I would be a more proper Ivy-grade self-huckster if only I were able to be that certain of something that I might have that might be worthy. I'm not against being conventionally successful in principle, despite the moral burdens that might entail.

My life's work, as it were, is to understand what the fuck is going on, and in general I feel pretty successful with that. Less successful with communicating what I've found.

Like lately my project has been focused on what the fuck is going on with Donald Trump. I don't mean the man himself, and I don't mean finding some intellectual framework to understand the sociological phenomenon. I really just mean that I'm trying to understand why so many people are bent on giving him a pass for being such a narcissistic and sociopathic asshole.

I'm not helped in this endeavor by my diffident social recessiveness. I wouldn't go around announcing what I'm up to, in the guise of a writer or a journalist, perhaps, like Michael Pollan. But I do have an easy time talking and connecting with a wide variety of types, which certainly does include Trumpsters. They hardly ever offend me personally, even while their representations might, from a distance.

I guess that Trump's evident success in politics might have something to do with a personal magnetism that many sociopaths display. He is certainly about display. But in the end, I think it's more about our collective beliefs about what it means to be human.

We are really attached to individualism. We reward individual talents and personalities extravagantly in the arena's of sports or cinema, say. We reward individual beauty, genius, financial rapacity (department of redundancy, in the charge of Captain Obvious) and so on. Ordinary wage-work sloughs off the self-actualization bandwagon along with all the other uglies and what Hillary calls deplorables.

But the main thing is that we enshrine individualism in our one person one vote dream for democracy. We remain, in principle, equal, despite vast differences in privilege and socioeconomic clout. Of course those dreams of democracy can't work when money combined with technology can so easily manipulate the vote. But that hardly loosens our grip on the dream.

I find hope in this, in the sense that this set of understandings enables me to understand Trump in a positive light. Of course people want a talented leader. They want to believe that there is someone competent enough to make the right decisions all the time. And only someone like the Real Donald Trump is so unhinged as to make that claim about himself.

In other words, much like the way I view our dependence on fossil fuels, these have been a gift from the cosmos. While we seem mostly to have squandered the gift, not knowing what to make of the transformations its energy storage has enabled, there's no denying the explosive transformation of our world that fossil fuels have effected. I'm just waiting for the quantum shift in consciousness that should and must accompany such transformation is all.

And in that sense Trump  spells the end of our dangerous fantasy. There is no further to go in the downward slide from Reagan through Dubya to Trump. They were all empty vessels for our projections along with the projections of the moneyed and self-aggrandizing powers that are really in charge. I'm not talking about any sort of deep state. I'm talking about the obvious.

Trump spells the end of the descent into the dangers of a cosmology of human individualism and the implicit assumption that history ends with it's triumph in the approximate form of individualistic peak consumers. Living the good life on a virtual private yacht with lots of nubile babes to fuck. Not much different than our projections onto what those self exploding Jihadi others long for. We literally can't imagine another way to be our best selves. Note that women are entirely left out from all of this as objects, just as they are strangely absent from narratives about psilocybin.

The enlightenments from psychedelics are just grandiose versions of the enlightenments form motherhood, it would seem to me. Visions that MEN would have who wish to come back down to earth to lead some movement. Some disruptive transformation.

Under these conditions I think it would be useful to offer something that's equally accessible by everyone rather than an amplifier for male grandiosity. Or lets say accessible by anyone who's somewhat literate. Literacy is a two-edged sword, for sure. In my cosmos, it is both the mechanism for subsumption into a power structure developed mostly for the benefit or one or another form of patriarchy, while it is also the mechanism to break free of that, in communion with some communicable "truth." In my usage here, "truth" only has to do with being trued to other words and not to some ultimate Platonic god-form. So no-one gets to be the expert guru leader type, even while someone might get celebrated for a discovery of sorts.

So that's my life's work; to find those words. I mean I have found those words, but I haven't been able to find a way to lead anyone to read them in their proper sense. Were anyone to do so they also would realize that same set of marvels revealed under the influence of LSD, magic mushrooms, toad venom, whatever. But the realization would be more permanent and more transmissible/transferable.

It is my fervent hope and sense that there can and will be a sort of catalysis, where one single understanding spreads to become quickly universal. I'm hoping for at least the speed that went from Einstein's discoveries toward the end of Henry Adams life (an amazing read, that I had just now) to the actual release of those massive sums of energy which his theories enabled. The term of merest youth.

But the goal now is not to entrust the transformations to some elite cadre of, in that case, physicists and their administrators, who may not be in the best position to make the decisions. The transformations have to transit the populace or we end up with 'in Trump we trust,' in one form or another. I mean he wouldn't even listen to the physicists, or at least not for their truth value. He'd go right to the punch and deploy the power for his own personal ends and damn consequence to the rest of the planet.

Here's how I got to my words, roughly. First off, I died, and had that signal experience of my life passing before me in an instant, in full detail. That tends to warp one's sense of the meaning of eternity.

Next, I hazarded into the twin pursuits of Chinese language (starting with the classical written language) and physics. It turns out that I had a talent for each of those, the twinning effectively preventing my delving too deeply into either.

The Chinese provided antidote to the Platonism still ruling the Western mind. That's what gives us God as the eternal perfect form for human, and the crazy notion that ideas are expressed after first being formed in the mind. Which leads to insanities like virtual reality, dreams of cyborgs and immortality, truth in and through words, and such-like.

Chinese creativity seems to work on the stuff of existence rather than on ideas. The artist starts with an uncarved block and not with some vision which requires outering. The limits to the mind are not even transcendable in principle, nevermind in practice. That doesn't mean that the random stuff beyond understanding is meaningless, but only that it can't be known and understood.

There is beauty in each of these disparate cosmologies and many ways that they might be mapped onto one another, but there is also fundamental disparity. Just as there is with the writing systems. Chinese writing has a connection to the cosmos that is prior to language. Western writing is always a record(ing).

So perhaps it was easier somehow for me to make the leap through particle physics to a shift in cosmos. A cosmic shift, if you will. I mean you won't but I did when I was lots younger. My insight was simple, informed as it was by having gotten outside the set of metaphors that govern even physics.

Perhaps I started with the candy-colored metaphor that gravity is love. I know I was trying to make sense of meaningful coincidence in my life. Many people settle for Jesus or another form of religion for those answers, and move on. I have been more struck by the importance of accident to both my life and to life in general. Evolution moves by accident.

At the opening of the atomic age, Henry Adams was moved to understand force just as the physicists and disrupted religionists were. There wasn't yet the notion of bosons, I don't think, but there was already a sense, as he called it, that motion and matter were identical. There remained the mystery of why it was that the Virgin moved the world as much as the locomotive did. How was one to understand the differences in those motives?

Anyhow, while living aboard the wooden sailboat that I'd rebuilt as my home, it seemed trivial suddenly one sleepless night around 1982. If there were no definable forces, then matter would be the disposition of some primordial mind. I wasn't concerned about brains, just about mind preceding matter as a cosmic descriptor.

Forces implied eventual impingement of matter upon matter and would happen mind or no. But movement without force could only happen in the mind, and it did seem obvious to me that such motion could be reduced to what we call emotion.

And so, of course gravity started to look precisely like love in a metaphorical sense at least. Way back in 1982 we were already embarked on the quest to find the boson mediating the force of gravity. I thought that would be impossible given Einstein's general theory of relativity. That posited the equivalence of gravity and acceleration. Space curvature was entailed and later proven, seeming to make the force of gravity a descriptor (like mind) rather than some discoverable exchange of tangibles. There was enough instrumentation already in 1982 - before the CERN supercollider - to make "tangible" a very fuzzy notion. We have gravity waves, but as yet we have no graviton. A matter of time, perhaps?

For me, at least, the quest has lost its interest. As far as I know, I'm still the only one to have paused on definitions for mind and emotion that require no further discoveries. That's not to nullify the possibility for endless investigations to build our collective understanding of our cosmos. But for me, at least, it does change the tenor of such investigations.

What that mainly means is that those investigations can no longer be considered amoral, or inevitable, or always leading to understanding that is not automatically wedded to power. There is really nothing left to be understood in those terms. The only thing left is to be manipulated.

We have recently entered into a dangerous endgame of confusing the enhancement of human agency with understanding. We have yet to uncover how evil that is. Intelligent young people now simply assume that our hoped for technological breakthroughs won't happen before we burn everything down.

I have more faith in life than that. We will wake up to the fact that agency is not understanding and that what we mean by "truth" can only be distorted thereby. We have to stop projecting ourselves onto "nature" is all. In just the way that the human mind is only metaphorically centered on a CPU - and the metaphor is very parochial - the ability to do something is not the only measure for understanding, good measure though it may sometimes be.

Even if you don't follow the argument that scientific understanding has jumped the shark in a way, it should be trivial to reach agreement that the solutions to our problems are more political and sociological than they are technological. We just don't have the collective will to do things right. We are culturally trapped into wanting a strong man (and I mean MAN not woman) to deploy force confidently. That will end us as a species.

Fortunately, life will prevail. Love will prevail. And if our biological species does survive, we won't recognize it, so what's the worry? I will always have fonder memories of the rainbow homecomings than I could ever form at Burning Man. Those people don't even know that it truly is a celebration of an ending. The new beginning is happening where people don't trumpet themselves so.

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