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The War on Consciousness // Graham Hancock at TED
Graham Hancock tells the story of his 24-year relationship with cannabis brought to an abrupt halt in 2011 after an encounter with ayahuasca, the sacred visionary brew of the Amazon. Along the way he explores the mystery of death, the problem of consciousness, and the implications for the human future of a society that wages total war on true cognitive liberty.
Recent research suggests fascinating connections between the effects of the psychedelic drug psilocybin and personality traits related to inner experience. Personality appears to influence response to psilocybin and psilocybin can promote changes in personality, suggesting a reciprocal relationship. Further research in this area could lead to new insights into the basis of human personality and creativity.
A review of studies on factors affecting response to psilocybin found that after dosage, the strongest predictor of alterations in consciousness was the personality trait of absorption (Studerus, Gamma, Kometer, & Vollenweider, 2012). Absorption is defined as a person’s tendency to have episodes of “total” attention where a person’s awareness is fully engaged in whatever has their interest. The degree to which people had “mystical” type experiences while on psilocybin was related to their individual proneness to absorption. Absorption is associated with the broader personality trait openness to experience, which relates to a person’s receptiveness to new ideas and experiences.
What I found particularly interesting was that another study on psilocybin found that people who had never before taken the drug experienced an enduring increase in their level of openness to experience that was evident more than a year later (MacLean, Johnson, & Griffiths, 2011). In this study, people who experienced what the researchers described as a “complete mystical experience” developed increased openness to experience whereas those who did not have such an experience had no increase in openness. Because absorption is closely related to openness to experience, this suggests that there may be a two-way relationship between openness and mystical experiences associated with psilocybin. That is, people who are more open to their inner experience seem more likely to have a mystical experience and those who have a mystical experience tend to become more open as a result.
There is evidence that individual differences in absorption are associated with particular neurotransmitter receptors that are acted upon by psychedelic such as psilocybin (Ott, Reuter, Hennig, & Vaitl, 2005), which might explain why absorption-prone people are more responsive to the drug’s effects. Since psilocybin can apparently cause increases in openness to experience in some people, it seems possible that the drug might permanently increase the sensitivity of these neuroreceptors resulting in associated . This would need to be confirmed by research.
Another intriguing research question concerns what effects increased openness to experience might have. Openness to experience is associated with creativity among other things, so it would be interesting to scientifically examine whether psilocybin use leads to long-term improvements in creativity or other aspects of behaviour associated with openness to experience. In the 1960s many popular musicians experimented with psychedelic drugs such as LSD and this apparently influenced their music. Unfortunately, research into these drugs was effectively banned around this time and only recently has there been a revival of scientific activity in this area. Such research could lead to some intriguing findings about the relationship between the, personality, and consciousness.
(via Psychology Today)
A wonderful read at The Morning News by Tim Doody, on 1966 LSD studies that took place as the US government’s position on acid research shifted from “sure, go ahead, scientists” to “nope, this is now banned.” The series of tests described in the article took place at the International Foundation for Advanced Study (IFAS) in Menlo Park, CA. Scientists from Stanford, Hewlett-Packard, and elsewhere participated. The volunteers each brought “three highly technical problems from their respective fields that they’d been unable to solve for at least several months.” They took “a relatively low dose of acid,” 100 micrograms, to enhance their creativity.
Over the course of the preceding year, IFAS researchers had dosed a total of 22 other men for the creativity study, including a theoretical mathematician, an electronics engineer, a furniture designer, and a commercial artist. By including only those whose jobs involved the hard sciences (the lack of a single female participant says much about mid-century career options for women), they sought to examine the effects of LSD on both visionary and analytical thinking. Such a group offered an additional bonus: Anything they produced during the study would be subsequently scrutinized by departmental chairs, zoning boards, review panels, corporate clients, and the like, thus providing a real-world, unbiased yardstick for their results.
In surveys administered shortly after their LSD-enhanced creativity sessions, the study volunteers, some of the best and brightest in their fields, sounded like tripped-out neopagans at a backwoods gathering. Their minds, they said, had blossomed and contracted with the universe. They’d beheld irregular but clean geometrical patterns glistening into infinity, felt a rightness before solutions manifested, and even shapeshifted into relevant formulas, concepts, and raw materials.
[The volunteers] remained firm: LSD absolutely had helped them solve their complex, seemingly intractable problems. But here’s the clincher. After their 5HT2A neural receptors simmered down, they remained firm: LSD absolutely had helped them solve their complex, seemingly intractable problems. And the establishment agreed. The 26 men unleashed a slew of widely embraced innovations shortly after their LSD experiences, including a mathematical theorem for NOR gate circuits, a conceptual model of a photon, a linear electron accelerator beam-steering device, a new design for the vibratory microtome, a technical improvement of the magnetic tape recorder, blueprints for a private residency and an arts-and-crafts shopping plaza, and a space probe experiment designed to measure solar properties. Fadiman and his colleagues published these jaw-dropping results and closed shop.
(via Boing Boing)
Though I have spent many an hour pondering the philosophical nature of death, I have tried to not elaborate on the grisly details. I will say that like most, I would prefer to go in a peaceful manner. On bold days though, I wonder if there would be a difference in meeting death awake or asleep.
It has been speculated that a great deal of the most potent psychedelic known and created by the human brain, DMT, is released at the moment of death. And it has been further suggested that this influx is responsible for NDEs and even may act as a mechanism to release the soul from the body. For these reasons, whether atheist, nihilist, or spiritual, I would not want to rob myself of that experience. It could be the last thing we will ever witness, stretching out into a seemingly infinite moment, or it could be the difference between moving on to the next realm and wandering the Earth as a lost soul for aeons.
The brain would need to remain relatively intact for this process to ensue. What happens to the poor individuals who die in gruesome circumstances that destroy the skull? If holding to the perspective that the afterlife is simply a DMT death trip, do they just blip out of existence forever with no inner vision to send them off? These inquiries are shadowed in mysteries we may never be able to solve.
For the curious, I highly recommend checking out the research of Rick Strassman MD. He was truly ahead of his time, being the first to break the decades long ban on government sanctioned human research with psychedelics back in the 90s, and with intravenously administered DMT no less. His ideas have been conveyed in the exquisitely mind-bending book and documentary, The Spirit Molecule.
Yeah. Pretty sure I still love this show.
Took 5 tabs of acid (first time doing it ever) and my friend gave me a bunch of acrylic paint. Painted it with my fingers tripping out of my mind. Also I’m colorblind, and don’t work with abstract work at all (I only have ever done drawing). Thought this was pretty whacky.
Underground neuropharmacologist discusses his phantom limb inspired work with dissociative designer drugs.
There are medicinal chemists who work on an unseen side of the pharmaceutical industry. Like their legally sanctioned counterparts, they work to synthesize drugs they hope will produce therapeutic effects in their users. But they do not work with billion-dollar budgets or advertising agencies; doctors are not bribed to distribute their products with ergonomic pens or fine terrycloth beach towels. Their advertising comes solely from word of mouth and semicautionary articles like the one you are about to read.
The creation of these chemicals is an extraordinary feat of interdisciplinarity; often the pharmacologist, the chemist, the posologist, the toxicologist, and the experimental animal are all the same human being. This is the way drugs have been developed since the beginning of medical history—it is only in recent years that the practice of self-experimentation has become stigmatized, and accordingly these experimenters, like M., must remain shrouded in mystery.
M. is one of the most respected chemists in his underground field. Singlehandedly, he has popularized and discovered numerous novel drugs for gray-market distribution. His most recent investigation of ketamine and its chemical variations produced a new dissociative anesthetic named methoxetamine, which has recently made its way into the nostrils and anuses of lay experimenters worldwide. Methoxetamine is an exemplary product of rational drug discovery; each of its atoms is the result of arduous study and consideration, all created independently on a minuscule budget. But the success of drugs like methoxetamine does not entail great profits for their inventors. Indeed, it is they who wring their hands most over the unknown fate of the chemicals they conceive. Herein we shall explore the great bioethical quandary faced by the underground medicinal chemist.
How did your interest in the chemistry of dissociatives begin?
Well, when I was a young boy, only 13, I was badly hurt in an IRA bombing in London. My left hand had to be amputated after the explosion, and I knew I’d lived through a psychological stress that most people cannot even conceive. I would definitely say this triggered my interest in altered states. When you lose a limb, especially when the limb is exposed to serious trauma before the loss, there is a significant chance you’ll be left with an agonizing phantom limb.
Right, treatment for phantom limb has been one of the great riddles of neuroscience. Have you tried Ramachandran’s mirror-box therapy?
Oh yes, I’ve read Phantoms in the Brain and tried an awful lot of things. It’s a complete bastard to treat. God knows how many drugs I’ve been prescribed. Antidepressants, anti-epileptics, muscle relaxants—none of them really worked. For the worst excesses of phantom-limb pain, traditional painkillers like opiates don’t even touch it. You might as well not even bother with them. I was prescribed high doses of pethidine [also known as Demerol] but returned the bottle to my doctor because it wasn’t doing me any good whatsoever. When I came back, my doctor was agog. He said, “Nobody returns pethidine!” The pain involved can be so bad as to effectively detach your mind from consensus reality. Without suitable analgesia I end up looking like a psychiatric inmate, just rocking backward and forward, unable to do anything, sometimes for more than a day. All that considered, anything that does work is an absolute godsend.
And what works?
I discovered a long time ago that ketamine and cannabinoids helped my phantom hand. I’m quite convinced these classes work by distorting body image so severely that you phase out triggers for the pain. I have experienced profound proprioceptive distortions after intramuscular PCP injection, as if my whole body were a proportional model of the sensory homunculus. But in a sense, what I feel is not hallucination or a distortion, I actually find dissociatives corrective, that is, they make the phantom disappear. This is not just an idiosyncratic response on my part; there are at least three articles published on the effectiveness of ketamine in treating phantom-limb pain…
Shown here are the effects of psilocybin that the researchers observed. Regions labeled in blue indicate a decrease in brain activity. Many people have either had or heard of mind-bending experiences attributable to psilocybin — so if you or someone you know has experimented with mushrooms, the fact that the researchers’ observations reflected a decrease in brain activity during a trip will probably strike you as odd. What’s going on here, man?
"Psychedelics are thought of as ‘mind-expanding’ drugs, so it has commonly been assumed that they work by increasing brain activity. Surprisingly, we found that psilocybin actually caused activity to decrease in areas that have the densest connections with other areas.”
Did you catch that? The most important thing to take away from this study isn’t the fact that brain activity decreased, it’s where the activity decreased. The greatest dips in activity were observed in regions of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the anterior and posterior cingulate cortices (ACC and PCC, respectively). And as if that wasn’t enough, the researchers’ findings also suggest that psilocybin takes its disabling effects one step further by disrupting connections between the mPFC and PCC.
You can think of your mPFC, PCC, and a third region of your brain called the thalamus, as transportation hubs that coordinate the flow of information throughout your brain. Decreased activity within and between the brain’s hubs allows for "an unconstrained style of cognition."
What the hell does that mean? Mo Costandi fleshes things out for us, with a little help from Aldous Huxley:
In his 1954 book The Doors of Perception, novelist Aldous Huxley, who famously experimented with psychedelics, suggested that the drugs produce a sensory deluge by opening a “reducing valve” in the brain that normally acts to limit our perceptions.
The new findings are consistent with this idea, and with the free-energy principle of brain function developed by Karl Friston of University College London that states that the brain works by constraining our perceptual experiences so that its predictions of the world are as accurate as possible.
Functional neuroimaging reveals the neural basis of the intense imagery induced by the “spirit vine”
Steve Jobs and a host of computer pioneers believed LSD helped their creativity – but coincidence does not imply causality
Psychedelics and creativity: ‘Any drug experience is determined far less by the drug than by what we bring to it.’ Photograph: Fredrik Skold/Alamy
" … in terms of our view of the universe – or my view of the universe – perception can be more powerful than physics can be."
You might be excused for thinking these are the words of a philosopher or a stoned Grateful Dead fan, but no. It’s from an interview in 2000 with Mike Lynch, the CEO of Autonomy and Britain’s first software billionaire, currently in the process of selling his company to Hewlett-Packard for $10bn (£6bn). Lynch, who was talking about the power of the pattern recognition that forms the basis of Autonomy’s success, went on to talk about the fascination of dreams, near-death experiences and the accounts of those experimenting scientifically with LSD in the 1960s: all forms of altered perception.
Did psychedelic drugs play a substantive role in the development of personal computing? In 2009, Ryan Grim, as part of publicising his book This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America wrote a piece for the Huffington Post that made public a letter from LSD inventor Albert Hofmann to Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2007 asking for funding for research into the use of psychedelics to help relieve the anxiety associated with life-threatening illness.
He picked Jobs because, as New York Times reporter John Markoff told the world in his 2005 book, What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, Jobs believed that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he’d done in his life. That 2001 conversation inspired Markoff to write the book: a history of computing with the drugs kept in.
From 1961 to 1965, the Bay Area-based International Foundation for Advanced Study led more than 350 people through acid trips for research purposes. Some of them were important pioneers in the development of computing, such as Doug Engelbart, the father of the computer mouse, then heading a project to use computers to augment the human mind at nearby SRI. Grim also names the inventors of virtual reality and early Cisco employee Kevin Herbert as examples of experimenters with acid, and calls Burning Man (whose frequent attendees include Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page) the modern equivalent for those seeking mind expansion.
There’s a delicious irony in thinking that the same American companies who require their employees to pee in a cup rely on machines that were created by drugged-out hippies. But things aren’t so simple. Markoff traces modern computing to two sources. First is the clean-cut, military-style, suit-wearing Big Iron approach of the east coast that, in its IBM incarnation, was so memorably smashed in the 1984 Super Bowl ad for the first Apple Mac.
Second is the eclectic and iconoclastic mix of hackers, hippies, and rebels of the west coast, from whose ranks so many of today’s big Silicon Valley names emerged. Markoff, born and bred in the Bay Area and 18 in 1967, argues the idea of the personal computer as a device to empower individuals was a purely west coast idea; the east coast didn’t “get” anything but corporate technology.
There’s a basic principle to invoke here: coincidence does not imply causality. As early Sun employee John Gilmore, whom Grim calls a “well-known psychonaut”, says in that article, it is very difficult to prove that drug use led directly to personal computers. The 1960s were a time of extreme upheaval: the Vietnam war and the draft, the advent of female-controlled contraception, and the campaign for civil rights all contributed to the counterculture. Was it the sex, the drugs or the rock’n’roll – or the science fiction?
In 1998 Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet, said in a discussion of his enjoyment of science fiction: “I think it’s also made it easier for me to think about things that weren’t quite ready yet but I could imagine might just possibly be feasible.”
Annie Gottlieb, in Do You Believe in Magic? Bringing the 60s Back Home, recounts the personal exploratory experiences of a variety of interviewees, and comes to this conclusion: “Any drug experience is determined far less by the drug than by what we bring to it.” Many people tried acid. Only one became Steve Jobs.
I’ve just found this fascinating discussion on the psychopharmacology of ‘witches ointments’, that supposedly allowed 16th century witches to ‘fly’.
De Laguna was not the sole commentator about the relationship of mind‐altering drugs and witchcraft in the 16th century. In De Praestigiis Daemonum, which Freud called one of the 10 most significant books of all time,Johann Weyer (1515–1588 CE) concluded henbane was a principal ingredient of witches’ brew, along with deadly nightshade and mandrake.
According to Weyer, there were other ointments, but the essential ingredients remained the same in all. The preparations, when applied to the upper thighs or genitals, were said to induce the sensation of rising into the air of flying.
Witches were thought to anoint a chair or broomstick with the devil’s ointment, and after self‐application, would fly through the air to meet for devil worship at the sabbat.Francis Bacon (1561–1626 CE) observed that “… the witches themselves are imaginative, and believe oftentimes they do that, which they do not … transforming themselves into other bodies … not by incantations or ceremonies, but by ointments, and annointing themselves all over.”
In an extensive review of psychotropic plant ointments of the Renaissance, Piomelli and Pollio examined transcripts of witchcraft trials, writings on demonology, and the botanical composition of ointments that alleged witches used on themselves during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Despite the difficulty with accurate identification of the plants, the documents reported consistent pharmacologic effects. Further, the biochemical logic of applying these plants in a fat‐based unguent was sound, as it would promote passage of the alkaloids through the intact skin and mucosa.
The use of soot (slightly alkaline) likely would enhance the passage of organic bases because a weakly alkaline environment would be sufficient to neutralize the positive ionic charge. That this is an effective ethnobotanical technique may be seen with Peruvian coca chewers, who mix in their mouths the cocaine‐containing leaves with alkaline cinders to enhance uptake.
There is even experimental evidence for believing that a fatty base was used in these ointments; an ointment from the 13th or 14th century, found accidentally, was subjected to chemical analysis and had an animal fat content of 40%.
The full article is well worth checking out as it tackles how the plants have been used in potions and preparations through history and were a early form of anaesthesia in ancient and medieval surgery.
Link to Anesthesiology article.
(via Mind Hacks)