Another "window on the
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The article I posted last week, about drugs and the altered states of consciousness they induce, contained a lot of interesting, useful and "scientifically accurate" information. And I've put this last phrase in quotes to call your attention to a couple of equally interesting facts.
For one, I think we need to "see" science much the same way we "see" religion -- as a "system" which originated from and was organized around someone's (personal) "belief" that, when this belief was articulated by the originator of the thought, found (massive) public support, endorsement and synthesis.
Synthesis is an interesting word. Look it up on the FreeDictionary and you'll find that it means "the combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole" and also "the complex whole so formed." In chemistry, for example, we could say that "water is a synthesis of hydrogen and oxygen."
In philosophy, synthesis involves the act of reasoning from a general understanding to a particular point which may, by logical deduction and dialectical process, combine a "thesis" (original idea) and an "antithesis" (objections to the original idea) to arrive at a "new and higher level of truth."
Now, as this goal is the self-same goal of EVERY world religion (including atheism) and the redundantly rudimentary objective of ALL science, i think my point is made... that religion and science are simply different games played for different reasons by various members of the human specie, and that essentially there is no harm in that.
However, when one group gets the idea that their group "knows best" about what should or must be done by all groups, everywhere, well that's when we have problems.
To eradicate these problems is, truly, a simple act. Coming as naturally as the molecular joining of hydrogen and oxygen, yet it requires a complex synthesis, an earnest seeking, a diligent challenging, and an exhaustive study -- NOT of the ways and means being utilized "in the world out there," but of the ways and means being utilized "by self."
Because only when we start seeing all "problems" -- from the ravages of war to the devastation of cancer to the ache of a broken heart -- as a continually compounding synthesis of our own personal and private day-to-day choices, will our own actions and decision be skewed to doing things that actually achieve the goal.
The goal, of course, being that of arriving at a "new and higher level of truth." And then, having found that "new truth," seeking to discover (more) "new truth" over and overand over again.
Which brings me to the second thing I have to say about the afore referenced New Scientist article, which is that I totally disagree with the conclusion the article supports. That is, the article asserts that studies about drug-induced "altered states" of human consciousness are "some of the best evidence we have that the mind is the brain; that our thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions are created by chemistry."
All I can say to this assertion is poppycock.
The "brain" is a "physical organ." The "mind" is an electro-magnetic "resonance," and it seems to me that this is one of those "either you get it, or you don't" types of debates which essentially boils down (as do all "problems") to an argument about God.
In this light, I have a bulletin for all of you... IF God exists, she doesn't care whether you (choose to) "believe" she exists, or not. All she cares about is YOU "making the choice" to faithfully seek by logical deduction and dialectical process, the ever expanding horizon of "new truth."
In this interest, here's a website done by a personal friend and dear client, expressing a uniquely interesting perspective of new truth: www.DocBoJo.com
Also, I'd like t say a special thanks to K.A.T. in Conway. Your encouraging notes put wind beneath my wings. I apologize for not having responded more personally, and wish you to know that your kindness, and the kindness of so many others, has been and is sincerely appreciated. Things are moving forward, albeit with a few bumps, but the "new truth" on my horizon is full of hope and I owe this, in great measure, to the friendship of folks like you.
A window on the mind
Psychedelic drugs provide some of the best evidence we have that the mind is the brain; that our thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions are created by chemistry. Take a drug, particularly a hallucinogen, and any of these can change, and even our innermost selves can be quite transformed. This means these drugs can be scary, and need to be taken with great care and respect, for they can potentially reveal some of the deepest secrets about our minds and consciousness.
A century ago, long before prohibition, the groundwork of a science of intoxication was already being laid down, and the American psychologist, William James, experimented with the anaesthetic, nitrous oxide or "laughing gas". Our normal rational consciousness, he said, is just one special type of consciousness, while all around it, "parted from it by the filmiest of screens" are other entirely different forms of consciousness, always available if only the requisite stimulus is applied.
Other experimenters meticulously described the effects of inhaling ether, chloroform or cannabis, and the strange distortions of time, perception, and sense of humour this induced. More curiously, they also described changes in belief, and even in philosophy. For example, nitrous oxide has the curious capacity to change materialist scientists into idealists. Its discoverer, Sir Humphrey Davy, bravely took the drug himself as an experiment in 1799 and ended up exclaiming that "Nothing exists but thoughts". Others made similar observations and found their views profoundly shifted by even brief encounters with the other side of that filmy screen.
This raises the peculiar question of whether what James's called "our normal rational consciousness" is necessarily the best for understanding the world. After all, if one's view of the world can change so dramatically with the aid of a simple molecule like nitrous oxide, how can we be sure that our normal brain chemistry is the one most suited to doing science and philosophy? What if evolution had taken a slightly different turn and we had ended up with brain chemistry less inclined to make us believe in God or the afterlife. Or what if our actual brain chemistry evolved to help us survive and reproduce at the cost of giving us false beliefs about the world? If so, it is possible that mind-altering drugs might in fact give us a better, not worse, insight than we have in our so-called normal state.
Take the common experience of losing our separate self, or becoming one with the universe. This may seem, to some, like mystical nonsense, but in fact it fits far better with a scientific understanding of the world than our normal dualist view. Most of us feel, most of the time, that we are some kind of separate self who inhabits our body like a driver in a car or a pilot in a plane. We speak about "my body" and even "my brain" as though "I" were something separate from them both. Throughout history many people have believed in a soul or spirit that can leave the body and even survive after death. Yet science has long known that this cannot be so. There is no observer inside the brain who has our experiences, and no space in the brain from where an inner self can control it. There is just a brain that is made of exactly the same kind of stuff as the world around it. In other words, we really are one with the universe.
This means that the psychedelic sense of self may actually be truer than the common dualist view. So although our normal state is better for surviving and reproducing, it may not always be best for understanding who and what we are. Perhaps we could even have sciences carried out in some of these intoxicated states. This was just what psychologist, Charles Tart, suggested in 1972, in the prestigious journal Science. He likened different states of consciousness to different paradigms in science and proposed the creation of "state specific sciences"; new sciences which would be done by scientists working in altered states and communicating their findings to others in those states. These new sciences might only have limited application but this makes the point that our normal state, constrained as it is by the particular chemistry evolution has given us, may not be the only way to try to understand the universe.
Since Tart's pioneering work on mapping altered states, most of the psychedelic drugs have become prohibited and research has largely been stifled. While the cultures that have used these drugs for millennia treat them with great respect, and control them with elaborate rituals and traditions, our culture gives over their control to criminals and tries to deny their amazing mind-revealing capacities. Perhaps one day, when prohibition is finally abandoned, scientists may once again take up the promise offered by those tiny little chemicals that can tell us who and what we are.
A colleague of mine is so enlivened about the outcome of the election that he's developing a new website to express his most subtle opinions about it. I've had a sneak preview and it is, to say the least, most interesting, but beyond that I am sworn to secrecy, except that I'll let you know when it goes public and you can form whatever opinion you want.
The hum-drum of life continues to ebb and flow along here. My grand excitement today (and it really was exciting) involved a visit to the Holley Mountain offices where I got to watch their new interoffice computer network get set up.
This was intriguing to me as I'm wanting to do something like this in my own office and I now have a much better handle on the how-tos of getting it done.
I've also started (don't laugh) writing my memoirs. I'm thinking of sterilizing the manuscript, and maybe (don't laugh again) selling it by subscription. Audacious, I know. But the thing is, I've lived a pretty interesting life. Also, I'm told that I write rather well, at least to some folks (questionable?) standards. And the other thing is, given some recent twists and turns in my personal events, it would certainly behoove me to generate a few more dollars and cents.
Thus for the last few weeks I've been journaling about this recent life-transition and have shared much of what I've writ with a few close friends of mine. My cousin, who happens to be a world-class author, was kind enough to reply:
I would tell you I've enjoyed reading what you've done, but I'm not sure that's the verb to choose. Let's just say I'm interested in what you're doing, and as I told you before, you are a very talented lady. More important, you are coping well with a problem that would bow a lesser person to the ground. You may be bent, but you're a long way from broken.
A professional associate wrote:
As I read your narrative I am impressed that it is 'interesting.' I am an old grouch bachelor and if this interests me I am pretty sure it will interest others. Certainly the women out there. It probably would interest many men as well as men are usually the silent majority that even they don't know about. The guys that have had rough times with the wife, the guys that are alone. They are legion. The women admit things and tho the tale that 'men don't cry and they don't talk among themselves about domestic miseries' is a cliché, it is largely true.
And a dear friend of 20 years shared the thought:
I know that you are going to be just fine, once you let yourself resurface and it will take a lot more pealing of the layers of sadness that have been building up for the past 10 years. These are thoughts that you need to get down.
She also sent me the following, which really made me laugh:
WORDS WOMEN USE
As always, I'm wishing all of us a life worth living, filled with all those things we prefer, desire, wholeheartedly celebrate and richly deserve to enjoy. And I'll let you know what, if anything, I decide to do with my memoirs <grin>.
Hey! Come visit us at SassafrasWilds!!!
Gozarks offices will be closed from Thursday, November 25 through Tuesday, November 30.