Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ultimate Skeptic's Head Trip (Part 1)

Now that I have a chair and some amount of privacy for the moment, I can continue, then persist. Although there are The Amazing Meeting posts in the works, I already have a backlog of pre-existing material.
` I actually emailed a version of this post on June 7, to a skeptical activist who was both at Skepticon 5 and seems to be afraid of using any substance besides the mind-narrowing drugs caffeine and tobacco:

"Psychedelics aren't good for escapism. They're going to make you think."

"That is the shocking and revelatory thing that people experience with psychedelics. We have this unconscious feeling that we have always been who we are, and we don't realize that we are just a construct."

-- Robin Carhart-Harris

You have mentioned your fascination with Heather Berlin's talk at NECSS, about how one's involuntary processes can decide to say, pick something up, before your voluntary mind does so. Thus, I was wondering if you'd seen this talk by Jennifer Ouellette while you were at Skepticon 5.

I've just run across the video of it where she talks about the drugs that allow one to see one's own deep, unconscious processes weave into a narrative of a self. I thought that if you hadn't seen it before, you might find yourself drooling in five dimensions.

I most appreciate the fact that Ouellette dispels a lot of cultural myths about psychedelics, spread by the mass media, etc, while at the same time describing some of their actual effects, science, and history. It's good to know that I'm not the only one with this interest!

I count myself among those in the skeptical community who might call psychedelics the ultimate skeptic's or thinker's drug, because of the way they engage one's critical faculties, creativity, self-concept, and create various experiences which point to the roots of spiritual beliefs.

The truth is, many scientists, artists, and philosophers have credited psychedelics for inspiring their work, and this doesn't surprise me. Plus, as Ouellette describes, these drugs seem to have real potential for various medical uses, including preventing or breaking the cycle of substance abuse.

Bafflingly, certain others of the skeptical community insist that these drugs cannot be used in most of this research, including (as Ouellette experienced) in studying the self construct. These same people have apparently never even read about this research, and are happy to continue with their ignorance.

You'd think more people who label themselves skeptics would be jumping at the chance to clear up all these misconceptions and promote the facts, as skeptics are supposed to do. Yet at the same time, some others seem more interested in perpetuating the myths.

These particular people will roll their eyes if I say there are no cases of brain damage, addiction or death directly from LSD, yet won't bother searching for case reports to disprove me.

If I tell them about psychedelic synesthesia that allows one to "look" at one's own mind (and perhaps even brain structures!), these same people would just dismiss that as pseudoscience without even checking to see whether their assumption makes sense.

Though these "skeptics" aren't exercising their critical thinking faculties, they tell me that I am the one who needs to be more skeptical!

Interestingly, although many skeptic and atheist activists love discussing the world's religions, few of them seem to know that there are religious texts and clear pictures showing that magic mushrooms were used in churches, temples, etc.

If you've never heard of any of this, then you will find my next post to be a strange trip indeed: I will continue my own overview of this subject and discuss some of the more bizarre false ideas I've heard about psychedelics, including ones from so-called skeptics.

Although I was very interested in the squarely-outside perspective of the person I sent this email to, I never got any response. If anyone else would like to comment on this post, and on Ouellette's discussion, I would very much appreciate it!

Or maybe you would prefer to check out the strange trip of Part 2 before commenting...

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