Wow. First, let me say that this review may be a bit deep. The book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan is a fascinating read and while I will only touch on a fraction of what it contains, let me explain what I think I got out of it.
In his research, Pollan explains that there is a sub-mind known as the Default Mode Network (DMN.) It is the very basis of our brains when we are born. It is that unbiased look at the world we have as children. It is why a child can spend an hour contemplating a flower or watching ants on the sidewalk. The fact that humans have the longest childhood of any species could in fact, be the reason we have done so well. It is that extended period of out-of-the-box thinking that helps us learn so much.
As we age, we develop filters that are designed to help us jump to conclusions and cut-to-the-chase. This has an evolutionary advantage in that as we are faced with ever more complex situations and decisions we need to be able to parse out what is important quickly. The downside is that we cover up the DMN with a rigid set of ideas and bias – and thus, we lose our sense of wonder.
Psychedelics rather than stimulating the brain to create hallucinations and visions, actually slow the brain down. This allows the DMN to once again be heard… that is what produces the visions and reportedly, clarity.
If you trace some of the greatest achievements in mankind, you will often find adults who have taken psychedelics at the core. Silicon Valley was almost entirely created by these psychonauts (those who have taken psychedelic trips) as well as leaders in every field (Plato, Steve Jobs, Carl Sagan, Bill Gates, Richard Feyman, The Beatles, Phil Jackson, George Carlin, Francis Crick and many more.) Crick is the discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA which he claims was made clear to him while under the effects of LSD.
I find it interesting that although many of the scientists who have joined the psychonauts although devout athiests or at the very least, non-believers – come away from the experience with a belief if not in God, at least in a Higher Power. (Those whose rigid programming won’t allow for them to be wrong in their previously formed beliefs choose Higher Power or Nature to explain what they now believe.)
Another common trait of psychonauts is the understanding of things such as “everything is connected,” “love is the universal answer.” and similar. Yes, it sound quite airy-fairy and like the mindless ramblings of a doper, but that is only because language is such an inadequate tool for explaining these concepts.
For reference, let me say that I have never taken drugs. Heck, I don’t even like taking ibuprofen. My only real experience was in junior high as my brothers would drive around with their friends, roll up the windows and blow pot smoke in my face. This was the height of hilarity to them and only succeeded in giving me a headache (and further distrust for my brothers who were always finding ways to torture me.)
That said, I am very intrigued by psychedelics. Of the three methods Pollan tried personally in writing How to Change Your Mind, (LSD (lab created,) psilocybin (mushrooms,) and 5-MeO-DMT (frog poison,) the mushroom route seems the safest and most consistently positive trip. The fact that I can’t stand mushrooms in my food would make this difficult but certainly better than evaporating the frog poison and smoking the remaining crystals.
I am not implying either that I intend to become a psychonaut myself although I will admit that given the right situation, I would give it a try.
There is so much more I want to say about the topic but as this is actually supposed to be a book review and not my rant on drugs, let me sum up. This is a fascinating book. Yes, it dives very deep into the science at times but if you have any background in life and/or medicine you can follow. (Thanks to the hard-wired biases that have pushed your DMN to the background.)
This has to be one of my favorite books of the year and if you follow me on GoodReads, you know that is saying a lot.
by Chris Doelle