The science of psychedelics and religion

Very pleased to read about a study on psychedelics and religion: Religious leaders get high on magic mushrooms ingredient – for science.

I am not at all surprised that of the lucky people chosen for this study, “So far everyone incredibly values their experience. No one has been confused or upset or regrets doing it.”

I call them lucky because where else can you medical-grade psilocybin?

If anyone hears of another study like this one, please let me know! I want to join.

More on Buddhism and psychedelics can be found here: Are We Misunderstanding the Fifth Precept?

Edit: 3:30 PM: Research Shows Magic Mushrooms Can Offer Real Benefits in Depression Therapy. Quote:

A review of the research on combining therapy with the psychoactive component from magic mushrooms has concluded it’s not only a safe and effective way to treat conditions related to anxiety, depression, and addiction, it could be better than many existing forms of treatment.

Disgust and sex

Disgust is a primary emotion.

The others are anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise. There is some controversy about how to group these basic emotions, but generally, expressions associated with primary emotions are recognizable across all cultures and are experienced by all functional human beings.

A new study has found that stress, which is probably interpretable as disgust in this case, was experienced by all of the (heterosexual) men being studied when viewing male-on-male kissing.

From the study’s abstract:

The results of the current study suggest that all individuals, not just highly sexually prejudiced individuals, may experience a physiological response indicative of stress when witnessing a male same-sex couple kissing.

The study is here: What do two men kissing and a bucket of maggots have in common? Heterosexual men’s indistinguishable salivary a-amylase responses to photos of two men kissing and disgusting images.

Co-author of the study, Karen L. Blair, says:

It is difficult to specifically state what this means. It could mean that participants found the images of male same-sex couples kissing to be equally disgusting as the disgusting images. It could mean that they had an anxiety response to the male couples kissing and a disgust response to the disgusting images, but that physiologically, we could not tell the difference between these two emotions. (Straight men’s physiological stress response to seeing two men kissing is the same as seeing maggots)

Make of this data what you like.

Just two months ago another study found that disgust plays a significant role in how people respond to people from other cultures or who look different.

An article about that can be found here: Multiculturalism fails due to “behavioral immune system”.

In my view, it is hard to argue with primary emotions. Our neocortexes may want us to be perfectly tolerant and judiciously blind to all human differences, but maybe that’s not actually possible?

How the brain processes new information

A new paper provides fascinating insight into how our brains amass information and organize and assess it in real-time.

The paper—Cliques of Neurons Bound into Cavities Provide a Missing Link between Structure and Function—proposes that “the brain processes stimuli by forming increasingly complex functional cliques and cavities.”

The full intro to the paper:

The lack of a formal link between neural network structure and its emergent function has hampered our understanding of how the brain processes information. We have now come closer to describing such a link by taking the direction of synaptic transmission into account, constructing graphs of a network that reflect the direction of information flow, and analyzing these directed graphs using algebraic topology. Applying this approach to a local network of neurons in the neocortex revealed a remarkably intricate and previously unseen topology of synaptic connectivity. The synaptic network contains an abundance of cliques of neurons bound into cavities that guide the emergence of correlated activity. In response to stimuli, correlated activity binds synaptically connected neurons into functional cliques and cavities that evolve in a stereotypical sequence toward peak complexity. We propose that the brain processes stimuli by forming increasingly complex functional cliques and cavities.

The cliques of neurons that grow and connect in real-time make up the transient “architecture” of awareness as it changes and responds to stimuli.

You can observe a process that seems to fit this description by simply turning your head and looking around. As your eye settles on something to consider in more detail, neuronic cliques will grow in your brain based on that stimulus.

Depending on the significance to you of what you are looking at, further associations drawn from memory and emotion will aggregate around it.

Interestingly, the concept of transient neuronal cliques that grow into larger structures fits very well with the Buddha’s Five Skandhas explanation of the path between perception and consciousness.

This paper also seems to explain why FIML practice works. FIML interrupts the (re)formation of habitual neuronal cliques in real-time, thus preventing the (re)association of established mental states with new perceptions.

By consciously interfering with habitual neuronal cliques, FIML eliminates the false and unwanted psychological structures that give rise to them.

FIML works because large psychological brain structures rely on reconsolidation through the continual processing of “new” information that falsely reconfirms them.

As such, human psychology to a large extent is an ongoing self-fulfilling prophesy.

Here is an article about the paper: Brain Architecture: Scientists Discover 11 Dimensional Structures That Could Help Us Understand How the Brain Works.

Narcissism, a semiotic interpretation

The simplest definition of narcissism is “narrow or reduced interpretation(s) of psychological signs.”

This is a functional definition that provides insight into a wide range of human psychological reactions.

A broad example of psychological narcissism using the above definition is alcoholism which reduces sign interpretation due both to inebriation and toxicity.

Notice this definition does not presuppose anything psychological about the alcoholic. Alcoholism reduces sign interpretation due to the chemical properties of ethanol.

Alcoholism damages and simplifies the brain’s capacity to entertain multiple interpretations of signs. This is the core reason why so many alcoholics display narcissistic behaviors.

Somewhat similarly, small children can be functionally “narcissistic” because their brains are not developed. Like an alcoholic on the other side of life, a small child simply does not have the brain complexity to entertain multiple interpretations.

Narcissism is a simple and very basic operating system. This is why it is a normal option for both undeveloped and alcoholic brains.

The cure for narcissism is help the narcissist see multiple interpretations.

I believe that most if not all psychological analyses of individuals should be applicable to groups of people and vice versa.

Thus, a group with a reduced interpretation of signs will probably be a narcissistic group.

Groups that insist on a single interpretation of the past or the present are examples of this.


Short-term memory is key to psychological understanding

Short-term memory is where the rubber of human psychology meets the road.

It is the active part of human psychology as it functions in real-time.

New research indicates that the thalamus, which relays almost all sensory information, is central to the operation of short-term memory. Without the thalamus, short-term memory does not occur.

See Maintenance of persistent activity in a frontal thalamocortical loop and New research: short-term memory depends on the thalamus for background.

Short-term memory is a changeable “program” that deals with and responds to the world quickly. It is the main determinant of how “you” are in the moment.

Short-term memory maintains persistent activity (in the brain/body) by relaying its components through the thalamus in response to real-time conditions.

If we discover a mistake in our short-term memory, it is typically very easy to change. For example, if you realize you forgot to set your clocks ahead, your short-term memory will quickly adjust. You might feel a little dumb for a moment, but usually it is no big deal.

This example shows how our short-term memory is connected to long-term memories, to planning, expectation, and our general sense of the world around us and what we are doing in it.

FIML is an effective form of psychotherapy largely because it focuses on the short-term memory.

By targeting short-term memory loads, FIML helps partners discover how their psychologies are actually functioning in real-time during real-world situations.

Correcting mistakes in short-term memory immediately changes how we function.

Changing the same mistake several times very often removes it entirely from the long-term memory, from the overall functioning of the individual.

New research: short-term memory depends on the thalamus

Karel Svoboda, lead author of the study, says:

It’s like a game of ping-pong. One excites the other, and the other then excites the first, and so on and so forth. This back and forth maintains these activity patterns that correspond to the memory.

“It was unexpected that these short-term memories are maintained in a thalamocortical loop. “This tells us that these memories are widely distributed across the brain.” (Storing a Memory Involves Distant Parts of the Brain)

The study is here: Maintenance of persistent activity in a frontal thalamocortical loop.

Ninety-eight percent of all sensory input is relayed by the thalamus.

Psilocybin as effective psychotherapy

We should be looking for ways to effectively use drugs people already like and seek out on their own rather than ban them.

There is good evidence that psychedelics like psilocybin can do good things for people. A recent study confirms this.

Lead author of the study, Kelan Thomas, says:

This therapy has also demonstrated large effect sizes for improving symptoms on validated psychiatric rating scales, which suggests psilocybin-assisted therapy may be significantly better than the current treatment options only demonstrating small to moderate effect sizes. The other important distinction is that participants experienced dramatic improvements and higher remission rates after only a few psilocybin-assisted therapy sessions, which also appeared to persist for a much longer duration than current treatment options.” (Clinical review: Psilocybin therapy could be significantly better than current psychiatric treatments)

The study is here: Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy: A Review of a Novel Treatment for Psychiatric Disorders.

Psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD change awareness for several hours by changing brain connections. This brief change is the “high” many people enjoy.

This change provides dramatic evidence, or a dramatic example, to the brain of how it can be. Positive new connections can be formed while negative old connections can be extirpated.

At lower doses, psychedelics seem to make people both feel and act more creatively and positively.