Psychedelics and religious experience

It is well-known that psychedelic drugs can induce religious experiences, as well as cure depression and other psychological problems.

Many people today and in the past have had these experiences and praised them effusively. In recent decades, scientific studies have corroborated this side of the history of most of the world’s religions.

A new study published last month adds even more weight to the religious value of psychedelic drugs.

..Respondents reported the primary senses involved in the encounter were visual and extrasensory (e.g. telepathic). The most common descriptive labels for the entity were being, guide, spirit, alien, and helper. Although 41% of respondents reported fear during the encounter, the most prominent emotions both in the respondent and attributed to the entity were love, kindness, and joy. Most respondents endorsed that the entity had the attributes of being conscious, intelligent, and benevolent, existed in some real but different dimension of reality, and continued to exist after the encounter. Respondents endorsed receiving a message (69%) or a prediction about the future (19%) from the experience. More than half of those who identified as atheist before the experience no longer identified as atheist afterwards. The experiences were rated as among the most meaningful, spiritual, and psychologically insightful lifetime experiences, with persisting positive changes in life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning attributed to the experiences. (Survey of entity encounter experiences occasioned by inhaled N,N-dimethyltryptamine: Phenomenology, interpretation, and enduring effects)

Culture is the context of the languages we speak

Stated more clearly: Culture is nothing more than the context of the languages we speak.

In this sense culture defines our words and phrases; and in this sense, our psychologies.

This means that if you think or feel something, you probably can find a way to speak about it unless you are trapped within the context of your language.

For example, just think of anything you are afraid or embarrassed to talk about.

For some of those topics, you may have a friend (or stranger) with whom you are able to speak. Very traumatic experiences can be exceptionally difficult to speak about because they tend to be unique or uniquely horrific; so normal language in almost all contexts won’t get you there. You will feel inhibited, tongue-tied, embarrassed, afraid, timid, mute, isolated.

Traumatic experiences are an extreme example of how culture/context is not able to overlay all of our experiences. This is a core reason we turn to professional listeners—therapists, clergy, etc—to deal with trauma, though often we are even afraid of them.

Artists also provide us with unique experiences set in unique contexts. If well-done, or more importantly well-publicized, art may change the culture/context for many speakers. In this area, goodness lives alongside propaganda and hype. Many speakers feed the frenzy and feed on it.

In Buddhism, speech is a vessel of delusion as well as enlightenment. Buddhism provides an excellent context for speech because it fully recognizes the meta-contexts of impermanence, emptiness, ignorance, delusion, and suffering.

If you have experienced trauma, as we all have (it’s relative), you are in a good place to understand that traumas can be very small yet agonizing. And they can repeat often, causing constant suffering, sleeplessness, helplessness.

If we can see that traumas, both small and large, are outliers from whatever culture we are in, then we can also see that the way forward is to make our culture into something that can speak about them.

When culture is as small as one person—you alone—you can be free in many ways but also will get stuck on your traumas. With no way to speak about them with others, they will distort your thinking, carry weight they should not have. Disturb everything you do.

When culture is as large as two people, great freedom is possible. Two people just need to realize this. If they do, it’s a small step to realize that profound cooperation solves their  cultural “prisoners’ dilemma” better any other solution.

I cannot escape my trauma if I lie to you because my context will instantly become inauthentic, stultified fully as badly as my trauma always has been. So, I won’t do that. And you, my partner, are as smart as me so you won’t either.

Cultures are contexts for languages because cultures have rules. A two-person culture also needs rules. Best to figure most of them out for yourselves but also best to start with some very important basics. And these are: meta-cognitive rules that allow for accurate meta-communication.

Here is a set of rules that can start you off on a new way to communicate: How to do FIML.

Thoughts hidden by subjective phrases

After years of clearing up my mind, I noticed that my inner voice sometimes uses short phrases to bring negative trains of thought to an end. It was a habit I was aware of but had never given any thought to.

The phrases are not pretty; e.g. “I hate them all,” “fuck them,” “who cares about assholes like that,” etc.

My guess is this kind of inner speech is not uncommon. I was using it to end various lines of thought that had wandered into painful territory.

Having a clearer mind today or at least believing I did, I decided that when phrases or words like that came up again, I would not let them shut off my thoughts as I had been doing. Rather I would let the thoughts continue, explore what was there.

What I found is a bunch of old memories and emotions that were fairly easy to clean up. They were not so much repressed as not having been visited for many years. The nasty phrases were like labels in an old, unused filing cabinet.

About half the material was out of date and easy to toss. Another one-quarter was pertinent but was stuff I had dealt with in other ways and was thus redundant.

Only about a quarter of the material lying behind those nasty phrases deserved more thought.

In some of the most interesting cases, I realized that I was letting someone off too easy by hiding their behavior inside a neutral memory. They actually had been horrible but I had been too young to understand (narcissists, for example). Analyzing that stuff over again in a more mature mind was a bit of a chore, but the results have been good, even refreshing.

The process is ongoing. It does resemble cleaning an attic or an old filing cabinet. The stuff I found behind those nasty phrases was not all the stuff from my past. It was just stuff where I was blaming someone or feeling angry about something or had been harmed by someone. The bad stuff I’ve done is elsewhere in my mind.

I am struck by several things concerning those phrases and what lay behind them. One is a lot of that material dates back to childhood and early adulthood. It was not so much unconscious as not having been visited for a long time. Though most of it does not have strong emotional valence, some of it is very revealing because it brings together memories that had been disconnected, leading me to understand dramas or aspects of experience I had not understood before even though I had lived them. I also notice that it was just a few words that closed off those “files.” The power of words to command silence in the mind.

I had been dismissing all that material with just a few words whenever I didn’t feel like going there, which was every time. After not going there for many years, it was refreshing to poke around and rearrange those parts of my mind. I am quite sure I freed up some memory space and removed some snags in my thinking by dealing with that stuff. I also see new patterns within my general sense of my past, patterns with better explanatory power, both truer and more concise.

I see our minds as having a structure sort of similar to language or a forest. Trees of ideas, memories, and feelings grow and change. It’s good to remove some of them sometimes, put the space to better use. Buddhist practice is very helpful in endeavors like this. Rather than get all worked up with Freudian passions and delusions, we can simply observe, dismiss, refile, erase, upgrade, or reimagine as needed based on our capacities and understanding of what’s best.

Our bhavanga or “storehouse consciousness” contains memories, pictures, ideas, words., explanations They flow along with us, in many ways are us. When the mind is clear, a lot of that material can be rearranged for the better. There aren’t many rules for that. Just do your best.

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Intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity

A recent study shows that An insight-related neural reward signal exists and is more active in some people than in others.

This study also confirms the idea that “intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity.”

Some other findings that may be of interest:

…our findings suggest that individuals who are high in reward sensitivity experience the sudden emergence of a solution into awareness as strongly rewarding whereas individuals who are low in reward sensitivity may still experience insight as sudden and attentionally salient but lacking in hedonic content.

As lifelong autodidact, I wonder if others with this marvelous “addiction” can relate to feeling almost not alive unless there is something to wonder about or figure out. I recently read a biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. One standout was his strong tendency to seek out simple or humble environments that stimulated his mind.

…Individuals high in reward sensitivity are more likely to take drugs, develop substance-abuse disorders or eating disorders, and engage in risky behaviors such as gambling. The fact that some people find insight experiences to be highly pleasurable reinforces the notion that insight can be an intrinsic reward for problem solving and comprehension that makes use of the same reward circuitry in the brain that processes rewards from addictive drugs, sugary foods, or love.

Getting lost in the woods or on a motorcycle ride, for me, is a highly enjoyable feeling. There have to be slight tremors of fear and agitation followed by finding my way again. I suppose others may experience similar feelings in social settings or as live performers.

…These findings shed light on people’s motivations for engaging in challenging, often time-consuming, activities that potentially yield insights, such as solving puzzles or mysteries, creating inventions, or doing research. It also reinforces the notion that intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity. The expectation of intrinsic rewards from comprehending and creating, rather than from an extrinsic source such as payment, is thought to be the most effective type of workplace motivation…

A society with universal basic income in which no one has to work unless they want to might bring about the greatest flourishing of human talent ever. Then again, maybe not. Inspiration does need a stick on the back sometimes and “joy has no children,” meaning happiness produces few inventions.

Here’s an article about the study: Aha! + Aaaah: Creative Insight Triggers a Neural Reward Signal.

How to understand why Buddhist rebirth does not require a self or soul

The basic reason no self or soul is reborn is neither exists independently of the mental universe that gave rise to our illusion of selfhood.

The mental universe within which we all exist is dynamic and so are we. In Buddhist terms, this dynamism is action or karma.

Buddhism does not say we do not exists. It only says that our selves are empty, that they do not ultimately exist. When we die our karma, the mental activity of this life, reconstitutes as a new being ensconced within the larger mental universe.

No one explains this better in modern terms than Bernardo Kastrup. In his essay Making Sense of the Mental Universe, he does not write about rebirth but rather about the conditions of our existence within the mental universe.

Nonetheless, his explanation of a “mental universe” shows precisely how rebirth can occur without there being any soul or pudgala or anything else that flies from the body upon death to transmigrate to another one.

I highly recommend reading the essay linked above. I have no idea if Kastrup is a Buddhist thinker. It’s even better if he is not, if his thinking arrived independently at a place consonant with original Buddhist thought.

Most Buddhists know that even Buddhists have trouble understanding how someone can be reborn without having a soul, self, or pudgala. What did the Buddha even mean by that? I know more than one university professor of Buddhist studies who explains Buddhist rebirth by saying, there is no such thing and neither is there such a thing as karma.

Those professors explain away karma and rebirth by claiming those fundamentals of Buddhist thought are nothing more than the Buddha “using the concepts of his day” to teach his moral doctrines and what amounts to his “atheistic Stoic” philosophy.

I mean no disrespect for the professors. It is hard to understand how something can be reborn and yet be empty of any perduring self or soul.

The essay linked above provides an excellent explanation of how that happens. I strongly encourage Buddhists or people who teach Buddhism or are interested in it to read Kastrup’s essay when you are in a good mood and want to learn something new and really interesting.

This essay can give you another angle on Kastrup’s thinking: Matter is nothing more than the extrinsic appearance of inner experience.

And here are some of my comments on Kastrup’s essay Making Sense of the Mental Universe.

Coronavirus: fiasco, hoax, or the real thing?

It would be a fiasco if preventative measures are far in excess of what is warranted; a hoax if a deliberate agenda lies behind the fiasco; the real thing if our worst projections are born out by facts we do not yet have.

John Ioannidis makes a strong argument that we should wonder if the global response to the virus is a fiasco:

…The data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable. Given the limited testing to date, some deaths and probably the vast majority of infections due to SARS-CoV-2 are being missed. We don’t know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300. Three months after the outbreak emerged, most countries, including the U.S., lack the ability to test a large number of people and no countries have reliable data on the prevalence of the virus in a representative random sample of the general population. (A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data)

That the US response is a hoax or possibly a hoax is explained by sundance, a well-regarded conservative blogger:

…There’s been a debate about possible political motives surrounding the panic he has created; the massive economic damage he has inflicted; and the conflicting assertions of National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

CTH identifies the motives as sketchy.  He appears to use his position to advance theories and yet position himself to avoid scrutiny.

Sometimes within a 24 hour period Fauci will make a statement, then contradict the initial assertion, then attempt to cloud his own conflict with obtuse and wordy explanations. (Political Health – The Motives of a Very, Very, Political Dr. Fauci…)

If it’s the real thing, a real pandemic with unusually high mortality rates, then we still have many unknowns to consider. Chief among them is the question of whether the virus is a bioweapon or not. If it were a man-made bioweapon, its chemical and RNA structure should reveal that. If the virus evolved naturally, it still could have been used as a weapon.

If it was a weapon, was it released due to negligence or design? If by design, who did it? Since the virus first appeared in Wuhan, which is also the site of a virus research lab, the most likely explanation is it escaped into the general population due to negligence.

Other explanations are, the CCP did it deliberately as payback for losing its parasitic privileges in world trade; the US did it to finish the CCP off; someone else did it, possibly Russia or Israel (because Iran has also suffered badly).

Of course, there are many other possibilities worth considering. Variations on the coivd19 story read like prompts for playwrights.

From a Buddhist point of view, there is much to be gained from this catastrophe, no matter how it eventually comes to be seen. Life, death, impermanence, emptiness, the value of mindfulness, wisdom, and compassion are all stimulated producing heightened awareness and sensitivity to the miracle of existing at all.

Large meta-study shows alcohol does far more harm than good

Key takeaways:

  • Alcohol is worse for you than many previously thought thought
  • It is linked to health outcomes such as heart disease, diabetes, tuberculosis, breast cancer (in women), and lip and oral cavity cancer (in men)
  • Despite some previous studies suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits, the study found that the risks outweighed any benefits
  • The optimal amount of alcohol consumption is zero; that is, to minimize your health risk, the optimum amount of drinking is none (Alcohol’s Heavy Toll: The Largest Analysis Ever of How Alcohol Impacts Health)

The study is here: Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016

Bad news on coronavirus

Here’s an article about it:

LONDON — Immediately after Boris Johnson completed his Monday evening news conference, which saw a somber prime minister encourage his fellow citizens to avoid “all nonessential contact with others,” his aides hustled reporters into a second, off-camera briefing.

That session presented jaw-dropping numbers from some of Britain’s top modelers of infectious disease, who predicted the deadly course of the coronavirus could quickly kill hundreds of thousands in both the United Kingdom and the United States, as surges of sick and dying patients overwhelmed hospitals and critical care units.

The new forecasts, by Neil Ferguson and his colleagues at the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, were quickly endorsed by Johnson’s government to design new and more extreme measures to suppress the spread of the virus.

The report is also influencing planning by the Trump administration. Deborah Birx, who serves as the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, cited the British analysis at a news conference Monday, saying her response team was especially focused on the report’s conclusion that an entire household should self-quarantine for 14 days if one of its members is stricken by the virus. (A chilling scientific paper helped upend U.S. and U.K. coronavirus strategies)

And here is the paper that article is based on:

…Perhaps our most significant conclusion is that mitigation is unlikely to be feasible without emergency surge capacity limits of the UK and US healthcare systems being exceeded many times over. In the most effective mitigation strategy examined, which leads to a single, relatively short epidemic (case isolation, household quarantine and social distancing of the elderly), the surge limits for both general ward and ICU beds would be exceeded by at least 8-fold under the more optimistic scenario for critical care requirements that we examined. In addition, even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in GB, and 1.1-1.2 million in the US.

In the UK, this conclusion has only been reached in the last few days, with the refinement of estimates of likely ICU demand due to COVID-19 based on experience in Italy and the UK (previous planning estimates assumed half the demand now estimated) and with the NHS providing increasing certainty around the limits of hospital surge capacity.

We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound. Many countries have adopted such measures already, but even those countries at an earlier stage of their epidemic (such as the UK) will need to do so imminently.

Our analysis informs the evaluation of both the nature of the measures required to suppress COVID19 and the likely duration that these measures will need to be in place. Results in this paper have informed policymaking in the UK and other countries in the last weeks. However, we emphasise that is not at all certain that suppression will succeed long term; no public health intervention with such disruptive effects on society has been previously attempted for such a long duration of time. How populations and societies will respond remains unclear. (Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand)

Here is a rebuttal of the above: REVIEW OF FERGUSON ET AL “IMPACT OF NON-PHARMACEUTICAL INTERVENTIONS…”

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: a discussion

Linked below is a thoughtful discussion of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD).

Personally, I think we all have CPTSD for how can the basic needs of a child (acceptance and security) ever be fully met?

A core aspect of Buddhist mindfulness training is noticing disturbing psychological responses the moment they arise. The ways these responses are dealt with and cured is a major focus of Buddhist practice.

The discussion linked below explores mindfulness in CPTSD therapy. It also describes the therapeutic concept “co-regulation,” which entails two people mindfully regulating or curing unwanted stressors together. (FIML does that extremely well, btw.)

Here’s the discussion. It’s a good read.

-Behaviors serve a purpose and are maladaptive attempts to meet an unmet need and trauma survivors generally have maladaptive behaviors which came from shame and recreate shame. If you struggle with an eating disorder, substances, or other compulsive or destructive behaviors, honor the need you were trying to get met, the feeling you were trying to feel/not feel, and work on addressing that in a substantial way instead of focusing on controlling symptoms or shaming yourself for “bad” behavior

-our childhood relationship solutions are our adult relationship problems. Complex trauma is attachment trauma, so we are all impacted primarily in our ways of relating to ourselves and others. Be gentle with yourself for the childhood solutions (fawning, complying, running, clinging, manipulating, avoiding, etc) that are now causing adult relationship problems. Don’t label yourself as co dependent or rush yourself to not feel what you feel – you’ve been programmed this way and it takes conscious unlearning and practice to create new patterns

-there is nothing wrong with craving deep, meaningful, secure relationships. We are meant to be connected and healing takes place not just in our relationship with ourselves but our relationship with others. Often children with complex trauma will develop one of two attitudes to cope. A) if I’m good enough I’ll be lovable or B) fine I don’t need these people anyways. If you need love and the needs are unmet those needs become so painful we sometimes shut them down, which creates inner tension because the deep need for attachment and love never truly goes away, it’s just repressed. Unfortunately, some “recovery from co-dependency” can mimic this message of needing to be independent, self sufficient, and shut down the need for co-regulation and attachment.

-co dependency isn’t about your relationship with anyone else,‘ it’s about a lack of a relationship with yourself

-identifying and healing my nervous system and attachment patterns and rebuilding self trust are the two most important parts of my healing (The main things I’ve learned as a CPTSD survivor and trauma therapist so far)

Global Workspace Theory and mistake awareness & correction

Global workspace theory is a description of how our minds work. The word global refers to the whole mind or brain, not the world.

The central feature of this theory—the global workspace—is conscious working memory, or working memory that could be made conscious with minimal effort.

This global workspace is also what a great deal of Buddhist mindfulness attends to. If we focus our attention on what is coming in and out of our global workspace, we will gain many insights into how our minds operate.

The Buddha’s five skandha explanation of consciousness can be understood as a form (or percepta) entering the global workspace.

Consciousness is the fifth skandha in the chain of skandhas. It is very important to recognize that whatever we become conscious of is not necessarily right.

With this in mind, we can see that being mindful of what is entering and leaving our global workspace can help us forestall errors from forming and growing in our minds.

In the Buddhist tradition, ignorance (a kind of error) is the deep source of all delusion.

But how do I know if the percepta or bits of information entering my awareness are right or wrong?

Well, there is science and Bayesian thought processes to help us, and they are both very good, but is there anything else?

What about my actual mind? My psychology? My understanding of my being in the world? How do I become mindful and more right about these?

Besides science and Bayes, I can ask an honest friend who knows me well if the percepta I think I just received from them is right or wrong.

If my friend knows the game, they will be ready to answer me before my global workspace changes too much. If my friend confirms my interpretation of what they just did or said, I will know that my interpretation (or consciousness) is correct.

If they disconfirm, I will know that my interpretation was incorrect, a mistake.

This kind of information is wonderful!

We calibrate fine instruments to be sure we are getting accurate readings from them. Why not our own minds?

This kind of calibration can be done in a general way, but you will get a general answer in that case. If you want a precise reading, a mindfulness answer, you need to play the FIML communication game.

Autocatalytic systems

An autocatalytic system is a system that can “catalyze its own production”. Autocatalytic systems are usually called “autocatalytic sets”, but for our purposes using the word system may make the concept clearer.

FIML is an autocatalytic system that allows partners to reestablish the terms of their relationship, their psychologies, and their comprehension of the world around them. Strictly speaking, FIML is a non-autonomous autocatalytic set because FIML uses an abundance of language and ideas that come from outside of itself.

FIML is a small set of precise behaviors that allow partners to communicate with great clarity and without interpersonal ambiguity. Interpersonal ambiguity is the cause of much suffering. FIML does not tell partners what to think or what to believe. It simply provides them with a set of tools that gives them the means to develop in ways that seem best to them.

FIML is primarily a communication technique, but the discoveries it leads to will cause partners to remake their understandings of who they are and how they understand themselves. Once partners have learned the system, they will find that it autocatalyzes, causing them to remake themselves with a freedom that had not been possible before.

FIML differs greatly from mainstream psychology because mainstream psychology is not autocatalytic. It is analytical, theoretical, or medical. The individual sufferer seeks a professional who diagnoses their “problem” based on a static standard and then prescribes medication or some kind of therapy that will also be provided by an expert. In contrast, FIML teaches partners how to communicate with sufficient clarity to comprehend themselves. As it autocatalyzes, FIML quite naturally leads partners to make beneficial changes in themselves as they discover new meanings in each other and the world around them.

I had been searching for a word like autocatalytic for some time. This morning I came across the following piece, which led to this post: The Single Theory That Could Explain Emergence, Organisation And The Origin of Life. The study on which that article is based can be found here: The Structure of Autocatalytic Sets: Evolvability, Enablement, and Emergence.

I am sure I have taken a few liberties with my application of this theory, but went ahead with these ideas anyway because one of the key features of FIML practice is it “auto-generates” or autocatalyzes itself. Once you get going and see how to do it, FIML practice almost runs by itself, allowing partners near infinite freedom to pursue whatever they want with it.

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Making Sense of the Mental Universe

Try reading the following paper while keeping the Mind Only Buddhist interpretation of our world in mind.

In 2005, an essay was published in Nature asserting that the universe is mental and that we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things. Since then, experiments have confi rmed that — as predicted by quantum mechanics — reality is contextual, which contradicts at least intuitive formulations of realism and corroborates the hypothesis of a mental universe. Yet, to give this hypothesis a coherent rendering, one must explain how a mental universe can — at least in principle — accommodate (a) our experience of ourselves as distinct individual minds sharing a world beyond the control of our volition; and (b) the empirical fact that this world is contextual despite being seemingly shared. By combining a modern formulation of the ontology of idealism with the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics, the present paper attempts to provide a viable explanatory framework for both points. In the process of doing so, the paper also addresses key philosophical qualms of the relational interpretation. (Making Sense of the Mental Universe)

Edit: The explanation offered in the linked paper, without saying as much, provides a very reasonable way to see Buddhist rebirth occurring without there being any soul or pudgala being reborn. Nothing need fly out of the body or transmigrate anywhere.

Instead, the classic Buddhist description of karma alone giving rise to a new life works perfectly. Rather than conceive of ourselves as fundamentally material beings, we can conceive of our personal individuality as being (a part of a “mental universe”) enclosed within a Markov blanket.

If there is still karma, a new Markov blanket or bodily form will be “reborn” or rearise after the extinction of its prior existence. In Kastrup’s way of putting it, our physical bodies are themselves Markov blankets causing or allowing us to arise as forms separate from the wholeness of the mental universe.

I suppose we might venture to say that enlightenment occurs when the karma, or reason for our separation in a Markov blanket, is gone and “we” remain the whole (of the mental universe) without being reborn (in a body).