Thursday, April 6, 2023

Where Science and Sacred Meet

    As individuals & as groups, we cling to habitual opinions, beliefs & behaviors for decades past the time we became aware of irrefutable evidence in favor of far better alternatives. There are many reasons for this, perhaps most commonly, we're far more interested & invested in our comfort / status quo & our personal / group identity / ego than in truth eg 'my country - right or wrong.'
    And yet we look back and laugh at surgeons who
in 1846 vigorously & effectively opposed the science proposed by Dr. Semmelweis that they must wash their hands before delivering babies & performing surgery.
Churchill quipped, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else.” Most of us are fiercely proud, quick to rationalize our behavior, despite all evidence to the contrary, AND desperately slow to change!
    But we
CAN always CHOOSE to learn & evolve!

    Below is a short transcript of an excellent lecture by William A. Richards PhD, whose 2015 book, “Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences” was described as: "An inspiring testament to half a century of scientific research and personal exploration into the responsible, beneficial use of psychedelic substances. William A. Richards's work is visionary, personal, and transpersonal, instilled with kindness, deep humanity, and quiet wisdom."

    Psychedelics, wisely and responsibly employed, really are valuable tools in the exploration of consciousness, akin to the telescope in astronomy, or the microscope in biology. Sometimes I have felt like Columbus, having just landed in the West Indies with his primitive maps, and then having somehow been placed in a supersonic jet and shown the vistas of the entire new world, stretching far beyond the wildest fantasies of his imagination, and leaving him almost speechless, with a profound sense of awe. Sometimes, when sitting silently beside research volunteers, when their everyday consciousness has been transcended, and mystical experiences are occurring, it is no exaggeration to say that I humbly feel as though I am sitting beside the Buddha under the Bodhi tree as enlightenment is dawning, or sitting beside St. Paul on the road to Damascus, or beside Isaiah during his temple vision.
    What we are beginning to study here, on this frontier where science & sacred are meeting, truly is profound in its magnitude, its vivid intensity, and its potential relevance. With the best experimental designs we can devise, as we begin to probe this multifaceted field, we are at best novices with very limited conceptual tools and linguistic frameworks.
    I think of Alan Watts’ suggestion: that one reason we have tended to avoid this field of inquiry arises out of the taboo of knowing who you are. That we tend to fear too much knowledge about the mysteries of our own being.
    As I know many of you appreciate, it is common for volunteers, under the action of psychedelics in relatively high dosage, to report phenomena that do not appear to arise from their personal life histories, and that entail different perspectives on time & space. Experiences that call into question some of the most basic assumptions that undergird our normative consensual definition of reality, and the manner in which we customarily define ourselves [self-concepts], and orient ourselves in the world [worldviews]. As expressed by Thomas Kuhn, whether as scientists or philosophers, we really are in the midst of a major paradigm shift at this point in history.
    It is clear that there indeed is a multidimensional cartography of inner space, with many discrete alternate forms of consciousness, and they seem to form a continuum that is influenced by dosage, by personality structure, and the capacity to relinquish ego control, and by the growing edge of a person’s unique personal & spiritual development. Simply expressed, the continuum begins with mild alterations of perception; may deepen to unravel the psychodynamics of personal life; may deepen further to invite participation in visionary or archetypal dramas – the realm of mythology, as presented by Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung; and may deepen even further, into transcendental realms of awareness, in which the everyday self or ego is encompassed into unitive mystical dimensions of mind that usually are experienced as profoundly sacred & eternal. In addition to these stages, there are many unique states of consciousness, about which we know very, very little.
    Although we like to think spatially, and attempt to speak a language that may correlate to phenomena encountered in consciousness, with neuronal structures and biochemical activity, to some extent, it continues to make sense, at least to me, to stress that the experiential content of a particular foray into the world of alternate states is to be found not within the drug, but within the human mind itself. What the human mind is continues to remain a tantalizing mystery, especially as there is good reason to question the reductionistic philosophical assumptions that have tended to prevail in the community of Western scientists, in spite of quantum physics. It is time to take a fresh look at the writings of philosophers such as Henry Bergson, who viewed the human brain more like a television set that receives processes, limits, works with the information, than as a primary source of mental phenomena. Perhaps psychedelic drugs still may be understood simply as skeleton keys that provide access to other realms of human consciousness. The experiences reported, therefore, are not ‘in the drug,’ but rather in and through the mind of the person who is experiencing.
    Now there is a lot of ignorance & lore here, even among those who possess a reasonable personal cache of psychedelic experience. All too often, a person has taken a particular dose of a particular substance, had a particular experience, and then concluded that whatever occurred is ‘what that substance does.’ It is highly probable that even if the person took the same dose of the same substance at another time, there would be a different experience to report, even if it further revealed and extended the themes encountered earlier. The major substances with which I have worked appear to differ from one another not in terms of the experiential content they reveal, but in terms of factors such as required dosage, rapidity of onset and termination, and duration of action. If any particular molecule has a higher probability of facilitating a particular state of consciousness, that only will be established in time, as well-designed, double-blinded research projects are implemented. Does Mescaline produce more vivid colors? Does the DMT in Ayahuasca really produce more images of anacondas? Is the onset of Psilocybin more gentle than LSD? Only patient research will provide the answers we seek."

    Psychedelic Psychotherapy: Insights from 25 Years of Research - William Richards : - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED 56 minute lecture


 Neil Young, performing John Lennon's "Imagine"


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