Friday, April 26, 2019

"How to Change Your Mind" Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan, who some say is one of the most influential people in the world, wrote this great history/personal narrative/advocacy book on the current thinking on LCD and other psychedelics.  It's a good book, it has been recommended as one of the best book's of 2018 in various publications, including the NY Times.

What the reader gets from reading this book is a fabulous story that begins in modern America in the late 1930's (though the drug is much older than that) but was suppressed the first time during World War II.  In the 1950s science and medicine revisited  LSD, and attempted to establish some discipline and rigor to experiments and study.   And then Timothy Leary got involved.

If that name is not familiar, this book will catch you up, but not too deeply,  the book is about the drug, and although many people appear in the book,  Leary is not one of the heroes.

Pollan really does a great job in moving the history along, creating that allusion of power that the trip on LSD promises.   You will learn about people who have crossed the gap that developed after Leary drew too much of the wrong attention to the drug,   Attention from government --  which made it illegal to have, use, or experiment with. Recently though,  an underground movement has sprung up all over the country, including of course San Francisco, led by people who have tripped, who have re established the experimental and scientific vibe.   These people share a common purpose --  to open the minds of humanity, and help as many people as possible with mental illness or existential health problems.

Its common knowledge that the trip, if good, will wash the mind in colors, and sights, and feelings that just aren't accessible under normal conditions.  The author had a difficult task in explaining that immersive experience but he did well.   Well enough to convey the purpose that many who tripped, who are also scientists, modern shamans, or just typical hippies feel in spreading the word about this powerful drug.  Like Leary, but smarter about it.

Anyways, how to change your mind is elucidated well enough for me to have given a shot of explaining it over lunch to my lovely wife.

See, basically the brain is just functioning like electrical waves through conducive gray matter,  those are my words, not the author's.   These brain waves travel back and forth, and back and forth all the time so they tend to travel the same neurological pathways all the time.  Recurrent thoughts strengthen the patterns.   That is essentially why we are all afflicted with certain thoughts that are hard to shake.  The more you are depressed or anxious for example, the harder it is to break out of the patterns.

Changing your mind is as simple, or hard, as changing the electricity flows.

The human brain is very complex, and it has new parts and older parts.  Some parts control speech, another sight, and yet another motor reflexes.  There are more.  The default mode network(DMN) is one of the oldest parts.  The theory is, its the oldest brain segment, and the part that houses your sense of self.

Somehow taking LSD disrupts the normal brain wave patterns, and so this allows different thoughts,  perhaps even new insights, to develop because new connections are established in that gray matter of a brain that didn't connect before.    The DMN is where the affects of psychedelics cause the most dramatic experiences.   These experiences, A-HA moments, or epiphanies have moved people to quit smoking, quit drinking, and quit worrying.   Sometimes the affects last,  sometimes they don't last,  sometimes they don't even happen.

But all this is still being studied.

Trust me, Pollan does a much better job of explaining all this. 

The biggest mystery is how anyone ever realized that a particular mushroom with a certain unseen compound, extracted in a particular way would not kill you, but expand your mind.   That, to me, is one of the great mysteries of life.

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