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Brian Muraresku: The Secret History of Psychedelics | Lex Fridman Podcast #211


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The following is a conversation with Brian Miorescu, author of The Immortality Key,
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The Secret History of the Religion with No Name, a book that reconstructs the forgotten history of
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psychedelics in the development of Western civilization. To support this podcast,
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please check out our sponsors, Insight Tracker, GiveWell, NI, Indeed, and Masterclass. Their links
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are in the description. This is the Lex Friedman Podcast, and here's my conversation with Brian
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Miorescu. Who or what do you think God is? How has our conception, maybe put another way,
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of God changed throughout history? We're starting with an easy one, Lex.
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Yep. So, what is God? Well, God is a thought. God is an idea, but its reference is to that which is
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beyond thinking, beyond our ability to even conceive, beyond the categories of being and
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nonbeing. So, how do we talk about that? To talk about it is almost to get it wrong, right? So,
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Joe Campbell famously said that any God that is not transparent to transcendence is like an
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idolatry because it's just a mental construct, and it can't possibly speak to the incomprehensible.
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So, we use poetic language. We say the being of beings, the infinite life energy of the universe,
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the mystery of transcendence, boundless life, unqualified isness, but it doesn't quite get to
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the point. I think that if there's any great insight from mysticism, it's that you and I
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participate with God in a very real way, Lex Friedman, here in Austin, Texas, that in the here
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and now to touch that eternal principle, another way to refer to God, to touch that eternal principle
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within ourselves is to participate with divinity in some way. So, not an external force, but
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that divine sense within. So, there's some aspect in which God is a part of us. So, one, it's the
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thing we can't describe. It represents all of the mystery around us. It's outside our ability to
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comprehend, and at the same time, it's somehow the thing that's inside of us also. The ultimate
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paradox. Mechthild of Magdeburg, 13th century German mystic, maybe the first German mystic,
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says that the day of her spiritual awakening was the day that she saw and knew that she saw God
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in all things and all things in God. And so, we can say this, by the way, without apology or
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lightweight theology or vapid speculation or even heresy. We can talk about this,
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including within the Abrahamic faiths. The mystical core of these faiths all talk about
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the encounter of divinity within. That's what I explore in the immortality key, this notion of
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techniques, archaic techniques in some cases, of ecstasy, that allow that experience of the
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eternal principle to actually rise up in our consciousness when we're still here as flesh and
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blood beings. There's some sense in which our conception of God, though, is conjured up by
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our own mind. And so, aren't we creating God? Aren't we the gods that are creating the idea of
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God? When we talk about God, aren't we playing with ideas that are created by our mind and
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thereby we are the creator, not God? This is a very kind of cyclical question, but in some sense,
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I mean that if God is the thing that represents the mystery all around us, contrast that with
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our conception of God, the way we talk about him, is more a creation of our minds. It's not the
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mystery. It's our struggle to comprehend the mystery. And therefore, we're creating the God
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in terms of the God that we're talking about in this conversation or in general, if that makes any
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sense. It makes no sense whatsoever. Great. This is wonderful. But this is the eternal mystery.
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This is why it's so difficult to talk about, and yet it could be the very center of our beings.
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The Upanishads speak about us as the creators, about us as gods. It's a very different creation
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myth, but the God of the Upanishads in this great verse talks about pouring themselves into
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creation. Indeed, I have become this creation, says God. And there's a great line, verily he or
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she who knows this becomes in this creation a creator. So, yeah, I mean, just our ability to
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engage in mentation, our ability to think about this stuff is partly our divine nature. This is
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what the humanists were talking about in the Renaissance, by the way. And that it's not so much
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learning, putting dots together, having arguments with each other over learned books. It's a
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process of unlearning, is what some of the mystical traditions talk about. Unlearning all these
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thoughts, emotions, traumas, and experiences that have gone into the false construction of our false
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self, that behind all these layers, like peeling back the onion, is a part of us that once you can
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identify that, begins to look a little bit different. In other words, it's one thing to
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foster a relationship with God. It's a very different thing to identify as God. And I mean
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that quite literally, without being heretical. You can find this in the mystery traditions.
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Can you expand on this? You mean a human being can embody God?
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That is textbook incarnational theology that you can find in any Christian mysticism.
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But you can find it in the mystical tradition of Islam and Judaism as well. So, Rumi, for example,
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the great Sufi mystic talks about, if you could get rid of yourself, just get rid of yourself just
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once, the secret of secrets would open to you. That the face of the unknown would appear on the
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perception of your consciousness. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, a modern day Christian,
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of your consciousness. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, a modern day contemporary mystic,
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talks about, because this stuff does continue, there's a continuity to it.
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The poetry here is incredible.
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So, well, listen to Rabbi Kushner. He says that the emptying of selfhood
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allows the soul to attach to true reality. And in Kabbalism, the true reality is what's called
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the divine nothingness, ayin. And so, I like the adage that atheists and mystics both essentially
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believe in nothing, except that the mystics spell it with a capital N, the divine nothing.
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And then I'll give you Meister Eckhart, another medieval Christian mystic. He says that
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if you could not yourself, the same concept, if you could not yourself for just an instant,
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indeed, I say less than an instant, you would possess all. So, again, you're seeing the same
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thing in Sufism, Kabbalism, Christian mysticism. The way to identify with the divine is to peel
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back these layers and attempt to discover pure awareness.
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If we look at the universe from a physics perspective, or, you know, I'm a computer
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science person, so if the universe is a computer, there's some sense that God, the creator of the
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universe, or just the computer itself, doesn't know what the heck is going to happen. He just
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kind of creates some basic rules and runs the thing. So, there is some element in which you
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can conceive of humans or conscious beings or intelligent beings as a tool that the creator
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uses to understand himself. Do you think that's a perspective that we could or is useful to take on
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God that is basically the universe created humans to understand itself? He doesn't actually know
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the full thing. He needs the human brains to figure out the puzzle. So, that's in contrasting
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to the unlearning to getting out of the way that we've talked about. It's more like, no,
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we need the humans to figure out this puzzle. Well, we have no answers to this, which is why
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philosophers still have jobs, if they have jobs at all. But, I mean, so the physicists take a look
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at this. Have you seen the article that came out, I think it was this month, in the Journal of
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Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, Robert Lanza, the biocentrism theory, the idea that the universe
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comes into being through our observation, right, the whole, the God equation. So, not just in
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quantum mechanics, but in general relativity, the idea that we make the universe moment by moment,
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which is kind of mind blowing, gets into ideas of simulation. Okay, so that's how the physicists,
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at least some of them might look at it. You could also look back to the medieval Christian mystics,
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Meister Eckhart, once again, says that the eye with which I see God is the same eye that sees me,
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right? So, one sight, one knowledge, one love, another mind blowing concept. But this is why
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the arts and poetry and music are so important, because although I love astroparticle physics,
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it's another to kind of hear this, the same message across time.
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Yeah, the simulation thing. I was actually looking this morning at video games, just the statistics
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on video games. And I saw that the two top video games in terms of hours played is Fortnite and
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World of Warcraft. And I saw that it's 140 billion hours, billion hours have been played of those
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games. That's a lot of video games. Yeah, but that's very sophisticated worlds being created,
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especially in the World of Warcraft. It's a massive online role playing game. So you have
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these characters that are together sort of creating a world, but they in themselves are also
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developing, they have all these items, and they're like, they're little humans. Like there's
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complicated societies that are formed, they have goals, they're striving and so on. And it's,
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we're creating a universe within our universe. And for now, it's a kind of, it's a basic sort
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of constraint version of our more richer earth like civilization. But it's conceivable that,
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you know, that we are this thing on earth is a kind of video game that somebody else is playing.
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It's like you can see sort of video games upon video games being created.
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That, and this is something I think a lot about, not from philosophical perspective, but practically,
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how fun does this video game have to be for us to let go of the silly pursuits in this meat space
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that we live in and fully just stay in wow, stay in World of Warcraft, stay in the video game for
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full time. So I think about that from an engineering perspective. Like is there going to be a time
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when this video game is actual real life for us, and then the creatures inside the video game,
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they'll be just borrowing our consciousness, sort of to ground themselves will refer to us as the
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gods. Right? Like, won't we become the gods? This conversation is not going how I expected.
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But I think about this a lot from, you know, because I love video games, and I wonder more
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and more of us, especially in COVID times, are living in the digital world. You could think about
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Twitter and all those kinds of things. You could think about clubhouse people using just voices to
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communicate with little icons, sort of in the digital space, you could see more and more will
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be moving in the digital space and let go of this physical space. And then the remnants of the
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ancients that created the video games, that nobody centuries from now will even remember,
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those will be the gods. And then there'll be gods upon gods being created. This is the kind of stuff
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I think about. But is that any at all useful to you to this thought experiment of a simulation?
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Basically, the fabric of our reality, how did it come to be? What is running this thing? Is that
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useful? Or is it ultimately the project of understanding God, of understanding myth,
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is the project that centers on the human, on the human mind, for you?
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Hmm. We seem to be at the center of this divine dance, which sounds awfully anthropocentric.
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But the ancients thought about this too. I mean, the concept in Sanskrit of lila, that the point
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behind existence is this play, right? It's ultimately playful, this divine dance. It gets
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awfully complicated in the Gnostic and Neoplatonic schools, these chains of being from God head down
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to us, right? Some invisible, right? And we're gonna get into Terence McKenna territory later
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on, but we can start now by talking about discarnate entities and archons and aliens
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and archetypes. I mean, there is a world where Terence McKenna does meet Plato and Gnosticism
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quite kindly, and that's in this invisible college, right? The invisible world with which we seem to
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have some kind of symbiosis that has a higher intent, maybe even a purpose or a plan in mind
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for us. So, I mean, these ideas come across when you've had a heroic dose of mushrooms.
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They also pop up in the ancient philosophical literature, this idea of archons who, you know,
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the puppet masters controlling us flesh and blood beings. It's all a cosmic dance, and there are no
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answers to this. First, who are the archons? And second, what is this world where Terence McKenna
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meets Plato? Do you mean in the space of ideas, or are we talking about some kind of world that
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connects all of consciousness throughout human history? I think through different techniques,
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it is, you know, I think a lot about, I think Gordon Wasson is the meeting point of the two.
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So, Gordon Wasson, who I do talk about in the book, was this J.P. Morgan banker turned
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ethnomycologist, and he's largely credited with the rediscovery of psilocybin containing mushrooms,
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which kind of gave rise to the pop psychedelic revolution of the 1960s. He visited Maria Sabina
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down in Mexico. In his wake went Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, and everybody else.
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And the way he describes his psilocybin experience is a bit strange because he thinks of
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Plato, right? And he says that, you know, whereas our ordinary reality is kind of this imperfect
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view of things, Gordon Wasson felt that on mushrooms, he was spying the archetypes.
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And he talks about Plato, and he writes about the archetypes in this famous article that's
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released in 1957 in Life magazine. And so, a well read individual from the mid 20th century has his
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his premier psychedelic experience, and out comes Plato because what he was witnessing was so sharp,
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so brilliant, so detailed, in some sense, more real than real, this noetic sense that William
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James talks about, that when you confront something more real than real, these discarnate
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entities, these images, these visionary motifs, you're tempted to believe that you've tapped into
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the truest nature and the underlying structure of the cosmos. And that's difficult to escape from,
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whether you're Plato or Terence McKenna or Gordon Wasson caught in between.
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Can we talk about this being in touch with something that is more real than real?
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And let's just go straight there to McKenna before we return to the bigger picture.
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So he's talked about the, what is it, self healing machine elves?
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Self transforming.
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Self transforming machine elves during his DMT travels. And I just talked to Rick Doblin,
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who also had different travels to this hyperspace. But they all seem to be traveling on the same
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spaceship, just the different locations. And there is a sense in which they seem to be traveling
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through whatever, I don't know if it's through space time or something else,
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to meet something that is more real than real. What can you say about this DMT experience,
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about Terence McKenna, about the poetry he used, but maybe more specifically about
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this place that they seem to all travel to?
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So the big question is, is it real? Is it really more real than real? The ancient philosophers
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were asking the same question and their means of attempting to answer that was by dying.
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And so if you ask Plato the definition of philosophy, he will say that to practice it
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in the right way is to practice dying and being dead. And many people describe the psychedelic
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experience in sort of near death experience terms. And the encountering of all this visual
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imagery tends to be something that is often described as more real than real. So how does
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Terence talk about this? So I was just listening to the triologues, which folks should look up
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somewhere between 1989 and 1990. Terence sits down with his friends, Ralph Abraham and
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Rupert Sheldrake at Esalen. And they're trying to figure out the meaning of these
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discarnate entities and these nonhuman intelligences. And Terence develops a taxonomy
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for how to analyze this. And he says that number one, they're either semi physical,
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but kind of elusive. So think of the Bigfoot or the Yeti or things like this. Beings that exist
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somewhere between mythology and zoology, which isn't really appropriate here. So option number
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two, he says, is the mental. You're dropping so many good lines. It's so good. I apologize.
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Somewhere between mythology and zoology. This is all Terence McKenna. I take no credit for this.
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But you're combining, you're like, Jimi Hendrix only used the blues scale,
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but he still created something new in the music he played. Anyway, go ahead.
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We're going into Mixolydian right now. So option number two, and this is what Terence calls sort
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of the mentalist reductionist approach. And this is pure McKenna poetry. He says that these beings
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could be autonomous fragments of psychic energy that have temporarily escaped the controlling
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power of the ego. So in Jungian senses, these would just be pure projections, the projections
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of schizophrenics in some cases. So they're essentially unreal. And the third option,
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the most tantalizing, is that they're both nonphysical, but autonomous. In other words,
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they actually exist in some kind of real place, in some kind of real space, and that we can have
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Congress with them. There is communication. He talks about the whisperings of the demon artificers,
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and that it's just possible that our meetings with these beings have coaxed the human species
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into self expression in a very real way, that at different times in history, our relationships with
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these semi autonomous beings may actually guide the species. Now, this is high speculation,
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and Terence and Ralph and Rupert wind up talking about the early modern period and the scientific
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enlightenment, and that even someone like Descartes reports a dream in which he came face
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to face with an angel who said that the conquest of nature is to be achieved through measure and
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number. So even the hard minded materialist like Descartes is confronting these discarnate entities.
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John Dee in the 16th century, the high magician of the Elizabethan court,
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he reports decades worth of what we would say is extraterrestrial communication,
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or interdimensional communication. And you can find instances of this throughout history,
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including among the pre Socratics. And Peter Kingsley writes quite a bit about this, but I'll
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save that until your next question. Well, first of all, we don't seem to understand from where
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intelligence came from. We don't understand from where life came from on Earth. But that we can
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kind of intuit because it's the space of chemistry and biology have good theories about the origins
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of life on Earth. But the origins of intelligent life, that is a giant mystery. And there's some
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sense in which, I mean, I don't know if you know the movie 2001 Space Odyssey. But it does seem
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that there's like important throughout human history, throughout life on Earth, there's
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important phase shifts of it feels like something happened, where there's big leaps. It could be
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something coincidental, like fire and learning how to cook meat and all those kinds of things.
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But it feels like there could be other things. And I think that's at the core of your work is
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exploring what those things could be. Is there, is it possible? Talked about Joe Rogan off line.
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Is it entirely possible? Is it possible that psychedelics have in fact contributed of being
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an important source of those phase shift throughout human history of the intellect, basically steering
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the intellectual development and growth of human civilization. It's a hypothesis worth
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investigating. How about that? Beautiful. And maybe not psychedelics in and of themselves,
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but I think our whole conversation is kind of wrapped up in these non ordinary states of
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awareness. We start by talking about God, which is something unordinary and expansive. And I think
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that as you trace the intervention of divinity, if that's the case, throughout human history,
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you have to bump up against the irrational. And Mursi Eliade, the great scholar of religions and
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fellow Romanian said that the history of religions essentially constitutes the point of intersection
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between metaphysics and biology. So that we are biological beings who do interact with our planet,
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with the natural kingdom. And you would think that as, you know, early archaic ecologists,
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we would have figured out what plants work, which fungi don't and developed maybe language around
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that. And so this is another one of McKenna's speculative, but very interesting hypotheses,
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the stone and ape theory. Is it possible that psychedelics were involved in one of the several
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leaps forward? You mentioned the word leap. Jared Diamond talks about the great leap forward 60,000
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years ago. The species had been around for a couple hundred thousand years. All of a sudden,
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the cave painting appears. All of a sudden there's a phase shift. Did something like that happen
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millions of years ago? And I love the way Paul Stamets talks about this. It would be the ingestion
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of perhaps psilocybin containing fungi millions and millions of times over millions and millions
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of years. So it's not just a one time event that cascades, but it's the accumulation
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of psychedelic experience. It's really difficult to test that hypothesis. But I've been talking
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with a paleoanthropologist in South Africa, my friend Lee Berger, about ways that we might test
link |
00:24:06.160
for this. And so Lee, amongst many things, is this national geographic explorer. He's the
link |
00:24:12.400
paleoanthropologist's paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand. He's famous,
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00:24:18.000
amongst other things, for the discovery of previously undiscovered hominids like Homo
link |
00:24:22.720
naledi. And there's an interesting point. So naledi is this archaic hominid, morphologically
link |
00:24:33.280
archaic, but it dates to about 300,000 years ago, which is very strange. What's even more
link |
00:24:39.920
strange about Homo naledi at the Rising Star cave system there in South Africa is that Lee
link |
00:24:44.800
believes he's discovered the first bipedal ape deliberately disposing of its dead.
link |
00:24:51.680
So there is a recognition of self mortality and the practicing of rituals around death. We're
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00:24:58.400
talking about burials. And if you have burials, says Lee, in an archaic hominid 300,000 years ago,
link |
00:25:05.840
maybe you have language. And I mentioned that because Terence McKenna was obsessed
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00:25:10.320
with language in the stoned ape theory, that the ingestion of psilocybin in addition to enhancing
link |
00:25:16.720
visual acuity, perhaps facilitating sexual arousal, leads to proto language.
link |
00:25:23.280
Now, isn't it interesting, this could be entirely a coincidence, that the largest sound inventory
link |
00:25:30.240
of any language is the Khoisan of Botswana and Namibia. They have something like 164 consonants
link |
00:25:37.680
and 44 vowels. English, by comparison, has about 45. So I don't know what to make of this, but what
link |
00:25:43.280
you find in that part of the world is very, very complex language. Language that could be an
link |
00:25:50.480
inheritance, language that could be incredibly archaic, together with this recognition of self
link |
00:25:56.480
mortality. And when I talk to Lee Berger, we say, when you're looking at universals like that,
link |
00:26:01.440
language around all human populations, the recognition of self mortality, the contemplation
link |
00:26:07.440
of death, just maybe you have pharmacology. And so maybe we can go out and test for this
link |
00:26:13.200
using gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, proteomics, technology that doesn't even exist,
link |
00:26:18.560
but maybe we can actually test the stoned ape theory to figure out once and for all,
link |
00:26:23.600
if there's any merit there. Can you just linger a little bit on the pharmacology tools?
link |
00:26:27.680
Like how would it be possible to say something about what was being ingested so, so long ago?
link |
00:26:34.800
That's what I asked Dr. Berger. So Lee has discovered in the dental calculus of archaic
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00:26:43.680
hominids. Dental calculus. I like this. Evidence of their diet. And you might not believe how old
link |
00:26:50.800
this was, but in sedeba, Australopithecus sedeba, they found evidence of sedeba's diet going back
link |
00:26:57.760
two million years. So through things like phytoliths, which are essentially fossilized
link |
00:27:04.480
plant tissue, they found evidence that sedeba was eating bark and leaves and grasses and fruits and
link |
00:27:12.240
palm. So no psychedelics to speak of, but it just goes to show that through things like dental
link |
00:27:18.080
microwear analysis and other techniques that we're still developing, we can actually figure out what
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00:27:23.040
the diet was at the time. I'll fast forward to 50,000 years ago. There was another study out of
link |
00:27:29.040
El Cidrón Cave in 2012, which found that Neanderthals, again, preceding our species
link |
00:27:34.800
50,000 years ago, were ingesting yarrow and chamomile, which had been identified as medicinal.
link |
00:27:41.760
So again, not psychedelic or psychoactive, but we kind of have the beginnings of the technology,
link |
00:27:47.360
and that was nine years ago, to begin figuring out the ancestral diet of these hominids.
link |
00:27:53.840
Presumably there could be a way to figure out, it's not just diet, but which have psychoactive
link |
00:27:59.120
elements to them. So whether you're chewing it, whether you're smoking it, whether, I mean, I don't
link |
00:28:03.200
know, licking it. I don't know if there's any kind of ways through the dental calculus to figure out
link |
00:28:09.440
what exact substances were being consumed. Is it possible to figure out whether psychedelic
link |
00:28:15.200
substances are being consumed by looking at human behavior, like you said, organized burials
link |
00:28:22.640
or cave paintings? No, but so that's a little bit of a stretch to say, like, where did this
link |
00:28:28.240
leap come from? But it's not. It's not. So just last fall, as a matter of fact, so that notion
link |
00:28:34.160
has been out there for a while, the idea that hallucinogens and the ritual consumption of
link |
00:28:38.160
hallucinogens were somehow related to the great leap forward, were somehow related to the initial
link |
00:28:43.760
cave painting. Graham Hancock wrote a beautiful book about this called Supernatural, which in
link |
00:28:48.080
many ways like sent me down this rabbit hole back in 2007. But even at the time when he was writing
link |
00:28:53.840
that and the year subsequent, it was still kind of seen as a kooky idea. Last fall, interestingly
link |
00:29:01.440
enough, the first archeochemical data for the ritual consumption of psychedelics associated with
link |
00:29:08.720
cave art was finally published. It's not that ancient. It's only about 400 or 500 years ago,
link |
00:29:13.920
but it came from the Pinwheel Cave, a Chumash site in California. And what they found were
link |
00:29:19.680
datura quids, like these chewed up, you mentioned, how did they ingest it? These chewed up quids,
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00:29:24.720
like these bunches of datura, which contain these very powerful tropane alkaloids and what was
link |
00:29:31.280
believed to be some kind of Chumash initiation site. So we can say that there is initial
link |
00:29:37.200
archeochemical data for the consumption of psychedelics and cave art. And so where else
link |
00:29:42.160
might we find this? Are there a lot of archeochemists in the world? Is this fascinating? Is through
link |
00:29:50.000
chemistry, through biology, through physics, whatever, like all the disciplines, perhaps one
link |
00:29:56.320
day computer science, we apply those tools to study not the data of today, but the data of the past.
link |
00:30:04.320
But are we talking about dozens here? Like how hard is this problem relative to how many people
link |
00:30:09.040
are taking it on just as a side little tangent? We're probably talking more dozens than hundreds.
link |
00:30:16.080
I spent many years trying to track down an archeochemist who would talk to me. There were
link |
00:30:21.040
a couple, Pat McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania, and then my friend Andrew Ko at MIT,
link |
00:30:27.520
which you might know something about. Andrew really, you know, on his own time, on his own
link |
00:30:33.200
dime, has been gathering the data for this organic residue analysis. He has what's called the Open
link |
00:30:41.440
Archem Project, which is this online open source repository for this data. But there's never been
link |
00:30:46.880
a center for this. No university has stood up a dedicated center, a team really, which is what you
link |
00:30:52.960
need of archeochemists looking at this stuff. But I mean, even despite that, there have been some
link |
00:30:57.520
remarkable discoveries over the past 10, 20 years. It's still a discipline very much in
link |
00:31:02.320
its infancy. Maybe it's becoming a toddler. But as the technology gets better and cheaper, I hope
link |
00:31:09.440
you'll see more and more archeochemists joining the fight.
link |
00:31:12.480
Yeah. And Andrew is fascinating. His work is fascinating. But also, just because of your work,
link |
00:31:18.960
I came across and exchanged a few emails with Patrick McGovern, who's basically, what would
link |
00:31:24.880
you call him? So, he has a center, I guess, that does biomolecular archeology at UPenn.
link |
00:31:30.880
And he's the author of a bunch of books, one of which is Ancient Brews. So, he's a scholar of beer
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00:31:36.800
and wine and like ancient alcohol, which is fascinating. They influence, even just alcohol,
link |
00:31:42.560
but he has like alcohol with hallucinogenic properties as well. But as a Russian, it's
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00:31:50.720
fascinating to think about the influence of alcohol on the development of human civilization
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00:31:58.640
throughout its history. Is there something you can comment on alcohol or in general,
link |
00:32:07.120
Patrick's work that was informative to you, inspiring, or kind of added to your conception
link |
00:32:13.680
of human history?
link |
00:32:15.280
His work was some of the first hard scientific data that I saw for the ritual consumption
link |
00:32:20.880
of these intoxicants. I don't think he's ever found the hard and fast data for psychedelics.
link |
00:32:27.440
But what he turned me on to was this idea that alcohol or beer and wine specifically
link |
00:32:33.520
could have been used as vehicles for the administration of psychedelics. That's where
link |
00:32:37.520
it all started for me. Just the notion that ancient beer and ancient wine is very, very
link |
00:32:43.280
different from what we drink today, that typically they were cocktails. They were often fortified
link |
00:32:48.880
and mixed with different fruits, berries, herbs, plants, maybe even fungi over time,
link |
00:32:55.280
because this was all in the absence of distilled liquor. There is no hard alcohol, even in
link |
00:33:00.800
Russia, before maybe the 12th century it was in Europe, maybe a bit earlier. But the concept
link |
00:33:08.000
of distillation just didn't exist. And so, to pack a punch, rather than just drink a
link |
00:33:15.040
kind of watered down Budweiser, these people were interested in fortifying these beverages
link |
00:33:20.640
with whatever they could find in nature. And Pat, to his credit, found some of the initial
link |
00:33:25.920
data for these, you could say, spiked wines and spiked beers. Not with anything overtly
link |
00:33:31.200
psychedelic, but just the fact that in the 16th century BC, at grave circle A in Mycenae,
link |
00:33:38.080
there's this Minoan ritual cocktail of beer mixed with wine, mixed with mead, is very
link |
00:33:43.040
interesting. It's even more interesting that you find that across the Aegean, in Gordium,
link |
00:33:48.320
at King Midas's tomb, right? The same kind of ritual cocktail, which Pat and Sam at the
link |
00:33:54.560
Dogfish Head Brewery resurrected as the Midas touch. So, I mean, the notion that we can
link |
00:33:59.040
go back, find this data, resurrect it, in some cases, 2800 years later, I found pretty
link |
00:34:05.280
exciting 10 years ago. Yeah, bring it back for research. But that's fascinating that
link |
00:34:11.520
people are playing with these ideas. And we'll return to, we'll return to our
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00:34:16.880
ideas of psychedelic infused wine, which is pretty fascinating. But can we step back and
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00:34:22.080
just kind of look at your work with the book Immortality Key? What is the story that you
link |
00:34:27.440
tell in this book? I knew we'd get there eventually, Lex. It's a nonlinear path. Somehow
link |
00:34:35.440
we were talking about simulation and the universe is a computer that's creating video games
link |
00:34:40.400
and WoW and Fortnite. But we got there and we'll return, always, to the insane philosophical.
link |
00:34:48.080
But your book Immortality Key, what's the story that you tell in this book? Which part
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00:34:53.680
of human history are you studying? Right. So that's the way to phrase it. So it's, you
link |
00:34:57.840
know, it's my 12 year search for the hard scientific data for the ritual use of psychedelics
link |
00:35:04.480
in classical antiquity. So we're talking about amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans.
link |
00:35:09.120
And the paleo Christians. So the generations that would give birth to the largest religion
link |
00:35:15.680
the world's ever known. Christianity today was two and a half billion people. The big
link |
00:35:20.000
question for me is, you know, were psychedelics actually involved? There was a lot written
link |
00:35:23.920
about this in the sixties, John Marco Allegro. The book that I follow was published in 1978
link |
00:35:29.840
before I was born. The Road to Eleusis by Gordon Wasson, who we talked about already,
link |
00:35:35.040
Albert Hofmann, who famously discovers LSD or synthesizes it from ergot, and Carl Ruck,
link |
00:35:41.680
who is still a professor of classics at Boston University, the only surviving member of that
link |
00:35:48.000
renegade trio and now 85 years old. So this all predates us. But what was lacking in the 60s,
link |
00:35:55.200
70s, 80s, 90s, I think was some of this technology and the hard scientific data.
link |
00:36:01.040
Now, for years and years, I went out to the archaeobotanists and the archaeochemists around
link |
00:36:05.760
the world and I asked a very basic question. Is there any evidence for psychedelics in classical
link |
00:36:11.520
antiquity? And the answer would almost invariably come back no. I'm talking to, in addition to Pat,
link |
00:36:17.040
he put me in touch with Hans Peter Sticke in Germany, Tania Valamotti in Greece,
link |
00:36:22.000
Assunta Florenzano in Italy. I went all over the place asking one question and getting the same
link |
00:36:26.880
answer back time and again. And so the book is essentially my search for that data and
link |
00:36:32.960
the eventual uncovering of two what I think are key pieces of data. One data point shows the ritual
link |
00:36:41.760
use of a psychedelic beer in classical antiquity in Iberia, what today is Spain. And the other
link |
00:36:48.640
shows what looks like a kind of psychedelic wine just outside Pompeii from the first century AD,
link |
00:36:55.440
at the right place at the right time when the earliest Christians were showing up in Italy.
link |
00:37:01.520
Again, these are early steps in the search for evidence in the space. But
link |
00:37:07.840
speaking of early Christians, what role do you think psychedelic infused wine could have played
link |
00:37:15.360
in the life of Jesus Christ? I've been saying recently that, and I hope this doesn't sound
link |
00:37:28.160
obscurantist, but I think it's impossible to understand Jesus and the birth of Christianity
link |
00:37:36.000
in the absence of ancient Greek. And I'll give you a very specific example of why I think that's the
link |
00:37:40.720
case. You can read the entire New Testament in ancient Greek and not once will you ever find
link |
00:37:49.280
a reference to alcohol because there was no word in ancient Greek for alcohol. The way the word
link |
00:37:55.120
sounds alcohol, it's Semitic, it comes from the Arabic. Kehela means to enliven or refresh. It
link |
00:38:01.840
probably comes from kohl, K O H L, sort of these powdered metallics that were used in alchemical
link |
00:38:07.760
experiments and cosmetics. So again, that's much later in time when we're using alchemy,
link |
00:38:13.520
distillation, et cetera. In the first century AD, the power of wine wasn't necessarily tied to
link |
00:38:21.280
alcohol, fermented grapes, the way we think about wine today. So Pat McGovern found some of that
link |
00:38:26.720
early organic data for wine being mixed with beer and with mead. But if you look at the literature
link |
00:38:34.720
from the first century AD, Dioscorides, for example, he writes this massive treatise at the
link |
00:38:39.440
exact same time the gospels are being written. And Dioscorides in just one of his books talks about
link |
00:38:45.600
56 detailed recipes for spiking wine with all kinds of things like salvia and hellebore and
link |
00:38:53.520
frankincense and myrrh, these spice perfumes, but also more dangerous things like henbane
link |
00:38:58.880
and mandrake, which he says in Greek can be fatal with just one cupful. And in book 474 of his
link |
00:39:05.360
Materia Medica, he talks about black nightshade producing fantasias u aedais, not unpleasant
link |
00:39:14.560
visions, what today we would say is psychedelic. So just looking at the literature and the kind of
link |
00:39:20.560
literature that even most classicists, I didn't really learn it in undergrad, I came across
link |
00:39:25.040
Dioscorides later, but just a basic look at the literature supports what McGovern has been testing,
link |
00:39:32.880
which is the fact that wine was routinely mixed with different compounds. It's fascinating,
link |
00:39:38.560
by the way, that language affects our conception of the tools we use to understand the world. So
link |
00:39:44.800
like you can see wine, you can see psychedelics, if they're not called drugs, you can maybe reframe
link |
00:39:57.840
how you see them in terms of their role in us thinking about the world, understanding the
link |
00:40:02.240
world. That's really interesting that language has that power, but what language was used to
link |
00:40:06.320
understand wine at the time? So we're talking about a Greek speaking world, right? So Jesus
link |
00:40:11.840
is born and does his public ministry in the Holy Land, but think about the early church,
link |
00:40:16.880
think about where the church takes root. Paul, the greatest evangelist of the time, writes basically
link |
00:40:22.160
half the New Testament, he's writing letters in Greek to Greek speakers in places like Corinth
link |
00:40:28.480
in Greece, or Philippi, a defunct city just north of the island of Thassos, or he's writing to folks
link |
00:40:35.520
in what today is Turkey, the Colossians, the Galatians, he writes letters to the Romans.
link |
00:40:40.560
These are Greek speakers in these pockets, these Hellenic pockets all around the ancient
link |
00:40:46.000
Mediterranean. And for them, again, ignore Dioscorides, ignore Pat McGovern's work,
link |
00:40:51.680
to them to think about wine was to think about a mixed potion. And so the word oinos in ancient
link |
00:40:58.240
Greek does show up in the New Testament, but there was another word to describe wine,
link |
00:41:02.880
and it exists for like a thousand years before, during, and after the life of Jesus. The word
link |
00:41:08.880
used for wine is pharmakon, which obviously gives us the word pharmacy, it means drug.
link |
00:41:14.400
So in Greek, a Greek speaker would actually use the word drug to refer to wine. Ruth Skodel,
link |
00:41:20.400
the classicist, talks about this as a ritualistic formula. They understood wine as this compound
link |
00:41:27.920
beverage, a drug against grief, a medicinal elixir that could either harm or heal, or just maybe a
link |
00:41:35.920
sacrament to put you in touch with wine gods old and new. Clearly, religion and myth, but religion
link |
00:41:45.840
very much so has sort of a, much like dreams, has like an imagery component. Like you're kind of
link |
00:41:55.840
going outside the visual constraints of physical space where you kind of have very specific
link |
00:42:04.160
conceptions of what things look like, and you kind of use your imagination to stretch beyond
link |
00:42:11.120
the world as we know it. Things that are trying to get in touch with things that are more real
link |
00:42:16.240
than real. What role do these tools, do these pharmakons have in trying to stimulate the imagery
link |
00:42:26.320
of religion? Do you have a sense that they have a critical role here, or is it just a bunch of
link |
00:42:32.160
different factors that are utilized, a bunch of different tools that are utilized to construct
link |
00:42:36.800
this imagery? Or is this not even, or is imagery the wrong terminology? Is it more like space of
link |
00:42:41.600
ideas that's core to religion? No, I think the wine is absolutely essential. And so, if it's
link |
00:42:48.480
impossible to understand paleo Christianity in the absence of ancient Greek, I think it's equally
link |
00:42:53.600
difficult in the absence of the sacred pharmacopeia or wine itself, right? Just think about wine
link |
00:43:00.640
at the time. I think that the ancient Greek audience would have heard that in a very different
link |
00:43:05.680
way from us. And so, they're referring to it maybe as a pharmakon, but the followers of Dionysus,
link |
00:43:11.840
which precedes Jesus. And in some cases, the story of Jesus is kind of a recapitulation of the
link |
00:43:18.240
mysteries of Dionysus. But when you think about Dionysus, maybe from your high school mythology,
link |
00:43:23.520
you think about him as the god of theater, or the god of wine, which is typically what it is,
link |
00:43:28.400
or the god of ecstasy. Again, Dionysus is not the god of alcohol. There's no concept of fermented
link |
00:43:38.000
grapes. The power of Dionysus and the ability to commune with Dionysus through his blood.
link |
00:43:43.200
And before Christianity, the blood of Dionysus is equated to his wine. The sacramental drinking of
link |
00:43:49.440
the wine was interpreted, and classicists write about this, including Walter Burkert. It was
link |
00:43:55.040
it was interpreted as consuming the god himself in order to become one with the god. This is where we
link |
00:44:00.720
get the idea of enthusiasm, because the language matters. Enthusiasm to be filled with the spirit
link |
00:44:06.400
of the god, so that you became identified with Dionysus and acquired his divine powers.
link |
00:44:11.680
Now, how does that happen? Again, he's not the god of alcohol. He is the god of wine,
link |
00:44:16.240
but he's really the god of madness, and delirium, and frenzy. And his principal followers are women.
link |
00:44:22.880
They're called the minads. And the way they get in touch with him is through the consumption
link |
00:44:27.520
of this sacramental wine. Even at the theater of Dionysus, separate from his outdoor churches,
link |
00:44:34.880
there was a wine served there called drima. And this is the wine that gives birth to Hollywood.
link |
00:44:40.400
I mean, the ancient Hollywood was there at the theater of Dionysus. This is where
link |
00:44:44.160
comedy, and tragedy, and poetry, and music come from. But rather than a hot dog and a beer,
link |
00:44:48.960
what they drink at the theater of Dionysus was this wine called drima, which means
link |
00:44:53.760
pounded or rubbed. And Professor Ruck talks about maybe it was the drugs
link |
00:44:58.560
that were rubbed into this theatrical beverage to help the play come alive.
link |
00:45:04.880
So madness is seen as a positive thing, as like a creative journey. It's not, what is it,
link |
00:45:13.280
the unlearning, getting out of the way kind of thing. Is that how it's seen? Or is it more like
link |
00:45:20.560
entertaining escape from life that is suffering? I gotta inject a little modern Dostoevsky into the old.
link |
00:45:31.840
Existential despair. Maybe it's a bit of that. We can't say that there wasn't
link |
00:45:39.200
recreational drinking happening. The Greeks also had the symposium. And they also were just
link |
00:45:46.080
getting hammered in some cases. But when it comes to the rites of Dionysus, what you see there is
link |
00:45:54.480
the creation of these states of awareness in which, again, you identify with the God to become
link |
00:46:00.960
the God. There's theophagy. There's the consumption of divinity in order to become divinity. Right
link |
00:46:06.640
back to how we started the conversation, right? So if we stop conceiving of God as something
link |
00:46:12.480
exterior to us, but that the mystery of being itself is the mystery of your being and the
link |
00:46:18.480
mystery of my being, that the way to encounter that is through the sacramental theology, that
link |
00:46:24.640
you drink the actual blood of this Greek God to become that God. And there was a place for this
link |
00:46:31.520
in ancient Greek society. So drinking the wine and drinking the blood of Dionysus, do you think Jesus
link |
00:46:38.480
is an actual physical person that existed in history? Or is he an idea
link |
00:46:47.040
that came to life through the consumption of wine and those kinds of rituals?
link |
00:46:54.000
So this is where I face my excommunication, depending how I answer this.
link |
00:46:57.360
I mean, you're playing with fire and wine.
link |
00:47:03.200
A good combination, by the way.
link |
00:47:08.000
So I shy away from that controversy in the book. I'm perfectly willing to accept Jesus
link |
00:47:14.400
as a historical personage. We have the multiplicity of sources, although it's a
link |
00:47:19.440
generation after his death. But we have the Eucharist being described in the four gospels.
link |
00:47:25.280
We have it being described by Paul in 1 Corinthians. But when you read John,
link |
00:47:31.040
it does read a bit differently than the other gospels. And in my book, I rely a lot on the
link |
00:47:35.280
scholarship of Dennis McDonald, who writes a fabulous book called The Dionysian Gospel.
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00:47:40.560
And this is, again, why the Greek matters, because once you start to analyze the Greek of John's
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00:47:45.120
gospel, it seems to be a presentation of Jesus very much in the guise of Dionysus. The most
link |
00:47:51.520
obvious example is the wedding at Cana, right? That only occurs in John's gospel, the famous
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00:47:57.280
transformation of water into wine. Now, again, to any Greek speaker of the first century,
link |
00:48:02.000
they would have known about the Greek district of Elis on the Peloponnese. And in Elis,
link |
00:48:07.600
around the epiphany, every January, the priests of Dionysus would deposit these water basins,
link |
00:48:14.080
empty basins in the temple of Dionysus. They'd return the next morning and find them magically
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00:48:19.760
filled with wine. Now, on the island of Andros, it's even more interesting. Around the same
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00:48:25.360
epiphany date, the God's gift day, Dies Theodosia, the wine would emanate from the temple and run
link |
00:48:31.760
like a river for a week. And you can Google the Bacchanal of the Andrians, a wonderful painting
link |
00:48:37.440
by Titian, which hangs in the Prado, and you'll see a river of wine behind these people having
link |
00:48:42.080
a great time. This exists for centuries and centuries before the wedding at Cana and before
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00:48:47.520
Jesus begins his public ministry with what these scholars call the signature miracle of Dionysus.
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00:48:55.040
It would not have been lost on the Greek audience that something very specific is being communicated
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00:49:00.880
here. What's being communicated? That you just might find in early Christianity what you hold
link |
00:49:07.120
strong to in these mysteries of Dionysus that you may have inherited from your parents, your
link |
00:49:11.760
grandparents, your great grandparents for centuries. There was a perfectly good religion.
link |
00:49:16.480
There were perfectly good mystery cults in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.
link |
00:49:20.400
And here comes this new, untested, illegal cult, illegal, of a dozen or so illiterate
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00:49:27.040
day laborers that go on to convert the empire in a few hundred years. The answer to that
link |
00:49:33.440
extraordinary growth is not psychedelics, but I do think it's visionary experiences,
link |
00:49:38.320
and I do think it's this continuity from the pagan world into early Christianity.
link |
00:49:42.800
So what part, you mentioned this idea that's really interesting with, I think you said Paul
link |
00:49:47.200
Stamets, of I guess millions of people over millions of years kind of consuming, really
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00:49:56.800
practicing a ritual or a habit of some sort. This idea of rituals is kind of interesting.
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00:50:02.800
Again, you mentioned cult. What's the role of ritual consumption of some of these substances
link |
00:50:08.640
or just ritual practice of anything in the intellectual growth of particular groups of
link |
00:50:15.760
people or societies? So again, I would say it is the centerpiece of ancient life, not just the
link |
00:50:22.160
mysteries of Dionysus, which we've only talked a bit about, but the mysteries of Eleusis were
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00:50:27.040
probably the most famous and longest lasting of these Greek mystery rites. And I mean, just to
link |
00:50:32.240
put it in simple terms, the best definition for a mystery religion, as the name implies,
link |
00:50:37.040
is something secret, right? Muo from the Greek means to shut the eyes or to shut the mouth,
link |
00:50:42.880
to keep quiet about this stuff. We're always teasing details from the archaeological and the
link |
00:50:49.840
literary record, and we're kind of just grabbing at these secrets. But Eleusis, which survives for
link |
00:50:56.240
like 2,000 years into the Christian period from about 1500 BC to the fourth century AD,
link |
00:51:02.480
it's kind of this centerpiece of Greek life. Cicero, the great Roman statesman, calls what was
link |
00:51:08.160
happening at Eleusis the most exceptional and divine thing that Athens ever produced. So not
link |
00:51:15.120
democracy, the arts and sciences, or philosophy, but the vision that was encountered at Eleusis,
link |
00:51:21.200
perhaps through the ritual consumption of a potent psychedelic over hundreds and hundreds of years,
link |
00:51:27.680
hundreds and hundreds of years, thousands and thousands, if not millions of initiates, pilgrims,
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00:51:32.960
who would walk from Athens to Eleusis to encounter this vision. It seems to have been
link |
00:51:39.120
not just an important part of Greek life, but the thing that made life livable,
link |
00:51:43.680
such that as these mysteries are about to be exterminated by the newly Christianized
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00:51:49.040
Roman Empire, there's this passage in the ancient literature that talks about these,
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00:51:53.920
you know, in the absence of these mysteries, life becomes unlivable. Abiotos.
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00:51:58.720
Is there ways you can, I mean, you write about the mysteries of Eleusis, and is there ways you
link |
00:52:03.440
can convert that into words? Why those are so important to them, more important than any other
link |
00:52:11.520
invention to them? Why is it such a source of meaning to life? So from what we can reconstruct,
link |
00:52:19.520
they would make that pilgrimage 13 miles northwest of Athens to confront their mortality. Remember,
link |
00:52:25.120
we were talking about Homo Naledi, and in South Africa, this recognition of self mortality,
link |
00:52:31.280
the deliberate disposal of the dead. Plato talks about the real practice of philosophy being the
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00:52:38.080
death and dying process. So in some senses, you went to Eleusis to die and to experience a death
link |
00:52:45.200
before your death. We talked about this with Terence McKenna as well, on this, how the
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00:52:50.080
psychedelic state seems to share something in common with the near death or out of body experiences
link |
00:52:55.840
or these ecstatic experiences, whether through wine or beer or otherwise, you went to Eleusis
link |
00:53:01.120
to die. And it was said that only those who had witnessed this vision, whatever vision was to be
link |
00:53:07.360
witnessed in Demeter Sanctuary, it essentially vouchsafed you the afterlife, that only those who
link |
00:53:14.080
went there became immortal. And Cicero says that at that point, you essentially live with more joy
link |
00:53:21.280
and die with a better hope. Can I ask you a question about this human contention with death,
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00:53:27.520
this confrontation of death that seems to be at the core of things? I don't know how deep to the
link |
00:53:34.000
core, but it seems to be a central element of the human condition. What do you think about Ernest
link |
00:53:41.920
Becker and those guys that put death at the, what is it, the warm of the core, which as the main
link |
00:53:51.840
thing, the main, like this confrontation of our own mortality, first of all, being understanding
link |
00:53:58.640
that we're mortal and then confronting the terror of it, the fear of it as the creative, like trying
link |
00:54:06.400
to escape the fear of death as the creative force of human society. It's like the reason we do
link |
00:54:13.200
anything is because we're just running away from our death, scared. Do you find some of that to be
link |
00:54:21.760
true, first of all, as somebody who looks in the mirror, looks at yourself and your own as a human
link |
00:54:27.200
being, two, just looking at society today, and three, at this whole big spread of human history
link |
00:54:34.080
and all the cool stuff we've created, including the mysteries of Eleusis? I wonder what life would
link |
00:54:39.920
look like in the absence of the fear of our mortality. I wonder how we'd interact with one
link |
00:54:46.880
another if there was relatively little or no fear of death. I really do when it comes to Becker's
link |
00:54:52.400
work and others. If the ancients were known for anything, it was running to death. It was the
link |
00:54:58.480
opposite. In fact, dying before dying, which is the immortality key, by the way, it's not
link |
00:55:02.640
psychedelics. When I refer to this key, I'm referring to this notion that's preserved in
link |
00:55:07.280
Greek, anpethanis, prinpethanis, denthapethanis, otanpethanis. If you die before you die, you won't
link |
00:55:15.120
die when you die. For some reason, the ancients prized that experience. And we talked about the
link |
00:55:22.480
mystics of Sufism and Kabbalism and Christian mysticism, where you have this same self nodding,
link |
00:55:29.520
this death before death, the divine nothingness, right? For some reason, the mystic saints,
link |
00:55:34.640
visionaries, and ancient philosophers, they ran to death. And the one message I wanted to try and
link |
00:55:40.160
communicate with this book is how they viewed life, that it can only be fully experienced,
link |
00:55:46.400
fully embodied in the wake of a really intense, perhaps terrifying, but utterly transformational
link |
00:55:55.120
encounter with death. So running to death, not running away from death. You talk about Aldous
link |
00:56:02.720
Huxley and mind changers. So if we look at the history where the ancients were running to death
link |
00:56:13.600
and maybe using some performance enhancing permacons to run more effectively towards death,
link |
00:56:23.200
and now we're using tools of modern society, whether they're psychological, sociological,
link |
00:56:31.680
or in case pharmaceutical to run away from this conception. So what do you see as a hopeful future
link |
00:56:39.600
for human civilization? If all of these kinds of societies are ice cream flavors,
link |
00:56:48.000
how do you create the perfect ice cream flavor? What is the future of religious experience,
link |
00:56:53.520
of psychedelic experience, of intellectual journeys, of facing death, running away from death?
link |
00:57:00.240
What do you hope that looks like and what kind of ideas should we look to?
link |
00:57:05.600
My next book will be entitled Performance Enhancing Pharmacon. You get full copyright.
link |
00:57:11.920
Yeah, I like it. But that's a historical view. What in that book would you suggest
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00:57:22.160
in one of the last chapters about the future of this process?
link |
00:57:27.920
Well, Huxley has to stop you. He stopped me in my tracks, Aldous Huxley. So in 1958,
link |
00:57:34.640
he pens this op ed of sorts, and it reads incredibly prescient because I really do think
link |
00:57:43.440
in many ways as the fog of the war drug is ending and finally lifting that we've kind of come full
link |
00:57:51.040
circle back to the late 1950s, which might sound strange. It'll make more sense when you hear what
link |
00:57:57.120
Huxley said about psychedelics. And so he was looking forward to a revival of religion, which
link |
00:58:02.880
is why I subtitled the book, The Religion with No Name. And to him, to Huxley, this revival wouldn't
link |
00:58:12.000
come about through televangelistic mass meetings or photogenic clergymen, as he says, but he points
link |
00:58:18.880
to the biochemical discoveries such as we have today that would allow for large numbers of men
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00:58:25.520
and women to achieve a radical self transcendence and a deeper understanding of the nature of things.
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00:58:31.600
In other words, that this revival of religion, he says, would be a revolution. Alan Watts comes
link |
00:58:36.560
along and says that there's nothing more dangerous to authority than a popular outbreak of mysticism.
link |
00:58:44.240
But I think this is what Huxley was pointing to. And he talks about religion in these terms about
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00:58:50.240
being less about symbols and returning to a sense of experience and intuition. And Huxley says that
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00:58:57.280
he envisions a religion which gives rise to everyday mysticism. And he talks about something
link |
00:59:04.400
that would undergird everyday rationality, everyday tasks and duties, and everyday human
link |
00:59:11.120
relationships. In other words, religion has to mean something. And these altered states of
link |
00:59:17.440
awareness that we seem to be able to produce quite easily inside the lab at Hopkins, NYU,
link |
00:59:23.520
and elsewhere with psilocybin. I think this is kind of part of Huxley's prediction about a time
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00:59:31.200
when we would have legal access, safe access, efficacious access to this material that would
link |
00:59:37.520
allow for insight in an afternoon. And what do you do when millions of people can become mystics in
link |
00:59:44.640
an afternoon? So psychedelics, psilocybin might be sort of the practical way of having these kinds of
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00:59:55.760
maybe could be termed religious experiences. And then many people partaking in those experiences
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01:00:01.360
and then like evolving this collective intelligence thing we've got going on,
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01:00:06.160
that's sort of the practice of religion that we should be striving for as opposed to kind of
link |
01:00:10.880
operating in the space of ideas, actually practicing it. You mentioned, and that's the
link |
01:00:19.280
religion with no name, the use of these tools. Is there a simple way to summarize religion for our
link |
01:00:27.280
previous discussion about God, basically discovering the God inside? What if I give you a very
link |
01:00:33.440
complicated definition of religion and then we talk about a more simplified? Let's do it. So
link |
01:00:39.440
the most complicated we can get on this is the anthropologist Clifford Geertz. But I think it's
link |
01:00:44.160
worth defining our terms when we're talking about God and religion. So religion religio from the
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01:00:49.920
Latin means to bind back. So to bind us back to some meaningful tradition, to bind us back to the
link |
01:00:55.040
source. Here's a mouthful from Clifford Geertz. Religion, he defines as a set of symbols which
link |
01:01:03.040
acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long lasting moods and motivations by formulating
link |
01:01:09.440
conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions in such an aura of
link |
01:01:14.400
factuality that those moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic, which is complex. What does
link |
01:01:23.200
that mean? That religion has to make you feel something, these moods and motivations. But it
link |
01:01:29.280
can't just do that in the way that sex does that for us or sports or ultimate fighting or the World
link |
01:01:35.040
Cup or going to a concert. So we get all that emotion in these experiences like that. But that
link |
01:01:41.760
emotion has to be concomitant to a deep existential insight that answers this question for you in the
link |
01:01:47.680
morning. I know why I'm here. I know why humans are here. I think I know what the meaning of life
link |
01:01:53.200
is. That's what religion is. And if you find that meaning in science, then that's your religion and
link |
01:01:59.280
that's fine. But we need to be more honest about that. If your epistemological model is weighing
link |
01:02:05.920
facts and figures and you think that's why you're here on this planet and you find deep meaning,
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01:02:10.080
that's okay. Religion is the thing that makes you feel, right? It has the aura of factuality. It
link |
01:02:15.920
just makes you feel like you know the point behind existence. In other words, I think it can be
link |
01:02:22.160
in other words, I think it comes down to experience. Like Joe Campbell was talking about,
link |
01:02:25.680
like Aldous Huxley mentions about experience and intuition. I think this is how we connect to God.
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01:02:32.240
Make you feel like you understand the world. I mean, so that's kind of bigger than science.
link |
01:02:38.800
That includes science, but it's bigger. Do you think, what is real? Like do you think there's
link |
01:02:47.120
an absolute reality that we're kind of striving towards understanding or is it all just conjured
link |
01:02:53.360
up in our minds? And that's the whole kind of point. We together create these realities and
link |
01:03:00.400
play with them and dance to somehow derive meaning from those realities. And it's ultimately not like
link |
01:03:08.960
like very deeply integrated into what's like into atoms of space time. Another easy question, Lex.
link |
01:03:20.240
Well, I mean, you have to kind of, when you're thinking about
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01:03:25.280
emotion and making it concrete into something that feels real, you have to start asking,
link |
01:03:32.240
like, what is real? It's something that Ben Shapiro has this saying of facts don't care
link |
01:03:40.240
about your feelings. I was always uncomfortable with this. I mean, he's just being spiffy or
link |
01:03:46.240
whatever, but I was always uncomfortable with somehow first that the hubris of thinking that
link |
01:03:53.360
humans can have, like arrive at absolute truth, which is what I assume he means by facts,
link |
01:04:03.120
like things that are uncontrovertible. And then somehow deriding feelings, like feelings are not
link |
01:04:09.280
important. To me, like the whole thing is reality. The facts don't even, like facts is reality,
link |
01:04:18.400
feelings are reality, like the entirety of human experience is reality. All these
link |
01:04:24.240
consciousnesses somehow interacting together, making up random crap and together agreeing
link |
01:04:29.680
they're all going to wear the same colors, rooting for one football team or the other football team
link |
01:04:34.640
or countries, all those things, that's real because we've agreed that it's real.
link |
01:04:40.800
And in the same way, it gives us meaning in that same way religion is a set of ideas that
link |
01:04:45.760
gives us meaning, but real, it's really difficult for me as a scientist that finds comfort in the
link |
01:04:58.400
physical understanding of the universe of physics. I love physics. I love computer science.
link |
01:05:05.200
It makes me feel like everything is perfectly understandable. And then I look at humans,
link |
01:05:11.680
humans, they're totally not understandable. It's like a giant mess, but that's part of the beauty.
link |
01:05:17.760
Like what is love? Like what the hell is love? It's certainly not like a weird hack to convince me
link |
01:05:26.880
to procreate because it feels something bigger than that. So like taking a purely evolutionary
link |
01:05:32.000
biologist perspective, it's missing the, it's not missing, it's only capturing a part of the picture.
link |
01:05:37.520
And so it just keeps making me ask, what is real? Because as a human, it's very human centric.
link |
01:05:44.400
It does certainly feel like a part, a big part of what is real is all the fake stuff my mind makes up.
link |
01:05:57.120
I mean, okay, I guess, is there something you could say
link |
01:06:01.280
from our discussions about the tools of psychedelics, about our discussion about
link |
01:06:06.320
religion, of what is real, of what is reality?
link |
01:06:11.920
These are largely unanswerable questions.
link |
01:06:15.680
But we should nevertheless strive to answer them. That's the whole point of the human experience.
link |
01:06:19.920
And I think science is one way and religion is another. And I think there's actually a sphere
link |
01:06:24.240
where they intersect, you know, there's a way for religion to be a big part of the world.
link |
01:06:30.000
Religion to be observable, testable, repeatable, falsifiable. When I look at the ancient mysteries,
link |
01:06:35.440
that's what I find. I find people exploring alternate states of consciousness and arriving
link |
01:06:41.600
at conclusions based on that exploration and deriving deep meaning from that, which yes,
link |
01:06:46.880
are feelings and emotions and very hard to quantify. But nonetheless, these are the things
link |
01:06:51.200
that govern our lives. I mean, I don't know a parent who isn't motivated by the love of their
link |
01:06:56.640
children. Everything I do at 40 years old now is pretty much inspired by my love for my two
link |
01:07:03.360
daughters. And I can't prove to you that I love them. I can say it, I can show you behavior,
link |
01:07:08.560
but it's very hard for me to weigh and measure that. So not everything is so reducible to this
link |
01:07:15.520
quantifiable reality. And yet, I also love science. And I love the historical process of weighing this
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01:07:23.200
data. I love the chemistry. I love the biology. And for me, I think this was the message of the
link |
01:07:29.440
ancient Greeks. And I think this is the world in which paleo Christianity was born. I think there
link |
01:07:34.880
is this meeting ground between science and religion, which allow for the, if not the discovery,
link |
01:07:43.520
then at least the near identification of the ultimate reality, which is another way to describe
link |
01:07:50.240
God, right? This being of being is the transcendent mystery. So speaking of God,
link |
01:07:56.240
you mentioned to me offline, you're wearing the most sophisticated clothing choice of the elite
link |
01:08:03.680
intellectuals. Like you mentioned, Sam Harris was wearing a hoodie. This is the Sam Harris hoodie.
link |
01:08:08.400
He's starting a trend. He's starting a trend. This is a new religion, you could even say. It's
link |
01:08:14.240
a ritual. It's a ritual practice of intellectuals of searching for meaning. So there's quite a
link |
01:08:22.320
fascinating debate. So he was for a time still known as one of the sort of new age atheists.
link |
01:08:30.400
So he was kind of trying to explore the role of religion in society and the role of science.
link |
01:08:35.520
And then on the other side, another kind of powerhouse intellectual is Jordan Peterson,
link |
01:08:40.800
who in sometimes, for my taste, a bit too poetic of ways is exploring the ideas of religion.
link |
01:08:49.680
And they had these interesting debates that I think will continue about the role of religion
link |
01:08:54.640
in society. For Jordan, there's all these flaws with religion, but there is a lot of value to be
link |
01:09:05.920
discovered amidst the rituals, the traditions, the practice, the way we conceive of each other
link |
01:09:12.880
because of the ideas that religion propagates. And then for Sam, it says that everything about
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01:09:20.080
religion basically gets in the way of us fully realizing our human potential, which is deeply
link |
01:09:29.360
scientific and rational and sort of like we're surrounded by mystery. Calling that mystery God
link |
01:09:39.760
is getting in the way of us understanding that mystery. What do you think about this debate
link |
01:09:45.200
about the role of religion in society?
link |
01:09:48.240
We should continue having this debate. I talked to Jordan a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact.
link |
01:09:52.560
Excellent. On his podcast? Public? Excellent.
link |
01:09:55.120
Yes. It'll be out soon. And so, he and I...
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01:10:00.160
How did that go, by the way?
link |
01:10:02.320
It was incredible. Carl Ruck, the professor, joined us, as a matter of fact, for one of his
link |
01:10:06.400
rare public appearances. We went deep. And Jordan is very well read, obviously, on the psychedelic
link |
01:10:13.360
literature. He had just had Roland Griffiths from Hopkins on the podcast. And it's one of
link |
01:10:18.640
Roland's figures that Jordan and I, again, just like the language of Aldous Huxley, it's hard to
link |
01:10:23.920
move past the following statistic. Over the past 20 years of the modern study of psilocybin, Roland
link |
01:10:30.800
will tell you that about three in four of their volunteers walk away from their single dose of
link |
01:10:36.800
psilocybin, high dose, saying it was among the most meaningful experiences of their entire lives,
link |
01:10:43.040
if not the most meaningful. And Jordan says, what do you do with that? How do we synthesize that?
link |
01:10:55.280
Here we are quantifying the qualifiable, the unqualifiable. And yet, these compounds have
link |
01:11:02.640
dramatic effects on people's lives, and they walk away feeling like they're more loving,
link |
01:11:08.880
more compassionate. The science of all talks about the welling up of cooperation and resource sharing
link |
01:11:16.720
and kindness and all these strange things from this single chemical intervention, which seems to
link |
01:11:22.000
reduce us to automata, as if enlightenment can be flipped on like a switch. And yet, there it is,
link |
01:11:28.800
there's the data. And I don't see how you walk away from that. I mean, I completely understand
link |
01:11:33.120
Sam's position. But I think there's a reading of religion, particularly the mystical core
link |
01:11:40.320
of the big faiths, and especially these ancient mystery cults, which do speak, again, to those
link |
01:11:45.040
moods and motivations, creating this aura of factuality that these volunteers never walk away
link |
01:11:52.640
from, permanently transformed, just like the ancient mysteries. And part of that is perhaps
link |
01:11:57.600
language, that we need to continue to evolve language in how we conceive of these processes.
link |
01:12:06.640
Maybe religion has a bunch of baggage associated with it that is good to let go of,
link |
01:12:14.160
or perhaps not. I don't know. This is connected to our previous part of our conversation is the
link |
01:12:20.000
importance of language in this whole thing. Well, that's how I start my book with one of
link |
01:12:23.360
these volunteers from the NYU psilocybin experiments, this woman, Dina Dina Baser,
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01:12:27.920
who's an atheist. And she still describes herself as an atheist. And yet, as one of these three and
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four people who walked away from this experiment transformed, she says that her experience of
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psilocybin was like being bathed in God's love from an atheist. And I asked her why she uses
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the word God, why not the love of the cosmos or the universe or mother nature? And she says,
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well, frankly, we don't know about any of this stuff and that God makes sense to me. She's still
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an atheist, but it's the way she describes that as kind of like the way your mother's love must
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have felt when you were a baby. Yeah. There's a kind of, I like the way Einstein uses God. God
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01:13:08.880
doesn't play dice. There's a poetry. There's a humility that you don't know what the hell is
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01:13:13.360
going on. There's a humor to it. I'm a huge fan, especially like more and more of just kind of
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having a big old laugh at the absurdity of this world and this life as represented nicely by memes
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on Twitter kind of thing. I mean, there's a sense in which we want to be playing with these words
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and not take them so seriously and being a little bit lighthearted and explore. Let me ask you about,
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because you mentioned NYU, what I find fascinating is how much amazing research, speaking of science,
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01:13:50.880
right? Studying the effects of psilocybin, studying the effects of various psychedelics, MDMA,
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01:13:58.240
on the human mind right now for helping people. But I'm hoping there'll be studies soon at Hopkins
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and elsewhere that allow people that are kind of more quote unquote creatives or regular people
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01:14:12.400
that don't have a particular demon they're trying to work through, a problem they're trying to work
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01:14:18.160
through, but more like to see what can I find if I utilize psychedelics to explore? Is there something
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01:14:25.760
you could say that is exciting to you, that's promising about the future? What currently is
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01:14:31.760
going on but also the future of psychedelics research at Hopkins and elsewhere? The healthy normals.
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I was looking for the right words because healthy doesn't feel like a good term and
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normal doesn't feel like a good term because we're all pretty messed up and we're all weird.
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01:14:47.440
Well, those with ontological angst in that case. Maybe there'll be a future DSM qualification.
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There's no doubt that things like psilocybin, MDMA are useful for things like anxiety,
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depression, end of life distress, PTSD, alcoholism, you name it. And it's largely because of the
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clinical research that MDMA and psilocybin will probably be legal in some FDA regulated way in
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01:15:13.120
the next five years. But again, I start the first page of my book with this question, why do
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psychedelics work across all these different conditions? And the best that I could find is
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01:15:25.680
is the meaning, right? Tony Bosse at NYU talks about psilocybin, for example, as meaning making
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01:15:32.800
medicine, which is interesting because it puts it somewhere between a therapeutic and again,
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01:15:38.000
this ontological instigator. What is it about psychedelics that creates these mystical
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experiences or mystical like experiences? You can call them emotional breakthroughs,
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you can call them moments of awe. I do think we get locked up in the language and we're
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somewhere between science and religion here, including legally. So the FDA is one route to
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this. What excites me about psychedelics is the first amendment. What is this going to mean for
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01:16:04.800
religion? The freedom of religion being the first thing that's mentioned in the first amendment
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01:16:09.600
before freedom of speech, freedom of assembly. If America is known for anything, it's a refuge
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01:16:15.520
for religious pioneers. And so we already have the native American church, Brazilian spawn churches
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01:16:21.280
that are using psychedelics. But what would happen if Judaism or Christianity or Islam were to begin
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01:16:28.080
incorporating the very ritual, very sacred and discreet use of psychedelics as part of their
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01:16:35.680
liturgy? So not replacing the Sunday Eucharist in the case of Christianity, but part of the extra
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01:16:42.640
credit dimension of the faith. And then we can, through practice, figure out how essential it is.
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It could be a minor thing. It could be a major thing. That's another thing I wanted to kind of
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ask you is, I recently, despite the fact that I'm eating a huge amount of meat, I'm getting fat.
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01:16:58.640
I'm loving it. This is actually, as of two days ago, I started this long road to training for David
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01:17:07.200
Goggins, to training back, to getting back to competing in jiu jitsu. So the fun is over. But
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01:17:13.680
I also partook in fasting and there was a very strong, there's an almost like a hallucinogenic
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01:17:21.600
aspect of fasting, because it was, especially because it was a 72 hour fast versus a more common
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01:17:27.280
fast that I do, which is 24 hours. And a bunch of people talk about throughout history about the
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value of fasting in having these kind of visual, these kind of intellectual experiences. Also,
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01:17:42.240
there's meditation, Sam Harris with the hoodie. Do you have a sense that those other rituals of
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fasting, of meditation, and maybe other things could be as essential or more essential to the
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01:17:59.040
religious experience as psychedelics? Yes, if not, and this is going to sound weird, but maybe not
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01:18:05.360
if more so. I look at psychedelics as a catalyst for spiritual investigation, not as the superficial
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01:18:13.200
means to an end. I think their value is in kind of serving as a Google Maps for the Kingdom of Heaven.
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01:18:21.840
All right, I like this. Well, so Ram Dass's teacher said that when he was offered psychedelics that
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01:18:31.280
it'll get you in the room with Jesus, but it won't keep you there. And I think that's all well and
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01:18:37.920
good, but what if you don't know where the house is in the first place? What if you've never had
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a mystical experience? What if religion is anathema to you? What if you hate God? What if all
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01:18:47.680
these words mean nothing to you? And they probably do for many, many people, and it's perfectly
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01:18:51.920
understandable. I think that we've lost the coordinates to these irrational states, again,
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01:18:57.200
that were prized throughout antiquity and that continue to be prized by the mystical communities,
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01:19:03.120
even in big organized religion, it just doesn't filter out that much. And so psychedelics, in my
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mind, help orient our minds, bodies, and souls towards the irrational, right? We talked about
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01:19:16.720
McKenna's invisible world that seems to have this symbiosis with our own and perhaps has this higher
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01:19:23.520
intent for us. You could very well just, you know, take catalog of your dreams, right? And that would
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01:19:30.240
do it too. But psychedelics seem to be particularly fast acting, particularly potent, and very
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reliable, especially in the clinical studies. And so I looked at them as biochemical discoveries,
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01:19:42.880
like Huxley did. Maybe it's once in your life or infrequently, right? But maybe that's the beginning
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01:19:49.920
of a genuine introspection and a life well examined, as the ancients always instructed us.
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01:19:55.600
Yeah, it does seem like in the research, the effectiveness of psychedelics always comes with
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01:20:00.960
the integration, where you use it, just like you said, as a catalyst for thinking through stuff.
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01:20:07.920
It's not going to be, I don't even know if Google Maps, maybe Google Maps is the right analogy,
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01:20:15.920
but it doesn't do the driving for you. You still have to do the driving. It just kind of gives you
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01:20:22.240
the directions. So after you come down from the trip, or whatever, you still have to drive.
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01:20:29.360
There's other tools that are kind of interesting. We've been talking about this at the psychological
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01:20:34.480
level, but there's also a neuroscience perspective of it. If you kind of like go past the skull into
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the brain with the neurons firing, there's ideas of brain computer interfaces,
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01:20:43.760
there's ideas of brain computer interfaces. First of all, there's a whole field of neuroscience
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01:20:48.160
that's kind of zooming in and studying the firing of the brain, the firing of the neurons in the
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01:20:52.160
brain, of how from those neurons emerges all the things that we think that makes us human. That's a
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01:21:00.240
fascinating exploration of the human mind. That's of course where the psychedelics have the chemical,
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01:21:06.080
the biochemical effects on those neurons. There's ideas of brain computer interfaces,
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01:21:13.280
which if you look at, especially what Neuralink is doing with this long term vision,
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01:21:18.880
with Elon Musk and Neuralink, they hope to expand, he calls it a wizard hat.
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01:21:32.160
This is back to the humor on the internet thing. The wizard hat that expands the
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01:21:38.080
capabilities, the capacity of the human mind. Do you think there's something there or
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is the human mind so infinitely complex that we're quite a long way away from
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01:21:55.360
expanding the capabilities of the human mind through technology versus something like psychedelics?
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01:22:02.160
I wonder how Terence McKenna would answer that question. He looked to shamans as kind of the
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01:22:10.000
scientists, the high magicians of the high archaic past and the far flung future.
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01:22:17.680
You know more about AI than I do, so I'm not going to discount it. But
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01:22:21.120
I do think that AI paired with the sacred recovery, the archaeology of consciousness
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01:22:31.840
and these states, these archaic techniques of ecstasy that were practiced across time. I think
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01:22:37.600
that's a winning combination. Part of what I do in the book is just I try and lay out the set
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01:22:44.400
and setting. That's often talked about with psychedelics. So maybe psychedelics in the
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01:22:48.640
right AI environment is going to work. I think it'd probably work a lot better with that myth
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01:22:53.840
and ritual incorporated. So the reason Eleusis worked for 2000 years and let's assume the
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01:23:00.560
psychedelic hypothesis has some merit to it. But I think the reason it worked is because you were
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01:23:05.600
born into a mythology. You were born into a story about Demeter and Persephone and you waited your
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entire life to meet them in the flesh. So you weren't just preparing for a few months. It was
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01:23:17.360
a lifetime of expectation, anticipation, ritual preparation. In fact, some of the early church
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01:23:24.560
fathers made fun of the Greeks for essentially just piquing people's curiosity and revving up
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01:23:30.080
the anticipation, which has something to do with the outcome, by the way. But in other words,
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01:23:34.240
I think we need to create a new mythology around this. I don't think you pop into a laboratory.
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01:23:39.840
I don't think you pop into a retreat center from one day to the next. I think that in my own case,
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01:23:45.200
I think that in my own case, I feel like I've been preparing 12 years for psychedelics and I'm still
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01:23:50.240
preparing, including in today's conversation. I'm learning new things and I'm willing to explore it
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01:23:57.120
together with the computer interface. But I do think ritual is a gigantic part of this. And even
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01:24:04.960
McKenna would say that. I'll paraphrase him by saying that if you'd met someone who didn't know
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01:24:11.040
where they were between the years 1995 and 2005, you would describe them as a fairly damaged person.
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01:24:18.480
And yet who among us knows what was happening in Western civilization between 900 and 1300,
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01:24:23.600
let alone 2,500 years ago. So this is in many ways the prophet of the psychedelic renaissance saying
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01:24:28.960
that history has lessons. And I don't think they're superficial lessons. I think it cuts to
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01:24:34.400
the very core of how and why Western civilization came to be born. Yeah, but that history can be
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01:24:42.960
loaded into AI systems. And I do love the idea of whether it's to bring computer interfaces or without
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01:24:52.240
intrusive, sort of without direct reading of the neurons and more sort of interactive experience
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01:24:57.840
with the robot that you can have an AI system that steers your psychedelic experience.
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01:25:03.280
That helps you sort of, when you take a heroic dose of psilocybin, for example,
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01:25:11.200
helps steer you, steer your mind, say just the right things. I mean, you could say that kind
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01:25:16.880
of thing with, it's a totally open problem, I would say. You talk about set and setting.
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01:25:25.200
This is the interesting thing about Johns Hopkins is you create a comfortable environment,
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01:25:31.200
a safe environment for allowing, then if you take a heroic, like a large dose of psilocybin,
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01:25:38.480
that you could trust that everything would be safe and you can really allow the exploration
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01:25:43.520
of your mind. But then you don't know from a psychotherapy perspective of like during that trip,
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01:25:50.320
what a human should say to steer that trip. Like that's a totally open set of problems.
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01:25:55.440
And in some sense, probably throughout history, those rituals, you figured out what are the
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01:26:00.960
right things to say to each other, how to collaborate. And maybe if you can turn that
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01:26:05.680
into an optimization problem, AI could figure that out much, much quicker.
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01:26:11.120
I'm with you. So, Eleusis was known for three things, the legomena, the dromena,
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01:26:15.200
the decnumena, the things said, the things done, the things shown. If you can pack that
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01:26:21.040
all into your AI interface, I'm in, Lex Friedman. I'm going to write a proposal and then try to
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01:26:26.320
get it through the IRB at MIT. I mean, there is a certain sense in which I definitely wanted
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01:26:34.640
to explore psychedelics, I mean, in my personal life, but also more rigorously as a scientist
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01:26:42.320
and to push that forward and especially in the AI space. And it is difficult how to do that dance
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01:26:52.000
when there's gray areas of legality and all those kinds of things. And we're dancing around them.
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01:26:58.000
And some of that is language and some of that is what we socially conceive of as drugs or not.
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01:27:05.840
And you're right that perhaps we can reframe it as religious experiences, all those kinds of things.
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01:27:11.680
I mean, it's fascinating because it feels like there's a bunch of tools before us that were
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01:27:16.240
used by the ancients that we're not utilizing for exploring the human mind, that we very well could
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01:27:23.600
be in a rigorous scientific way, in a safe way. And that's fascinating. There's this interesting
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01:27:29.600
period in the 20th century of LSD use that many of the people doing research on psychedelics now
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01:27:40.640
kind of have their roots in that history. I mentioned that Dr. Rick Doblin, he is one of those people.
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01:27:48.160
And there's this interesting story of a bunch of creatives that used LSD or other drugs to help them.
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01:27:56.320
What do you make of the idea of somebody like Ken Kesey who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
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01:28:00.880
in part under the influence of LSD? What do you make of the use of psychedelics to
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01:28:13.600
maximize the creative potential of the human mind? Is this a crutch or is this actually
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01:28:22.560
an effective tool that we should explore? One person's crutch might be another's
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01:28:31.120
bungee cord. It depends on that mind. Think about Paul McCartney. I mean,
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01:28:40.400
we might not have some of the better Beatles music in the absence of LSD.
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01:28:44.560
And what did Sir Paul say in 1967 when he was asked about his use of LSD? He said that he
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01:28:50.400
recognized the dangers inherent in it, but that he did it with a very specific, very deliberate
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01:28:57.040
purpose in mind. He wanted to find the answer to what life is all about. And I'm not sure what Sir
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01:29:03.760
Paul is doing this week, but he's probably not doing LSD. Speaking back to my theory about these
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01:29:10.400
substances being catalyzers of spiritual introspection, it came along at a time in
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01:29:16.960
their life when I think they were ripe for it, especially George Harrison. I highly recommend
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01:29:22.080
the Martin Scorsese documentary about George Harrison. For them, I think it was exactly
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01:29:30.240
the way we ought to investigate it, which is, well, mind expanders. This is what psychedelics
link |
01:29:36.320
do, right? That which makes manifest the contents of the mind. In the absence of an experience like
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01:29:42.720
that, and it can be in a three day fast, it can be laying down in a cave, it can be in ritual
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01:29:48.640
chanting, it can be in a sun dance, but in the absence of that kind of experience at the right
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01:29:52.960
time in your life, it may otherwise be very difficult to find entrance to that kingdom of
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01:29:58.640
heaven, which I do think is here and now, getting right back to the very beginning. If we are
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01:30:03.360
actually to participate in that eternal principle, how and when? What do you think Nietzsche meant
link |
01:30:10.160
when he said that God is dead? So, there's a sense that religion is fading from society,
link |
01:30:17.760
and there's a cranky German that kind of wrote about it. What do you think he meant?
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01:30:23.920
He was a cranky German who knew a lot about Dionysus, by the way, which is why I like him.
link |
01:30:30.480
So, certainly there's some truth to the mortality of God. I think Gallup put out a study only a
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01:30:38.000
couple of months ago where church membership is now officially in the minority in the United States
link |
01:30:43.040
at 47%, according to the most recent poll. That number was closer to 70% only 20 years ago.
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01:30:49.920
Wow.
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01:30:50.320
So, we're living through something, and we're living through the unchurching
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01:30:54.000
of America, and it's the rise of the spiritual but not religious,
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01:30:59.120
the inheritor of all traditions but the slave to none. There's a rise in the unaffiliated,
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01:31:03.760
the nones. I think it was like one third of millennials. It's probably much higher now
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01:31:08.400
that don't affiliate with any religion. So, in that sense, God is absolutely dead,
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01:31:14.320
but maybe not the God that we were trying to define at the very beginning. So, Nietzsche
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01:31:19.200
also looked forward to the Übermensch, which would be a fully realized human being that,
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01:31:24.720
despite the death of God, did not fall into nihilism and amorality, existential despair,
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01:31:32.800
all that great German stuff. And there are some commentators who talk about this eternal
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01:31:38.160
recurrence that just maybe by incorporating some of these techniques, not necessarily doctrine and
link |
01:31:44.240
dogma, but I would say the techniques of antiquity. And again, Nietzsche writes a lot about the
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01:31:49.120
rationality of Dionysus having its place in society. If anything, these biochemical discoveries,
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01:31:56.000
I think, point us back. They point us back to Dionysus and their responsible incorporation of
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01:32:02.880
the irrational into our otherwise society of rational people and our kazoo history.
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01:32:11.440
I have a sense that there will be kind of, just kind of as you've implied, that there will be
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01:32:19.040
maybe the God of old is dying and there'll be a rebirth of different kind of God and it'll just
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01:32:24.160
keep happening throughout history. I do think there will be a time where AI will be the gods
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01:32:29.840
we look to, the other, the super intelligent, those kinds of things. There's a little bit of an
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01:32:36.480
inkling of religious longing for meaning in the way people conceive of aliens currently.
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01:32:46.320
I mean, I talked to a bunch of people about UFOs, the EPs and aliens. And so to me,
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01:32:51.280
it's very interesting for perhaps different reasons, because I'm just, I look up to the stars
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01:32:56.080
and it's incredibly humbling to me to think that there's trillions of intelligent alien civilizations
link |
01:33:02.960
out there, which to me seems likely, or perhaps not intelligent, perhaps just alien life. And
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01:33:09.600
actually, also that we don't even understand what it means to be intelligent, or do we understand
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01:33:14.800
what it means to be alive? The time scale, the spatial scale, which patterns of atoms can form
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01:33:23.520
in a way that you can call life, it just could be way weirder than we can imagine. And certainly
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01:33:31.920
way different than human life. Anyway, that to me is humbling. And so it's almost like the
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01:33:38.480
simulation, conceiving of the world as simulation, thinking of aliens to me is a useful thought experiment
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01:33:44.960
of like, what would aliens look like if they visited? How would we know? How would we communicate
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01:33:50.000
with them? How would we send signals to them? If they're already here and we don't see them,
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01:33:58.320
how's that possible? That seems to me actually likely that we would just be too self centered
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01:34:03.440
and too dumb to see them if they're already here. Anyway, so that's kind of the almost the
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01:34:11.440
pragmatic, the engineering, the physics sense of aliens. But there's also kind of a longing
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01:34:18.960
to connect with other intelligent beings out there, both the fear and the excitement of that,
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01:34:24.240
that has kind of a religious aspect to it that I find fascinating. And in the right context,
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01:34:30.560
when you remove the skepticism of government from that, it's actually a hopeful longing.
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01:34:36.560
Do you see this kind of interest in aliens as at all connected to your study of religion?
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01:34:44.240
So you're the first person to ask me about aliens in eight months. So it looks like I'm going on the
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01:34:48.560
record. Let's go. I'll drop some J. Allen Hynek on you. So Hynek involved in Project Blue Book
link |
01:34:59.840
famously says in 1966, when the long awaited solution to the UFO problem comes, and we're
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01:35:06.160
assuming that UFOs have something to do with aliens, but when the long awaited solution comes,
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01:35:12.400
I believe it will prove to be not merely the next small step in the march of science,
link |
01:35:17.680
but a mighty and unexpected quantum leap. In other words, I do not think that we're dealing with
link |
01:35:24.080
flesh and blood beings in nuts and bolts crafts. I think it's way, way more complicated than that.
link |
01:35:30.800
And if anything, it takes me back to the ancient world. It takes me back to this invisible college
link |
01:35:36.160
of beings of apparent higher intent. It takes me to the geniuses and the muses. So the first
link |
01:35:42.880
document in Western civilization, Homer's epics, they begin by invoking an alien. They invoke a
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01:35:49.920
muse. Tell me O muse about the man. So Homer isn't inventing poetry. He's channeling poetry, epic
link |
01:36:01.360
poetry from an alien intelligence. Maybe that intelligence has felt a little unrecognized in
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01:36:09.600
recent years. Trying to show up in human recognizable forms. The muse is trying to give
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01:36:16.160
a little hints of its existence. Yeah. I mean, I have a, I've been saying, I honestly sort of,
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01:36:22.960
I don't believe this, but I think about this, whether alien, like muse is a great example,
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01:36:30.560
whether aliens could be thoughts. Ideas we have are the aliens or consciousness itself
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01:36:39.600
is the methods by which aliens communicate with us. Like I find this very kind of liberating to
link |
01:36:47.120
expand our conception of what intelligent beings are. You would like Julian Jaynes. Julian Jaynes
link |
01:36:54.160
writes a great book, the origins of consciousness and the breakdown of the bicameral mind. It's this
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01:37:00.480
theory that the ancient Greek mind was very different from ours. And that when they heard
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01:37:06.320
the muses, they heard, or the gods and goddesses for that matter, they would hear them as voices
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in the head and hear it as an internal God figure offering commands, which they couldn't ignore. So
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were they walking schizophrenics? It might be one way to talk about it before the breakdown of the
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bicameral mind, but it's a provocative theory, largely untestable. But when you're reading
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ancient Greek and Latin for that matter, you can't read it very long without bumping up against these
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discarnate entities. They're everywhere. And they survived. They persist across time, which is even
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stranger, not just in the form of all the things my daughters like, like fairies and gnomes and
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elves. And McKenna loves this, the sylphs and the boulder grinders and the sprites and the gins and
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elementals, every society has them. It seems to be fairly universal. And they largely exist in
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folklore, mythology. This is what Jacques Vallée writes about so wonderfully. We've kind of been
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sneaking around it, but let me ask you from everything we've been talking about, how do you
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think about consciousness? Is it a fun little trick that the human mind does or is it somehow
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fundamental to this whole thing? So this three pound lump of jelly inside our craniums,
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that can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space, it can contemplate the meaning of infinity,
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01:38:34.800
and it can contemplate itself contemplating on the meaning of infinity, that peculiar self
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recursive quality that we call self awareness. So this is the hard problem, right? This is the
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unknowable, the unknown at least. I don't know. I have no good answer for that.
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Did you think it's somehow deeply fundamental to the human experience or is it just a trick? So
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you have like, I mean, Sam Harris has really been making me think about this. So, you know,
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calling free will an illusion. The interesting thing about Sam is it's not just a philosophical
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01:39:13.280
it's not just a philosophical little chat with him about free will. He really says he experiences
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the lack of free will. Like he's able to, you know, large parts of the day to feel like he
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has no free will. In that same way, now he thinks that consciousness is not an illusion. It is,
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you know, it's a real thing. But at the same, I'm more almost like, I'm almost more of like
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consciousness seems to be a little bit of an illusion in the sense that like, it feels like
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maybe this is a robotics AI perspective, but it feels like in that same way that Sam steps outside
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of feeling like he has an agency, feeling like he has a free will, I feel like we should be able to
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step outside of having a consciousness. So that, from my perspective, maybe that's a hopeful
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perspective for trying to engineer consciousness. But do you think consciousness is like at the core
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01:40:17.760
of this? Or is it just like language? Or almost like a thing we build on top of much deeper human,
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the things that makes us human? I don't know. I am attracted to Lanz's notion of biocentrism.
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01:40:33.600
I mean, it's difficult to walk away from the double slit experiment, not wondering
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01:40:38.320
why we seem capable of collapsing that quantum wave function. It's very, very weird, giving rise
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to even weirder ideas about superposition and spooky action at a distance and things that MIT
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01:40:51.280
guys know a lot better than me. But it seems to me fundamental. I mean, maybe consciousness is
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the fundamental thing. I mean, weirdly, some of these ancient incubatory practices, I talked about
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01:41:02.800
Peter Kingsley before. So he's not a proponent of ancient psychedelic use, but is a proponent of
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these ancient rites of incubation that were practiced by Pythagoras, Parmenides, Empedocles,
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other Presocratics. And so what were they doing? They were trying to get in touch with consciousness.
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They were entering into suspended states of animation in these cave like settings. Pythagoras
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had built one in his basement and would lie down motionless, apparently, for long periods of time.
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And what I think they were trying to do was tap into and trying to answer this question in their
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own, you could call it a scientific way, actually, less religion than science. And what they would
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discover or try to discover was a state of awareness that is somehow beyond life and death,
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beyond waking and dreaming, where you can be aware of the senses, but also in touch with another
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reality at the exact same time, what Kingsley calls sensation. That, I think, is definitely
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worth exploring. Well, and the way I hope to explore is by trying to build it. Everybody uses
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01:42:08.960
the tools they have. Well, no, I do also hope psychedelics can help. So how do you build that?
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01:42:13.280
I'm curious. That's a whole other discussion. There's a lot of things I could say here, but
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let me put simply is I believe that you can go a long way towards building consciousness
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01:42:32.800
by trying to fake consciousness. So fake it till you make it. As an engineering approach,
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I think will work for consciousness. You seem satisfied with that.
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01:42:46.800
I'm satisfied with that because I know how deeply unsatisfied others are, but just wait.
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01:42:55.280
So, I mean, I don't know what to. So the topic of consciousness is mostly handled by
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01:43:04.160
philosophers currently. And that's great. And their philosophers are wonderful and good at
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01:43:12.560
what they do. I'm not a philosopher. I'm an engineer. And I think the approach there is
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quite different. I think falling in love is different than trying to have a podcast conversation
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01:43:29.520
about what is love. I think the engineering effort is just fundamentally different than
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the philosophical effort. And I have a sense that consciousness can be engineered even before it is
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01:43:45.360
understood by the philosophers. So I think there's a bunch of things like that in this world that
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could be engineered before they're understood. I think the intelligence is one such thing.
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01:43:55.520
I think we'll be able to engineer super intelligent beings before we're able to understand
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01:44:01.680
the human mind. There's a lot of intuition to unpack there of why that is. But
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01:44:12.880
as it stands, that's perhaps my engineering optimism and engineering ethic under which I operate.
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01:44:21.440
Consciousness is easy to build, hard to understand.
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01:44:23.920
Okay. Are there books or movies in your life long ago or recently that had a big impact on you?
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Immortality Key is exceptionally well researched. The amount of books you read is I cannot even
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imagine. So is there something in your travels through the land of language that stuck with
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01:44:53.120
you that was especially impactful? I mentioned a couple of them. So I knew nothing about
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01:44:59.680
psychedelics before 2007. And it was in hearing about some of the first psilocybin experiments
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01:45:06.160
at Hopkins. And then shortly thereafter, I went down this rabbit hole. And so the first set of
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01:45:11.840
recommendations all kind of fit in that time period of my life, 2007, 2008. It started with
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01:45:17.680
Jeremy Narby, The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. It was a total impulse buy
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01:45:25.440
at the Barnes and Noble on Sixth Avenue in New York and wound up introducing me to Supernatural
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01:45:31.840
by Graham Hancock. That convinced me that there was a long story to psychedelics that
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01:45:40.400
he tried to prove in that book and that we're still trying to prove. I mentioned
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01:45:44.560
the connection between ritual psychedelics and cave art. This is the neuropsychological model
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01:45:51.840
that was first proposed by David Lewis Williams at the University of Waterstrand, the same university
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01:45:57.040
where Lee Berger is, by the way, in South Africa. So these ideas are old. But what Graham did in
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01:46:02.720
that book is just it's well worth your time. It's well worth a few reads actually. Because it was
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01:46:08.320
after that that I discovered Breaking Open the Head by Daniel Pinchback and a lot of other books
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01:46:15.520
that just kind of blew my mind. What is Breaking Open the Head about? So it's Daniel's romp through
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01:46:23.120
contemporary shamanism. And it's his very well told experiences with everything from psilocybin
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01:46:30.960
to iboga being initiated by the Buites. And it was the first time I'd read any firsthand accounts,
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01:46:38.960
aside from Jeremy Narby, any firsthand accounts by a New Yorker, by the way, about the potential
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01:46:45.040
for these compounds that I'd been ignoring for far too long, obviously. And so that's when I
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started revisiting the Road to Eleusis and looking through the anthropological literature, reading
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01:46:57.040
everything Gordon Wasson had ever written, that Carl Ruck had written. And it sent me down a
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pretty weird rabbit hole until I found Peter Kingsley, which is my second recommendation.
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01:47:06.960
So Peter, again, he's not a fan of the psychedelic hypothesis. But what he does is I think expose
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01:47:14.720
the value of the irrational to the ancient Greeks, especially the pre Socratic. Here we are talking
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01:47:20.000
about AI and God and these entangled philosophical questions. The best I can read Kingsley is that
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01:47:30.080
Western civilization is a product of a gift from the goddess Persephone. And this is not a hippie.
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01:47:36.160
This is a pretty gold standard classicist who went on to write a couple of books. One is In
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01:47:43.040
the Dark Places of Wisdom, and the other is Reality. What better way to title your book?
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01:47:48.240
Where he talks about these ancient techniques for exploring the irrational. The same thing Carl Ruck
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01:47:54.320
was talking about. After compiling all this data in the Road to Eleusis, Ruck says that the biggest
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challenge is trying to convince his colleagues in the late 1970s that the ancient Greeks,
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01:48:05.280
and indeed some of the most famous and intelligent among them, could enter so fully into irrationality.
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01:48:12.480
Same thing Nietzsche is talking about in his exploration of Dionysus. And so I think
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01:48:16.720
Kingsley just stands apart as one of those books, Reality, that my life was never quite the same
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01:48:24.080
after reading that. We talked about the three pound
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jelly that is able to conceive of the entirety of the fabric of reality in the universe
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01:48:40.480
and everything, and also of its own mortality. What do you think is the meaning of it all?
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01:48:50.880
What's the meaning of life? Is a three pound jelly able to answer that one?
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01:48:59.680
No, but I can plagiarize Joseph Campbell, which is good enough. Joe Campbell says that I don't
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01:49:06.640
think what we're looking for is a meaning of life. I think what we're looking for is an experience
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of being alive so that the experiences we have on the purely physical plane will have resonances
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01:49:19.120
within that are those of our innermost being and reality. You talked about the true reality,
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01:49:23.840
absolute truth. These are all constructs. And I think they're constructs that are made day by day
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01:49:31.360
and acquire this aura of factuality, remembering Clifford Geertz's definition of religion. We're
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01:49:37.200
all just faking it until we make it. And I think a lot of that has to do with moods and motivations
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01:49:42.880
and feelings and emotions, which is not to discredit facts and figures. But I think that
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01:49:48.640
meaning, meaning making is a very subjective process that is not only difficult to talk about,
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01:49:56.000
but difficult to quantify. And experience is a primary in that versus, so like the actual
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01:50:02.160
subjective experience is primary to the meaning making process versus like some kind of rigorous
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01:50:09.520
analysis of like having an algorithm that runs and computes and then finally spits out 42.
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01:50:18.960
Well, this is how families are created. Tell me more about this. Well, my wife and I fell in love
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01:50:24.320
and made babies. We didn't type up an Excel sheet and figure out the best way to go about this.
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01:50:29.360
That's what I've been doing all these years. That's why I'm single.
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01:50:36.320
Too many Excel sheets. Well, we say falling in love, right? We say fall in love. What does that
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01:50:41.920
mean to fall in love? You are surrendering to an intelligence that is beyond us. You could say a
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01:50:50.080
Godlike intelligence. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan friar I mentioned, in the Universal Christ,
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01:50:54.880
he writes a lot about how the divine for you is often encountered in the other. In fact,
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01:51:02.000
how could it be otherwise? This is bedrock sacramental theology that you find the God in
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01:51:07.760
the things in your life as well you should. That's the proving ground for identifying as God rather
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01:51:14.800
than creating a relationship with God. And so I think that these irrational states play a big role
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01:51:19.600
in that. Irrational. Well, I don't think there's a better way to end it than on the topic of love.
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01:51:24.960
Brian, thank you so much for a brilliant exposition of history and the poetry.
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01:51:32.320
I really appreciate you talking with me today. I love you, Lex. I love you too, Brian.
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01:51:39.120
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Brian Muirrescu. And thank you to Inside Tracker,
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01:51:44.320
GiveWell, Ni, Indeed, and Masterclass. Check them out in the description to support this podcast.
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01:51:52.000
And now, let me leave you with some words from Terrence McKenna about psychedelics.
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01:51:57.760
Part of what psychedelics do is they decondition you from cultural values. This is what makes it
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such a political hot potato. Since all culture is a kind of con game, the most dangerous candy
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01:52:09.440
you can hand out is one which causes people to start questioning the rules of the game.
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01:52:14.800
Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.