Book Report

Book Report: How to change your mind

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

Just to get this out right away, no, I have not tried psychedelics. However, there is good reason presented in this book to put it on the radar. Momentum appears to be building for legality. In the meantime, there is lots to learn about how these compounds interact with our physiology.

Mr. Pollan is an experienced writer and storyteller. He takes the time to expertly give a detailed historical account of how psychedelics were introduced into society. I won’t attempt to brief that timespan but just highlight a few notable observances he captured.

  • I asked him if he agreed with something I’d read the Dalai Lama had said, that the idea that brains create consciousness—an idea accepted without question by most scientists—“is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact.” “Bingo,” Jesse said. “And for someone with my orientation”—agnostic, enamored of science—“that changes everything.”
  • that consciousness is a property of the universe, not brains. On this question, he holds with Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, who conceived of the human mind as a kind of radio receiver, able to tune in to frequencies of energy and information that exist outside it. “If you wanted to find the blonde who delivered the news last night,” Richards offered by way of an analogy, “you wouldn’t look for her in the TV set.” The television set is, like the human brain, necessary but not sufficient.
  • Steve Jobs often told people that his experiments with LSD had been one of his two or three most important life experiences. He liked to taunt Bill Gates by suggesting, “He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.” 

Ok, who wouldn’t want to see that last quote from the book worked into a classic Mac vs PC television commerical!

Despite many stigmas in the area of psychedelics, many advanced users really focused on precision dosing, often utilizing small amounts, to elicit a kind of mind loosening effect. “Therapists who administered doses of LSD as low as 25 micrograms (and seldom higher than 150 micrograms) reported that their patients’ ego defenses relaxed, allowing them to bring up and discuss difficult or repressed material with relative ease. This suggested that the drugs could be used as an aid to talking therapy, because at these doses the patients’ egos remained sufficiently intact to allow them to converse with a therapist and later recall what was discussed.”

as Stanislav Grof put it, psychedelics are “nonspecific amplifiers” of mental processes.

From a mechanistic angle, the brain’s Default Mode Network is by far the biggest reason I believe psychedelics can have a legitimate place in therapy. It is essentially the brain’s self defense system, always on guard – a spinmeister in many cases (you have seen these on the news for sure). It is this region that is influencd greatly by meditation (pretty much a unanimous opinion now that this is a good idea), and – wait for it – psychedlics as well. Here are a few passages from the book on DMN:

  • The default mode network, or DMN, was not known to brain science until 2001. That was when Marcus Raichle, a neurologist at Washington University, described it in a landmark paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS. The network forms a critical and centrally located hub of brain activity that links parts of the cerebral cortex to deeper (and older) structures involved in memory and emotion.
  • quite a lot happens in the mind when nothing much is going on outside us. (In fact, the DMN consumes a disproportionate share of the brain’s energy.)
  • default mode is most active when we are engaged in higher-level “metacognitive” processes such as self-reflection, mental time travel, mental constructions (such as the self or ego), moral reasoning, and “theory of mind”—the ability to attribute mental states to others, as when we try to imagine “what it is like” to be someone else.
  • All these functions may belong exclusively to humans, and specifically to adult humans, for the default mode network isn’t operational until late in a child’s development.
  • Robin has described the DMN variously as the brain’s “orchestra conductor,” “corporate executive,” or “capital city,” charged with managing and “holding the whole system together.” And with keeping the brain’s unrulier tendencies in check.
  • default mode network appears to play a role in the creation of mental constructs or projections, the most important of which is the construct we call the self, or ego.* This is why some neuroscientists call it “the me network.”

While mediation has been found to act in the same region, it appears to be less effective compared to psychedelics. The standard caution will go here; it isn’t legal in the US currently so dosing on the black market isn’t standardized. Psilocybin was used by the author, and it comes from a mushroom which can actually be obtained in the northwest. There was a ton more information in this book that goes into conciousness and how these compounds can influence for reported benefits. I highly recoemmend this read if your are interested in these areas remotely.  In the meantime, meditation is a fantastic way to impact the DMN and I have been trained and study meditation regularly. Please reach out you want more info.

This Book Report collection is meant to provide some of the best take-home points from the health and science genre I read. I will continue to go thru my notes of the 160+ and counting (as of January 2019) Kindle books I have on file. To view ALL the notes I saved on this one AND many others without a Book Report post yet, THAT IS ALSO SEARCHABLE, please click here.

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