How to Use Psychedelic Drugs to Improve Mental Health: Michael Pollan’s New Book, How to Change Your Mind, Makes the Case

The history of research on psychedelic drugs is so sensational that more sober-minded experiments (so to speak) often get obscured by the hip, the weird, and the nefarious, the latter including secret CIA and Army testing of LSD and other drugs as a means of psychological warfare and “enhanced interrogation.” These experiments inadvertently led to Ken Kesey’s infamous “Acid Tests” in Northern California. On the other side of the country, Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary used questionable methods in his psilocybin experiments with prisoners and students, before getting fired and going on to expand the mind of the counterculture, earning the distinction of having Richard Nixon call him “the most dangerous man in America.”

Meanwhile, working in relative obscurity in very different circumstances in the late 50s, a UC Irvine psychiatrist named Oscar Janiger brought volunteer subjects, including several dozen artists, to a house outside L.A., where they were given LSD and psychotherapy. Janiger’s work has its sensational side—a cousin of Allen Ginsberg, he reportedly introduced Cary Grant, Anais Nin, Jack Nicholson, and Aldous Huxley to acid. But his primary achievement, in data that remained mostly unpublished during his lifetime, were his discoveries of the therapeutic and creative use of psychedelic drugs under controlled conditions with subjects who were prepared for the experience and guided through it by trained professionals.

The experiments conducted by Janiger and others differed markedly from the freewheeling recreational drug use of the counterculture and the weaponization of psychedelics by the U.S. government. In recent years, scientists and psychologists have conducted similar kinds of research under even more tightly controlled conditions, substantiating and expanding on the conclusions of early experimenters who found that psychedelics seem remarkably effective in treating depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other stubbornly destructive human ills. This research supports with sound evidence LSD inventor Albert Hoffman’s description of his drug as “medicine for the soul.”

While research organizations like MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) have centralized and promoted much of the current research, it’s now getting a huge popular boost from none other than food writer Michael Pollan, bestselling author of books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. “A self-described ‘reluctant psychonaut,’” writes NPR, Pollan submitted himself as a test subject for experiments with “LSD, psilocybin and 5-MeO-DMT, a substance in the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad.” He has described his experiences and the work of the research community in a new book titled How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

At the top of the post, see Pollan describe the book in a short video from Penguin. He discusses such ancient ideas (as he has in past writings) of psychoactive drugs as “entheagens”—or chemical conduits to the divine. “In the Darwinian sense,” he says, the evolutionary purpose of psychedelic experiences may be an increase in cognitive variety and the stimulation of “more metaphors, more insights.” In his Fresh Air interview above, Pollan further explains how this works therapeutically. “One of the things our mind does is tell stories about ourselves,” he says. “If you’re depressed, you’re being told a story perhaps that you’re worthless, that no one could possibly love you… that life will not get better.”

“These stories,” Pollan says, “trap us in these ruminative loops that are very hard to get out of. They’re very destructive patterns of thought.” Psychedelic drugs “disable for a period of time the part of the brain where the self talks to itself. It’s called the default mode network, and it’s a group of structures that connect parts of the cortex — the evolutionarily most recent part of the brain — to deeper levels where emotion and memory reside.” Disrupting old narratives helps people to write better, healthier stories.

As Pollan says in the Time video above, psychedelics have been popularly conceived as drugs that make you crazy—and in some cases, that happens. But they are also “drugs that can make you sane, or more sane.”  One of the major differences between one outcome and the other is the conditions under which the drug is taken. When quality and dosage of the drugs are controlled, and when subjects are prepared for “bad trips” with specific instructions, even frightening hallucinations can contribute to better mental health.

In his psilocybin experiment, for example, Pollan was accompanied by two “guides” and given “a set of ‘flight instructions,” including what to do if you see a monster.

…don’t try to run away. Walk right up to it, plant your feet and say, “What do you have to teach me? What are you doing in my mind?” And if you do that, according to the flight instructions, your fear will morph into something much more positive very quickly.

In another example, another psylocybin subject, Alana, describes in the Vox video below her guided experience with the drug during a smoking cessation trial at Johns Hopkins. “There were scary parts, foreboding parts,” she says, but thanks to controlled conditions and the reassuring presence of a guide, “I always knew there was joy and peace on the other side of it. It was freeing.”

Using psychedelics to confront and conquer fears goes back many thousands of years in traditional societies. Modern technological culture has largely turned to antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals to regulate anxiety, but as Pollan points out, “Prozac doesn’t help when you’re confronting mortality,” the deepest, most universal fear of all. But psychedelics—as Aldous Huxley found when he took LSD on his deathbed—can “occasion an experience in people—a mystical experience—that somehow makes it easier to let go.” Surely, there are other ways to do so. In any case, psychedelic drugs seem so beneficial to psychological well-being that they can be, and hopefully will be in the future, used to positively (responsibly) shift the consciousness and creative potential of millions of suffering people.

For more on this subject, read Pollan’s latest book–How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Device Invented to Resuscitate Canaries in Coal Mines (Circa 1896)

Lewis Pollard, the curator of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England, recently highlighted his favorite object in his museum’s collections–this gadget, created circa 1896, used to resuscitate canaries in coal mines.

For about a century–from the 1890s through the 1980s–British coal miners had a tradition of lowering canaries into a coal mine to detect the presence of noxious gases. As the BBC explains, the “canary is particularly sensitive to toxic gases such as carbon monoxide which is colourless, odourless and tasteless. This gas could easily form underground during a mine fire or after an explosion. Following a mine fire or explosion, mine rescuers would descend into the mine, carrying a canary in a small wooden or metal cage. Any sign of distress from the canary was a clear signal the conditions underground were unsafe and miners should be evacuated from the pit and the mineshafts made safer.”

In deciding to send canaries into the mines, inventors came up with the somewhat humane device shown above. According to Pollard, the circular door of the cage “would be kept open and had a grill to prevent the canary [from] escaping. Once the canary showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning the door would be closed and a valve opened, allowing oxygen from the tank on top to be released and revive the canary. The miners would then be expected to evacuate the danger area.” This practice continued for almost 100 years, until canaries officially started to get replaced by technology in 1986.

Read more about Pollard’s favorite object here.

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You Can Now Airbnb the Home of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Where the Author Wrote Tender Is the Night

Photo by George F. Landegger, via Wikimedia Commons

F. Scott Fitzgerald started writing in earnest at Princeton University, several of whose literary and cultural societies he joined after enrolling in 1913. So much of his time did he devote to what would become his vocation that he eventually found himself on academic probation. Still, he kept on writing novels even after dropping out and joining the Army in 1917. He wrote hurriedly, with the prospect of being shipped out to the trenches hanging over his head, but that grim fate never arrived. Instead the Army transferred him to Camp Sheridan outside Montgomery, Alabama, at one of whose country clubs young Scott met a certain Zelda Sayre, the “golden girl” of Montgomery society.

With his sights set on marriage, Scott spent several years after the war trying to earn enough money to make a credible proposal. Only the publication of This Side of Paradise, his debut novel about a literarily minded student at Princeton in wartime, convinced Zelda that he could maintain the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. Between 1921, when they married, and 1948, by which time both had died, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived an occasionally productive, often miserable, and always intensely compelling life together. The story of this early cultural “power couple” has an important place in American literary history, and Fitzgerald enthusiasts can now use Airbnb to spend the night in the home where one of its chapters played out.

The rentable apartment occupies part of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, an operation run out of the house in which the Fitzgeralds lived in 1931 and 1932. For the increasingly troubled Zelda, those years constituted time in between hospitalizations. She had come from the Swiss sanatorium that diagnosed her with schizophrenia. She would afterward go to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she would write an early version of her only novel Save Me the Waltz, a roman à clef about the Fitzgerald marriage. For Scott’s part, the Montgomery years came in the middle of his work on Tender is the Night, the follow-up to The Great Gatsby for which critics had been waiting since that book’s publication in 1925.

“The house dates to 1910,” writes the Chicago Tribune‘s Beth J. Harpaz. “The apartment is furnished in casual 20th century style: sofa, armchairs, decorative lamps, Oriental rug, and pillows embroidered with quotes from Zelda like this one: ‘Those men think I’m purely decorative and they’re fools for not knowing better.'” Evocative features include “a record player and jazz albums, a balcony, and flowering magnolia trees in the yard.” It may not offer the kind of space needed to throw a Gatsby-style bacchanal — to the endless relief, no doubt, of the museum staff — but at $150 per night as of this writing, travelers looking to get a little closer to these defining literary icons of the Jazz Age might still consider it a bargain. It also comes with certain modern touches that the Fitzgeralds could hardly have imagined, like wi-fi. But then, given the well-documented tendency toward distraction they already suffered, surely they were better off without it.

You can book your room at Airbnb here.

via Mental Floss

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Patti Smith, The Godmother of Punk, Is Now Putting Her Pictures on Instagram

As evidenced by her Instagram feed the Godmother is just like you and me. She posts pictures of her kids.

She gives her mom a Mothers Day shout out…

She celebrates her friends’ birthdays, posts selfies, travel shots, and pet pics

She’s not above self-promotion if the situation warrants.

But the accompanying captions set punk’s poet laureate apart. No LOLs here.  It’s clear that the award-winning author of Just Kids  and M Train thinks about her content, carefully crafting each post before she publishes. Each is a bite-sized reflection, a page-a-day meditation on what it means to be alive:

This is day two of my Venice report.

I bummed around thinking of 

Venice in the seventies. It had

a strong Rasta vibe with Reggae

music drifting from the head shops

and boom boxes on the beach. 

Burning Spear and Jimmy Cliff

and Bob Marley. Venice has an 

ever changing atmosphere but 

I always like walking around, 

anonymous, just another freak. 

On Pacific next to the Cafe Collage

I had steamed dumplings and 

ginger tea at Mao’s Kitchen. 

The food is great and reasonable.

Because it was early it was 

nearly empty. Since I was awake

since 4am i was nearly hypnotized 

by the turning of their overhead 

fan. Before I left they gave me a

fortune cookie. It was a true one.

Reflecting my past and certainly 

my future. A very good day.

Follow Patti Smith on Instagram here.

via W Magazine

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight premieres in June at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Take a Virtual Tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London

The story of the Globe Theatre, the ancestral home of Shakespeare’s plays, is itself very Shakespearean, in all of the ways we use that adjective: it has deep roots in English history, a tragic backstory, and represents all of the hodgepodge of London, in the early 17th century and today, with the city’s colorful street life, mingling of international cultures, high and low, and its delight in the play and interplay of languages.

“The first public playhouses,” notes the British Library, “were built in London in the late 1500s. Theatres were not permitted within the boundaries of the City itself”—theater not being considered a respectable art—”but were tolerated in the outer districts of London, such as Southwark, where the Globe was located. Southwark was notorious for its noisy, chaotic entertainments and for its sleazy low-life: its theatres, brothels, bear baiting pits, pickpockets and the like.”

The Globe began its life in 1599, in a story that “might be worthy,” writes the Shakespeare Resource Center, “of a Shakespearean play of its own.” Built from the timbers of the city’s first permanent theater, the Burbage, which opened in 1576, the Globe burned down in 1613 “when a cannon shot during a performance of Henry VIII ignited the thatched roof in the gallery.” Within the year, it was rebuilt on the same foundations (with a tiled roof) and operated until the Puritans shut it down in 1642, demolishing the famed open-air theater two years later.

In a twist to this so far very English tale, it took the tireless efforts of an expatriate American, actor-director Sam Wanamaker, to bring the Globe back to London. After more than two decades of advocacy, Wanamaker’s Globe Playhouse Trust succeeded in recreating the Globe, just a short distance from the original location. Opening in 1997, three-hundred and fifty-five years after the first Globe closed, the new Globe Theatre recreated all of the original’s architectural elements.

The stage projects into the circular courtyard, designed for standing spectators and surrounded by three tiers of seats. While the stage itself has an elaborate painted roof, and the seating is protected from the weather by the only thatched roof in London since the 1666 Great Fire, the theater’s courtyard is open to the sky. However, where the original Globe held about 2,000 standing and 1,000 seated playgoers, the recreation, notes TimeOut London, holds only about half that number.

Still, theater-goers can “get a rich feel for what it was like to be a ‘groundling’ (the standing rabble at the front of the stage) in the circular, open-air theatre.” Short of that, we can tour the Globe in the virtual recreation at the top of the post. Move around in any direction and look up at the sky. As you do, click on the tiny circles to reveal facts such as “Probably the first Shakespeare play to be performed at the Globe was Julius Caesar, in 1599,” and videos like Mark Antony’s famous “friends, Romans, countrymen” speech, performed at the Globe, above.

If you don’t have the luxury of visiting the new Globe, taking a tour, or seeing a performance lovingly-recreated with all of the costuming (and even pronunciation) from Jacobean England, you can get the flavor of this wondrous achievement in bringing cultural history into the present with the virtual tour, also available as an app for iPhone and iPad users. This interactive tour supersedes a previous version we featured a few years back.

If you would like to get Open Culture post’s via email, please sign up for our free email newsletter here.

And if you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks for your support!

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Buckminster Fuller Appears on the Los Angeles New Age Cable TV Shows, Psychic Phenomena and Quest Four (1979-82)

Has the world ever known a more compellingly eccentric cultural outlet than the fringes of Los Angeles television in the 1970s and 80s? For the most part a realm of false prophets, unhinged crackpots, desperate pitchmen, and Cal Worthington, its airwaves also occasionally carried the thoughts of important minds. Take, for instance, the appearances on the public-access cable programs Psychic Phenomena: The World Beyond and Quest Four: The Fourth Dimension of none other than prolific architect-theorist-inventor Buckminster Fuller. You can watch both together, and thereby get an overview of the then already octogenarian Fuller’s life and ideas in a fairly unusual context, in the videos of the Youtube playlist above.

On both programs, the first of which aired in 1979 and the second in 1983, Fuller sits across from Damien Simpson. The founder of an organization called the Universal Mind Science Church, Simpson seems to have spent his life as something of a seeker. After time in the seminary, he lived for a period in a monastery under a vow of silence.

In the years after starting his own church, he hosted new-age television and radio programs whose guest lists included, according to his bio, everyone from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to Dennis Weaver. But Simpson clearly considered Fuller the catch to beat them all, more than once likening himself to “a kid in a candy store” as he revels in his chance to converse with the man who thought up the geodesic dome and much else besides.

Born in the 19th century, usually dressed in a suit and tie, and constantly working on the development and application of ultra-practical ideas, Fuller hardly projected the image of a 70s new-ager. Yet he and the audiences of shows like Psychic Phenomena and Quest Four shared more than a few habits of mind. Fuller, for instance, insisted on always considering the world as not a collection of nations but one whole system (one he memorably labeled “Spaceship Earth”), an example of “holistic thinking” in the truest sense. He also believed, as he spells out in these interviews, that humanity faces an existential “final examination,” a test of our collective intellect and will to determine whether we can bring about an era — quite literally, a new age — of peace. It will demand much of us, he tells Simpson and and his viewers all across Los Angeles, not least our naiveté: “Dare to be naive. That’s the only way you’ll ever learn anything.”

via Ubuweb

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Explained in One of the Earliest Science Films Ever Made (1923)

Albert Einstein developed his theory of special relativity in 1905, and then mentally mapped out his theory of general relativity between 1907 and 1915. For years to come, the rest of the world would try to catch up with Einstein, trying to understand the gist, let alone the full implications, of his groundbreaking ideas.

Above, you can watch one such attempt. Produced by Max and David Fleischer, best known for their Betty Boop and Superman cartoons, The Einstein Theory of Relativity used the power of animation to explain relativity to a broad, non-scientific audience in 1923. One of the first educational science films ever made, the silent animated film was created with the assistance of science journalist Garrett P. Serviss and other experts who had a handle on Einstein’s theories. According to a biography of Max Fleischer, the film was “an out-and-out success.” “The critics and the public applauded it. And Einstein did too, apparently deeming it an “excellent attempt to illustrate an abstract subject.”

Watch the short film above. And find it added to our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More

If you would like to get Open Culture post’s via email, please sign up for our free email newsletter here.

And if you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks for your support!

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The Map of Philosophy: See All of the Disciplines, Areas & Subdivisions of Philosophy Mapped in a Comprehensive Video

In the introduction to his sweeping History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell wastes no time getting to a definition of his subject. “The conceptions of life and the world which we call ‘philosophical,’” he writes in the first sentence, “are a product of two factors: one, inherited religious and ethical conceptions; the other, the sort of investigation which may be called ‘scientific,’ using the word in its broadest sense. … Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and science.” (Russell makes a similar argument, in slightly different terms, in the essay “Mysticism and Logic.”)

Although this distinction between broadly “theological” and broadly “scientific” thinking may not map directly onto the modern schism between “Continental” and “Analytic” philosophy, a comparison still seems highly relevant. Though some continental thinkers may not wish to admit it, their categories and modes of reasoning—or intuiting, reflecting, speculating, etc.—derive from theological thought denuded of its specific religious content or beliefs. Or as philosopher Thomas R. Wells writes at his blog The Philosopher’s Beard, the continental proceeds from a “direct concern with the human condition, its ambition, its reflexivity, its concern with the media as well as the message.”

The analytic, on the other hand, strives for “universal scope, clarity and public accountability…. It tries to systematize knowledge” and approximate scientific methods of inquiry (which also once mixed freely with the theological). Both approaches can move too close to the poles Russell identifies—can move too far away, that is, from philosophy and toward the obscure and purely mystical or the inhumanely, unreflectively rational. Perhaps one way of thinking about the history of philosophy is as a dance between this play of opposites, with each approach offering a corrective to the other’s excesses, sometimes within the same thinker’s body of work.

But before applying such abstractions, we should consider the ways philosophy developed as a discipline distinct from the hard sciences and theology—and from art, psychology, anthropology, physics, mathematics, linguistics, economics, etc. “Once upon a time,” notes the video at the top—a comprehensive “map of philosophy” made by— “Philosophy was anything you can study. Everything in the realm of study was a type of philosophy.” The breaking off of other fields into their own domains happened over the course of several hundred years. Nonetheless, “philosophy still had its fingers in all of those other pies.”

One can think philosophically about anything—philosophy can “put different disciplines on the same playing field to talk to each other.” It is, the video’s introduction declares, “the glue that holds all of academia together” (hence, the top academic degree, the Ph.D., or “doctor of philosophy”). For reasons of his own training, the video’s creator, who simply goes by the pseudonym “Carneades,” leans more heavily on the analytic side of things, neglecting or only lightly touching on much of the continental thought that flourished in the wake of Heidegger, Hegel, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre, and others. (Further up, you can see a video focused on one specific school of moral philosophy—Consequentialism. See more such videos at the YouTube channel.)

Carneades admits his biases and blind spots and welcomes corrections from those better versed in other traditions. To his credit, he includes Native American, African, Latin American, Afro-Caribbean, Polynesian, Japanese, Islamic, Tibetan, and many other global philosophical traditions in his extensive map—traditions that are usually completely ignored or deemed “unphilosophical” in other such surveys. His sensitivity to global thought may have something to do with the fact that he is not based in a Western academic department, but in West Africa, where he does humanitarian work.

See a complete table of contents, with links to specific sections, for the lengthy “Map of Philosophy” just below, and an image of the full map just above (purchase a hard copy here). Carneades’ intention to bring “these ideas back to the modern agora from the Ivory Tower” is a noble one. If you agree, and find these videos informative and intellectually stimulating, you can donate to or become a patron of his efforts at the Patreon page.

Table of Contents:

00:00 Introduction
01:44 Logic and Philosophical Methods
02:14 Formal Classical Logic
04:55 Non-Classical Logic
06:35 Informal Logic
08:00 Philosophical Methods
10:20 The History of Philosophy
13:30 Philosophical Traditions Around the World
20:55 Aesthetics
22:35 Political Philosophy
23:34 Social Philosophy
25:00 Moral Theory & Ethics
28:08 Epistemology
30:34 Metaphysics
34:13 Philosophy of Science
37:35 Philosophy of Religion
40:17 Philosophy of Language
41:58 Philosophy of Mind
43:49 Philosophy of Action
44:57 Full Map

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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