Everything You Wanted to Ask About Psychedelics: A Johns Hopkins Psychedelics Researcher Answers 24 Questions in 2 Hours


These days, psychedelic research is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. And Matt Johnson, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, is leading the way. One of “the world’s most published scientists on the human effects of psychedelics,” his research focuses on “unraveling the scientific underpinnings of psychedelic substances, moving beyond their historical and cultural context to shed light on their role in modern therapeutic applications.” Like some other researchers before him, he believes that psychedelics ultimately have the “potential to bring about a paradigm shift in psychiatry, neuroscience, and pharmacology.” In the Big Think video above, the professor answers 24 big questions about psychedelics, from “What are the main effects of psychedelics?,” to “How do psychedelics work in the brain?” and “What are the biggest risks of psychedelics?,” to “Will psychedelics answer the hard problem of consciousness?” Johnson covers a lot of ground here. Settle in. The video runs 2+ hours.

Related Content

Michael Pollan, Sam Harris & Others Explain How Psychedelics Can Change Your Mind

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

Psilocybin Could Soon Be a Legal Treatment for Depression: Johns Hopkins Professor, Roland Griffiths, Explains How Psilocybin Can Relieve Suffering

Artist Draws 9 Portraits While on LSD: Inside the 1950s Experiments to Turn LSD into a “Creativity Pill”

New LSD Research Provides the First Images of the Brain on Acid, and Hints at Its Potential to Promote Creativity

Inside MK-Ultra, the CIA’s Secret Program That Used LSD to Achieve Mind Control (1953-1973)

Aldous Huxley, Psychedelics Enthusiast, Lectures About “the Visionary Experience” at MIT (1962)

How to Enter Flow State, Increase Your Ability to Concentrate, and Let Your Ego Fall Away : An Animated Primer

One needs hardly state that human beings desire things like wealth, power, and love. But it does bear repeating that, on a deeper level, we all desire flow. To say this is to repeat, in one form or another, the theories of the late psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. When we enter a flow state, Csikszentmihalyi once said in an interview, “the ego falls away,” and it is those words that open the animated TED-Ed lesson above. “A unique mental state of effortless engagement,” says its narrator, flow has been defined as “an altered state of consciousness,” and those who enter it “feel so effortlessly engaged in a task that time seems to fly by.”

If you’re a normal twenty-first-century person, this may not sound like an especially familiar experience. In fact, you may well think of your working life as more characterized by “cycles of procrastination, when it can feel impossible to start an activity.”

During flow, by contrast, “it can feel difficult to stop”; “feelings of worry or self-judgment” are diminished; a “sense of oneness” can arise between yourself and your activity. This state occurs when you do “intrinsically motivating” work, and even more so when the difficulty of that work matches or just slightly exceeds your skill level: “If a task is too easy, you may get distracted or feel bored. If it’s too challenging, you may become discouraged.”

To maximize your own chances of finding flow, engage in “activities that have clear goals and allow you to assess your progress along the way.” If possible, do it in “a quiet environment, free from distracting noises or devices.” Before you start, “break your tasks into small, specific segments that are easy to track and learn from,” and also “set clear end goals that are challenging, but not frustratingly so.” Above all, “don’t focus too much on reaching flow; that sort of distraction might just prevent you from finding it.” The talks by Flow Research Collective founder Steven Kotler and by Cskizentmihalyi himself previously featured here on Open Culture can supplement the TED-Ed lesson — and, perhaps, reassure you that the strange puckered expressions on the face of its characters are not, in fact, a requirement for entering the flow state.

Related Content:

Creativity, Not Money, is the Key to Happiness: Discover Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Theory of “Flow”

How to Get into a Creative “Flow State”: A Short Masterclass

Albert Einstein Tells His Son The Key to Learning & Happiness is Losing Yourself in Creativity (or “Finding Flow”)

How to Enter a ‘Flow State’ on Command: Peak Performance Mind Hack Explained in 7 Minutes

The Philosophy of “Flow”: A Brief Introduction to Taoism

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

The 1920s Lie Detector That Forced Suspected Criminals to Confess to a Skeleton

“In the criminal justice system,” the evergreen Law & Orders opening credits remind us, “the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders.”

They fail to mention the life-sized skeleton with ghastly glowing eyes and a camera tucked away inside its skull.

That’s because no police department ever saw fit to put Helene Adelaide Shelby’s 1930 patent for a highly unusual “apparatus for obtaining criminal confessions and photographically recording them” into practice.

Ms. Shelby’s vision sought to transform the police interrogation room into a haunted house where the sudden appearance of the aforementioned skeleton would shock a guilty suspect into confession.

(Presumably an innocent person would have nothing to fear, other than sitting in a pitch black chamber where a truth-seeking skeleton was soon to manifest before their very eyes.)

The idea may have seemed slightly less far-fetched immediately following a decade when belief in Spiritualism flourished.

False mediums used sophisticated stagecraft to convince members of a gullible public that they were in the presence of the supernatural.

Perhaps Ms. Shelby took inspiration from Mysteries of the Seance and Tricks and Traps of Bogus Mediums: A Plea for Honest Mediums and Clean Work by “lifelong spiritualist” Edward D. Lunt. The section on “form materialization” provides plenty of concrete ideas for enacting such trickery.

Ms. Shelby’s proposed apparatus consisted of a “structure divided into two chambers:”

…one chamber of which is darkened to provide quarters in which the suspect is confined while being subjected to examination, the other chamber being provided for the examiner, the two chambers being separated from each other by a partition which is provided with a panel upon one side of which is mounted a figure in the form of a skeleton, the said skeleton having the rear J portion of the skull removed and the recording apparatus inserted therein.

The examiner was also tasked with voicing the skeleton, using appropriately spooky tones and a well-positioned megaphone.

As silly as Ms. Shelby’s invention seems nearly a hundred years after the patent was filed, it’s impressive for its robust embrace of technology, particularly as it pertains to capturing the presumably spooked suspect’s reaction:

The rear portion of the skull of the skeleton is removed and a camera casing is mounted in the panel extending into the skull, said camera being preferable of the continuously-moving film-type an having provisions for simultaneously recording pictures and sound waves, or reproducing these, as may be desired or required, the said camera impression upon the having an objective adapted to register with the nose, or other opening, in the skull. The eye-sockets are provided with bulbs adapted to impress different light intensities on the margins
 of the film, the central section of the film being arranged to receive the pictures, the variations in the light intensities of the bulbs being governed by means of the microphones, and selenium cells (not shown), which are included in the light circuit and tend to cause the fluctuations of the current to vary the intensity of the light for sound recording purposes, the density of the light film varying with the intensity of the light thus transmitted.

Ms. Shelby believed that a suspect whose confession had been recorded by the skeleton would have difficulty making a retraction stick, especially if photographs taken during the big reveal caught them with a guilty-looking countenance.

Writing on officer.com, Jonathan Kozlowski applauds Ms. Shelby’s impulse to innovate, even as he questions if “scaring a confession out of a guy by being really really creepy (should) be considered coercion:”

Shelby doesn’t seem to have gotten any credit for it and nor am I sure that Shelby was even the first to think of the idea, BUT if you remove the skeleton figure and the red lightbulbs staring into the criminal’s soul was this the inspiration of a mounted surveillance camera? 

Allow me to push it even further … imagine your department’s interview room. If you’ve got the camera in the corner (or multiple) let that be. Instead of the skeleton figure just put an officer standing in the corner with a recording body camera. The officer is just standing there. Staring. Sure that’s a MASSIVE waste of time and money – of course. I may be wrong, but if I’m being honest this seems like intimidation.

It also strikes us that the element of surprise would be a challenge to keep under wraps. All it would take is one freaked-out crook (innocent or guilty) blabbing to an underworld connection, “You wouldn’t believe the crazy thing that happened when they hauled me down to the station the other night…”

What sort of horrific special effect could force a guilty party to confess in the 21st century? Something way more dreadful than a skeleton with glowing red eyes, comedian Tom Scott‘s experiment below suggests.

Having enlisted creative technologist Charles Yarnold to build Ms. Shelby’s apparatus, he invited fellow YouTubers Chloe Dungate, Tom Ridgewell, and Daniel J Layton to step inside one at a time, hoping to identify which of them had nicked the cookie with which he had baited his crime-catching hook.

The participants’ reactions at the critical moment ranged from delighted giggles to a satisfying yelp, but the results were utterly inconclusive. Nobody ‘fessed up to stealing the cookies.

That’s not to say the apparatus couldn’t work with a subset of criminals on the lower end of elementary school age. Did they or didn’t they? Why not scar ‘em for life and find out?

via Atlas Obscura

Related Content 

Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit”: A Toolkit That Can Help You Scientifically Separate Sense from Nonsense

The Polygraph: The Proto-Photocopy Machine Machine Invented in 1803 That Changed Thomas Jefferson’s Life

The Strange Story of Wonder Woman’s Creator William Moulton Marston: Polyamorous Feminist, Psychologist & Inventor of the Lie Detector

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Take Carl Jung’s Word Association Test, a Quick Route Into the Subconscious (1910)

We’ve all, at one time or another, been asked to say the first thing that pops into our heads in response to a certain word or phrase. It may have happened to us in school, in a market research group, or perhaps in a job interview at a company that regards itself as somewhat outside-the-box. Most such exercises, and the theories supporting their efficacy as a tool for revealing the speaker’s inner self, originate with the work of the Swiss psychiatrist-psychoanalyst and then-protégé of Sigmund Freud Carl Jung.

Jung published his description of this “association method” in the American Journal of Psychology in 1910, and you can see the story of its creation — animated in the usual Monty Python-esque paper-cutout style — told in the new School of Life video above. In his word-association test, says narrator Alain de Botton, “doctor and patient were to sit facing one another, and the doctor would read out a list of one hundred words. On hearing each of these, the patient was to say the first thing that came into their head.” The patient must “try never to delay speaking and that they strive to be extremely honest in reporting whatever they were thinking of, however embarrassing, strange, or random it might seem.”

Trial runs convinced Jung and his colleagues that “they had hit upon an extremely simple yet highly effective method for revealing parts of the mind that were normally relegated to the unconscious. Patients who in ordinary conversation would make no allusions to certain topics or concerns would, in a word association session, quickly let slip critical aspects of their true selves.” The idea is that, under pressure to respond as quickly and “unthinkingly” as possible, the patient would deliver up contents from the instinct-driven subconscious mind rather than the more deliberate conscious mind.

Jung used 100 words in particular to provoke these deep-seated reactions, the full list of which you can see below. While some of these words may sound fairly charged — angry, abuse, dead — most could hardly seem more ordinary, even innocuous: salt, window, head. “When the experiment is finished I first look over the general course of the reaction times,” Jung writes in the original paper. “Prolonged times” mean that “the patient can only adjust himself with difficulty, that his psychological functions proceed with marked internal frictions, with resistances.” He found, as de Botton puts it, that “it was precisely where there were the longest silences that the deepest conflicts and neuroses lay.” In Jung’s worldview, there were the quick, and there were the neurotic: a drastic simplification, to be sure, but as he showed us, sometimes the simplest language goes straight to the heart of the matter.

1. head
2. green
3. water
4. to sing
5. dead
6. long
7. ship
8. to pay
9. window
10. friendly
11. to cook
12. to ask
13. cold
14. stem
15. to dance
16. village
17. lake
18. sick
19. pride
20. to cook
21. ink
22. angry
23. needle
24. to swim
25. voyage
26. blue
27. lamp
28. to sin
29. bread
30. rich
31. tree
32. to prick
33. pity
34. yellow
35. mountain
36. to die
37. salt
38. new
39. custom
40. to pray
41. money
42. foolish
43. pamphlet
44. despise
45. finger
46. expensive
47. bird
48. to fall
49. book
50. unjust
51 frog
52. to part
53. hunger
54. white
55. child
56. to take care
57. lead pencil
58. sad
59. plum
60. to marry
61. house
62. dear
63. glass
64. to quarrel
65. fur
66. big
67. carrot
68. to paint
69. part
70. old
71. flower
72. to beat
73. box
74. wild
75. family
76. to wash
77. cow
78. friend
79. luck
80. lie
81. deportment
82. narrow
83. brother
84. to fear
85. stork
86. false
87. anxiety
88. to kiss
89. bride
90. pure
91. door
92. to choose
93. hay
94. contented
95. ridicule
96. to sleep
97. month
98. nice
99. woman
100. to abuse

Related content:

Carl Jung Offers an Introduction to His Psychological Thought in a 3-Hour Interview (1957)

How Carl Jung Inspired the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous

Carl Jung Explains His Groundbreaking Theories About Psychology in a Rare Interview (1957)

The Visionary Mystical Art of Carl Jung: See Illustrated Pages from The Red Book

Face to Face with Carl Jung: ‘Man Cannot Stand a Meaningless Life’ (1959)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Bored at Work? Here’s What Your Brain Is Trying to Tell You

That we spend much, if not most, of our lives working is, in itself, not necessarily a bad thing — unless, that is, we’re bored doing it. In the Big Think video above, London Business School Professor of Organizational Behavior Dan Cable cites Gallup polls showing that “about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about eighteen percent of people are repulsed.” This may sound normal enough, but Cable calls these perceptions of work as “a thing that we have to get through on the way to the weekend” a “humanistic sickness”: a bad condition for people, of course, but also for the “organizations who get lackluster performance.”

Cable traces the civilizational roots of this at-work boredom back to the decades after the Industrial Revolution. In the mid-nineteenth century, a shoe-shopper would go to the local cobbler. “Each of the people in the store would watch the customer walk in, and then they’d make a shoe for that customer.” But toward the end of the century, “we got this different idea, as a species, where we should not sell two pairs of shoes each day, but two million.”

This vast increase of productivity entailed “breaking the work into extremely small tasks, where most of the people don’t meet the customer. Most of the people don’t invent the shoe. Most of the people don’t actually see the shoe made from beginning to end.”

It entailed, in other words, “removing the meaning from work” in the name of ever-greater scale and efficiency. The nature of the tasks that result don’t sit well with a part of our brain called the ventral striatum. Always “urging us to explore the boundaries of what we know, urging us to be curious,” it sends our minds right out of jobs that no longer offer us the chance to learn anything new. One solution is to work for smaller organizations, whose members tend to play multiple roles in closer proximity to the customer; another is to engage in big-picture thinking by staying aware of what Cable calls “the why of the work,” its larger impact on the world, as well as how it fits in with your own purpose. But then, boredom at work isn’t all bad: a bout of it may well, after all, have led you to read this post in the first place.

Related content:

The Benefits of Boredom: How to Stop Distracting Yourself and Get Creative Ideas Again

The Philosophy of “Optimistic Nihilism,” Or How to Find Purpose in a Meaningless Universe

How to Take Advantage of Boredom, the Secret Ingredient of Creativity

Finding Purpose & Meaning In Life: Living for What Matters Most — A Free Online Course from the University of Michigan

Lynda Barry on How the Smartphone Is Endangering Three Ingredients of Creativity: Loneliness, Uncertainty & Boredom

Why 1999 Was the Year of Dystopian Office Movies: What The Matrix, Fight Club, American Beauty, Office Space & Being John Malkovich Shared in Common

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

John Cleese on How “Stupid People Have No Idea How Stupid They Are” (Otherwise Known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect)

Monty Python icon John Cleese had this to say about Marjorie Taylor Greene yesterday: “She is the perfect example of someone who is not intelligent enough to realise that she’s not very intelligent. Hence her enormous self-confidence. Sadly, her supporters are even less intelligent than she is. Hence their confidence in her.” It turns out that, as Cleese further explains in the video above, there’s a scientific term for MTG’s condition–the Dunning–Kruger effect, “a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate” owing to “a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude” (and, by the same token, of “highly skilled individuals to underestimate their relative competence, erroneously assuming that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others”). This condition gets its name from Cornell University researchers Justin Kruger and David Dunning, the latter of whom Cleese–who has spent time at Cornell as a long-term visiting professor–counts as a friend. You can learn more about the Dunning–Kruger effect here.

Related Content 

Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing: An Animated Lesson from David Dunning (of the Famous “Dunning-Kruger Effect”)

24 Common Cognitive Biases: A Visual List of the Psychological Systems Errors That Keep Us From Thinking Rationally

John Cleese Revisits His 20 Years as an Ivy League Professor in His New Book, Professor at Large: The Cornell Years

Free Online Psychology & Neuroscience Courses

How to Silence the Negative Chatter in Our Heads: Psychology Professor Ethan Kross Explains

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published an article headlined “How to Stop Ruminating.” If your social media feeds are anything like mine, you’ve seen it pop up with some frequency since then. “Perhaps you spend hours replaying a tense conversation you had with your boss over and over in your head,” writes its author Hannah Seo. “Maybe you can’t stop thinking about where things went wrong with an ex during the weeks and months after a breakup.” The piece’s popularity speaks to the commonness of these tendencies.

But if “your thoughts are so excessive and overwhelming that you can’t seem to stop them,” leading to distraction and disorganization at work and at home, “you’re probably experiencing rumination.” For this broader phenomenon University of Michigan psychology professor Ethan Kross has a more evocative name: chatter.

“Your inner voice is your ability to silently use language to reflect on your life,” he explains in the Big Think video above. “Chatter refers to the dark side of the inner voice. When we turn our attention inward to make sense of our problems, we don’t end up finding solutions. We end up ruminating, worrying, catastrophizing.”

Despite being an invaluable tool for planning, memory, and self-control, our inner voice also has a way of turning against us. “It makes it incredibly hard for us to focus,” Kross says, and it can also have “severe negative physical health effects” when it keeps us perpetually stressing out over long-passed events. “We experience a stressor in our life. It then ends, but in our minds, our chatter perpetuates it. We keep thinking about that event over and over again.” When you’re inside them, such mental loops can feel infinite, and they could result in perpetually dire consequences in our personal and professional lives. To those in need of a way to break free, Kross emphasizes the power of rituals.

“When you experience chatter, you often feel like your thoughts are in control of you,” he says. But “we can compensate for this feeling out of control by creating order around us. Rituals are one way to do that.” Performing certain actions exactly the same way every single time gives you “a sense of order and control that can feel really good when you’re mired in chatter.” Kross goes into greater depth on the range of chatter-controlling tools available to us (“distanced-self talk,” for example, which involves perceiving and addressing the self as if it were someone) in his book Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It. His interview with Chase Jarvis above offers a preview of its content — and a reminder that, as means of silencing chatter go, sometimes a podcast works as well as anything.

Related content:

The Secret to High Performance and Fulfilment: Psychologist Daniel Goleman Explains the Power of Focus

How Literature Can Improve Mental Health: Take a Free Course Featuring Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen, Melvyn Bragg & More

This Is Your Brain on Exercise: Why Physical Exercise (Not Mental Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Why You Do Your Best Thinking In The Shower: Creativity & the “Incubation Period”

The Therapeutic Benefits of Ambient Music: Science Shows How It Eases Chronic Anxiety, Physical Pain, and ICU-Related Trauma

Erich Fromm’s Six Rules of Listening: Learn the Keys to Understanding Other People from the Famed Psychologist

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

The Disturbing Paintings of Hieronymus Bosch: A Short Introduction

Most casual viewers of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings must acknowledge his artistic skill, and many must also wonder whether he was completely out of his mind. But insanity, however vividly suggested by his imagery, isn’t an especially compelling explanation for that imagery. Bosch painted in a particular place and time — the Netherlands of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, to be specific — but he also painted within a dominant worldview.”He grew up in a time of deep religious anxiety,” says Youtuber Hochelaga in the video essay above. “Ideas about sin, death, and the devil were becoming more sophisticated,” and “there was a genuine fear that demonic forces lived amongst the population.”

Hence the analyses like that of Great Art Explained, which frames Bosch’s best-known painting The Garden of Earthly Delights as an expression of “hardcore Christianity.” But something about the triptych’s sheer elaborateness and grotesquerie demands further inquiry. Hochelaga explores the possibility that Bosch worked in a condition of not just fearful piety, but psychological affliction.

“There is a disease called St. Anthony’s fire,” he says, contracted “by eating a poisonous black fungus called ergots that grow on rye crops. Symptoms include sores, convulsions, and a fierce burning sensation in limbs and extremities,” as well as “frightening and overpowering hallucinations that can last for hours at a time.”

This psychoactive power is now “believed to be behind the many Dancing Plagues recorded throughout the Middle Ages.” This explanation came together when, “in the mid-twentieth century, it was discovered that when ergots are baked in an oven, they transform into a form of lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as LSD.” Did Bosch himself receive the bizarre visions he painted from inadvertently consuming that now well-known hallucinogenic substance? The many paintings he made of St. Anthony “may have been a form of devotional prayer, done so in the hopes that the saint would rid him of his debilitating illness.” Look at The Garden of Earthly Delighteven today, and you’ll feel that if you saw these murderous bird-human hybrids around you, you’d try whatever you could to get rid of them, too.

Related Content:

Take a Virtual Tour of Hieronymus Bosch’s Bewildering Masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights

A Digital Archive of Hieronymus Bosch’s Complete Works: Zoom In & Explore His Surreal Art

The Meaning of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights Explained

Hieronymus Bosch’s Medieval Painting The Garden of Earthly Delights Comes to Life in a Gigantic, Modern Animation

New App Lets You Explore Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights in Virtual Reality

The Musical Instruments in Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights Get Brought to Life, and It Turns Out That They Sound “Painful” and “Horrible”

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

More in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.