Friday, 26 December 2008

Can liberty caps liberate remote memories?


Well much like the myth of Santa Claus being based upon the shamanic use of the psychedelic mushrooms, Christmas has generously provided us with the announcement of the first official UK research project into the use of psychedelic mushrooms with humans since prohibition. After a long hiatus of about 40 years, official human research with psychedelics is about to resume in the UK following a collaboration between a leading London research institute (presently undisclosed to deter negative media) and the Beckley Foundation of Oxford, a leading drug policy think tank and foundation for the research of consciousness and its altered states.

Certain types of magic mushrooms such as Psilocybe semilanceata (known as the 'liberty cap'), in which the chemical psilocybin is found, grow naturally in the UK, one of the country’s few indigenous psychoactive plants. Yet the consumption of dried mushrooms in the UK has been illegal for decades and, tying up a loophole in the law, the picking and consumption of fresh psilocybin-containing mushrooms was made illegal in 2005.


Resuming the scientific psychedelic research that was stopped by prohibition virtually the world over in the late 1960s, the Beckley Foundation (logo pictured above) has initiated a research project at a leading London academic institution into the potentially beneficial effects of psilocybin on psychophysiology and consciousness.


The project is entitled “A study investigating changes in blood flow and remote memory access brought about by psilocybin” and aims to investigate the reported effects that psilocybin has in helping people access forgotten memories, which, along with the profound mystical experiences that can be occasioned with psilocybin may have great potential in helping people in psychotherapy, particularly for resolving trauma-related anxiety disorders, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.


In their Christmas newsletter the Beckley Foundation wrote “This study will investigate, with the latest brain imaging technology, both the changes in cerebral blood flow brought about by psilocybin and how psilocybin affects regional activation and emotional responses. In so doing, this study will help inform the psychotherapeutic applications for this fascinating and important compound.

Santa rides 'high' on (mushroom) clouds


At Christmas time it is always worthwhile pondering the origins of certain myths, such as our dear old philanthropic friend Santa Claus. Over the years similarities have been made between Santa’s antics and the activities of Siberian shamans, who consume the red and white-spotted psychedelic mushroom, Amanita muscaria, for 'magical' purposes.


For instance it is known that reindeer eat the mushroom and that eating the flesh or even drinking the urine (the liver transforms the mushrooms’ ibotenic acid into the even more psychoactive muscimol) of such ‘flying’ reindeer can give rise to 'profound' changes in consciousness. So not only do the reindeer fly, but with their help so can the Siberian shaman. One of the roles of the shaman is to bring back wisdom and healing from the other side (the underworld or the upperworld), and these can be considered as 'gifts' for the health of the community. So why does Santa wear that silly red and white outfit, and why is he helped by elves? Surely there can’t be anything shamanic about old Santa,... can there?

more!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Walking between the worlds: Anthropology and parapsychology



Beautifully weaving together all the various tales of parapsychology, anthropology, archaeology, altered states, belief, magic and culture that thread this blog together like the tails of the snakes in the mudusa's hair, the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness is next year bringing together all my favourite stories for its annual conference.

Set in the idyllic setting of the entrance to Columbia Gorge in Portland, Oregon, the theme for April's conference of 'Bridging Nature and Human Nature' mingles ecopsychology with parapsychology, anthropology with folklore, mythology with dreaming, psychedelics with species-connectedness, and a wealth of other healthy confluences all into one happy pot. Still accepting submitted papers until January 9th, the meeting runs from April 1-5th and looks set to be unique. I certainly hope to go, so I hope to see you there.

Topics include (
See flyer):

1. The History and Future of Ecopsychology
2. Bateson, Postmodernism and Shamanism
3. Entheogens and the Legacy of Albert Hofmann
4. Cross-Cultural Inquiries of Eco-Dreaming and Eco-Anthropology
5. Mind/body Approaches to Biomedicine and Medical Anthropology
6. Psi and Species-Connectedness
7. Mythology, Folklore
8. Poetry and Ecocriticism
9. Landscapes of Consciousness and Paleolithic Cave Art
10. Ethnomethodology.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The beyond within: Ketamine and the near-death experience (NDE)


Seems it's psychedelic season in London after all, and all with a nice parapsychological twist. Next month at my favourite London boookshop, Treadwells, Dr. Ornellla Corazza will be giving a talk on her PhD research on ketamine and near-death experiences. I won't be there, unfortunately, because I'll be in Ecuador doing my own parapsychopharmacological research, but I was lucky enough to catch a similar talk by Ornella back at the beginning of last year, which I wrote a review of for the Paranormal Review.

10 December 2008 (Wednesday)

Near Death Experiences
Exploring the Mind-Body Connection
Ornella Corazza (SOAS)
£5.00 in advance
7.15 for 7.30 start

In this illustrated slide lecture, Dr Ornella Corazza will share the fruits of her groundbreaking research on Near-Death Experiences (NDEs). Along with the reports and studies of NDEs, she refers to accounts of sessions with the powerful dissociative drug, ketamine, and draws from contemporary Japanese philosophies of embodiment to argue against the traditional "survivalist" interpretation of NDEs and offers us a new perspective on what human life is and also what it can be.

Ornella Corazza, PhD, is a NDE researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. In 2004-5 she was a member of the 21st Century Centre of Excellence Program on the Construction of Death and Life at the University of Tokyo. She teaches on the Lampeter MA on The Body: Eastern and Western Perspectives. Academic publications include Remember (2006), on ritual practices in North-East Italy. Her latest is Near-Death Experiences: Exploring the Mind-Body Connection (2008). She lives and works in London.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Shamanism through the ages


Suddenly Tuesday evenings in London don't look so dull. Following on from the Goldsmiths College lecture on Psychoactive plants and psychic people this coming Tuesday, a group of us have begun organising a series of public lectures on ecology, consciousness and the cosmos to be hosted at the amazing October Gallery in Bloomsbury, London. The first of many evenings begins with a lecture by South American ayahuascero Pablo Friedlander on the following Tuesday (25th November) entitled From Ancient Eleusis to Modern Ecstasy: Shamanism Through the Ages.

October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL (Tel: 44 (0)20 7831 1618). Please RSVP as space is very limited, email: rentals AT octobergallery.co.uk
Entry £7/ £5 Concessions, Arrive 6pm for a 6:30pm Start - Wine available

Pablo's talk will consist of a brief and deep analysis of a mysterious evolution: from shamanic practices to the rise of the first philosophical schools. Beginning with the symbolisms of shamanism in prehistoric times, a process of sophistication is followed that leads from the visionary art of caves in different continents to the theories about nature in archaic Greece. This comparative study between ancient European beliefs and contemporary shamanic practices in the Americas’ focuses on the relationship between magical plants, cosmological chants, iconography and insights. The constants and changes in the cultivation of mystical trances through key moments of history serve to explain what the Ecstatic Wisdom is and what it means.

Psychoactive plants and psychic people


Well, after warming up my ranting reflexes at the Day of the Dead extravaganza I now feel up for a bit more "whanging on" about my pet subject - psychedelics and the paranormal. So I will be giving a public lecture this coming Tuesday 18th November for the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths College, University of London, entitled Psychoactive Plants and Psychic People: Does Psilocybin really cause Psi? - which, as a title, is my best work of excessive alliteration yet. The talk takes us on a journey trough archaeology, history, anthropology, ethnobotany, comparative theology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, neurochemistry, psychopharmacology, and, of course, parapsychology. Anyone left standing at the end is invited for drinks (the non-psychedelic drug type - just alcohol) round the pub afterwards.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Day of the Dead


Brace yourselves for a night of magic, ancestor veneration, voodoo, visionary art and music, brought to you by those titans of weirdness and bastions of peculiarity - Strange Attractor, Dreamflesh and Liminal Nation. Themed talks on altered states, magic, death and the archaeology of consciousness by Gyrus, Donal Ruane and Dr David Luke, and Voodoo shamanigans by Stephen Grasso. Raagnagrok All Stars will be providing sonic succor and sustenance. Saturday, 1st November, 7pm till late at the Horse Hospital, London. It's likely to sell out so reserve a place, below the flyer, by flying to the place below...

Day of the Dead

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Can psilocybin really cause psi? - Part 2: Wasson in Mexico


In relation to “The Sacred Mushroom” film in the last post, the Wassons’ classic and rare book “Mushrooms, Russia and History” has been made available online by the New Alexandria Archive (Vol1 & Vol2). The original two-volume book, published by Pantheon Books in 1957, was limited to 512 copies and was never reprinted, although some university libraries (such as the Bodlian, Oxford) hold copies. This digital edition was scanned from the original and hand corrected by Igor Dolgov, Zachary Jones, and Greg Golden, with thanks to a generous contributor.


Among the intriguing sections on Russian mycophilia and other beautifully illustrated fungal curiosities, this classic text notoriously describes Gordon and Valentina Wasson’s search and discovery of a sacred mushroom cult in Mexico - following a tip off from the English poet and pagan icon Robert Graves. The book describes how the Mexican shaman most often associated with Wasson and the discovery of the psychedelic Psilocybe cubensis cult, Maria Sabina, was actually encountered on R.G. Wasson’s second trip to Huautla, Oaxaca, when he was accompanied by his photographer, Alan Richardson (who had an apparently true prophetic vision when they ate the mushrooms for the first time – see previous post).


However, on his first trip in 1953 Wasson observed a divinatory mushroom ceremony being held by Don Aurulio in which this ‘bemushroomed’ indigenous shaman, to his surprise, told him two things about his son back home that even Wasson could not have known, which later turned out to be true. So even from the very first discovery of psychedelic psilocybin and psilocin-containing mushrooms in the West we have reports of paranormal phenomena (clairvoyance and /or precognition in this case), echoing the ostensibly paranormal experience (out-of-body) of Dr Albert Hofmann when he discovered/invented LSD ten years earlier (
read more about this) – though I suppose this is just coincidence?

(Thanks to Thomas Roberts for the link)


Can psilocybin really cause psi? - Part 1: Puharich in Mexico


Take a look at this classic, late 1950s film footage of the hunt for clairvoyance-inducing mushrooms in the (then) remote wilds of Mexico. Remaining out of the public domain until recently when it surfaced on YouTube in 3 parts, this vintage half-hour show was aired in the US on January 4, 1961 as one of the 96 episodes of the One Step Beyond series.


This episode, “The Sacred Mushroom”, takes its name from a 1959 book by the rogue parapsychologist and US defence intelligence asset, Dr. Andrija Puharich, who conducted research into the use of Amanita muscaria mushrooms for inducing paranormal abilities in the laboratory. The film shows rare footage of Puharich accompanying the director John Newland, an Hawaiian kahuna and some academics, on a journey to the inaccessible regions of rural Oaxaca in search of the magic mushroom-using curanderos - discovered a few years earlier in 1953 by the amateur mycologist Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina.


Puharich had met up with Gordon Wasson in 1955 and arranged for them to conduct a long distance clairvoyance/telepathy experiment between the curanderos on (Psilocybe cubensis) mushrooms in Mexico and the ‘senders’ in Puharich’s lab in the United States. The experiment never happened because Wasson and his photographer, Alan Richardson, ended up taking the mushrooms themselves, becoming the first Westerners to do so, and Richardson had a prophetic vision that apparently came true shortly after - so a different parapsychology experiment occurred.


Not having experimented with Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms himself, Puharich joined Newland in a trip to Mexico for the film sometime between 1959 and 1960, and the footage shows the mushroom shaman apparently revealing paranormal information about the medical history of one of the academics present, Dr Barbara Brown. It appears from her comments at the end of the show that Dr. Brown was certainly convinced by the experience. Amazingly, all the research team also take the mushrooms themselves (apart from Brown) and another Psilocybe shaman tells them where to find a stolen donkey, which looks rather more spurious, particularly due to Puharich’s obvious rigidity in front of the camera (check out his appalling cue card reading at the beginning of the show). In any event this fascinating film is courageous and unique, and no show since has attempted to do anything similar. I'll be giving a public talk on this at Goldsmiths Univeristy, London, on November 18th, 2008.


David Luke (with thanks to Strange Attractor for the link)


The director and host of the series, John Newland, remarked in a 1999 interview with television historian John Muir, “That was our most popular episode. It was a spooky trip. We landed in a tiny airstrip in Mexico near a mission. From there, it was a donkey trip of four days to reach the village. It was a dangerous journey, but we got phenomenal footage.”


When sponsor Alcoa (Aluminium Corporation of America) got antsy about airing the episode (even though psychedelic mushrooms were not illegal at the time) Newland suggested that he should visit a laboratory to take the mushrooms himself and prove that they were not only safe, but might enhance psychic abilities, which was what the show was trying to prove (from realityportal.info).

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Goodbye Mum!


I hope the show is just as good on the other side...

Is it goodbye or is it welcome back?
Eternity makes love to hapless time
We just stand still while racing down the track
At once something here, at once just sublime
At once a mother, a daughter, a wife
All sunrise, all moonlight, all day, all night
All of everything that becomes a life
Breathing out pure love, breathing in delight
Assembled from the dust of infinite stars
Merely composed of everything that shines
Everything of our gods is also ours
We’re the grapes when we drink the finest wines
Death is the life that living cannot lack
Is it goodbye or is it welcome back?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Magical summer (mis)adventures


OK so apologies (to both my readers) for the inordinately long delay in logging any posts. Things sure do move fast outside blog time and I’ve been busy making the most of summer, among other things, going to festivals, giving talks, writing papers, going to conferences, giving more talks, and planning and getting funding for some pretty exciting research projects. On the festival scene it was great to go back to Glastonbury this year for the first time since 2003 and view the stone circle from a liberated perspective - this one spot alone changed my life three times already over the years. Mighty blessings to the Bimble Inn crew for greasing the wheels of my adventures.

I also had a great time in Brazil for most of July giving papers at a fascinating conference on parapsychology and altered states in Curitiba. I had a chance to talk to the directors of an amazing Spiritist hospital where they use mediums to channel the voices of conventionally untreatable schizophrenics while the psychotherapist puts the voices in therapy, thereby treating the (absent) patient. I also got to take part in an Umbanda incorporation ceremony (pictured above), a Sante Daime ayahuasca ceremony, and a Guaraní tobacco ceremony as well as a dream workshop-workshop by Prof. Stan Krippner. With the great support of many people in Brazil I was lucky enough to run some preliminary parapsychology experiments with ceremony participants on ayahuasca, the Amazonian psychedelic decoction that was once called "telepathine" because of the typical paranormal experiences people encounter on it. More on that when the research is complete.


Probably the most adventurous thing that happened in Brazil was a narrow escape from the scalpel of a psychic surgeon who had me terrified at the prospect of an operation where I might have a had a pair of forceps slid all the way into my nasal cavity and twisted round a few times. There wasn’t even the slightest thing wrong with me, though I soon developed apoplectic fear. More on that too some other time. A few more talks at festivals and conferences and I’m back in cyberspace again, so expect a spate of posts…

Chaotes finally stop wearing black in mourning of death of chaos magic!



I didn’t believe it either, but thank Baphomet those crazy chaotes are putting on a great feast of ranting in the day and decanting at night, all for only 30 quid! If you haven't booked yerself in for the Colours of Chaos event yet point your mouse (equally in eight directions) to Colours of Chaos.


This coming Satyrday, 6th September, 2008. Tickets are still available on the door. The day event starts at 11am til 6pm, with evening shamanigans running form 7pm til 10pm. Speakers include chaotes Julian Vayne, Dave Lee, Duncan Barford, Alan Chapman and a host of other curiosities, with talks the likes of “White hair and brown pants: When magic turns paranormal”. Luckily I’m not talking. See you there. Conway Hall, London, WC1.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Are we being kept in the dark about the nocturnal chemistry of the pineal?


It was 50 years ago this week that news broke from Yale that they had isolated a new hormone from the pineal gland, which they did not know the function of but which lightened the shade of skin when tested in frogs. They called it “melatonin”. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) was found to be endogenous (made in the body) and yet, largely because DMT is a legally controlled psychoactive substance and has been seriously under-investigated as a consequence, it still remains essentially hypothetical that it also created within the pineal gland. I gave a talk a couple of nights ago about the extraordinary experiential effects of taking DMT and the possible ontology of the entities commonly encountered with this substance, be they elves, aliens, demons, gods or angels.


The talk was sold out and people were turned away (although another talk has been planned), but the people who were present, some of whom were mental health professionals, were very curious to know what research was being done into the role of DMT in mediating mental health. DMT having once been a contender for potentially explaining the occurrence of certain mental disorders I was loathe to admit that, since the 1970s, prohibition has curtailed practically all psychedelic research with humans (although the tide is now turning) and virtually no studies have been done into the position of DMT in mediating mental health. However, the recent discovery of trace amine receptors in the brain for which DMT shows greater affinity for than does serotonin – its more common neuro-amine cousin – has lead to a paper in Medical Hypotheses by Michael Jacob and David Presti speculating on the role of DMT in mediating mental health and may lead to a resurgence of interest in this simple yet extremely potent endogenous chemical. Psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia have been linked to irregular levels of trace amines.


Also appearing in Medical Hypotheses, but 20 years ago, was a proposal by Jayce Callaway that, at night, serotonin becomes converted into DMT by the pineal gland and plays a central role in activating dreams. Are we being kept in the dark about our own nocturnal chemistry? Currently, although the role of melatonin in the regulation of circadian patterns is now far more understood than it was 50 years ago, the function and even the very presence of DMT in the pineal gland remains a mystery that threatens to challenge much of what we understand about consciousness, and yet remains actively ignored as a topic of legitimate scientific research because of its taboo status. Currently there are at least two very important questions that need answering about DMT. Why should substances that activate extremely potent mystical-type experiences be naturally occurring in the human brain, and why if they are present in our own brain are they placed in the most punitive legal category for controlled substances, thereby making everybody criminals?


References and links:


Callaway, J. C. (1988). A proposed mechanism for the visions of dream sleep. Medical Hypotheses, 26, 119-24.


Jacob, M. S., & Presti, D. E. (2005). Endogenous psychoactive tryptamines reconsidered: An anxiolytic role for dimethyltryptamine. Medical Hypotheses, 64, 930-937.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

DMT elves and higher-dimensional space


Coming back to the endless and unresolved issue of DMT entities, I thought it only reasonable to make mention of one of the seminal articles on the topic. Originally published in Psychedelic Monographs and Essays #6 in 1993, the article by Peter Meyer entitled “Apparent Communication with Discarnate Entities Induced by Dimethyltryptamine” puts forward a discussion of DMT entities, including elves, that accepts their existence at face value. Advancing on the proposal by Evans-Wentz that elves occupy “…a supernormal state of consciousness into which men and women may enter temporarily in dreams, trances, or in various ecstatic conditions”, Meyers suggests that “…the faerie world studied by Evans-Wentz and the space into which one may enter under the influence of DMT are parts of a common higher-dimensional space which transcends and encompasses consensus reality as understood at present”. As such, for Meyer, the DMT elves are real denizens of hyperspace. The entire article, later revised by Meyer, is well worth a read.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Moses: A Holy Land shaman?


If you orbit the same bodies in cyber space as me you will definitely have come across this recent article by Prof. Benny Shanon of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Putting the God back in the "entheogen" (a name for psychedelic substances used sacramentally, meaning “creating the God within”) this article by the leading expert on the cognitive psychology of ayahuasca visions brings the notion of sacred psychoactive substances to the very core of Islam, Judaism and Christianity – by investigating the extraordinary visions of Moses in the Old Testament.

In “Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis”, which appears in the inaugural issue of Time & Mind: Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, Prof. Shanon puts forward a highly plausible (although painfully unprovable at present) thesis that Moses was actually under the influence of a Holy Land analogue of ayahuasca (the highly visionary South American jungle decoction whose active principle is DMT), made from the Acacia tree and the Perganum harmala bush of the Sinai Peninsula. This is a fascinating article, which deserves some special attention, and will find an important home in the literature on the religious and spiritual use of psychoactive substances. Here’s the abstract and link to the full paper

Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis

A speculative hypothesis is presented according to which the ancient Israelite religion was associated with the use of entheogens (mind-altering plants used in sacramental contexts). The hypothesis is based on a new look at texts of the Old Testament pertaining to the life of Moses. The ideas entertained here were primarily based on the fact that in the arid areas of the Sinai peninsula and Southern Israel there grow two plants containing the same psychoactive molecules found in the plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew Ayahuasca is prepared. The two plants are species of Acacia tree and the bush Peganum harmala. The hypothesis is corroborated by comparative experiential-phenomenological observations, linguistic considerations, exegesis of old Jewish texts and other ancient Mideastern traditions, anthropological lore, and ethnobotanical data.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Hofmann departs leaving colourful mystical legacy


Well, I don’t think I’ve ever received as many messages about any one thing more than the death of Albert Hofmann this week, aged 102. If the response to this one man’s passing is anything to go by he has left a beautiful shining rainbow-coloured smudge in the otherwise black and white history books. The rest of us barely manage a line or two... largely without highlighting. As one friend said, the great mage is now heading for the stars. For those of you who don’t know, Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, was the inventor-cum-discoverer of LSD. Much is known and has been written about Albert’s discovery in terms of its general impact on psychology, psychiatry and culture at large, but less is known about Albert’s impact on parapsychology. An article published a couple of years ago to celebrate his hundredth birthday explores his influence, both directly and indirectly, on the field of paranormal research. A tribute to Albert Hofmann on his 100th birthday: The mysterious discovery of LSD and the impact of psychedelics on parapsychology.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Brain imaging: Old snake oil in new bottles?


In a previous post (Brain scan fails to support validity of ESP), I wrote about those clever Harvard neuroscientists who recently published a brain imaging experiment to find cerebral evidence of telepathy, but which produced no significant results and thereby, somehow, finally disproved the existence of ESP by finding nothing at all. This kind of story belies the perceived arbitration over reality given to the big science of prestigious academic institutions, which ends up reported in the media under some kind of magical veneer that those with the best equipment produce the biggest truth. In reality the claims of this research were just bad science - absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and all that – and this is just one (more) myopically conceived experiment and not the last word on the possibility of paranormal information transfer.

The logic of the ESP brain-imaging article is actually something more akin to what scientists call “magical thinking”, supposedly a kind of illogical associative thinking reserved for the mentally ill, the credulous, and the “primitive” (or in fact anyone who believes in the paranormal). The end result is an article setting to out to disqualify magic through science but which is itself actually propped up on more mumbo-jumbo than a voodoo alter, showing that the scientific elite in this case are actually just peddling cheap sideshow magic under the guise of science and using it to try and convince us that magic doesn’t exist. Oh, the irony.

Anyway, resonating nicely with this mini-rant is a paper just published by Deena Skolnick Weisberg (of Yale, incidentally), in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2008, 20:3, 470-477), entitled, The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations. Weisberg conducted a technologically unsophisticated social psychological experiment to show that people will generally assume that explanations supported by neuroscience are true and accurate, regardless of whether the informational content is actually nonsense or not. Meanwhile, ESP no longer officially exists...


The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations


Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people’s abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation. We tested this hypothesis by giving naïve adults, students in a neuroscience course, and neuroscience experts brief descriptions of psychological phenomena followed by one of four types of explanation, according to a 2 (good explanation vs. bad explanation) by 2 (without neuroscience vs. with neuroscience) design. Crucially, the neuroscience information was irrelevant to the logic of the explanation, as confirmed by the expert subjects. Subjects in all three groups judged good explanations as more satisfying than bad ones. But subjects in the two non-expert groups additionally judged that explanations with logically irrelevant neuroscience information were more satisfying than explanations without. The neuroscience information had a particularly striking effect on non-experts’ judgements of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Time and liberty caps: Mushrooms conquer Chronos


A new study on the “Effects of varied doses of psilocybin ["magic mushrooms"] on time interval reproduction in human subjects” has been published in Neuroscience Letters, (Available online 9 February 2008) by Jiří Wackermann, and his team at University Hospital Zurich (which includes Franz X. Vollenweider).


According to an article on Wired Science Blog, which mistakenly referred to the lead author as a woman, psilocybin subjects had a perception of time moving much more slowly than those who took the lactose placebo. I published an exploratory article about psilocybin time perception a couple of years ago in Strange Attractor Journal 3 that came to the same conclusions, and more. The article - Liberté, légalité, éternité: Some notes on psychonautic misadventures in time - coincided with new legislation in the UK that criminalises the picking of psilocybin-containing mushrooms in the wild, surely a legal anachronism in terms of human rights.


Jiří Wackermann, who was a man last time I saw him, has previously published papers in Neuroscience Letters including a study into EEG brain correlations in distant subjects, a relatively new type of parapsychological investigation into "anomalous distant communication" between humans (i.e., telepathy). Now that Wackermann is conducting psilocybin research I wonder whether he will be looking at parapsychopharmacological effects as well?

Monday, 25 February 2008

DMT elves not fond of maths apparently


In further consideration of the Rodriguez paper on how to test the reality of DMT entities, it would be instructive to consider James Kent’s essay on The Case Against DMT Elves. Rodriguez suggests that we can ask the entities to give up some information that we don’t already know, in this case the answer to a maths problem, and the entity can then tell someone else on DMT later. Trouble is, according to Kent (who has tried something similar himself), the DMT entities are not so keen on helping out, which doesn't seem very sporting…


…the more I experimented with DMT the more I found that the "elves" were merely machinations of my own mind. While under the influence I found I could think them into existence, and then think them right out of existence simply by willing it so. Sometimes I could not produce elves, and my mind would wander through all sorts of magnificent and amazing creations, but the times that I did see elves I tried very hard to press them into giving up some non-transient feature that would confirm at least a rudimentary "autonomous existence" beyond my own imagination. Of course, I could not. Whenever I tried to pull any information out of the entities regarding themselves, the data that was given up was always relevant only to me. The elves could not give me any piece of data I did not already know, nor could their existence be sustained under any kind of prolonged scrutiny. Like a dream, once you realize you are dreaming you are actually slipping into wakefulness and the dream fades. So it is with the elves as well. When you try to shine a light of reason on them they dissolve like shadows.


More of… The Case Against DMT Elves

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Asking DMT entities to solve maths homework... not as weird as it sounds?


Following on from the trialogue on the ontology of Discarnate Entities by Sheldrake, McKenna and Abrams, I thought it topical to put up a link to a recent paper in the Journal of Scientific Exploration that proposes a methodology for studying the reality of DMT entity encounters. For those who don’t know, DMT is an extremely potent psychedelic substance that is found naturally in the human brain and which, if consumed, quite often gives rise to the meeting of extraordinary entities. Although these meetings generally take place in one’s “mind space” (whatever that is) they are of such an ineffable and numinous nature that many people tend to be convinced of the reality of the seemingly sentient beings that they meet, often causing considerable turbulence to one’s sense of what reality really is.

Grossly simplified, the admirable article by Marko Rodriguez proposes obtaining from the entities solutions to complex mathematics puzzles that the DMT experient does not know. Regrettably, this ingenious method for testing the independent existence of entities encountered on DMT is subject to a number of flaws, not least of which are the huge assumptions involved in expecting our supposed hyper-intelligent beings actually having the desire to cooperate and make themselves proven (let alone the DMT experient’s capability to ask them). The most crippling problem for his test, however, is what is known as the "super-psi hypothesis"; an issue long proved difficult to surmount in parapsychological attempts to validate the existence of discarnate entities considered spirits of the dead, e.g. those apparently communicating via trance mediums.

The problem is that, because clairvoyance, telepathy and precognition (collectively called psi) have no theoretical (or even apparent) limits, it always remains a possibility that any information provided by ostensibly discarnate entities may actually be due to the “super” psi of the person (e.g., the medium) receiving the information. One of the most cogent articles on the super-psi hypothesis in relation to survival after death comes from Prof. Stephen Braude and also appeared in the Journal of Scientific Exploration several years earlier in 1992. Anyway here’s the abstract of the Rodriguez paper and a link to the full pdf.



A Methodology for Studying Various Interpretations of the N,N-dimethyltryptamine-Induced Alternate Reality

N,N-dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is an endogenous psychoactive chemical that has been shown through repeated human subject experimentation to provide the subject with a perception of an ‘alternate reality’. When administered a sufficient DMT dose, subjects have reported the presence of intelligent beings that do not appear to be the projections of their subconscious in the Freudian sense. Furthermore, and of particular interest to this article, many subjects believe that the percieved alternate reality is persistent in that it exists irrespective of their subjective momentary perception. Past research into the DMT-induced alternate reality comes solely from subject testimonies and to date, no analysis has been conducted to understand the objective aspects of these extraordinary subjective claims. This article provides a methodology for studying the nature of the DMT-induced alternate reality by means of various simple information theory experiments. These experiments can be used to test which of the presented interpretations of the DMT-induced alternate reality appears most plausible.



Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Trialogue on discarnate entities


Concordant with a talk I gave a couple of weeks ago about DMT and discarnate entities, Rupert Sheldrake (just for a change) has just announced the online release of the ninth in the series of trialogues between Terence McKenna, Ralph Abraham and, well, Rupert Sheldrake of course. The three heavy weight thinkers conduct one of their classic brain-offs and rap about entities in all their glorious (dis) incarnations, be they angelic or psychedelic. Mckenna's call for an embassy for the invisible has a certain appeal...


Are disincarnate and non-human entities mental projections or non-physical, autonomous entities? What can we learn from them? Their variety and persistence in human history. Early modern science and angelic communication. The shamanic model. The aversion to the irrational in Christianity and science. The need to analyze the entities’ messages. A mathematical model of body, soul and spirit. Entities as inhabitants of the spiritual domain of the logos. The evolution of their multifarious representations. The dogma of purgatory. Contacting these entities through dreams and psychedelics. The deepest layers of the faery tradition. Metaphors of light? Entities as artificers and their use of language. Is the world soul behind these entities?


Part one of two

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Urban psychedelic shamanism, the legal way - DXM


Following on from the earlier report about there being 3 million US users of dextromethorphan (DXM) – an over-the-counter drug, which at high doses can lead to ostensibly paranormal and spiritual experiences – an article published recently in the Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies investigates the spiritual aspects of DXM use. Based on reports from users about their use of DXM, the author of the article, Joseph Gelfer, argues that some DXM users specifically use the drug for spiritual and neo-shamanic purposes, qualifying the drug as a sacramental, or "entheogen". Whether or not this substance can induce genuine (i.e., scientifically-tested) paranormal phenomena such as telepathy, as claimed by some users, remains to be seen. What remains apparent, however, is that with the criminalisation of traditional shamanic inebriants, such as psilocybin-containing mushrooms, would-be urban shamans in developed nations are finding new ways to circumvent the law to maintain archaic traditions, proving that necessity breeds ingenuity.


Towards a sacramental understanding of dextromethorphan


Dextromethorphan (DXM) is an ingredient of some cough suppressants which, when consumed in large amounts, can have dissociative and psychedelic effects. Some people within the DXM-user community use DXM to facilitate what they perceive to be spiritual experiences. This paper argues that DXM can therefore be understood within the DXM-user community as a sacrament, and its use located within the neo-shamanic tradition.


Abstract taken from the full article - Gelfer, J. (2007). Towards a sacramental understanding of dextromethorphan. Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies, 3, 80-96.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Over-the-counter “paranormal” drug used by 3.1 million Americans to get high


According to a new report in the US based on SAMHSA's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “…the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM) is found in more than 140 over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications. In 2006 about 3.1 million persons aged 12 to 25 (5.3%) had ever used an over-the-counter cough and cold medication to get high; that is, used it nonmedically. Nearly 1 million persons aged 12 to 25 (1.7%) had used an over-the-counter cough and cold medication to get high in the past year.”


What isn’t popularly known is that at high enough doses the dissociative drug DXM causes subjective paranormal effects similar to those of ketamine, such as out-of-body experiences (OBEs), near-death experiences, a loss of the sense of causality, a sense of presence, encounters with entities, and the occasional experience of extra-sensory perception (White, 1997, Price & Lebel, 2000). These reports were also corroborated by a recent survey on paranormal experience with psychoactive drugs that I conducted with Dr. Marios Kittenis of the University of Edinburgh. We found that several of our survey respondents acknowledged having experiences of clairvoyance, psychokinesis, OBEs, mystical-type experiences, and telepathy in particular (Luke & Kittenis, 2005). Several respondents also independently reported using DXM with others for the explicit purpose of having group telepathic experiences, which they believed to be real and recurrent.


DXM remains a legal drug at the present time, and with increasing numbers of people taking it for non-medical purposes the prevalence of subjective paranormal experiences occurring amongst the public due to this drug must be becoming quite considerable, though no statistics are currently available. Furthermore, no research to date has tested the possibility that these reported telepathic and other experiences with DXM might actually be genuine. Previous research testing the efficacy of psychedelic agents in the production of ESP, mostly conducted throughout the 1960’s with psilocybin and LSD, showed some promising results, despite frequently using novice trippers (Luke, 2005). By the same token, however, much of this research also needed much better controls but certainly encouraged the idea that these drugs may be able to induce genuine psychic experiences, as claimed by shamans across continents and since antiquity. The latest such research project of this kind, using psilocybin and cannabis, was conducted with seemingly adequate controls at the University of Amsterdam by Prof. Dick Bierman and generated very interesting results, partially supporting the apparent efficacy of these substances in stimulating legitimate psychic (i.e., telepathic, clairvoyant or precognitive) phenomena (Bierman, 1998). Further research is certainly begging at this time.


David Luke


(Thanks to James Kent at DoseNation.com for reporting on the SAMHSA paper)


References


Bierman, D. J. (1998, October). The effects of THC and psilocybin on paranormal phenomena. Paper presented at Psychoactivity: A Multidisciplinary Conference on Plants, Shamanism, and States of Consciousness, Amsterdam.


Luke, D. P., & Kittenis, M. (2005). A preliminary survey of paranormal experiences with psychoactive drugs. Journal of Parapsychology, 69 (2), 305-327.


Luke, D. P. (2005). Paranormal phenomena and psychoactive drugs: Fifty-years of research Bulletin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, 15 (3), 15-16.


Price, L. H., & Lebel, J. (2000). Dextromethorphan-induced psychosis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157 (2), 304.


White, W. E. (1997). Altered states and paranormal experiences. In W. E. White, The Dextromethorphan FAQ: Answers to frequently asked questions about DXM, (version 4). Retrieved April 2, 2002, from http://www.erowid.org/chemical/dxm/faq/dxm_paranormal.shtml

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Brain scan tests fail to support validity of ESP


This news article by Carey Goldberg in The Boston Globe offers a fairly typical media view on parapsychology: a researcher outside of the field of parapsychology conducts just one experiment designed to find ESP, in this case in the brain, and fails. In response the media pick up the story and imply that ESP does not exist, particularly because some clever brain scientists looked under the lid to check if it was there. I don't see such articles being written every time a parapsychologist reports significant evidence of ESP.


The other problem here that has not been mentioned is that, in all of the brain's complexity how did these researchers know where to look to actually find ESP? This must have taken a great visionary or precognitive insight in itself. It's hardly any great feat to not find something if you don't know what you're looking for - this news article makes the experiment sound like the neurological equivalent of the SETI project. I guess the real shame is that instead of modifying the research project, the researchers have given up the enquiry because of their negative findings and career worries, further forcing science to strain to manifest truth under the yoke of pessimism and the mighty dollar...


Brain scan tests fail to support validity of ESP


Research on parapsychology is largely taboo in academia, but two Harvard scientists recently set out to settle, once and for all, the age-old question: Is extrasensory perception, or ESP, real?

Their sophisticated experiment answers: No, at least, not as far as they can tell using high-tech brain scanners to detect neural evidence of it.

In this month's Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, a respected academic journal devoted largely to brain imaging, Harvard's Samuel T. Moulton and Stephen M. Kosslyn publish findings aimed to resolve the parapsychological debate that has simmered at least since the time of their Harvard predecessor, William James, more than a century ago.

The study was the first to use cutting-edge brain scanning called functional MRI to address the question of whether ESP powers exist, said Moulton, who has been interested in ESP research since he stumbled across some previous supporting scientific research that he found impressive.


More...

Monday, 14 January 2008

Dawkins vs Sheldrake


At the risk of making this just another Sheldrake blog this little report from Rupert about his meeting with arch-skeptic Richard Dawkins is destined to become a classic in the conflict between skepticism and paranormal research...


Richard Dawkins comes to call

(by Rupert Sheldrake in Network Review: The Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network)

Richard Dawkins is a man with a mission – the eradication of religion and superstition, and their total replacement with science and reason. Channel 4 TV has repeatedly provided him with a pulpit. His two-part polemic in August 2007, called Enemies of Reason, was a sequel to his 2006 diatribe against religion, The Root of All Evil?

Soon before Enemies of Reason was filmed, the production company, IWC Media, told me that Richard Dawkins wanted to visit me to discuss my research on unexplained abilities of people and animals. I was reluctant to take part, but the company’s representative assured me that “this documentary, at Channel 4’s insistence, will be an entirely more balanced affair than The Root of All Evil was.” She added, “We are very keen for it to be a discussion between two scientists, about scientific modes of enquiry”. So I agreed and we fixed a date.

I was still not sure what to expect. Was Richard Dawkins going to be dogmatic, with a mental firewall that blocked out any evidence that went against his beliefs? Or would he be open-minded, and fun to talk to?

The Director asked us to stand facing each other; we were filmed with a hand-held camera. Richard began by saying that he thought we probably agreed about many things, “But what worries me about you is that you are prepared to believe almost anything. Science should be based on the minimum number of beliefs.”

I agreed that we had a lot in common, “But what worries me about you is that you come across as dogmatic, giving people a bad impression of science.”

He then said that in a romantic spirit he himself would like to believe in telepathy, but there just wasn’t any evidence for it. He dismissed all research on the subject out of hand. He compared the lack of acceptance of telepathy by scientists such as himself with the way in which the echo-location system had been discovered in bats, followed by its rapid acceptance within the scientific community in the 1940s. In fact, as I later discovered, Lazzaro Spallanzani had shown in 1793 that bats rely on hearing to find their way around, but sceptical opponents dismissed his experiments as flawed, and helped set back research for well over a century. However, Richard recognized that telepathy posed a more radical challenge than echo-location. He said that if it really occurred, it would “turn the laws of physics upside down,” and added, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

“This depends on what you regard as extraordinary”, I replied. “Most people say they have experienced telepathy, especially in connection with telephone calls. In that sense, telepathy is ordinary. The claim that most people are deluded about their own experience is extraordinary. Where is the extraordinary evidence for that?”

He produced any evidence at all, apart from generic arguments about the fallibility of human judgment. He assumed that people want to believe in “the paranormal” because of wishful thinking.

We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that this was why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far above the chance level.

The previous week I had sent Richard copies of some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, so that he could look at the data.

Richard seemed uneasy and said, “I’m don’t want to discuss evidence”. “Why not?” I asked. “There isn’t time. It’s too complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about.” The camera stopped.

The Director, Russell Barnes, confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. The film he was making was another Dawkins polemic.

I said to Russell, “If you’re treating telepathy as an irrational belief, surely evidence about whether it exists or not is essential for the discussion. If telepathy occurs, it’s not irrational to believe in it. I thought that’s what we were going to talk about. I made it clear from the outset that I wasn’t interested in taking part in another low grade debunking exercise.”

Richard said, “It’s not a low grade debunking exercise; it’s a high grade debunking exercise.”

In that case, I replied, there had been a serious misunderstanding, because I had been led to believe that this was to be a balanced scientific discussion about evidence. Russell Barnes asked to see the emails I had received from his assistant. He read them with obvious dismay, and said the assurances she had given me were wrong. The team packed up and left.

Richard Dawkins has long proclaimed his conviction that “The paranormal is bunk. Those who try to sell it to us are fakes and charlatans”. Enemies of Reason was intended to popularize this belief. But does his crusade really promote “the public understanding of science,” of which he is the professor at Oxford? Should science be a vehicle of prejudice, a kind of fundamentalist belief-system? Or should it be a method of enquiry into the unknown?

Saturday, 5 January 2008

The skepticism of believers


Here's Rupert Sheldrake's New Year message on skepticism...


I used to think of skepticism as a primary intellectual virtue, whose goal was truth. I have changed my mind. I now see it as a weapon.


Creationists opened my eyes. They use the techniques of critical thinking to expose weaknesses in the evidence for natural selection, gaps in the fossil record and problems with evolutionary theory. Is this because they are seeking truth? No. They believe they already know the truth. Skepticism is a weapon to defend their beliefs by attacking their opponents.


Skepticism is also an important weapon in the defence of commercial self-interest. According to David Michaels, who was assistant secretary for environment, safety and health in the US Department of Energy in the 1990s, the strategy used by the tobacco industry to create doubt about inconvenient evidence has now been adopted by corporations making toxic products such as lead, mercury, vinyl chloride, and benzene. When confronted with evidence that their activities are causing harm, the standard response is to hire researchers to muddy the waters, branding findings that go against the industry's interests as "junk science." As Michaels noted, "Their conclusions are almost always the same: the evidence is ambiguous, so regulatory action is unwarranted." Climate change skeptics use similar techniques.


In a penetrating essay called "The Skepticism of Believers", Sir Leslie Stephen, a pioneering agnostic (and the father of Virginia Woolf), argued that skepticism is inevitably partial. "In regard to the great bulk of ordinary beliefs, the so-called skeptics are just as much believers as their opponents." Then as now, those who proclaim themselves skeptics had strong beliefs of their own. As Stephen put it in 1893, " The thinkers generally charged with skepticism are equally charged with an excessive belief in the constancy and certainty of the so-called 'laws of nature'. They assign a natural cause to certain phenomena as confidently as their opponents assign a supernatural cause."


Skepticism has even deeper roots in religion than in science. The Old Testament prophets were withering in their scorn for the rival religions of the Holy Land. Psalm 115 mocks those who make idols of silver and gold: "They have mouths, and speak not: eyes have they, and see not." At the Reformation, the Protestants deployed the full force of biblical scholarship and critical thinking against the veneration of relics, cults of saints and other "superstitions" of the Catholic Church. Atheists take religious skepticism to its ultimate limits; but they are defending another faith, a faith in science.


In practice, the goal of skepticism is not the discovery of truth, but the exposure of other people's errors. It plays a useful role in science, religion, scholarship, and common sense. But we need to remember that it is a weapon serving belief or self-interest; we need to be skeptical of skeptics. The more militant the skeptic, the stronger the belief.


Rupert Sheldrake