Novella's reply, part 4

The "peak" of mount Damavand, in Iran. Image source: Wikipedia. 
And here we go again. Novella replied with an addendum at the end of his previous post. You need to scroll down to see it. I wouldn't have seen it hadn't a reader pointed it out to me. But let's have a look at what he is saying now:

"He gives no operational definition of what “peak” means (seems like just another way of saying “intense”)."

Simply untrue. I find it amusing that Novella makes claims like this when the entire conversation is on record for everyone to see. Here is a direct quote from my previous response: "The fallacy here is that Novella talks merely of 'intensity,' while conveniently ignoring the other hallmarks of psychedelic experiences: Their structure, coherence, unfathomable complexity, and the fact that they are often described as 'more real than real.'" So I am explicitly adding structure, coherence, complexity, and sense of ultra-reality to the idea of intensity; not just saying 'intensity' in a different way.

"He doesn’t address my points"

I thought I addressed everything of significance to the issues under contention, point by point. What did I miss, Dr. Novella? Let me know and I will react to it.

"Psychadelic [sic] experiences are so emotionally mindblowing because they are outside of our everyday neurological experiences ... None of this  implies that there has to be more neuronal firing going on."

Novella repeats his vague claims but doesn't say very precisely where my argument goes wrong. So let me try it again in a more explicit way, in the interest of advancing the discussion in a more specific and precise manner:

  1. Psychedelic experiences involve all categories of mental function: all five sense modalities, all types of emotion, all types of cognitive activity (language and symbolic aspects, artistic aspects, logical aspects, the finding of connections between mental symbols, etc.), mental reconstructions of physical activities, etc.; all conflated together in an unfathomable apotheosis of subjectivity. So all aspects of mental function are encompassed by psychedelic trances, and brought up to extremely high levels of intensity. I have substantiated this claim with plenty of references in my previous post. For good measure I'll throw in this extra: At least two Nobel prize winners have acknowledged that their key insights were derived from psychedelic trances; (Curious? Here they are: Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, and Kary Mullis, who improved the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique in biochemistry. And let me keep Steve Jobs out of it.)
  2. Since Novella's postulate is that the mind is brain activity, from (1) we can deduce that psychedelic trances should thus make use of at least most resources of brain function normally associated with conscious experience. Were this to be untrue, the absurd implication would be that the brain normally uses significantly more metabolic energy to accomplish what it could accomplish with much less;
  3. We know empirically that extra neuronal firings w.r.t. to an ordinary baseline of activity, visible in an fMRI, are required for the most trivial of mental tasks. Were this not to be the case, an fMRI would have no use. As if it were necessary, I also provided scientific references to this in my previous post;
  4. From (1) and (3), or (2) and (3), we can deduce that, under Novella's postulate, psychedelic trances should make the brain light up like a Christmas tree (w.r.t. to an ordinary baseline of activity) when observed with an fMRI. As a matter of fact, this was the common materialist 'wisdom' before the Carhart-Harris study;
  5. The Carhart-Harris psilocybin study shows that, on the contrary, there are only decreases in brain activity during psychedelic trances;
  6. From (4) and (5) we can deduce that Novella is wrong.

Where is my argument wrong?

"There is nothing “peak” about psychedelic experiences. They are just really different from what we are used to, because our brains are functioning differently. Some processing-intensive modules are out of the mix, like reality testing. So reality is constructed differently from anything we experience in normal wakefulness. Of course these are intense and life altering."

With all due respect, Dr. Novella seems to have no idea what he is talking about here. But I will let him fight this out with the researchers at Johns Hopkins; or those of New Mexico's School of Medicine (references in my previous post). Or, better yet: with the volunteers of those studies (see the movie clip I linked to my previous response), who are the only ones actually in a position to know whether the experience really is peak or not.

I'd like to close this post with a quote from Dr. Rick Strassman, the researcher who started the modern phase of psychedelic research, referring to the effects of the drug in his volunteers:

"[Volunteers] unquestionably had some of the most intense, unusual, and unexpected experiences of their lives. [The drug] thrust research subjects into themselves, out of their bodies, and through various planes of reality ... it is almost inconceivable that [the drug] could provide access to such an amazingly varied array of experiences." (Rick Strassman, in DMT: The Spirit Molecule)

The book has several chapters on experience reports from his volunteers, ranging from mystical experiences, to encounters with entities, to expeditions into worlds of hyper-dimensional geometry; the lot. I recommend it to anyone honestly interested in learning what a psychedelic experience actually is.

Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Does this shed any light on the matter?
    http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/spurious-positive-mapping-of-brain.html


    And from a comment...

    'The most interesting thing is that they ran 3 dead persons in the scanner and still found low frequency oscillations, suggesting that they originate from the scanner and not from the subject.'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, note that the problem here is a false _positive_. The psilocybin study found _negatives_, so the problem mentioned here could actually be construed to render the psilocybin study results even stronger. But your point is that the fMRIs are unreliable; I understand that.

      As I mentioned in another comment yesterday, the psilocybin study used various protocols to deal with fMRI uncertainties, including measuring two separate signals (BOLD and ALS), and using a metabolic model as sanity check. This is an exemplar study as far as the use of fMRIs.

      But if still one thinks that fMRIs cannot be trusted, that's fine too. Then we need to be consistent: Along with the psilocybin study we have to discard myriad other studies used by materialists as evidence for the brain-produces-mind hypothesis, and abandon fMRIs everywhere; even for purely clinical purposes. I am not in a position to judge whether this is necessary; I'm just pointing out what consistency would require.

      Delete
  2. Sorry if this is a duplicate. I failed the robot test?

    Does this shed any light on the matter?
    http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/spurious-positive-mapping-of-brain.html


    And from a comment...

    'The most interesting thing is that they ran 3 dead persons in the scanner and still found low frequency oscillations, suggesting that they originate from the scanner and not from the subject.'

    ReplyDelete
  3. 'we have to discard myriad other studies used by materialists as evidence for the brain-produces-mind hypothesis, and abandon fMRIs everywhere;'

    I am sure fMRIs measure something. I am less sure of what exactly they measure.

    I happen to think that the brain/mind duelist hypothesis is the result of our metaphorical abstract thinking. Is Gilbert Ryle so out of date now? I happen to favour the position of Thomas Szasz.. that the 'mind' is a verb that has become a noun. In the same way that the fist (verb) has become a 'thing' but is actually only the action of a hand. But examining the fist as evidence of the hand leads to categorical mistakes. I should mind my own business and my language. (Diificult at times.. ask Steven.

    Incidently I do not dismiss your views. I had a little debate with Dr. Richard Strauss a while back when he thought that the views of David Deutsch may explain DMT experiences. I refered him to Frank J Tipler. Maybe we are the resurrections? I enjoy exploring the ideas of Ed Fredkin, Digital Physics, and http://www.nickbostrom.com/..

    But I feel this is a fruitless debate when so many positions are entrenched in such 'righteous' speculation. Good luck though,,, ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. With all due respect, Dr. Novella seems to have no idea what he is talking about here.

    This is the part that's really hard to get a handle on... I mean, we all want to ladle out respect for Steve... he's a nice guy... he has great credentials... bla, bla, bla. so, why such a poorly constructed argument? why such a shoot-from-the-hip unapologetic misrepresentation of the research?

    we might need to reassess the "due" part of "due respect."

    ReplyDelete

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