Novella's reply, part 4
|The "peak" of mount Damavand, in Iran. Image source: Wikipedia.|
"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:
- 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.)
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- The Carhart-Harris psilocybin study shows that, on the contrary, there are only decreases in brain activity during psychedelic trances;
- 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.