The LSD study: an author responds

Picture by Imperial College London.

[Updated on 16 April 2016. A follow-up has also been published here.]

Yesterday I published an essay criticizing the media coverage of a brand new study on the neural correlates of the LSD experience. In that essay, I analyzed the original study and compared it to what the media reported. Towards the end, I also shared some social commentary about the media's role in our culture today, based on a philosophical interpretation of the study's results.

Today one of the study's authors, Luke Williams, responded to my essay through a comment in a Facebook group. I reproduce his response verbatim and in full below, inserting my comments and rebuttals as appropriate. Since, as you are about to see, Williams attacks the second part of my essay unceremoniously, I feel legitimized to now bring to the table aspects of my argument that I have held back in yesterday's essay. Namely, I feel now warranted to criticize the study authors themselves, for what I see as their shortcomings in ensuring accurate communication of their results to and by the media.

Williams starts by acknowledging the accuracy of my analysis. Referring to my essay, he writes:

This is half ok. The first section about the misrepresentation of the research in CNN and the Guardian is actually good, and he's clear that the paper itself doesn't support such interpretations, and it's a shame that the reporting is poor.

Great. The authors, of course, are authorities when it comes to their methods and results, so Williams' comments dispel any doubts there might have been about the accuracy of my assessment. But he continues:

On the other hand, the material is of a technical level that makes it really, really hard to describe without quite a lot of background, and it's hard to know how we can make this situation better. 
But this is true for ALL science & medical journalism, from the most simple examples of relative and absolute risk, to the misrepresentation of experimental data of all kinds - pretty pictures sell more copies (apologies, generate more clicks and sell more adspace) than dry technical prose. 

This is a defeatist appeal to sympathy and acquiescence that I certainly do not condone. If we were to follow along with Williams's views here, our culture and society would soon turn into a circus. Whether we like it or not, science has gained tremendous power in defining our cultural narrative about truth and reality, and neither the scientific media nor the scientists themselves can shy away from the responsibility this invests them with. As a matter of fact, I herewith call on the LSD study's authors to own up to this responsibility and actively demand that the media amend and correct their reporting. In my view, it is not OK for the authors to wash their hands as they watch the circus unfold. If they don't actively attempt to rectify the media's mistakes, who will? No, think about it: who else will? Moreover, it is even less OK for the authors to contribute to the circus by misrepresenting their own results (more on this below).

The second step of his argument is that the images and words chosen by the Guardian and CNN support a materialist metaphysics which is actually the opposite of what the paper says: "their choices portray the research results as confirming materialist expectations. That the results in fact do the opposite is not discussed anywhere". This is just total nonsense ...

Well, let us take a step back and contemplate the obvious: under materialism, brain activity constitutes experience. When people trip on psilocybin or LSD they report a significant increase in the intensity and breadth of their experiences. Therefore, materialists would expect to see an also significant increase in activity somewhere in the brain (yes, yes, I know about inhibitory neural processes and all that; more on it below). That the opposite is seen certainly doesn't corroborate materialist expectations, does it? Refusing to acknowledge this is puerile.

As I mentioned above, the study's authors are authorities when it comes to their methods and results. But they are not necessarily authorities when it comes to the philosophical interpretation of their results. The assertion Williams is calling 'total nonsense' is an assessment of philosophy, particularly metaphysics (as Williams himself acknowledges) and philosophy of mind. As such, Williams is simply expressing an uninformed opinion here; which he is, of course, entitled to do, just as any (lay) person.

My assertion that the LSD study's results favor a non-materialist ontology was not a casual one. I have been elaborating on this ontology for years now and the body of my work grounds my assertion. I have now written six books on the subject, countless essays and articles, and published dozens of videos. I have even written an analytic white paper summarizing my position, which is freely available in pre-print format.

... and based a weak understanding of the background of brain imagining science. Reductions in brain activity (as demonstrated via MEG in this current paper) no NOT support any non-materialist interpretations, universal consciousness, etc. For the very simple reason that reductions in brain activity occur all the time in normal cognition.

This can't possibly count as a refutation of my assertion, can it? Yes, reductions in brain activity occur all the time, and so do reductions in the intensity and breadth of subjective experience. The point is this: when a significant increase in the intensity and breadth of experience comes accompanied by a simultaneous decrease in overall brain activity, it becomes at least trickier to see how brain activity could constitute subjective experience.

The brain is a dynamic system that rapidly shifts resources to adapt to different functions. You can see reductions in brain activity in certain networks and areas under loads of different simple experiments and tasks, and these reductions are relative - we're talking about a few percent reduction in activity compared to the global brain, not a "total shutdown" as some have misrepresented it as.

Again, this misses the point entirely. For instance, in the original 2012 psilocybin study by the same Imperial College group, it has been shown that there were no significant increases in brain activity anywhere in the brain, only widespread decreases. The present LSD study shows no significant increases either. How can, under materialism, a significant increase in the intensity and breadth of experience correlate with no significant increase in activity anywhere in the brain? Where does the increase in experiential intensity and breadth come from? Appealing to a cessation of certain inhibitory processes doesn't cut the mustard, for that should then be accompanied by an increase in activity somewhere else in the brain (namely, the activity no longer inhibited). Yet, such an increase wasn't observed.

I have been debating neuroscientists on this for years now, and Williams doesn't really bring anything new to the table. In fact, he misses all the best materialist counterpoints that his more famous colleagues, such as Dr. Christof Koch and Dr. Steven Novella, have made against me. For completeness, here is a summary of my argument. If Williams can bring something to the table that hasn't already been covered in this summary, then by all means let us debate it.

Finally, to suggest that this is part of some sort of materialist conspiracy/stymergy is just speculative nonsense.

I seem to have hit a nerve...

It's only because this is poor reporting of some technical science, where the journalists have happened to go for the most pretty pictures they can, happens to be in the field of psychdelic neuroscience, that there's a connection with consciousness and materialism vs anti materialism at all.

This is a rather innocent view, especially when taking into consideration that the picture chosen by The Guardian wasn't the prettiest. Be it as the case may be, to counter this criticism Williams forces me to bring up what I believe to be an example of stigmergy rather close to him: that of Robin Carhart-Harris, his colleague and lead author of the LSD and psilocybin studies in question here. I believe it's safe to assume that Williams himself would acknowledge that Carhart-Harris isn't motivated by pretty pictures.

Before I proceed, however, let me make one thing absolutely clear: I've never said that the stigmergy I describe is necessarily malicious. I think the vast majority of its perpetrators do not act out of dishonesty or evil intentions. They are just caught up in the dynamics of the stigmergy. Regarding Robin Carhart-Harris, I feel absolute conviction that his actions towards the media have always been well-intended and honest; never malicious. Let this be very clear upfront.

Available now.

Nonetheless, I believe Carhart-Harris has misrepresented the results of his own group's research towards the media; more than once. I've elaborated extensively on this in essay 3.5 of my book Brief Peeks Beyond, from which I quote below:

[In an essay] titled ‘Magic mushrooms expand your mind and amplify your brain’s dreaming areas,’ Carhart-Harris goes on to say that psilocybin ‘increased the amplitude … of activity’ in brain regions associated with dreaming. This is not corroborated by the 2014 technical paper, which reports an increase only in the amplitude of variations of brain activity levels. Carhart-Harris then speculates that psychedelics enabled ‘disinhibited activity’ in neural systems associated with emotions. This again suggests that activity increases somewhere in the brain as a result of psychedelic use, both in contradiction to Carhart-Harris’ own 2012 results and without substantiation in the 2014 technical article. In another popular article in which Carhart-Harris is quoted, he goes beyond mere suggestion: ‘You’re seeing these areas getting louder, and more active,’ he is quoted as saying. ‘It’s like someone’s turned up the volume there.’ What’s going on here? 
Puzzled, I emailed Carhart-Harris asking for clarifications. He and Enzo Tagliazucchi, the main author of the second study, replied promptly and very generously. The email exchange that ensued over several days confirms my assessments above. Namely:
  • Indeed, they found just an increase in the variability of the brain activity signal, that is, an increase in fluctuations as opposed to a constant, unchanging signal. Phase information is lost in the variability analysis, so no conclusions can be extracted about the average amplitude of the signal.
  • Tagliazucchi interprets the variability of brain activity during rest as analogous to actual brain activity when the subject is engaged in performing a task. The variability may show how often spontaneously occurring neural processes engage and disengage, thus providing a measure of ‘something going on’ in the brain while the subject is at rest. As such, variability could be looked upon as a kind of ‘meta-activity’ measurement that may correlate better with the qualitative changes in subjective experience reported by the subjects.
  • Actual brain activity has not been found to increase anywhere in the brain.
After having seen an earlier draft of this essay, the researchers requested that I do not quote their email messages to me; a request I find disappointing but which I am honoring. All I can thus say is that, following extensive and in-depth exchanges with them, it is my genuine understanding that Carhart-Harris’ popular science piece and some of his statements quoted in the press were inaccurate. Carhart-Harris himself has neither explicitly agreed with nor denied this assessment, although I believe it to be an inescapable implication of the email communications. 
I see nothing wrong with exploring the idea of ‘meta-activity.’ In fact, I applaud it. I just feel that the terminology should be used rigorously and unambiguously to avoid misleading readers and the media alike. You see, brain activity – that is, metabolism – is one thing; variations of brain activity are another thing entirely. Speed is not the same as acceleration. A car that repeatedly stops, accelerates and then stops again is not necessarily a car that travels fast. The theoretical hypothesis that ‘meta-activity’ may be a more useful measurement does not make it valid to use the word ‘activity’ as shorthand for ‘activity variability.’
(Brief Peeks Beyond, pp. 89-91)

Do I believe Carhart-Harris' misrepresentation was a sincere and honest mistake? As I said above, absolutely. I even think the mistake was understandable. The confusion arose from a technical point related to signal processing (which I happen to have an education on), not neuroscience. For completeness, allow me to explain it: the 2014 study found an increase in the ‘total spectral power’ of brain activity in certain regions. This seems to suggest that brain activity increased, but it has nothing to do with it. Technically, to calculate the ‘spectral power’ one must first derive the so-called Fourier Transform of the brain activity signal. By doing so, the original time-domain signal is moved onto the frequency domain and broken down into its many frequency components (the so-called ‘frequency spectrum’). The ‘spectral power’ is calculated by squaring the amplitude of those frequency components. One then knows how much ‘power’ each component contributes to the original time-domain signal. But because phase information is discarded in the calculation, one doesn’t know whether the contribution of each component is constructive or destructive. In other words, one doesn’t know whether a component interferes constructively or destructively with the others. Often the total spectral power is huge but, because the components interfere mostly destructively with each other, the time-domain signal is puny. In contrast, low total spectral power often corresponds to a significant time-domain signal, because the component frequencies are in phase and interfere constructively with each other, adding up their respective contributions. Therefore, an increase in ‘total spectral power,’ in and of itself, neither implies nor suggests that brain activity increased. Carhart-Harris, perhaps misled by the word 'power,' thought that it did and passed that interpretation on to the media.

Again, this is an understandable mistake for sure. But it also happens to be a mistake that rendered the interpretation of the paper beautifully consistent with materialist expectations. So I ask you: if the mistake had led to a conclusion that contradicted materialism, would it have been more thoroughly checked before being passed on to the media? Would more questions have been raised? Would the media itself have been a little more critical about the message if it appeared to contradict materialism? No assumption of maliciousness is required to imagine that the answer to these questions is 'yes.' Carhart-Harris' mistaken interpretation contradicted even his own previous work, yet that apparently wasn't enough to trigger a cautious reconsideration. Could it have something to do with the fact that the mistake happened to fit materialist intuitions like a glove? If so, this is the stigmergy I am talking about, and it has nothing to do with pretty pictures. Materialism has become a self-reinforcing paradigm of thought whose increasing disconnect with reality is continuously and actively obfuscated by the stigmergy.

The remainder of Williams' criticism requires no rebuttal or comment, really. I quote it below purely in the interest of completeness:

Finally, EVEN if it was the case (although it's certainly not been demonstrated here) hierarchical power structures in society use the currently leading philosophical paradigm to further their own ends - um, so what? The point about entrenched power in late capitalism is that it tries to use whatever it can, including turning the apparently radical and revolutionary into tools (see "Commodify Your Dissent" for background). The power structures for 100s of years used another paradigm - dualism, via theology, to oppress, enslave and maintain their grip on power. It's not a unique problem to "evil" materialism, dudes.

I want to conclude this essay by highlighting my admiration for the world-class scientific work Williams, Carhart-Harris, and the entire crew at Imperial College London are doing in the field of psychedelic research. Theirs is courageous, pioneering, timely and incredibly important work. Its potential applications in restoring psychedelics not only as a legitimate, but also extraordinarily effective tool in our pharmacology are hard to overestimate. My criticism towards them is limited to only two points: their interactions with the media and their occasional attempt to foray into philosophy of mind, which does no service to their scientific work. I applaud their research and wish them only the best in their pursuits.

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Copyright © 2016 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Wow this is a fantastic exchange and response! I really had to laugh at this priceless quote:

    "... and based a weak understanding of the background of brain imagining science. Reductions in brain activity (as demonstrated via MEG in this current paper) no NOT support any non-materialist interpretations, universal consciousness, etc. For the very simple reason that reductions in brain activity occur all the time in normal cognition."

    This wins the Unintended Irony Prize of 2016.

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    1. You're familiar with Charles Eisenstein, no? He skewers the view "the cause is more important [than kindness]," and shows how it comes from the same place as the need for materialism. Might it be that kindness provides a direct avenue for "the cause," (whatever it may be)? I really think so; this kindness thing isn't ultimately about morality in the usual sense. A trippy thought, no?

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    2. It sounds innocent to me, too :) I took your above comment at face value -- that there actually was regret (at being unkind), followed by the recognition that the cause is more important. For me this is usually followed by my deciding that the action therefore actually was kind.

      Therein lies the trap that ensnares humanity -- and it's the same one that gives rise to a seemingly physical world.

      Of course, maybe I just misunderstood you. Either way, there really is a neat possibility here. It becomes more obvious why the kindest Tibetan monks are said to be the ones most capable of pointing out the nature of mind to others.

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    3. I think you didn't misunderstand me, and I see what you are driving at. I am open to it if the meaning of the term 'kindness' is rather flexible. But if we take it to mean what people normally mean by it, I still think it's a little naive to expect to change the cultural narrative without some degree of (unkind) assertiveness.

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    4. Yes for sure, "nice" will never cut it.

      It's hard to define "kind", but I'm sure you have a sense of where I'm pointing. It's maybe easier to notice "unkind." If I'm in an argument I can often feel ego (e.g., I detect a desire to one-up the other person; teach them a lesson; put them in their place; etc.). Even if I can't immediately recognize this as unkindness, perhaps later some regret kicks in. Even then I can pave it over with justification ("well it moves forward this important agenda, so it must have been kind").

      I would love to see this idea made more precise, and you're good at that. Kindness is *always* the "right" "strategy," but it sounds either naive or like moralizing to say so. Somehow it induces all parties to gain a deeper insight into the nature of reality.

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    5. Yeah, I see where you are subtly trying to lead me to with this... ;) I take it to heart, though part of me does think it's useful to 'feel some ego' now and then, since I am engaged in a cultural contest.

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    6. Yeah, I think the part of me that thinks it's in some kind of contest is the same part that doesn't yet recognize the metaphysics that the rest of me is espousing :)

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    7. Luckily I don't have that issue... I am fully metaphysically integrated ;)

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    8. And, I do understand the commenter's (rhc's) point - The correlations between "normal cognition" and observed brain activity, used to justify the claim "reductions in brain activity occur all the time in normal cognition" are not sufficient evidence that the brain changes cause said normal cognition. (ie the evidence he's using to justify the MEG claim is guilty of the same circular reasoning, it's assumed-premises-of-materialism all the way down).

      But the problem is, the whole enterprise of science rests upon the foundation of materialism. I'd like to see "evidence" for antimaterialism. Is there any? I'd think that any physical evidence to the contrary, instead of "defeating" materialism, would simply change the stance of scientists within the realm of materialism.

      fMRI has immense limitations. Its spatial resolution is okay, its temporal resolution is shit, and it's only measuring an analogue of actual neural activity. We know these things. So when we discover something like "decreased activity leads to increased phenomenological experience," it's a much smaller leap to think it's a quirk in the tool itself or our assumptions about how the tool's measurements relate to the brain than to assume there's something else.

      How is the "evidence" for antimaterialism any *less* grounded than materialism on axioms that themselves have no real proof yet?

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    9. Oops, nix the "And" that started the comment :D, it's confusing and shouldn't be there.

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    10. Bryan, in my book Why Materialism Is Baloney, Chapter 2, I pulled together the evidence against materialism, and for a formulation of idealism, in neuroscience.

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  2. Fantastic. Best line:

    "So I ask you: if the mistake had led to a conclusion that contradicted materialism, would it have been more thoroughly checked before being passed on to the media? Would more questions have been raised? Would the media itself have been a little more critical about the message if it appeared to contradict materialism? No assumption of maliciousness is required to imagine that the answer to these questions is 'yes.'"

    I do have a question. At the very end there you say that you criticize them for their occasional attempt to foray into philosophy of mind. Would it not be to their advantage to have some education in the matter, perhaps quite a lot, given what they do? It seems to me they should, and perhaps you didn't mean to suggest that the separation between science and philosophy should be increased or enforced, but I think the people who are studying our brains should also be the people who are most capable of wondering what the hell they're doing in the first place. What is that you meant just there?

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    1. I largely agree and sympathize with your view. At the same time, these guys are already fighting a huge fight: trying to legitimize psychedelics for medical use. It's an uphill battle and negotiating their way across all the mines is at best tricky. Yet, it's a very important battle with very real potential implications for millions of people suffering through the hell of depression and anxiety today. They are doing a good job at it, making steady progress, and getting messed up with philosophy of mind wouldn't help them at all, I think.

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  3. The unsaid irony here is that Carhart-Harris, to the bemusement of many materialist-minded colleagues, has brought Freudian concepts into the picture (decrease of activity as ego-death). On the one hand, Freud was dogmatic about his concepts, but on the other these pre-neurobiology concepts are, compared to modern neuroscience and imaging, in the philosophical/metaphysical vein. I appreciate the exchange, and share the opinion that materialism is an unsatisfactory lens with which to view consciousness in general. I commend Stuart Hameroff, who has also criticized this group's interpretations of their work, for his work towards a non-dualist conception of mind.

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    1. Yes, I've seen Stuart's comments on it. On a side note, Freud was thoroughly materialistic...

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    2. What I meant Is that compared with modern neuroscience Freud might as well be in the philosophical/metaphysical section of the bookstore

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  4. I read the entire post above. And some of the comments. I have phd and teach brain and behavior at a medium university. I have done various kinds of brain imaging research. I felt compelled to say that your logic and points seem sound... You win debate on this point. You were not unkind, clear so that persons like me, if interested, can judge both sides. It is not consistent with what would be predicted... they do not have to say they have switched to an idealistic view to say the results were a but surprising or something like that. I agree it is wrong to help give impression brain activity increases.

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    1. Oh man. Scientists can be so dense sometimes. They do not see the trap they are caught in or the seriousness of the problems they cause with their ideologically-slanted experimental-interpretations and garbled reporting. Presumably because they are too deeply buried in the wonky paradigm that the operate within that they think they are thinking freely and reasonably.

      Great response, and it seemed very fair and thoughtful. It would not be surprising if the authors of the research simply couldn't 'get' what you are on about since scientists are so often terrible philosophers. No materialist has ever understood philosophy and this seems unlikely to be a coincidence.

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  5. Great discussion. I still have a hard time with this logic:

    "When people trip on psilocybin or LSD they report a significant increase in the intensity and breadth of their experiences. Therefore, materialists would expect to see an also significant increase in activity somewhere in the brain (yes, yes, I know about inhibitory neural processes and all that; more on it below)."

    Why does the materialist or physicalist expect intensity of experience to be reflected by significant increase in activity somewhere in the brain? To me this is a specific empirical prediction that is orthogonal to physicalism. Why wouldn't a dualist neuroscientist make the same prediction? She might assume that mind is separate from brain, but not independent of it. She might work in brain imaging within a specific experimental and theoretical framework – and it might still possible for her to believe in dualism.

    Think of Francis Collins who led the genome project - he is a Christian. He made several specific hypotheses about how genes work within a purely biological framework - he nonetheless believes in God as a supernatural/non-material "thing".

    Physicalism is not an empirically testable claim about the mind or the universe – it is a metaphysical assumption. As such, physicalism would not entail any specific experimental predictions about brain activity and mental states. Physicalism asserts that the universe (including us) is physical and comprehensible to us using physics (or science).
    I don’t think physicalism can be ruled out with experiments because it is not an empirical prediction.
    This is putting aside of course the myriad issues with the nature of the signals being measured in the brain and what they really mean. We know that these molecules alter subjective experience and we know now that they altar brain activity – we still do not know how or why psychedelics change our experience.

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    1. Hi Andrew,

      Under materialism/physicalism, experience _is_ brain activity of some form, at some level. Therefore, more experience should correlate to more brain activity of some form, at some level. It's pretty straightforward.

      That an analogous empirical prediction might apply to certain formulations of dualism does not negate what I said above about the implications of materialism.

      By the way, I am not a dualist; I am a monistic idealist: https://www.scribd.com/doc/305856953/On-why-idealism-is-superior-to-physicalism-and-micropsychism.

      Cheers, B.

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    2. I don't think it's so straighforward. What does "more experience" mean? I think psychedelics change experience, they do not necessarily increase it (and I am not sure how we can measure increasing experience except through subjectively generated verbal reports). Maybe physiological arousal is a proxy. But we cannot say for certain that increased neuronal firing means increased blood flow, see for example http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v12/n2/full/nn0209-99.html "the link between the BOLD signal and neural activity is much less clear".

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    3. If you are making wild love while plunging down a roller coaster and listening to rock music in a bright sunny day, you are having a more intense and broader experience than if you were meditating on your breath in a dark and silent room. Anyone who has ever undergone a full-force psychedelic trip will tell you that it is unfathomably more intense and broader than the fantasy I just described. To dismiss the significance of this because of semantic games about the meaning of the words 'intensity' and 'breath' is to willfully ignore the facts of reality.

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    4. The paper in question used MEG to verify a decrease in brain activity. My previous essay makes it abundantly clear.

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    5. I am not dismissing the significance of the psychedelic experience (self-promotion warning: I just wrote a book about conscious machines on acid http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/beyond-zero-and-one-by-andrew-smart/).

      I only think we ought to be careful to assume that the intensity of this experience should have some straightforward linear relationship to measurable brain activity. One thing that we know from all the brain scanning studies is that there is no simple relationship between behavior and brain activity, and I would bet that the relationship between psychedelic experience and brain activity is even more nonlinear and complex. I think this LSD study, for all its complexity and analysis sophistication, is nonetheless only scratching the surface of what is happening in the brain. At the dendrite, dendritic spine, molecular level - and how this relates to neuronal firing.

      I am sympathetic to your idealist stance, but I still think consciousness is a physical phenomenon. Are you familiar with Riccardo Manzotti's spread-mind idea? http://www.thespreadmind.com/

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    6. I never said that there is a 'linear relationship' between subjective experience and brain activity; that's a straw man. Obviously the relationship isn't linear, since brain activity can be inhibitory or excitatory, and within these two general classes there are all kind of neurotransmitters with different affinities and mechanisms of action. What I said is so simple it baffles me you seem to still have difficulties with it: under materialism, brain activity constitutes experience. Therefore, an increase in experience must correlate with some increase in brain activity somewhere, once you take into account the inhibitory processes. Now, disputing that there is meaning in talking about 'degrees' or 'intensities' of subjective experience is downright silly, since every person alive knows that some experiences are rich and intense, while others are rather dull and nearly subliminal. I don't plan to go around this circle again. Will be glad to reply if you bring up something new.

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    7. I am sympathetic to your idealist stance, but I still think consciousness is a physical phenomenon. Are you familiar with Riccardo Manzotti's spread-mind idea? http://www.thespreadmind.com/

      You may think consciousness is a physical phenomenon but have no real reason to do so. What's going on in the brain? Electrical impulses. Basically electrons moving from point A to point B. Is there anything in electromagnetic theory that could account for consciousness arising from the movement of electrons? No. No theory, no math, no evidence. If you think electrons moving creates consciousness then your electric toothbrush is a genius. In addition since electric impulses seem to be happening in your head and in mine why are you you and me me? What's the difference in the electrical impulses that happened and are happening in the billions of bodies that aren't associated with you vs the one you are associated with? Why did you spring forth at all? How did the physical parameters of the universe change so you should suddenly appear?

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    8. For the sake of argument let's grant the hypothesis that "an increase in experience must correlate with some increase in brain activity somewhere" is true. The LSD study under discussion did not rule that out at all. That hypothesis has not been falsified, yet. This study is not an exhaustive study of all possible types neuronal activity, nor is it even an exhaustive study of all types of neuronal activity caused by LSD. We can still only infer that the differences in brain activity between placebo and active arms of the study were in some way caused by LSD. There may have been a massive amount increased neuronal activity somewhere that this study did not capture.

      I agree with the premise that brain activity constitutes experience, but I don't think the next part follows - that an increase in experience must correlate with an increase in brain activity (however defined). Even with this study there is still so much we do not understand, and we constantly underestimate what is really going on in the brain. It could turn out that subjective increases in experience result from reorganizations of cortical networks so that inhibitory networks decrease activity allowing the baseline activity of some networks to penetrate conscious experience - therefore the increase in experience does not have to be from an increase in activity anywhere.

      And electrical impulses is one type of thing going on in the brain - there are literally billions of other types of things going on in the brain. And "how the physical parameters of the universe changed so I should suddenly appear" is the grand challenge of neuroscience. Although I don't think we suddenly appear - the brain might learn to be conscious just like it learns to move our limbs allowing us to walk.

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    9. "I agree with the premise that brain activity constitutes experience, but I don't think the next part follows - that an increase in experience must correlate with an increase in brain activity"

      Gosh, did I really read this?

      I don't really have anything constructive to say about your apologetic, obscurantist and promissory rambling. Sorry, signing out.

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    10. I am not apologizing for, obscuring or promising anything. I think it's a fun discussion. I know you're signed out - but since LSD is often said to mimic psychosis what do you make of evidence that people who develop psychosis show deficits in structural grey matter? That is - it might turn out that psychosis is not caused my any increase in brain activity, but rather the a change in the way the brain is organized. Is psychosis more experience or less? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3192809/

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    11. I'd like to chime in and defend Andrew here. "I agree with the premise that brain activity constitutes experience, but I don't think the next part follows - that an increase in experience must correlate with an increase in brain activity" is totally plausible.

      This example is simplistic but neurocomputationally accurate: The same neuron can code multiple things; cycling at 10 Hz it can be partaking in the representation of the concept "cat," and cycling at 50 Hz it can be partaking in the representation of the concept "mouse." The former state is decidedly "less brain behavior," but the phenomenological experience is simply *different*.

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    12. Bryan, that sentence is a direct logic contradiction. It literally says "I agree that A is B but I don't think it follows that if A increases B should also increase".

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    13. My logic is this: A is B, if A increases (again depending on definitions - is consciousness experience a quantity?) B changes. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/12/3799.full.pdf

      The point is - whether brain activity increases or decreases globally or locally on LSD says nothing about materialism - again because materialism is not an empirically testable claim about the mind. We simply do not understand what the relationship between oscillations, metabolism and experience (altered or not) is - this what the authors of the paper are trying to find out.

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    14. [First, thank you for directing to the specific book chapter above, I'll check it out. Also, your Scribd idealism paper as well will be checked out :)]
      I think the disagreemment arises from the *quantification* of "experience." So, in your example above, sex-on-the-roller-coaster times are great and are *indeed* "more" phenomenological experience, one we'd surely expect more brain activity in. But (in my cat/mouse example) neural coding models fully allow for different cellular energy expenditure coding for different phenomena, differences cannot be quantified. Looking at emotion instead of conceptual percepts, if we found that anger is correlated with *more* brain activity than elation, we would gladly say that the brain activity in anger is greater, and that the brain state has caused them both, while the phenomenological difference between anger and elation may not be "more experience" in one or the other.

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    15. From my book Why Materialism Is Baloney:

      "Today we find ourselves in a peculiar situation wherein, of all things, _ignorance_ is often used to defend materialism: since nobody can specify unambiguously what physiological process supposedly is consciousness, neuroscientists can always postulate a different hypothetical mapping that conceivably explains any particular experience. All that is required is some – any – level of activity anywhere in the brain, which is not too difficult to find or reasonably assume. The problem, of course, is that one cannot postulate a different materialist theory of consciousness for each different situation and still claim that the evidence supports materialism."

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    16. I feel somewhat embarrassed to have to continue to elaborate this. Let me try to make it as plain as possible:

      Situation one: a volunteer either stares into the inside coil of a brain scanner or the back of their own eye lids for 2 hours, hearing the hum of the scanner. Other than the occasional intrusive thought, they experience nothing else.

      Situation two: a volunteer leaves his body, enters a wormhole into the center of the galaxy where he contemplates the cosmos, then travels in time to the most emotionally intense moments of his life, relives their own birth, the first time they made love and, before returning, has a conversation with God where all the secrets of life, the universe and everything are revealing to him.

      Assuming that situation two, unambiguously realistic as it may be, is entirely mental, would a materialist expect to see more brain activations for situation two than for situation one?

      Does a materialist expect a dreaming brain to exhibit more activations than a dreamless sleeping brain?

      My questions are rhetorical, of course. I rest my case.

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    17. Alternative interpretation from a layman:
      When I take psychedelics, my hearing gets better, my visual perception changes, my skin gets more sensitive and my mind is free like a child's.

      I've always seen this as my filters being turned off. Background noise, even a ticking clock after some time, the brain filters it out, but not on psychedelics. When you're in a room with a specific smell, after a few minutes you get used to it and don't smell it anymore, but not on psychedelics.

      What if all this brain activity normally happens because we need all these 'filters' to make sense out of what we perceive? With some areas of the brain not talking to each other to avoid confusion. So on psychedelics, these filters turn low or off, consequently providing you with the (close to) raw input of the universe around us. With no brain processes running that block specific thoughts or connections, we perceive this like a child that's still trying to make sense of all what it is experiencing.

      Like on a server, when a spam filter and firewall are running, the CPU is more active, but its 'experience' is controlled and makes sense. Turn them off, and there's less CPU activity with a richer experience.

      This theory would support the findings that there's reduced brain activity while having a full experience.

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    18. Mark, as I explain in Why Materialism Is Baloney, Chapter 2, I am sympathetic to the 'filter hypothesis' as a metaphor for something that can be more unambiguously and parsimoniously explained by Idealism. Anyway, in conclusion, yes, I like your analogy and think you are on to something.

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    19. I still don’t agree that materialism commits one to specific experimental hypotheses about brain activity or the relationship between perceived “intensity” of experience to putative brain activity. The functional significance of brain activity as measured by various imaging methods is very much debated. There is no one-to-one mapping of frequency band activity to cognitive functions or consciousness. Nor is there a one-to-one mapping of cognitive function or consciousness to brain metabolism.
      There are hundreds of papers on the experimental situation you outlined:
      “Situation one: a volunteer either stares into the inside coil of a brain scanner or the back of their own eye lids for 2 hours, hearing the hum of the scanner. Other than the occasional intrusive thought, they experience nothing else.”
      The resting state and default mode network research is one of the central discoveries of recent neuroscience. Marcus Raichle, who discovered the default mode network says,
      “Finding a network of brain areas frequently seen to decrease its activity during attention demanding tasks was both surprising and challenging: surprising because the areas involved had not previously been recognized as a system in the same way that we might think of the motor or visual system, and challenging because initially it was unclear how to characterize their activity in a passive or resting condition.”

      http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-neuro-071013-014030
      And in another review of resting state brain acitivity,

      “Task-related increases in neuronal metabolism are usually small (<5%) when compared with this large resting energy consumption.”

      http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v8/n9/full/nrn2201.html

      That is – during focused attention the default mode network decreases its activity, but during Situation One as you described, a volunteer stares into the coil, the default mode network increases its activity.

      “Does a materialist expect a dreaming brain to exhibit more activations than a dreamless sleeping brain?”
      A materialist does not expect anything specific about the relationship of brain activity to dreams during sleep either. Here too there is a vast literature.
      I would apply Nicholas Maxwell’s Aim Oriented Empiricism for physics to consciousness:
      (1) the thesis that the universe (including consciousness) is comprehensible in some way (physicalism being a special case),
      (2) physicalism (the thesis that the universe (including consciousness) is physically comprehensible),
      (3) best available metaphysical blueprint,
      (4) fundamental physical theory, and
      (5) empirical phenomena.
      Thesis (1) makes no specific empirical predictions or hypotheses about phenomena at thesis (5). Materialism is thus a contentless metaphysical assumption. Materialism does not expect brain activity to increase or decrease relative to cognitive functions or consciousness – cognitive neuroscience and psychologists make such specific predictions but the

      Maxwell says,
      “For science to proceed, and for the enterprise of acquiring knowledge to proceed more generally, an untestable, metaphysical assumption must be made about the nature of the universe. In order to give ourselves the best chance of achieving success we need to make an assumption that is fruitful and true, but it is more than likely that the assumption we make will be false. Granted this, in order to give ourselves the best hope of making progress in acquiring knowledge, we need to make, not just one, but a hierarchy of assumptions, these assumptions becoming increasingly insubstantial, and so increasingly likely to be true, as we ascend the hierarchy.”

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    20. Andrew Smart. How can consciousness be a physical phenomenon? Our conscious experiences have no mass, no electric charge, no location, no physical properties whatsoever. And they are not objective -- they are only experienced by the subject. Would be interested in hearing your defence?

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    21. Andrew, I am tired of going in circles with you. But giving you the benefit of the doubt about your intentions: yes, many brain networks have their activity reduced under specific circumstances. So what? That's not the point. The point is whether an overall increase in the intensity and breath of experience can be explained under materialism without any increase in brain activity anywhere. Before you reply again, please read this last statement a few times and try to grok it. If a certain type of brain activity _IS_ experience, then an increase in experience _IS_ an increase in that type of activity. This is primary school logic and it is inescapable. The fact that materialism cannot make any specific predictions about any specific one-to-one mapping between experience and material processes is, in principle, OK. What is NOT OK is when materialism claims a different mapping to make sense of different experimental observations. That is just internally-contradictory bullshit (it's like changing the rules of the game while you are playing it). And finally, if materialism predicts NOTHING than it MEANS NOTHING and we might as well forget it. That's it. Please don't troll me.

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    22. Really no intention to troll at all. I find this discussion fascinating and have been thinking about these issues for a long time. If you don't wish to continue in this forum I will respect that.

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    23. Andrew (and anyone else!) please consider joining us in discussion at the Ecology, Cosmos and Consciousness forum on Facebook as well. Bernardo is also involved there. Thanks.

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  6. I have nothing to add, really, but wanted to say that I really enjoyed both this essay and the preceding one. Thank you for your work Bernardo! I will be keeping a closer eye on this site and passing interesting pieces along to my network.

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  7. Wow. So interesting all this is. Thank you for sharing such brilliant explorations of consciousness. Although I still don't understand why the ball moving back and forth between materialism and idealism must imply an empty meaningless depressing reality vs a full purposeful robust eternity. Also I am curious to know what you make of this time slice theory... http://gizmodo.com/new-time-slice-theory-suggests-youre-not-as-conscious-a-1770950927

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    1. Thanks. The question of meaning is addressed extensively in my latest book More Than Allegory. I will try to look at your link once I have some more time. Cheers, B.

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  8. Well, I am another co-author of the PNAS LSD paper and I find Kastrup's analysis of the media focusing towards increases in brain activity fitting materialism, and therefore reinforcing their values and worldview interesting. However, I think it is far too simplistic to discuss such a complex and difficult topic of brain and consciousness using the simple notions and language of "more or less brain activity". It is much more complex than that. Decreases in power spectra do not necessarily translate to "less brain activity". It can be that the changes are in subtle synchs between millions of neurons over millisecond time range, which were not analyzed in depth (the plots for the MEG figure show averaged results over 3 second time epochs, a considerable long time for neurons to synch or desynch). This could imply that the language "less brain activity" may not fit the detected reductions in power. This would thus weaken the argument that the data is at odds with materialism (which is a possible interpretation that I support exploring). The point on inhibition is simply wrong on this answer, because one of the main functions of inhibitory activity is to regulate synchrony, not to stop other neurons from being active, which could be phrased as "diminishing brain activity". Furthermore, there may be even more stuff at micro levels, like Stuart Hameroff investigates with microtubuli etc. Also, Kastrup seems to take for granted that there is some kind of definitive increase in conscious experience during the action of psychedelics, but he does not address the difficulties related to validating that statement. I welcome any constructive criticism because it help us all dig deeper on a very important and interesting topic for which psychedelic are a unique tool, but here it seems to be pushed too hard towards an anti-materialist position with a far too simple language for describing the results. Therefore, I suggest to the blog owner to be more understandable with the difficulties the team faces when communicating with the media, once he is also a victim of the limitations our language imposes to describe all this accurately.

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    1. Thanks Eduardo. Let's cover this point by point.

      1) I acknowledge the difficulties involved in determining brain activity levels with precision. But by appealing to these difficulties you are already trying to shift attention to possible future work, while we _can_ make general observations based on the results we happen to already have in our hands. Ignoring these concrete results for the sake of possible future work isn't warranted, is it? I believe my claim stands, for it is sufficiently generic to be grounded on what we already know: the current results are, by and large, the opposite of what one would expect from a materialist standpoint. I am sure that if you had measured significant increases in CBF and MEG neatly correlated with the subjects' reports of mind-boggling experiences, everybody would nod and say "of course." As a matter of fact, this was common-sense until your group's first publication in January 2012. Acknowledging that we must now go one level deeper in detail and precision does not invalidate this general observation.

      2) For clarity, let's decouple the MEG results of this LSD study from my comments regarding Enzo's 2014 psilocybin paper, where I spoke about spectral power. There I claimed precisely that one can't extract definitive conclusions about the amplitude of the time-domain signal from spectral power alone. Here I am referring only to the MEG results, which you yourselves highlighted as the most reliable measurement when it comes to actual brain activity. If you now claim that even that is not reliable, then what is left to be concluded from your paper when it comes to brain activity?

      3) Appeals to specific patterns of inter-neural synchronization -- as opposed to metabolic level -- as the correlates of experience are OK but physicalism cannot have it both ways. It certainly can't have it _all_ ways. Numerous studies have indicated direct correlations between level of experience and level of metabolism, not the specific patterns of synchronization you're alluding to (and certainly not micro-tubular quantum oscillations). I find this line of defense somewhat disturbing, for reasons I discussed in my book Why Materialism Is Baloney. Here is a relevant passage:

      "Today we find ourselves in a peculiar situation wherein, of all things, _ignorance_ is often used to defend materialism: since nobody can specify unambiguously what physiological process supposedly is consciousness, neuroscientists can always postulate a different hypothetical mapping that conceivably explains any particular experience. All that is required is some – any – level of activity anywhere in the brain, which is not too difficult to find or reasonably assume. The problem, of course, is that one cannot postulate a different materialist theory of consciousness for each different situation and still claim that the evidence supports materialism."

      TBC...

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    2. Continued from above...

      4) Inhibitory processes are those that release neurotransmitters that make a postsynaptic neuron less likely to generate an action potential. I don't see how this does not contribute to stopping a neuron from being active. So I don't acknowledge any error on my part here.

      5) Regarding the difficulty in determining whether people undergoing psychedelic trances actually experience an increase in the intensity and breadth of experience, I think you're being disingenuous. Have a look at Erowid. For controlled data, your own group routinely has volunteers perform regular subjective self-assessments during the trance, in a controlled fashion. Look at those results: aren't they conclusive on this point? Or look at Johns Hopkins' results showing that people consider psychedelic experiences to be among the top 3 or 5 most intense and significant of their entire lives. I mean, let's not lose sight of the forest by looking at the trees here.

      6) I am not pushing too hard for anything. I am just saying that these results contradict common-sense materialist expectations. They do. That's all I claimed. Whatever else I did was to defend myself against an attack by your colleague.

      Thanks for commenting and please send my regards to Stevens, who happens to be my cousin... ;-)

      Cheers, Bernardo.

      Delete
    3. 1) So you think I'm inadequately pushing to future work while I think you are inadequately trying to jump to conclusions too early. As Carl Sagan remarked: "At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes--an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new." That's what I'm trying to do. I am open to the counter-intuitive non-materialist explanation, but keeping skeptical at the same time

      2) As I said before, "brain activity" is poor language and therefore this question seems inadequate, too vague, without precise meaning. And precisely because of that, insufficient to support the strong philosophical claim you're making.

      3) The ignorance argument is being used both ways here. I say we don't know enough to refute materialism based on current data analysis while you want to refute materialism using as one of your arguments that materialists don't know how it may happen.

      4) You're clearly wrong here and your arguments will not be convincing until you get over this common superficial misunderstanding about neural inhibition. Mostly what inhibition does is generate small IPSP/IPSC that bring about subtle changes in local membrane oscillations influencing spike-timing. It is not a binary spike or not spike, more activity x less activity. Neurons have thousands of dendritic ramifications, each one receiving dozens of inputs. Almost none of these are sufficient to stop the post-synaptic cell from being active. Furthermore, power spectra is independent of spiking activity and neurons communicate in many ways beyond spikes. If you want to continue with your arguments based on psychedelic data, please study inhibition in depth, especially because one of the key reductions during psychedelic visions is in the alpha band, which appears to be mostly related to inhibitory processes. Therefore the visual phenomena could clearly be explained in a simple materialistic framework: less (probably top-down) inhibition (detected alpha reduction), more "activity" in the visual cortex (detected with ASL and BOLD), correlated with more visual conscious perception.

      5) Being among the top 5 most important things in your life has NOTHING to do with supposed increases in the quantity of subjective experience, which is what you take for granted in your arguments (at least in these two blog posts, sorry but I have not read any of your books). I think you're confusing significance, beauty and emotional impact of these experiences with something far more difficult to measure which is the quantity of moments of experience per unit of time, which you confidently assume to be increased during the psychedelic experience. I think that indeed it is the case that it is increased (openness), but again questioning the assumptions (skepticism).

      6) You said it yourself: "He's young, part of me regrets hammering hard at him. But the cause is more important." Sorry but to me no philosophical discussion justifies "hammering hard" at people

      Nice to know you're related to Stevens, I admire his work a lot, cheers

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    4. The thing about the claim that "[certain] brain activation IS conscious experience" is that it makes no sense from many angles. For example, it implies that if I move one, the other should move. But if I pull your brain from the back of your head and wave it around, nothing about your conscious experience "moves." The implication that an increase in one IS an increase in the other is equally nonsensical. Both are nonsensical for the same reason. But until one has had a certain experience and has recognized the insubstantiality of the thing under question (consciousness), there isn't really any way to see this.

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    5. Eduardo,

      1) Once again: my point is that the results are counter-intuitive and non-trivial to explain from a materialist perspective. I am not claiming that these results alone refute materialism single-handed. To keep on suggesting so is a straw man. The argument against materialism is much more involved and compelling than this single study of yours, which plays a relatively minor role in the overall story. I refer you to my books, especially Why Materialism Is Baloney.

      2) If "brain activity" is poor language why does Carhart-Harris use this poor language liberally towards the media, sometimes even wrongly? Why does Prof. Nutt use it? Why does even your paper talk about "brain activity"? You are using a double-standard here. You/your colleagues can use the term but when I use it, the term is too murky to mean anything?

      3) Again, I never claimed that your study single-handedly refutes materialism. It contributes a small piece of suggestive, circumstantial evidence to a much more complete and compelling case. There are about a dozen different mechanisms through which reduction of brain metabolism has been known to correlate to what can only be called expanded awareness. They include strangulation, hyperventilation, G-LOC, head wounds and other forms of physical trauma to the brain, cardiac arrest, certain forms of meditation, etc. See Chapter 2 of Why Materialism Is Baloney.

      4) Are you saying that I am wrong in using literally a TEXTBOOK definition of neuronal inhibition? Look at how I worded it and please tell me _precisely_ what is wrong in what I wrote. You are attributing to me a restrictive definition of 'activity' that you didn't hear from me in this conversation; namely, that activity is equivalent solely to neuronal firing. The rest of what you write is conditioned on this definition and, as such, a straw man. I define activity more generically, as metabolism itself. As such, synchronization across neurons is also a pattern of activity. Only a dead -- i.e. non-metabolizing -- brain is a completely inactive brain. Furthermore, the materialist explanation you allude to does require an increase in activity: if you reduce inhibition, the no-longer-inhibited processes should increase in activity to explain the subjective changes reported. The original psilocybin studies of your group, however, showed no increase in activity anywhere in the brain. By alluding to the the localized increases in ASL and BOLD in this latest study you are contradicting your own paper, which questioned whether these proxy signals really represent increased activity. Moreover, MEG showed generalized reductions in all bands, based on your own paper. You can't have it both ways.

      5) This is surreal. Being on the top five most intense and significant experiences in life has NOTHING to do with increased intensity of subjective experience? Are you serious? What then, HAS to do with increases in the intensity of experiences? You say I am confusing significance, beauty and emotional impact with intensity of experience. So please tell me: What is significance, beauty and emotional impact if not EXPERIENCES? What is an increase in the sense of significance, beauty and emotional impact if not an increase in EXPERIENCE? What else can it possibly be? Give some thought to what you said and you will quickly see how utterly absurd it is. I never defined intensity of experience as "quantity of moments of experience per units of time." This is an ontology-bound definition of intensity of experience (and, as such, question-begging) that I never asserted or acknowledged. Reconnect to your own inner life, which is the only way you can know experience: isn't higher emotional intensity, higher amount of perceived information, the feeling of higher significance, all directly related to what we can only call higher intensity of experience? If not, what else can they possibly be?

      6) So long as it is on content and not ad hominem, of course it does.

      B.

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    6. What is left out though is the serotonin and dopamine receptor behavior and interactions on LSD. I assume you are familiar with receptor autoregulation, upregulation, and downregulation. The catecholamine receptors and transporters typically maintain homeostasis by either phasically releasing more neurotransmitter in response to low tonic levels, or conversely inhibiting phasic neurotransmitter release in the presence of high tonic levels. The transporters help clear the inter-synaptic space as well. LSD targets serotonin receptors, specifically 5HT2 serotonin receptors and the potency of a psychedelic drug is strongly correlated with its affinity for these receptors. LSD apparently activates serotonin receptors more than serotonin itself, at least in rats. What's weirder is that LSD is also an agonist for some dopamine receptors, again in rats.

      What LSD is doing to the neurotransmitter system is actually mind-boggling and only comprehensible to a specialist (which I am not), see “Hallucinogenic 5-HT2AR Agonists LSD and DOI Enhance Dopamine D2R Protomer Recognition and Signaling of D2-5-HT2A Heteroreceptor Complexes.”

      On the human cognitive level we (and by we I mean science) have literally zero idea how synaptically active neurotransmitters influence BOLD or MEG. So what "brain activity" are we talking about? BOLD, MEG or neurotransmitters. (see this paper http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22248578) We don't even really understand how neurotransmitters influence neuronal firing.

      It is entirely possible, and I think likely, that on the neurotransmitter level - which is impossible to measure in humans without the ghastly surgical interventions we reserve for rats - LSD dramatically increases the release, reuptake, up- and down- regulation of at least serotonin and dopamine but that this CHANGE in neurotransmitter activity is not entirely captured in the BOLD or MEG signals. Or MAYBE it is but we do not understand how.

      What is counter-intuitive and non-trivial to explain from a non-materialist perspective though is how or why LSD does anything to our experience in the first place. In fact, most classes of anti-depressants were developed because of LSD. Before LSD nobody had any idea that mental states had anything to do with brain chemistry. The lacuna here is the incredible fact that a single molecule has such an enormous effect on the brain and experience.

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    7. http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2016/04/dispelling-straw-men-does-brain-imaging.html

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  9. I have been binge-consuming your content for months now, Dr. Kastrup ;). For what it's worth, I feel like thanking you.

    I have always been a searcher. If there isn't a talk on cosmology, philosophy or conciousness playing in my home, I've probably been asleep for an hour. When I listened to your theory it was like someone unplugged me from the matrix. I would almost call it a metamorphosis. But instead of waking up in a hellish nightmare, it was like all the puzzles fell into place at once. I KNEW for the first time that this was IT. I can't explain it, I just knew deep inside. Now I have gained a deep calmness.

    Thank you.

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    1. I am sincerely happy to hear this, Morten, thank you!

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    2. On topic: I'm so happy someone used the word 'stigmergy'. I love this phenomenon in psychology, and it is definitely the case with science reporting.

      The prevalence of ex-religious people in science is not often discussed. I think that it is the most appealing to replace your first religious belief with another, when you can say that the other completely discredits the first. It saves you the trouble of investigating your intuitions further. Often, the people who come to a genuine spiritual appreciation, are those who have no time or energy limit to their inner journey. Those who would gladly chase the truth to their grave.

      I don't know, but it seems that this deep connection with the broader conciousness that most religious people painfully and briefly tap into, leaves a lasting crater when the religion is gone. It's sad that many feel the need to construct a building over the crater, rather than to lay down in it.

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    3. Oh yes. Shermer doesn't even want to be called an atheist, but even I don't mind being called that. When your inner life is so deeply tied to negative associations in the past, it's hard to explore it freely.

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    4. And electrical impulses is one type of thing going on in the brain - there are literally billions of other types of things going on in the brain. And "how the physical parameters of the universe changed so I should suddenly appear" is the grand challenge of neuroscience. Although I don't think we suddenly appear - the brain might learn to be conscious just like it learns to move our limbs allowing us to walk.

      "billions" hardly. Guess what, if your body shows up in a hospital with no electrical impulses in the brain the next thing they'll be talking about is if you're an organ donor. No electrical signature and your considered dead, no consciousness. Besides as with electrical impulses there is no theory, math, or empirical evidence that any other process (chemical) could create consciousness. If we allow your idea that brains somehow learn to be conscious why did your brain learn you into existence vs learning someone else into existence?

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  10. "In general he assumes that consciousness involves excitation of the brain, but not dampening. That is a naive notion ... Let me tell you that's wrong, because otherwise you would have to argue that the epileptic brain, when the entire brain is hyper-synchronized and massively electrically discharged, would be hyper-conscious, because that's the maximum amount of activity ... but of course usually people during an epileptic seizure are unconscious. Consciousness arises out of complex interactions among [parts of] the brain. They can be excitatory or inhibitory ... [It doesn't have] to be all excitation or all inhibition. It's just a pattern of different neurons, some fire, some don't fire, and out of this differential pattern different conscious experiences emerge ... It's the differential pattern of activity [that matters]."
    I quote Koch. Exactly what happen in this study.

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    1. This borders on trolling, since you took this quote from my own essay, where I extensively elaborate on why this comment by Koch is a straw man -- a misrepresentation -- of my position. Genuinely interested readers should peruse my essay for a reply to this:
      http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2012/02/response-to-christof-koch.html

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  11. What do you think about the interconnections between networks in the brain? I have just write a message quoted Koch about this issue. This article and the psylocibine shows an increase in connectivity in many parts of the brain, this fact can explain the expansion of consciousness.

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    1. http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2016/04/dispelling-straw-men-does-brain-imaging.html

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  12. Interesting that the results were wilfully misrepresented as a mirror image of reality; seemingly the most effective deceptions involve counterposing the exact opposites. I'm noting this reversed paradigm flipping in drug-law reform lobby's false binary linguistic constructs too. The object is always given a fictitious status, 'a war on drugs', harmful drugs, illicit'/illegal drugs', 'licensing/de-criminalizing/legalizing drugs' - in these examples human agency is subsumed to an abstract edifice. It's foolishly accepted by most due to familiarity with the usually non-problematic 'transfered epithet' figure of speech (a disabled toilet is not a broken one). When this shortcut is used in preference to legalese the case for liberty is lost; it's an impossible outcome as the subject has disappeared. What is at core censorship of the brain's capacity to tune in is reformatted as a concern for the worthiness or harms of discrete drugs.

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    1. There you go, language defining perceived reality.

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  13. Hello can i have the link to the original paper?

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  14. "When people trip on psilocybin or LSD they report a significant increase in the intensity and breadth of their experiences. Therefore, materialists would expect to see an also significant increase in activity somewhere in the brain..."

    Not necessarily man; I think the idea is that more energy expenditure is required during mundane consciousness to bind together all the disparate networks of the brain, maintaining them in a low-entropy state; during the psychedelic experience, these networks have more degrees of freedom, are less constrained, more entropic, and so less energy must be expended. This equation is not inconsistent with the subjective experience of expanded and amplified consciousness during the psychedelic experience.

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