Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Psychedelic Truffles

The overly zealous ban on magic mushrooms in the Netherlands left an interesting door open - psilocybe fungi in the form of sclerotia, a dense, truffle-like mass, remain legal and have taken over the market.  The ban essentially did nothing except hurt a lot of existing businesses while creating an opportunity for a lucky few.

The lucky winners were the proprietors of Magic Truffles, who had a culture of these psychedelic truffles, so-called philosopher's stones.  A series of videos (and text), Hamilton and the Philosopher's Stone, tells the tale.  They can produce up to 18,000 tons a year.

The history of this formerly rare fungi goes back to the slightly crazed doctor and mycologist Steven Pollock, who found a specimen around Tampa, Florida and named it psilocybe tampanensis.  Pollock was later murdered under mysterious circumstances (Harper's, pay wall).

In the article about Pollock, I found it fascinating the lengths that a later researcher went to in order to spread and preserve the strain, i.e. "with news of the coming of Hurricane Erin he quadrupled production, inoculating fifty-pound bales of straw day and night ... dispersing billions of spores into the stratosphere."

Monday, June 17, 2013

Drug Laws Censor Science

Kurzweil's blog reports on Professor David Nutt's recent paper, "Effects of Schedule I drug laws on neuroscience research and treatment innovation."

"This hindering of research and therapy is motivated by politics, not science," said Professor Nutt. "It’s one of the most scandalous examples of scientific censorship in modern times."

They argue that the use of psychoactive drugs in research should be exempted from severe restrictions. "If we adopted a more rational approach to drug regulation, it would empower researchers to make advances in the study of consciousness and brain mechanisms of psychosis, and could lead to major treatment innovations in areas such as depression and PTSD," Professor Nutt said.

fMRI image from Nutt's research showing decreased cerebral blood flow in certain areas of the brain after administration of psilocybin:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Meditation - How to Practice Better

From Gary Weber's Happiness Beyond Thought Blog, "Are 10,000 hrs needed for awakening?"

My re-hash:

The 10,000 hour figure comes from Ericsson's research, studying "the cognitive structure of expert performance in medicine, music, chess, sports, and many other skills, investigating how expert performers acquire their superior performance through extended deliberate practice, high concentration practice beyond one's comfort zone."  I like that emphasis on deliberate.

I am reminded of one of my first guitar teachers, who reminded me that practice makes permanent (along with an admonishment to practice well and carefully), and coach Vince Lombardi's similar quote, "practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect."

Sitting in perfect physical form on a professional zafu for 8 hours a day may not do much if you're off daydreaming the whole time.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if such people aren't sometimes ending up worse off, i.e. by practicing and perfecting their daydreaming skills.  Instead of practicing being in the here and now, gently investigating, exploring and relaxing in presence awareness, they end up spending too much time practicing the default network, the wandering mind.  But I may be a bit pessimistic here.

10,000 hours is a nice rule of thumb, but certainly people who practice regularly, intelligently and deliberately, making use of resources such as the pragmatic dharma community and personal coaching as needed, can often attain stream entry (1st path, the first level of enlightenment in Theravada Buddhism, the tipping point) in 6-18 months, perhaps 500 hours on the cushion.  In my and many other people's experience, regular daily practice is more important than long retreats (in fact I've met post 4th path yogis that have never been on a retreat), but some long sits can be useful every now and then. And ...

... it does appear, anecdotally, as if some exposure to some psychedelics may be useful in the awakening process. The studies being conducted now @ Johns Hopkins on psilocybin +/- meditation ("the latest psychedelic research meditation +/- psilocybin studies") may yield some insights.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Snippets from a Contemplative Science blog

From Eileen Cardillo's blog on Contemplative Science (also permalinked at right).

The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds did some research showing compassion can be trained.  Some audio and scripts used in the study for compassion (traditional metta or loving kindness meditation) and reappraisal are available for download.

Some quotes from Daniel Dennett's new book:
The mind? A collection of computerlike information processes, which happen to take place in carbon-based rather than silicon-based hardware.

The self? Simply a “center of narrative gravity,” a convenient fiction that allows us to integrate various neuronal data streams.

The elusive subjective conscious experience — the redness of red, the painfulness of pain — that philosophers call qualia? Sheer illusion.

Human beings, Mr. Dennett said, quoting a favorite pop philosopher, Dilbert, are “moist robots.”

On Kant's Critique of Pure Reason
Kant’s insight was that, in order for the knowledge we get from our senses at any given moment in time to mean anything, our minds must already be distinguishing it and combining it with the information we get in prior and subsequent moments in time. Thus there is no such thing as a pure impression in time — no absolute, frozen moment in which we know the sun is rising now without being able to infer anything from it — because such a pure moment without a before or after would be nothing at all.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Albert Hoffman and His Discovery of LSD

I wonder how this book compares to Hoffman's own book, "LSD My Problem Child: Reflections on Sacred Drugs, Mysticism and Science."

A couple of personal reflections on LSD:

I only did LSD once, my first psychedelic experience, it would have been around 1980, blotter with the artwork of a blue dove.  Although I had only one experience (vs. probably more than a hundred experiences on psilocybin), I would be tempted to say that there was something more absolute about LSD.  Something more intellectually perfect, less emotional than mushrooms, more perfectly abstract.

Under the influence, I played my best game of Asteroids, a primitive arcade game, hitting a high score that I don't think I ever exceeded.  I think that was related to the fact that "I" was out of the way.  Reminds me of baseball's Dock Ellis pitching a no-hitter on LSD.

I also recall that during the peak of the experience I was unable to understand music.  I could hear everything, I just couldn't make sense of it.  The problem was that I couldn't really perceive anything that was outside of the present moment.  Music requires that you keep in mind such things as continuity, the rhythmic expectation of the beat, and melody, the sense of placing one note after another in a context within a harmony.  But I was unable to conceptualize those basic things, so I could only hear the individual sounds in each moment, as if they existed only as noise without the context of melody or rhythm.

Also some visual difficultly in terms of separating one object from another.

All of these things jibe well with my understanding of things after a lot of experience with mushrooms and meditation.  I look back on it and think, "I was so close!"  I wish I had known to just stay home, lie down and close my eyes, raising the odds of having a genuine mystical experience.  That might have changed my life significantly.  Oh well, I guess I had to wait a couple of decades.  At the time, it was just a fun afternoon and evening.