What should I ask Michael Pollan?

I will be doing a Conversation with Tyler with him, no associated public event.  Here is his home page, and the About section.  Here is Wikipedia on Pollan.  Here is a Sean Iling Vox interview with Pollan, on his recent work on LSD and other psychedelics, and his most recent book is How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.  Pollan is perhaps best known for his books on food, cooking, and food supply chains. 

So what should I ask him?


Ask him what he needs to say or do in order to get Tyler (or Tyrone) to start taking psilocybin.


Then ask if he has any. Then, take a good dose in an area of great natural beauty - the beauty of nature that is, not an art gallery.

We will then be presented with Tyler the tree hugger. I like it.

Was it a choice, and if so what drove the choice not to seek any input to the book from Dennis McKenna?

Does he still enjoy a well cooked french fry?

What causes people to have bad experiences on psychedelics? Are there certain people whose brains are just wired a particular way that makes taking these substances a bit risky? In my younger days I had several positive experiences with LSD and a couple pretty negative ones with psilocybin, so I'm just curious.

He takes this question up in the Waking Up podcast he did with Sam Harris.

Of course, this is consistent with Cowen's preference for "disruption", in this case psychedelics to produce disruption (of the DMN) in the brain. Pollan, being a fan of disruption in the brain, supports the disruption in the body politic of Donald Trump, right? Are those who would benefit from disruption in the brain in need of the disruption for medical reasons, or is everyone in need of disruption in the brain? Pollan, I assume, is a well-adjusted person. Does his positive experience with psychedelics suggest that only well-adjusted people should use them, and that those who are not well-adjusted are advised to stay away from them?

Here's Russ Roberts' interview with him from June 25th -http://www.econtalk.org/michael-pollan-on-psychedelic-drugs-and-how-to-change-your-mind/

Just finished listening to Russ Roberts interview the guy.

Anything that he didn't ask would be fine.

From what I understand these chemicals encourage or enable the establishment of new pathways of thought or perception in our brains. I think that is why a guided experience is important; much of the inhibition or limit to the pathways created is removed, and to keep the experience positive requires some direction from a therapist.

Meditation can accomplish the same thing, and there seems to be less likelihood of it spinning out of control due to the difficulty of reaching that state.

I read in one of Norman Doidge's books where he describes someone with Parkinson's disease using long walks to counteract the progressive deterioration in his brain by creating new pathways that would take over the lost function, and that walking creates a state within our brain where it is open to learning and new experience.

I experience, in fact use this to help deal with stressful situations. A walk around here is like walking up a staircase so there is exercise involved, and I find that there is no stress, conundrum or issue where 45 minutes of brisk walk up a mountainside doesn't give me a different perspective.

An added benefit that it is healthy in many other ways.

Ask him about walking as a way to reach the same end.

I don't know if running has the same effect in the brain.

Can't wait for this one.

I hope he would have much to reveal in response to your regional thinker theory. I mostly view him as skeptical of tradition and yet deeply craving meaningful traditions. I view much of his thinking as a quest organized around this principle, but would he agree with that?

As a writer, I note that his organizing principles are contrived (air, earth, water, fire)-- does he feel this benefits his books? It seems to lead to a lot of chaff but also allows for strong explorations of topics that might seem less rich, such as fermentation. I sometimes wonder how much of his organizing principle is designed to hook readers so that he can get them to the part of the book that he finds most interesting.

It's amazing to me how digressive his books are in an age of non-fiction that I mostly find focused on gimmickry and efficiency. How does he get away with it and how does he view himself in relation to other popular non-fiction writers? My sense of his career is that he rose with many other food writers, but I'd be surprised to learn that he considers himself one of them. So much of his books consist of going to places and generating experiences from which he can write, but does he still think of himself as a journalist?

I rarely hear him discuss are architecture and gardening, but I thought "A Place of One's Own" and "Second Nature" were both excellent. I'd certainly be curious to know his views on ways that art allows us to interact with nature. To take this a bit further, would he consider a psychedelic trip to be akin to art?

You could ask him how the podcast circuit is going.

Speaking of which, the comments icon at Econ Talk indicates 47 people tried to comment on the Pollan interview but only 8 are posted. Were 39 rejected?

The first one about podcasts would be very interesting. He talked for an hour with Russ and many discussions were cut short due to limited time.

I live in an area with a vigorous drug culture, and have little patience for the ecstatic nature of these things, but I'm considering reading his book.

Underrated or overrated: Wendell Berry.

There's been a lot of talk about psychedelics in recent years, but nothing sounds very different from what the LSD gurus of the 60s were saying, albeit the tone is less ecstatic.

My question is what do we know now about psychedelics that Leary and Lilly didn't know.

Also ask him: http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/28/why-were-early-psychedelicists-so-weird/

He took it up a little with Sam Harris, and I haven't head the Russ Roberts one, but I'd like to see him pressed more on psychedelic experience as (A) something that happens to and reveals something about the body vs. (B) a mystical experience. Does he regard it as healthier to regard it one one rather than another? Why?

I would love to hear about food supply chains, and the inherent tension between encouraging locavorism and "eating in season" vs the benefits of economies of scale, comparative advantage, and division of labor. Is it really *better* for the environment for us to grow our own food? Or can we reduce the burden on the environment by having specialists produce calories where they grow best, then sending them to where there are hungry mouths to feed?

But we dont grow food where it grows best, we do it where it grows cheapest; which of course entails a lot of subsidizing and externalities of impact

Two questions for Michael Pollan:

since LSD and other psychedelics possess obvious therapeutic applications in supervised clinical settings, what political argument can be made for keeping LSD, et cetera, on the DEA's Schedule I list of Federally-controlled substances?

Why are strident political arguments for the liberation of LSD research and therapies from overbearing Federal regulation (much of it a legacy of the oft-repeated and always-misleading fable that LSD models "schizophrenia") not being made conspicuously?

Please ask whether he thinks 1. That psychedelic processes and reactions are always happening in the background, and affect our experiences, even if a lot of that gets filtered out by the normal consciousness, which perhaps rationalizes the consequent emotional reactions as 'caused' by something else, and 2. Whether this might have something to do with the basis for certain widespread aesthetic preferences while sober, e.g., the enjoyment of patterns and certain color schemes.

I’ve read all of Pollan’s books on food, but not only his one on LSD. The question I would pose to Pollan:

“Can you describe the economic effects in a world that adopted a mostly whole food plant based diet. Please include an explanation of the effects on the environment, health and the budget for healthcare in America. What are the obstacles to making this change?”

You may want to collaborate with him on a new book after you hear his answer. The economic effects of such a change are astounding.

What’s the latest on plant intelligence?

Ask: why he did not work with Dennis McKenna for his latest book and would he consider collaborating?

How can Pollan, in good conscience, in a world of suggestible people, advocate experimentation with drugs that have in the past made users insane, destroyed lives and souls, and triggered suicides?

How can he ignore the drug-driven human tragedy of the 1960s, and go forth like a modern-day Timothy Leary, giving pseudo-scientific legitimacy to the practice of self-induced insanity?

(I speak as someone who used LSD several times in the 1960s, and found the enlightenment shallow, and the horror all to profound.)

Good question. The negative human cost (of rich-kid LSD and its ilk) is incalculable, and the earliest wave of LSD abuse is still remembered as a great tragedy for those who remember the victims (most of them gone and long forgotten, but not by me).
And the positives - are what? - that some people will become more creative? (Pain management is a different issue). (and if you are not creative without drugs, you were not meant to be creative. end stop.)

Also, ask about Planned Parenthood. Much worse, or much much worse, than Perdue 'Farms'?

If you can not survive without surgery or antibiotics, you were not meant to survive. Full stop.

I forgot to add - I think nobody is creative, or at least nobody is all that creative, absent angelic inspiration, which is not what we are talking about when we talk about drugs.

Even Shakespeare, at his best, did little more than ride the wave of the sort of thing that Ovid and Montaigne and company had set up for him: the little guy rode the wave pretty well but if you look at reality (Unde et memores, Domine, tam gloriosae ascensionis, or , more humbly, ut jubeas, quaesumus, perferri per manus Angeli tui in altare sublime tuum, in conspectu tam divinae majestatis) , if you really look at reality for a few hours (drug-free, of course) and then you turn to that small thing that is a Shakespeare play (come on, what was Hamlet thinking? his thoughts of revenge and his disregard for Ophelia were a big deal that we should care about why?, compared to the fact that Hamlet (like Ophelia, like Rosenkrantz and Guildenshtern, had been, presumably, created in the image of God, not something discussed in that play, even if it is considered the best of plays - it is not, far from it, but that is another comment); well --- art is good, reality is good plus.

It is a lot of work to be skilled enough to have the chance to be creative. I know more about artists who work with words, but even visual artists are often tricked into false creativity by some weird desire for saleable "originality" (as if, for example, someone who cares about art cares more about Picasso and his "blue period" than they care about the absolute miracle of every single day on every single little path through the woods - through the numberless green woods on every continent of this world not to mention other worlds - that God created, and believe me God never stooped to having a "blue period') .

Sure the smell of cannabis on a lazy summer afternoon down by the river, or even just in the room downstairs with a view of the backyard and the old green oaks, can be inspiringly nice: but there is a difference between comfort, whether it is the old likable habits listening to one Beiderbecke riff after another, or something like that, or listening to some other fondly remembered musician or just to the rain on the tin roof, or even just the memories and the relaxation of expensive - well, at least not cheap - marijuana - and creativity. And LSD is worthless for any attempt at creativity. Thanks for reading. EVERYBODY I know is not creative but they all have the potential to be so, and drugs are not going to help them, I don't want to preach but all that is gonna help anybody who wants to be creative is an effort to understand that we all have guardian angels, that God loves us all, everything else is going to wind up boring, I mean I hope boring artists get paid well (remember those talks at the cafeteria at CUNY in the 30s - they got that one thing right) but I hope even more they lose their boring ambitions and learn that what matters is heart speaking to heart, cor ad cor loquitur. (Not that anybody listens to me, but every good art teacher eventually says something like what I just said).

for example, google some of William Arkle's paintings. (visual)

Or Evanescence, My Immortal, the lyrics beginning at 2:39 (musical)

An Ordinary Evening in New Haven, the Auroras of Autumn (poetic)

the philosophical improvement on Proust's love affair with memory expressed as the loving thoughts of Eve, remembering that first garden and wanting so much our return thereto, in the eponymous epic of Peguy
(philosophy, theology, whatever)

not a drop of LSD anywhere

I haven't read his book or other recent writings about psychedelics, but I've read about them. Does he recommend expanded experimentation with them, and if so under what conditions: scientific experiments only? Individuals experiments under guided or therapeutic conditions?

Have his views on GMOs changed? What does he think of Mark Lynas's recent apology for his anti-GMO activisim? https://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/conservation-and-development/why-i-was-wrong-about-gmo

I would ask him about dieting questions: why does their seem o be no way to lose weight long term through diet modification short of near Herculean efforts?

Pollan advocates a mostly whole food plant-based diet, which he believes naturally causes weight to normalize by eliminating most processed/ refined foods and meat/ dairy. His research indicates populations that follow this diet have less chronic disease and obesity.

I thought considered opinion was now the opposite? - i.e. high carb diet's cause obesity and high protein/animal fat diets are actually the way to go to loose weight and improve things like insulin response etc. Regardless I think the point about dieting not working is nonsense and only really occurs because the people being tested for dietIng interventions are self selected as ones who lack will power to diet, otherwise they would not have an obesity problem in the first place. In other words if you a random person concerned about eating too much you should not be persuaded by studies saying you cannot diet until you have tried.

He's not talking about a "high carb" diet.

He's talking about a diet that is primarily plant based. That doesn't mean eating a lot of dense carbs. What it really means is more vegetables, smaller portions of meat, and less processed stuff like pasta and bread.
Essentially the idea is to reduce the amount of calorically dense foods you eat and replace them with foods that have more micronutrients.

It would be very difficult to get fat eating yams that aren't loaded with butter, with Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onions, and a bit of chicken than you think.

What’s Herculean about just bloody eating a bit less. Yes, for the rest of your life. You will thank your younger self when everyone around you is succumbing to the diseases that are ‘aging’

Psychedelics are increasingly dangerous, with K2 and bath salts and MDMA drugs flooding clubs and leading to death from hyperthermia and violent acts such as eating neighbors faces. What should be done to stole this trend?

MDMA is cool, Emily

& its not a psychedelic.

I think that was sarcasm ?

I haven't read Pollan's book on psychedelics. Perhaps these questions are covered there. In any case...

What are his thoughts on Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson and their efforts to "reprogram" themselves -- to reach a higher level of awareness -- through drug use, meditation, and various psychological tasks. Were these guys quacks? Hucksters? Or were they on to something? Are we going to see their writings welcomed into mainstream?

Mr. Pollen:

Given your support for compulsory labeling of GMO foods:

1. Are you disappointed by the recent SCOTUS decisions somewhat rolling back compulsory speech laws in NIFLA, Janus and Masterpiece Cakeshop, as potentially constraining food labeling laws?

2. Are compulsory speech laws less dangerous than forbidden speech laws, or are both dangers less significant than that of GMO foods?

3. What other food controversies should be resolved in favor greater compulsions or restrictions on speech?

Finished the audio book on Monday. Fabulous! As a long time meditator, I'm wondering what role your continued meditation practice has played in maintaining your insights from your psychedelic experiences, and if you have any thoughts about how meditation could be useful as an integration tool after psychedelic therapy. Thanks!

This might be an odd question, but has he given any thought to how psychedelic experiences might be similar to life in the autistic spectrum? I wonder if the difficulty processing sensory information might be similar.

A Room of My Own is probably his most under-rated book. In it he describes the process of building a writing-room from scratch. It's also a mediation on different types of knowledge--the carpenter's view versus the architect's view of his building project--mediated in the book by his inexperience as a builder. What other activities does Michael think are characterised by this separation of knowledge? Which ones matter most?

you may like Matthew B. Crawford's 'Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work'

What if you asked him if it is really necessary to take psychedelics and study them to alter our consciousness if consciousness may not even exist?

How does he think our treatment of animals will be viewed by our ancestors in the future (say 200 years from now?)

You (Pollan) sympathetically write about various foods and producers. Can you give an acerbic criticism about one food or producer?

How do these psychoactive drugs affect one's political orientation?

this is good

(Nixon thought pot and lsd made young people into pinkos, hippies. He also, famously, didn't understand why people took these drugs instead of being like normal folk and drinking.)

"Ego dissolution experienced during a participant's "most intense" psychedelic experience positively predicted liberal political views, openness and nature relatedness, and negatively predicted authoritarian political views. Further work is needed to investigate the nature of the relationship between the peak psychedelic experience and openness to new experiences, egalitarian political views, and concern for the environment."


Ask: How can an ordinary person with LSD experience become involved in low dose experiments, without becoming a law breaker?

Historical psychedelic usage appears to be shamanistic and ceremonial in nature. In current times should it be clinical, ceremonial, recreational, or what? What is best for individuals and what is best for modern society in relation to psychedelics... Also, what value does he think it brought historical civilizations.

Great question.

Australian Aboriginal population used them for tribal decision making. You weren’t allowed to participate unless you had grey hair in your beard (they recognized this was not for youngsters). Given this, who gets to use them?

Please ask him how those of us interested in trying psychedelics can find the right “set”and “setting” as explained in the book.

USA is in the middle of a soft roll-out of legalizing cannabis. From his perspective--as a writer who previously took a deep dive into the world of weed, horticulture, selective breeding, etc--how does he think it's going?

At the beginning of his career, Pollan's understanding of our relationship with nature focused on individual ethics. As his career progressed, he appeared more interested in communitarian principles. 'How to Change Your Mind' is clearly at its core a return to his earlier approach, but is there a communitarian case for psychedelics?

Can you explain the calculus of risk that embraces experimenting with psychedelics, but balks at eating a transgenic potato?

Is there a thread that connects his investigation of our food system and this new investigation of psychedelics and the mind?

Why did he make this transition?

Underrated or overrated: Intensive agriculture

Did your experience with psychedelic therapy lead to real understanding of alternative ways of thinking and living or "just" more awareness that the current way is limiting or damaging? Has it changed the way you think about gardening and writing?

Dear Michael and Tyler,

do you like your food mixed up or separate when you have more than one ingredient?

Buffet or bento box? - which are the worst and best qualities of these ways of serving and sharing food?

What do you think of psychedelic researcher Rick Strassman’s points on the importance of avoiding a backlash against the wider biomedical availability of psychedelic drugs by avoiding overreach (the failure to maintain intellectual rigour and honesty) by:
a) Renaming psychedelic drug adverse effects as “challenging experiences”;
b) Non-clinicians advocating for policy changes with clinical implications - specifically attempts to re-schedule psychedelics:
c) Homogenizing widely disparate religious traditions by proposing that they all share a “common mystical core”.
Read the article here, it’s very good: https://www.psymposia.com/magazine/bad-trips-challenging-experiences-misguided/
Softer question: As Roland Griffiths work seems to suggest that psychedelics can reliably occasion spiritual/religious experiences and as the US is probably the most religious of developed economies, would he say that psychedelics are unusually suited to American culture?

I would love to hear Pollan give a pro and con list on whether Tyler Cowen should try psychedelics. If you're a long time MR reader, you know that Tyler has a fairly monolithic opinion of drugs (your mind is the most important tool you have, don't do anything that has a remote chance of harming it). Would love to hear Pollan's pro and con list, and would love to hear Tyler's response.

It is 2018 and "J.S. Mill," aged 20, and has just had his first nervous breakdown. Does Dr. Pollan prescribe treatment with psilocybin in the presence of a trained clinician, or does he advise John Stuart to suffer through it, at least for the present? How do we value the insight born of consolation in relation to the insight born of suffering? Or are these convergent and synonymous?

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