My Conversation with Michael Pollan

I was very happy with how this turned out, here is the audio and transcript.  Here is how the CWTeam summarized it:

Michael Pollan has long been fascinated by nature and the ways we connect and clash with it, with decades of writing covering food, farming, cooking, and architecture. Pollan’s latest fascination? Our widespread and ancient desire to use nature to change our consciousness.

He joins Tyler to discuss his research and experience with psychedelics, including what kinds of people most benefit from them, what it can teach us about profundity, how it can change your personality and political views, the importance of culture in shaping the experience, the proper way to integrate it into mainstream practice, and — most importantly of all — whether it’s any fun.

He argues that LSD is underrated, I think it may be good for depression but for casual use it is rapidly becoming overrated.  Here is one exchange of relevance:

COWEN: Let me try a very philosophical question. Let’s say I could take a pill or a substance, and it would make everything seem profound. My receptivity to finding things profound would go up greatly. I could do very small events, and it would seem profound to me.

Is that, in fact, real profundity that I’m experiencing? Doesn’t real profundity somehow require excavating or experiencing things from actual society? Are psychedelics like taking this pill? They don’t give you real profundity. You just feel that many things are profound, but at the end of the experience, you don’t really have . . .

POLLAN: It depends. If you define profundity or the profound as exceptional, you have a point.

One of the things that’s very interesting about psychedelics is that our brains are tuned for novelty, and for good reason. It’s very adaptive to respond to new things in the environment, changes in your environment, threats in your environment. We’re tuned to disregard the familiar or take it for granted, which is indeed what most of us do.

One of the things that happens on psychedelics, and on cannabis interestingly enough — and there’s some science on it in the case of cannabis; I don’t think we’ve done the science yet with psychedelics — is that the familiar suddenly takes on greater weight, and there’s an appreciation of the familiar. I think a lot of familiar things are profound if looked at in the proper way.

The feelings of love I have for people in my family are profound, but I don’t always feel that profundity. Psychedelics change that balance. I talk in the book about having emotions that could be on Hallmark cards. We don’t think of Hallmark cards as being profound, but in fact, a lot of those sentiments are, properly regarded.

Yes, there are those moments you’ve smoked cannabis, and you’re looking at your hand, and you go, “Man, hands, they’re f — ing incredible.” You’re just taken with this. Is that profound or not? It sounds really goofy, but I think the line between profundity and banality is a lot finer than we think.


COWEN: I’ve never myself tried psychedelics. But I’ve asked the question, if I were to try, how would I think about what is the stopping point?

For my own life, I like, actually, to do the same things over and over again. Read books. Eat food. Spend time with friends. You can just keep on doing them, basically, till you die. I feel I’m in a very good groove on all of those.

If you take it once, and say you find it entrancing or interesting or attractive, what’s the thought process? How do you model what happens next?

POLLAN: That’s one of the really interesting things about them. You have this big experience, often positive, not always though. I had, on balance . . . all the experiences I described in the book, with one notable exception, were very positive experiences.

But I did not have a powerful desire to do it again. It doesn’t have that self-reinforcing quality, the dopamine release, I don’t know what it is, that comes with things that we like doing: eating and sex and sleep, all this kind of stuff. Your first thought after a big psychedelic experience is not “When can I do it again?” It’s like, “Do I ever have to do it again?”

COWEN: It doesn’t sound fun, though. What am I missing?

POLLAN: It’s not fun. For me, it’s not fun. I think there are doses where that might apply — low dose, so-called recreational dose, when people take some mushrooms and go to a concert, and they’re high essentially.

But the kind of experience I’m describing is a lot more — I won’t use the word profound because we’ve charged that one — that is a very internal and difficult journey that has moments of incredible beauty and lucidity, but also has dark moments, moments of contemplating death. Nothing you would describe as recreational except in the actual meaning of the word, which is never used. It’s not addictive, and I think that’s one of the reasons.

I did just talk to someone, though, who came up to me at a book signing, a guy probably in his 70s. He said, “I’ve got to tell you about the time I took LSD 16 days in a row.” That was striking. You can meet plenty of people who have marijuana or a drink 16 days in a row. But that was extraordinary. I don’t know why he did it. I’m curious to find out exactly what he got out of it.

In general, there’s a lot of space that passes. For the Grateful Dead, I don’t know. Maybe it was a nightly thing for them. But for most people, it doesn’t seem to be.

COWEN: Say I tried it, and I found it fascinating but not fun. Shouldn’t I then think there’s something wrong with me that the fascinating is not fun? Shouldn’t I downgrade my curiosity?

POLLAN: [laughs] Aren’t there many fascinating things that aren’t fun?

COWEN: All the ones I know, I find fun. This is what’s striking to me about your answer. It’s very surprising.

W even talk about LSD and sex, and why a writer’s second book is the key book for understanding that writer.  Toward the end we cover the economics of food, and, of course, the Michael Pollan production function:

COWEN: What skill do you tell them to invest in?

POLLAN: I tell them to read a lot. I’m amazed how many writing students don’t read. It’s criminal. Also, read better writers than you are. In other words, read great fiction. Cultivate your ear. Writing is a form of music, and we don’t pay enough attention to that.

When I’m drafting, there’s a period where I’m reading lots of research, and scientific articles, and history, and undistinguished prose, but as soon as I’m done with that and I’ve started drafting a chapter or an article, I stop reading that kind of stuff.

Before I go to bed, I read a novel every night. I read several pages of really good fiction. That’s because you do a lot of work in your sleep, and I want my brain to be in a rhythm of good prose.

Defininitely recommended, as is Michael’s latest book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.


Pollan: "But I did not have a powerful desire to do it again."

Alan Watts, on why he stopped taking LSD: "When you've gotten the message, you hang up the phone."

That is my experience as well. After about a dozen times i had enough. I wouldnt trade it for anything, but i have no desire to use LSD again.

I feel similarly but mostly I won't do LSD again because the effects last too long. Shrooms I still enjoy but even though I can get them whenever I want I don't find myself wanting to more than once a year or two.

+1. Profound the first time. (And also fun/hilarious!). Diminishing returns. But utterly exhausting; you can't just sleep it off.

Don't listen to these guys. Taking LSD is fun!

Doing LSD with a group of people you love on a beautiful day in the country, preferably with a big old farmhouse to range around in, is more fun than you can imagine.

Yes! And better during the day when you can see colors better. Better visuals!

No access at the time, so I wonder how many profitable hours could be spent watching Mandelbrot set animations while tripping, especially with any program permitting navigation within the animation.

On another hand that could easily prove scarily intense, no matter how good the music or the ambiance otherwise.

"Fractalization of consciousness" might enjoy metaphorical application in an approach psychedelic experience, too.

Trippy enough without the drugs, I think. Also, if you remember those AI object recognition videos from a few years ago where the algorithm was trained on dog-faces, and everything looks like dog-faces, that's a pretty good idea of what LSD/psilocybin does to your vision. Except with a real person it's not going to be just dog-faces of course, it's going to be whatever stuff is in that person's head.

I used to dig Alan Watts until I discovered he hung up the phone on his kids but not alcohol.

I think everyone should take a good trip on a hallucinogen, especially psilocybin. The world would be a better place.

Alcohol is a destructive poison.

You might recall that in the Zen and Buddhist circles Watts, et al., traveled in back in the day, the tradition of drink well attested in Japanese and Chinese (Tang dynasty poet Li Bai, prominently) poetic traditions alike would have provided an aesthetic standard that could be adopted innocently or less than innocently. (On this score the same "temptations" were faced by Watts' contemporary Jack Kerouac.)

Alcohol's toxicity is not well appreciated, as you say. (The almost complete lack of toxicity for cannabis [as LSD itself] also is not amply appreciated.)

The lack of a hangover of any sort for mushrooms is also a strong point. LSD lasts a bit too long and you can't sleep on it.

This is good. I took LSD a couple of times - think it made me a more reflective person, and definitely better able to empathize with some of my patients.
I think most people would be better off if they tried it once or twice.

Don't even think about it, Cowen. At what level does one need to experience. Films, books, art, food, they are transcendent. My observation about tech is that it's mostly transcendent (creating a virtual reality). I am in the same habit as Pollan, reading good prose in my bed before going to sleep. I find it calming. And what we do just before sleep is what we do in our sleep.


Have you taken a hallucinogen?

Do you know where your wife is? You might be a cuck.

Tyler should try a hallucinogen, LSD might be a bit extreme, but mushrooms can be dosed easier and give you a milder experience.

I can confirm that what Pollan is saying about hallucinogens is my experience as well, you wont get addicted to them. You wont come off the experience damaged or unable to control your desires, they just dont work that way. You will experience things that are difficult to describe, your perspective will be altered but in the end, you will still be you.

Stop being complacent Tyler, if this was visiting some place or reading some book you would not hesitate, but you are wallowing in your comfort zone. Practice what you preach, even if its not a drug, stop acting like another junket or book is going to expand your horizions and try something actually new.

'but you are wallowing in your comfort zone'

I love reading a motorcycle, and have for decades. There is absolutely no way I would simply recommend that someone try riding because otherwise they are complacent. As it is in the U.S., psychedelics are not exactly subjected to stringent quality control.

'like another junket or book is going to expand your horizions and try something actually new'

Well, next time, he might try the chocolate ice cream with basil - or having seen that on a junket, at least decide to try the combination in the comfort of his own home. After all, a number of people are familiar with mint and chocolate - Prof. Cowen now has the rare chance to go beyond such complacency.

I agree. I would recommend trying LSD or mushrooms at least once to most people. The exception would be someone who has some PTSD due to a past trauma that they have not recovered from. In that case I would only recommend it in a clinical setting under the supervision of a trained psychiatric professional.

I have to agree with Hazel and Mofo.
As for the dose issue, at least with mushrooms or peyote buttons there are no mystery additives. LSD can be uneven and an LSD trip can be frighteningly uneven. That said, it comes in batches and if a trusted friend will vouch for the quality and dosage of the batch it can be ok.

Mushrooms and peyote buttons are usually pretty mild.

Between the ages of 18 and 20 I tried all of them, then stopped as there was nothing more to learn.

On the contrary , kudos to Tyler for not Try-le ing it so far. There are innumerable dimensions to human existence and not reaching the maxima on one dimension , doesn't take away from the loci on the other dimensions.

formulaic dribble. could have just Nietzsche.

Guess 'tis better to have Bot and lost , than never to have Bot at all.

"COWEN: I’ve never myself tried psychedelics. But I’ve asked the question, if I were to try, how would I think about what is the stopping point?

For my own life, I like, actually, to do the same things over and over again. Read books. Eat food. Spend time with friends. You can just keep on doing them, basically, till you die. I feel I’m in a very good groove on all of those.

If you take it once, and say you find it entrancing or interesting or attractive, what’s the thought process? How do you model what happens next?"

Same way you model going to a foreign country. You may enjoy and be enriched by visiting the Faroe islands, but you are not overwelmed by the desire to visit them over and over again without regard to the rest of your life. Drugs, even the ones that are supposedly highly addictive, are still subject to the same cost-benefit calculus that the rest of your life decisions are .

You wont throw away your life on drugs unless you dont value your life as it is very much.

>You wont throw away your life on drugs unless you dont value your life as it is very much.

Yeah, I'm sure the tens of thousands of people who die from opiates every single year just have low self-esteem.


Rehab programs consider self-esteem. Successful recoveries happen when people learn to trust themselves again.

Low self-esteem may not be the cause of drug addiction, but fixing it contributes to recovery.

Ps. I had some troubles with alcohol some years ago. If you don't handle well the outcome of bad decisions you drink, and drinking too much leads to more bad outcomes. The way out was building confidence, self-esteem or whatever you name it.

Am I a moron? =)

Yes, and a race-traitorous cuck too.

Hm. I consider MOFO's point right on.

Yeah all those opioid deaths are people with tremendous self-esteem and confidence. Is there any topic about which TPM actually has something useful to say?

With heroin, the majority of people try it a couple of times but never become dependent. Only a very small percentage of people taking it become addicts.


Good comment.

'Here is how the CWT staff'

Actually Mercatus Center staff, right?

'Eat food. ......... You can just keep on doing them, basically, till you die.'

Yes, you have to keep eating to stay alive. The line between profundity and banality really is a fine one, isn't it?

I refer to us in emails as the CWTeam but sadly that has not caught on.

I could take issue with a lot of the things he says here.
If you find, for instance, reading a very emotional book "recreational" then LSD is recreational in the same way. I have no idea what he means by "low" recreational doses of mushrooms, and I suspect he doesn't know what he's talking about. Some people might calibrate their doses of psychadelics because they don't want to have a very intense trip, but that doesn't change the experience to just being "high essentially". he's engaged in some rather prudish judgement of what other people choose to do with their trips. He apparently likes having long intellectual psychological trips which maybe would be termed "bad" trips by a lot of people. That doesn't make it not "recreational". other people enjoy doing different things , maybe trying to focus on visual hallucinations, or enjoying the auditory effect of music while on psychadelics. All of these tend to bleed into eachother - there's always a psychological component. Some people have really bad stuff in their past that they aren't ready to delve into, so they don't want to have intense emotional psychological journeys. This is really the split between the East Coast Timothy Leary tradition and the west coast San Francisco tradition in terms of LSD culture. The East Coast tradition is more internal and intellectual and the West Coast is more focused on external sensory experiences. They're both "recreational" to the people doing them though.

He is correct that any sort of psychadelics you generally don't want to jump right up and go do them again right away. But that's not because they aren't "fun". They are "fun" in a very intense "peak experience" way. After climbing Mount Everest, I doubt many people turn around and want to do it again right away either. They aren't simple pleasures, they are complex difficult pleasures, like being in love and having children. After the end of one romance, as passionate and beautiful as it was, you don't jump up and run out the door to go have another one immediately, because you had so much fun. No woman gets up after having given birth and goes "cool, I want to get pregnant immediately so I can do that again". You have to spend some time processing the experience. That's what you have to do with LSD as well, you have to process the experience and grow. And I also wouldn't say that the things you think are profound aren't really profound, or that they are only about ordinary things either. It can actually lead you to recognition of things that actually ARE profound and that's part of why it takes time to process. You're probably not even going to remember most of the profound things you thought up, unless you take the time to write them down, or why they are profound, unless you write that down too. And it's not just "it makes things profound". That a narrow range of the possible experiences - it could be "it makes everything seem beautiful and alive", or "it makes me feel universal brotherly love" (that's more MDMA than LSD) , and it can also mean awful things like reliving really bad memories and feeling like a worthless horrible person or that life is meaningless and you might as well kill yourself (examples of what's called a "bad trip"). Sometimes even the "bad trips" can be psychologically beneficial if you're an emotionally stable enough person to work through that stuff and either use it to process your baggage or else control it and send yourself back to a "good" trip - not everyone is.

You're stoned right now, aren't you?

Nope. And the last time I tried anything was at least five years ago.

"They aren't simple pleasures, they are complex difficult pleasures, like being in love and having children."

This is one of those insights that I think is often underappreciated by the more "utilitarian" approaches to life and decision-making. There are some human experiences that I would characterize as "good to have done", even if those experiences may not have been particularly "fun" or pleasurable in the moment.

To be honest, I don't really know if there is a great word in English that is able to accurately describe those kinds of experiences. Perhaps the word "meaningful"? And to the extent that languages are a reflection of the broader philosophical underpinnings of particular cultural worldviews, does this suggest that there may be something incomplete about modern American culture?

"Peak experience" comes closest. I also like "flow", although it's sort of yet another a different kind of experience.
I don't know if I would say something is missing about modern American culture, since that's a pretty broad thing. I mean, the hippie counter-culture is American culture too, and they probably have words for this stuff that I don't know about. Although most of those are probably stolen from Hindi.

'There are some human experiences that I would characterize as "good to have done", even if those experiences may not have been particularly "fun" or pleasurable in the moment.'

There is a phrase that captures this, albeit only at a simple level and for a small subset of the types of experiences you're envisioning. It's used especially by outdoor adventurous types: Type 2 fun.

Type 1 fun is what we usually think of as fun: clearly fun, fun all the way. Type 2 fun is when you were stressed or even miserable but after the experience were glad you did it, and would do it again. E.g. climbing Mt. Everest (or hiking out of the Grad Canyon for those of us with more modest outdoor ambitions).

Yes. I think the thing with psychadelics is that the experience often ranges between ecstatic joy and harrowing torment, even in the same trip. And there's usually a kind of terrifying "wobbly" phase at the beginning when the drugs are starting to hit and your like "Oh god... what did I do to myself? Why did I do this again? " before get your footing and it starts being fun. So it's always a bit of a terrifying experience and you know that if you do it again you have to experience the terror to get to the joy.

I used acid a lot during college. Shrooms every ten or so years after college. I'm glad I did and glad I don't any more. You'll have a good trip and probably do it again, or not. But you'll feel changed and usually for the better.

It just occurred to me you must have given birth naturally. A mind-altering drug prevented me from experiencing much of anything while giving birth. :-)

My first memory of my baby, really, is being given him to sleep with that first night. I held him for awhile, then fearing I would smother him somehow, I placed him in the bassinet, and then I lay there and looked at him and thought about the day of his death - which I carefully placed far in the future, when he is an old man. Literally hours old, and I was thinking about his death, and worrying he would be alone, as I wouldn't be there.

I can do sad things all by myself! Some of us manufacture the chemicals for our own bad trips, and perhaps too few of the chemicals to recover from them.

Not actually. I caved in and got the epidural both times. but the first was a C-section, so I was happy to experience an actual vaginal delivery with the second, even if I was pretty numbed up. ( I had them turn down the epidural so I could push, so I wasn't complete numb - still wouldn't jump up and do it again.)

Oh and I would agree about all the crazy emotional things you think - I think I have PTSD still from that story about the 2 year old getting eaten by an Alligator in florida at a disney resort.

West Coast LSD culture has produced the world's first publicly traded trillion dollar company founded by Steve Jobs in the form of Apple, not to mention trillions more in Silicon Valley and Seattle. What has all that east coast "intellect" produced? Wall Street bailouts?

If you take it once, and say you find it entrancing or interesting or attractive, what’s the thought process? How do you model what happens next?

You go to Burning Man. hahaha.

No really. try LSD once. If you like it, go to Burning Man and do all the other drugs.

Just kidding.

Go to Burning Man and ride a bike on LSD. Ride it everywhere and look at as much art as possible.

This is 100% correct ^. Hazel if you're ever in NYC or if you're in BRC this year, I'd like to meet you based on the quality of your comments.

+1 for all your comments

You are on a roll today.

Great comment by Hazel @ 10:43 am

With all the reviews his latest book has gotten and for all the probing interviews he's given since his book's release, Pollan continues to seem incapable of saying just WHAT "the psychedelic experience" is or consists of. His reviewers and interviewers have all seemed unable to note or to ask this single apt question, happy instead to remain clueless in order to defer to Pollan's advertised "expertise".

As long as professional and practiced empiricists are unable to name properly the subjects they investigate, empiricism itself qualifies as "overrated" (or: perhaps professional empiricists should not be trusted with taxonomic tasks).

Alternatively, from a rank amateur:

I too admit to feeling disappointed that the breakthrough made possible by LSD that Pollan keeps referencing in the PR for the book, can be subsumed by the word "love." Therapeutic promise aside, with it being normalized, there doesn't seem to be much new with LSD.

I think there are people - I know there are, I am married to one - who stream the world, past and present, in a state of perpetual fascination, unaltered; and these people may feel more than usually protective of their brains. I may question the wisdom of Tyler's judgments, but he undoubtedly seems like such a person to me. It's more than being "bright." Perhaps that's what he was trying to convey, more modestly ("I'm a hobbit in my habits"), in the quoted portion. That person possibly also "can't relate" [as Lennon said of McCartney when he had not yet convinced him to try LSD] to people whose minds are different. But this sets them apart their whole lives, not just as the result of a few acid trips.

But hey - follow-up questions were asked! - are we sure TC wasn't on something? Perhaps coffee?

Well, that IS one of the central experiences that LSD brings - an understanding just how subjective all experience really is, just how much everything you experience really is a construct of the mind. There is no direct experience of reality, it is all mediated by the senses, and if you've never had your senses and your mental states altered temporarily in that way, that's difficult for most people to grasp.

Yeah, I can see that, for sure, and it seems like it would be heightened for people who are very inner-focused - that is to say, more interested in the *never-ending* mystery of themselves, than in the world at large. If it ever becomes as fashionable (and legal) as wine, it would appeal to a lot of women I know.

Yes, AND...for many of us psychedelics opened up a realm beyond subjective perception...the Eternal, the Deathless, Oneness...and both approaching and receding from that unitary non-dual experience was a profound sense of connection with and belonging to all the referents of cognition.

I went into my first trip unconsciously presupposing that there was something entirely unique and isolated about my emotional-cognitive states. I came out appreciating the opposite: “my” happiness was human happiness, “my” loneliness was human loneliness.

I think you’re as likely to find that LSD and psychedelics can affirm a universality to Consciousness as much as they show us that our sense-based perceptions are subjective (which is to say, dependent on a subject who perceives and not independently true.

+1. The way people now talk about LSD reminds me of the way people talk about prestige television.

"You have to try thing X, it's *amazing*."
"Cool, what's amazing about it?"
"You know, it's hard to put into words, but it's so good!"

etc. Of course, not everything needs a concretely reasoned justification, but I'm (perhaps constitutionally) skeptical of profound truths that seem to depend entirely on feeling.

"I think there are people - I know there are, I am married to one - who stream the world, past and present, in a state of perpetual fascination, unaltered; and these people may feel more than usually protective of their brains. "

I might be one of these people. I'm almost never bored, and I seem to have a lot of stoner-type experiences despite always being 100% sober. For example, a couple of years ago I spent about 45 minutes roasting an eggplant over a fire, just watching and periodically adjusting the eggplant, and it was one of my top experiences for that year. Stuff like this seems to come to me pretty easily. I'm wary of losing it.

Would you expect it to be possible to directly convey such an experience through language? Pollan talks a lot about the inability to communicate these experiences in satisfying ways, e.g. "some platitudes that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Hallmark card glow with the force of revealed truth. Love is Everything." I think interviewers haven't shied away from the topic, but, clearly, mapping incredibly complex mental states onto the flat plane of words is a low-resolution affair that relies on comparisons, analogies, and shared experiences to come to life even for the most gifted introspective writers.

"Recapitulation of infantile perception" seems both a suitable summation for the LSD experience (in terms William of Occam could perhaps have endorsed) and an insightful preamble to developing therapeutic applications.

The ur-book on this topic is the late Robert Anton Wilson's Sex and Drugs: A Journey Beyond Limits (I don't know if it's currently in print, although Wilson's books are slowly being re-released). Sounds like Pollan should have started with that one.

BTW, in one of his books (don't remember if it's this one), Wilson says that the experiences one can have on hallucinogenic drugs can also be had without the drugs - it's just more difficult.

No other experience, not even a peak experience, comes close to my long ago experiences with LSD, psilocybin, or peyote. Words fail to communicate the experience.

I really enjoyed this podcast. Is the photo of TC--grimacing, arms crossed skeptically and protectively--purposeful? Maybe I'm reading too much into it. "Every writer has a set of final questions that all their work, if you keep going, will come back to" reminds me of a question I've seen more than once in these pods, something like "What's the through line of your work?" I appreciate TC's ability to ask increasingly effective questions and then to allow the guest to give an answer, almost at their leisure, that reveals a lot about how they think about their work.

As much as I liked this pod, if I could make a point of criticism... I note that the Lennon / McCartney line is being used to promote this conversation on Twitter, but TC said it, not Pollan. It seems misleading, and maybe a little egotistical on Tyler's part, to use it as a representation of this conversation. I'd also note that I don't think Pollan is promoting LSD for casual use, as is, perhaps inadvertently, implied above. If anything, the book seems to warn against using psychedelics without a great deal of thoughtful preparation.

I tried psilocybin once. Meh. My recommendation would generally be: avoid it, we all have enough issues with the outside world and choosing to distort what "mother nature" has taken billions of years to create (our systems for perceiving reality) is unlikely to be particularly useful. You want a "profound" experience? Try sex... with someone you care about. It is fantasy to believe we have a "steady" state of consciousness. Our "state" changes all the time (we have a word for it:mood). Alzheimers and dementia are also (if you live long enough) "altered states", and have the benefit of being "natural". Wanna try them? You can, just try sleep deprivation for ~3 days. Or a lobotomy. All sorts of things "alter" our consciousness. Few of them are good for us. I don't judge people based on their inner state, but I'd bet no Nobel prizes were or will be ever won (in the Sciences) for work done in an "altered state" and I think that says something about them.

From the linked interview:

There’s lots of anecdotal evidence. Steve Jobs famously reported it had an influence on him. Stewart Brand. There’s a whole lot of engineers in Silicon Valley. There are a lot of artists. There are theoretical physicists who have reported that it helped them with their work. Biologists — Kary Mullis famously said he saw the structure . . . He had the insight that allowed him to come up with PCR, the method for polymerase chain reaction reproducing DNA, during an LSD experience.

Kary Mullis won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993 for drastically improving the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, which allows you to replicate DNA in a laboratory.

"mother nature" works by trial and error, and makes a lot of mistakes all the time. This means that to millions of people "mother nature" has failed. Mother nature failed Margot Kidder for example (the actress from Superman) who suffered her whole life with bipolar disorder until she killed herself a few weeks ago.

Li - " ... tried psilocybin once. Meh... "

You don't know what you are talking about.

Steve Jobs found a trillion dollar tech company. LSD he claimed was one of the top 2-3 experiences in his life. You don't have to like that fact but I prefer a trillion in the bank over a useless Nobel.

You can win a Nobel prize for writing a song about being stoned called "Everybody Must Get Stoned" just ask Bob Dylan.

"Everybody must get stoned!"

Not everybody.
Answer's in the great discussion.

I was quite surprised that Pollan wasn't familiar with HPPD, given his professed expertise.

As Cowen noted, HPPD is visual. It is distinct from what most people would call "flashbacks," episodic experiences in the wake of psychedelic experiences resembling the trip.

There is no effective cure for HPPD, though there do seem to be ways to restore normal vision temporarily.

This leads treatment providers to tell patients suffering from flashbacks - not HPPD - that they can't be helped.

Some of those people then commit suicide. If they had told those same providers their same experiences but omitted their drug history, they would've received mental health treatment.

I would not take LSD since I imagine it would rewire your brain, and would be obsessed with this thought that my brain is permanently altered. For the same reason I hold onto the safety harness in a zipline or roller coaster ride, even though it's not strictly speaking necessary.

Everything rewires your brain, all the time. You can't learn anything new without rewiring your brain.

Talk about your endowment effect!

I assumed the reason I never had the gumption to try psychedelics was because of my complacency. After hearing Tyler ask questions about them that assumption wa solidified. I’m surprised the word complacency didn’t come up. Does Tyler not realize how complacent he is when it comes to these kids of explorations?

Tyler, do you ever look out of a plane as it's taking off or descending, and with that vantage on the human arrangements just below you, feel that you are gaining a new, different, or more valuable perspective on those arrangements?

It may be hard to express the content of that perspective -- there may or may not be specific insights -- but it's something you could never see unless you flew in a plane.

I feel bad for people who have never been in a plane, don't you?

Tyler, I'd pay $50 with all the proceeds going to a random entrepreneur you met in Africa to pre-order of a pamphlet-sized book of you describing your experience with psychedelics in words, along with your economic analysis of it's costs/benefits. I'd pay $500 to trip with you.

Maybe he can do it while riding a roller coaster with Stephen Colbert. Take that, Paul Krugman!

And this is how gurus get started....

I'd also pay a subscription for a conversations with Tyler series on psychedelics.

Timothy Leary was boring enough to prove that the concept would not be worth the effort.

Hunter S. Thompson, on the other hand .....

+1 to HST. I read a lot of his stuff back in the day, and it wasn't really the druggy stuff I liked. He was a good writer in a Tom Wolfe kind of way.

LSD is very overrated. Mushrooms are totally worth it and should be 100% legal in some sort of supervised hotel type arrangement. To me, mushrooms really are natures way of communicating with sentient beings.

LSD is somewhat more BS in its "profoundness." I took it every week for 2+ years. Would not recommend. Everyone should take mushrooms for at least 1-2 weekends of their lives. It really isn't addictive either.

On the hand, I think of Raymond Tallis.

Sounds like nobody has had anything new to say about psychedelics since the 60s.

You could say the same thing about Shakespeare, that doesnt me he's not worth reading.

Agree, but it was a disappointing conversation because there was nothing new to learn.

Oh yeah.

If you want to know what LSD/mushrooms is like, this video is probably the best explanation:

This is a decent description of natural childbirth:

"A very internal and difficult journey that has moments of incredible beauty and lucidity, but also has dark moments, moments of contemplating death. Nothing you would describe as recreational except in the actual meaning of the word, which is never used."

Profound and fascinating, but not fun.

You're right. Poor analogy on my part. LSD is much more "fun" than childbirth, given that it's not actually physically painful.

I hesitate to comment on this, but what the heck, a few things not said so far, although maybe Pollan said them in his book or interview.

On the matter of something being "profound" or "fascinating" needing to be "fun," aside from things like childbirth, something more up Tyler's alley might be tragic plays. I realize there is some humor in Hamlet here and there, but most people do not go to see it for the laughs.

While he may be curious, my guess is that Tyler will not do it, I agree that if curiosity is great enough, psilocybin is probably the best bet, either as mushrooms (not gourmet tasty, but also not nauseating) or a pill from ProMega or some other official place doing the current experiments. It is indeed milder than alternatives, but can still be profound. Get some deep and beautiful music to listen to, as well as a nice day and a beautiful outdoor place to do some walking and sitting, preferably near some running water, with some appropriate person to keep a watch and help out.

Two things not mentioned from natural sources are the peyote cactus and morning glory seeds, these latter perfectly legal, and at the Heavenly Blue and Pearly Gates varieties containing LSD-6, a bit weaker than the LSD-25 that people are generally consuming when they "drop acid." In contrast to mushrooms, both of these taste bad and can induce nausea.

Peyote, which contains mescaline, seems to have completely disappeared from the countercultural psychedelic scene, I suspect because of a combination of the wild sources having been overharvested (it grows slowly, in contrast to mushrooms that pop up regularly and easily on cowpies), but also that most cultivated sources are under the control of the legal Native American Church. It has an effect quite different from, and in some ways more profound, than alternative psychedelics, quite appropriate for use by a religious group. It is also my suspicion that what gets sold as mescaline in pill form is often not the real thing.

Regarding the matter of useful intellectual understanding or insight emerging during a psychedelic trip, especially an LSD one, which is most likely to bring this about, these are most common in the later stages during "coming down," say 7-12 hours in or so. in the middle things are just too overwhelming and beyond clear thought, but in the later stage, one gets one's "rational" thought back while still having to some extent the earlier experience. This is the time when thinking about lots of things from math to physics to philosophy to history to arts, and so on, can bring actually deep insights that can stick afterwards and are for real, not just "hallucinations," (which, frankly, are not really a common feature of psychedelic trips, despite all the blather and misnaming as "hallucinogens").

To Burke and others demanding a clear explanation of what it is all about, pretty much everybody who has done it says that the most important parts are "beyond words." That is true, so this demand is just plain silly.

I t must be recognized that these can be dangerous, especially LSD-25. Aldous Huxley wrote not only the impressive _Doors of Perception_, but _Heaven and Hell_, which said that one can experience both during psychedelic trips. I have known people who not only had excruciatingly awful trips, but in one case were permanently ruined by such. The latter was a good friend who was studying electrical engineering at MIT a half century ago when he dropped acid and basically has been on disability ever since due to mental problems. I do not blame it on this, but he was a big fan of Ayn Rand and used to walk up to strangers and with great import say to them, "A is a."

A final note on this business about fun and tragedy, many people report both crying and laughing at the same time at certain peak moments during such experiences. After all, life really is a tragicomedy.

Of course all of the above reflects "informed hearsay" (ahem). As a certain filmmaker (reported to having been restrained from disrobing in public while tripping on morning glory seeds) is reported to have said, "I categorically deny everything."

In his book Pollan notes that probably 1 in 10 people should not consider psychedelics due - especially those with family histories of mental illness. Apparently those susceptible to schizophrenia in particular may be at increased risk.

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