Posts

Showing posts from 2018

Altered Consciousness

I'm going to try to describe the experience of being on LSD. Not to reflect on any particular one of my own or to talk about meaning or existential questions, but rather to try to encapsulate what makes it an experience that so often eludes description. Imagine your conscious experience is a house. The house is an anchor, a context; you have a clear idea of where you've been and where you're going—a chronological chain of events. Each moment of conscious experience is a room. Each time you enter a room, your experience is contextualized by the interrelated components of the house. You are aware that you came from a previous room, you know why you are in the room you are, and you know which room you plan to enter next (although you don't know exactly what the experience will be like, you can easily imagine some approximation). It's this sense of continuity that gives our conscious experience coherency. LSD does away with all of that. It's common to feel a disso…

Divorce

Image
Tonight I was lying in bed with my wife and our three dogs. As we lay there laughing and loving on them, I said, "I never thought my life would be this good." But as I was laughing, I was crying, too. Tomorrow my wife and I will meet with a family law attorney to begin mediation. After four years of marriage, we're getting a divorce.

It's hard to know exactly where things went wrong. Eight months ago, after a rather unfortunate and stressful night when one of our dogs got very sick, she said to me, "I want to break up." I was in shock. Neither of us had never said a word about splitting up. We had been going to a couple's counselor for a couple of weeks, after my wife told me we needed to improve our communication. Our counselor thought we were a pretty easy case. Suffice to say that in the next session, things became much more complicated.

After a few months of counseling, she filed for divorce. She did so in secret. The night she told me, I had asked …

On today's hearing.

Image
I'm trying to process the hearings from this afternoon. I'm trying to process how entrenched everyone became in their partisan camps; indeed, chances are your mind was made up before the hearing began, and chances are that the news sources you followed simply served to entrench you more deeply in your point of view. My opinion going into this was that Ford was credible, but that her inability to produce compelling evidence would ultimately soften the impact on the nomination itself. Shockingly (ha), I still believe that is the case. As I understand it, several more women have come forward with accusations. I'm sure they will be dismissed as politics by the right, and the left will demand justice for (alleged) victims. Whether any of it will be enough to force or compel Trump to select an alternate nominee remains to be seen. I'll refrain from saying much more on who should be believed, because you already made up your mind. But what I found distressingly mundane, unfo…

Brief thoughts on Michael Pollan's "How to Change Your Mind"

Image
I recently finished Michael Pollan's book "How to Change Your Mind," about the history, experience, and science of psychedelics.

One of the most interesting takeaways for me is the idea that our self, our ego, what we consider to be "us" and how we experience the world, is not fixed. Those steeped in the religious philosophy of Western antiquity often talk about "essence," as though there is a "true self" situated within the body (not physically situated, they would say, but metaphysically). Just today I was reading a comment from someone who claimed, from a religious perspective, that our "true essence" remains intact even if we have Alzheimer's. Color me deeply skeptical, and psychedelics provide an insight as to why.

It's hard to describe to someone else what the experience of a psychedelic is like. It's sort of like asking, "What is the content of your conscious experience right now?" Most of us don'…

The Trip

Vanessa walked with me as I stared at the moonlit trees. They seemed to be aware of my presence, their twisting branches reaching toward me. I wasn't afraid, though; I was drawn to them. As we approached one particularly old and massive tree, Vanessa said she wanted me to touch it. I think she just wanted to see my reaction. When I laid my palm on the cool bark, it felt as though I could see into the tree's roots and know its history. I inhaled sharply. A sense of euphoria rushed through my body.

One of the ironies of LSD is that you are generally aware that your state is the result of the drug. The floors may move like water, but you know it's not water. And yet your mind can return to such a childlike state that you may try to dip your hand into the floor anyway, just in case. Or, you may not be certain whether what you're seeing is hallucination. Getting another sense involved, as I did by touching the tree, helps. Maybe the tree wasn't conscious, but my childli…

Stephen Hawking was instrumental to my atheism

Image
Last week, Stephen Hawking passed away at 76. Sean Carroll wrote a wonderful piece on Hawking's scientific contributions, which are many. Hawking was also a provocateur of the religious, famously opining in A Brief History of Time,
So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator? Hawking was discussing what he called the "No Boundary Proposal," also known as the Hawking-Hartle State. Now, theologians have famously disputed the plausibility of Hawking's proposal. It was, essentially, just a mathematical exercise. Absent a quantum theory of gravity, we really have no idea what the boundary condition of the universe is (or is not). Hawking did not prove that God does not exist. He didn't disprove the existence of a Creator. And yet, this No Boundary concept was hu…

Feminist Glaciers and the Science Culture Wars

Image
Steven Pinker recently penned a massive essay for Chronicle called "The Intellectual War on Science." I'm generally a pretty big fan of Pinker, but I am skeptical of this narrative that there's a "war on science," fed by some sort of postmodernist view that truth is relative. This is a popular narrative among people like Jordan Peterson and Gad Saad, who seem to think postmodernism (and the damn feminists!) are ruining science. Saad, for example, recently mocked an event purporting to address feminist issues in science, saying sarcastically, "I've always thought that research on the distribution of prime numbers was biased by the male gaze. Let's have a more diverse and inclusive understanding of number theory."

Before proceeding, I want to lead with a quote by one of my favorite scientists, cognitive linguist George Lakoff. In his book Philosophy in the Flesh, he remarks,
Science, as Kuhn rightly observed, does not always proceed by the l…

On conservative contempt for the poor

Image
In 1976, when Ronald Reagan ran (unsuccessfully) for the presidency, his campaign crafted an ad that has inspired a generation of conservatives: the 'Welfare Queen'. Focused on Linda Taylor, who defrauded the government for hundreds of thousands of dollars, it was intended to show how the welfare system was being exploited so that the 'poor' could live like royalty off of the tax returns of hard-working middle-class people. (Incidentally, NPR did a fine write-up on the facts behind her story, which highlights how misleading Reagan's campaign really was.)

This narrative is still in effect today in conservative media. Numerous stories from conservative media and think-tanks have cited the ownership of appliances as a sign that the poor in America are actually pretty well-off. Popular conservative commentator Ben Shapiro chalks up poverty to people being "bad with money." It's been over four decades since the Reagan's "Welfare Queen" campai…

On media bias

I subscribe to the "failing" (ha) NY Times. To me, it's pretty much what I've always associated with "news": they just describe shit that's happening. We're human beings and I'd never suggest that bias can't enter into reporting at all, but the typical NY Times article is pretty banal. Notably, their editorial section, in which opinions are argued, is kept separate from their news reporting. And yet this is one of many outlets—NBC/ABC/CBS, CNN, WaPo—that's considered a "liberal" news outlet by conservative media. Snap to today, after Canadian intellectual Jordan Peterson was interviewed for BBC. Here's how conservative media outlets reported on the "news": Washington Times: "Jordan B. Peterson leaves reporter speechless after her 'right not to be offended' remark: 'Gotcha'" Breitbart: "'You've Got Me': Feminist Cathy Newman Crumbles in Channel 4 Interview with 'Contr…