How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

Summary
  1. Michael Pollan’s deep dive into consciousness altering substances
Key Takeaways
  1. One way to study a complex system is to disturb it and see what happens. This is what psychedelics allows scientists to do with the brain. A great benefit of psychedelics is that it sheds light on how the normal brain works and helps you better understand regular consciousness and that it really is only one of many forms of consciousness
  2. Set and setting are both incredibly important but even if you get those totally correct it is still very possible to have a bad trip and have what some say is the most challenging of event of their lives
  3. Psychedelics have shown have many positive impacts with people who have some serious illnesses or depression. It helps you distance yourself from your ego and gain a new perspective on life and many people who have taken it said it was one of the most impactful and important experiences that they’ve had in their lives
  4. There are many parallels between religion and the following that LSD has gotten since Hoffman discovered it in Switzerland in the 60s but the only difference is that the acolytes can directly take part in the religious experience through taking the drug whereas in other religions they have to merely be satisfied with stories as history told from authority figures
  5. Many of these experiences with drugs have something William James called the noetic quality or sense and that is the feeling that you have been let in on a secret of the universe that everyone has access to but just hasn’t realized yet and this deep quality is something dreams and other drugs usually don’t provide
  6. After these experiences, many people lose their ego and sense of self and believe that consciousness is a property of the universe and doesn’t rise out of our consciousness or minds
  7. Many believe that psychedelics laid the foundation for religion
  8. The core learning of most people’s trips, as banal as it may seem, is the supreme importance of love and of letting go of fears and expectations
  9. It was assumed that psychedelics increase blood flow to the brain and in fact it restricts it in specific areas such as the default mode network and this allows your brain to disassociate and make connections that it doesn’t do normally
  10. Uncertainty causes fear in humans and therefore the brain has developed protective pattern matching / recognizing skills. From this comes the stories we tell ourselves, whether right or wrong, to try to help us deal with the world around us. However, this takes a toll and when we become too rigid – when there is not enough entropy in the brain – it leads to linear and boxed in thinking, close-mindedness, addiction, depression, and other harmful states
  11. The veracity or truth of these experiences can of course be questioned but this may not be the appropriate measure. Perhaps the fruits of the experience, how it positively impacts people’s lives, may be the most important. It has helped people with depression, getting over their fears, worries and anxieties and helping them more fully connect with others, focus on things truly important to them, lessen the power of their ego over them, and more. Don’t fret about the details of life but focus on relationships, walks, connectedness, giving joy to others; etc.
  12. Loss of self seems to be linked to a gain in meaning
What I got out of it
  1. Some great background information on consciousness altering substances, their benefits, their dangers, the research behind them, and more