Psychedelic and Consciousness —Takeaway from the Book “How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan

After decades of suppression and neglect, psychedelics are having a renaissance. In the 1950s, Psychedelic was actively researched by scientists, hoping to find the neurochemical basis of mental disorders previously believed to be psychological in origin or treat a variety of disorders. Because psychedelic can’t be patented, most of the researches were funded by the government or public institutions rather than private companies. By the end of the 1960s, the dark side of psychedelics began to receive tremendous amounts of publicity and the exuberance surrounding these new drugs gave way to moral panic. Since then, psychedelic drugs were outlawed and forced underground, and most of the researches were ended because of lack of funding from the government. It’s not until recent years that Psychedelics started to be actively researched by private institutions.

Psychedelics are seen as valuable tools for exploring the mysteries of human consciousness. A Hopkins article find volunteers who participated in taking psilocybin reported significant improvement in their “personal well-being, life satisfaction and positive behavior change.” The author believes that psychedelics can “enrich the collective imagination — the culture — with the novel ideas and visions that a select few people bring back from wherever it is they go.”

LSD gives one insight into how young children perceive the world and return our cognition to a more primitive mode. While kids’ perceptions are not mediated by expectation and conventions in the been there, adult’s perceptions are based on their past experiences, filtering information and taking in the world as it is so much as they make educated guesses about it. LSD disables such conventionalized, shorthand modes of perception and, by doing so, restores a childlike immediacy and sense of wonder. I’m personally looking forward to applying cognition aleration on language learning and getting rid of accents, or learning new sports that are constrained by what we’ve already known about other sports.

The Default Mode Network in our brain is highly correlated with consciousness, and the way LSD works is to reduce the activities in DMN. DMN is the network of brain structures that light up with activity when there are no demands on our attention and we have no mental task to perform. The DMN is more active when we are engaged in higher-level “metacognitive process” such as self-reflection and mental constructions(the self and ego). DMN also helps regulate what is let into consciousness form the world outside, operates as a kind of filter charged with admitting only that “measly trickle” of information required for us to get through the day because of efficiency. It means that there’s no single reality out there waiting to be faithfully and comprehensively transcribed. Our senses have evolved for a much narrower purpose and take in only what serves our needs as animals of a particular kind.

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The loss of self or magnified sensitivity to the environment brought by psychedelic is due to the reduced activities in DMN and the increased amount of entropy(uncertainty). The steepest drops in DMN activity correlated with one’s subjective experience of “ego dissolution”. The more precipitous the drop-off in blood flow and oxygen consumption in the DMN, the more likely one would experience the loss of a sense of self, where the usual boundaries we experience between self and world, subject and object, all melt away. In a high-entropy brain, the various networks of the brain became less specialized, more integrated as new connections spring up among regions. The brain’s networks communicate more openly, with greater flexibility and interconnectedness. The Psychedelics alter consciousness by disorganizing brain activity, increasing the amount of entropy in the brain, with the result that the system reverts to a less constrained, “more primitive” mode of cognition. It returns us to the psychological condition of the infant on its mother’s breast, a stage when it has yet to develop a sense of itself as a separate and bounded individual.

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