How to Change Your Mind


Michael Pollan’s initial research into how LSD and psilocybin are used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions turns into a personal exploration of the mind in the first person as well as the third.

Favorite quotes from the book:

The true method of knowledge is experiment.

It took an act of faith to believe that eating the bread and wine of the Eucharist gave the worshipper access to the divine, an access that had to be mediated by a priest and the church liturgy. Compare that with the Aztec sacrament, a psychoactive mushroom that granted anyone who ate it direct, unmediated access to the divine - to visions of another world, a realm of gods. So who had the more powerful sacrament?

Everybody gives thanks for “being alive”, but who stops to offer thanks for the bare-bones gerund that come before “alive”? I had just come from a place where being was no more and now vowed never to forget what a gift (and mystery) it is, that there is something rather than nothing.

To form a perception of something out in the world, the brain takes in as little sensory information as it needs to make an educated guess. We are forever cutting to the chase, basically, and leaping to conclusions, relying on prior experience to inform current perception.

I spent an unreasonable amount of time reflecting on how improbable and fortunate it is to be living here and now at the frontier of two eternities of nonexistence.

Quantum mechanics holds that matter may not be as innocent of mind as the materialist would have us believe. For example, a subatomic particle can exist simultaneously in multiple locations, is pure possibility, until it is measured — that is, perceived by a mind. Only then and not a moment sooner does it drop into reality as we know it: acquire fixed coordinates in time and space. The implication here is that matter might not exist as such in the absence of a perceiving subject.