Sunday, September 28, 2008

Psychedelics, Science, and WTF

Alternet recently reported on Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference that took place in NY last week. I imagine it was an interesting and illuminating event, but of course, and no surprise, we get this nugget:

"In the conference's closing session, [Daniel] Pinchbeck suggested that the current renaissance in psychedelic culture came about because Saturn was at right angles to Pluto. And when one audience member asked who doubted the "official 9/11 story," more than half the crowd raised their hands. Forte then began spouting a mix of 9/11 conspiracy theory and erroneous Holocaust history -- and confessed that Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered the effects of LSD in 1943, had told him shortly before his death that he thought the Jews had been behind the attacks."

The Trans-Spirit message board posted the article and set off a little discussion. I had asked how the rest of the audience responded to
these kind of claims? I asked: Is their a kind of polite acceptance that no
matter how outrageous the claims (eg. Saturn at right angles and
Jewish conspiracy theories) everyone at these things has to be nice to
each other? Don't the serious scientists and researchers protest?

The article, and others like it, always tend to equalize everything,
but put some of these people in the same room as a creationist or an
ID proponent and they would not stand for it. But literal belief in
the phases of the planets affecting human destiny are left standing...

I like Pinchbeck and I am interested in the work he does, and of course Robert Forte is an important figure and his Council on Spiritual Practices does interesting work, but I wonder how their particular claims and ideas really undermine the scientific underpinning of the new psychedelic research. The problem for me is that I believe very strongly that these substances, under the right circumstances, can be efficacious for certain kind of spiritual revelations, but when these things get transmitted outside the experience, the danger of literalism is too great. How can we find a way to talk about spiritual realities without falling in to the trap that all religion's and spiritual practices face, which is the dissolution of mythic language and elevate the concrete. This is the fundamental problem of things like Intelligent Design and creationism, and no matter how you slice it, saying that certain things happen because the planets align in a certain way uses the same categorical language. I would love to hear what Pinchbeck thinks about this. But right now I am going to email Forte and give him a little what for.


LetsSaveDemocracy said...

this would be fine forum to apply some good sound logic and intelligence to what is surely the mother of all problems.

i was in new york that day. i was told by a senior vice president of a very large asset management company, who was responsible for billions of dollars, that he knew it was going to happen. "boys from the government" told him, he said.

even with that information for two years whenever anyone said to me that 9/11 was an inside job, that the buildings could not possibly have fallen down like that due to fire alone, i looked at them like they were from the moon. i scoffed in disbelief without ever really looking at it. it was impossible, so why bother.

then i learned that david ray griffin had trained his mind on it. griffin i knew from his work in the philosophy of science and religion, being one of the most rigorous and respected christian theologians of our time. i had to read him, and when i did, the veil began to come down and i went through this very difficult process of seeing my illusions dissolve and a new, quite frightening reality appear.

I am fascinated by this and liken it very much to important aspect of the psychedelic experience and the sociology of knowledge. we find ourselves very much like certain denizens of plato's cave.

i would be interested to hear how you justify holding the administration's conspiracy theory to be true,

let there be light

Robert Forte

Peter Bebergal said...

Robert, thanks for posting here. I appreciate you taking the time to engage with me. To be honest, I am not so much interested in debating theories about 9/11. My main concern is what any of this has to do with psychedelic research? I would ask the same of Pinchbeck's discussion of planetary alignment.

LetsSaveDemocracy said...

I have a little time this morning to continue my answer to your question, what does this, 9/11 Truth, have to do with psychedelic research? I assume you've received my first reply. Here is a little more to think about. I addressed some of these concerns in the talk I gave at Horizons which is here:

I will try to put it in a succinct way here. I've been speaking on this theme recently, since 2006 when I read John Dean's important psychological analysis of Washington DC, his book, Conservative's Without Conscience, which is best summarized in his chapter "The TRiumph of the Authoritarians," which you can find on line.

Essentially, Dean who of course was Nixon's personal attorney until he resigned over Watergate, laments, profoundly, that our government, our politics, has been taken over by a certain mentality which he describes in terms of "the authoritarian personality."

He goes into some detail about the fairly extensive research into the pathological extremes of this world view, citing the research of social psychologists of the 1940s and 50s. As you may know a great deal of social psychology was based on the observations of several researchers like Solomon Asch, Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm, Stanley Milgrim, etc. These men were concerned that the psychological conditions which they observed in their native Europe were beginning to flourish in the United States. The same conditions of conformity, blind obedience to authority, a negative fear based world view, etc, which gave rise to Nazism were on the rise in America. After showing these characteristics in especially the Bush and Nixon administrations--of which there is a great deal of continuity--John Dean laments that these social psychologists of the 1940s-50s, confined themselves to their Ivory tower and now the world is plagued by the disease they identified but did not treat.
Enter Frank Barron and Timothy Leary, two of the brightest marverick grad students out of Berkeley. They too were concerned about the direction America was headed and devoted themselves to the authoritarian menace. When they came upon psychedelic drugs, they realized that this could be an important remedy.

You see the authoritarian personality is based on the perspective that the world is a hostile place. There's communists, or Arabs, or drug fiends, out there to get us. Nature is something to be feared and dominated. All that. Leary and Barron realized that the psychedelic peak experience can change that. I'm dashing this off in very broad strokes you understand.

Let me jump to 9/11. I see this as a gigantic Solomon Asch experiment. Peter, it is really farily obvious, if you strip away your nationalistic or religious prejudices, to see that the official story of the attacks is flat out impossible and wrong. Buildings don't fall down like from fire. Inept pilots simply can not fly planes like that. Nor would the planes sustain the flight path it allegedly took to his the Pentagon. There are several physical and logical impossibilities that the official story goes to great lengths to make you think are otherwise. Yet tremendous social forces intervene and helped create the illusion of the official story. now, if Leary was correct that psychedelic experience can transform the authoritarian personality, enable one to "question authority," we should expect that a greater number of experienced psychedelicists will see through the propaganda than among the general population, or among people who have not the courage to question authority. I haven't tested this theory rigorously, but at Horizons, when an audience member asked, over 3/4 of the 300 people said they did not believe the administration.

That' enough for now. You say something.


LetsSaveDemocracy said...

A contributor to the TransSpirit discussion which you cite mentioned that I was defending my comments made at Horizons but did not feel that he could, for privacy reasons relay them. Actually he could have because i posted my comments publically to the Alternet site. which i will now post here:

please do Peter, post my comments which draw the distinction between psychedelic "research" and the psychedelic "movement," as they are not always the same. thank you. Robert

"i was misquoted and taken out of context"
Posted by: LetsSaveDemocracy on Sep 27, 2008 9:58 PM
Current rating: Not yet rated [1 = poor; 5 = excellent]

I did not "confess" that Albert Hofmann said "THE Jews were behind the attacks." I reported that when I told Albert that I have come to realize that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush Administration, he said there was "A Jewish conspiracy."

I (too) recoiled when my friend Albert Hofmann made that comment to me, being well aware as I am of the long terrible history of anti-Semitism in his native Basel Switzerland. I was disappointed that perhaps vestiges of his culture's despicable racism might have remained in his otherwise awakened consciousness.

But now that I have studied 9/11 quite carefully, along with my fellow patriots,(, scholars, (, pilots (, and architects and engineers,, it now appears that Albert's remark was no more anti-Semitic than calling the mafia AN Italian conspiracy, is anti-Italian.

There is a world of difference between these two statements. Had he said, "THE Jews," it would have been a bigoted,vile, anti-Semitic comment. As he said it-and as I reported it- it now appears to me as a descriptive comment about some of the most likely suspects of the perhaps the most heinous, unsolved crime in US history.

It was said by me at this excellent conference,, in the context of a discussion about the effects of religious experience on world view, personality theory, the psychology of the authoritarian personality, the importance of confronting the shadow, in Jungian parlance, and the necessity of asking difficult questions.

As for "spouting a mix of 9/11 conspiracy theory and erroneous
Holocaust history", what I said was that there are well known stories that many Jews in Europe in the 1930s who were warned in advance about the atrocities being committed by the Nazis, but didn't believe those reports. The same psychological reasons for refusing to accept that something so terrible could really be true, in spite of obvious evidence, helps us to understand the resistance by many to the rapidly growing International 9/11 Truth Movement.

As for "conspiracy theory," Mr Wishnia apparently needs to be reminded that this is how we used to solve crimes in the USA. Law enforcement, criminologists, etc, come up with a theory and then try to prove it within certain rules of evidence, logic, and in a court of law. By his tone, Mr Wishnia indicates a disdain for "conspiracy theory," which makes me wonder what he prefers. Declaring someone guilty with NO evidence and attacking other countries at your whim? Testimony with no oath, with Dick Cheney holding your hand?

One more thing: At dinner after this controversial moment, a Jewish friend of mine received a call from an Israeli friend who said, "Tell Robert I am glad he made that comment for there are many of us who are strong enough in our Judaism to know that the Jewish conspirators behind 9/11 do not represent all of Judaism. I only wish Albert had said it was "a Zionist conspiracy."

This is a big problem that won't be solved by Ostriches hiding from it. No wonder to me Wishnia's bio states he is looking for a job.

Professor Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton, was recently appointed to chair a Human Rights Commission investigating Israeli abuses of the Palestinians. Dr. Falk was unanimously approved, and then he asked for an investigation of the role of the neoconservatives, among which there are many prominent Jewish-Zionist members, in 9/11. Dr. Falk, a Jew, was himself accused of anti-Semitism.
The Holocaust was a most horrid and tragic episode in world history, but it does not exempt members of the Jewish religion from criminality and justice. Let there be light. Lets Save Democracy

Peter Bebergal said...

As I said, I would prefer not to debate 9/11 theories, but one thing I would like to address:

1. To even talk of "Jewish conspirators" conjurs up the worst of the anti-semitic stereotypes perpetuated on Jews, and was a prime reasoning for Nazi atrocities. But let's say, for the purposes of this argument, that there was a US government conspiracy behind 9/11? Why highlight the "Jews" in such a way as to suggest it was somehow the nature of their Jewishness that set it into motion. It seems according to Griffin, it was Cheney and his cohorts that set the whole thing up and he isn't Jewish. So why make mention of people's religion/culture at all?

2. I would like to change the subject if you don't mind to this: your distinction between psychedelic "research" and the psychedelic "movement." This is very important to my own research and I was hoping you could elucidate on the differences between the two in your view.

LetsSaveDemocracy said...

Peter, I see you are still trying to veer away from the 9/11 issue which brought me to your blog. I'm sorry, this does not say very much for your intellectual integrity. For in your blog you make some rather disparaging remarks about things that I said. So I show up to try to address these very difficult and important matters clearly and rationally and suddenly you don't want to discuss them. I also tried to contact James Hughes and Jeff Benner who made similar remarks on that TransSpirit forum and so far no one has had the decency or the brains or the huevos to really look at this with me. Or maybe they are all just busy. You guys snidely attack me for expressing a very difficult matter that you apparently don't fully understand and then try to leave it at that. This is actually very typical among people still in the dark about 9/11 who are, it seems to me, as I've said, very much like the folks who chose to stay in Plato's Cave. But it is very atypical of the overwhelming majority of my many colleagues and friends, elders in psychedelic research and in the psychedelic movement. I find this very interesting.

Let me go back and repeat my reply that somehow didn't make it to your site. You wonder what 9/11 Truth has to do with psychedelic research. I answered that it is important to distinguish between psychedelic research and the psychedelic movement because they are different and the subject of 9/11 bears on them quite differently.

I will assume by "research" you are referring to the most narrow definition of US government approved medical research--which includes the important Johns Hopkins sort of meta-psychiatric research into religious experience. In your Boston Phoenix article you run that old line about how Leary ruined this sort of research.

I used to feel that way but I've changed my mind. This is why I did that book about him. He conducted psychedelic research and realized, or thought, that psychedelics were fairly safe to use and could help with many social and political problems that were abundant and on the rise on America. So he joined and inflamed the psychedelic movement, " unusual movement of mind that continues beyond him...or psychedelic revolution, or better the psychedelic evolution...a commitment to fight for personal freedom, to oppose everywhere the war mentality, and the tyranny of dogmatic beliefs." ("An Unfinished (R)Evolution," Frank Barron, in Outside Looking In)

You could say that Leary, far from ruining research, actually spawned more research than anyone. As he said to me very near the end of this life, "seven million people I turned on and only one hundred thousand have come by to thank me."

Within the more narrow definition of psychedelic research 9/11 may not be very relevant at all. It may even get in the way. In fact I was just urging one of the top researchers, a friend of mine, to steer clear of 9/11. If you are depending on government permission to do research, you don't want to be considered a kook for trying to help people out of the cave.

But as for the psychedelic movement, 9/11 is, I believe, an issue of major importance. And I might add, when I have spoken publicly about this, an overwhelming majority of the audiences at psychedelic conferences agrees. I think that it is astounding (appalling too) that still almost half of the people in America "believe" the absurdly impossible official story because "authorities" tell them it is true and because social forces and propaganda enforce this false view that is so convenient to them. This is the psychological crisis that Leary, Barron, Huxley, and others hoped to ameliorate by popularizing psychedelic experience the way that they did, with the memes to question authority, enliven your inner resources, and think for yourself.

As for the Jewish question, I frankly agree with you. I do not choose to identify the culprits of 9/11 by the religion or nationality they try to hide behind or I am sure in some sick way they use to justify their evil actions.

I think the thrust of the official story, that these were "Arabs" presents a very serious problem. As you put it: talk of "Jewish conspirators" conjurs up the worst of the anti-semitic stereotypes perpetuated on Jews, and was a prime reasoning for Nazi atrocities." This is precisely what is happening to Arabs now. We have to stop this. Innocent men women children are being brutally savaged right now. This has to stop. My unitive psychedelic experiences have shown me TAT VAM ASI, "thou art that." I am horrifed at what my country has done to these beautiful people. The perpetrators of 9/11 have to be brought to justice using the standards of justice that our country cherishes.

But Albert Hofmann chose to identify who he thought the culprits are that way and that is something to ponder, which is why I said it. My very dear friend and colleague, organizer of the Horizons conference, Dr. Neal Goldsmith who is as Jewish as they come, urged me to tell this story about Albert when I hesitated. "Say it. Its important," he said. And he is right.

It is complicated. And interesting. Albert had shreds of his culture's anti-semitism all though his life. I was witness to a earlier expression of anti-semitism come from him in an unguarded moment with a Swiss colleague of his in the basement of Sandoz. Its true. Psychedelics don't cure you of everything all the time. And as I write this I can easily imagine my dear friend Albert looking down from another dimension agreeing with me that we shouldn't blanch over this. Humans have been capable of the most diabolical idiocies. Let's get over it!

It is also true that it appears to a great many people who have studied 9/11 carefully and thoughtfully that some of the conspirators may be individuals operating as agents of Zionism and the United States. This is the most enormous problem I can think of in terms of human society. I just hope we can face it with a sense of humor as well as wisdom.

I agree with my friend Huston Smith who says there has never been a religious war. Religious people don't kill.

Now we are back to the psychedelic movement, which is a religious movement, in the true sense of that word which implies oneness and unitive experience. It is a peace movement of deeper understanding, which I, in a minor way am helping with. David Griffin is really the man to study on this point, especially his books which articulate the theological perspective on this, especially, 9/11 and the Commonwealth of God; 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out.

I agree with you, we should leave the stereotypes out and see 9/11 for what it was. Nationalistic blinders and false religious beliefs obscure our common sense. This is a very old problem.

Peter Bebergal said...

My original blog post did not take up the "truthiness" of 9/11 theories. I was asking why at a conference on psychedelic research there was equal value given to claims that scientists are generally skeptical about, such as astrology. And I ask for the same reason you do below, which is that certain kinds of discussions can taint scientific credibility. My interest, as I said, is not in 9/11 per se, but in the range of ideas and people that are involved in psychedelic thinking. I would ask a more pointed question, which is doesn't the emphasis on scientific research and the Council's donation of money to this research dilute the very message you are hoping to convey about the efficacy of the psychedelic experience for the population at large? Most of the research that is going on now seems to suggest that only under very specific settings will people (and only mentally healthy ones) will benefit from these experiences. I do hope you will engage with me on these issues, as I really don't want to debate 9/11, and if you are displeased I am sorry to have offended.

LetsSaveDemocracy said...

This is a new word, "truthiness." It continues to convey to me an attempt to cast a condescending tone to the seriousness of the 9/11. The same condescending tone you try to cast on astrology, as if to say "real scientists don't buy it." That is a sort of reductionistic thinking that I am frankly surprised to hear from a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. For while I think it is well known that there is a great deal of shallow kinds of charlatanism in the vast world of astrology, all the real scientists I know have an open and appreciative mind that there may be something very profound and mysterious and important about astrology in the scientific study of the mind, religion, and culture. Many very astute scientific thinkers have explored it as an archetypal psychology. You yourself have commended Pinchbeck who is indeed a serious intellectual, yet your prejudices interfere with your ability to learn something new. The Sufis say, "Counterfeiters exist because real gold exists."

I detect this curious tendency in your thinking about astrology and 9/11, this idea of "legitimacy," an important concept in the sociology of knowledge. To bring this back to the frame of psychedelic research and the psychedelic movement, there are different standards or criteria for "legitimacy." Astrology doesn't measure up to the standards of "legitimacy" the APA, for example, but the APA does not define all of reality and certainly not all of science. People who think that way are said to have narrow minds.

I do not speak for the Council on Spiritual Practices. I am only affiliated with them through my having contributing two books, Entheogens and the Future of Religion, and the 20th Anniversary Edition of the Road to Eleusis, to their efforts. Sometimes people have confused Robert Jesse, the founder of CSP, and me. We collaborated to publish Entheogens and the Future of Religion, a book that I had been working on for a few years, since my earlier collaboration with Stan Grof, Hofmann, Wasson, etc.. I have great respect for the work of the Council, and for Robert Jesse. But my more appreciative few of the revolutionary Leary puts me at a little distance with my colleagues who tow the line, seeking legitimacy in a mainstream reality. Leary thought, like Jesus and Buddha, it was better to drop out of that one. I am inclined to agree.

It is indeed an interesting dance to watch how the psychedelic movement and research communities get along. That may be something to address further.

Your book on the Catholic Jewish dialogue sounds interesting. I'll get a copy. Though you keep dodging the issue, and at the risk of sounding like a fanatic I must relent, I think it could be very important to use that same attitude and devotion to truth and explore 9/11 with me.



ustaath said...

As I noted (under another name) on the TransSpirit list, not everyone in the psychedelic community adhere to "9/11 Truth" POV. Many of us, while we respect Robert Forte, differ with conspiracy theories about 9/11.

You mention Robert Forte in connection with the Council on Spiritual Practices. I am not sure that Robert Forte is affiliated with CSP and he is not mentioned on their About page ( ). To my knowledge they have no political positions and merely explore alternative spirituality, and they have no position on 9/11.

As their About page states, "The Council on Spiritual Practices is a collaboration among spiritual guides, experts in the behavioral and biomedical sciences, and scholars of religion, dedicated to making direct experience of the sacred more available to more people. There is evidence that such encounters can have profound benefits for those who experience them, for their neighbors, and for the world.

CSP has a twofold mission: to identify and develop approaches to primary religious experience that can be used safely and effectively, and to help individuals and spiritual communities bring the insights, grace, and joy that arise from direct perception of the divine into their daily lives.

The Council on Spiritual Practices has no doctrine or liturgy of its own.


CSP was covened in 1993 and organized in 1994 by Bob Jesse. Its directors and advisors have included Ken Barnes, M.Div, Brad Bunnin, J.D., M.Div., Craig Comstock, Willis Harman, Ph.D., Robert Jesse, Chris-Ellyn Johanson, Ph.D., Robert King, M.Div, Ph.D., Victoria MacDonald, M.Div, Thomas Roberts, Ph.D., Charles Schuster, Ph.D., Huston Smith, Ph.D., Kenneth Smith, M.Div, D.D., David Steindl-Rast, Ph.D., O.S.B., Charles Tart, Ph.D., and David Wilson, J.D., M.D.

CSP's Williams James Awards Committee, chaired by Ralph W. Hood, Jr., Ph.D. (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), has also included William A. Richards, Ph.D. (Council on Spiritual Practices), Michael Winkelman, Ph.D. (Arizona State University), and David M. Wulff, Ph.D. (Wheaton College).

Since its inception, CSP has organized several conferences and working meetings with scholars and researchers from the Johns Hopkins University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California San Francisco, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Toronto, the University of Tennessee, Wayne State University, and the Chicago Theological Seminary. ".

Peter Bebergal said...

I am sorry for confusing Forte with Jesse. I knew they both had some association with CSP, but I understand now that Jesse is the founder. I will correct this in my post.

I am not sure being a theology student means that I am not allowed to be skeptical of certain kinds of spiritual ideas. As a theologian, I think that there is an important distinction to be made between spiritual practice that is grounded in mythical language and ritual, and religious ideas that are more literal minded. Many who believe in astrology accept some of the ideas as literal, and I think any kind of literalism in regards to spirituality is suspect. You can read more about my thoughts on that here:

Robert, I really didn't mean to come across as condescending, I am just trying to steer the conversation towards this much larger question of the relationship between psychedelic culture and research. I would be curious as to what you think of the current research, say that being done by Halpern and Griffiths, and if it is ultimately valuable for our understanding of entheogens, or if it is relegating them to the realm of science and too far away from what some perceive as their sacred use.

LetsSaveDemocracy said...

Yes but skeptical is not prejudicial. You sounded like you were tossing Pinchbeck's reference to astrology and my reference to 9/11 in your looney bin and when you do that I contend you violate your otherwise high standards of rationality and openness to the non-rational. May I suggest that you be skeptical of your fixed idea that because there are numerous bozos in the world of astrology, and 9/11, the subjects themselves are empty of real meaning.

I am happy to discuss John Halpern's research, what I know of it, and Roland's, in the larger context of the psychedelic movement. As you can see, I have no trouble offering my opinion of things.

But first I want to call attention to something very important in the process of our dialogue that began about 9/11. I understand you don't want to talk about it, but will you just humor me and give me your opinion or your belief. Do you believe the official conspiracy theory? It sounded like you were, for purposes of discussion, willing to grant that Griffin may be on to something. Not Israel though. I mean was it the Jewish part of my and Albert's remark that prompted your blog on the subject, or Griffin-type conspiracy theories in general?

To just respond to ustaah who pointed out that not everyone in the psychedelic communtiy agrees about 9/11. This is for sure. I find it very interesting to compare the data base of the two groups, and when you do that you find that there is a stark inverse relationship between knowledge of the subject and belief in the official version. I find it intersting to compare the epistemological strategies or cognitive styles of the two different camps. Forgive me if am offending anyone but as you can see in this example between us. People who believe the official story are loath to subject their opinions or beliefs to scrutiny. They eventually will mount a fundamentalist stance or resort to something other than rational discourse. These are important factors in what I call the Psychology of Non Perception. How this big ugly elephant can remain invisible is one of the greatest feats of denial the world has ever known.

Usaath, may i ask if you differ with me completely on this? I can usually find common ground, and move on to other subjects when we can at least agree that the problem of 9/11 has not been adequately investigated. Not by a long shot.

Anonymous said...

Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.

--Friedrich Nietzsche

Anonymous said...

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.
--Friedrich Nietzsche

Black Light in the Attic Podcast said...

I've reviewed enough of the 9/11 conspiracy material to know that it was not done that way that Bush & Co. said it was done. . .Robert I think mentioned this, but it's beyond logic and science that a massive building falls like that from fire! I can believe that it may fall eventually from fire, but not at freefall speed, pulverizing almost everything on the way down. . .that just doesn't happen even on psychedelics! ;-)

Look into the whole sham that was the 9/11 Commission, something that should have been SPOTLESS and there is very good reason to believe that it was a coverup for something.

I don't know if this should be a central idea in the psychedelic movement, but I do think that if someone who is a part of this movement hasn't done the research yet then they should. It's trippy just realizing that these sorts of people play on such a vast level! The difference is that they are on the aspect of Control, and we're far from that!!!

It's all about Love and Light, we all have a light of consciousness that connects us, so it's all good, but we do need to know what we're being faced with on this planet. . .