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How to Change Your Mind: What the New…

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us… (edition 2018)

by Michael Pollan (Author)

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325749,459 (4.41)5
Title:How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
Authors:Michael Pollan (Author)
Info:Penguin Press (2018), 480 pages
Collections:Your library

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



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63. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (audio) by Michael Pollan
reader: the author
published: 2018
format: 13:36 Audible audiobook (~377 pages equivalent, 480 pages in hardcover)
acquired: November
listened: Nov 15 - Dec 6
rating: 4½

Now that I'm using audible.com I feel some responsibility to pick good books with good narration and I spent a lot of time struggling to come with a one this time and nothing seemed quite right enough, then I listened to this oddball title and Pollan won me over with his passion in the sample - he reads this himself. And, he also completely won me over with this book.

There was a time when psychedelics were a serious medicine under serious study, especially for alcoholics. Then Timothy Leary came in, decided everybody needed to experience these drugs, acted as if he had discovered the whole field and promoted them in such an attention-grabbing way to where everyone knows something about LSD...and also to the point that the drug become illegal, and study of it dropped to zero in the US, full stop. Of course, Leary got his message across and these drugs saw wide illegal usage especially in the 1960's...and also especially in silicon valley where, as a software developer put it, LSD helps you see patterns.

LSD is a powerful drug, but, in a surprise at least to me, it turns out it creates no health issues. The only danger with LSD is what someone might do while they are using it (like Charles Mason's group, maybe). But it doesn't have any impact on anything in our body except for it's temporary impact on the brain. And it's non-addictive, maybe anti-addictive. But it does have surprising benefits when used the right way. To frame this kind of the way Pollan does, research in NYU on terminally ill patients found spectacular results with patients using a psychedelic. Many said they had mystical experiences, and many lost their fear of the coming deaths and made peace with it. In some examples, people had the best parts of their lives, terminally ill, after their experience with psychedelics. It didn't work for everyone, of course.

So, what's going on? This is where the book gets especially fascinating. Recent study of brain activity has determined what is our default node network - that is, your brain activity when you're not doing anything. You're just day dreaming and filling in time. This activity is actually a big deal, it's your basic thought process, your default mindset. And you can't really change it very easily. Pollan uses a ski slope as an example. Imagine your brain as slope with a fresh cover of snow. Someone skis down and leaves tracks. As more people ski down, some tracks harden, and soon everyone has to ski down the same track, you can't get out of it. That's your brain, and track is the default node netwark - all your thoughts funnel down the well worn path.

This is actually an issue with everyone. Our brain tries to make things easier on us, and it forms these networks so we can focus on other things, but we lose some touch with reality, if you like. Instead of seeing things as they actually are, our brains make all sort of assumptions and we accept these as real without really knowing. We lose that childhood sense of exploring everything because everything is new. This breaks down when, say, we travel to a new country and all these assumptions start to fail. But, it becomes a serious problem for certain states of mind. Our brain has a structuring and the more structured we are, the most separated we from reality and more prone we are to various obsessive problems, like addiction of course, and OCD, but also depression and anxiety and other things. Essentially the brain becomes too rigid.

So, the big thing with psychedelics is that they shut down our default node network, our background brain, or ego. In the ski slope analogy, they provide, for short period, a fresh coat of new snow. Our brains are freed up to re-investigate the world around us with new eyes, like a child. And, the connections in our brain are free to follow new paths, and new connections, leading to some strange stuff, but also, apparently, to a completely new view of consciousness, or maybe even other consciousnesses. (technically you don't need the drugs, you can mimic this affect with meditation, for example). And, with the drugs, you don't lose the experience, but you remember everything. And anything you learn stays with you.

I know I'm getting wordy and maybe it's better to just read the book then read my review with all its oversimplifications, but this stuff has got me thinking so much. So, I'll add here that Pollan points out the experience doesn't work for everyone, that it's very dependent on the mindset and setting you are in when you take the drug, and whose around to guide you and help you if you get into trouble. And the affect wears off. And while the terminally ill tended to have inspirational life changing experiences, and nicotine and alcohol addicts had good rates of positive results (much better than, say, with AA), there were also those oddball experiences. There was the smoker who had such a powerful important insight, she made the guide with her write it down. When she came out of the high and checked on the message, it was...eat fruits and vegetable and exercise (but she kicked smoking)

Anyway, I recommend this one with all the enthusiasm expressed above. ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Dec 7, 2018 |
Fascinating and informative book. His accounts of his personal experiences were fun to read and made a non-fiction book, not usually my wont, so much more enjoyable. ( )
1 vote bobbieharv | Aug 31, 2018 |
To learn what the latest Michael Pollan book, How to Change Your Mind, is about just check out its subtitle: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Pollan creates an epic book. It’s part memoir, part history, and part science and medicine text.

Pollan interweaves each of these elements seamlessly. He uses this style often and it should be familiar to fans of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, for one. But don’t expect it to be studious or boring. The fabric of this book is just as colorful as 1960s tie dye. It spins and wiggles. Most of all, now I think completely differently about the positive potential of psychedelic drugs.

You might think LSD or Magic mushrooms began with Timothy Leary and “Turn On, Tune in, Drop out.” In fact, mushrooms with psychoactive capabilities have been used since ancient times. And LSD was developed decades before Leary in a completely scientific setting. Pollan explains both origin stories thoroughly.

Through the last 50-60 years, public perception of psychedelics has shifted back and forth. Of course, they’ve been illegal in the U.S. since 1966. But people also use them to assist in spiritual and emotional journeys, both before and since then. Originally the psychological community embraced their potential. And now that same group is also contributing to the future of psychedelics.

Many other types of scientists have investigated the role of psychedelics in life as we know it. For example, one theory aims to prove that apes ingesting psilocybin led to changes in the hominid brain, including societal bonding and analytical thinking. It’s called the Stoned Ape Theory. Psilocybin is the psychoactive drug compound found in over 200 types of mushrooms.

Science and Medicine
Researchers are studying various psychedelics for medical purposes, according to Pollan. Multiple respected institutions have conducted drug trials to investigate these possibilities. One example is giving psilocybin “to terminal cancer patients as a way to help them deal with their “existential distress” at the approach of death.”

Additionally psychedelics are being tested for use with patients whose depression is both major and intractable. Pollan intersperses research information with stories from study participants, which adds both relevance and gravitas.

Pollan also tries mightily to describe his own various experiences with psychedelics. All the while he says that words fail to adequately describe his experiences. His explorations explain the advantages of “guided journeys” for introspection and spiritual advancement. Rather than randomly ingesting psilocybin, there’s a lot of logic to creating some ceremony and having other (non-ingesting) people around to keep you safe. Those “guides” also serve to help “ingesters” to emotionally process and integrate their psychedelic journeys. This structure harkens back to the way hallucinogenic substances have been used for centuries.

My conclusions
I had many laughs at Pollan’s stories. In one, he’s with an expert hunting for a certain type of mushrooms called azzies. “We’re obviously not the first people to hunt for azzies in this park, and anyone who picks a mushroom trails an invisible cloud of its spore behind him; this, he believes, is the origin of the idea of fairy dust. At the end of many of those trails is apt to be a campsite, a car, or a Winnebago.” Having ready many fantasies set in the fairy world, this seems oddly logical to me.

More than the laughs, I gained true insight into the nature of these psychedelic journeys. Pollan balances the science and history expertly with the more groovy aspects of his book.

I received a digital advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for this honest review. Many thanks to NetGalley, Penguin Press, Penguin Random House, and most importantly, Michael Pollan for the opportunity. ( )
1 vote TheBibliophage | Aug 10, 2018 |
Like all other Michael Pollan's books I have read, this one is very clearly written. ( )
  Niecierpek | Jun 18, 2018 |
Fascinating and easy to read. ( )
  librorumamans | Jun 15, 2018 |
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"When Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction, and anxiety, he did not intend to write what is undoubtedly his most personal book. But upon discovering how these ... substances are improving the lives not only of the mentally ill but also of healthy people coming to grips with the challenges of everyday life, he decided to explore the landscape of the mind in the first person as well as the third"--… (more)

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