I spend less time lately writing than I would like to. There are multiple reasons for this. A week only has 168 hours, I spend around 56 of those asleep, which leaves 112 hours, of which 40 are spent at work, which leaves me with 72 hours. Today however, I wish to look at a few questions I have been pondering that I consider worthwhile.
Consider the issue we face today, of an identity crisis. Consider the revival of a kind of kitsch nationalism, even among those who harvest the fruits of globalism and post-nationalism. I might not like it, but like most people, the fruits I harvest from globalization generally outweigh the thorns that sting me. If you attend right-wing nationalist meetup groups, you will find Anglo-Saxon men there with white collar jobs, Asian wives, hispanic cleaning ladies and antibodies against exotic STD's, who attempt to convince themselves of traditionalist Catholic dogmas or join pagan reconstructionist groups, as the sole undercover cop looks on and finds himself feeling pity for them.
This happens because we live in an era in which we no longer have simple answers to the question of what we fundamentally are. People find themselves asking questions about their identity to which we used to have answers, answers that have now been cast in doubt. The question is more visible on our radar than it used to be, because we have filled up the rest of Maslow's pyramid.
At the end of the day, you are your brain. Whatever you value is ultimately completely the derivative of what happens inside of you. This tells you less than you think it does however, it merely raises the question of what your brain is. Your brain could be a Boltzmann brain, a temporary self-aware anomaly floating in outer space that arises due to random fluctuations out of a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, suffering from a mistaken belief of continuity. There's no legitimate way to disprove this assertion. As a result, we simply move the mystery to another place, which tends to happen whenever we try to answer ontological questions.
It makes sense to us that an ant doesn't genuinely have to fear death, because the brain of an ant is relatively simple and our planet has billions of ants, so that the individual ant's complete cognitive state will inevitably reappear somewhere else on Earth, in the same manner as a string of 14 letters inevitably reappears if you keep randomly smashing buttons on your computer long enough.
Taken to its natural conclusion however, this implies that we don't genuinely have to fear death ourselves either. There are 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in our universe, that have existed for billions of years by now. I see no reason to assume our universe is the only universe that ever existed and so I strongly doubt I could ever have a genuine unique thought or experience. There's an organism out there somewhere more similar to ten year old me than I am to my ten year old self, so death to me is a spectrum more than an end.
When you experience ego death under a high dose of psychedelics, this idea of bodily temporal continuity that we take for granted ceases to be self-evident to you. Rather than having a past, a future or a body, you just are. When you stub your toe against your chair, you just experience a moment of pain. This pain, divorced from its context, is interchangeable. There is no such thing as "your pain" or "my pain", there is just a very basic experience that takes hold of your consciousness, integrated into a series of raw qualia that together constitute your life.
Ego death feels similar, in the sense that you become a form of consciousness that is not bound to any individual physical body or history. The experience of individuality feels like an illusion during this moment, as you return to a form of existence that seems to be more real than the world you leave behind. Whatever you might believe about the underlying mechanisms through which the experience comes about, it represents a testament to the flexibility of the brain and its ability to entertain a wide variety of cognitive states.
The brain is more flexible than people have long imagined it to be. Consider the fact that it used to be thought that within the adult brain, new neurons are only generated in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus and the olfactory bulb. It's now known that new neurons come into existence in the cerebellum
, the hypothalamus
, the striatum
, the neocortex
and probably a lot of other regions where the phenomenon has simply not yet been observed.
It's not easy to observe, because the process happens slowly and generally doesn't happen when the brain is in homeostasis. What causes different parts of the brain to regenerate themselves? It's thought that this is influenced by our neurotransmitters
. This explains for example, why Prozac seems to cause the formation of new neurons in the neocortex, while Psilocybe mushrooms increase the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus, as substances we ingest can also function as neurotransmitters.
If we take this principle to its natural conclusion, then it means that our brain can be shaped by the substances we ingest and our personality would thus ultimately be shaped by what we expose ourselves to. This is what the evidence demonstrates. It's possible to change your own personality. People who take high doses of psychedelics change their personality to become more open. This change coincides with a measurable increase in entropy in the brain
, as new connections are made between different areas. People normally become less open as they age, so as a result, it is the equivalent of a kind of rejuvenation of the brain, that allows us to think like people decades younger than us.
How is such a thing possible? There are multiple factors that play a role in this phenomenon. To start with, the brain is normally chronically exposed to inflammatory signals. This inflammation serves to protect us against infectious disease, but in our day and age, infectious disease is no longer the big danger than our body imagines it to be. As a result of this inflammation, our cells struggle to divide and repair our failing bodily tissues. The classical psychedelics are among the most potent anti-inflammatory substances
known to man. As a result, the brain receives an opportunity to repair itself.
The natural state of the body is to decay. It develops from a tiny cell smaller than a peck of dust, into an adult human being, before gradually decaying as we grow old and frail. The main reason for this is because we are products of evolution. We came into existence because those before us passed on their genes, either directly or indirectly. To pass on your genes, you don't genuinely need more than thirty years of healthy life. Imagine a hypothetical mutation that increases our health at age 20, while decreasing it at age 80. This mutation would have rapidly spread through the gene pool, because it makes it easier for us to reproduce, while most of us would have been dead by the time we'd be 80 anyway.
One odd consequence of this principle is that the human body seems naturally reluctant to repair itself and to pursue its full potential. We can force our body to run or to lift weights and a result, the body will reluctantly take on a shape that is healthier and capable of carrying out more tasks than it otherwise could. In a similar manner, we're capable of healing damaged tissues. A burn scar won't naturally regenerate healthy skin, but through micro-needling, the skin can be forced to take on a healthy form
The body has simply never had a strong incentive to take on a form that persists. Now that violence and infectious disease have been eradicated, the body has a stronger incentive to evolve into a form that lives longer. After all, a mutation that ensured good mental health at age 80 did not matter much in the past, as most of us never lived to see the age of 80 before having our skull smashed in or perishing in a flu pandemic. We are now gradually evolving to be longer-lived organisms.
I don't expect however, that any of us have reason to care much about this long-term outcome. What we want is to achieve results now, to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. This is in our own individual self-interest, but it is in the interest of society too. We live in an era in which most people struggle to participate in and contribute to society. Many of us are old or frail, while physical labor is taken over by machines and mental labor by computers.
We are however, still different from computers in one important way. We are broad-minded organisms, while the computer is a focused device. Unlike computers, we can integrate knowledge from a wide variety of domains to arrive at valuable insights. Consider the claim often made, that computers can now be better artists than we are, because some algorithm can come up with enjoyable background music. This disregards what it means to be an artist. An artist integrates knowledge from a wide variety of domains. The artist chooses an instrument, generates a melody, creates lyrics that fit within the overal atmosphere and designs album art that fits within the overal theme, while holding performances in venues that fit the right crowd and wearing clothing and make-up that fit into the overal artistic message that is conveyed. A computer is not capable of such a thing. Whatever art the computer produces is ultimately art produced by proxy, as a human being sets the constraints within which the computer operates.
And so it is, that the computer remains subservient to us, at least for now. Our primary role as humans now within society is to integrate knowledge from a variety of sources. Some of this is intuitive knowledge, that a computer simply doesn't have. Consider nursing occupations. A computer can't take your grandma out for a walk, because for your grandma the experience itself is much bigger than merely being navigated through physical space. It's possible to be bad at taking your grandma out for a walk, despite perfectly navigating her through physical space. If you have the ability to integrate knowledge from a wide variety of domains, either intuitively or through acquired experience, then you have the means to remain relevant in a world gradually taken over by machines and computer algorithms.
What few people understand is that the effect the computer has had is that all mental labor is turning into creative labor, because all of the questions we have to answer now require us to consider the broader context in which the question is asked. As a result, we are now all artists. Even technological problems become creative problems, as the computer addresses the number-crunching for us. Consider a question like climate change. We have a wide spectrum of solutions available to us, from placing solar panels on our roof, to banning air travel, to reforesting farmland, to injecting carbon dioxide into our oil fields. The question becomes how these various solutions interact with human society, how you turn a concept into a project, which is a creative question.
How do you go about this? Like every other skill we have, our creative abilities can be enhanced. Nobody would question you if you claimed that coffee allows you to work harder, creatine allows you to be stronger, or alcohol allows you to be more social. In a similar manner, there are substances out there that allow us to make optimal use of other skills. Psychedelics make us more creative. The reason people microdose LSD and psilocybe mushrooms is not because it is a Sillicon valley fad, but because it works, it delivers us the results that we hope to see.
In a similar manner, I expect that automatization will have the effect of dismantling hierarchies as we have come to know them. Society has grown less hierarchical with every year that passes, as the simplistic kind of repetitive labor that was bestowed on those at the bottom of hierarchies has been taken over by machines. Our slaves and serfs are called tractors and laundry machines, our police and soldiers are called cameras and drones. The recent spike in self-employment you witnessed exists for a reason: The future we live in is individualism. Like every other transformation of society we have witnessed, it will happen regardless of whether we like it or not.
Our responsibility lies with guiding this process along, in a manner that benefits everyone and minimizes the number of victims of this transformation. So far, we are failing at this. Consider the suicides that plague native reservations in America, the drug overdoses in the rust belt, the dramatic underemployment of youth, the mass migrations and civil wars in many nations, the 0.13% of electricity that is now used simply to mine Bitcoin. Global transformations happen so quickly these days, that we simply find ourselves having insufficient time to prepare for them. Because the world changes so rapidly now, we have a big responsibility when it comes to contemplating the changes that are going to happen to us. I consider that part of my raison d'être.
What is important during this transformation, is that we avoid falling into the cognitive traps of despair and anachronism. We're not going back to the world we left behind and this is a good thing. Our old religions will not be able to revive themselves in their traditional form, because they emerged in a historical context that disappeared and made absolute claims about the nature of our universe that can be disproven through modern scientific evidence. Unless they are able to adapt themselves to our modern insights, their disappearance is a good thing. We have to be thankful for the abundance of wealth we have and for our ability to undergo a diverse variety of experiences. To long back for previous eras is a form of ingratitude and like every other moral shortcoming, ingratitude becomes its own punishment.
In a similar manner, despair is a cognitive trap. It's easy to look at our global trajectory and to imagine an inevitable global catastrophe. It may be true that catastrophe will happen to many places. It's a mistake however, to assume we are on a global trajectory towards annihilation that can not be amended. It's fine to worry about melting permafrost or other problems, but it becomes a problem when the worries lead to rationalizations in regards to all the options we still have available to us to prepare a future worth passing on.
My priority these days lies with passing on the mentality I have cultivated within myself. A mentality that allows me to make the best of the circumstances I find myself in and to look with realism at problems rather than despair. It is this mentality that has always characterized those who have proved capable of solving problems and alleviating misery. There are geniuses out there, whose toxic mentality led them to spread nothing but misery, simply because they found themselves stuck in a cognitive trap they could not climb out of. At the end of the day, a man like Theodore Kaczynski is merely someone I can feel sorry for, in the same manner as I feel sorry for every suicide bomber who was unable due to cognitive inflexibility to step over the dogmas imposed upon him by the culture he grew up in.
I have discovered the means through which I have proved capable of becoming happier and enjoying the fruits of my own talents. I hope to introduce these means to others so that they too can work on making the best of the circumstances they live in and unlocking their innate human potential, rather than sinking into despair and eventually becoming a threat to themselves or others. For now I want to end this essay with a very simple concrete message, which is that I want to recommend anyone who finds himself slipping into misery and despair to try at least once in his life, to take a high dose of Psilocybe mushrooms. If you need any help or advice on this matter, you are always welcome to contact me. You deserve more from life.
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