Gratitude, Platitudes, and Spiritual Journeys
By Amy Willis
In this unusual episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomed author and journalist Michael Pollan to talk about his book, How to Change Your Mind, dealing with the (new) science of psychedelic experiences. The conversation begins with a look back at the history, the earlier science, and the subsequent descent into counterculture associated with psychedelics. Pollan recounts his own experiences with “guided journeys” along the way, and both Pollan and Roberts reflect on matters of the ego, love, gratitude, and vulnerability.
1- How has the cultural perception of psychedelics changed over time? How have psychedelics come into vogue again in scientific trials, and how has the involvement of the FDA changed? How is the market (or perhaps, markets) for psychedelics poised to react in light of these changes?
2- Regarding the studies mentioned above, what sort of trade-offs might there be with a shift in focus to the study of such drugs? In particular, Pollan notes the value of psychedelics to those dying and/or suffering from cancer. How do you think Vincent Rajkumar would react to this week’s episode? Would he think psychedelics could be a valuable addition to cancer drug treatment protocol? Again, what might be the trade-offs?
3- Pollan argues that when undergoing a psychedelic experience, the user’s brain is temporarily rewired. If this is true, what are the implications for mental health treatment? How would they differ from other methods, such as meditation? How do you think Robert Wright, author of Why Buddhism is True, would respond?
4- A question Pollan and Roberts explore in several places in the conversation is, to what extent is our culture today designed to enhance rather than subdue the ego? How might Ryan Holiday, author of Ego is the Enemy, react? How would you respond? What might the implications for our current political climate be? To what extent does this contribute to the online shaming behavior Megan McArdle talked with Russ about? What role might there be for Pollan’s “guided journeys” in improving civic culture?