Tune in, turn on: This week on the podcast, Michael Pollan talks about his new book, “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.” Pollan is best known these days as a food writer, but he reminds listeners that his chief interest has always been the natural world and the ways it intersects with human culture — so psychedelics were a logical next step. “Most of the people listening to this podcast have probably used a plant to change consciousness today,” he says, “whether it was smoking a cigarette or having a coffee or eating a bite of chocolate. Or something more serious. I’ve always found that to be a very interesting and universal human desire worthy of explanation. So when I heard about this research going on using psilocybin, the chemical in magic mushrooms, to treat people and to induce so-called mystical experiences, I thought, Well it’s really time to get back and to get a harder look at that whole subject.”
Among other things, Pollan discusses the ways that psychedelics dissolve our sense of self, and the potential mental health benefits they bestow as a result. “Psilocybin gives you such a powerful psychological experience that it kind of reboots your brain, your mind,” he says. “A lot of depression is a sort of self-punishment, as even Freud understood. We get trapped in these loops of rumination that are very destructive, and the stories that we tell ourselves: you know, that we’re unworthy of love, that we can’t get through the next hour with a cigarette, whatever it is. And these deep, deep grooves of thought are very hard to get out of. They disconnect us from other people, from nature, from an earlier idea of who we are. The mystical experience, as it’s sometimes called, or the experience of the dissolution of the ego, gets us out of those grooves and gives us a break from the tyranny of the ego, which can be a very harsh ruler.”
Also on this week’s episode, Edward Tenner discusses “The Efficiency Paradox: What Big Data Can’t Do”; Alexandra Alter has news from the literary world; and Gregory Cowles, Rumaan Alam and Tina Jordan talk about what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host.
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