Lex Fridman Podcast - #211 - Brian Muraresku: The Secret History of Psychedelics

The following is a conversation with Brian Miorescu, author of The Immortality Key,

The Secret History of the Religion with No Name, a book that reconstructs the forgotten history of

psychedelics in the development of Western civilization. To support this podcast,

please check out our sponsors, Insight Tracker, GiveWell, NI, Indeed, and Masterclass. Their links

are in the description. This is the Lex Friedman Podcast, and here’s my conversation with Brian

Miorescu. Who or what do you think God is? How has our conception, maybe put another way,

of God changed throughout history? We’re starting with an easy one, Lex.

Yep. So, what is God? Well, God is a thought. God is an idea, but its reference is to that which is

beyond thinking, beyond our ability to even conceive, beyond the categories of being and

nonbeing. So, how do we talk about that? To talk about it is almost to get it wrong, right? So,

Joe Campbell famously said that any God that is not transparent to transcendence is like an

idolatry because it’s just a mental construct, and it can’t possibly speak to the incomprehensible.

So, we use poetic language. We say the being of beings, the infinite life energy of the universe,

the mystery of transcendence, boundless life, unqualified isness, but it doesn’t quite get to

the point. I think that if there’s any great insight from mysticism, it’s that you and I

participate with God in a very real way, Lex Friedman, here in Austin, Texas, that in the here

and now to touch that eternal principle, another way to refer to God, to touch that eternal principle

within ourselves is to participate with divinity in some way. So, not an external force, but

that divine sense within. So, there’s some aspect in which God is a part of us. So, one, it’s the

thing we can’t describe. It represents all of the mystery around us. It’s outside our ability to

comprehend, and at the same time, it’s somehow the thing that’s inside of us also. The ultimate

paradox. Mechthild of Magdeburg, 13th century German mystic, maybe the first German mystic,

says that the day of her spiritual awakening was the day that she saw and knew that she saw God

in all things and all things in God. And so, we can say this, by the way, without apology or

lightweight theology or vapid speculation or even heresy. We can talk about this,

including within the Abrahamic faiths. The mystical core of these faiths all talk about

the encounter of divinity within. That’s what I explore in the immortality key, this notion of

techniques, archaic techniques in some cases, of ecstasy, that allow that experience of the

eternal principle to actually rise up in our consciousness when we’re still here as flesh and

blood beings. There’s some sense in which our conception of God, though, is conjured up by

our own mind. And so, aren’t we creating God? Aren’t we the gods that are creating the idea of

God? When we talk about God, aren’t we playing with ideas that are created by our mind and

thereby we are the creator, not God? This is a very kind of cyclical question, but in some sense,

I mean that if God is the thing that represents the mystery all around us, contrast that with

our conception of God, the way we talk about him, is more a creation of our minds. It’s not the

mystery. It’s our struggle to comprehend the mystery. And therefore, we’re creating the God

in terms of the God that we’re talking about in this conversation or in general, if that makes any

sense. It makes no sense whatsoever. Great. This is wonderful. But this is the eternal mystery.

This is why it’s so difficult to talk about, and yet it could be the very center of our beings.

The Upanishads speak about us as the creators, about us as gods. It’s a very different creation

myth, but the God of the Upanishads in this great verse talks about pouring themselves into

creation. Indeed, I have become this creation, says God. And there’s a great line, verily he or

she who knows this becomes in this creation a creator. So, yeah, I mean, just our ability to

engage in mentation, our ability to think about this stuff is partly our divine nature. This is

what the humanists were talking about in the Renaissance, by the way. And that it’s not so much

learning, putting dots together, having arguments with each other over learned books. It’s a

process of unlearning, is what some of the mystical traditions talk about. Unlearning all these

thoughts, emotions, traumas, and experiences that have gone into the false construction of our false

self, that behind all these layers, like peeling back the onion, is a part of us that once you can

identify that, begins to look a little bit different. In other words, it’s one thing to

foster a relationship with God. It’s a very different thing to identify as God. And I mean

that quite literally, without being heretical. You can find this in the mystery traditions.

Can you expand on this? You mean a human being can embody God?

That is textbook incarnational theology that you can find in any Christian mysticism.

But you can find it in the mystical tradition of Islam and Judaism as well. So, Rumi, for example,

the great Sufi mystic talks about, if you could get rid of yourself, just get rid of yourself just

once, the secret of secrets would open to you. That the face of the unknown would appear on the

perception of your consciousness. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, a modern day Christian,

of your consciousness. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, a modern day contemporary mystic,

talks about, because this stuff does continue, there’s a continuity to it.

The poetry here is incredible.

So, well, listen to Rabbi Kushner. He says that the emptying of selfhood

allows the soul to attach to true reality. And in Kabbalism, the true reality is what’s called

the divine nothingness, ayin. And so, I like the adage that atheists and mystics both essentially

believe in nothing, except that the mystics spell it with a capital N, the divine nothing.

And then I’ll give you Meister Eckhart, another medieval Christian mystic. He says that

if you could not yourself, the same concept, if you could not yourself for just an instant,

indeed, I say less than an instant, you would possess all. So, again, you’re seeing the same

thing in Sufism, Kabbalism, Christian mysticism. The way to identify with the divine is to peel

back these layers and attempt to discover pure awareness.

If we look at the universe from a physics perspective, or, you know, I’m a computer

science person, so if the universe is a computer, there’s some sense that God, the creator of the

universe, or just the computer itself, doesn’t know what the heck is going to happen. He just

kind of creates some basic rules and runs the thing. So, there is some element in which you

can conceive of humans or conscious beings or intelligent beings as a tool that the creator

uses to understand himself. Do you think that’s a perspective that we could or is useful to take on

God that is basically the universe created humans to understand itself? He doesn’t actually know

the full thing. He needs the human brains to figure out the puzzle. So, that’s in contrasting

to the unlearning to getting out of the way that we’ve talked about. It’s more like, no,

we need the humans to figure out this puzzle. Well, we have no answers to this, which is why

philosophers still have jobs, if they have jobs at all. But, I mean, so the physicists take a look

at this. Have you seen the article that came out, I think it was this month, in the Journal of

Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, Robert Lanza, the biocentrism theory, the idea that the universe

comes into being through our observation, right, the whole, the God equation. So, not just in

quantum mechanics, but in general relativity, the idea that we make the universe moment by moment,

which is kind of mind blowing, gets into ideas of simulation. Okay, so that’s how the physicists,

at least some of them might look at it. You could also look back to the medieval Christian mystics,

Meister Eckhart, once again, says that the eye with which I see God is the same eye that sees me,

right? So, one sight, one knowledge, one love, another mind blowing concept. But this is why

the arts and poetry and music are so important, because although I love astroparticle physics,

it’s another to kind of hear this, the same message across time.

Yeah, the simulation thing. I was actually looking this morning at video games, just the statistics

on video games. And I saw that the two top video games in terms of hours played is Fortnite and

World of Warcraft. And I saw that it’s 140 billion hours, billion hours have been played of those

games. That’s a lot of video games. Yeah, but that’s very sophisticated worlds being created,

especially in the World of Warcraft. It’s a massive online role playing game. So you have

these characters that are together sort of creating a world, but they in themselves are also

developing, they have all these items, and they’re like, they’re little humans. Like there’s

complicated societies that are formed, they have goals, they’re striving and so on. And it’s,

we’re creating a universe within our universe. And for now, it’s a kind of, it’s a basic sort

of constraint version of our more richer earth like civilization. But it’s conceivable that,

you know, that we are this thing on earth is a kind of video game that somebody else is playing.

It’s like you can see sort of video games upon video games being created.

That, and this is something I think a lot about, not from philosophical perspective, but practically,

how fun does this video game have to be for us to let go of the silly pursuits in this meat space

that we live in and fully just stay in wow, stay in World of Warcraft, stay in the video game for

full time. So I think about that from an engineering perspective. Like is there going to be a time

when this video game is actual real life for us, and then the creatures inside the video game,

they’ll be just borrowing our consciousness, sort of to ground themselves will refer to us as the

gods. Right? Like, won’t we become the gods? This conversation is not going how I expected.

But I think about this a lot from, you know, because I love video games, and I wonder more

and more of us, especially in COVID times, are living in the digital world. You could think about

Twitter and all those kinds of things. You could think about clubhouse people using just voices to

communicate with little icons, sort of in the digital space, you could see more and more will

be moving in the digital space and let go of this physical space. And then the remnants of the

ancients that created the video games, that nobody centuries from now will even remember,

those will be the gods. And then there’ll be gods upon gods being created. This is the kind of stuff

I think about. But is that any at all useful to you to this thought experiment of a simulation?

Basically, the fabric of our reality, how did it come to be? What is running this thing? Is that

useful? Or is it ultimately the project of understanding God, of understanding myth,

is the project that centers on the human, on the human mind, for you?

Hmm. We seem to be at the center of this divine dance, which sounds awfully anthropocentric.

But the ancients thought about this too. I mean, the concept in Sanskrit of lila, that the point

behind existence is this play, right? It’s ultimately playful, this divine dance. It gets

awfully complicated in the Gnostic and Neoplatonic schools, these chains of being from God head down

to us, right? Some invisible, right? And we’re gonna get into Terence McKenna territory later

on, but we can start now by talking about discarnate entities and archons and aliens

and archetypes. I mean, there is a world where Terence McKenna does meet Plato and Gnosticism

quite kindly, and that’s in this invisible college, right? The invisible world with which we seem to

have some kind of symbiosis that has a higher intent, maybe even a purpose or a plan in mind

for us. So, I mean, these ideas come across when you’ve had a heroic dose of mushrooms.

They also pop up in the ancient philosophical literature, this idea of archons who, you know,

the puppet masters controlling us flesh and blood beings. It’s all a cosmic dance, and there are no

answers to this. First, who are the archons? And second, what is this world where Terence McKenna

meets Plato? Do you mean in the space of ideas, or are we talking about some kind of world that

connects all of consciousness throughout human history? I think through different techniques,

it is, you know, I think a lot about, I think Gordon Wasson is the meeting point of the two.

So, Gordon Wasson, who I do talk about in the book, was this J.P. Morgan banker turned

ethnomycologist, and he’s largely credited with the rediscovery of psilocybin containing mushrooms,

which kind of gave rise to the pop psychedelic revolution of the 1960s. He visited Maria Sabina

down in Mexico. In his wake went Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, and everybody else.

And the way he describes his psilocybin experience is a bit strange because he thinks of

Plato, right? And he says that, you know, whereas our ordinary reality is kind of this imperfect

view of things, Gordon Wasson felt that on mushrooms, he was spying the archetypes.

And he talks about Plato, and he writes about the archetypes in this famous article that’s

released in 1957 in Life magazine. And so, a well read individual from the mid 20th century has his

his premier psychedelic experience, and out comes Plato because what he was witnessing was so sharp,

so brilliant, so detailed, in some sense, more real than real, this noetic sense that William

James talks about, that when you confront something more real than real, these discarnate

entities, these images, these visionary motifs, you’re tempted to believe that you’ve tapped into

the truest nature and the underlying structure of the cosmos. And that’s difficult to escape from,

whether you’re Plato or Terence McKenna or Gordon Wasson caught in between.

Can we talk about this being in touch with something that is more real than real?

And let’s just go straight there to McKenna before we return to the bigger picture.

So he’s talked about the, what is it, self healing machine elves?

Self transforming.

Self transforming machine elves during his DMT travels. And I just talked to Rick Doblin,

who also had different travels to this hyperspace. But they all seem to be traveling on the same

spaceship, just the different locations. And there is a sense in which they seem to be traveling

through whatever, I don’t know if it’s through space time or something else,

to meet something that is more real than real. What can you say about this DMT experience,

about Terence McKenna, about the poetry he used, but maybe more specifically about

this place that they seem to all travel to?

So the big question is, is it real? Is it really more real than real? The ancient philosophers

were asking the same question and their means of attempting to answer that was by dying.

And so if you ask Plato the definition of philosophy, he will say that to practice it

in the right way is to practice dying and being dead. And many people describe the psychedelic

experience in sort of near death experience terms. And the encountering of all this visual

imagery tends to be something that is often described as more real than real. So how does

Terence talk about this? So I was just listening to the triologues, which folks should look up

somewhere between 1989 and 1990. Terence sits down with his friends, Ralph Abraham and

Rupert Sheldrake at Esalen. And they’re trying to figure out the meaning of these

discarnate entities and these nonhuman intelligences. And Terence develops a taxonomy

for how to analyze this. And he says that number one, they’re either semi physical,

but kind of elusive. So think of the Bigfoot or the Yeti or things like this. Beings that exist

somewhere between mythology and zoology, which isn’t really appropriate here. So option number

two, he says, is the mental. You’re dropping so many good lines. It’s so good. I apologize.

Somewhere between mythology and zoology. This is all Terence McKenna. I take no credit for this.

But you’re combining, you’re like, Jimi Hendrix only used the blues scale,

but he still created something new in the music he played. Anyway, go ahead.

We’re going into Mixolydian right now. So option number two, and this is what Terence calls sort

of the mentalist reductionist approach. And this is pure McKenna poetry. He says that these beings

could be autonomous fragments of psychic energy that have temporarily escaped the controlling

power of the ego. So in Jungian senses, these would just be pure projections, the projections

of schizophrenics in some cases. So they’re essentially unreal. And the third option,

the most tantalizing, is that they’re both nonphysical, but autonomous. In other words,

they actually exist in some kind of real place, in some kind of real space, and that we can have

Congress with them. There is communication. He talks about the whisperings of the demon artificers,

and that it’s just possible that our meetings with these beings have coaxed the human species

into self expression in a very real way, that at different times in history, our relationships with

these semi autonomous beings may actually guide the species. Now, this is high speculation,

and Terence and Ralph and Rupert wind up talking about the early modern period and the scientific

enlightenment, and that even someone like Descartes reports a dream in which he came face

to face with an angel who said that the conquest of nature is to be achieved through measure and

number. So even the hard minded materialist like Descartes is confronting these discarnate entities.

John Dee in the 16th century, the high magician of the Elizabethan court,

he reports decades worth of what we would say is extraterrestrial communication,

or interdimensional communication. And you can find instances of this throughout history,

including among the pre Socratics. And Peter Kingsley writes quite a bit about this, but I’ll

save that until your next question. Well, first of all, we don’t seem to understand from where

intelligence came from. We don’t understand from where life came from on Earth. But that we can

kind of intuit because it’s the space of chemistry and biology have good theories about the origins

of life on Earth. But the origins of intelligent life, that is a giant mystery. And there’s some

sense in which, I mean, I don’t know if you know the movie 2001 Space Odyssey. But it does seem

that there’s like important throughout human history, throughout life on Earth, there’s

important phase shifts of it feels like something happened, where there’s big leaps. It could be

something coincidental, like fire and learning how to cook meat and all those kinds of things.

But it feels like there could be other things. And I think that’s at the core of your work is

exploring what those things could be. Is there, is it possible? Talked about Joe Rogan off line.

Is it entirely possible? Is it possible that psychedelics have in fact contributed of being

an important source of those phase shift throughout human history of the intellect, basically steering

the intellectual development and growth of human civilization. It’s a hypothesis worth

investigating. How about that? Beautiful. And maybe not psychedelics in and of themselves,

but I think our whole conversation is kind of wrapped up in these non ordinary states of

awareness. We start by talking about God, which is something unordinary and expansive. And I think

that as you trace the intervention of divinity, if that’s the case, throughout human history,

you have to bump up against the irrational. And Mursi Eliade, the great scholar of religions and

fellow Romanian said that the history of religions essentially constitutes the point of intersection

between metaphysics and biology. So that we are biological beings who do interact with our planet,

with the natural kingdom. And you would think that as, you know, early archaic ecologists,

we would have figured out what plants work, which fungi don’t and developed maybe language around

that. And so this is another one of McKenna’s speculative, but very interesting hypotheses,

the stone and ape theory. Is it possible that psychedelics were involved in one of the several

leaps forward? You mentioned the word leap. Jared Diamond talks about the great leap forward 60,000

years ago. The species had been around for a couple hundred thousand years. All of a sudden,

the cave painting appears. All of a sudden there’s a phase shift. Did something like that happen

millions of years ago? And I love the way Paul Stamets talks about this. It would be the ingestion

of perhaps psilocybin containing fungi millions and millions of times over millions and millions

of years. So it’s not just a one time event that cascades, but it’s the accumulation

of psychedelic experience. It’s really difficult to test that hypothesis. But I’ve been talking

with a paleoanthropologist in South Africa, my friend Lee Berger, about ways that we might test

for this. And so Lee, amongst many things, is this national geographic explorer. He’s the

paleoanthropologist’s paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand. He’s famous,

amongst other things, for the discovery of previously undiscovered hominids like Homo

naledi. And there’s an interesting point. So naledi is this archaic hominid, morphologically

archaic, but it dates to about 300,000 years ago, which is very strange. What’s even more

strange about Homo naledi at the Rising Star cave system there in South Africa is that Lee

believes he’s discovered the first bipedal ape deliberately disposing of its dead.

So there is a recognition of self mortality and the practicing of rituals around death. We’re

talking about burials. And if you have burials, says Lee, in an archaic hominid 300,000 years ago,

maybe you have language. And I mentioned that because Terence McKenna was obsessed

with language in the stoned ape theory, that the ingestion of psilocybin in addition to enhancing

visual acuity, perhaps facilitating sexual arousal, leads to proto language.

Now, isn’t it interesting, this could be entirely a coincidence, that the largest sound inventory

of any language is the Khoisan of Botswana and Namibia. They have something like 164 consonants

and 44 vowels. English, by comparison, has about 45. So I don’t know what to make of this, but what

you find in that part of the world is very, very complex language. Language that could be an

inheritance, language that could be incredibly archaic, together with this recognition of self

mortality. And when I talk to Lee Berger, we say, when you’re looking at universals like that,

language around all human populations, the recognition of self mortality, the contemplation

of death, just maybe you have pharmacology. And so maybe we can go out and test for this

using gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, proteomics, technology that doesn’t even exist,

but maybe we can actually test the stoned ape theory to figure out once and for all,

if there’s any merit there. Can you just linger a little bit on the pharmacology tools?

Like how would it be possible to say something about what was being ingested so, so long ago?

That’s what I asked Dr. Berger. So Lee has discovered in the dental calculus of archaic

hominids. Dental calculus. I like this. Evidence of their diet. And you might not believe how old

this was, but in sedeba, Australopithecus sedeba, they found evidence of sedeba’s diet going back

two million years. So through things like phytoliths, which are essentially fossilized

plant tissue, they found evidence that sedeba was eating bark and leaves and grasses and fruits and

palm. So no psychedelics to speak of, but it just goes to show that through things like dental

microwear analysis and other techniques that we’re still developing, we can actually figure out what

the diet was at the time. I’ll fast forward to 50,000 years ago. There was another study out of

El Cidrón Cave in 2012, which found that Neanderthals, again, preceding our species

50,000 years ago, were ingesting yarrow and chamomile, which had been identified as medicinal.

So again, not psychedelic or psychoactive, but we kind of have the beginnings of the technology,

and that was nine years ago, to begin figuring out the ancestral diet of these hominids.

Presumably there could be a way to figure out, it’s not just diet, but which have psychoactive

elements to them. So whether you’re chewing it, whether you’re smoking it, whether, I mean, I don’t

know, licking it. I don’t know if there’s any kind of ways through the dental calculus to figure out

what exact substances were being consumed. Is it possible to figure out whether psychedelic

substances are being consumed by looking at human behavior, like you said, organized burials

or cave paintings? No, but so that’s a little bit of a stretch to say, like, where did this

leap come from? But it’s not. It’s not. So just last fall, as a matter of fact, so that notion

has been out there for a while, the idea that hallucinogens and the ritual consumption of

hallucinogens were somehow related to the great leap forward, were somehow related to the initial

cave painting. Graham Hancock wrote a beautiful book about this called Supernatural, which in

many ways like sent me down this rabbit hole back in 2007. But even at the time when he was writing

that and the year subsequent, it was still kind of seen as a kooky idea. Last fall, interestingly

enough, the first archeochemical data for the ritual consumption of psychedelics associated with

cave art was finally published. It’s not that ancient. It’s only about 400 or 500 years ago,

but it came from the Pinwheel Cave, a Chumash site in California. And what they found were

datura quids, like these chewed up, you mentioned, how did they ingest it? These chewed up quids,

like these bunches of datura, which contain these very powerful tropane alkaloids and what was

believed to be some kind of Chumash initiation site. So we can say that there is initial

archeochemical data for the consumption of psychedelics and cave art. And so where else

might we find this? Are there a lot of archeochemists in the world? Is this fascinating? Is through

chemistry, through biology, through physics, whatever, like all the disciplines, perhaps one

day computer science, we apply those tools to study not the data of today, but the data of the past.

But are we talking about dozens here? Like how hard is this problem relative to how many people

are taking it on just as a side little tangent? We’re probably talking more dozens than hundreds.

I spent many years trying to track down an archeochemist who would talk to me. There were

a couple, Pat McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania, and then my friend Andrew Ko at MIT,

which you might know something about. Andrew really, you know, on his own time, on his own

dime, has been gathering the data for this organic residue analysis. He has what’s called the Open

Archem Project, which is this online open source repository for this data. But there’s never been

a center for this. No university has stood up a dedicated center, a team really, which is what you

need of archeochemists looking at this stuff. But I mean, even despite that, there have been some

remarkable discoveries over the past 10, 20 years. It’s still a discipline very much in

its infancy. Maybe it’s becoming a toddler. But as the technology gets better and cheaper, I hope

you’ll see more and more archeochemists joining the fight.

Yeah. And Andrew is fascinating. His work is fascinating. But also, just because of your work,

I came across and exchanged a few emails with Patrick McGovern, who’s basically, what would

you call him? So, he has a center, I guess, that does biomolecular archeology at UPenn.

And he’s the author of a bunch of books, one of which is Ancient Brews. So, he’s a scholar of beer

and wine and like ancient alcohol, which is fascinating. They influence, even just alcohol,

but he has like alcohol with hallucinogenic properties as well. But as a Russian, it’s

fascinating to think about the influence of alcohol on the development of human civilization

throughout its history. Is there something you can comment on alcohol or in general,

Patrick’s work that was informative to you, inspiring, or kind of added to your conception

of human history?

His work was some of the first hard scientific data that I saw for the ritual consumption

of these intoxicants. I don’t think he’s ever found the hard and fast data for psychedelics.

But what he turned me on to was this idea that alcohol or beer and wine specifically

could have been used as vehicles for the administration of psychedelics. That’s where

it all started for me. Just the notion that ancient beer and ancient wine is very, very

different from what we drink today, that typically they were cocktails. They were often fortified

and mixed with different fruits, berries, herbs, plants, maybe even fungi over time,

because this was all in the absence of distilled liquor. There is no hard alcohol, even in

Russia, before maybe the 12th century it was in Europe, maybe a bit earlier. But the concept

of distillation just didn’t exist. And so, to pack a punch, rather than just drink a

kind of watered down Budweiser, these people were interested in fortifying these beverages

with whatever they could find in nature. And Pat, to his credit, found some of the initial

data for these, you could say, spiked wines and spiked beers. Not with anything overtly

psychedelic, but just the fact that in the 16th century BC, at grave circle A in Mycenae,

there’s this Minoan ritual cocktail of beer mixed with wine, mixed with mead, is very

interesting. It’s even more interesting that you find that across the Aegean, in Gordium,

at King Midas’s tomb, right? The same kind of ritual cocktail, which Pat and Sam at the

Dogfish Head Brewery resurrected as the Midas touch. So, I mean, the notion that we can

go back, find this data, resurrect it, in some cases, 2800 years later, I found pretty

exciting 10 years ago. Yeah, bring it back for research. But that’s fascinating that

people are playing with these ideas. And we’ll return to, we’ll return to our

ideas of psychedelic infused wine, which is pretty fascinating. But can we step back and

just kind of look at your work with the book Immortality Key? What is the story that you

tell in this book? I knew we’d get there eventually, Lex. It’s a nonlinear path. Somehow

we were talking about simulation and the universe is a computer that’s creating video games

and WoW and Fortnite. But we got there and we’ll return, always, to the insane philosophical.

But your book Immortality Key, what’s the story that you tell in this book? Which part

of human history are you studying? Right. So that’s the way to phrase it. So it’s, you

know, it’s my 12 year search for the hard scientific data for the ritual use of psychedelics

in classical antiquity. So we’re talking about amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans.

And the paleo Christians. So the generations that would give birth to the largest religion

the world’s ever known. Christianity today was two and a half billion people. The big

question for me is, you know, were psychedelics actually involved? There was a lot written

about this in the sixties, John Marco Allegro. The book that I follow was published in 1978

before I was born. The Road to Eleusis by Gordon Wasson, who we talked about already,

Albert Hofmann, who famously discovers LSD or synthesizes it from ergot, and Carl Ruck,

who is still a professor of classics at Boston University, the only surviving member of that

renegade trio and now 85 years old. So this all predates us. But what was lacking in the 60s,

70s, 80s, 90s, I think was some of this technology and the hard scientific data.

Now, for years and years, I went out to the archaeobotanists and the archaeochemists around

the world and I asked a very basic question. Is there any evidence for psychedelics in classical

antiquity? And the answer would almost invariably come back no. I’m talking to, in addition to Pat,

he put me in touch with Hans Peter Sticke in Germany, Tania Valamotti in Greece,

Assunta Florenzano in Italy. I went all over the place asking one question and getting the same

answer back time and again. And so the book is essentially my search for that data and

the eventual uncovering of two what I think are key pieces of data. One data point shows the ritual

use of a psychedelic beer in classical antiquity in Iberia, what today is Spain. And the other

shows what looks like a kind of psychedelic wine just outside Pompeii from the first century AD,

at the right place at the right time when the earliest Christians were showing up in Italy.

Again, these are early steps in the search for evidence in the space. But

speaking of early Christians, what role do you think psychedelic infused wine could have played

in the life of Jesus Christ? I’ve been saying recently that, and I hope this doesn’t sound

obscurantist, but I think it’s impossible to understand Jesus and the birth of Christianity

in the absence of ancient Greek. And I’ll give you a very specific example of why I think that’s the

case. You can read the entire New Testament in ancient Greek and not once will you ever find

a reference to alcohol because there was no word in ancient Greek for alcohol. The way the word

sounds alcohol, it’s Semitic, it comes from the Arabic. Kehela means to enliven or refresh. It

probably comes from kohl, K O H L, sort of these powdered metallics that were used in alchemical

experiments and cosmetics. So again, that’s much later in time when we’re using alchemy,

distillation, et cetera. In the first century AD, the power of wine wasn’t necessarily tied to

alcohol, fermented grapes, the way we think about wine today. So Pat McGovern found some of that

early organic data for wine being mixed with beer and with mead. But if you look at the literature

from the first century AD, Dioscorides, for example, he writes this massive treatise at the

exact same time the gospels are being written. And Dioscorides in just one of his books talks about

56 detailed recipes for spiking wine with all kinds of things like salvia and hellebore and

frankincense and myrrh, these spice perfumes, but also more dangerous things like henbane

and mandrake, which he says in Greek can be fatal with just one cupful. And in book 474 of his

Materia Medica, he talks about black nightshade producing fantasias u aedais, not unpleasant

visions, what today we would say is psychedelic. So just looking at the literature and the kind of

literature that even most classicists, I didn’t really learn it in undergrad, I came across

Dioscorides later, but just a basic look at the literature supports what McGovern has been testing,

which is the fact that wine was routinely mixed with different compounds. It’s fascinating,

by the way, that language affects our conception of the tools we use to understand the world. So

like you can see wine, you can see psychedelics, if they’re not called drugs, you can maybe reframe

how you see them in terms of their role in us thinking about the world, understanding the

world. That’s really interesting that language has that power, but what language was used to

understand wine at the time? So we’re talking about a Greek speaking world, right? So Jesus

is born and does his public ministry in the Holy Land, but think about the early church,

think about where the church takes root. Paul, the greatest evangelist of the time, writes basically

half the New Testament, he’s writing letters in Greek to Greek speakers in places like Corinth

in Greece, or Philippi, a defunct city just north of the island of Thassos, or he’s writing to folks

in what today is Turkey, the Colossians, the Galatians, he writes letters to the Romans.

These are Greek speakers in these pockets, these Hellenic pockets all around the ancient

Mediterranean. And for them, again, ignore Dioscorides, ignore Pat McGovern’s work,

to them to think about wine was to think about a mixed potion. And so the word oinos in ancient

Greek does show up in the New Testament, but there was another word to describe wine,

and it exists for like a thousand years before, during, and after the life of Jesus. The word

used for wine is pharmakon, which obviously gives us the word pharmacy, it means drug.

So in Greek, a Greek speaker would actually use the word drug to refer to wine. Ruth Skodel,

the classicist, talks about this as a ritualistic formula. They understood wine as this compound

beverage, a drug against grief, a medicinal elixir that could either harm or heal, or just maybe a

sacrament to put you in touch with wine gods old and new. Clearly, religion and myth, but religion

very much so has sort of a, much like dreams, has like an imagery component. Like you’re kind of

going outside the visual constraints of physical space where you kind of have very specific

conceptions of what things look like, and you kind of use your imagination to stretch beyond

the world as we know it. Things that are trying to get in touch with things that are more real

than real. What role do these tools, do these pharmakons have in trying to stimulate the imagery

of religion? Do you have a sense that they have a critical role here, or is it just a bunch of

different factors that are utilized, a bunch of different tools that are utilized to construct

this imagery? Or is this not even, or is imagery the wrong terminology? Is it more like space of

ideas that’s core to religion? No, I think the wine is absolutely essential. And so, if it’s

impossible to understand paleo Christianity in the absence of ancient Greek, I think it’s equally

difficult in the absence of the sacred pharmacopeia or wine itself, right? Just think about wine

at the time. I think that the ancient Greek audience would have heard that in a very different

way from us. And so, they’re referring to it maybe as a pharmakon, but the followers of Dionysus,

which precedes Jesus. And in some cases, the story of Jesus is kind of a recapitulation of the

mysteries of Dionysus. But when you think about Dionysus, maybe from your high school mythology,

you think about him as the god of theater, or the god of wine, which is typically what it is,

or the god of ecstasy. Again, Dionysus is not the god of alcohol. There’s no concept of fermented

grapes. The power of Dionysus and the ability to commune with Dionysus through his blood.

And before Christianity, the blood of Dionysus is equated to his wine. The sacramental drinking of

the wine was interpreted, and classicists write about this, including Walter Burkert. It was

it was interpreted as consuming the god himself in order to become one with the god. This is where we

get the idea of enthusiasm, because the language matters. Enthusiasm to be filled with the spirit

of the god, so that you became identified with Dionysus and acquired his divine powers.

Now, how does that happen? Again, he’s not the god of alcohol. He is the god of wine,

but he’s really the god of madness, and delirium, and frenzy. And his principal followers are women.

They’re called the minads. And the way they get in touch with him is through the consumption

of this sacramental wine. Even at the theater of Dionysus, separate from his outdoor churches,

there was a wine served there called drima. And this is the wine that gives birth to Hollywood.

I mean, the ancient Hollywood was there at the theater of Dionysus. This is where

comedy, and tragedy, and poetry, and music come from. But rather than a hot dog and a beer,

what they drink at the theater of Dionysus was this wine called drima, which means

pounded or rubbed. And Professor Ruck talks about maybe it was the drugs

that were rubbed into this theatrical beverage to help the play come alive.

So madness is seen as a positive thing, as like a creative journey. It’s not, what is it,

the unlearning, getting out of the way kind of thing. Is that how it’s seen? Or is it more like

entertaining escape from life that is suffering? I gotta inject a little modern Dostoevsky into the old.

Existential despair. Maybe it’s a bit of that. We can’t say that there wasn’t

recreational drinking happening. The Greeks also had the symposium. And they also were just

getting hammered in some cases. But when it comes to the rites of Dionysus, what you see there is

the creation of these states of awareness in which, again, you identify with the God to become

the God. There’s theophagy. There’s the consumption of divinity in order to become divinity. Right

back to how we started the conversation, right? So if we stop conceiving of God as something

exterior to us, but that the mystery of being itself is the mystery of your being and the

mystery of my being, that the way to encounter that is through the sacramental theology, that

you drink the actual blood of this Greek God to become that God. And there was a place for this

in ancient Greek society. So drinking the wine and drinking the blood of Dionysus, do you think Jesus

is an actual physical person that existed in history? Or is he an idea

that came to life through the consumption of wine and those kinds of rituals?

So this is where I face my excommunication, depending how I answer this.

I mean, you’re playing with fire and wine.

A good combination, by the way.

So I shy away from that controversy in the book. I’m perfectly willing to accept Jesus

as a historical personage. We have the multiplicity of sources, although it’s a

generation after his death. But we have the Eucharist being described in the four gospels.

We have it being described by Paul in 1 Corinthians. But when you read John,

it does read a bit differently than the other gospels. And in my book, I rely a lot on the

scholarship of Dennis McDonald, who writes a fabulous book called The Dionysian Gospel.

And this is, again, why the Greek matters, because once you start to analyze the Greek of John’s

gospel, it seems to be a presentation of Jesus very much in the guise of Dionysus. The most

obvious example is the wedding at Cana, right? That only occurs in John’s gospel, the famous

transformation of water into wine. Now, again, to any Greek speaker of the first century,

they would have known about the Greek district of Elis on the Peloponnese. And in Elis,

around the epiphany, every January, the priests of Dionysus would deposit these water basins,

empty basins in the temple of Dionysus. They’d return the next morning and find them magically

filled with wine. Now, on the island of Andros, it’s even more interesting. Around the same

epiphany date, the God’s gift day, Dies Theodosia, the wine would emanate from the temple and run

like a river for a week. And you can Google the Bacchanal of the Andrians, a wonderful painting

by Titian, which hangs in the Prado, and you’ll see a river of wine behind these people having

a great time. This exists for centuries and centuries before the wedding at Cana and before

Jesus begins his public ministry with what these scholars call the signature miracle of Dionysus.

It would not have been lost on the Greek audience that something very specific is being communicated

here. What’s being communicated? That you just might find in early Christianity what you hold

strong to in these mysteries of Dionysus that you may have inherited from your parents, your

grandparents, your great grandparents for centuries. There was a perfectly good religion.

There were perfectly good mystery cults in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.

And here comes this new, untested, illegal cult, illegal, of a dozen or so illiterate

day laborers that go on to convert the empire in a few hundred years. The answer to that

extraordinary growth is not psychedelics, but I do think it’s visionary experiences,

and I do think it’s this continuity from the pagan world into early Christianity.

So what part, you mentioned this idea that’s really interesting with, I think you said Paul

Stamets, of I guess millions of people over millions of years kind of consuming, really

practicing a ritual or a habit of some sort. This idea of rituals is kind of interesting.

Again, you mentioned cult. What’s the role of ritual consumption of some of these substances

or just ritual practice of anything in the intellectual growth of particular groups of

people or societies? So again, I would say it is the centerpiece of ancient life, not just the

mysteries of Dionysus, which we’ve only talked a bit about, but the mysteries of Eleusis were

probably the most famous and longest lasting of these Greek mystery rites. And I mean, just to

put it in simple terms, the best definition for a mystery religion, as the name implies,

is something secret, right? Muo from the Greek means to shut the eyes or to shut the mouth,

to keep quiet about this stuff. We’re always teasing details from the archaeological and the

literary record, and we’re kind of just grabbing at these secrets. But Eleusis, which survives for

like 2,000 years into the Christian period from about 1500 BC to the fourth century AD,

it’s kind of this centerpiece of Greek life. Cicero, the great Roman statesman, calls what was

happening at Eleusis the most exceptional and divine thing that Athens ever produced. So not

democracy, the arts and sciences, or philosophy, but the vision that was encountered at Eleusis,

perhaps through the ritual consumption of a potent psychedelic over hundreds and hundreds of years,

hundreds and hundreds of years, thousands and thousands, if not millions of initiates, pilgrims,

who would walk from Athens to Eleusis to encounter this vision. It seems to have been

not just an important part of Greek life, but the thing that made life livable,

such that as these mysteries are about to be exterminated by the newly Christianized

Roman Empire, there’s this passage in the ancient literature that talks about these,

you know, in the absence of these mysteries, life becomes unlivable. Abiotos.

Is there ways you can, I mean, you write about the mysteries of Eleusis, and is there ways you

can convert that into words? Why those are so important to them, more important than any other

invention to them? Why is it such a source of meaning to life? So from what we can reconstruct,

they would make that pilgrimage 13 miles northwest of Athens to confront their mortality. Remember,

we were talking about Homo Naledi, and in South Africa, this recognition of self mortality,

the deliberate disposal of the dead. Plato talks about the real practice of philosophy being the

death and dying process. So in some senses, you went to Eleusis to die and to experience a death

before your death. We talked about this with Terence McKenna as well, on this, how the

psychedelic state seems to share something in common with the near death or out of body experiences

or these ecstatic experiences, whether through wine or beer or otherwise, you went to Eleusis

to die. And it was said that only those who had witnessed this vision, whatever vision was to be

witnessed in Demeter Sanctuary, it essentially vouchsafed you the afterlife, that only those who

went there became immortal. And Cicero says that at that point, you essentially live with more joy

and die with a better hope. Can I ask you a question about this human contention with death,

this confrontation of death that seems to be at the core of things? I don’t know how deep to the

core, but it seems to be a central element of the human condition. What do you think about Ernest

Becker and those guys that put death at the, what is it, the warm of the core, which as the main

thing, the main, like this confrontation of our own mortality, first of all, being understanding

that we’re mortal and then confronting the terror of it, the fear of it as the creative, like trying

to escape the fear of death as the creative force of human society. It’s like the reason we do

anything is because we’re just running away from our death, scared. Do you find some of that to be

true, first of all, as somebody who looks in the mirror, looks at yourself and your own as a human

being, two, just looking at society today, and three, at this whole big spread of human history

and all the cool stuff we’ve created, including the mysteries of Eleusis? I wonder what life would

look like in the absence of the fear of our mortality. I wonder how we’d interact with one

another if there was relatively little or no fear of death. I really do when it comes to Becker’s

work and others. If the ancients were known for anything, it was running to death. It was the

opposite. In fact, dying before dying, which is the immortality key, by the way, it’s not

psychedelics. When I refer to this key, I’m referring to this notion that’s preserved in

Greek, anpethanis, prinpethanis, denthapethanis, otanpethanis. If you die before you die, you won’t

die when you die. For some reason, the ancients prized that experience. And we talked about the

mystics of Sufism and Kabbalism and Christian mysticism, where you have this same self nodding,

this death before death, the divine nothingness, right? For some reason, the mystic saints,

visionaries, and ancient philosophers, they ran to death. And the one message I wanted to try and

communicate with this book is how they viewed life, that it can only be fully experienced,

fully embodied in the wake of a really intense, perhaps terrifying, but utterly transformational

encounter with death. So running to death, not running away from death. You talk about Aldous

Huxley and mind changers. So if we look at the history where the ancients were running to death

and maybe using some performance enhancing permacons to run more effectively towards death,

and now we’re using tools of modern society, whether they’re psychological, sociological,

or in case pharmaceutical to run away from this conception. So what do you see as a hopeful future

for human civilization? If all of these kinds of societies are ice cream flavors,

how do you create the perfect ice cream flavor? What is the future of religious experience,

of psychedelic experience, of intellectual journeys, of facing death, running away from death?

What do you hope that looks like and what kind of ideas should we look to?

My next book will be entitled Performance Enhancing Pharmacon. You get full copyright.

Yeah, I like it. But that’s a historical view. What in that book would you suggest

in one of the last chapters about the future of this process?

Well, Huxley has to stop you. He stopped me in my tracks, Aldous Huxley. So in 1958,

he pens this op ed of sorts, and it reads incredibly prescient because I really do think

in many ways as the fog of the war drug is ending and finally lifting that we’ve kind of come full

circle back to the late 1950s, which might sound strange. It’ll make more sense when you hear what

Huxley said about psychedelics. And so he was looking forward to a revival of religion, which

is why I subtitled the book, The Religion with No Name. And to him, to Huxley, this revival wouldn’t

come about through televangelistic mass meetings or photogenic clergymen, as he says, but he points

to the biochemical discoveries such as we have today that would allow for large numbers of men

and women to achieve a radical self transcendence and a deeper understanding of the nature of things.

In other words, that this revival of religion, he says, would be a revolution. Alan Watts comes

along and says that there’s nothing more dangerous to authority than a popular outbreak of mysticism.

But I think this is what Huxley was pointing to. And he talks about religion in these terms about

being less about symbols and returning to a sense of experience and intuition. And Huxley says that

he envisions a religion which gives rise to everyday mysticism. And he talks about something

that would undergird everyday rationality, everyday tasks and duties, and everyday human

relationships. In other words, religion has to mean something. And these altered states of

awareness that we seem to be able to produce quite easily inside the lab at Hopkins, NYU,

and elsewhere with psilocybin. I think this is kind of part of Huxley’s prediction about a time

when we would have legal access, safe access, efficacious access to this material that would

allow for insight in an afternoon. And what do you do when millions of people can become mystics in

an afternoon? So psychedelics, psilocybin might be sort of the practical way of having these kinds of

maybe could be termed religious experiences. And then many people partaking in those experiences

and then like evolving this collective intelligence thing we’ve got going on,

that’s sort of the practice of religion that we should be striving for as opposed to kind of

operating in the space of ideas, actually practicing it. You mentioned, and that’s the

religion with no name, the use of these tools. Is there a simple way to summarize religion for our

previous discussion about God, basically discovering the God inside? What if I give you a very

complicated definition of religion and then we talk about a more simplified? Let’s do it. So

the most complicated we can get on this is the anthropologist Clifford Geertz. But I think it’s

worth defining our terms when we’re talking about God and religion. So religion religio from the

Latin means to bind back. So to bind us back to some meaningful tradition, to bind us back to the

source. Here’s a mouthful from Clifford Geertz. Religion, he defines as a set of symbols which

acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long lasting moods and motivations by formulating

conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions in such an aura of

factuality that those moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic, which is complex. What does

that mean? That religion has to make you feel something, these moods and motivations. But it

can’t just do that in the way that sex does that for us or sports or ultimate fighting or the World

Cup or going to a concert. So we get all that emotion in these experiences like that. But that

emotion has to be concomitant to a deep existential insight that answers this question for you in the

morning. I know why I’m here. I know why humans are here. I think I know what the meaning of life

is. That’s what religion is. And if you find that meaning in science, then that’s your religion and

that’s fine. But we need to be more honest about that. If your epistemological model is weighing

facts and figures and you think that’s why you’re here on this planet and you find deep meaning,

that’s okay. Religion is the thing that makes you feel, right? It has the aura of factuality. It

just makes you feel like you know the point behind existence. In other words, I think it can be

in other words, I think it comes down to experience. Like Joe Campbell was talking about,

like Aldous Huxley mentions about experience and intuition. I think this is how we connect to God.

Make you feel like you understand the world. I mean, so that’s kind of bigger than science.

That includes science, but it’s bigger. Do you think, what is real? Like do you think there’s

an absolute reality that we’re kind of striving towards understanding or is it all just conjured

up in our minds? And that’s the whole kind of point. We together create these realities and

play with them and dance to somehow derive meaning from those realities. And it’s ultimately not like

like very deeply integrated into what’s like into atoms of space time. Another easy question, Lex.

Well, I mean, you have to kind of, when you’re thinking about

emotion and making it concrete into something that feels real, you have to start asking,

like, what is real? It’s something that Ben Shapiro has this saying of facts don’t care

about your feelings. I was always uncomfortable with this. I mean, he’s just being spiffy or

whatever, but I was always uncomfortable with somehow first that the hubris of thinking that

humans can have, like arrive at absolute truth, which is what I assume he means by facts,

like things that are uncontrovertible. And then somehow deriding feelings, like feelings are not

important. To me, like the whole thing is reality. The facts don’t even, like facts is reality,

feelings are reality, like the entirety of human experience is reality. All these

consciousnesses somehow interacting together, making up random crap and together agreeing

they’re all going to wear the same colors, rooting for one football team or the other football team

or countries, all those things, that’s real because we’ve agreed that it’s real.

And in the same way, it gives us meaning in that same way religion is a set of ideas that

gives us meaning, but real, it’s really difficult for me as a scientist that finds comfort in the

physical understanding of the universe of physics. I love physics. I love computer science.

It makes me feel like everything is perfectly understandable. And then I look at humans,

humans, they’re totally not understandable. It’s like a giant mess, but that’s part of the beauty.

Like what is love? Like what the hell is love? It’s certainly not like a weird hack to convince me

to procreate because it feels something bigger than that. So like taking a purely evolutionary

biologist perspective, it’s missing the, it’s not missing, it’s only capturing a part of the picture.

And so it just keeps making me ask, what is real? Because as a human, it’s very human centric.

It does certainly feel like a part, a big part of what is real is all the fake stuff my mind makes up.

I mean, okay, I guess, is there something you could say

from our discussions about the tools of psychedelics, about our discussion about

religion, of what is real, of what is reality?

These are largely unanswerable questions.

But we should nevertheless strive to answer them. That’s the whole point of the human experience.

And I think science is one way and religion is another. And I think there’s actually a sphere

where they intersect, you know, there’s a way for religion to be a big part of the world.

Religion to be observable, testable, repeatable, falsifiable. When I look at the ancient mysteries,

that’s what I find. I find people exploring alternate states of consciousness and arriving

at conclusions based on that exploration and deriving deep meaning from that, which yes,

are feelings and emotions and very hard to quantify. But nonetheless, these are the things

that govern our lives. I mean, I don’t know a parent who isn’t motivated by the love of their

children. Everything I do at 40 years old now is pretty much inspired by my love for my two

daughters. And I can’t prove to you that I love them. I can say it, I can show you behavior,

but it’s very hard for me to weigh and measure that. So not everything is so reducible to this

quantifiable reality. And yet, I also love science. And I love the historical process of weighing this

data. I love the chemistry. I love the biology. And for me, I think this was the message of the

ancient Greeks. And I think this is the world in which paleo Christianity was born. I think there

is this meeting ground between science and religion, which allow for the, if not the discovery,

then at least the near identification of the ultimate reality, which is another way to describe

God, right? This being of being is the transcendent mystery. So speaking of God,

you mentioned to me offline, you’re wearing the most sophisticated clothing choice of the elite

intellectuals. Like you mentioned, Sam Harris was wearing a hoodie. This is the Sam Harris hoodie.

He’s starting a trend. He’s starting a trend. This is a new religion, you could even say. It’s

a ritual. It’s a ritual practice of intellectuals of searching for meaning. So there’s quite a

fascinating debate. So he was for a time still known as one of the sort of new age atheists.

So he was kind of trying to explore the role of religion in society and the role of science.

And then on the other side, another kind of powerhouse intellectual is Jordan Peterson,

who in sometimes, for my taste, a bit too poetic of ways is exploring the ideas of religion.

And they had these interesting debates that I think will continue about the role of religion

in society. For Jordan, there’s all these flaws with religion, but there is a lot of value to be

discovered amidst the rituals, the traditions, the practice, the way we conceive of each other

because of the ideas that religion propagates. And then for Sam, it says that everything about

religion basically gets in the way of us fully realizing our human potential, which is deeply

scientific and rational and sort of like we’re surrounded by mystery. Calling that mystery God

is getting in the way of us understanding that mystery. What do you think about this debate

about the role of religion in society?

We should continue having this debate. I talked to Jordan a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact.

Excellent. On his podcast? Public? Excellent.

Yes. It’ll be out soon. And so, he and I…

How did that go, by the way?

It was incredible. Carl Ruck, the professor, joined us, as a matter of fact, for one of his

rare public appearances. We went deep. And Jordan is very well read, obviously, on the psychedelic

literature. He had just had Roland Griffiths from Hopkins on the podcast. And it’s one of

Roland’s figures that Jordan and I, again, just like the language of Aldous Huxley, it’s hard to

move past the following statistic. Over the past 20 years of the modern study of psilocybin, Roland

will tell you that about three in four of their volunteers walk away from their single dose of

psilocybin, high dose, saying it was among the most meaningful experiences of their entire lives,

if not the most meaningful. And Jordan says, what do you do with that? How do we synthesize that?

Here we are quantifying the qualifiable, the unqualifiable. And yet, these compounds have

dramatic effects on people’s lives, and they walk away feeling like they’re more loving,

more compassionate. The science of all talks about the welling up of cooperation and resource sharing

and kindness and all these strange things from this single chemical intervention, which seems to

reduce us to automata, as if enlightenment can be flipped on like a switch. And yet, there it is,

there’s the data. And I don’t see how you walk away from that. I mean, I completely understand

Sam’s position. But I think there’s a reading of religion, particularly the mystical core

of the big faiths, and especially these ancient mystery cults, which do speak, again, to those

moods and motivations, creating this aura of factuality that these volunteers never walk away

from, permanently transformed, just like the ancient mysteries. And part of that is perhaps

language, that we need to continue to evolve language in how we conceive of these processes.

Maybe religion has a bunch of baggage associated with it that is good to let go of,

or perhaps not. I don’t know. This is connected to our previous part of our conversation is the

importance of language in this whole thing. Well, that’s how I start my book with one of

these volunteers from the NYU psilocybin experiments, this woman, Dina Dina Baser,

who’s an atheist. And she still describes herself as an atheist. And yet, as one of these three and

four people who walked away from this experiment transformed, she says that her experience of

psilocybin was like being bathed in God’s love from an atheist. And I asked her why she uses

the word God, why not the love of the cosmos or the universe or mother nature? And she says,

well, frankly, we don’t know about any of this stuff and that God makes sense to me. She’s still

an atheist, but it’s the way she describes that as kind of like the way your mother’s love must

have felt when you were a baby. Yeah. There’s a kind of, I like the way Einstein uses God. God

doesn’t play dice. There’s a poetry. There’s a humility that you don’t know what the hell is

going on. There’s a humor to it. I’m a huge fan, especially like more and more of just kind of

having a big old laugh at the absurdity of this world and this life as represented nicely by memes

on Twitter kind of thing. I mean, there’s a sense in which we want to be playing with these words

and not take them so seriously and being a little bit lighthearted and explore. Let me ask you about,

because you mentioned NYU, what I find fascinating is how much amazing research, speaking of science,

right? Studying the effects of psilocybin, studying the effects of various psychedelics, MDMA,

on the human mind right now for helping people. But I’m hoping there’ll be studies soon at Hopkins

and elsewhere that allow people that are kind of more quote unquote creatives or regular people

that don’t have a particular demon they’re trying to work through, a problem they’re trying to work

through, but more like to see what can I find if I utilize psychedelics to explore? Is there something

you could say that is exciting to you, that’s promising about the future? What currently is

going on but also the future of psychedelics research at Hopkins and elsewhere? The healthy normals.

I was looking for the right words because healthy doesn’t feel like a good term and

normal doesn’t feel like a good term because we’re all pretty messed up and we’re all weird.

Well, those with ontological angst in that case. Maybe there’ll be a future DSM qualification.

There’s no doubt that things like psilocybin, MDMA are useful for things like anxiety,

depression, end of life distress, PTSD, alcoholism, you name it. And it’s largely because of the

clinical research that MDMA and psilocybin will probably be legal in some FDA regulated way in

the next five years. But again, I start the first page of my book with this question, why do

psychedelics work across all these different conditions? And the best that I could find is

is the meaning, right? Tony Bosse at NYU talks about psilocybin, for example, as meaning making

medicine, which is interesting because it puts it somewhere between a therapeutic and again,

this ontological instigator. What is it about psychedelics that creates these mystical

experiences or mystical like experiences? You can call them emotional breakthroughs,

you can call them moments of awe. I do think we get locked up in the language and we’re

somewhere between science and religion here, including legally. So the FDA is one route to

this. What excites me about psychedelics is the first amendment. What is this going to mean for

religion? The freedom of religion being the first thing that’s mentioned in the first amendment

before freedom of speech, freedom of assembly. If America is known for anything, it’s a refuge

for religious pioneers. And so we already have the native American church, Brazilian spawn churches

that are using psychedelics. But what would happen if Judaism or Christianity or Islam were to begin

incorporating the very ritual, very sacred and discreet use of psychedelics as part of their

liturgy? So not replacing the Sunday Eucharist in the case of Christianity, but part of the extra

credit dimension of the faith. And then we can, through practice, figure out how essential it is.

It could be a minor thing. It could be a major thing. That’s another thing I wanted to kind of

ask you is, I recently, despite the fact that I’m eating a huge amount of meat, I’m getting fat.

I’m loving it. This is actually, as of two days ago, I started this long road to training for David

Goggins, to training back, to getting back to competing in jiu jitsu. So the fun is over. But

I also partook in fasting and there was a very strong, there’s an almost like a hallucinogenic

aspect of fasting, because it was, especially because it was a 72 hour fast versus a more common

fast that I do, which is 24 hours. And a bunch of people talk about throughout history about the

value of fasting in having these kind of visual, these kind of intellectual experiences. Also,

there’s meditation, Sam Harris with the hoodie. Do you have a sense that those other rituals of

fasting, of meditation, and maybe other things could be as essential or more essential to the

religious experience as psychedelics? Yes, if not, and this is going to sound weird, but maybe not

if more so. I look at psychedelics as a catalyst for spiritual investigation, not as the superficial

means to an end. I think their value is in kind of serving as a Google Maps for the Kingdom of Heaven.

All right, I like this. Well, so Ram Dass’s teacher said that when he was offered psychedelics that

it’ll get you in the room with Jesus, but it won’t keep you there. And I think that’s all well and

good, but what if you don’t know where the house is in the first place? What if you’ve never had

a mystical experience? What if religion is anathema to you? What if you hate God? What if all

these words mean nothing to you? And they probably do for many, many people, and it’s perfectly

understandable. I think that we’ve lost the coordinates to these irrational states, again,

that were prized throughout antiquity and that continue to be prized by the mystical communities,

even in big organized religion, it just doesn’t filter out that much. And so psychedelics, in my

mind, help orient our minds, bodies, and souls towards the irrational, right? We talked about

McKenna’s invisible world that seems to have this symbiosis with our own and perhaps has this higher

intent for us. You could very well just, you know, take catalog of your dreams, right? And that would

do it too. But psychedelics seem to be particularly fast acting, particularly potent, and very

reliable, especially in the clinical studies. And so I looked at them as biochemical discoveries,

like Huxley did. Maybe it’s once in your life or infrequently, right? But maybe that’s the beginning

of a genuine introspection and a life well examined, as the ancients always instructed us.

Yeah, it does seem like in the research, the effectiveness of psychedelics always comes with

the integration, where you use it, just like you said, as a catalyst for thinking through stuff.

It’s not going to be, I don’t even know if Google Maps, maybe Google Maps is the right analogy,

but it doesn’t do the driving for you. You still have to do the driving. It just kind of gives you

the directions. So after you come down from the trip, or whatever, you still have to drive.

There’s other tools that are kind of interesting. We’ve been talking about this at the psychological

level, but there’s also a neuroscience perspective of it. If you kind of like go past the skull into

the brain with the neurons firing, there’s ideas of brain computer interfaces,

there’s ideas of brain computer interfaces. First of all, there’s a whole field of neuroscience

that’s kind of zooming in and studying the firing of the brain, the firing of the neurons in the

brain, of how from those neurons emerges all the things that we think that makes us human. That’s a

fascinating exploration of the human mind. That’s of course where the psychedelics have the chemical,

the biochemical effects on those neurons. There’s ideas of brain computer interfaces,

which if you look at, especially what Neuralink is doing with this long term vision,

with Elon Musk and Neuralink, they hope to expand, he calls it a wizard hat.

This is back to the humor on the internet thing. The wizard hat that expands the

capabilities, the capacity of the human mind. Do you think there’s something there or

is the human mind so infinitely complex that we’re quite a long way away from

expanding the capabilities of the human mind through technology versus something like psychedelics?

I wonder how Terence McKenna would answer that question. He looked to shamans as kind of the

scientists, the high magicians of the high archaic past and the far flung future.

You know more about AI than I do, so I’m not going to discount it. But

I do think that AI paired with the sacred recovery, the archaeology of consciousness

and these states, these archaic techniques of ecstasy that were practiced across time. I think

that’s a winning combination. Part of what I do in the book is just I try and lay out the set

and setting. That’s often talked about with psychedelics. So maybe psychedelics in the

right AI environment is going to work. I think it’d probably work a lot better with that myth

and ritual incorporated. So the reason Eleusis worked for 2000 years and let’s assume the

psychedelic hypothesis has some merit to it. But I think the reason it worked is because you were

born into a mythology. You were born into a story about Demeter and Persephone and you waited your

entire life to meet them in the flesh. So you weren’t just preparing for a few months. It was

a lifetime of expectation, anticipation, ritual preparation. In fact, some of the early church

fathers made fun of the Greeks for essentially just piquing people’s curiosity and revving up

the anticipation, which has something to do with the outcome, by the way. But in other words,

I think we need to create a new mythology around this. I don’t think you pop into a laboratory.

I don’t think you pop into a retreat center from one day to the next. I think that in my own case,

I think that in my own case, I feel like I’ve been preparing 12 years for psychedelics and I’m still

preparing, including in today’s conversation. I’m learning new things and I’m willing to explore it

together with the computer interface. But I do think ritual is a gigantic part of this. And even

McKenna would say that. I’ll paraphrase him by saying that if you’d met someone who didn’t know

where they were between the years 1995 and 2005, you would describe them as a fairly damaged person.

And yet who among us knows what was happening in Western civilization between 900 and 1300,

let alone 2,500 years ago. So this is in many ways the prophet of the psychedelic renaissance saying

that history has lessons. And I don’t think they’re superficial lessons. I think it cuts to

the very core of how and why Western civilization came to be born. Yeah, but that history can be

loaded into AI systems. And I do love the idea of whether it’s to bring computer interfaces or without

intrusive, sort of without direct reading of the neurons and more sort of interactive experience

with the robot that you can have an AI system that steers your psychedelic experience.

That helps you sort of, when you take a heroic dose of psilocybin, for example,

helps steer you, steer your mind, say just the right things. I mean, you could say that kind

of thing with, it’s a totally open problem, I would say. You talk about set and setting.

This is the interesting thing about Johns Hopkins is you create a comfortable environment,

a safe environment for allowing, then if you take a heroic, like a large dose of psilocybin,

that you could trust that everything would be safe and you can really allow the exploration

of your mind. But then you don’t know from a psychotherapy perspective of like during that trip,

what a human should say to steer that trip. Like that’s a totally open set of problems.

And in some sense, probably throughout history, those rituals, you figured out what are the

right things to say to each other, how to collaborate. And maybe if you can turn that

into an optimization problem, AI could figure that out much, much quicker.

I’m with you. So, Eleusis was known for three things, the legomena, the dromena,

the decnumena, the things said, the things done, the things shown. If you can pack that

all into your AI interface, I’m in, Lex Friedman. I’m going to write a proposal and then try to

get it through the IRB at MIT. I mean, there is a certain sense in which I definitely wanted

to explore psychedelics, I mean, in my personal life, but also more rigorously as a scientist

and to push that forward and especially in the AI space. And it is difficult how to do that dance

when there’s gray areas of legality and all those kinds of things. And we’re dancing around them.

And some of that is language and some of that is what we socially conceive of as drugs or not.

And you’re right that perhaps we can reframe it as religious experiences, all those kinds of things.

I mean, it’s fascinating because it feels like there’s a bunch of tools before us that were

used by the ancients that we’re not utilizing for exploring the human mind, that we very well could

be in a rigorous scientific way, in a safe way. And that’s fascinating. There’s this interesting

period in the 20th century of LSD use that many of the people doing research on psychedelics now

kind of have their roots in that history. I mentioned that Dr. Rick Doblin, he is one of those people.

And there’s this interesting story of a bunch of creatives that used LSD or other drugs to help them.

What do you make of the idea of somebody like Ken Kesey who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

in part under the influence of LSD? What do you make of the use of psychedelics to

maximize the creative potential of the human mind? Is this a crutch or is this actually

an effective tool that we should explore? One person’s crutch might be another’s

bungee cord. It depends on that mind. Think about Paul McCartney. I mean,

we might not have some of the better Beatles music in the absence of LSD.

And what did Sir Paul say in 1967 when he was asked about his use of LSD? He said that he

recognized the dangers inherent in it, but that he did it with a very specific, very deliberate

purpose in mind. He wanted to find the answer to what life is all about. And I’m not sure what Sir

Paul is doing this week, but he’s probably not doing LSD. Speaking back to my theory about these

substances being catalyzers of spiritual introspection, it came along at a time in

their life when I think they were ripe for it, especially George Harrison. I highly recommend

the Martin Scorsese documentary about George Harrison. For them, I think it was exactly

the way we ought to investigate it, which is, well, mind expanders. This is what psychedelics

do, right? That which makes manifest the contents of the mind. In the absence of an experience like

that, and it can be in a three day fast, it can be laying down in a cave, it can be in ritual

chanting, it can be in a sun dance, but in the absence of that kind of experience at the right

time in your life, it may otherwise be very difficult to find entrance to that kingdom of

heaven, which I do think is here and now, getting right back to the very beginning. If we are

actually to participate in that eternal principle, how and when? What do you think Nietzsche meant

when he said that God is dead? So, there’s a sense that religion is fading from society,

and there’s a cranky German that kind of wrote about it. What do you think he meant?

He was a cranky German who knew a lot about Dionysus, by the way, which is why I like him.

So, certainly there’s some truth to the mortality of God. I think Gallup put out a study only a

couple of months ago where church membership is now officially in the minority in the United States

at 47%, according to the most recent poll. That number was closer to 70% only 20 years ago.


So, we’re living through something, and we’re living through the unchurching

of America, and it’s the rise of the spiritual but not religious,

the inheritor of all traditions but the slave to none. There’s a rise in the unaffiliated,

the nones. I think it was like one third of millennials. It’s probably much higher now

that don’t affiliate with any religion. So, in that sense, God is absolutely dead,

but maybe not the God that we were trying to define at the very beginning. So, Nietzsche

also looked forward to the Übermensch, which would be a fully realized human being that,

despite the death of God, did not fall into nihilism and amorality, existential despair,

all that great German stuff. And there are some commentators who talk about this eternal

recurrence that just maybe by incorporating some of these techniques, not necessarily doctrine and

dogma, but I would say the techniques of antiquity. And again, Nietzsche writes a lot about the

rationality of Dionysus having its place in society. If anything, these biochemical discoveries,

I think, point us back. They point us back to Dionysus and their responsible incorporation of

the irrational into our otherwise society of rational people and our kazoo history.

I have a sense that there will be kind of, just kind of as you’ve implied, that there will be

maybe the God of old is dying and there’ll be a rebirth of different kind of God and it’ll just

keep happening throughout history. I do think there will be a time where AI will be the gods

we look to, the other, the super intelligent, those kinds of things. There’s a little bit of an

inkling of religious longing for meaning in the way people conceive of aliens currently.

I mean, I talked to a bunch of people about UFOs, the EPs and aliens. And so to me,

it’s very interesting for perhaps different reasons, because I’m just, I look up to the stars

and it’s incredibly humbling to me to think that there’s trillions of intelligent alien civilizations

out there, which to me seems likely, or perhaps not intelligent, perhaps just alien life. And

actually, also that we don’t even understand what it means to be intelligent, or do we understand

what it means to be alive? The time scale, the spatial scale, which patterns of atoms can form

in a way that you can call life, it just could be way weirder than we can imagine. And certainly

way different than human life. Anyway, that to me is humbling. And so it’s almost like the

simulation, conceiving of the world as simulation, thinking of aliens to me is a useful thought experiment

of like, what would aliens look like if they visited? How would we know? How would we communicate

with them? How would we send signals to them? If they’re already here and we don’t see them,

how’s that possible? That seems to me actually likely that we would just be too self centered

and too dumb to see them if they’re already here. Anyway, so that’s kind of the almost the

pragmatic, the engineering, the physics sense of aliens. But there’s also kind of a longing

to connect with other intelligent beings out there, both the fear and the excitement of that,

that has kind of a religious aspect to it that I find fascinating. And in the right context,

when you remove the skepticism of government from that, it’s actually a hopeful longing.

Do you see this kind of interest in aliens as at all connected to your study of religion?

So you’re the first person to ask me about aliens in eight months. So it looks like I’m going on the

record. Let’s go. I’ll drop some J. Allen Hynek on you. So Hynek involved in Project Blue Book

famously says in 1966, when the long awaited solution to the UFO problem comes, and we’re

assuming that UFOs have something to do with aliens, but when the long awaited solution comes,

I believe it will prove to be not merely the next small step in the march of science,

but a mighty and unexpected quantum leap. In other words, I do not think that we’re dealing with

flesh and blood beings in nuts and bolts crafts. I think it’s way, way more complicated than that.

And if anything, it takes me back to the ancient world. It takes me back to this invisible college

of beings of apparent higher intent. It takes me to the geniuses and the muses. So the first

document in Western civilization, Homer’s epics, they begin by invoking an alien. They invoke a

muse. Tell me O muse about the man. So Homer isn’t inventing poetry. He’s channeling poetry, epic

poetry from an alien intelligence. Maybe that intelligence has felt a little unrecognized in

recent years. Trying to show up in human recognizable forms. The muse is trying to give

a little hints of its existence. Yeah. I mean, I have a, I’ve been saying, I honestly sort of,

I don’t believe this, but I think about this, whether alien, like muse is a great example,

whether aliens could be thoughts. Ideas we have are the aliens or consciousness itself

is the methods by which aliens communicate with us. Like I find this very kind of liberating to

expand our conception of what intelligent beings are. You would like Julian Jaynes. Julian Jaynes

writes a great book, the origins of consciousness and the breakdown of the bicameral mind. It’s this

theory that the ancient Greek mind was very different from ours. And that when they heard

the muses, they heard, or the gods and goddesses for that matter, they would hear them as voices

in the head and hear it as an internal God figure offering commands, which they couldn’t ignore. So

were they walking schizophrenics? It might be one way to talk about it before the breakdown of the

bicameral mind, but it’s a provocative theory, largely untestable. But when you’re reading

ancient Greek and Latin for that matter, you can’t read it very long without bumping up against these

discarnate entities. They’re everywhere. And they survived. They persist across time, which is even

stranger, not just in the form of all the things my daughters like, like fairies and gnomes and

elves. And McKenna loves this, the sylphs and the boulder grinders and the sprites and the gins and

elementals, every society has them. It seems to be fairly universal. And they largely exist in

folklore, mythology. This is what Jacques Vallée writes about so wonderfully. We’ve kind of been

sneaking around it, but let me ask you from everything we’ve been talking about, how do you

think about consciousness? Is it a fun little trick that the human mind does or is it somehow

fundamental to this whole thing? So this three pound lump of jelly inside our craniums,

that can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space, it can contemplate the meaning of infinity,

and it can contemplate itself contemplating on the meaning of infinity, that peculiar self

recursive quality that we call self awareness. So this is the hard problem, right? This is the

unknowable, the unknown at least. I don’t know. I have no good answer for that.

Did you think it’s somehow deeply fundamental to the human experience or is it just a trick? So

you have like, I mean, Sam Harris has really been making me think about this. So, you know,

calling free will an illusion. The interesting thing about Sam is it’s not just a philosophical

it’s not just a philosophical little chat with him about free will. He really says he experiences

the lack of free will. Like he’s able to, you know, large parts of the day to feel like he

has no free will. In that same way, now he thinks that consciousness is not an illusion. It is,

you know, it’s a real thing. But at the same, I’m more almost like, I’m almost more of like

consciousness seems to be a little bit of an illusion in the sense that like, it feels like

maybe this is a robotics AI perspective, but it feels like in that same way that Sam steps outside

of feeling like he has an agency, feeling like he has a free will, I feel like we should be able to

step outside of having a consciousness. So that, from my perspective, maybe that’s a hopeful

perspective for trying to engineer consciousness. But do you think consciousness is like at the core

of this? Or is it just like language? Or almost like a thing we build on top of much deeper human,

the things that makes us human? I don’t know. I am attracted to Lanz’s notion of biocentrism.

I mean, it’s difficult to walk away from the double slit experiment, not wondering

why we seem capable of collapsing that quantum wave function. It’s very, very weird, giving rise

to even weirder ideas about superposition and spooky action at a distance and things that MIT

guys know a lot better than me. But it seems to me fundamental. I mean, maybe consciousness is

the fundamental thing. I mean, weirdly, some of these ancient incubatory practices, I talked about

Peter Kingsley before. So he’s not a proponent of ancient psychedelic use, but is a proponent of

these ancient rites of incubation that were practiced by Pythagoras, Parmenides, Empedocles,

other Presocratics. And so what were they doing? They were trying to get in touch with consciousness.

They were entering into suspended states of animation in these cave like settings. Pythagoras

had built one in his basement and would lie down motionless, apparently, for long periods of time.

And what I think they were trying to do was tap into and trying to answer this question in their

own, you could call it a scientific way, actually, less religion than science. And what they would

discover or try to discover was a state of awareness that is somehow beyond life and death,

beyond waking and dreaming, where you can be aware of the senses, but also in touch with another

reality at the exact same time, what Kingsley calls sensation. That, I think, is definitely

worth exploring. Well, and the way I hope to explore is by trying to build it. Everybody uses

the tools they have. Well, no, I do also hope psychedelics can help. So how do you build that?

I’m curious. That’s a whole other discussion. There’s a lot of things I could say here, but

let me put simply is I believe that you can go a long way towards building consciousness

by trying to fake consciousness. So fake it till you make it. As an engineering approach,

I think will work for consciousness. You seem satisfied with that.

I’m satisfied with that because I know how deeply unsatisfied others are, but just wait.

So, I mean, I don’t know what to. So the topic of consciousness is mostly handled by

philosophers currently. And that’s great. And their philosophers are wonderful and good at

what they do. I’m not a philosopher. I’m an engineer. And I think the approach there is

quite different. I think falling in love is different than trying to have a podcast conversation

about what is love. I think the engineering effort is just fundamentally different than

the philosophical effort. And I have a sense that consciousness can be engineered even before it is

understood by the philosophers. So I think there’s a bunch of things like that in this world that

could be engineered before they’re understood. I think the intelligence is one such thing.

I think we’ll be able to engineer super intelligent beings before we’re able to understand

the human mind. There’s a lot of intuition to unpack there of why that is. But

as it stands, that’s perhaps my engineering optimism and engineering ethic under which I operate.

Consciousness is easy to build, hard to understand.

Okay. Are there books or movies in your life long ago or recently that had a big impact on you?

Immortality Key is exceptionally well researched. The amount of books you read is I cannot even

imagine. So is there something in your travels through the land of language that stuck with

you that was especially impactful? I mentioned a couple of them. So I knew nothing about

psychedelics before 2007. And it was in hearing about some of the first psilocybin experiments

at Hopkins. And then shortly thereafter, I went down this rabbit hole. And so the first set of

recommendations all kind of fit in that time period of my life, 2007, 2008. It started with

Jeremy Narby, The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. It was a total impulse buy

at the Barnes and Noble on Sixth Avenue in New York and wound up introducing me to Supernatural

by Graham Hancock. That convinced me that there was a long story to psychedelics that

he tried to prove in that book and that we’re still trying to prove. I mentioned

the connection between ritual psychedelics and cave art. This is the neuropsychological model

that was first proposed by David Lewis Williams at the University of Waterstrand, the same university

where Lee Berger is, by the way, in South Africa. So these ideas are old. But what Graham did in

that book is just it’s well worth your time. It’s well worth a few reads actually. Because it was

after that that I discovered Breaking Open the Head by Daniel Pinchback and a lot of other books

that just kind of blew my mind. What is Breaking Open the Head about? So it’s Daniel’s romp through

contemporary shamanism. And it’s his very well told experiences with everything from psilocybin

to iboga being initiated by the Buites. And it was the first time I’d read any firsthand accounts,

aside from Jeremy Narby, any firsthand accounts by a New Yorker, by the way, about the potential

for these compounds that I’d been ignoring for far too long, obviously. And so that’s when I

started revisiting the Road to Eleusis and looking through the anthropological literature, reading

everything Gordon Wasson had ever written, that Carl Ruck had written. And it sent me down a

pretty weird rabbit hole until I found Peter Kingsley, which is my second recommendation.

So Peter, again, he’s not a fan of the psychedelic hypothesis. But what he does is I think expose

the value of the irrational to the ancient Greeks, especially the pre Socratic. Here we are talking

about AI and God and these entangled philosophical questions. The best I can read Kingsley is that

Western civilization is a product of a gift from the goddess Persephone. And this is not a hippie.

This is a pretty gold standard classicist who went on to write a couple of books. One is In

the Dark Places of Wisdom, and the other is Reality. What better way to title your book?

Where he talks about these ancient techniques for exploring the irrational. The same thing Carl Ruck

was talking about. After compiling all this data in the Road to Eleusis, Ruck says that the biggest

challenge is trying to convince his colleagues in the late 1970s that the ancient Greeks,

and indeed some of the most famous and intelligent among them, could enter so fully into irrationality.

Same thing Nietzsche is talking about in his exploration of Dionysus. And so I think

Kingsley just stands apart as one of those books, Reality, that my life was never quite the same

after reading that. We talked about the three pound

jelly that is able to conceive of the entirety of the fabric of reality in the universe

and everything, and also of its own mortality. What do you think is the meaning of it all?

What’s the meaning of life? Is a three pound jelly able to answer that one?

No, but I can plagiarize Joseph Campbell, which is good enough. Joe Campbell says that I don’t

think what we’re looking for is a meaning of life. I think what we’re looking for is an experience

of being alive so that the experiences we have on the purely physical plane will have resonances

within that are those of our innermost being and reality. You talked about the true reality,

absolute truth. These are all constructs. And I think they’re constructs that are made day by day

and acquire this aura of factuality, remembering Clifford Geertz’s definition of religion. We’re

all just faking it until we make it. And I think a lot of that has to do with moods and motivations

and feelings and emotions, which is not to discredit facts and figures. But I think that

meaning, meaning making is a very subjective process that is not only difficult to talk about,

but difficult to quantify. And experience is a primary in that versus, so like the actual

subjective experience is primary to the meaning making process versus like some kind of rigorous

analysis of like having an algorithm that runs and computes and then finally spits out 42.

Well, this is how families are created. Tell me more about this. Well, my wife and I fell in love

and made babies. We didn’t type up an Excel sheet and figure out the best way to go about this.

That’s what I’ve been doing all these years. That’s why I’m single.

Too many Excel sheets. Well, we say falling in love, right? We say fall in love. What does that

mean to fall in love? You are surrendering to an intelligence that is beyond us. You could say a

Godlike intelligence. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan friar I mentioned, in the Universal Christ,

he writes a lot about how the divine for you is often encountered in the other. In fact,

how could it be otherwise? This is bedrock sacramental theology that you find the God in

the things in your life as well you should. That’s the proving ground for identifying as God rather

than creating a relationship with God. And so I think that these irrational states play a big role

in that. Irrational. Well, I don’t think there’s a better way to end it than on the topic of love.

Brian, thank you so much for a brilliant exposition of history and the poetry.

I really appreciate you talking with me today. I love you, Lex. I love you too, Brian.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with Brian Muirrescu. And thank you to Inside Tracker,

GiveWell, Ni, Indeed, and Masterclass. Check them out in the description to support this podcast.

And now, let me leave you with some words from Terrence McKenna about psychedelics.

Part of what psychedelics do is they decondition you from cultural values. This is what makes it

such a political hot potato. Since all culture is a kind of con game, the most dangerous candy

you can hand out is one which causes people to start questioning the rules of the game.

Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.

comments powered by Disqus