This is perhaps the most literal title I’ve given a conversation on this podcast. This is a discussion about how to expand your mind — how to expand the connections it makes, the experiences it’s open to, the sensory information it absorbs. And, more than that, this is a conversation about recognizing that our minds are narrower than we think, that there is a lot we’re filtering out and pruning away and outright ignoring.
You know Michael Pollan’s work. He wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma, perhaps the most influential book about how we eat in the modern era. He’s the guy who told us, sensibly: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” His new book is called How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. And it is, quite honestly, a trip.
Over the past decade or so, the scientific community has reengaged with psychedelic substances, and done so to extraordinary effect: The studies Pollan describes in this discussion are remarkable, but so too are the insights into how our minds work, the ways in which they become overly ordered and efficient as we age, and the power that a dedicated dose of disorder can hold.
You don’t have to be interested in taking magic mushrooms to listen to this conversation. Most of it isn’t about psychedelics at all. It’s about how we think, how we sense, how we learn, whether spiritual experiences can have materialist consequences, what makes us afraid of death, what our minds filter out in the world around us, and much more.
Pollan changed how I think about my mind. He’ll change how you think about yours.
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
Miserable Miracle by Henri Michaux
The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Prum
Rachel Aviv’s New Yorker article on refugees, trauma, and psychology