Friday, November 17, 2017
DMT: The Spirit Molecule – A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences – Rick Strassman, M.D. (2001)
There are a few fields of human scientific exploration where the amount we know is far outweighed by the vastness of what we do not know. The study of consciousness, of how or why a nervous system and a collection of neurons embedded in fat tissues results in what we experience as self-consciousness, or awareness, has been explored for ages by theologians, mystics, and recently by scientists. It is a very difficult field of study since we are using the same mechanism we are studying to make sense of what we are studying. How can the brain analyze itself, if our reality is but a construct of that same brain? How do people experience consciousness outside of their bodies, whether through trauma, near-death-experiences, mystical states, or psychotropic chemicals? These are huge questions, and we are just beginning to truly delve into them.
One of the many ways that humans have expanded their innate consciousness and connected with what they felt was the eternal divinity, has been through the ingestion of intoxicants. Many different things have been used, from herbs, to alcohol, to hallucinogenic plants and animals. For many humans throughout history, this was the way they connected with the spirits, with the powers that they felt created and controlled the world around us. Scientists have a hard time studying these experiences, as they are usually very subjective, and one person’s inner truths and revelations may not make much sense to another. It is hard to get any definitive data.
Dr. Rick Strassman, through his research into the compounds created by our brain to regulate body functions (serotonin and melatonin for example), was drawn to what is still a mystery in our brains. This mystery is the pineal gland. In many species, what is our pineal gland is a third eye of sorts, capable of detecting light and dark and situated above and between the two regular eyes of primitive creatures like snakes and lizard and turtles. In humans however, this gland is located in between the two halves of our brain. It is not part of the brain per se. It grows from the roof of our mouths, our palettes, and rises up into the brain sometime after the first month of conception. What drew Dr. Strassman to the pineal gland was a synchronicity he experienced while researching the pineal gland. He read that, around the 49th day after conception, the pineal gland secretes a large amount of Dimethyltriptamine, or DMT, a very simple molecule that has profound effects on our brains and consciousness. DMT is naturally occurring in much of the plant and animal life on Earth. At the same time, Dr. Strassman was engaged in a long personal exploration of Buddhism, and he read that the Buddhists believe that the 49th day after conception is when the soul enters the fetus, reincarnating into its next form. Knowing of the effects that DMT can have on the brain, this coincidence sparked a desire to understand in Dr. Strassman.
There are a lot of situations where the pineal gland secretes vast amounts of DMT directly into the brain. These are usually trauma events, such as when a woman gives childbirth, in a baby when the baby is actually born, and also when we are about to die. People who have taken DMT as a drug experience something that is so fast-acting, so otherworldly, so rife with a deeper consciousness than they ever knew existed, that it begged the question of why our body floods our brain with such a chemical during high levels of stress and trauma. Dr. Strassman wondered if the chemical DMT could not be referred to as the “spirit” molecule, for it seems to be the compound that allows our consciousness to either connect or travel to, an elevated level of existence.
Dr. Strassman details his efforts in getting this study to take place, the hardships that took years to grind through, and the experiences he had with his test subjects. Some of the chapters cover the clinical aspect of the experiments. Others deal with the variety of experiences that the test subjects related to Dr. Strassman upon the completion of their DMT doses. Some subjects felt they were pulled to a higher state of reality. Others, many others, felt they were being guarded/watched/taught by entities they encountered after taking the DMT dose. Many described it as being aware of the oneness of consciousness, of the infinity of consciousness, of the futility of fearing death, for they saw how consciousness just transitioned from the physical to the metaphysical easily. Many no longer feared death because of their experiences with DMT.
Dr. Strassman tried to see how beneficial or therapeutic these sessions could be, but as with all things, it was more dependent on the mindset of the test subject and the setting they were in when they took the DMT. Some people were ready to explore such a vast experience. Others shied away from it and feared for the loss of their “self.” As with any powerful experience, what we get out of it is dependent upon what we bring to it. He was unable to continue his studies on DMT, partly because of these set and setting issues, and partly because of the increasing pressure from the government to curtail all research into mind-altering chemicals, even the ones which showed promise as therapeutic drugs in psychiatry. What is evident is that more research needs to be done, and that there is likelihood that DMT could be the way our body creates a connection to the eternal/divine. It is worth exploring more, as it seems to correlate with what much of the world’s mystics and shamans and saints have been trying to tell all of us. Humanity is not separate from nature. Our individual consciousness is but a small part, a shadow of the eternal consciousness of the multi-verse. Most of the DMT test subjects experienced the deepest and most profound sense that the connecting tissue of existence is love, pure and simple. Love. Love is all you need. It may be all there really is.
(This book can be downloaded and read in PDF format here:
Thursday, November 9, 2017
100 Edible Mushrooms – Michael Kuo (2007)
I have spent my whole life fascinated by the world of Fungi. Whether it was seeing them pop up “magically” overnight on a fresh cut lawn, or reading about their life cycle, I was always intrigued. I love to eat the mushrooms that fungi create. I love to take photos of any mushrooms I run across in my day-to-day life. Lately, I have been on a kick to read as much about these amazing living organisms and their place in the fabric of nature and life on Earth.
Mushrooms are delicious. They should be, as they are the fruiting bodies of the fungi, created solely to spread billions of spores in an effort to have a few of them germinate and grow into their own mature fungus. The actual fungus usually lives hidden away, whether just under the soil, or under layers of bark. This is where you will find the mycelium, which is like a ragged net of fibrous tentacles, somewhat like a chaotic root system. This mycelium is what grows and processes the food that the fungi live on. Some fungal mycelial mats are so huge they cover acres and acres of territory. In fact, a fungus is the largest living organism we have yet to discover. There is one in the northwest woods that covers so much acreage it is mind-boggling.
Out of all the mushroom species we know and have scientifically described, few are good to eat for humans and even fewer are delicious. There are an estimated 16,000 species of fungi in North America alone, of which only around 3,000 or so have been documented by science. This makes it a very interesting field for someone like me, who loves science and scientific inquiry. It allows the dedicated amateur to make great contributions to a developing science. It also makes for fun hunting when searching for mushrooms for the dining table!
Mushroom identification is a very painstaking endeavor, and should be learned preferably at the hand of a mycological expert, or at least someone who has years of experience collecting edible mushrooms. This is not possible for all, and that is why books such as this are a great resource. Too many mushroom guides either concentrate on the hard science behind the fungi, leaving interested amateurs scratching their heads, or they want to be as encyclopedic as possible, making it difficult to find information quickly. Michael Kuo’s book does a great job of focusing solely on 100 edible mushrooms. Out of these 100 though, only around 20 are considered choice to eat, best cooked simply and their flavor and aroma enjoyed that way, while many are bland but edible, suitable more for addition to soups and stews. Either way they are highly nutritious and fun as hell to find.
In the past two years of my mushroom explorations, I have come across a patch of amazing Chanterelle mushrooms only once, and in my backyard of all places! As stated in this book, they were a bright orange color, had false gill ridges underneath, had white flesh when cut that did not discolor, and smelled of a fruity apricot. I cleaned them and sautéed them in butter and some salt and chives, and my wife and I feasted on them atop some scrambled eggs. It blew my mind, and tasted better than any store bought mushroom I had ever tasted. Hopefully the Houston area has a mild winter this year which would allow for the woods to our northeast to be rife with cool mushrooms as the rainy season continues. Mushroom identification and collecting is a great hobby and I hope to make some cool mycological discoveries!
(This book can be purchased here: https://www.press.umich.edu/157982/100_edible_mushrooms )
(This book can be purchased here: https://www.press.umich.edu/157982/100_edible_mushrooms )
Friday, October 13, 2017
Tycho & Kepler: The Unlikely Partnership That Forever Changed Our Understanding of the Heavens – Kitty Ferguson (2002)
The knowledge that humanity has built up over our existence is always dependent on the sharing of information and the ability to spread the information as far as possible. One never knows just who will be the person to grasp that bit of data and head off on a new intellectual adventure. This is especially true in the sciences, where solitary scientists spent years of their life making very careful observations of the natural world and the heavens around us. This hard data is the basis of all science. Only when such rigorous data is obtained are the theories that seek to explain the data able to be verified, or rejected as not conforming to the verified data. For decades, Tycho Brahe labored as the pre-eminent astronomer of his time, using his knowledge and position to build ever more elaborate and precise astronomical observation instruments. His data, gathered after countless thousands of man-hours spent between him and his many assistants making nocturnal observations, spoke no truths in and of itself. It was up to a younger astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler, to utilize this storehouse of astronomical data in his quest for the truth about why and how the planets move through the sky, and bring about a revolution in the human understanding of the Universe.
The two men could not have been more dissimilar. Tycho Brahe was, while not a royal, a member of a family that had been deeply ingrained in Denmark’s aristocracy, with members serving royal courts, acting as bishops in the church, and running fiefdoms in accordance with the King’s will. Tycho Brahe grew up and was educated with the intent to have him become one of these servants to the crown, which included not only formal education, but the skills and tact necessary to commiserate with the royal courts of Europe and the egos found within. He ingratiated himself with the king and was given many opportunities to pursue his intellectual and scientific curiosity, mostly abandoning the family demands that his class demanded. Johannes Kepler was a more modest man. He was not raised in the aristocracy, but his family members were well respected members of academia, business, and local religion. Kepler did not have the connections available to Brahe. He had to seek out his place in life. He wanted to study the cosmos, but his family would not support it, hoping he would become one of the new class of professional men, and urging him to become a physician, a job more respectable than University professor at the time.
It is the life stories of these two men, and how they eventually became intertwined for posterity, that is the main thrust of this book. It details both men’s childhoods, their educations, their attempts at scientific discovery, and their nearly endless troubles with the crown, the churches, and the profound level of ignorance that they found themselves surrounded with. Tycho Brahe worked for decades, cataloguing a star chart the likes of which had never even been attempted by a human being. In the later years of his life, and through countless setbacks, he accepted Johannes Kepler as his assistant. In fact, he had chosen a man whose intellectual abilities rivaled the master’s, and who would guarantee the immortality of Tycho Brahe and his work. Johannes Kepler used these precise measurements to understand what we now know as the Solar System. He was the first human to do so, working out his three Laws of Motion, which are the basis for nearly all of modern astronomy.
Johannes Kepler’s insights allowed him to describe our heavens in a way that had never been understood before. Tycho Brahe had refuted the Ptolemaic system, which stated that the sun, planets, and stars all rotated around the Earth, which was the center of existence. Tycho did not, however, postulate a solar system where the planets all rotate around the Sun. Instead, he created a very complex system to explain the motions of the heavenly bodies. It was not perfect. Johannes Kepler, much to Brahe’s consternation. Supported the Copernican model of the solar system, in which the Sun stood in the center and the planets and stars all rotated around the Sun. Kepler also suspected that the stars were much further away than the planets. These and other observations were extremely revolutionary, not just for science, but for humanity at large. Humans had been living under the Ptolemaic system for centuries because it aligned with the teachings of the catholic church. The Earth was the center of all things, as it should be, since god created earth for humans and humans are his most perfect creation. Everything else is secondary. These types of circular arguments are all that any organized religion has to justify their own bullshit existence. The church silenced any scientists that sought to understand the true reality of existence, even setting a few of them on fire.
Both Brahe and Kepler had to contend with a Europe in the midst of a Counter-Reformation. The Calvinists and Lutherans that had started the Reformation, were now being attacked on all sides by the Holy Roman Empire and the ridiculous catholic church. In catholic towns, protestants were banished or killed if they chose not to convert, with their heads hung on pikes for the world to see their “sin.” In Protestant towns, Catholics were equally persecuted, all for supporting the Pope. These two men of science, men of reason and enlightenment, and devout Christians both, were plagued on all sides by the stupid, petty, and evil wars that religions create among us to keep us in their debt and our money in their coffers. (It is still the same damn thing). Not only did Kepler have to contend with religions and their stupidities, but he had such a tragic life. He lost his first wife and around 9 children to disease over the span of twenty years. His mother was accused and tried at age 72 for being a witch, by the ignorant Christians in her town. Thank rationality and human ingenuity that Kepler was able to overcome all this and work on astronomy.
The bravest among us are the ones willing to stand up for their individuality and the ability to think for oneself. Humanity is filled with countless people and organizations who seek to dampen human intelligence, to keep us stupid and slobbering at their crooked teats. People like Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe who are strong enough and fortunate enough to hold their own against the tide of shit around them do so for the betterment of all humankind. Without these two men our world would be a lot different. The story of their lives and research is invaluable and anyone interested in the history of astronomy, or human thought, should read this book.
(This book can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Tycho-Kepler-Kitty-Ferguson/dp/0802713904 )
(This book can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Tycho-Kepler-Kitty-Ferguson/dp/0802713904 )
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge, A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution – Terence McKenna (1992)
I first read this book when it came out in 1992, around my sophomore year in college. Much of the insight of this book was lost on me, as I had not yet had time to understand the very far-reaching socio-historical implications of Terence McKenna’s scholarship. Picking it up again, after 25 years of growth and reading and experience, only served to impress me even more. This is a highly important book, and should become a foundation for the changes that humanity must make as a whole in order to thrive, and in order to better live in harmony with the life-world that we take for granted.
One of the most intriguing questions regarding the development of our species is when and how the roaming primates developed a higher level of consciousness from the other primates on Earth. There are many proposed ideas, most of them based on theology/mythology and not actual grounded empirical knowledge. Terence McKenna was one of the very first to propose that the naturally occurring hallucinogenic plants and fungi helped expand the minds of the hominids, who would ingest these items in their search for food. In a sense, he proposes that these hallucinogenic properties created the first “shamans” who then had to figure out a way to explore the rich world that natural plant hallucinogens open up. He has much evidence for this, and it does help explain the sudden rise of what we call modern humans (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) around 100,000-250,000 years ago, and their/our amazing ability to process information and solve problems.
After discussing the origins of the human exploration of mind-altering substances, Terence McKenna goes into a very depressing but integral analysis of the role that substance addiction and use affected our human culture. After the matriarchal, communal, tribal stages of life, where the shamans (initially female, as they were the ones gathering plants and mushrooms and testing them as food, and then both female and male) would open up their minds with these natural compounds, to better understand the needs of the tribe or the patient. After several millennia, humanity began to live in larger aggregations, in locations that were fixed, and the access to the natural hallucinogens waned. In this time, the fermented juices and grains began to be used for intoxication as wine and beers. This new substance was then used much as the old hallucinogens were.
Once humans managed to distill alcohol, to get purity and strength, it all went to shit. The problems we face today of alcoholism, rage, violence, and neglect have been around ever since humans distilled the “spirit” of the wine into a potent and toxic drug. The next drugs to overtake all of humanity, and to continue helping in the degradation of the tribal units, were caffeine, sugar, and tobacco. Tea initially carried the caffeine addiction but it was not until the spread of coffee, and of the mass manufacture of refined sugar, that caffeine addiction and abuse became a very real thing, and just as deadly as any other drug out there. Combine this with tobacco, and you have a large amount of the population living constantly in an “altered consciousness” state. The high from sugar is just as euphoric and the crash just as brutal, as tobacco or caffeine. The massive and mind boggling extent of the human slave trade was a direct result of the addiction to sugar and the rum that can be created from it. The Dutch and the British set up a very neat system. They would gather up slaves in Africa, sell them in the New World to coffee, sugar, and tobacco plantations, buy vast amounts of rum, sugar, and tobacco, sell it all for a massive profit in the UK and Europe, and then go right back to buying humans and selling them off. This lasted for HUNDREDS of years.
Once these substances were in use, the state and the merchants combined forces to create vast networks of distribution for these substances. The British government controlled the tea trade much like drug cartels do so today. They then decided to get into the opium trade, purposefully flooding China with opium in an effort to make a nation of subservient addicts. They almost succeeded. At every step of the way, these drugs were refined and made even more potent and deadly. Opium was refined to morphine, and thought to be a cure for opium addiction. Heroin was refined from morphine, and likewise was supposed to combat morphine addiction. The power of heroin to destabilize and subsume a population is evident when McKenna describes the purposeful distribution by the CIA of an exceedingly pure heroin brought in from Vietnam and surrounding areas. It was called China White and was released to only the black neighborhoods, creating generations of junkies, unable to stand up for their rights. Our government and in fact, most governments, use these drug cartels to their own ends. Most of them are propped up by our support. Pathetic.Terence McKenna continues on to describe his plan for the elimination of what he calls “the Dominator Culture” that we all live in today. Instead of human unity, our culture pushes and prizes division. Instead of legalizing natural substances capable of helping people deal with addictions, trauma, and which open the mind to possibilities unknown, our Dominator Culture sets hallucinogens as CLASS 1 drugs, meaning they have absolutely no medicinal, social, scientific value, which is a flat out lie. It is solely a means by which to control those who would study these amazing plants and fungi. However, they easily allow the deadliest and most addictive of drugs to be widely marketed and sold in every corner. Alcohol, tobacco, and sugar products are what keep people subservient, diseased, and mentally dull. It suits their interests. It does not suit our own individual rights. This is why there was such a crackdown on the hippies. Their drug taking did not lead to subservience and a drone-like ability to do meaningless 9-5 jobs. They had to be broken and humiliated. We must all remain robots. That is what they want and they are succeeding.
(This book can be read here: https://archive.org/stream/TerenceMckenna-FoodOfTheGods.pdf/TerenceMckenna-FoodOfTheGods_djvu.txt )