Sunday, January 8, 2017

Psychedelics and the Ego: How the route to Selflessness demonstrates the importance of the Ego.

Many psychonauts try to use psychedelics as a means to dissolve the ego or personal identity (the sense of being a person apart from others) via the use of psychedelic substances. They may hope to find a state where the sense of I has spilled out into the world, so that who they are no different than their surroundings. The aim of such a practice is to replace the troublesome ego with a new perception of the self as one with the world, rather than encountering and dealing with the world.  Although this may seem as a virtuous endeavor, it is wrought with misconceptions that may lead some astray from the path to selflessness.

At the zenith of psychedelic experience, one can come to the realization that their ego, far from being an obstacle to overcome, is necessary for any involvement within a system. So there I was, on around 200 micrograms of LSD staring at a blank white wall splashed with the light from a bedside lamp. Then, the fractal center of a storm gleaned its importance. Like consciousness, although the center is hollow, it’s the locus of experiential gravity. The center is needed to move across the landscape. The edges are used to tell it apart.
But wait, wasn’t the point to get rid of the ego? But then how would I move? How could I come to anything if there was no road? The stinging realization hit me hard: we need an Ego to move, let alone be anything. But then, what was the reason behind the ego-death project?

Some see the ego as an impediment to a happy, peaceful, and fulfilled existence. The reason many psychonauts seeks to demolish the ego is for this purpose- to better their existence. This seemingly noble task is specious. What I failed to understand was that taking on this journey to rid myself of my ego was a blatant contradiction. While it’s true that selfishness is the root of many violent and otherwise socially abrasive behaviors, we must also recognize what the ego makes possible for us.
Without an ego, we couldn’t tell ourselves apart from anything. In this case, without one, we would cease to exist. How could one come to any realization when their ego is absent? So the issue is not about identity itself being an impediment to a good life; rather, the problem is to find what is it about the ego that is harmful. What could we salvage, if anything, from the ego?

We know that the ego is needed to exist as a personal identity. Would this mean as behavioral agents, we are destined to live unhappy? One may think this as many psychonauts (and others in general) associate the ego with greed, vanity, and bigotry. But what one may fail to realize another side to the ego: selflessness. Now, this may confuse a reader. They may ask, “how can the ego be related to the state of the lack of a self?”. I will admit that the common conception of selflessness, meaning no identity to associated the self with, is troublesome for this relation and will therefore be adjusted slightly. What I mean by selflessness is not the total lack of the ego. Rather, I am describing a state where one’s will to behavior is not geared for the immediate pleasure of one’s consciousness. That is, rather than behaving in a way that only considers the immediate happiness of oneself (selfishness), one’s behavior is aimed at the fulfillment of endeavors which transcend the self. Notice, this state of selflessness requires an identity. One must recognize themselves as an agent of change, which is differentiated from the target of one’s behavior. They need a self in order to act.

We need the self to navigate the world. The real problem with the ego isn’t its inherent nature of separateness from the world; this separateness is imperative for any agent. Instead, the real problem with the ego comes when one allows only the fulfillment of immediate pleasure as the only end to their behavior. A truly selfless person who has transcended the ego, hasn’t lost their identity, but has replaced their capacity for selfish behavior with selfless and transcendent or moral ends. 

This is much like the Christian concept of Sin. It means missing the mark; but what mark? In this case, the target is salvation from material desires (much like the aim of Buddhism) from imperfect and inconsistent matter. But why would one want to remove these fruitions? The reason lies in how material joys are exhaustible; once started, the conditions needed to satisfy the needs grows with time. This leads to a considerable wasting of resources. On the other hand, pouring one’s pool of motivation and desire into an abstract, immaterial, and transcendent being (object of awareness) will not lead to dissatisfaction, ultimately. This is because unlike worldly phenomenon, devotion toward God cannot be tarnished by usage and time. The divine’s incorporeal nature allows one to receive boundless return, akin to an overflowing fountainhead. One cannot use up God like they can use up material pleasures.
Orienting one’s Ego toward pursuits bigger than one’s self should be the goal of psychonauts and others in general. 

This endeavor need not be religious in the colloquial sense. In the book “In Search of Lost Time”, Proust tells the story of a man looking for fulfillment. At first in the novel, the protagonist utilizes his efforts toward material possessions. Resultantly, he fails to sustain happiness and contentment with that endeavor. Next, he tries romantic pursuits, which also ultimately fail to bring him peace of mind. Eventually, he accomplished his goal by devoting his life to creating art. His will is geared toward creating art. It can be seen like a kind of discipline. We can be like this character. We can find peace of mind, perhaps not through Christianity, but via any kind of discipline which sets aside one’s personal pleasures for an exterior goal.

Accomplishing this goal can fulfill one, unlike no material phenomenon ever could! We can cultivate our occupation or hobby to create a level of dedicated attention. Thus, one doesn’t need formal religion to find the same abstract, immaterial, and transcendental object or being of awareness. However, for many, worshiping God comes naturally, and can help one who may not have an appropriate hobby or occupation to sufficiently motivate their will.

All in all, the goal for psychonauts shouldn’t be the complete dissolution of the Ego. The Ego is crucial to movement and one should focus on how the Ego can go astray- toward the self and not God (or any abstract, immaterial, and transcendent being/object). But at the same time, one needs to optimize the ego by placing the goal of the self beyond their immediate pleasure. For if they do so, they could find an infinite wellspring of unbounded contentment with their place in the world, and limitless happiness. 

The choice is ours: Either be selfish for your Ego, or be selfless via your Ego.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Alchemy, Akira, and our Evolutionary Destiny.

What could Alchemy and the anime Akira tell us about our evolution future? Let’s look at each and find the threads of commonality between them, illuminating our evolutionary journey.

Alchemy is an ancient activity which consisted of turning the lead of the everyday mind, with its anxieties and insignificance, into the gold of an elevated mind, which is godlike in its attitude. The main premise within this system of thought is that the processes of evolution which we witness, has an underlying force to it. This force is what directs the branching out of species, culminating in human beings with our advanced technology. Alchemists believe that the energy or force driving this change could be extracted and harnessed. In doing so, the alchemist would aim to isolate and speed up this processes on a specific object. This object is known as the philosopher’s stone. It is the end product of the evolutionary process. In this sense, it is perfect and can grant whoever wields it vast amounts of power. In essence, the stone could be used for anything and everything. If you’re hungry, then it will feed you. If you’re poor, then it will grant you wealth. If you’re impotent, it will grant you incredible powers. Therefore, alchemy was a way of harnessing the force behind evolution for the benefit of the alchemist.

Moving on, Akira was an anime movie from 1988. It is regarded as one of the best in the genre, gaining a significant cult following. The setting is Tokyo after a nuclear war. There’s a motorcycle gang which has one of its members come into contact with a mysterious boy with wrinkled skin, as if he’s of advanced of age. The biker suffers a horrible bike accident as a result, and is then experimented on during the ostensible hospital treatment. Later on, we find out that the mysterious boy is a part of a secret government program which aims to harness the same force behind evolution identified by alchemy, in order to utilize the power for defense capabilities. In essence, the government wanted to turn the force which drives evolution into a weapon (not surprising).

Evolution is considered to be a blind process which has no aims or intent beyond immediate survival. This may be the case, but only up until recently. Since humans are reflective rather than reflexive, they can contemplate the situation they’re in, and plan for the far future. Such a condition entails the foundation of a self-regulated evolutionary process. Humans’ cognitive capabilities allow us to guide our destinies and evolution like no other organism. Considering this fact, we can imagine how, presently, we are like alchemists or the government in Akira. By manipulating our environments and bodies, we are harnessing the same power which drives the evolutionary change: behavior and genes. Teleology, then, becomes an important factor in our continued evolution. Because we can think abstractly, we can design possible evolutionary outcomes which are guided by a mind with intention and goals, ours. This puts us in the same position as those alchemists and others harnessing the power behind evolution.       

Therefore, given this fact that humans can control their evolution, which humans are entrusted with such an important activity? Is it each one of us deciding for ourselves, or is it some group of elites which decide for us? The former is liberty, the latter is tyranny. Never accept that someone else knows more about where your evolutionary outcomes should end up (or what’s ultimately best for you).

We are in control of evolution now. Both alchemy and the movie Akira highlight the ways in which humans direct their own evolutionary destiny. Let us hope that with this profound power comes a respect for the liberty of individuals. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

How nicotine can help us envision a legal drug market

What nicotine addiction and regulation could tell us about a prohibition free world.

Nicotine is considered to be very addictive.
Although it does not share the same reinforcement effects as heroin or cocaine, it still ranks higher in dependency.

This means that while heroin or cocaine is more pleasurable, nicotine, when habituated, plays a more significant role in one’s daily activities.

This is probably due to the fact that smoking a cigarette can be done almost anywhere at any time, so one associates its use with everyday activities, (eating, showering, errands, etc.). Heroin or cocaine on the other hand, because of its method of ingestion (needles, sniffing) it becomes ostracized from normal activity. Therefore, one associates its use with non-ordinary situations.

Hence, when one is trying to quit an activity, it becomes harder if that activity is associated with ordinary behavior.

Knowing how much nicotine can seep into the normalcy of everyday life, it’s amazing to consider why more people aren’t addicted given its availability.

The likely factor here is in how nicotine and tobacco products in general are regulated. In the late sixties and early seventies, congress passed legislation which limited the advertising of tobacco products. Essentially, the legislative measures banned advertising on television and radio, limiting it to adult oriented magazines and other print media or niche adult material only.

This ban had nothing to do with one’s behavior, and yet it helped reduce smoking.
Now, how come that’s the case? How could such an addictive substance have its prevalence of (ab)use drop significantly? The case is that education, not prohibition, helped individual make wiser decisions about their health and wellbeing.

I believe there’s no reason why this couldn’t be the case with other addictive substances. What drives many to use harder drugs is the realization of the falsehoods of what the “authorities” told them about substance use.

Therefore, we can envisage a market for drugs with high addiction potential, which relies on users seeking out the businesses rather than vendors marketing to the general public. Companies selling opiates or euphoric stimulants, for instance, would have their clientele seeking out their products, as opposed to the business itself marketing trying to acquire new customers.

Thus, we could sell potentially addictive substances in a legal drug market. There would just be restrictions on how these companies could market their addictive products. We may even see a drop in addiction compared to the rates under prohibition. It’s surprising how a cigarette could help us picture a market where we could sell addictive substances ethically. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What to do about losers?

Hint: Liberty is the answer.

This society is highly competitive. But it is also supposed to be free. I envisage a world where market variety is boundless and everyone can find a niche where they could win or do well overall. This is not done through social planning, but through liberty and innovation. Winning here means a content and ecstatic feeling a part of society through one’s labor.

I’ve been thinking to myself about how there could be room for those who seem to lose more often than others. There might be areas in the market of ideas and goods in which anyone looking for a place to win can do so. This may seem Utopian at first, but unpacking these ideas a bit may clarify and show it as a result an inevitable of the free market system and ideals of liberty we already have.

In market capitalism, there is an ever growing need for variety in ideas or products. Those who are creative or have the drive to find a space in the market to carve out for themselves will find opportunities to do so. Some are concerned that increasing technological capabilities may make many of the jobs we have today obsolete. What they fail to see is that when one door closes many others open. For instance, when the car came about it contributed to the fall of the horse and buggy market. However, this gave rise to an even more varied and lucrative market- automobiles!  

I feel this is true especially with the internet. For sure, some jobs have become extinct because of the net. Yet a smorgasbord of employment opportunities and markets themselves have emerged from the web.  We can be sure that the market is only going to grow. Sure some sectors may die off, but others will emerge in its place. Those with initiative may look for places to prop themselves into a market niche. Doing so would be catalyzed by thinking about common or pressing problems people face everyday and/or focusing on what one enjoys about the world. No one can do this process for anyone else. It is our own responsibility to take this initiative. This is the foundation of liberty: self-responsibility.

A free market, with ever growing opportunities, will provide the insurance that anyone eager to search may find a place to win. The answer to the problem of being a loser is taking responsibility for and exercising one’s liberty and finding a new or different way to win in the world.