Monday, December 17, 2012

The Psychedelic Basis of Theism

Why is there now, just as there has always been, anything as outlandish as a theistic religion? Why have most people always believed there are immaterial spirits and a perfect mind at the root of reality? Why the angels and demons and the all-importance of morality as the condition of an afterlife in heaven or in hell? How did our species become sidetracked with such apparently crazy beliefs? The lazy answer is that most people are not so smart and are prone to fallacies and superstitions and are themselves lazy, which is to say gullible; thus, the bigger the lie, such as the one told by corrupt rulers throughout the ages, the more likely the masses will believe it. But there’s a more interesting answer, one that addresses the fact of religious experience which indirectly challenges the alternative, nontheistic worldview.

From the Brain to the Immortal Spirit

Let’s begin with some elementary facts of the human brain and its thought processes. The higher-level thinking that distinguishes us as a species takes place in the cerebral cortex which is our brain’s thin outer layer and most recent evolutionary addition. This part of our brain is responsible for our special, top-down control over our internal processes, which we take for free-will and which is in some ways illusory but which is nevertheless more pronounced in our species than in others. Instead of always acting automatically on instinct, we can search our memories and evaluate our abilities, concocting elaborate plans to succeed in our environment. Because the brain evolved largely by natural selection, though, there were severe constraints on how the brain developed, so that the central nervous system we inherit is inevitably flawed, from a design viewpoint. For example, our top-down access to our mental states and thus to the brain activity that generates them is limited by our finite memory; thus, we can’t access all our brain activities at once. Moreover, since the brain was an adaptation that enabled us to survive in the wild, we evolved skills at making snap judgments, based on intuitions as opposed to exhaustive considerations of evidence. Thus again, instead of having total access to our thought processes, we think in highly simplified ways, relative to the amount of brain activity associated with each thought. These simplifications take the form of biases, heuristics (mental shortcuts based on rules of thumb rather than logic or all available evidence), stereotypes, or models of our environment. There’s a sort of competition between neurons as they transmit information across their synapses in response to some internal or external stimuli, and we become aware only of the winners so that our conscious self can be compared to the top of an iceberg that pokes out of the water of our unconsciousness.

Additionally, our thinking is distinguished by our sophisticated form of communication, by language, which is processed in the cerebral cortex (in Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas). We think largely in words which we use as labels for concepts, allowing us to organize and search for our ideas as though we were thumbing through a labeled file system. Just as we have a simplified way of thinking about everything, thanks to our abstract concepts and top-down self-control, we have a commonsense, simplistic feel for how language works. We think of language as consisting of systematic relationships (syntax) between meaningful units (symbols). Words bear intentional relations to what they’re about, and so we map the world in our head. This linguistic nature of our thinking further sets the stage for human misery, as will become clear in a moment.

To the extent that we identify ourselves with our stream of consciousness and with the linguistic thoughts that sail that stream, as it were, our selves become vanishingly small compared to what we perceive in our external environment. We become what Sartre calls nothingness and what Thomas Nagel describes as the view from nowhere. As David Hume said, there is no self but only a bundle of transitory mental states. What happens is that we identify with our thoughts and feelings, not with the objects to which those mental states are assumed to be intentionally directed. So if you have a thought about trees, you’re on the side of the concept TREE, which is in your head, of course, and a thought is always insubstantial compared to what it’s about. When a mental state represents something in our outer environment, all of our senses may be feeding our brain information pertaining to what we represent, whether directly in an act of perception or through our memory or imagination. Even the senses themselves only model the outer world for us, abstracting from or filtering out the noise, presenting us with just a slice of reality; still, we have much more input from the outer world than we do from inside ourselves, and this is surely for the evolutionary reason that our brain evolved as a control system to deal with external threats to the genes we carry.

Now, when we do think about ourselves, forming a higher-level thought, for example, about our concept of trees, we again identify more with the subject of that mental act, not with its object. That is, we’d think of ourselves more as the conscious processes involved in having that higher-order thought than as the part of our mind that becomes an object of our attention. When we contemplate our belief, desires, or dispositions, we divide those parts of ourselves from the active part that’s currently doing the contemplating. Thus, we reestablish the dichotomy between subject and objective environment--within our mind. But because we also personally (and vainly) identify with the most conscious and rational part of our mind, which has top-down control over our inner world, thanks to the cerebral cortex’s implementation of this part of ourselves, the most active and subjective part of ourselves is also the most abstract and simplified. Thus, the more abstract and higher-order our thinking when we’re self-conscious, the more we identify with an increasingly insubstantial self: a self which we neither see nor hear nor smell nor taste nor touch; a self which we thus have less diverse information about than we do about anything in the outer, sensible world; and a self which is closer to the top of the pyramid of mental associations/neuronal connections and is thus all the more isolated and detached.

These facts of human nature--the cerebral cortex and its top-down, pyramidal and thus highly simplified view of the labyrinthine connections throughout the rest of the brain, wandering the maze whistling linguistically-filtered thoughts to keep our spirits up--naturally give rise to what was only in the last century called the existential problem, but is actually a problem that goes back at least to the ancient Gnostics. Descartes later took up this problem in its modern, rationalistic guise, and the existentialists made a fad of it which faded away some decades ago. The problem is universal because it arises from the brain’s structure and from the intuitive picture of language, one of our two most crucial instruments, the other being our opposable thumb. The elementary human problem is that our default feeling is one of alienation from the world. This is the price the human brain pays for developing the ego, which is the relatively conscious, free, and rational part of the self: while the ego has those advantages, which we apply in our body’s dealings with the outer world, the ego can also turn them loose on the mind, producing an ever more abstract personal identity which is subjectively all the more removed from the rest of the world. This primordial separation between the self-aware person and the sensible world is the source of all our existential woe, of the fear that we don’t belong in nature and thus have to transform the world to suit the alienated self, literally putting technological images and extensions of us all over the globe so that we feel more at home. As a consequence, we’re faced with the tragically heroic task of finding meaning in our absurd life as ultraconscious animals inhabiting a mindless cosmos.

In so far as a person is identified roughly with the mental work of the cerebral cortex, which Freud called the ego, a person is an invisible stream of fleeting abstract mental states, and this ghost haunts the planet, literally seeming to float above it somehow from its perch at the top of the head; as a matter of fact, that’s exactly where the inner person exists, in the cerebral cortex. But the point is that when this part of the brain tries to access itself, to acquire a clue as to its inner identity, the brain finds mental states that compensate for their height in the pyramid of neuronal connections by offering up a correspondingly simplified view of the blizzard of synaptic information, which can’t be cognized all at once. The result is the narrowly-focused conscious self that lumbers from one thought to the next. Thus, the more we know of ourselves through introspection, the more ghostly or vacuous we seem, and thus the less we seem to belong in the material world that the five senses present to us as so much richer. Our plight then becomes the absurd one of feeling homesick while being deprived of any ordinary knowledge that we even have a proper home. We’re like a prisoner born in a prison cell, realizing eventually that she doesn’t belong there, but able only to hope that there’s anything at all outside the prison, let alone some more welcoming place.

There are three main solutions to this existential predicament, only one of which is ideal. The ideal one is tragic heroism, based on existential, aesthetic, and ascetic virtues. I’ve sketched this ideal elsewhere and I’ll explore it further in later writings. The two inferior answers are secular and religious, respectively, and I want to focus on the religious one here. Briefly, though, the dubious secular answer begins with ignorance or denial of our existential situation and so proceeds to foolish, dehumanizing distractions. Fascist and communist political projects are examples, since those secularists trust in progressive myths without first recognizing the philosophical implications of where we stand in nature. All political arrangements degenerate into corrupt, self-destructive oligarchies unless some heroic effort is made to overcome our basic absurdities and tragedies.

The dubious religious answer begins with the naïve view of the self as an alienated, immaterial spirit in a material world, but then codifies this intuition, adding baroque speculations about the spirit world which is supposed to be our true home, about other invisible entities such as angels, arc angels, and fallen angels, and a mind-first ontology centered around God.

Religious Experience is Psychedelic

What generates the shameless range of theistic speculations? Not just gullibility or other such cognitive vices. There’s a telling fact of all religions, which is that they begin with visions due to altered states of consciousness. The earliest religions were shamanic rather than organized, meaning that they were led by solitary figures who acted as magicians and doctors and whose power was thought to derive from their special relationship with the spirit world. The shaman delves into that world by ingesting psychoactive drugs or by fasting, rhythmic chanting, or hyperactive dancing to bring on visionary states of consciousness. Shamanism dates back at least to the Neolithic period and was present all over the world. There’s even a special name for a visionary plant that’s used for religious purposes: “entheogen.” Thus, Egyptian religion was inspired by Psilocybe cubensis (a magic mushroom), Hinduism by soma, native American myths by peyote and ayahuasca, the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries by kykeon; ambrosia, the nectar of the gods, was either the fly agaric mushroom or fermented honey, which was an early entheogen; ancient Jews may have used cannabis in their holy anointing oil, while early Christian art depicts mushroom trees.

As Graham Hancock argues in Supernatural, there are patterns throughout the major religions, in prehistoric cave paintings, and even in faerie folklore and modern alien abduction narratives that attest to the same altered states of consciousness. Terence McKenna advocated the use of entheogens and mesmerized audiences with his descriptions of DMT trips. Even my meager experience with cannabis confirms what everyone knows, which is that if you take a psychoactive substance, you will assume you’re sensing things that aren’t apparent to normal consciousness: you may hear a voice that seems omniscient and perfectly trustworthy, and you may see an alternate world made of lights and populated by strange beings. The question of whether the visions are hallucinations or higher realities I leave aside for the moment. My point here is just that there’s abundant evidence that religions all over the world have historically been based on the shamanic, prophetic, or mad ravings of stoned individuals. As a religious institution naturally degenerates into a corrupt oligarchy, the religious structures are bureaucratized and the entheogens are outlawed or reserved for the elite, to prevent challenges to the leader’s power. This secularization of religions is typically a stage in the conflict between the two ignoble responses to our existential problem, with secular distractions replacing theistic ones.

And what religious distractions entheogens bring! Not only the litany of spirits, monsters, faeries, and aliens, but whole theologies and the general religious outlook can be ascribed to the culture that springs up around the use of visionary plants. Monotheism and Eastern monism derive from the inner authoritative voice you may hear when in a state of deep relaxation, when your inhibitions are stripped away, while tripping on a psychoactive substance. One part of your mind asks the more authoritative part a question and you receive an answer which seems revelatory. Moreover and notoriously, there are good and bad trips, depending on whether you come to the drug with a clear conscience. If you hide from unpleasant personal truths, your ego defenses will be annihilated in the visionary experience and your consequent terror seems projected in the visions of demons or of other evil spirits you’ll see; hence, the religious idea that morality is a precondition of living peacefully among the spirits. The speculation that consciousness is immortal and thus that it lives on after the physical body’s death follows from the common experience of self-consciousness and alienation, explained above. But now the myth arises that your condition in the afterlife depends on how you lived while embodied: as the Egyptian myth has it, your heart (mind) will be weighed against the Feather of Truth, and if you’re lighter than the feather, you’ll be admitted into heaven. 

Even the physical highness of heaven and of the spirit world is actually felt while on something even as relatively weak as cannabis: you feel your mind shooting upward into a realm of hypercognition; hence, the phrase “getting high.” The emphasis on authority in religion derives from trust in the shamans or in other ancient hippies who were brave enough to put their sanity at risk when they confronted the very apparent and alien spirit world. Moreover, the call for faith to override reason when dealing with ultimate questions is likewise an artifact of psychedelic experience, since while tripping you’re overwhelmed by the vision’s strangeness and by emotion which breaks down your ego and forces you to question your presuppositions. Afterward, when you “come down,” the challenge is to assimilate the seemingly profound revealed truths into the worldview of your waking consciousness. Moreover, release of endogenously produced DMT during sleep may be responsible for our surrealistic dream imagery, since DMT is the most powerful hallucinogen. Likewise, as consciousness fades in a near-death experience, it’s reasonable to assume that the dying person experiences something like a DMT flash and the associated dreamlike imagery; thus the reports of travelling down a tunnel towards a bright light that feels warm and inviting, and the conviction that the spirit world is real and awaits us all after we die. In fact, the process of dying may be like falling asleep and dreaming until we become so unconscious that we don’t notice the dream’s end; nature may pay us the courtesy of singing us each a bizarre lullaby before she turns out the light. The moral is that if you don't learn in life to surrender your pride and detach from your ego, you'll have a bad trip when you're nearing brain death, just as those who take DMT often wish their ego wasn't along for the terrifying, mind-shattering ride.

Two Forms of Personal Inauthenticity

What’s wrong with this psychedelic basis of religion? Well, while the ancient or genuine theist, as opposed to the modern, secularized one, needn’t be wholly blind to our existential condition and may even evince courage in facing it head-on with an entheogen, theistic speculations tempt us to ignore our fundamental plight and to lose ourselves in the fantasy world of the speculations we tell to make sense of weird visions. The social aspect of religion, too, provides the familiar temptation to lose ourselves in tribalism, as we come to identify with one herd of followers rather than another, worshipping idols which are mere images of the unknowable that derive ultimately from someone’s psychedelic experience.

In any case, my goal here isn’t to argue for theism’s failure as a solution to our existential problem. I’m interested, instead, in theism’s challenge to philosophical naturalism, which is the main alternative to the theistic worldview held or presupposed by the bulk of humankind. The point is that most people have been and still are theists because of genuine religious experiences. That’s why religions are universal: they arise, first of all, from the brain’s capacity for self-awareness, which generates the impression of the alienated, ghostly self. This impression is then elaborated by our imagination which duly speculates on the nature of the spirit world to make sense of our absurd homesickness. Religions persist not because most people are stupid, but because religions are grounded in observation, in genuine, albeit highly ambiguous data. Daniel Dennett’s explanation of how we overuse our mind-reading capacity, projecting personal qualities onto inanimate objects, is only part of the story. We do personify nature, but those projections are encouraged by what we seem to perceive when stoned--which is indeed an enchanted world.

To make my point plain, consider this typical refutation of theism: “There’s no evidence of God or of any reality that transcends the material world. You’re just making it all up because you’d prefer to think you're going to live forever in paradise. Atheistic naturalism, by contrast, is based on ordinary evidence derived from the senses, and the theories that explain that evidence are tested by scientific experiments. Moreover, naturalism is simpler than theism since theism posits two substances, spirit and matter, whereas naturalism is materialistic. Also, naturalism is more fruitful since it’s been successfully applied countless times in the technologies we take for granted. Thus, the atheistic worldview is more rational than the theistic one.”

Notice that when we consider the actual primary cause of religion, which is the visionary experience due to entheogen use or to other forms of altered consciousness, this standard dismissal of theism seems weak. True, the content of naturalism derives from ordinary perception of material objects, but the content of theism seems to derive from extraordinary perception. If we’re not to beg the question in favour of materialism, it’s all just input to consciousness, right? The brain receives signals that contain information which the brain must process and interpret. So the assertion that theism is simply made up or based on loose analogies between, say, a human king and the supposed ruler of the universe, is mistaken.

The question is how empirical data should be explained and interpreted. The choice of epistemic standards rules out certain hypotheses as crazy or as otherwise not worth investigating. Occam’s Razor, for example, which says that we shouldn’t multiply kinds of theoretical entities beyond necessity, isn’t neutrally rational but is pragmatic in a conservative sense, and pragmatism is normative, presupposing some values rather than others. Just ask yourself: “beyond necessity” for what purpose? Conservatism makes sense as a form of caution which serves the genes, the point being that we evolved to survive in the immediately apparent environment and so we risk our safety when we ponder matters that are far removed from that primal task. This epistemic principle ultimately validates the state of nature that’s intolerable as it stands, whereas we might just as well prefer an aesthetic standard of originality and a creative rather than a conservative worldview. Again, fruitfulness makes sense if you’re interested in elevating the materialistic standard of living, with technoscience, but what if you’re interested in ascetically detaching from that world by way of facing our existential situation and discovering a heroic way out of it? In fact, the mystical traditions are psychologically fruitful in transforming the ego into an ascetic rebel with a taste for subversive wisdom. Naturalism or secular humanism may well be more useful to modern mainstream society that teems with the unenlightened herds, but who says that materialistic developments are more important than psychological ones, without begging the question? Likewise, calling naturalism more rational than theistic supernaturalism begs the question, assuming reason is defined by such biased epistemic values.

Now, I’m not arguing that entheogens present us, indeed, with a supernatural reality. I’m interested in the prior ethical and aesthetic question of which values should guide the pursuit of knowledge. I assume that these values are seldom chosen. Instead, the main camps are split into those who temperamentally prefer secular distractions and those who prefer religious ones. Some want to be rational, to defend the modern enterprise of using science to neutralize natural processes, and the relatively conservative, nature-centric worldview effectively enforces our biological “function” as vessels for genes. Meanwhile, others prefer to shirk our ethical and aesthetic responsibilities, by losing themselves not in a surreal world they personally create, but in one that was clichéd thousands of years ago and is all the more so today, and in myths that few theists test for themselves by personally confronting the supposed spirit world.

It goes without saying that if you load the dice by presupposing or prioritizing rationalistic values, you’ll conclude that psychedelic visions are just hallucinations that tell us nothing about reality. As in The Life of Pi, if you insist on a philosophy that’s concerned with just the flat facts, you’ll naturalize weirdness, exercising the caution that our biomechanical overlords would surely welcome if only they weren’t just undead molecules. By contrast, if your scheme for evading your obligation as a potentially heroic creature leads you to open the floodgates of speculation, denigrating reason to allow yourself the freedom to imagine an escape hatch into a fantasy world, you’ll downgrade the metaphysical category of facts and interpret psychedelic visions as illustrative of a deeper, mental reality. In short, metaphysical realists and idealists have rival explanations of religious experience, because they have opposing epistemic values.

You might think that metaphysical idealists are rare nowadays and aren’t worth discussing, but that’s because you’re likely reading this on the internet and are thus a full participant in the postmodern secular monoculture. Never forget that most members of our species have been theists and thus metaphysical idealists who believed that mind (God) is ontologically deeper than matter; moreover, most people currently alive are likewise theists. Instead of dismissing theism as based on trivial fallacies and small-mindedness, we should be aware of the power of theism that derives from the very real religious experience. If you think the experience is bogus, just take up Terence McKenna’s challenge and smoke some DMT; as he says, the only long-term danger of doing so is the risk of death by astonishment. The psychiatrist Rick Strassman conducted a clinical study of DMT trips and the participants reported having life-altering experiences. The religious/psychedelic experience is no joke: if you drastically alter your consciousness you’ll naturally interpret the world very differently. This is, of course, why visionary plants tend to be banned in secular societies, since religious experiences are bad for business.

It’s worth recognizing, though, that the dubious secular answer to the existential question likewise transforms the self: instead of becoming a flaky theist, the alienated ghostly ego can take on the role of the obsessed consumer, throwing herself so far into the material world, which she longs to possess, that she willingly dehumanizes herself to become just another material object--typically one owned effectively by the corporations that brand her. Whether we merge with organic biotechnologies, such as entheogens (or inherit our compromised religion from the ravings of those who so merged), or with the lifeless technologies that depend on applied rationality, we transform ourselves in the process: we spare our detached consciousness the horror of being estranged from the sensible world and we preoccupy ourselves with one dubious mission or another. While the religious delusion seems to end in fundamentalism and zealotry, the secular one seems headed for so-called posthumanity, for our complete takeover by technoscience and by the sociopathic oligarchs who profit most from the science-centered industries. We should hope that there’s a third path.


  1. But it is possible a third path for the theists millions? I'm not very sure of that. Third way maybe could be wisdom: neti-neti. Not this, not that. Not matter, not spirit. But it also could be another trick of the mind. I often think that human condition has no solution.
    I like very much your blog, because it developes some deep insights that one cannot find so easily in the web. Unfortunately, my english is not so good to consent me more articulated comments, but I read you with deep interest.
    Merry Christmas from Italy, one of the most theist (I should say bigoted) country in the world.

    1. Thanks very much, Massimo. The third way I had in mind is actually the one I'm trying to develop on my blog, building on existentialism, asceticism, and so forth.

      I do try not to repeat what I've seen on other philosophical and atheistic blogs. Then again, there are so many blogs now, you're bound to find at least one on every conceivable topic.

      I always wonder why those who speak more than one language apologize for their imperfect use of their non-native one. You should be applauded for being multilingual, and your English is pretty good.

      My next post will actually address the bigotry of religious fundamentalism, the bizarre combination of the fundamentalist's over-confidence and craziness.

  2. ". . . but what if you’re interested in ascetically detaching from that world by way of facing our existential situation and discovering a heroic way out of it?"

    I'm just wondering how you would suggest someone go about doing this. Do you have other articles that flesh this out?


    1. Actually, I have several articles that discuss this, although I obviously haven't put together a practical life manual that tells you what I think should be done in any situation. Plus, I'm still working out how I combine certain principles (existentialism, atheism, cosmicism, naturalism, aesthetic ideals), so this is a work in progress. For example, in two or three weeks I plan to critique existentialism, with a view to fleshing out this third way.

      But see my two main articles on aesthetic morality:

      See also "The Philosophy of Existential Cosmicism," especially the second half on the meaning of asceticism:

      See also my articles on omega men and grim comedy:

      See also the article on optimistic and pessimistic mystics:

    2. I should add that I'm not exactly reinventing the wheel here when it comes to asceticism. The ideal of asceticism has been elaborated for thousands of years in both Eastern and Western religions. I'm not advocating that we all become monks, though, and so I speak of degrees and ways of detachment. Partly, this is because I value creativity as a form of sublimation. So I'm combining asceticism with other points of view, such as with my version of existentialism.

    3. Thanks a lot. I'll check out the links.

  3. Ben, out of all your pieces this is my favorite spell. Brilliant and hilarious!

    1. Thanks very much! My writings on religion seem to be the most popular ones. I'm not sure how much I was going for comedy, though. The thought of having to suffer through a DMT trip when I die is scary.

  4. Not a thorough read as yet, but I think to describe 'the social aspect' of religion as if it's kind of a side element, in favour of the mechanical structure of the brain, is probably unfair. Seems more like reglion is the tribe multiplied - perhaps multiplied as much as our brain power does. What happens to our sense of an alpha male when our intellect get's multiplied in power? Well the alpha male gets multiplied in power! You can see in Hurcules, he's just a really powerful dude! I'm sure if you go back, you just have really bad ass hunters. It's just that, much like a comic book readers arguing who's fave character is the strongest, people argued more and more power for their fave alpha, in a theastic arms race.

    All part of being part of the pack. The chosen. I can't think there's this 'side' social element to religion. It's the heart of it! Essentially religious people belong to two packs - the second is their RL family and friends.

    I'm sure psychological quirks pad it all out. But it's like adding stuffing to the pillow that is the uber pack.

    Probably the hardest part of examining that is doing so from ones own pack.

    1. I think you're right, Callan, that social dynamics are important to religion (I'd add the Iron Law of Oligarchy). But there's no need to be an essentialist here. There are likely biological and social factors in the origin of something as universal as religion. The biological factors I discuss in this article seem to me undeniable.

      For example, even if you're right that alpha males morph into deities in our ancestors' imagination (I think that was Freud's view), that doesn't explain the rise of metaphysical dualism, of the odd idea that our inner, conscious self is immaterial. The first section of this article explains biologically how that dualism arises from our more basic existential sense of alienation.

  5. I suspect you may have already done this, but I'd recommend that you read "A History of God" by Karen Armstrong, which discusses how the Abrahamic faiths evolved as they attempted to explain the transcendent reality that early theists found during psychedelic experiences. It's not philosophy, but I think you may enjoy it. I certainly did.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this piece. I've been reading about how you reject "hyper-rationalism" or "scientism" or whatever, which tries to, in your words, "explain away" or "trivialize" these experiences. How do you view these "genuine" experiences, in contrast to how the "hyper-rationalists" view them? And what do you think of those who have these experiences and come to believe in a god or gods as something subjective or internal, rather than something objective?

    1. Thanks! I've read only a couple chapters in that book of hers and I didn't know she talks about entheogens.

      There certainly is a rational explanation of psychedelic experience, which is that the visions are hallucinations, but I think this explanation misses the point that the visions have this powerful subjective quality. The experiences can change the mind for the better or the worse. I'm intrigued by what Robert Anton Wilson says about our ability to reprogram our minds. Regardless of the metaphysical status of the entities perceived in a psychedelic experience, the drugs do seem capable of reprogramming the mind. The experience gives us access to alien parts of our minds and we can radically shift our consciousness one way or another, by confronting those parts. Normally, this happens in dreams when we unconsciously process information. This is similar to Jacques Vallee's interpretation of UFOs, the point being not that UFOs are external, physical objects, but that they're curiously important internal ones.

      When you speak of internal gods, I take it you're speaking of Eastern religious traditions, but the overarching point here seems to be the Hindu one that the division between external and internal melts away in mystical states of consciousness.

      The bottom line for me is that the rationalist and the mystic may both be right about psychedelic experience, but that they're talking past each other.