Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is There Another Level of Reality?

Rod Dreher raises questions about a new report on the use of psychedelic drugs:
Over the years, as I've read about varieties of mystical experience, I've thought about whether or not the temporary chemical changes psychedelic drugs bring about in our brains cause us to hallucinate things that aren't there -- clearly true in some cases -- and whether or not they cause our brains to become more perceptive to realities that actually are there, but which can't be perceived under normal circumstances. How would you tell the difference?

...I am still left with big questions about all this. First (and to repeat), do psychedelic drugs actually open up a door of perception into dimensions of reality that are closed to our brains under normal conditions, or do they only cause hallucinations? (And how would you know the difference?). Second, given the commonplace testimony from psychedelic drug users to experiences that closely resemble mystical episodes of insight that saints and spiritual geniuses in various religious traditions have had, is it advisable for people in search of enlightenment to assist their quest with hallucinogenic drugs? Why or why not?

(On that last question, my intuition is that it would be the difference between someone making a million dollars through years of hard, disciplined labor, and someone winning the lottery. The money is the same, but the lottery winner has no context in which to place his bounty, and, as studies have shown, is far more likely to have his life ruined by the gift. That said, if medical research can show that using hallucinogenics can help terminally ill or badly depressed people find a sense of purpose, positive meaning or peace with their condition, why on earth would anyone want to deny them that?)
You can count me as a skeptic about whether psychedelic drugs open the user up to another level of reality imperceptible to the brain not on drugs. I think there is only one reality in this life and I think our goal ought to be to learn to live in it with a clear head. Healthy spirituality is all about learning to let go of illusions and delusions and living well in the now.

Having said that I am sympathetic to the use of drugs for terminally ill and depressed people that relieve their physical and psychic pain so they can be more present in the here and now. If psychedelic drugs help by altering the brain chemistry in such a way that the here and now is more enjoyable then they should be part of a physician's arsenal. And I am certainly not opposed to the recreational use of mild stimulants. I like my coffee and beer and although I don't use marijuana I think it should be decriminalized.

It's the notion that there is some other more real or true level of reality that I am skeptical about. Let's make it our goal to grow deeper and happier in this all too fleeting moment of reality.

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