RE: This is SL4. This is SL4 on drugs. Any questions?

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Thu Sep 05 2002 - 08:35:42 MDT

Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote:
> You know, by golly, I used to whack my computer with a sledgehammer every
> morning, and it would sometimes give really creative results for word
> processing and spreadsheet programs. Of course the hard drive
> caught fire
> and the mouse ran away and you could actually hear the monitors screaming
> just before they exploded; but it's better than boring old *normal*
> operation, isn't it? Besides I once had a friend whose mother's uncle's
> cousin's daughter's roommate's IRS auditor said that his computer worked
> better if he whacked it with a sledgehammer.
> Just trying to provide some perspective on what all this boasting about
> "past experiences I have had burning out my own neurons" sounds like from
> over in this corner of room. If you haven't done it yourself,
> the bizarre
> tone of defiant pride in others' reports sounds *really really*
> odd, given
> the subject matter. "Oh, yeah, when I was a kid, I used to go
> down to the
> nuclear waste facility and snort radioactive cobalt up my nose, and I
> think it was really a valuable experience, though of course I wouldn't do
> it now."

Regarding psychedelic experience, Samantha wrote "If you haven't been there,
you can't understand."

That is VERY true. I can't think of any case where an appeal to the
necessity of experience is MORE true than here.

Explaining sexuality to someone who's never had sex, and never masturbated,
would be tough. But explaining psychedelic experience to someone who's
never taken psychedelic drugs, or had analogous experiences thru other
means, is significantly harder.

However, Eliezer, if you studied the psychopharmacological literature on
psychedelics, you would understand a LOT BETTER than you seem to now. There
is a lot of babble written in this area, but a lot of really interesting
stuff too (unfortunately, it's often mixed up with the babble!).

A pretty good book (by a guy who believes a lot of silly stuff) is "Food of
the Gods" by Terrence McKenna. He reviews the history of mind-altering
substances, including psychedelics, nasty ones like heroin, and commonplace
ones like sugar, caffeine and nicotine. He also makes an interesting case
that human consciousness evolved via a kind of symbiosis with hallucinogenic
mushrooms ;) [Note that I said an "interesting" case, not one that I fully
believe!]. I'd recommend Stan Grof's book "Psychedelic Psychotherapy" as
well [though I don't agree with all his semi-Freudian theories, he does have
a lot of interesting experience with patients to recount].

One thing you need to understand very clearly is that "drugs" is a rather
broad category. The drugs in the different categories are very different,
both pharmacologically and experientially. I'd recommend the handbook
"Licit and Illicit Drugs" for an overview of basic info here if you've
missed it somehow.

Psychedelic drugs (e.g. LSD, mushrooms, mescaline, DMT) do very little if
any damage to the brain or body. MDMA (Ecstasy) is an exception, it is a
psychedelic which seems to be capable of occasional (quite rare) physical
harm. Psychedelics do vastly less damage than nicotine or alcohol, but
that's a weak statement, as those (legal) substances are *extremely*
physically damaging; the psychedelics really do very little if any damage at
all, so far as anyone's been able to tell.

Your analogy of hitting oneself on the head with a sledgehammer is more apt
for electroshock therapy than for psychedelics, in my view. Electroshock
therapy is potentially highly damaging, stuns the mind by overstimulating it
in a generic way, and can sometimes help really crazy people, for reasons
that are poorly understood.

Psychedelics alter the dynamics of your brain in much subtler ways, and they
make you think, feel and experience in different ways than are normally
accessible. They open up states of consciousness as different from the
normal ones as waking and sleeping are from each other.

Whether these states of consciousness are useful for achieving goals is,
from a certain perspective, beside the point, since in these states of
consciousness, goals are irrelevant.

On the other hand, having been through these states of consciousness CAN be
useful for achieving goals, in some cases, if the lessons learned in these
experiences are appropriately integrated into one's ordinary-consciousness

I'm not going to try to evoke the psychedelic experience here in this
e-mail; if you're curious for an ancient attempt of mine to do so, you can
check out my website, go to the Books page, find the book
draft "Unification of Science and Spirit", and look at the last chapter
which is called "Inspiration and Bliss" and which treats the psychedelic
experience. I'm not happy at all with that book draft overall, it seems
immature and overconfident to me at the moment, but I haven't found time to
revise it in the many years since I wrote it, so it's available online for
what it's worth. There's nothing in there I profoundly disagree with now,
though I would now emphasize different things, and say many things

About "not doing it now", personally, I have not taken LSD for a long time,
but I've taken mushrooms a couple times in the last few years -- while
visiting Amsterdam, where mushrooms as well as cannabis & hashish are legal.
I would eat mushrooms more often if they were legal here in the US: Not
every day or every week, but I might do it every few months. (Not that I'm
rigorously opposed to doing anything illegal ever -- I have my share of
speeding tickets! -- but the illegality of psychedelics *is* a practical
disincentive ... in Amsterdam you can just walk into the "smart shop" and
buy a box of shrooms, whereas in the US one would have to find a drug
dealer, and the latter is a type of interaction I don't feel like having).
I still find that getting into that different state of consciousness via
psychedelic chemicals is interesting and valuable to me -- although it's not
*necessary* to me by any means. The shrooms in Amsterdam are a lot milder
than LSD, or peyote, but they do bring you to the fringes of that same
universe (I'm speaking of the Stropharia strain; the Psilocybin strain
available in Amsterdam pretty much just makes you laugh a lot and see some
colors). One drawback is that they don't seem to give as "social" of a
group psychedelic experience as LSD or peyote, however -- it's more of a
journey into one's individual mind, and the collective mind there-thru.

One day I'll tell you all the message God sent me in summer 2000 via a
package of McDonald's French Fries in the Red Light district of Amsterdam

I should note that I drink alcohol very rarely (maybe once a year) and don't
smoke cannabis or take any other drug regularly. I enjoy my normal state of
consciousness, and a couple altered ones I can relatively easily get into
without chemical assistance; but I also find that psychedelics do something
different, and worthwhile.

I'm sorry if my comments on psychedelic experience came across to you as
"bragging", Eliezer. I didn't mean to be bragging. Actually I just meant
to be sharing with Samantha, the fact that her "under the skin of reality"
phrase was VERY evocative for me. Among other things, this is valuable
evidence that there is in fact some underlying similarity between the
psyches of LISP programmers and C++ programmers ;->

Also, I don't mean to encourage anyone to fly to Amsterdam and try the
mushrooms offered there at random. A friend of mine did this, against my
advice, and found herself spending a long unpleasant night awaked in her
hotel room heatedly conversing with several devils and lesser demons. The
safest way to take psychedelics for the first time is with an experienced
guide present. Personally I violated this rule with my first LSD trip back
when I was 16, and I didn't have any bad consequences, but I just got lucky.

And I definitely don't mean to encourage anyone to take illegal drugs. For
one thing, there is an annoyingly large risk of contamination. Psychedelics
don't cause significant physical damange, but, for instance, I can't say the
same for the strychnine with which street LSD is sometime laced.

-- Ben

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