How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan Published by Penguin Press, 414 pages, $28
Mind-expanding through psychedelics exploded onto the scene like fireworks in the 1960s after the recklessly bold Harvard professor Timothy Leary encouraged students to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” His colleague Richard Alpert—who later became the spiritual New Age guru Ram Dass—swam in the same heady drug-soaked waters. But both were fired, and the mystical beauty of LSD and psilocybin fell on hard times.
In his newest book, How To Change Your Mind, Harvard professor Michael Pollan brilliantly follows the recently revived life of magic mushrooms and LSD, discovering their surprisingly practical uses. Scientists, rational though they remain, now have neuroscience on their side as they study and experiment with psychedelics on patients—and sometimes on themselves. They’re finding that altered states of consciousness can be helpful for combating depression and for getting people safely, and fearlessly, through their final moments of life. Pollan shows how this unusual experience—spiritual for some—can even help addicts, stretching their sense of self through “awe” to a wider, better perspective. The psychedelic industry is waking up from its slumber as new drug policies allow for more research and even legal use is being debated.
With exquisite balance and self-awareness, Pollan takes four “trips” to learn what this controversial matter he’s exploring feels like. What he calls his “travelogue” takes him into that dreamy world of symbols and imagery, where he’s shaping feelings and thoughts into a kind of cubism while his ground-gripping ego floats away. Among his psychic adventures: a feeling he’s giving birth to his own baby-self!
From page 323: “Baby consciousness is so different from adult consciousness as to constitute a mental country of its own, one from which we are expelled sometime early in adolescence. Is there a way back in? The closest we can come to visiting that foreign land as adults may be during the psychedelic journey.” ◆