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Resuming the journey

After a few bottles of champagne, the office Christmas party got pretty loud. The room was hot and the conversations rose and blurred together into a random hum. I was ready to make a graceful exit when a single word cut through the noise.


I traced the sound to the most interesting guy in the room. He was perched on a stool wearing a big grin, illuminated by champagne, and surrounded by cheerful Christmas faces. I joined them and listened.

“There’s new medical research on psychedelic drugs,” he said. “Magic mushrooms. Ecstasy. There’s a study where they gave psilocybin to people who were dying of cancer. They found out that psychedelics help people deal with the fear of death.”

The realization came as quickly and clearly as the word itself.

“Of course!” I thought. It’s all there in the name. Entheogens are drugs that produce an intense spiritual experience.

My own time with LSD, psilocybin, and other entheogens happened 40 years ago, but I remember what it felt like as clear as day. The overwhelming awe. The joyful revelations. The sense of perspective, of understanding that your life is a very small part of the universe. Of course that’s going to have an effect on people who are afraid of dying.

The morning after the Christmas party, I woke up, ate breakfast, sat down at the computer, and typed “entheogens” into Google.

Holy cow. I thought that scientific research on psychedelic drugs came to a halt in the 1960s with the government crackdown. While I wasn’t paying attention, however, psychedelics came back and opened a huge frontier in neuroscience and medicine. The new psychedelic science offers insights into consciousness and help for patients suffering from grave medical conditions, especially those who don’t respond to conventional therapy.

I had no idea. After a few hours on Google, though, I had a very uncomfortable twinge in my gut that I knew could only be satisfied by further research.

That was a year ago. Since then, I’ve talked with psychologists, psychonauts, neurochemists, shamans in business suits, and little old ladies who love their LSD. They kept the faith during the dark years of the drug wars and are, at last, getting serious attention from mainstream science and medicine.

I’m pleased that they’ve confirmed my intuition. “Of course” psychedelic drugs can help people who are seriously ill. How does that work, though? I can understand how a drug that absorbs stomach acids could help with indigestion, but how does a drug that blows your mind help with post-traumatic stress disorder?

There are lots of other questions, but I figured that this was a good time to pause and check in with you all. As I continue my research, I’ll let you know about the answers I discover. I’m also planning to share the delights and oddities that a person encounters every day on the psychedelic path.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

Posted in: Reason and Magic

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Skeptics and believers

God may or may not exist, but the experience of God is undoubtedly real. The human nervous system can produce all the necessary mystical effects—the rays of light, the shining face, the booming voice. At the same time, the brain can generate a sense of reality and total certainty, like pounding drums accompanying a guitar.

The result is a complete and compelling experience of the divine. Nothing supernatural required. No questions asked.

What’s more, a mystical experience can produce real-world results. Suppose that a wicked person hears the voice of God say “Clean up your act!” The wicked person might find hope and be less fearful and more loving. Does it matter whether God’s voice originated in heaven or in the electrical activity of the brain? What more would a real God have to do?

Since we all have the same nervous system, anybody can have this kind of spiritual experience—atheist, believer, whatever. There’s no reason why an atheist couldn’t have a lifelong relationship with the divine and go on being an atheist.

In fact, skeptics might be better equipped for mysticism. They can’t deny the reality of the experience, but they’re always on the lookout for bullshit. The voice of God may say “You are loved” in one breath and “Beware of men who wear red pants” with the next. Regardless of what God says, your brain cranks up the pounding drums of reality and certainty. Without skepticism, you’re screwed.

Fortunately, we’re all natural skeptics just like we’re all natural mystics. Perhaps both are necessary for a full human life.

Posted in: Reason and Magic

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Psychedelic Science 2013

I’ll be attending the second international Psychedelic Science Conference at the Oakland Marriott City Center in Oakland, CA, from April 19th to the 21st. I’m going to be conducting interviews and doing other research in conjunction with my current book project. If you’re at the conference, please stop by and say hello. 

Posted in: The Maharishi Effect

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Quantum Gods

My colleague Victor Stenger has a new book called Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness. It’ll be published in May by Prometheus Books. Chapter 4, The Guru of GUTS, is about TM and the Maharishi Effect. It includes a number of quotes from my work. Prometheus asked me to write an editorial review, which I’m reproducing below. It’ll appear on the book’s back cover.


“Lots of biologists defend evolution against creationism. Unfortunately, few scientists in the physics community speak up about the pseudoscience in their own field. The public understanding of modern physics is seriously out of whack, thanks largely to pop junk like The Secret and What the BLEEP Do We Know?

“These books and movies promote a bogus version of quantum mechanics—the belief that “you create your own reality” by controlling the laws of physics with your mind. They offer instant wealth and happiness, but they deliver medieval superstition. The sad part is that so many scientists are willing to let the public get their knowledge of physics from celebrity quacks.

“That’s why we’re so lucky to have Victor Stenger. He knows quantum theory as well as anybody and, unlike most of his colleagues, he’s willing to step outside the ivory tower and face those who misuse science. In Quantum Gods, Stenger confronts mainstream theologians and New Age gurus—anyone who tries to link physics to mysticism. He takes their theories seriously enough to examine them in detail and he finds that, so far, none of them live up to the standards of scientific truth. As we accompany him on his investigation, he guides us through the most important concepts in modern physics from relativity to string theory.

“The world has needed a book like this for a long time. If you care about scientific literacy, Quantum Gods is not optional.”


Posted in: The Maharishi Effect

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Quantum Failure in the media

My favorite cartoonist Tom Tomorrow addresses the topic of Republican occultism in the current edition of This Modern World. Notice how the cartoon Dick Cheney explains the low cost of the Iraq war using the New Age mantra “We create our own reality.” Is the Vice President a closet fan of The Secret? Does he believe in the Maharishi Effect? The Will to Power? Objectivism? Scientology? In the end, the results are the same—the Law of Quantum Failure always wins.

Posted in: The Maharishi Effect

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Women In Higher Education article

Along with quantum pseudoscience, there’s another topic I wish I’d covered in more depth in The Maharishi Effect. That’s the role of women in the Transcendental Meditation movement. Fortunately, I got a second chance thanks to the monthly newsletter Women In Higher Education. My article “Maharishi: ‘Delicate Nervous Systems’ Prevent Equity” appears in the March issue. You can check out the WIHE web site here.

Posted in: The Maharishi Effect

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Republican occultism

To date, over 2,000 people have downloaded my “Quantum Failure” essay. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, although a couple of readers have questioned one aspect of the fictional “Law of Quantum Failure.”

If you’ve read the essay, you may recall my assertion that Quantum Failure applies to believers across the ideological spectrum. The essay was mainly about those who promote new age beliefs—meditating for world peace and such—who I characterize as the “left wing occult.” I mentioned a “right wing occult” in passing, implying that the Law of Quantum Failure would apply to conservatives and neocons as well as new agers and counterculture types. I left the matter hanging there, which prompted one fellow to write:

“It’s not clear how the principle of ‘Quantum Failure’ applies to the neo-cons. They have tried to build their own reality and it’s had bad consequences. But I don’t think they have realized the goals of their enemies.”

This is a fair criticism, which I’ve addressed in a new essay. The title is “Republican Occultism and the Law of Quantum Failure.” It’s available here as a PDF file.

Posted in: The Maharishi Effect

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