Monthly Archives: July 2009

Here is an old article regarding the mystical effects of psilocybin.

According to the Baltimore team, nearly two-thirds of the volunteers said they achieved a “mystical experience” with “substantial personal meaning.” One-third rated the psilocybin experience as “the single most spiritually significant experience of his or her life,” and another 38 percent placed the experience among their “top five” most spiritually significant moments.

When I encountered this, I was underwhelmed by the unsatisfying epistemic bases for framing this issue as “spiritual experience” and evidence or not for something or the other. [To me, it seems simply enough an issue of psychoactive drug effects, and is evidence for nothing other than a blown mind.]

The language of memetics provides a “simple” explanation for this, however: The “psychedelic/mystical” memeplex and the “spirituality” memeplex are coevocative and hence can cooperate advantageously. [The complexity in the explanation is of course hidden in the meaning-laden word “meme”.]

Ud jayega hans akela
Jag darshan ka mela

Jaise paat gire taruvar ke
Milna bahut duhela
Na janu kidhar girega
Lagya pawan ka rela

Jab hove umar poori
Tab chootega hukam hajoori
Jam ke doot bare mardoot
Jam se para jhamela

Daas kabir har ke gunn gave
Bahar kou paar na paye
Guru ki karni, guru jayega
Chele ki karni chela

— Kabir

Evolution and Memes: The human brain as a selective imitation device — Susan Blackmore





 The same argument explains why our brains seem especially adapted to soaking up some kinds of memes rather than others. For example, most people find mathematics and reading difficult, but adopting religious rituals, retelling stories and singing songs easy. This argument parallels an important argument in evolutionary psychology. It has become increasingly clear that the human brain is not a general purpose learning device but is adapted to learn some things more readily than others, based on genetic advantage in past environments (Pinker 1997, Tooby & Cosmides 1992). The equivalent for memes is that the brain is not a general purpose imitation machine, but one honed by memetic and genetic evolution to be good at copying some kinds of memes and bad at others. Songs, stories and rituals have long taken part in gene-meme coevolution while maths and reading are relative newcomers, using machinery that was not designed for them.




Groß ist die Ähnlichkeit der beiden schönen
Jünglingsgestalten, ob der eine gleich
Viel blässer als der andre, auch viel strenger,
Fast möcht’ ich sagen: viel vornehmer aussieht
Als jener andre, welcher mich vertraulich
In seine Arme schloß – Wie lieblich sanft
War dann sein Lächeln, und sein Blick wie selig!
Dann mocht’ es wohl geschehn, daß seines Hauptes
Mohnblumenkranz auch meine Stirn berührte
Und seltsam duftend allen Schmerz verscheuchte
Aus meiner Seel’ – Doch solche Linderung,
Sie dauert kurze Zeit; genesen gänzlich
Kann ich nur dann, wenn seine Fackel senkt
Der andre Bruder, der so ernst und bleich. –
Gut ist der Schlaf, der Tod ist besser – freilich
Das beste wäre, nie geboren sein.

[There’s a mirror likeness between the two
Bright, youthfully-shaped figures, though
One’s paler than the other and more austere,
I might even say more perfect, more distinguished,
Than the one who’d take me confidingly in his arms
How soft then, loving, his smile, how blessed his glance!
Then it might well have been, that his wreath
Of white poppies touched my forehead, at times,
Drove the pain from my mind with its strange scent.
But all that’s transient. I can only, now, be well,
When the other one, so serious and pale,
The older brother, lowers his dark torch. –
Sleep is good: and Death is better, yet
Surely never to have been born is best.]

— Heinrich Heine



“It would be a great mistake to suppose that vague knowledge must be false. On the contrary, a vague belief has a much better chance of being true than a precise one, because there are more possible facts that would verify it. If I believe that so-and-so is tall, I am more likely to be right than if I believe that his heigh is between 6 ft. 2 in. and 6 ft. 3 in. In regard to beliefs and propositions, though not in regard to single words, we can distinguish between accuracy and precision. A belief is precise when only one fact would verify it; it is accurate when it is both precise and true. Precision diminishes the likelihood of truth, but often increases the pragmatic value of a belief if it is true — for example, in the case of the water that contained the typhoid bacilli. Science is perpetually trying to substitute more precise beliefs for vague ones; this makes it harder for a scientific proposition to be true than for the vague beliefs of uneducated persons to be true, but it makes scientific truth better worth having if it can be obtained.”