The Psychedelic Future of the Mind by Thomas B. Roberts
Originally published in 2013 ‘The Psychedelic Future of the Mind: How Entheogens are Enhancing Cognition, Boosting Intelligence, and Raising Values’ is written by Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D.. The text includes contributing chapters from Roger Walsh, Charles S. Grob, and Alicia L. Danforth. Roberts is professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University, where he has taught the world’s first catalogue-listed psychedelics course since 1981. He has previously authored ‘Psychedelic Horizons’ and edited ‘Spiritual Growth with Entheogens’ and ‘Psychedelic Medicine’.
As the subtitle – How Entheogens are Enhancing Cognition, Boosting Intelligence, and Raising Values – suggests, there are some very weighty and perhaps, to some, challenging ideas being explored by Thomas Roberts in The Psychedelic Future of the Mind. In some regards this is a speculative book, but one in which the author has carefully sieved through the scientific research on psychedelic substances, and various theories, in order to bring the potential personal and social efficacy of the substances to light. As he writes from the outset, “This book looks forward, not backward” and with a slew of historically-based psychedelic narratives out there, it is refreshing to read a cogent and informed glimpse of a possible future. However, this is not to say that Roberts ignores the past, indeed, he clearly recognizes that past researches help point toward the ways forward.
“Psychedelics have been lurking underground in science since the mid-1960s. Is this the time to bring them back above ground for more careful scrutiny? Judging from professional publications, apparently so. In addition to a swarm of Internet sites devoted to psychedelics, a flock of articles in professional scientific journals and general magazines recommend reconsidering them” (Roberts 8).
In many respects, this is the challenge that Roberts takes up with this book. The two major concepts that he develops and utilizes in his discourse are the mindbody state and multistate theory. The former avoids certain philosophical complications as to whether either the mind or the body take priority in any given understanding, postulating, instead, a unified state that avoids the often ambiguous use of the term consciousness. The mindbody state is the “overall patterns of cognitive and bodily functioning at any one time” (Roberts 124). The latter, multistate theory, is opposed to the “singlestate fallacy,” which “is the erroneous assumption that all worthwhile abilities reside in our normal, awake mindbody state” (Roberts 123). This gives credence to altered states, in this case psychedelic ones, as experiences with intrinsic values, which can fruitfully be explored for medical and personal growth reasons.
The Psychedelic Future of the Mind is divided into three main subsections. Part 1, The Experience that Alters All Others, examines the potential for psychedelic substances to induce mystical experiences and, moreover, how these kinds of experience can affect other mindbody states (personally and socially). This part also includes the guest authors Roger N. Walsh, Charles S. Grob and Alicia L. Danforth who look at religious experiences and the use of psychedelic psychotherapy near the end of life respectively. Roberts examines whether psychedelics have the ability to raise certain values in individuals, and consequentially society, and in the chapter The New Religious Era he speculates on whether they are foreshadowing a new approach to religion, one based on experience, not the Word:
“The word-based Reformation that took place five hundred years ago produced an earthquake swarm of schisms whose aftershocks continue today. As entheogens give us another step toward spiritual democracy, will the spread of direct, personal spiritual experience cause similar schisms in our future?” (Roberts 79)
Part 2, High-Yield Ideas—Multistate Theory and the Fruitful Mind, is concerned with the possible benefits that psychedelic states of mind may have and is underpinned by the aforementioned multistate theory. In one chapter Roberts look at Stanislav Grof’s theory of the Perinatal experience, which postulated that birth and pre-birth experience influences us in later life. Roberts develops an interesting critique, using Grof’s methods, which can be applied to such disciplines as film and literature. In the ‘Perinatal Cinecrit’ idea he examines films such as Snow White and Fight Club. From my own perspective, this offers a very real and practical way that one can take certain scientific theory and easily apply it to the humanities with interesting and revealing results. Elsewhere, Roberts also picks up on previous research and discusses whether the psychedelic state could be used as a creative learning space for “enhancing cognition, boosting intelligence, expanding cognitive studies.” Obviously this flies in the face of the official position of it simply being pathological, but if psychedelic states, via the multistate theory, can indeed be used in personal development then a particularly useful and intriguing tool is awaiting ignition.
In the final part, From Lab to Life, From Clinic to Campus, Roberts begins to paint a picture of what a psychedelically-savvy society might be, and how it might be achieved. Having taught a university course on psychedelics since 1981, the section discussing education is particularly interesting, and anyone in higher education should find it in part inspirational, in part challenging. What is clear is that if the multistate theory stands true, it is not only learning about psychedelics that is on the agenda, but how states induced by them can be used as educational tools in themselves: “Psychedelics and multistate theory help us recognize limits to our current thinking tool, especially its singlestate limitations. Psychedelics and other psychotechnologies move us beyond that. They provide us with a large mental toolbox, rich with mindbody tools” (Roberts 219).
There is one seeming contradiction in the book that I personally found very difficult to marry up, and it relates to the transitioning from ‘lower values’ to ‘higher values’ and the proposed methods of integrating psychedelic organizations into society. It is, indeed, a contradiction that has been a prescient ever since the 1960s; namely the relationship between values and society. In chapter 3, Raising Values, Roberts discusses the possible ability of psychedelics to personally transform low values such as greed and money addiction, propagated in the individual by society, to higher values such as compassion and humaneness. This, of course, would be an undeniably good thing. In chapter 13, however, entitled Reaching the Unreachable Public While Raising $1+ Billion for Psychedelic R & D via Crowdfunding—A Biz-fi Speculation, Roberts talks about setting up Community Psychedelic Centres. He postulates that such organizations could have, not only public support, but support from hedge funds, JPMorgan Chase bank, Citicorp and Prudential:
“These are powerful interests, and they are ones many influential people take seriously. These organizations and substantial individual investors would, in effect, be part of a pro-psychedelics lobby too.” (Roberts 203)
These companies are both the product and the cause of the low-level values that Roberts discussed earlier in the book. While it might be argued that by raising popular awareness of psychedelic and using them to propagate higher values might lead to a turning away from such societal models, then perhaps these companies would be less than interested in putting money and support into them? On the negative side, these companies might not even recognize the possibility and, by inviting them in, psychedelics will become a monetized commodity—one used for the benefit of corporate ethics. It seems to me to be a prickly path to tread down. Importantly though, Roberts has raised the debate, and it is a debate that should be had.
In conclusion, The Psychedelic Future of the Mind does what any great work of pharmacography should do i.e. make one think. It doesn’t simply prescribe an approach, posit a definitive vision or throttle any particular meaning around the psychedelic experience, it puts one to thinking about the potential for psychedelic substances, for the individual and for society. As such, it is very successful and, moreover, challenging in many of the ideas it puts out there. Very much worth a read!