The Psychedelic Future of the Mind by Thomas B. Roberts

Psychedelic Future of the Mind

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!


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3 Responses

  1. cabrogal says:

    I wholeheartedly support your reservations about the ‘Biz-fi’ chapter, but on the face of your review it looks very much to me that Roberts is blundering into an area in which many other people have come a cropper.

    Firstly his extrapolation of unproven multi-state theory into practical applications smacks of just about every medical science journalism article you read where “the cure may be available in as little as five years”. It never is of course. An even better parallel might be nuclear fusion power stations, which have been 20 years away since about 1950 and probably always will be.

    And “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” smacks of quantum mysticism to me, where people like Fritjof Capra, Gary Zukav and Deepak Chopra use their very shallow comprehensions of quantum mechanics and/or Indian philosophy to try to claim that one informs and verifies the other. It doesn’t and all three have been forced to eat their words to varying degrees.

    Of course you cannot rule out the possibility that science can inform humanities, but the degree to which that happens is the degree to which they cease to be humanities and become science. I think the ‘mind sciences’ have been flat out trying to turn humanities into sciences for about a century and a half with very little real progress and many disastrous mistakes. And if we look at the history of trying to build political theories from ‘science’ …

    • Brian Akers says:

      Cabrogal’s perspective strikes me as sound, sensibly reserved – a lone note in wilderness (as previously in the ‘redeeming Castaneda’ feature a few weeks ago here). That kind of sense, sanity, and balance is in critical condition, urgent care short supply anymore, in the arena of psychedelia’s pet interests and discourse.

      Its really something to read, as this book’s subtitle dramatically announces, the gospel as told: that psychedelics are “enhancing cognition, boosting intelligence, and raising values.” That sums up a lot; almost like a whole manifesto in a sound bite. Those words pose quite a potent distillation, and reflection, of psychedelia’s ideological ambitions.

      And for sheer discrepancies between doctrine or declared truths, and – what meets the eye, by looking – its a staggering statement on the present situation, as stands. Especially with the socially conditioned silence, fairly deafening, about the web of contradictions, an entire tissue of blatant falsities one discovers, looking into such notions as propounded. I feel Cabrogal breaks that silence, which deserves applause. Am I the only one to salute that? Very well.

      Its quite a pattern socially and culturally, as its emerged in tripper scene interest. At this point, decades after Leary – ny conscientious reflection, or insightful remark about the ‘elephant in the room’ aspect – falls on the moral equivalent of deaf ears, in psychedelia. Overall a lack of intellectual integrity, resembling an expulsion of the very idea – seems to prevail. It strikes me as a diametric reverse of any particular intelligence or ethical framework. So in context, its refreshing to see comment other than ‘wow’ and ‘hallelujah’ or ‘amen’ of a choir in grateful praise. Kudos Cabrogal.

      In fact its a pretty good ground for question, the subtitle of this book raises – even as it seems to gloss over, move on to the ‘how’ – as if ‘what effects’ inquiry has been settled, or even been investigated. What effects, not just in an individual (where myopic views seem stuck) – but in larger patterns, socially and culturally – on cognition, intelligence, and above all conscience (values, ethics, moral perception) – is personal self-supervised use of psychedelics, having in society?

      And if one proposed to study of such questions – without biasing them, to try and discover not proclaim, suppose or etc the answers – what methods and considerations might apply? Would it be a matter of asking trippers if they’re IQ-boosted for tripping, or morally elevated, improved etc? Then just take what they say at face value?
      Would that be a critical standard for any conclusion, whatsoever, other than ‘what trippers seem to think’?

      Or, might one consider less simplistically, on due diligence – there may be inconsistency, between what those with supposedly boosted IQ and enhanced values say – and whatever they say and do and how, as reflects on the veracity of such self-exalting claims?

      To my knowledge there’s absolutely no study of there very questions, especially at the scale of the emergent subculture pattern. And I would think such questions might be of interest – other than to close prematurely, as if we already know, perhaps afraid they pose a Pandora’s box or something. Especially on naked indications the meet the eye – looking closely, carefully, without flinching. On one hand, a consistent pattern of significant misinfo and/or disinfo is apparent. On the other hand, silence is telling – what one doesn’t see, doesn’t hear, seems to echo an absence of right stuff. Just the sort of vacuum nature abhors, facilitating what rushes in to fill it.

      To observe, in subcultural modern context that somehow, effects of psychedelics, expansion of consciousness – have somehow facilitated a gleeful abandon of rationality, a sacrifice of reason and purpose (pursuit of better mutual understanding) on altar of convictions – an abject exile of healthy thought and conscience itself – is a fairly jaw-dropping vista. Especially against the sound assailing ears – the psychedelic broadcast system protesting, declaring contrary. Its hard to tell honest error from outright deceit, and the two seem to blend seamlessly in psychedelia’s increasingly drumbeat narrative. So this is what it has come to – a message of improved smarts, and raised values, ‘you too can be better than you are, you could be swinging on a star’ – with oppositional defiance, grim determination, clear intent. It has only become more brazen, more staggering – more authoritarian. Writing’s on the wall, and it says what it says. Thanks again to Cabrogal for speaking from truer purpose and ethical foundation – it really breaks subcultural convention, and a gesture to acknowledge. I’m sorry more do not endorse and applaud such voices for having the guts and personal integrity, against fashion of polity and pandering, against ideological tides, to stand up like that and tell it like it is.

  2. Great review! I’ve been interested in checking out this book. Roberts’ “multistate theory” seems very useful for demolishing the current paradigm that worships problem-solving waking consciousness at the expense of other mental states. What ever made us think that standard consciousness is the best and only vehicle for comprehending the cosmos and ourselves?

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