I was on The Atheist Experience show recently, and I tried to introduce a concept that seems to be getting some spotlight in the mainstream culture through books like "The Future of the Mind" by Michio Kaku, through recent scientific research that has taken place, and is still taking place, and artistically in the mainstream of our culture through the work of the psychedelic artist Alex Grey and other artists, and other mainstream venues.
The concept is Perennial philosophy. Ray Comfort spoke about how "Atheism is Dead." Well, from the perspective of the Perennialist, both theism and atheism are "dead," and that is based on very recent scientific research. Perennial philosophy claims that the driving force behind the founders of the major religions is mystical experience. It is a phenomenon in consciousness that has always been around, but occurred rarely in individuals. Scientific investigation into "mystical experience," and yes, that's a word that these recent studies have adopted because they relate to altered states of consciousness which historically had only been written and spoken about in a religious context; it has nothing to do with magic, the supernatural, etc. as one might assume when they see the word "mystical" in the term "mystical experience." However, don't let that word fool you as to how this term is used in this peer-reviewed study that has been published in the Scientific Journal of Psychopharmacology. If you'd prefer a more in-depth definition of the term, I'll link to a talk given by Roland Griffith who led the trial. They were using psilocybin to induce "mystical experience," and more studies are still currently taking place at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.
Roland Griffiths defining "Mystical experience
The Atheist Experience Call
Now, some people may have thought, "Wait a minute, mystical experiences, what? Did he just slide in a drug into the convo?" I understand that. During my call with Tracie and Russell of The Atheist Experience, when I mentioned there was a study that was taking place where people were being injected with pure psilocybin, and that they cause "mystical experience," Tracie and Russell gave a booming laugh, and Tracie retorted, "Okay, I don't doubt it. I think you'd have quite the experience if someone pumped you full of psilocybin."
Sure, and of course, but here's the point that I believe these studies are attempting to make and what most people overlook. The experience that they're inducing is not exclusive to psychedelics. As most people are finding out, our own bodies produce DMT. These scientific studies have shown that these experiences are a potential in us all, it's simply that it's a very rare occurrence which is why most people don't know about it. N,N-DMT is suspected to induce such an altered state during high levels of stress as in a near-death experience, or extreme asceticism (as practiced in ancient Hinduism), and also during intense relaxation as in deep meditation. There are other studies that date further back investigating the mystical experience in Tibetan monks whilst in meditation, and lo and behold, you find similar brain states compared through fMRI with the psilocybin-induced state. This seems to suggest that the mystical experience is hard-wired into human beings. Psilocybin, once passed the blood-brain barrier, is converted to psilocin. If you compare N,N-DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) to psilocin, you'll find that they're structurally strikingly similar:
Now, the thing is about this experience is most people have nowhere in their personal experience to draw from to relate to such an experience. It's hard to fathom what it is. Some people will imagine it's some type of extreme awe when you stand before the Grand Canyon or gaze at a star-lit sky or the awe in witnessing a birth or death. It's nothing of the sort. At 59:03 in The Atheist Experience episode Russell Glasser says, "Being someone who is very cautious about mind-altering my brain with drugs," this very statement is an admittance of never having such an experience, and it even may preclude the possibility. You see, most people are "cautious" in this manner, especially when taking psychedelics. The amounts used in the study to produce this experience are amounts most people would not be comfortable taking. You don't get this with one or two caps of mushrooms, it's necessary to take more than you're comfortable with. Meditation is also a path to inducing this experience, but most people do not have the patience for it, let alone know what it involves. So, the majority of people on this planet have not, and are not having this experience because most people are afraid to take 20 dried grams of psilocybin-containing mushrooms or to dedicated their lives to the discipline of meditation, and perhaps they finally have this experience at death.
But the point is that the body can have this experience naturally, and so many neuroscientists, philosophers, psychologists, etc. have had the suspicion that people have been having this experience throughout the ages, and it may have been what the founders of the major religions experienced so long ago. Only, if you're born in India, and you have this experience, just as I mentioned to Tracie and Russell, because Gautama interpreted his mystical experience through the lens of Hinduism, he then so founded Buddhism. So, culture can shape how you interpret the experience, but the underlying characteristics are universal throughout all religion, and what the studies have shown is the underlying characteristics of mystical experience are universal to any individual who has such an experience. Now, Perennial philosophy is a perspective that had always known this, but of course, back then "mystical experience" wasn't seen through scientific eyes as an altered state, but stated as the metaphor "union with the divine." This view dates back to the Traditional School of Thought, and even further back to Neoplatonism. Of course, it's no mystery that Buddhism is about inducing altered states, likewise the grandfather religion Hinduism dating back to about over 5,000 B.C., and even shamanism predating all religion was heavily involved with these type of altered states of consciousness.
As an example, I witnessed an atheist come to the baseline of consciousness after vaping DMT. He described the experience as, "It felt as though I was somehow able to glimpse a higher dimension." Now, this particular atheist may have not believed he literally witnessed a "higher dimension," but nevertheless this was the best way they could articulate the inner impression felt experientially. Likewise, if you're someone living over 2,000 years ago, and you have such an experience, you may be inclined to call it Brahman, the ground of all being, Allah, God, nirvana, moksha, satori, the Beatific vision, etc. From the Perennialist perspective, this experience has had many names be it God or a panesthesia, all neural pathways lit up as the brain being the generator of experience is now producing all experience at once. That's how profound the experience truly is, and it will shed off in its eddies many interpretations filtered through the personality of the individual who has such an experience, but certain characteristics that have been pointed out in the scientific study are universal throughout.
I'm willing to wager that most atheists on this forum either A) never tried DMT or B) never even heard of it. If we are to understand what religion is truly about, and not the nonsense it's been contorted to today. We should pour emphasis on this phenomenon in consciousness, and give it the scientific respect and research it deserves, otherwise religion will continue to flourish in the dead nonsense it is, and atheists will continue to retort that same dead nonsense instead of giving prominence to what should be recognized, and what is grotesquely being overlooked today.
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