Jul 17 2012

Altered Statesman: An Interview With Psychedelic Explorer David Jay Brown




‘I think DNA is ultimately trying to create a world where the imagination is externalized, where the mind and the external world become synchronized as one, so that basically whatever we can imagine can become a reality. Literally.”


Consciousness: What is it? Are your thoughts and emotions nothing more than neural static? Will your physical death extinguish your awareness? Is your individual consciousness just one of innumerable facets of a universal consciousness?

In search of answers to questions like these, local writer/neuroscience researcher David Jay Brown has mind-melded with many of the world’s most prominent philosophers, visionaries, culture-shapers and snorkelers of the psyche, including Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson, Noam Chomsky, Ram Dass, Albert Hofmann, Jack Kevorkian, George Carlin, Sasha Shulgin, Deepak Chopra, Alex Grey, Jerry Garcia, Stanislav Grof and John Lilly. He’s chronicled these meetings in his bestselling interview compendiums Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse, Mavericks of the Mind, Mavericks of Medicine and Voices from the Edge. Dubbed “the most compelling interviewer on the planet” by author Clifford Pickover, Brown has recently completed work on the book “The New Science of Psychedelics: At the Nexus of Culture, Consciousness, and Spirituality,” to be published by Inner Traditions in the spring of 2013.  In approximately two months, the web magazine Reality Sandwich will publish his new e-book “The Complete Guide to Psychedelic Drug Research.”

Brown  is also the author of the sci-fi books Brainchild and Virus: The Alien Strain. He frequently serves as guest editor of the tri-annual newsletter from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a Santa Cruz-based psychedelic research organization that recently published the second edition of Mavericks of the Mind (available at Bookshop Santa Cruz). He has written for periodicals such as Mondo 2000, Scientific American Mind, Wired, High Times, The Sun, Magical Blend and the Journal of Psychical Research. The diversity of his output is telling of his leave-no-stone-unturned approach to consciousness exploration: It’s a good bet he’s the only writer in history who’s contributed to both the Buddhist wisdom publication Tricycle and the porn magazine Hustler.

Brown’s studies of learning and memory at the University of Southern California in the early ’80s earned him a B.A. in psychology. Between 1985 and 1986, he did research on electrical brain stimulation at New York University, obtaining a master’s degree in psychobiology. His inquiries eventually led him into the realm of parapsychology: He’s the man behind the California-based research for biologist Rupert Sheldrake’s books Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and The Sense of Being Stared At, both of which presented scientific studies of unexplained phenomena. Brown’s knowledge of such mysteries, as well as of technology, smart drugs, health, psychedelic research and sex-drug interaction, have landed him guest spots on shows like HBO’s Real Sex, Fox’s A Current Affair, PBS’s Nature, ViaCom’s The Montel Williams Show and the BBC and Discovery Channel’s Animal X.

DAMON ORION: Tell me about the electrical brain stimulation research you’ve done. 

DAVID JAY BROWN: When I was at New York University, I did research for years where I surgically implanted electrical stimulating probes into the lateral hypothalamus of rats, which is a pleasure center. I would watch rats press a bar that delivered an electric current into their brain center over and over and over again until they fell asleep from exhaustion. Then they would wake up, and there was food sitting next to them, water sitting next to them and a mate sitting next to them. They ignored all three and would continue to press that bar over and over again to get the reward stimulation over survival instincts.

The other area of research I was involved in was at University of Southern California, and it was the exact opposite of the research I did at NYU, where I was surgically implanting electrodes into the brain centers of mammals and stimulating them: In this case I was inserting cold probes, which are devices that actually freeze or inhibit a certain part of the brain temporarily, so you can see how the animal operates with that one part of the brain missing, and how they operate when that part of the brain comes back.

The anesthetic that we gave to the rabbits prior to surgery was a drug called ketamine. I took some of this ketamine home and experimented on myself with it. After injecting 50 milligrams of ketamine chloride into my right thigh muscle and turning the lights out, I suddenly “realized” that my professors and my fellow researchers and colleagues at USC were in reality extraterrestrials—that they were scientists who were there not to study rabbits; they were there to study me. I was the test subject, and they’d left this bottle of ketamine out for me to take. They were watching me right at this moment with a video camera. And suddenly I found myself in a cage with cold probes implanted in my brain and giant rabbits all around me. They were measuring me, and I was naked and helpless. Suddenly, I snapped back into my body. I did not continue very much longer in that program after experiencing what I was experiencing from the rabbit’s point of view. That’s what ketamine taught me: what the rabbit was experiencing from what I was doing.

DO: You often ask your interviewees what they think happens to consciousness after death. If you had to put money on what happens after death, what would you bet on?

DJB: I guess wherever you go after death, the money’s not going to matter anymore! [Laughs.] You know, I think about that question every day, as an exercise of the imagination, and I change my mind about it all the time. I used to debate with my friend Nina Graboi — whom I interviewed for my book Mavericks of the Mind, and who passed away about 10 years ago —a ll the time about what happens to consciousness after death. It was one of our favorite topics of conversation. In general, I took the position that after you die, your individuality leaves, and your sense of awareness merges with the higher consciousness, the oneness, the source that everything came from originally. And her position was, “Well, there is that, but then there are all these levels in between where individuality remains besides the body, and you go through [multiple] incarnations with that. For years we went back and forth with this. Nina referred to her body as a spacesuit, and she always said she was going to get a new spacesuit when she died; she would go from one spacesuit to another. Well, after Nina died, I was writing in my journal, and the TV was on in the background. I was thinking about what was going on in Nina’s mind when she was dying: “I’ll bet she was thinking, ‘Now I see: David Jay Brown was right! You do just merge with the one consciousness.’” As I’m sitting there in this kind of self-congratulatory way, I look at the television screen, and there on the TV screen is one word: SPACESUIT. There was this tingle up my spine. I stopped in my tracks; my jaw dropped open. It was the most profound sense of communication with somebody after they died that I’d ever experienced. That is the most compelling evidence I’ve experienced that consciousness not only continues [after death], but that some sense of individuality continues as well.

DO: What are your memories of your friend Timothy Leary?

DJB: Well, my fondest and most important memories of Tim, I think, are [of] while he was dying. The last year [of his life], he announced to the media that he was thrilled and ecstatic that he was dying. And for the last year, while he was dying from prostate cancer, there was continuous celebration, continuous parties, continuously people coming around his house to tell him how important his work was to them. There was such a feeling of festivity and celebration and Tim deliberately trying to be playful and have fun with this process. This really made a very deep impression on me, because I ask so many questions about death—it’s an important philosophical topic for me. And there have been so many people throughout history trying to die bravely or courageously or nobly, but before Tim, I don’t think anybody ever tried to say, “Let’s make dying fun!” [Laughs.] Tim really tried to party through the dying process, and I thought it was just a stroke of brilliance. I cried when he died; as much fun as it was, it was terribly sad the moment that he really left. But he just left us all with such a great message, I think.

DO: Tell me about your connection to Robert Anton Wilson.

DJB: Bob was not only one of my closest friends, but he was the person who actually inspired me to become a writer. It was at the age of 16 that I read Cosmic Trigger, and that was how I encountered Timothy Leary, John Lilly and a number of the other people I went on to interview. I went to a lecture that Bob gave here in Santa Cruz back in the late ’80s. At the end of the lecture, I went over to talk to him. I told him I was working on a book, and I asked him if he would possibly consider writing a blurb for the back cover. He kind of hemmed and hawed and looked not terribly enthusiastic, like I was the 15th person that day who asked him that, you know? [Laughs.] But he did tell me to have my publisher send him a copy of my book, and he would take a look at it. So you could only imagine my absolute delight when I discovered from my publisher that he ended up writing an 11-page introduction to my first book, Brainchild. It was through that that I became friends with him. He was a tremendous friend and mentor. When I had difficulty paying my rent early in my writing career, he actually sent me money to pay my rent! He was always there when I called him, giving me great advice. When an editor made some kind of change to one of my articles that I wasn’t happy with, [he said,] “Editors don’t like the way the soup tastes until they pee in it themselves.” [Laughs.]

DO: What was your experience as a guest on The Montel Williams Show?

DJB:  I was on Montel Williams’ show back in the early ’90s, during his first season. There was all this anti-drug hysteria, and I was on the show to talk about smart drugs: cognitive enhancers like hydergine, piracetam and deprenyl — different drugs that are commonly prescribed for senile dementia, but have been used by people to enhance their memory or improve their concentration. He didn’t seem to be very open to even discussing the research or hearing anything about it. He kept cutting us off, and he’d talk about how dangerous methamphetamine was, how this was sending the wrong message to people and how the whole idea of putting “smart” before “drugs” was wrong, and there was no smart way too use drugs. He would not even carefully consider what we were saying. He had his mind made up. And what I think was so interesting is that since he’s developed multiple sclerosis and has had to use medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of this disorder, he’s now become one of the leading spokespeople for the legalization of medical marijuana. What is it about illness that turns people around? People think that medical marijuana is a joke until they’re faced with an illness, or until a loved one is, and then they really understand the medical value that it has and what a horrible, horrible atrocity it is that it’s against the law.

DO:  Is there a primary goal of your work or a primary message you’re trying to get out?

DJB: It seemed to me since I was a child that our species is in ecological danger… destroying ourselves. Since I was a teenager, since my very first psychedelic experiences, I felt a very strong commitment to help elevate and expand consciousness on this planet through my work. I made a personal pact with what I felt was DNA or higher intelligence. I felt that if I aligned my personal mission with life’s overall mission, then I would always be supported throughout my life in what I was doing, and I would be working for a noble cause.

DO: And what is DNA trying to do?

DJB: I think DNA is ultimately trying to create a world where the imagination is externalized, where the mind and the external world become synchronized as one, so that basically whatever we can imagine can become a reality. Literally. And I think that everything throughout our entire evolution has been moving slowly toward that goal. In the past couple thousand years, it’s been very steady. And through nanotechnology, through artificial intelligence, through advanced robotics, I think we’re entering into an age where we’ll be able to control matter with our thoughts and actually be able to create anything that our minds can conceive of. We’re very quickly heading into a time where machines are going to be more intelligent than we are, and we’re going to most likely merge, I think, with these intelligent machines and develop capacities and abilities that we can barely imagine right now, such as the ability to self-transform. What we can do with computers—digital technology, the way we can morph things on a computer screen—is the beginning of understanding that that’s how reality itself is organized, that we can do that with physical reality through nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, that the digital nature of reality itself will allow us to externalize whatever we think. So I think that eventually reality will become like a computer graphic screen, and we’ll be able to create whatever we want. That sound right? [Laughs.]


Apr 15 2012

The Tragic Nature Of Stream Of Unconsciousness Politics



We are now globally in the era that almost nobody has a clue what’s really happening, what we are doing, what we need to do, what is good and what is evil.

This is caused by a tidal wave of memetic engineering. And not even very professional memetic engineering — most of this emerging art I see done in the wild is done with utmost incompetence and lack of forethought. One day’s flimsily adequate shilling attempts turn rogue memes the very next day. As a result the world has become completely saturated with, well… “career lying”.

That’s the most simple explanation of what this article is about.

I was actually trying to go for the biggest punch of punchlines in my title, since this is basicly a sarcastic memetic engineering article. We are in the age of utter confused clueless now. If there are elites out there using strategies of “divide and rule” to do so, they are so damn effective that even they are left utterly confused. In that sense, this article is essentially nothing more than an exploratory brainstorm, or a stream of consciousness that attempts to make sense of this process of “media meme consolidation.”  Or an exploration of the barely conscious (or subconscious) narratives of history?

Who knows?

I grew this intense sense of disorientation a few days ago. At the time I was on Reddit, engaging some “Objectivists.” Now mind you, I always labelled myself a “social-libertarian” (yes they do exist) and after this exchange I am not so sure any more. More and more I am starting to get the idea that the whole Libertarian meme-set is not a viable ideology any more on this sinking ship of a planet. It’s like a bunch of people who demand to chop up the lifeboats to use as firewood on the Titanic, “because it’s so damn cold.”  I was captivated (and utterly shocked) by the intense tragedy of good versus evil in this online engagement. I had decided a few years I wouldn’t do those senseless online arguments any more — online/forum discussions with people I loathe. This was one one of these painfully oversimplified internet post exchanges that have reduced internet itself to little else than a collective subconscious (or unconscionable) doodle. I was captured (or captivated) into an exchange of wit between myself and some “of these” reddit objectvists.

Frankly I was expressing my intense moral outrage at the whole Objectivist idea, and they genuinely and generously reciprocated. It felt a bit like strolling into a synagogue and laying down a sizeable colonic briquette in front of the Rabbi and taking credit for its gargantuan size and firth. The exchange was pointlessly tragic (as was to be expected), since I exemplified pure moral malignancy from their frame of reference whereas — as far as I can see — I myself clearly argued that they, in turn, exemplified unadulterated Satanic moral evil from my frame of reference.

In this undocumented and soon to be forgotten sparring match I deeply alienated a few ‘anonymous” Objectivist, poor souls who now have grown even more embittered over the deeply depraved character of collectivist statism and who are now even more militant about just how wrong socialism (and taxes) are. And I rubbed the Briquette in for good measure, to a degree these patient people took it upon themselves to sincerely want me dead. Look it up; I feel ashamed about the misadventure already.

But debates such as these do raise an interesting problem. Internet itself has now become a very powerful device for propaganda, demonization, protest and engagements of the kind that mere years ago would have no doubt resulted in mutually assured knifings. We are all collectively playing with fire here. If we went out and said the things we say online; expressed the opinions we all hold so dear online — face to face — we’d end up attacked or worse.

Take for instance the pervasive tribally-opposed nature of Rightism versus Leftism in society that stems back decades. The kind of angry ranting associated with left-versus-right had been pervasive in the USSR as well (yet could not be enjoyed as widely lest you end up in a Gulag). We can safely conclude that former political powers in the equally former USSR were utterly blindsided by the relatively tsunamic appearance of modern communication media (faxes at the time I believe!) and as a result the the titanic statist and Stalinist systems of the Soviet Union is  no longer and was replaced by allegedly better alternatives of feedback arbitration mechanisms for determining right from wrong.

When people got a chance to vent their ideas, the very notion of freedom of expression (the mere ubiquity of faxes, durrrrrrrrr) contributed to the collapse of an alre,ady weakened USSR.

Think about that for a second and try reduce the mechanism to its most coarse abstractions inside your head. You couldn’t say these things. Then bam suddenly technology allowed people to say them, and states started collapsing. And now, 20 years later, everyone is saying considerably more radical things. All the time.

History has consistently been about “rule by fashionable excess,” not about picking the best system. Those who have always been in charge used their power to disallow debate, and then wallow in excess. When I say “fashionable excess,” I mean the particular culture and commercial apparatus that can be enforced by the bullies du jour. Unsurprisingly, what the elites then decided was fashionable turned out to quickly gravitate towards degeneracy as well. And the majority of people could stomach that only for as long as their complaining was not mutually reinforced, respectively balanced out by force. In other words — if normal people start to bitch about the excesses of the elites, and the elites can’t keep up with repressive force, then before long the system collapses. Bitching is like a virus — it is infective.

Consequently, over the last few hundred years, history took a sequence of decidedly contrary and revolutionary turns. Complaining about our rulers flared up so increasingly fast our rulers had increasing trouble keeping up. One might even see a climax to this historcial trajectory, if one were inclined to see climaxes everywhere (if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, right?). So I’d eagerly speculate that recently (centuries) history has been pervasively shaped by contrary or revolutionary movements and by the ability to disagree and by the ability to convince normally passive people that something is really wrong and the shit needs to change.

A persistent revolutionary mechanism is novel in the greater flow of history, when compared to the countless millennia and most of terrestrial human history before. I’d even suggest it was something that started in Europe, if I may be so bold. It can almost qualify it as a “mutagen”.

If I am to suggest an escalatory (or saturative?) end point in historical evolutionary discourse it would please Francis Fukuyama. I agree with the guy there is an escalatory, conflagrational course of evolution in history, but current capitalist democracy sure isn’t it. Things are progressing towards a culmination, or an Omega state if you will, but I am not in agreement with Fukuyama  that there is one determinist end-state, or that we are anywhere near that end-state.

So, let’s conclude that recent history has been the result of the majority of people who “fucking wouldn’t take it any more,” pardon my French (which is a more than subtle hint towards the French revolution). Recent human progress has been inalienably the result of dissent. In this same French revolution we see the birth of some kind of modernity, with all its completely new horrendous mistakes, after the vast majorities decided they had enough of the extravagant excessive wrongs of a formerly ultradysfunctional monarchy. And say what one would of the horrors of Revolutionary France, or any revolutionary era thereafter, generally there is a lot of progress in equal measure with the rampant bloodshed of these eras.

Oh right… yeah we are in such a convulsively conceptive era right now. I am absolutely sure a lot of entitlement-drenched Objectivists really don’t like this what I am conceiving here because they might end upt serving as the proverbial placenta. In upcoming essays in the next few weeks, I will be throwing the term “Versailles-Syndrome” around a lot, like spaghetti al dente, “to see if any sticks.” I think a lot of my use of the term will hold water, because a lot of people in the tech- (and income-) entitled communities are scared shitless about losing out on their fat post-dot com pay-checks in this new era of management software. 

So let’s back up a little. In the transition from the middle ages towards enlightenment, we had this extremely slow and grinding back-and-forth dialogue where humanity unshackled itself from tyrants; from aforementioned feudal control by using a mechanism of rebellion, capitalization, education, scientific education and whatnot. Robin Hood… for all you fanboys. In essence, “we” as humans developed tools that allowed us to manage society better than earlier hereditary feudal tyrants, by using brand new and unprecedented decision making tools. I am certain that previous decisionmaker- in-chief were none to pleased about this progress, since they lost out in the historical discourse to what they’d qualify as “troublemakers” (read – the occupy movement). The medieval kings were probably not much dissimilarly outraged when upstart city folk and stray knighthoods weighed in to challenge such fine practices such as prima noctis and exclusive taxes.

The nerve!

In essence, the feudal lords were the Randian Heros and Objectivists of their age, and I bet they were royally miffed. But the accumulated power and affluence did affectively serve as a nutritional reserve for the emerging new orders. When the Tzars were replaced, the obscene wealth of the Tzars fueled the revolutions. When Versailles was sacked, the wealth of Louis financed a new boom and quite a bit of experimentation and change. That’s what I mean when I say placenta. Ha ha.

There have been a number of more recent transitional societal phase shifts, some discrete, others a lot less so. I think the most self-evident one was the one that involved industrialization. This one had a considerable new population of winners and losers, and I’d have the courage of stating that many of the new Nouveau-riche winners of the industrial age were of a decidedly Transatlantic lineage.

We are now in an age of fresh new renegotiation. But unlike the last big one (Communism), there is absolutely no clear unambiguous elite in sight that can serve as cream of the crop (r new “ersatz overlord caste” if you prefer that terms.) Over the last few decades we have seen a sequence of convulsive new iterative cycles of mass protests not necessarily based on irreconcilable necessity. We (especially in the western world) are all fed now. We shouldn’t whine. We all have food. We all have televisions. Well I don’t, but that’s beside the point; I have a PC and internet. Most have washing machines and houses and supermarkets. Talking with Peter Diamandis, we are all “so frigging rich” we should count ourselves lucky on all that Cake (gratuitous Versailles-Syndrome teaser) and shut the hell up.

To the Libertarian crowd out there (and yes there is an overlap with the hyper-entitlement crack-puppies of Libertarianism – the Objectivists) we are all so spoiled rotten the vast majorities of welfare receiving bloated losers in modernity “deserves to die”.

I am not exaggerating here; it’s the new privatized form of endlosung. (Entlosering?) There’s no surprise here. I have openly exaggerated and declared the centralization of capital as the next likely source for existential risk in the twenty-first century. The way money is inflating this may turn out be a physical risk…  people being crushed under piles of dollars toppling over and falling on them.

Quick someone warn Goldman Sachs so they can go short on avalanche insurances.

No, seriously my point is there is no winner in the new age, and that is scaring ‘the powers that be’ stiff. ‘The powers that be’ have been mostly middlemen the last few centuries; financiers, bankers, bureaucrats, brokers, etc. The people that always stay in charge.


These people don’t take risks. They flatter, they facilitate, they finance, they shill and they gossip.

In the old days, governance was based on passing the torch of authority on to the next guy. There are a lot of proverbs based on that mechanism. The idea is that we evolved mechanisms of the transitioning of power in periods of revolutionary change, because the alternative – anarchy – has become unacceptable. There are too many middlemen, with their livelihoods depending on the process of divide and rule, backstab, shill, betray, flatter, facilitate, lie, exaggerate, demonize, etc.

Everyone now assumes there has to be a clerical or monastic institution of ecclesiastic accountancy that bestows some final transitional (or interstitional) absolution and places the crown on the Victor. This is the shadow estate. The tragedy is that in the newly emerging era, with the free-for-all paradign with the Intertubes and all, there is no need for such adjudication left. Anyone can now make any statement, and all these statements are now heard and recorded by everyone. The middle people are outraged because they are now openly mocked. Reddit is overflowing with unbridled accusation on how deviously corrupt Goldman Sachs is.

The Nerve!

Even very compelling yet awful statements are heard, or worse — really good yet very politically inexpedient ideas are emerging — like wildfire, faster than authorities can stamp them out. This might get them in trouble before long…

One wonders why there is this new panicked urgency about contriving control mechanisms, post haste, to shackle the relative freedoms of the internet. We have seen a barrage of spasmodic ACTAs, SOPAs, CISPAs  — all haphazardly flung like spaghetti al dente — vain attempts to see what sticks. This is the pure panic of a system that has no clue where to begin to put out all the forest fires.

Let me summarize all this for those who doesn’t understand yet where it is all headed.

In the past we had revolutions, and in those days people could not make heads or tails from these revolutions. In hindsight we could and we can, since we have precisely that… hindsight. The present makes no sense. It never does. Nobody has any understanding on the present. We only understand reality as it existed a decade ago, at best, and only after a ponderously slow process of creating a narrative. This narrative is just that — a construct, and it is nowhere near complete, but it is a flimsy collaborative tale to make sense of historical reality where people are all dead or becoming inconsequentially old, and where things have stopped mattering. The past is where we are starting to put things finally behind us.

Except no more. We have now come at The new crisis of narratives. One the one hand we are starting to make sense of events ever faster, (or at the very least are forced to make sense faster). We must have adequate policies now because we all live in an increasingly dynamic world. Yet most of the most necessary policies are effectively so unpopular nobody dares argue for them, because at the other extreme, rich people are throwing millions into arguing against them. The world has degenerated in to memetic trench warfare. Which is just another term for lying back and forth.

Maybe we could have evolved adequate policy in cycles every few decades earlier in the 20th century. These days the required feedback cycle between event and new trend is barely a few months. Take for instance “global warming.” If the idea of global warming has any merit, then we need to act, now. The problem is that any such action would destroy globalization and capitalism  as it exists today, totally. So what to the “deniers” do, to at least perpetuate a trillion-dollar industry for a few other years? That’s right, they shill.  There is too much money involved in keeping the world as it is, for at least a few more years. I mean, there are billionaires out there with mortgages. Not yet! Chomsky would call it “the manufacture of consent.”. This whole manufacture of consent is a very critical part of the Conservation of opinion.

And now there is internet throwing a sabot in the machine of memetics.

We now face a crisis where unmitigated incompetents like myself can vent their Dunning-Kruger at the world and actually have a(t least some) chance (a few) people will listen. And while these people are listening, they listen less to the world’s leaders. And this is the real catastrophe. We now inhabit a world saturated by so much opinion and ideas that a lot of it, like spaghetti al dente, does stick.