Will Storr's 'The Heretics'
Russell Targ's The Reality of ESP

Psi and Cannabis

There have been a lot of false dawns about legalising cannabis, but a rational outcome seems possible at last. The recent landmark votes in Colorado and Washington have coincided with surveys that show large majorities in both the US and the UK in favour of scrapping the ban. Even the politicians are starting to catch up, with bills being presented in Congress. Here it's striking that, although David Cameron is still being a gung-ho drugs warrior, conservative voters are just as keen on change as Labour.

The ban always seemed incomprehensible to me. In my student days I gravitated naturally to the 'head' community. We passed much of our leisure time in clouds of hash smoke and psychedelic rock music, and enjoyed scandalising the buttoned-up types. We weren't noticeably less successful, then or since; drug taking was not a differentiator, except for a few people who seriously overdid it.

It's the same with the growing acceptance of gay marriage. These social issues interest Weed image me because I see the scientific proscription of psi in quite similar terms. Psi threatens the integrity of the scientific worldview in the minds of many scientists, just as, to conservatives, gays and drug fiends threaten the harmonious function of society. The analogy isn't exact, obviously: psychics and mediums are free to ply their trade in the way that drug dealers aren't (or at least aren't supposed to be). But the underlying fear is the same: of potential chaos and disintegration. From the outside, the sceptic movement looks like people coming together to affirm their sanity in a world threatened by growing mental deviancy.

I've remarked before on striking parallels between social conservatism and psi-scepticism, even if there is no obvious overlap between these communities in other respects. Arguably, it's just as irrational to insist that certain experiences that have been widely experienced and verified are in fact imaginary, as it is to impose bans on what people indulge in the privacy of their homes, and with zero risk to others.

There's also the element of austerity. We must take the hard road, and forbid ourselves the luxury of indulgence. Cannabis may make us feel good, but it's a dangerous high, a removal from reality. Homosexuality is decadence to the point of depravity. Psi offers the feel-good factor of wonders and miracles, instant healings, life in a paradisial world to come, and so on - but we must sternly resist its siren call.

But why? Sceptics are articulate about why they think psi isn't real - much less so about why it's a bad thing.

However when we start to focus on this more, there's a genuine debate to be had. Perhaps, from a social perspective, it's reasonable to be cautious about opening up to new ideas and practices. In the nineteen sixties drugs did seem to encourage a lot of whacky behaviour, and it must sometimes have seemed to the war generation that society was on the verge of breakdown. In a sense, the social effects that would follow from science validating the reality of psi are comparable to the social effects of legalising cannabis. With cannabis it's clear that there are dangers, particularly with regard to the mental health of young people, and I've mentioned a few times my own view that a social shift to acknowledging psi might have similarly distorting effects.

Telepathy: Are my thoughts my own? Or are they being beamed to me? Is someone trying to manipulate my behaviour by making me do irrational things?

Remote viewing: Can I be observed from afar when I'm undressing, having sex, pilfering from the petty cash box in the office? Is someone right now, in some dark room somewhere in another city, eyes closed, focused hard, images flickering under his/her eyelids, spying on me?

Precognition: Are unscrupulous dealers using psi to clean up on the stock market, at my expense? How can I get some of that action? Is it legal?

Psychokinesis: Did my hateful ex-husband/wife use focused power of thought to make me crash my car / lose my job / get cancer? Can I go to the police and get him/her arrested?

Life after death: Are spirits of the dead here in the room with me? Do they mean me harm?

There's a word for all of this, one that we believe we have emancipated ourselves from: witchcraft. Psychics and researchers may deny that these powers can be used to invade privacy or to do harm to others. But they would have to be extremely persuasive to counteract popular prejudice. It's what people believe that counts. If science says these things are real, then how can I protect myself from people trying to harm me from a distance?

We can see the beginnings of the problem in neuroscience, which has been making us think differently about the stuff in our heads. If our brains make us think and act in particular ways, if we don't have free will, then perhaps we aren't responsible for everything we do. In practice - at least as far as I'm aware - this new scientific 'reality' hasn't impinged too much on the real world: criminals and wrongdoers are still made accountable. But psi is potentially a whole other problem.

We talk about sceptics being 'closed minds' and identify the psychological barriers to belief. In a purely intellectual sense - from the point of view of empirical experiment and philosophical analysis - their arguments really are shallow. But might we be prepared to admit that science, being sceptical, acts as a barrier to something that humans have to accommodate themselves to carefully and gently? Perhaps it provides a kind of shelter, a sanctuary of reason, where we can exist without having to worry about these things, only about the people who believe in them.

My point is that psi-scepticism is a much more complex business than we might think. It's not just about ideas and arguments. As with cannabis and all the rest, it's about acclimatising ourselves to a potentially threatening new reality. Before we accept it we need to go in with our eyes open, and understand exactly what we're doing.

Comments

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I agree with you, Robert, that there are interesting parallels between our attitudes to drugs and psi. But there is one important difference. Psi can't incidentally harm other people. Drugs can. For example people high on drugs in charge of vehicles are angels of death on wheels.

Of course, like with many technological advancements such as the Internet, new laws and new security measures must be put in place to deal with psionic technologies. As for using precognition to beat the stock market, one could use this to finally undeniably demonstrate the existence of psi in a dramatic fashion for the mainstream scientific community, plow the profits back into psi research, and then lobby to get the loophole closed. Would this be a good idea? Actually, a little bird told me there is already a company with a procedure worked out and a patent pending to do just this.

But I think the good from precognition will greatly outweigh the evil. We could prevent tragedies like the Challenger disaster by first scrying the outcome and aborting the mission if failure will occur. This can be used not only in space flight, but also for medical procedures and to avoid civilian causalities in war. We could set up a continuous precognitive system to predict earthquakes and tsunamis as well, saving countless lives.

It is only a matter of time in any case. We will have to face up to these issues soon.

"....Perhaps it provides a kind of shelter, a sanctuary of reason, where we can exist without having to worry about these things..."

This is a very profound insight, one I agree with. I think it is operating behind the scenes as you suggest it is.

"But there is one important difference. Psi can't incidentally harm other people. Drugs can."

This I disagree with. If we accept psi and spirits, then we must accept that there can be a negative aspect, a negative intent, that can harm us. In fact, cultures that do accept psi without reservation (I am thinking of some Native American culture I am familiar with) ackowledge the potential for detrimental use and measures are taken to defend against it and cure when defenses have been breached. Actually, knowing this is one of the reasons that Roberts hypothesis resonates with so much truth, for me.

I feel a sense of 'Life And How to Survive It' shining through your words. The sceptics see psi as a three ring circus - that most threatening of scenarios to their sense of order. So, perhaps it's all a matter of psychological health? It's certainly always seemed that way to me. Most people are still at the fundamentalist stage of mental development.

Oddly enough, it relates well to something I posted in Atticus a few moments ago, just before reading your blog. 8}

Just a quick note to acknowledge that both psi and cannabis can and will be misused as they become more accepted by society. A lot of mediums out there are already cheats or frauds- and a lot of people rationalize cannabis as 'harmless' when it can actually be quite harmful.

Now, these caveats don't apply to 90% or more of most people- but to that other 10%, and I'm among them- be careful. The 'Green Bitch' as Graham Hancock calls her can be quite a seductive trap, and while you won't die as with many other drugs, you can be sucked into a vortex of obsession and lack of will- and the fact that it's touted as 'harmless' is a disservice to the addict like myself. Just a word to the other addicts out there- it's a slippery slope!

And BTW- if anyone out there reading this has had a reading with the medium Georgia O'Connor, please write me- it's important and I'll explain tharpa@gmail.com Blessings!!

Tharpa,

I just send you an email re Georgia. I had 3 sessions with her.

@Tharpa:

"The 'Green Bitch' as Graham Hancock calls her can be quite a seductive trap, and while you won't die as with many other drugs, you can be sucked into a vortex of obsession and lack of will- and the fact that it's touted as 'harmless' is a disservice to the addict like myself. Just a word to the other addicts out there- it's a slippery slope!"

But surely one can say exactly the same thing about alcohol?

Ps. My comments re: 'Life And How to Survive It' were to you, our Robert.

I think legalizing pot is a good thing, but also increasing the overall knowledge about the harmful side effects.

Pot makes you stupid. Or more specifically, it interferes with short term memory. I hate working with potheads. They work too slowly, need to be reminded over and over again about simple things and can't take anything seriously.

But it's even worse for kids. In that crucial time between 15 and 25 years old which has a huge effect on the rest of their lives, the kids on pot simply don't learn a lot of extremely important life lessons. They're busy getting stoned.


It also increases the likelihood of schizophrenia in those who are vulnerable.

Yes I got that, Julie! Was it you who kindly sent me a copy? I must have imbibed its wisdom - shall have another look at it. Interesting how much emotional health has to do with preferences on social policy.

Grr, normally I like this board but I have to say that I see lots of misinformation about cannabis on here. Seems that people arent bothering to actually read the scientific literature.... Something which usually is the domain of the "skeptic" community. Pharmacognosy is a real science with real experts and real research please dont make the mistake of the "herp de derp" skeptic, know what you are talking about before you post.

Great post. I agree, the main issue is not the quality of evidence for psi, but whether society can handle the ramifications of such a worldview. Skepticism - by temporarily insulating us from these difficulties - might be useful after all...

@Robert: I'm the one who offered to send you my spare copy, by which time you'd already bought one second hand on Amazon. It's well worth reading again with regard to to issues you raise. 8)

"Psi and Cannabis"

Daggumit Robert! Here I am all fired up and ready to read an article about the psi-enhancing properties of cannabis, and all I get is THIS?

That beeing siad, the more I think about it, the more I. uh. hahpl to

Oh wel, it wuz a prety gud aartticle thooooooo
:D

I have to say I see more violent crime from people abusing alcohol then canabis.

Not sure I agree with some of the sentiments above. I know several folk who regularly smoke weed and yet are highly functional conscientious individuals....

I agree Michael. For canabis replace the word alcohol.

It occurs to me that there are people who 'abuse' alcohol and yet still function very well. Winston Churchill, for instance, and Tommy Cooper. Perhaps it's all a matter of character, temperament and physical/mental constitution?

"It occurs to me that there are people who 'abuse' alcohol and yet still function very well."

If we legalise all kinds of drugs as well as alcohol, and people use them in cocktail, there will be a lot more RTAs. Cocktails of different drugs are much more dangerous than one alone. If you trust people not to do this, I admire your faith in human nature.

But surely people already do this anyway if they want to, Barbara? There's no shortage of drugs on the streets, and no shortage of high-ranking Police officers willing to take bribes from the dealers. So what has society got to lose by legalising recreational drugs?

"So what has society got to lose by legalising recreational drugs?"

Well, duh! If something is legal a lot more people do it than if it's illegal.

I didn't make my point clear enough, Barbara: If people want to abuse drugs to the extent that you suggest then they will do so regardless of the law. Most people, I believe, would choose to use such drugs sensibly - just as most people use the legal drug alcohol sensibly.

In Portugal legalising drugs has led to a decrease of useage and problems Is thyis counter intutative no bleeding obvious

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