John Coltrane Quintet with special guest Eric Dolphy from back when jazz had its own quirky TV productions.
Dark room! Steel girders! Hidden musicians! 1961 in Baden-Baden Germany.
OK, no more slacking off, back to my paper.
John Coltrane Quintet with special guest Eric Dolphy from back when jazz had its own quirky TV productions.
Dark room! Steel girders! Hidden musicians! 1961 in Baden-Baden Germany.
"Ionia Asylum for the Criminally Insane", Michigan, USA (unverified).
Malcolm X is on the next show.
For a brief moment.
Interesting timing given news this week that the man who admitted to Malcolm X's murder, Thomas Hagan, has been released on parole after serving 45 years of his sentence (he'd apparently been on a work-release program for the last couple of decades).
Racism is real - on our streets, in our schools, on the TV...and in the history of medicine.
The power invested in medical pedagogy and its practioners means that doctors have always been in a unique position to define and medicalise 'difference', with all the prejudices of a given generation to guide them at any point in history.
Psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl's new book, The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease, packs a mighty powerful punch. A strong telling of a difficult history.
He's both a clinician and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan, where he's Director of the Program in Culture, Health, and Medicine.
Tune in via the All in the Mind website or on-air, and here are some audio extras (which will make more sense after you hear the show)...
Jonathan_Metzl_re_Alice_Wilson - The story of "Alice Wilson", a patient at the former Ionia Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Michigian USA (pre Civil Rights era).
Jonathan_Metzl_Ionia_hospital_from_Civil_Rights_Movement_&_Beyond - The shift at Ionia during the Civil Rights era.
Don't forget the discussion can unfold here on the blog or also over on my show's website (look for Add Your Comment there).
Psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl treats people in the clinic whose lives are afflicted by severe psychosis. But he also documents an explosive 'other' history of schizophrenia, and what he sees as its transformation from a diagnosis of feminine docility or creative eccentricity, to one given to angry black men during the civil rights era. You'll never see medicine and the mind in quite the same light again.
Transcripts are published by the end of Wednesday.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Women's Studies
Director of Program in Culture, Health, and Medicine
University of Michigan
All in the Mind blog with Natasha Mitchell
Natasha's posts, and your discussion. You can comment on the program here too - look for Add Your Comment above.
Count Me In survey (UK)
National Mental Health and Learning Disability Ethnicity Census conducted by the Care Quality Commission, UK.
81 Words: the inside story of psychiatry and homosexuality [Part 1 of 2]
Documentary produced by This American Life's Alix Spiegel, broadcast on All in the Mind in 2007.
81 Words: the inside story of psychiatry and homosexuality (Part 2 of 2)
Documentary produced by This American Life's Alix Speigel, broadcast on All in the Mind in 2007.
Mother's Little Helper on the Couch
Interview with Jonathan Metzl, 2006.
Title: The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease
Author: Jonathan Metzl
Beacon Books, 2010.
Title: Prozac on the Couch: Prescribing Gender in the Era of Wonder Drugs
Author: Jonathan Metzl
Publisher: 2003, Duke University Press
Title: Review of Jonathan Metzl's book, The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease
By Tanya M. Luhrmann, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, April 2010.
CD title: Fivefold Galactic Bells
Track title: Iron Bull
Artist: Robin Fox & Michael Munson
CD details: de rigeur records
We are extremely pleased to announce our list of panel discussions for the 2010 Integral Theory Conference in Pleasant Hill, California! Coupled with the academic presentations, the panels are the heart of the conference - providing the opportunity for the integral academic community to engage in critical and mutually enlivening discourse around key questions and issues.
In order to better serve this purpose, we have increased the length of each panel this year to 2 hours, with the last 30 minutes devoted to Q-and-A with the audience. We have also increased our overall number of panels to 22 spread over the three days of the event.
Listed below are the confirmed moderators and participants as well as general topics. As you will note, some of our panels are still being constructed. Also, the topics may be subject to minor change and many panels will add additional participants in the next month or so.____________________
Mark D. Forman, Ph.D.
Friday, July 30 - Panels
Integral Politics in the Age of Obama: Jordan Luftig (Moderator), Jeff Salzman, Emine Kiray, Steve McIntosh, Elke Fein, Terry Patten, Greg Wilpert
Integral Ecology and Sustainability: Sean Esbjorn-Hargens (moderator), Gail Hochachka, Michael Zimmerman, Sam Mickey, Karen O'Brien, Tim Winton
Integral Masculinity: Are David Deida's and Warren Farrell's Visions of Masculinity "Integral?": Bert Parlee, William Harryman, Mark Forman, Pelle Billing, Diane Hamilton, Gilles Herrada
Integral Recovery: John Dupuy (moderator), Bill Harris, Cassi Vietan, Erik Keeney, Guy du Plessis, Mickey Eliason
Key Criticisms of Wilber's Work: What is the Achilles Heel of Integral Theory?: Ray Greenleaf (moderator), Frank Visser, Jeff Meyerhoff, Bonnitta Roy, Zak Stein, Sara Ross, Markus Molz
Academia and Spiral Dynamics: Marilyn Hamilton (moderator). Panel under construction
Integral Theory and Subtle Energies: Simon Senzon (moderator), Allan Combs, Scott Anderson, Richard Hartz
Saturday, July 31 - Panels
Integral Feminism: Vanessa Fisher (moderator), Elizabeth DeBold, Marilyn Hamilton, Rebecca Bailin, Claire Zammit
Community Development: Gail Hochachka (moderator), Will Varey, Anna Cowen, Michael Simpson, Lisa Gibson, Julian Gonzalez, Tim Winton
Integral Business Consulting: Translating Integral for the Business World: David Zeitler (Moderator). Panel under construction.
Is Integral a Mass Movement or an Elitist Pursuit? Mark Forman (moderator), Joanne Hunt, Jeff Salzman, Steve McIntosh, Frank Visser
Integral Review Panel: Jonathan Reams (moderator), Bonnitta Roy, Russ Volckmann, Sara Ross, Nancy Roof, Markus Molz
What is the Relationship between Integral Psychotherapy and Transpersonal Psychotherapy?: Ray Greenleaf (moderator), Elliott Ingersoll, Janet Lewis, Andre Marquis, Joanne Rubin, Douglas Tatyryn, Jeffrey Jessum
Child Development Panel: Miriam Martineau (moderator). Panel under construction.
Integral Research and Methodology: How is Integral Research Different from Mixed Methods?: Nick Hedlund (moderator), Zak Stein, Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, Lauren Tenney
Sunday, August 1 - Panels
Integral Higher Education: Jonathan Reams (moderator), Annie Wilson, Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, Olen Gunderson, Nancy Davis, Bence Ganti
Integral Economics: Responding to the Current Financial Crisis: Panel under construction.
Meta-Theory: How Do We Construct and Apply Sound Meta-Theories?: Bonnitta Roy, Rapheal Foshay, Steven Wallis, Markus Molz, Lauren Tenney
Applying Developmental Theory in Coaching: David Zeitler (moderator), Joanne Hunt, Otto Laske, Laura Divine, Cindy Lou Golin, Bert Parlee, Brian Whetten
Development and Ethics: Zak Stein, Theo Dawson, Elliott Ingersoll, Mark Forman
Integral Art Panel: Sean Saiter (moderator). Panel under construction.
Integral Spirituality: What Is the Role of the "Integral" Spiritual Teacher?: David McCallum (moderator), Mariana Caplan, Craig Hamilton, Terry Patten, Diane Hamilton, Tom Thresher
Don't forget to sign up for one of our terrific pre-conference workshops.
Chose from one of 15 pre-conference workshops facilitated by 30+ leading integral scholar-practitioners on areas covering:
Integral Organizational Development
Integral Psychotherapy (CE Credit Course)
Integral Personal Growth
Integral Ecology & Collective Development
Full Day Workshop: $135
Half Day Workshop: $75
Double Workshop Discount! Take two half-day workshops and receive a discount on each workshop - a total of $15 savings! Enter discount code itcFY6ZXZ when registering.
NOTE: Discount does not apply to full-day workshops.
Click here to register.
Lakoff & Johnson, in Philosophy of the Flesh (Basic Books, 1999), make some bold statements that challenge many of our preconceived assumptions about not only spirituality but the very nature of consciousness itself. Often for us integralists the latter is intimately tied to the former, as if through consciousness or awareness practice we attune into the nature of existence. Here is their challenge:
“The very existence of the cognitive unconscious…has important implications for the practice of philosophy. It means that we can have no direct conscious awareness of most of what goes on in our minds. The idea that pure philosophical reflection can plumb the depths of human understanding is an illusion. Traditional methods of philosophical analysis alone, even phenomenological introspection, cannot come close to allowing us to know our own minds.
“There is much to be said for traditional philosophical reflection and phenomenological analysis. They can makes us aware of many aspects of consciousness and, to a limited extent, can enlarge our capacities for conscious awareness. Phenomenological reflection even allows us to examine many of the background prereflective structures that lie beneath our conscious experience. But neither method can adequately explore the cognitive unconscious—the realm of thought that is completely and irrevocably inaccessible to direct conscious introspection” (12).
The cognitive unconscious operates via embodiment, and as such through differentiation and categorization. They continue:
“Living systems must categorize. Since we are neural beings our categories are formed through our embodiment. What that means is the categories we form are part of our experience. They are the structures that differentiate aspects of our experience into discernible kinds. Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather the formation and use of categories is the stuff of experience…. We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, get ‘beyond’ our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. Neural beings cannot do that” (19).
L&J spend considerable effort providing numerous empirical neuro-cognitive studies supporting these theses. It seems odd to me that neither the integralists nor the more general developmental researchers take this work into consideration, much less how it challenges many of the assumptions and premises of their theoretical models and experiential practices of “everything.” Given that 95%+ of our mind-bodies are unconscious perhaps we should rename our endeavors as “theories of less than 5%”?
Tom Murray is an exception in the integral community in that he specifically addresses this issue, which he calls “epistemological indeterminacy.” He has an article in Integral Review, 2:6, 2006 called “Collaborative Knowledge Building and Integral Theory,” (ME: you can also read it at Integral World) and he provides an abstract and summary at this link. Here are a few excerpts from the latter:
“The sources of EI include:
The cognitive nature of concepts, claims, and models
• The fuzzy or graded nature of concepts (terms and categories);
• The metaphorical nature of abstract concepts and the radical interdependence of the meaning of one or idea with that of many others, such that none of them is unambiguously primitive (to identify some as primitive is to take a perspective);
• That statements (propositions or claims) are indeterminate because their constituent concepts are indeterminate; claims are true “to the extent that” the situation referred to corresponds with the most typical or representative exemplars of the conceptual categories used;
• Models, theories and frameworks are indeterminate because their constituent concepts and claims are indeterminate; and because they, by their nature, are approximate, abstractions, and simplifications over actual occurrences, and the choice of what to leave out depends on one’s perspective;
• The meaning of abstractions depends on references to real examples (positive, negative, near, extreme, boundary, etc.); yet real examples can never be fully described (again, what properties are ignored depends on one’s perspective); there is a dialectic process of refinement between an abstract idea and the set of examples used to explain it.
Psychological and social sources
• Individuals bring a variety of distortions to their interpretations, including their goals, values, knowledge, history of experiences, and unconscious motivations and biases, making “pure” objectivity impossible;
• The brain creates a “society of minds” in that people can entertain or even believe conflicting things or use conflicting models (as conscious beings we are not of “one mind”);
• The meaning of a concept, belief, or model is constructed intersubjectively and idiosyncratically; meaning evolves in and through individual interpretation and social processes of meaning negotiation; meaning is dynamic, fluid, and distributed.
Philosophical or truth-related sources
• There are many meanings of truth, and many criteria for determining validity, and the truth or validity of a claim or model depends on which of these is used (usually these choices are not articulated);
• Validity has procedural, communal, dialectic, and perspectival elements, which together can make determining the validity of a claim or model a complex and indeterminate process.
• Integral theories are primarily organizational or explanatory, making their validity depend more on issues of meaning-generation and practical usefulness than on empirically determined truth. (In the section “Validity Criteria for Integral Theories” I listed a number of criterion).”
Read the rest of the article, which also brings in Habermas.
An award-winning science reporter looks at the history of mental illness in America -- with disturbing resultsBy Jed Lipinski
In the past few months, the perennial controversy over psychiatric drug use has been growing considerably more heated. A January study showed a negligible difference between antidepressants and placebos in treating all but the severest cases of depression. The study became the subject of a Newsweek cover story, and the value of psychiatric drugs has recently been debated in the pages of the New Yorker, the New York Times and Salon. Many doctors and patients fiercely defend psychiatric drugs and their ability to improve lives. But others claim their popularity is a warning sign of a dangerously over-medicated culture.
The timing of Robert Whitaker’s "Anatomy of an Epidemic," a comprehensive and highly readable history of psychiatry in the United States, couldn’t be better. An acclaimed mental health journalist and winner of a George Polk Award for his reporting on the psychiatric field, Whitaker draws on 50 years of literature and in-person interviews with patients to answer a simple question: If "wonder drugs" like Prozac are really helping people, why has the number of Americans on government disability due to mental illness skyrocketed from 1.25 million in 1987 to over 4 million today?
"Anatomy of an Epidemic" is the first book to investigate the long-term outcomes of patients treated with psychiatric drugs, and Whitaker finds that, overall, the drugs may be doing more harm than good. Adhering to studies published in prominent medical journals, he argues that, over time, patients with schizophrenia do better off medication than on it. Children who take stimulants for ADHD, he writes, are more likely to suffer from mania and bipolar disorder than those who go unmedicated. Intended to challenge the conventional wisdom about psychiatric drugs, "Anatomy" is sure to provoke a hot-tempered response, especially from those inside the psychiatric community.
Salon spoke with Robert Whitaker over the phone about the reasons behind the pharmaceutical revolution, how "anxiety" became rebranded as "depression," and what he thinks psychiatrists are hiding from the American public.
Psychiatric drug use is a notoriously tough subject for writers, because of all the contradictory research. Why wade into it?
In 1998, I was writing a series for the Boston Globe on abuse of psychiatric patients in research settings. I came across the World Health Organization’s outcomes study for schizophrenia patients, and found that outcomes were better for poor countries of the world -- like India, Colombia, Nigeria -- than for the rich countries. And I was startled to find that only a small percentage of patients in those countries were medicated. I also discovered that the number of people on disability for mental illness in this country has tripled over the last 20 years.
If our psychiatric drugs are effective at preventing mental illness, I thought, why are we getting so many people unable to work? I felt we needed to look at long-term outcomes and ask: What does the evidence show? Are we improving long-term outcomes or not?
But you claim in the book that psychiatrists have long known that these drugs can cause harm.
In the late 1970s, Jonathan Cole -- the father of American psychopharmacology -- wrote a paper called "Is the Cure Worse Than the Disease?" that signaled that antipsychotics weren't the lifesaving drugs that people had hoped. In it, he reviewed all of the long-term harm the drugs could cause and observed that studies had shown that at least 50 percent of all schizophrenia patients could fare well without the drugs. He wrote, "Every schizophrenic outpatient maintained on antipsychotic medication should have the benefit of an adequate trial without drugs." This would save many from the dangers of tardive dyskinesia -- involuntary body movements -- as well as the financial and social burdens of prolonged drug therapy. The title of the paper poignantly sums up the awful long-term paradox.
Why didn't this change people's minds about psychiatric drugs?
Psychiatry essentially shut off any further public discussion of this sort. And there’s a reason for this. In the 1970s, psychiatry felt that it was in a fight for its survival. Its two prominent classes of drugs -- antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines like Valium -- were coming to be seen as problematic and even harmful, and sales of these drugs declined. At the same time, there’d been an explosion in the number of counselors and psychologists offering other forms of non-drug therapy.
Psychiatry saw itself in competition for patients with these other therapists, and in the late 1970s, the field realized that its advantage in the marketplace was its prescribing powers. Thus the field consciously sought to tell a public story that would support the use of its medications, and embraced the "medical model" of psychiatric disorders. This took off with the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III in 1980, which introduced many new classes of “treatable” disorders.
In a recent New Yorker article, Louis Menand suggested that anxiety drugs were rebranded as antidepressants in the '80s, because anxiety drugs had acquired a bad name. Is that really true?
Depression and anxiety are pretty closely linked. Before benzodiapenes came out, the discomfort that younger people and working people felt was seen as anxiety, by and large. Depression was seen as less common, a disease among the middle-aged and older. It was this deep thing, where people are putting their heads in their hands and can’t move. But when the benzodiazepines were proven to be addictive and harmful, the pharmaceutical companies said, in essence, "We have this market of people who feel discomfort in their lives, which we used to call anxiety. If we can rebrand it as depression, then we can bring a new antidepressant to market." It was a reconceptualization of discomfort, and it opened up the giant market for antidepressants as we see today.
And yet many studies have shown that antidepressants can treat depression, especially in severe cases.
In severe cases, you do see that people benefit from antidepressants, and that shows up consistently. But you still have to raise the question, even in that severe group: What happens to those medicated patients in the long term, compared to what happened in previous times? One thing that surprised me, looking at the epidemiological literature from the pre-antidepressant era, is that even severely depressed, hospitalized patients could with time expect to get well, and most did. Today, however, there’s a high incidence of patients on long-term drug therapy that become chronically ill.
What about stimulants used to treat ADHD. How effective are they?
These stimulants alter behavior in a way that teachers can appreciate. They subdue finger-tapping and disruptive symptoms. But in the 1990s, the National Institute of Mental Health started looking to see if things like Ritalin were benefiting kids with ADHD, and to this day they have no evidence that this drug treatment improves long-term functioning in any domain -- the ADHD symptoms, lower delinquency rates, better performance at school, et cetera. Then the NIMH studied whether these drugs provide a long-term benefit, and they found that after three years, being on medication is actually a marker of deterioration. Some patients’ growth has been stunted, their ADHD symptoms have worsened. William Pelham, from the State University of New York at Buffalo and one of the principal investigators in that study, said, "We need to confess to parents that we’ve found no benefit." None. And we think that with drugs, the benefits should outweigh the risks.
What's so risky about Ritalin?
For one, a significant percentage -- between 10 and 25 percent -- of kids prescribed medication for ADHD will have a manic episode or psychotic episode and deteriorate in such a way that they’re diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A similar study in 2000 on pediatric bipolar disorder reported that 84 percent of the children treated for bipolar illness -- at the Luci Bini Mood Disorders Clinic in New York -- had been previously exposed to psychiatric medications. The author, Gianni Faeda, wrote, "Strikingly, in fewer than 10 percent of the cases was diagnosis of bipolar disorder considered initially." The reality is that until children were medicated with stimulants and antidepressants, you didn't see juvenile bipolar mania.
But if these studies are so groundbreaking, why have they gone unreported in the media?
Because the NIMH didn’t announce it. Just as they didn’t announce the 2007 outcome study for schizophrenia patients. In that study, the recovery rate was 40 percent for those off meds, but only 5 percent for those on meds. I checked all the NIMH press releases for 2007, and found no release on this study. I found no announcement of it in any American Psychiatric Association publication or textbook. Not a single newspaper published an account of the study. And that’s because the psychiatric establishment -- the NIMH, the APA, even the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an advocacy organization -- did not put out any press release about it or try to alert the media in any way.
Are you suggesting that psychiatrists are beholden to pharmaceutical companies?
Not exactly, although most of the leading academic psychiatrists act as consultants, advisors and speakers for them. The problem is that psychiatry, starting in 1980 with the publication of the DSM-III, decided to tell the public that psychiatric disorders were biological ailments, and that its drugs were safe and effective treatments for those ailments. If it suddenly announces to the public that a long-term NIMH-funded study found that the 15-year recovery rate for schizophrenia patients was 40 percent for those off meds and 5 percent for those on meds, then that story begins to fall apart. By not reporting the results, psychiatry maintains the image of its drugs in the public mind, and the value of psychiatrists in today’s therapy marketplace.
So do you think psychiatric drugs should be used at all?
I think they should be used in a selective, cautious manner. It should be understood that they’re not fixing any chemical imbalances. And honestly, they should be used on a short-term basis. But beyond this, I think we should look at programs that are getting very good results. This is what I love about Keropudas Hospital’s program in Finland. They have 20 years of great results treating newly psychotic patients. They see if patients can get better without the use of meds, and if they can’t, then they try them. It’s a best-use model, not a no-use or anti-med model. It fits with our studies done in the 1970s that found if you use this model, you get better outcomes, and a good number of people get better and go on with their lives.
Science Friday > Archives > 2002 > March > March 29, 2002:There's this podcast from The Beautiful Brain - seems LeDoux is also a rocker.
Hour Two: Joseph LeDoux - 'Synaptic Self'
In animals, fear is a behavior that's both innate and learned. A rat will freeze at the sight of its very first cat -- but it can also be taught to freeze when there's no cat in sight. What controls these responses? Is it the same as what controls similar responses in humans? In this hour of Science Friday, Ira talks with scientist Joseph LeDoux about his new book "The Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are."
EDGE has a lengthy conversation with LeDoux on emotions, memories, and brain function.By Noah Hutton
This month we are proud to present an interview with Joseph LeDoux, the acclaimed neuroscientist and bestselling author of The Emotional Brain and The Synaptic Self. LeDoux’s research into emotion in the brain has led to groundbreaking findings in the realms of fear and memory. His primary area of concern is the amygdala, the center of fear processing in the brain, and most recently his work in animal models has uncovered just how flexible and dynamic memory can be… kind of like Joe himself, who also is the frontman for the rock band The Amygdaloids, whose brain-themed songs will be released in an album featuring Rosanne Cash later this year. Science, rock music, and the news, all on this edition of The Beautiful Brain Podcast. Total runtime: 33:42
Listen to the Full Episode:
Download and Subscribe to Podcast on iTunes:
A Talk With Joseph LeDouxThere is much more - read the rest of the interview.
JB: Emotions and the brain? Isn't this something new for scientists?
LEDOUX: Twenty years ago no one cared about emotions and the brain, but it seems in the last couple of years there's been a flurry of activity. One reason for this may be that the topic was ignored for so long, and the vacuum is being filled. Another, though, is that there have been some successes in approaching the problem, and these have changed peoples' minds about the feasibility of studying emotions in the brain.
The most successful efforts have come from the study of fear. Fear is a relatively tractable emotion, unlike love or hope which are difficult to pin down. It's always easier to study brain functions that involve clearly defined stimuli and responses than those that don't. For fear, you can easily create experimental situations where the onset of a simple stimulus that warns of impending danger elicits a set of stereotyped responses in an animal, like a rat, that are very similar to the kinds of responses that occur in a human facing danger. By following the flow of the stimulus through the brain from the stimulus processing pathways to the response control networks, it's possible to identify the basic neural circuits involved. We've done this for fear.
JB: How did you get into this?
LEDOUX: I got interested in emotions while I was studying something completely different. I was doing split-brain research as a graduate student with Mike Gazzaniga. Mike and I were studying how information is transferred between the hemispheres of these patients. One of the questions we asked was what happens when we put information in the right hemisphere. Remember, it's the left hemisphere that usually does the talking, so information in the right hemisphere can't ordinarily be talked about in these patients. We put emotional information in the right hemisphere, and the left hemisphere couldn't tell us what it saw, but it could tell us how it felt about it. That led us to the idea that emotional information and information about the content of what a stimulus is, are processed by different pathways in the brain. That seemed very interesting, and I decided I wanted to pursue it.
At the time, I felt that the only way to go about studies of the pathways of emotional processing was to turn to an animal model, where you can do experimental lesions, cell recordings, pathway tracing and so on. The reason you want to do these kinds of studies is not to satisfy some reductionistic urge, but because they can help you see how emotion is put together in the brain, and this can tell you about how the function itself works. Today, there are more sophisticated ways of studying the human brain, such as functional imaging. These can give you a picture of the brain in some emotional state, but you can't then ask the next question. You want to know how the activated region fits into a larger system. You really can't get to those kinds of questions in humans and have to turn to the animal models for answers. The animal work, in other words, gives the framework for interpreting the snapshots we get from human imaging studies. Without the animal studies, though, many of the human studies probably never have been done, and if they had, they wouldn't be so readily interpretable.
So I left the world of human neuropsychology and went into animal research after finishing my PhD and a short post doc. Mike and I had moved to Cornell Medical School and after a year or so I hooked up with Don Reis in the Neurobiology Lab there. The lab's mission was to study the brain's control over the autonomic nervous system, and basically I was told that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I recorded blood pressure. So I developed a blood pressure model of conditioned fear.
I used conditioned fear because it seemed like a relatively straightforward technique: you give a meaningless tone followed by a mild shock a few times, and pretty soon the tone starts eliciting a blood pressure response. It was a good way to create an emotional reaction to the tone on the spot in an animal that wasn't afraid of the tone and didn't have any emotional reaction to it to begin with. Since the tone gets to the brain by way of the auditory system and the response comes out of the brain through the autonomic nervous system, the trick was to figure out how the auditory system is linked up with the autonomic system. By using a combination of brain lesions, neural recordings, and pathway tracing techniques, we were able to figure this out. The answer, in short, is that the amygdala turned out to be a necessary and sufficient link between the auditory system and the autonomic nervous system. However, in a more general sense, the amygdala is the link between all sensory systems and all fear responses systems. It's the part of the brain involved independent of how the stimulus gets into the brain and how the response comes out.
JB: I find it interesting that the first emotion you studied was fear.
LEDOUX: When I first began this work in the early 1980s, I was using fear conditioning techniques because they were convenient. As I said, you can take the stimulus, pair it with the shock one or two times and, as a result, create an emotional reaction that's relatively profound in the animal. I thought at the time that this was going to be a way of identifying a universal emotional system in the brain, something akin to the limbic system. I no longer feel that way. I think that the study of the limbic system, or more generally the idea that there is an emotion system in the brain, is misguided. I came to this conclusion empirically. Once we had outlined a neural circuit for fear responses, it was obvious that the limbic system had little to do with it. The only so-called limbic area involved was the amygdala. And the hippocampus, the centerpiece of the limbic system, had been implicated in non-emotional processes like memory and spatial behavior. It seemed clear that the limbic system, if it existed at all, was not systematically involved in any clear way. I decided I didn't need the limbic system concept to think about how fear works in the brain. But that still doesn't wholly justify the focus on fear to the exclusion of other emotions.
I've come to think that emotions are products of different systems, each of which evolved to take care of problems of survival, like defending against danger, finding mates and food, and so forth. These systems solve behavioral problems of survival. Detecting and responding to danger requires different kinds of sensory and cognitive processes, and different kinds of motor outputs, different kinds of feedback networks, and so on, than finding a mate or finding food. Because of these unique requirements, I think different systems of the brain are going to be involved in the different kinds of emotions.
A related point is that emotion systems, like the fear system, didn't come about to create feelings (like the feeling of being afraid when in danger). I think feelings came much later in evolution. All animals have to be able to detect and respond to danger, regardless of the kind of cognitive architecture they have. This is as true of bees and worms and snails, as it is of fish, frogs, birds, rats, and people. Fear conditioning, by the way, occurs in all animals. And in all those that have an amygdala, the amygdala appears to be the key. The list at this point includes reptiles, birds, and a host of mammals, including humans. I think it's safe to say fear behavior preceded fear feelings in evolution. If so, feelings are probably the wrong thing to focus on when we study emotions. In this sense, animals were unconscious, unfeeling, and non-linguistic before they were conscious, feeling, and linguistic. It's too bad that we define the more basic processes as the negation processes that typify the human brain. It's possible that once consciousness and feelings came along that new kinds of emotions specifically tied to these evolved. But I'm trying to understand the things about emotions that are similar in humans and other animals so that I can work on emotions through the brain.
I tend to agree with theorists who say there are basic emotions that are hard-wired into the brain's architecture, and that one of the advantages of having an extra big cortex is that we can blend different hard-wired emotions together to create softer emotions, where cognitions come into play in a major way. For example, while detection and responding to danger may be built into the brain, the capacity to be afraid of falling in love is something that requires the cognitive integration of the system for finding mates and the system for defending against predators. While I'm sympathetic towards the basic emotions view, I don't really ascribe to it. It requires that you state what the different emotions are. That just leads to arguments. I'd rather spend my time worrying about one well accepted emotion and its organization in the brain than fighting over whether this or that mental process is an emotion or not.
Here is a brief lecture from Mind & Reality: A Multidisciplinary Symposium on Consciousness.
THINKING AND FEELINGReview by Antonio R. Damasio of THE EMOTIONAL BRAIN: THE MYSTERIOUS UNDERPINNINGS OF EMOTIONAL LIFE, by Joseph LeDoux, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996 ($25)"We may never understand exactly why emotion was given the cold shoulder of science for almost 100 years. By the last quarter of the 19th century, Charles Darwin, William James and Sigmund Freud had thought and written brilliantly about the nature of emotion, about the possible biological mechanisms behind it and about the ways in which it could be disturbed. The British neurologist John Hughlings Jackson had even made a first stab at discerning the anatomy of human emotion by planting it in the right cerebral hemisphere. There would have been every reason to expect that the budding brain sciences would concern themselves with emotion in much the same way they had been taking on language or visual perception.
"Curiously, it never came to pass. Emotion was consistently left out of the mainstream of what became neuroscience and cognitive science. A handful of psychologists, such as Stanley Schachter of Columbia University, carried on important studies on emotion; psychiatrists and pharmacologists concerned with mood disorders developed and applied drugs that gave indirect information on the mechanisms of emotion. By and large, however, neuroscience and cognitive science neglected emotion until quite recently. In what may have been the last gasp of post-Cartesian and post-Kantian intellectual dryness, emotion was not trusted, in real life or in the laboratory. Too subjective, it was said, too elusive, let's face it, too irrational for the likes of modern science.
"Some of us have long thought this attitude was wasteful, not to say silly, and proceeded as if a field called "neurobiology of emotion" already existed. That missing field was created in the process, and Joseph LeDoux, author of The Emotional Brain, stands out among the creators. At his laboratory at New York University, LeDoux has made a rich contribution to the understanding of one of the star emotions, fear. Working in animals and concentrating on a pivotal brain region known as the amygdala, LeDoux has performed a number of ingenious experiments that throw light onto some of the neural mechanisms of the fear response. Much of what he has discovered is applicable to other emotions and to human beings. It also provides a valuable blueprint for further animal studies.
"The Emotional Brain draws its strengths heavily from the author's own work. There is no substitute for the firsthand knowledge of how the process of discovery unfolds--sometimes exciting, sometimes painful. LeDoux incorporates his experience to produce an account that is informative (for those who may wish to learn about one approach to systems neuroscience), useful (for specialists) and pleasant (for all). The writing is direct, without subterfuge or pretension, and the author even acknowledges colleagues--a duty so rarely observed in science trade books that it should certainly be regarded as a virtue.
"LeDoux frames his account with a well-articulated reflection on the past and future of emotion research. With remarkable courage, he takes on the long-standing controversy over the role of the body in the processing of emotions. This controversy is probably the central issue in the neurobiology of emotion. William James proposed that when the brain triggered emotions they were enacted in the body and that the changes resulting from such an enactment were subsequently represented in the brain and apprehended consciously. A number of critics countered that the essential components of the mechanism occurred within the brain and that body responses were not essential for the feeling of an emotion. Although its arguments were muddled and uninformed, the anti-James camp was the winner, perhaps because the incompleteness of James's framework (inevitable given the limited knowledge of the time) rendered it vulnerable.
"That this state of affairs prevailed until recently can only be explained by subsequent researchers' reluctance to examine the problem in any depth. LeDoux is not shy in his assessment: "It's hard to believe that after all these years we actually still don't have a clear and definitive understanding of the role of body states in emotions. However, I'm placing my bets in favor of feedback playing a role. Emotional systems evolved as ways of matching bodily responses with the demands being made by the environment, and I can't see many ways that a full-blooded emotional feeling could exist without a body attached to the brain that is trying to have the feeling."
"He also replies eloquently to the oft-asked question of the emotional status of tetraplegics who have lesions in the cervical spinal cord (and who therefore have little feeling or motor control below the level of the neck). The continuing ability of tetraplegics to feel some emotion seems to speak against the role of body feedback in emotion. But few, if any, injuries ever destroy the cord completely and thus some body sensory input still goes through. Moreover, a considerable amount of visceral input bypasses the cord altogether and enters the central nervous system at the brain stem level via cranial nerves. Patients with spinal cord lesions do display some changes in emotional processing, a clear witness to the value of on-line body signaling since even partial damage can have an effect.
"LeDoux's argument is completed by my own proposal for an "as-if-body-loop," as presented in my book Descartes' Error. I have suggested, and LeDoux agrees, that some emotional responses can change somatosensory representations in the brain directly, "as if" the latter were receiving signals from the body, although in effect the body is bypassed. People probably have both body-loop and as-if-body-loop mechanisms to suit diverse processing conditions. The critical point, however, is that both mechanisms are body-related.
"I also enjoyed LeDoux's perspective on the closely related argument that the body would not provide enough variety of signals to signify the different emotions we experience. I have pointed out the weaknesses in this argument, and I am pleased LeDoux endorses the idea that body signals can easily provide the diversity of emotional patterns. He writes, "When all the interactions between the various systems are taken together, the possibilities for the generation of emotion-specific patterns of feedback are staggering. This is especially true when considered from the point of view of what would be necessary to scientifically document the existence of these patterns, or, even more difficult, to prove that feedback is not important."
"I do not wish to disappoint readers bored by so much agreement between reviewer and author, so I will say I do not endorse LeDoux's general attitude toward feelings (though I understand well why he holds it). In essence, LeDoux believes the investigative effort in our field should focus on the biological responses that constitute an emotion because these responses can be identified and manipulated in animal experiments, whereas feelings, which are the perception of the emotional responses, can be studied only with the cooperation of the self that experiences them. His fear of feelings is really twofold. On the one hand, animals may have feelings, but we cannot study them effectively. On the other, the "soft" study of feelings was associated in the past with some of the confusion that arose from poorly conceived studies of emotion.
"I disagree, because times and technologies have changed. The modern techniques of cognitive neuroscience allow us to study emotion in animals and both emotion and feeling in humans. The combination of animal and human studies will eventually reveal, in seamless fashion, the continuity of processes that begin with a triggering mind stimulus, proceed to emotional responses and to their sensory representation, and conclude with the conscious readout known as feelings.
"In the meantime, The Emotional Brain is an excellent introduction to the strange history of the neurobiology of emotion and a preview of what lies ahead."
ANTONIO R. DAMASIO is the author of Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1994). He is Van Allen Professor and head of neurology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine.
Salvia divinorum is native to the Sierra Mazateca in Oaxaca, Mexico, where it is still used by the Mazatec, primarily to facilitate shamanic visions in the context of curing or divination. S. divinorum is one of several species with hallucinogenic properties that are ritually used by Mazatec shamans. Others include certain morning glory seeds (Turbina corymbosa), psilocybin mushrooms, and various coleus species. In their rituals, the shamans use only fresh S. divinorum leaves. They see the plant as an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, and begin the ritual with an invocation to Mary, Saint Peter, the Holy Trinity, and other saints. Ritual use traditionally involves being in a quiet place after ingestion of the leaf—the Maztec shamans say that "La Maria (S. Divinorum) speaks with a quiet voice."
It is also used remedially at lower dosages as a diuretic, and to treat ailments including diarrhea, anemia, headaches, rheumatism, and a semi-magical disease known as panzón de borrego, or a swollen belly (literally, "lamb belly").
The history of the plant is not well known, and there has been no definitive answer to the question of its origin. Speculation includes Salvia divinorum being a wild plant native to the area; a cultigen of the Mazatecs; or a cultigen introduced by another indigenous group. Botanists have also not been able to determine whether it is a hybrid or a cultigen.
Salvia divinorum was first recorded in print by Jean Basset Johnson in 1939 while he was studying Mazatec shamanism. He later documented its usage and reported its effects through personal testimonials. It was not until the 1990s that the psychoactive mechanism was identified by a team led by Daniel Siebert.
Gordon Wasson tentatively postulated that the plant could be the mythological pipiltzintzintli, the "Noble Prince" of the Aztec codices. Wasson's speculation has been the subject of further debate amongst ethnobotanists, with some scepticism coming from Leander J. Valdés, and counterpoints more supportive of Wasson's theory from Jonathan Ott.
The identity of another mysterious Aztec entheogen, namely that of poyomatli, has also been suggested as being Salvia divinorum. Here too there are other candidate plants, notably Cacahuaxochitl (Quararibea funebris), again suggesting that there is no overall consensus.
The genus name, Salvia, is from the Latin salvere ("to save"). The species name, divinorum, was given because of the plant's traditional use in divination and healing. it is often loosely translated as "diviner's sage" or "seer's sage". Albert Hofmann, who collected the first plants with Wasson, objected to the new plant being given the name divinorum:
I was not very happy with the name because Salvia divinorum means "Salvia of the ghosts", whereas Salvia divinatorum, the correct name, means "Salvia of the priests", But it is now in the botanical literature under the name Salvia divinorum.
There are many common names for S. divinorum, most of them relating to the plant's association with the Virgin Mary. The Mazatec believe the plant to be an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, so they take great care in handling the plant. The name "Ska Maria Pastoria", often shortened to "Ska Maria" or "Ska Pastoria", refers to "the leaf or herb of Mary, the Shepherdess." Other Spanish names include "hojas de Maria", "hojas de la Pastora", "hierba (yerba) Maria", and "la Maria". A plant believed to be S. divinorum was referred to as "hoja de adivinacion" (leaf of prophecy) by the Cuicatec and Mazatec. S. divinorum is also known as la hembra ("the female"), when it is included by the Mazatec as part of a family of similar religious hallucinogens. The others it is connected with are Coleus pumila, called el macho ("the male"), and two forms of Coleus blumei which are called el nene ("the child") and el ahijado ("the godson").
Some researchers see the lack of an indigenous Mazatec name as demonstrating a non-Mazatec origin for the plant. Others point out that the Virgin Mary is not normally viewed as a shepherdess in Christianity, and that image may hint at a pre-Hispanic Mazatec cultural reference to the plant.
Salvia divinorum has become both increasingly well-known and available in modern culture. The Internet has allowed for the growth of many businesses selling live salvia plants, dried leaves, extracts, and other preparations.
Medical experts, as well as accident and emergency rooms, have not been reporting cases that suggest particular salvia-related health concerns, and police have not been reporting it as a significant issue with regard to public order offences; in any case, Salvia divinorum has attracted negative attention from the media and some lawmakers.
Reality Sandwich. By the way, part of the controversy around salvia is due to the dumbass videos you can see all over the web of people high on salvia, the worst of which involve trying to drive while high (future Darwin Award winners, for sure).
Psychedelic experiences are necessarily somewhat subjective and variations in reported effects are to be expected. Aside from individual reported experiences there has been a limited amount of published work summarising the effects. D.M. Turner's book Salvinorin—The Psychedelic Essence of Salvia Divinorum quotes Daniel Siebert's summarisation, mentioning that the effects may include:
- Uncontrollable laughter
- Past memories, such as revisiting places from childhood memory
- Sensations of motion, or being pulled or twisted by forces
- Visions of membranes, films and various two-dimensional surfaces
- Merging with or becoming objects
- Overlapping realities, such as the perception of being in several locations at once
Media reporters rarely venture to take salvia themselves, but one firsthand journalistic account has been published in the UK science magazine New Scientist:The salvia took me on a consciousness-expanding journey unlike any other I have ever experienced. My body felt disconnected from 'me' and objects and people appeared cartoonish, surreal and marvellous. Then, as suddenly as it had began, it was over. The visions vanished and I was back in my bedroom. I spoke to my 'sitter'—the friend who was watching over me, as recommended on the packaging—but my mouth was awkward and clumsy. When I attempted to stand my coordination was off. Within a couple of minutes, however, I was fine and clear-headed, though dripping with sweat. The whole experience had lasted less than 5 minutes.
There have been few books published on the subject. One notable example is Dale Pendell's work "Phamako/Poeia—Plants Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft", which won the 1996 Firecracker Alternative Book Award and has a chapter dedicated to Salvia divinorum. It includes some experience accounts:It's very intense, I call it a reality stutter, or a reality strobing. I think that having been a test pilot, and flying in that unforgiving environment with only two feet between our wingtips, helped to prepare me for this kind of exploration.
Other users have written extensive prose and/or poetry about their experiences; some describe their visions pictorially, and there exist examples of visionary art which are 'salvia-inspired'. Others claim musical inspiration from the plant: including "Salvia divinorum" by 1200 Micrograms, "Salvia" by Deepwater Sunshine, and "Flight 77" by Paul Dereas.
Dale Pendell expresses some concerns about the use of highly concentrated forms of salvia. In its natural form salvia is more balanced and benevolent, and quite strong enough, he argues. High strength extracts on the other hand can show "a more precipitous, and more terrifying, face" and many who try it this way may never wish to repeat the experience.
The Salvia divinorum User's Guide hosted on Daniel Siebert's website recommends having a trip sitter present to those who are new to salvia, are experimenting with a stronger form, or are using a more effective method of ingestion.An experienced salvia user who is chewing a quid, may often choose to do it alone, and may be quite safe in doing so. But having a pleasant, sensible, sober sitter is an absolute must if you are trying vaporization, smoking high doses of extract-enhanced leaves, or using pure salvinorin.
The guide says that while the effects of salvia are generally quite different from those of alcohol, like alcohol, it impairs coordination. It also emphasizes that salvia is not a 'party drug.'Salvia is not 'fun' in the way that alcohol or cannabis can be. If you try to party with salvia you probably will not have a good experience. Salvia is a consciousness-changing herb that can be used in a vision quest, or in a healing ritual. In the right setting, salvia makes it possible to see visions. It is an herb with a long tradition of sacred use. It is useful for deep meditation. It is best taken in a quiet, nearly dark room; either alone, or with one or two good friends present.
After the peak effects, normal awareness-of-self and the immediate surroundings return but lingering effects may be felt. These short-term lingering effects have a completely different character than the peak experience. About half of users report a pleasing 'afterglow', or pleasant state of mind following the main effects. Researchers from the University of California and California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute conducted a survey of 500 salvia users which identified that they 'sometimes or often' experience certain effects, including:
Increased insight: 47% Decreased insight: 1.8% Improved mood: 44.8% Worsened mood: 4.0% Increased connection with Universe or Nature: 39.8% Decreased connection with Universe or Nature: 5.4% Increased sweating: 28.2% Decreased sweating: 1.6% Body felt warm or hot: 25.2% Body felt cold: 6.4% Increased self-confidence: 21.6% Decreased self-confidence: 2.4% Improved concentration: 19.4% Difficulty concentrating: 12.0%
Other commonly reported effects include:
- Feelings of calmness: 42.2%
- Weird thoughts: 36.4%
- Things seeming unreal: 32.4%
- Floating feelings: 32%
- Mind racing: 23.2%
- Feeling lightheaded: 22.2%
Differing studies suggest no overall consensus so far with regard to the long-term effects of Salvia divinorum on mood. It is well-established that some k-opioid agonists can cause dysphoria in humans, and research using rats in forced-swim tests (where they're forced to swim in a narrow cylinder from which they cannot escape) has been used to suggest that Salvia divinorum may have "depressive-like" effects. However, a report has been published detailing an individual case of Salvia divinorum use as self-medicated treatment for depression, and Baggott's survey of 500 people with firsthand experience of salvia found that 25.8% of respondents reported improved mood and "antidepressant-like effects" lasting 24 hours or longer. Only 4.4% reported persisting (24 hours or more) negative effects (most often anxiety) on at least one occasion.
The Baggott survey found little evidence of addictive potential (chemical dependence) in its survey population. 0.6% percent of respondents reported feeling addicted to or dependent on salvia at some point, and 1.2% reported strong cravings. About this the researchers said "there were too few of these individuals to interpret their reports with any confidence".
Most users report no hangover or negative after-effects (e.g. withdrawal, comedown or rebound effect) the next day. This is consistent with the apparent low toxicity of salvia indicated by research conducted at the University of Nebraska.
Aside from individual reports of self-medicated use in the treatment of depression, research suggests that Salvia divinorum, in line with the studied effects of other κ-opioid agonists, may have further therapeutic potential.
Thomas Prisinzano, assistant professor of medicinal and natural products chemistry at the University of Iowa, has suggested that salvia may help treat cocaine addiction:You can give a rat free access to cocaine, give them free access to Salvinorin A, and they stop taking cocaine.
Professor Bryan L. Roth, director of the National Institute on Mental Health's Psychoactive Drug Screening Program, has said:We think that drugs derived from the active ingredient could be useful for a range of diseases: Alzheimer's, depression, schizophrenia, chronic pain and even AIDS or HIV.
Clinical pharmacologist John Mendelsohn has also said:There may be some derivatives that could be made that would actually be active against cancer and HIV [...] At the present time, there are a lot of therapeutic targets that have many people excited.
An ABC news story which reported on this went on to suggest "the excitement could vanish overnight if the federal government criminalized the sale or possession of salvia, as the Drug Enforcement Agency is considering doing right now." A proposed Schedule I classification would mean (among other things) that there's no "currently accepted medical use" as far as the United States government is concerned. Scientists worry that such legislation would restrict further work. Mendelsohn said scheduling salvia could scare away a great deal of research and development into salvia's therapeutic promise.
The following is excerpted from Salvia Divinorum: Doorway to Thought-Free Awareness, available from Amazon and Inner Traditions.
It was in my first year of experimentation that my experiences with Salvia Divinorum began to take on an increasing sense of realness that was both alarming and exhilarating. I was beginning to feel that I was becoming connected to a genuine "place" that entailed both psychological and physical dimensions.
During this period, I was also becoming increasingly familiar with this state and the inhabitants that were becoming the focus of these events. The fact that I would encounter these personages on a consistent basis was beginning to define the nature of the experience itself. I was feeling more of an emotional connection that was slowly, but decidedly, coming into focus. The vignettes that presented themselves were of a more personal nature than before, with more interaction from my companions. What had once manifested as a meaningless cacophony was gradually becoming transformed into a coherent, approachable phenomenon. Although the entire course of the event was alien and uncontrollable, there still remained an increasing interest in the connectedness that was gradually unfolding.
In order to remember as much as possible about the experiences I was undergoing, I began to keep an occasional journal detailing some of the more salient events. At the time, I had mixed feelings about committing my experiences to paper. I thought that it might, on some level, be antithetical to the genuine alien nature of these experiences, which, by their very nature, could barely be recalled, much less described accurately in words. It was as if I was afraid I might jeopardize the flow of interaction I was experiencing by focusing my ordinary awareness on the state. I thought that, perhaps, I should simply experience these events and not look back.
I also had no reason to believe that the successive trials would entail any dramatic progression beyond what I was already witnessing. To have a journal of consecutive incidents seemed an amusing, but arbitrary, waste of time. The radical nature of the experiences I was having, coupled with my wish to recount, as completely as possible, the nature of these experiences with a few close friends, however, overcame my reticence. Generally I would record my passages on the day following the event, but after a period of time, I began my recounting within an hour of returning to my normal state. This tended to facilitate a more complete retelling of the events, as well as to augment my memory with the still lingering flavor of the excursion.
One particular event during this initial period was especially vivid and can serve to illustrate the general tenor of my experiences at the time. From my notes:
One bowl 5X Mazatecan:
After smoking one bowl, the effects were instantaneous. Immediately, I saw a symmetrical flower, perhaps eight pointed, which opened into the other world, as I sensed the presence of beings, simultaneously. The immediacy of the change was startling. There was quite a bit of disorientation. I sensed that there was someone there. Suddenly, I encountered a male about forty or fifty years old with a black mustache. He appeared to be Mexican. It occurred to me that he might somehow be connected with the salvia I had just smoked -- possibly a farmer or some sort of guardian of the plants. He was laughing good naturedly at my growing predicament -- I could not remember who I was or from where I'd come.* I knew that I had another life somewhere but couldn't remember anything about it. I couldn't remember whether I was an adult or a child and was quite disoriented.
Suddenly, a very raucous parade, complete with marching band, flags, and a bass drum engulfed me. This was also so bizarrely out of context that I felt even more bewildered. The parade came from my right. After a moment of horrifying confusion, I realized that the parade was a prank performed by an old man who also appeared off to my right. He was older than the first and very thin. He had evidently concocted the parade as a way of teasing me about my amnesic predicament.
Just then, two young girls entered the scene. They were about eleven years old, possibly twins, and were evidently daughters of the Mexican. They had black hair pulled back into buns and were wearing skirts and black shoes. They were also laughing, aware of my situation, and teasing me. One of them, as a way of describing my inability to remember where I was from, began joking. She said something, which on some level I found precise and hilarious, and I attempted to repeat what she had said. When I began to speak, I was unable to form the words. At the same time, I realized that it was a language that I couldn't speak. Evidently, to demonstrate my anxiety about my loss of memory, she leaped down and put her foot into a crevice in the floor -- which was not flat, but looked organic, like a living being. I noticed that I was standing, perhaps ankle deep in this crevice, which was not unlike a huge vagina. This somehow was meant to demonstrate my predicament. They were all laughing good-naturedly at me, including the old man, who apparently was the uncle of the girls.
Shortly after this, the scene began to lose its intensity and slowly began to slip away. There was an image of a cloth slowly descending -- as when someone is making a bed and the airborne sheet slowly comes to rest on the mattress. It was at this point that I began to remember who I was, along with some of the details of my other life.
During this time, similar vignettes would present themselves. I would find myself in circumstances that were at once foreign yet familiar. In all of these instances, I would be at a total loss as to who I was, how old I was, or from where I'd come. On some level, I was aware that I'd initiated some sort of action that had led me to that circumstance, but could not remember that it had been to smoke a hallucinogenic substance, or that I began the journey sitting in a chair in a small workshop. Although to focus on this amnesic state could lead to increasing panic, one could just as easily let go and simply perceive what was unfolding.
Indeed, it seems that this is one of the salient features of salvia -- it allows one, in some sense even instructs one -- to gradually, and without fear, abandon the framework of reason that's based on a cumbersome conceptual reference, and that is never called into question throughout the course of one's life. It's been my experience that salvia can lead to a unique state that one might characterize as "thoughtless awareness." This state, although on the surface seemingly paradoxical, is actually strangely and reassuringly familiar. It's as if, with repeated trances, one develops this skill gradually and effortlessly, leading to a genuine, what might be termed "functional awareness" that seems inherently essential for this type of exploration.
It was during this time that a particular episode occurred that, in retrospect, I hold significant, although at the time, I regarded as inconsequential. After smoking, I experienced the usual onset of images. Within a few moments, the state focused somewhat, and I found myself in the presence of an older woman. She was of slight build and seemed to be either Haitian or perhaps East Indian. She was wearing a long skirt and headscarf and seemed to be performing an odd action with her hands, as if she were drawing something apart or perhaps kneading and pulling an imaginary doughlike substance -- it seemed reminiscent of playing the "cat's cradle" string game, only without the string. She had a bored demeanor and said, almost off handedly, "You're accepted." On some level, it was implied that this was connected with a type of proficiency at "letting go,"although these feelings were very vague. It was as if she, personally, couldn't care less about the information she was relaying -- it seemed as though she was merely fulfilling a task. Within moments, the scene faded and I found myself returning to a normal state.
The next morning, I was initially hesitant to relate the story to E., since it would sound so pompous, while at the same time the experience itself had little or no emotional impact. I thought it was just another scene that was part of the flood of random images that I was encountering and thought no more about it. I didn't bother writing the experience down.
About a week later, I decided to smoke again. I followed my usual routine. This time, however, something was different. Even now, years later, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what this difference entailed. Somehow, on some level, the state had stabilized. I was now returning to the same place, although this place did not necessarily entail location, in the normal sense. It was rather a state or feeling that had gained some sort of perceptual and emotional solidity. Although all the various external features of the visions were different, there was something that I was returning to -- something was becoming familiar. In subsequent experiences, there would open up an entire range of feelings that was always somehow rooted in this abstract stable place.