Date: August 28, 2014 12:57AM
" . . . Aldous Huxley [argued] in his classic, 'The Doors of Perception,' that the primary function of the brain may be eliminative: Its purpose may be to prevent a trans-personal dimension of mind from flooding consciousness, thereby allowing apes like ourselves to make their way in the world without being dazzled at every step by visionary phenomena that are irrelevant to their physical survival. Huxley thought of the brain as a kind of “reducing valve” for “Mind at Large.” In fact, the idea that the brain is a filter rather than the origin of mind goes back at least as far as Henri Bergson and William James. In Huxley’s view, this would explain the efficacy of psychedelics: They may simply be a material means of opening the tap.
"Huxley was operating under the assumption that psychedelics decrease brain activity. Some recent data have lent support to this view; for instance, a neuro-imaging study of psilocybin suggests that the drug primarily reduces activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region involved in a wide variety of tasks related to self-monitoring. However, other studies have found that psychedelics increase activity throughout the brain. Whatever the case, the action of these drugs does not rule out dualism, or the existence of realms of mind beyond the brain—but then, nothing does. That is one of the problems with views of this kind: They appear to be unfalsifiable.
"We have reason to be skeptical of the brain-as-barrier thesis. If the brain were merely a filter on the mind, damaging it should increase cognition. In fact, strategically damaging the brain should be the most reliable method of spiritual practice available to anyone. In almost every case, loss of brain should yield more mind. But that is not how the mind works.
"Some people try to get around this by suggesting that the brain may function more like a radio, a receiver of conscious states rather than a barrier to them. At first glance, this would appear to account for the deleterious effects of neurological injury and disease, for if one smashes a radio with a hammer, it will no longer function properly. There is a problem with this metaphor, however. Those who employ it invariably forget that we are the music, not the radio. If the brain were nothing more than a receiver of conscious states, it should be impossible to diminish a person’s experience of the cosmos by damaging her brain. She might seem unconscious from the outside—like a broken radio—but, subjectively speaking, the music would play on.
"Specific reductions in brain activity might benefit people in certain ways, unmasking memories or abilities that are being actively inhibited by the regions in question. But there is no reason to think that the pervasive destruction of the central nervous system would leave the mind unaffected (much less improved). Medications that reduce anxiety generally work by increasing the effect of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, thereby diminishing neuronal activity in various parts of the brain. But the fact that dampening arousal in this way can make people feel better does not suggest that they would feel better still if they were drugged into a coma. Similarly, it would be unsurprising if psilocybin reduced brain activity in areas responsible for self-monitoring, because that might, in part, account for the experiences that are often associated with the drug. This does not give us any reason to believe that turning off the brain entirely would yield an increased awareness of spiritual realities."
("Drugs and the Meaning of Life," by Richard Dawkins, from essay originally published in 2011, updated 6 June 2014, at: https://richarddawkins.net/2014/06/drugs-and-the-meaning-of-life/
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/28/2014 12:57AM by steve benson.