#14: Psychedelics and Personality
I saw that the personality of man is like layer upon layer of glass. The specific vision was of irregular but cleanly geometric pieces, each behind the other onto infinity. Each piece of glass was attached on pivots at the top and bottom. At any place, if any piece were turned slightly it would reflect an external picture and, like a mirror, block any further vision inside. I knew, with deep regret, that most of us have many pieces turned askew. - Eric Clough
From before to now
The quote is from Eric Clough, an American architect, describing his experience, after taking LSD (Acid), in 1966, in a controlled scientific setting. His experience with LSD mirrors that of many others’, including Francis Crick, who also experienced an intellectual breakthrough while on the drug, crediting LSD for his ability to perceive the double-helix shape of DNA.
Psychedelics, e.g., LSD, have had a troubled history in the US, culminating in failed drug policies, as a result of stigma and fear and, of course, some weird things that happened in the 1960s, fueled by the Vietnam War and a hippie culture that abused the powerful substance and did a lot of damage that we’re still unwinding today.
Finally, very recently, after the hard work by scientists, academics, and believers, the government is beginning to loosen up its regulation of psychedelics, allowing for scientific research and studies, previously on a moratorium, to restart, in the hope of bringing the healing benefits of psychedelics to people, in a responsible way: in the right set and setting, using controlled dosages, and with trained therapists.
Clough’s quote peaked my interest, so I spent some time researching academic literature on personality differences, but I was disappointed, not finding anything interesting. Maybe the problem was that I sought information in psychology literature, where I found boring boxed thinking such as the Big 5 Personality Traits, when personality is a special something in human beings - better explained through spiritual and religious texts, through art, and through scientific disciplines like quantum physics that seek to explore consciousness, the special uniqueness of what it means to be human.
Really, I was interested in the human condition, what makes each human a unique snowflake, and how to activate that potential energy.
As humans, we share 99.9% of our DNA with other humans, with only 0.1% accounting for our differences. It is in this 0.1% percent that our uniqueness lies, and most people, never tap into it, but what a joy it is to uncover what makes you unique, and weird, and oddly quirky: truly you. Some people are lucky, and discover this in childhood, surrounded by an environment where weirdness is encouraged, but for many of us, our weirdness, uniqueness, our 0.1%, is beat out of us by society, with varying degrees of platza.
Then what happens? We conform. And we bury our personality, leaving it to hibernate, until we’re lucky enough to resurrect it at some point in the future when something happens that shifts our perspective and we start to blossom into our true, full self.
For most people, this never happens, because as people conform to the heavy-hand of society, their personality becomes more rigid, tough, and later develops into their character, with roots like a Banyan tree: deeply seated, not malleable, and passed down to the next generation with a stiff, heavy-handed rigor.
What’s worse is that groups of similar characters start banding together and building systems that soon become paradigms, that thrive on rigidness and conformity, and are wrapped in a layer of fear and anxiety, reluctant to let in outside people and new ideas; in an effort to maintain what is, squashing all thoughts of what could be.
The Paradigm Shift
You keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm. You keep speaking and acting, loudly and with assurance, from the new one. You insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. You don’t waste time with reactionaries; rather, you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded. - Thomas Kuhn, paraphrased by Donella Meadows in Thinking in Systems
Shifting societal system paradigms starts, first, with identifying and shifting the pieces that are askew within yourself. This work is hard, but rewarding, and a great accomplishment: discovering the truth about yourself and the world, lifting the veil of deception that you wear to make yourself feel better, but that actually hinders your ability to uncover your full potential, because, blinded by rose-colored glasses, you can’t see the path.
There is a mounting body of scientific and anecdotal evidence that shows the enormous benefits of psychedelics for not only self exploration and discovery, but also for conditions like PTSD, anxiety, depression, addiction, and even to help terminally ill patients find peace and acceptance in dying.
Psychedelics are also becoming normalized through books like “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence” by esteemed author and journalist, Michael Pollan, who took LSD for the first time at a later age, in his 60s, showing that it’s never too late to experiment.
Depending on how psychedelic research unfolds, and the effectiveness of heroic groups like MAPS to bring psychedelics into the public sphere - in a safe, healthy, and responsible way - psychedelics have the ability to transform the trajectory of humanity. Are you curious?