October 2006

Byron Rogers
Ottawa, Ontario

Michael Posner responds:

Ken Klonsky is right to suggest that other means of reaching mind-altering states are readily available. However, it’s highly unlikely that ayahuasca would ever become a pleasure seeker’s fad. It’s too rigorous and exacting a discipline. Nothing in the extensive literature on ayahuasca indicates that regular users enter the experience with anything other than seriousness of purpose. With ayahuasca, I am told, there are no shortcuts to enlightenment.

In regard to Byron Rogers’ missive: To my knowledge, no one has effectively resolved the circularity problem I identified in Darwinian evolutionary theory. Furthermore, while pharmaceutical companies may use trial and error to test prospective drugs, the notion that Amazonian shamans discovered ayahuasca in this manner is hard to believe.

The racism, alas, works quite the other way, with Western society’s assumption that because indigenous peoples see the universe through a different cultural prism, their views are somehow inferior. Science is indeed “a method that aims to produce more reliable beliefs,” but certain fields of research are institutionally sanctioned and funded while others are not. The scientific community has shown minimal interest in investigating the knowledge claims of indigenous peoples.

“Maybe consciousness is an emergent property that only becomes possible and discernible at the systemic level of the brain,” writes Rogers. Maybe. The problem is that no one — not the neuroscientists or the phenomenologists — really knows much about human consciousness.

War and Peace and Gilmour

I was in a bookstore on a Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, in a blue funk, when I came upon David Gilmour’s beauty of a memoir (“My Life with Tolstoy,” July/August).

War and Peace was one of those books I’d always meant to read... sometime. I considered it a penance, like losing twenty pounds — something to be put off for another day. I got the impression Gilmour felt the same way initially but was hooked early on. He’d also expected to be bored and began reading the novel in place of a sedative. “I have a check mark beside the paragraph where, even in the rollercoaster grip of a white rum hangover, I began to pay acute attention,” he writes.
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