Here’s a good example of a great book that generated a lot of buzz when it first appeared last May, but had completely faded from the conversation by the fall. I read it when it first came out (thanks, library advance hold system!), was mightily impressed, and read most of the articles, columns, essays, and blog posts that discussed it.
Since one of Pollan’s major points was that the horrified disdain in which psychedelics are currently held is a sad historical accident (LSD was initially thought by the scientific community to have great promise, and then the grandstanding clown Timothy Leary came along …), and then goes on to claim that the scientific mood is shifting quickly back to favorable, I wondered if there might be a window of opportunity for general attitudes to also shift. No such luck, it seems, or at least I’ve heard nothing public to indicate that there will soon be magic mushroom shops appearing next to legal pot emporiums.
A shame, because Pollan nearly persuades me to give some sort of psychedelic experience a whirl—I’m as hesitant now as I was to drink that first glass of raw milk so many years ago. But, truth be told, I’m very unlikely to seek out such a thing, because of my responsibilities to my family. They surely wouldn’t want me taking the risk, and I’m not so eager that I’d do it behind their backs.
And, strangely, I’m not particularly eager because I’m pretty sure what Pollan says about the experience is accurate, that it strips away the self and enables you to take a more direct look at the world. It’s something I’d like to see personally—but because I’m so confident after years of studying up on the matter that self is the culprit preventing us from fully beholding God’s creation, I’m content to know just that clearer sight is a possibility, and to do what I can using my simpler (and safer) exercises to slowly strip away layers of self, even if I don’t have enough years ahead of me to get to the place that a psychedelic might take me to directly.
Anyway, I recommend the book even if you have no interest in psychedelics or are suspicious of what they can do to a person. Pollan is a great writer, and the modern history of psychedelics will surprise you.