Agnostic Sanity

The concept of “crazy” is problematic. It almost doesn’t make sense to me. At a surface level, we might quickly decide that crazy refers to people who are not engaging the world in ways that track with “true reality”. One issue here is that we do not really have access to any true reality. Instead, what is often meant by true reality is the reality proposed by the people around us. This is reflected in the definition of delusion, which basically discludes individuals who conform to a belief system, regardless of whether they fit the rest of the framework of the delusion concept. It isn’t totally clear what differentiates crazy from non-crazy. We will explore the question: Do psychedelics make people “crazier”?

The definition of delusion according to the DSM5:

“A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly held despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (i.e., it is not an article of religious faith). When a false belief involves a value judgment, it is regarded as a delusion only when the judgment is so extreme as to defy credibility. Delusional conviction can sometimes be inferred from an overvalued idea (in which case the individual has an unreasonable belief or idea but does not hold it as firmly as is the case with a delusion).”

I sort of think that everyone is crazy but there’s also a lot of people who collectively worked on ideas recursively for centuries or longer, trying to build up a useful worldview. Subscribing to such recursively studied worldview is a safer bet, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the capacity of the subscriber to know things about the world. It mostly reflects on the fact that they had the capacity to absorb such a worldview that is culturally passed down through generations.

The ways I suspect psychedelics could impact peoples worldview:

  • Pushing people to think for themselves, with less reliance on culturally transmitted ideas. People are not good at thinking for themselves. This is the entire point of science and the culturally transmitted knowledge. It is to bypass our inferior thinking and percieving. If psychedelics make people willing to think for themselves, it probably would seem to make us think poorly. Because usually we are not thinking much but merely adopting beliefs from others.
  • Memory distortion and dissociation, causing people to develop new beliefs that contradict lost information. Since information is lost, this missing information no longer protects us from the sense of contradiction that would occur in developing new beliefs and the consistency check we would use with that the new ideas. It basically allows for us to develop beliefs that do not consider such lost information. If such occurs, this may actually facilitate openness to new ideas too.

The memory distortion and dissociation idea is one that I’ve recently covered in the essay, Making Sense of Madness: Stress-Induced Hallucinogenesis. That essay is very in-depth and has tons of references, so check it out if that topic interests you. In this current article, we will explore the “thinking for oneself” concept.

It may be that people develop a different response to the information they hold as beliefs that rely on assuming the authorities feeding us ideas are worthy of our trust. Ordinarily, we may trust in such authorities for reasons beyond merely assuming they are worthy as thought leaders. For example, the people around us might actually punish us if we do not conform to their ideas and we dislike this punishment very much. So there are incentives that go beyond the utility and reward that “true ideas” could provide. There is a utility in believing false ideas to avoid punishment for heresy. Such dynamics and belief incentives may help in explaining the popularity of ideas, particularly moralized beliefs. Religion is the most obvious case.

Perhaps psychedelics disrupt our conditioned fears of thinking heretical ideas or even the fear of becoming embarrassed for professing absurd conclusions. This may be similar to the proposed treatment of traumas and addictions that is often proposed to occur with psychedelics. Rather than disrupting some sort of full-blown trauma, they may dose-dependently suppress conditioned responses that inhibit our thinking and motivate our reasoning.

Since people might be quite often led to believe things based on conformity and obedience to thought leaders, being free of this may reveal a sheer lack of “good” knowledge about the world. Rather, they may have adopted a fairly hefty list of dogmas that they hold because the ideas are popularized and rewarding or protective. Being stripped of the motivations to conform to these ideas might leave an individual with a worldview that is almost bare and totally free to develop ideas on their own.

As covered earlier in the post, developing ideas independently is not really the best strategy for forming good ideas. An individual would be competing against a legion of thinkers and scientists across the ages. Why should we expect a mere individual to develop grand ideas without standing on the shoulders of giants?

Ordinary people might be exempt from the delusion label because of their conformity, something I find absurd, but from my perspective, they are not so different from the person who is adopting ridiculous falsehoods. Their spoken ideas merely artificially sound like those spoken by scientists and thought leaders, but when scrutinized will likely be exposed for how superficial they are, even I. People may say the right words but they likely have not accurately simulated reality in their minds. Perhaps they have simulated a very small portion of reality successfully, though so minimally that it allows for many absurdities to arise. This is something we could term dogmatic sanity.

We try so desperately to semanticize our perceptions and thoughts, which might be the best we can do. Moreover, we have not tapped into the true nature of reality. The awareness of this has led me to hold a sort of agnostic position on almost everything, in acknowledgment of my grand naivety and ignorance. While this limits what I can truly believe about reality, it actually opens the doors to great freedom to wonder what is possible within the realms of what I “know” and think. I am essentially agnostic about epistemological solipsism. Rather than dogmatic sanity, I opt for agnostic sanity.

. . .

If you found this enjoyable, consider joining the Patreon! I’ve been posting detailed experience reports with my adventures using prescription ketamine. Also, someone sent me an EEG device to collect data on ketamine-induced brainwave changes which I’ve started posting there too. I also post secret mini podcasts. You can find the publicly available podcasts here by the way!

Special thanks to the 15 patrons: Alex W, Elin Ahlstrand, Morgan Hough, Buttercup, Libby Rosebaugh, Dan Elton, Idan Solon, David Chang, Jack Wang, Richard Kemp, Sarah Gehrke, Melissa Bradley, Morgan Catha, Niklas Kokkola, Riley Fitzpatrick, and Charles Wright! Abhi is also the artist who created the cover image for Most Relevant. Please support him on instagram, he is an amazing artist! I’d also like to thank Alexey Guzey, Annie Vu, Chris Byrd, and Kettner Griswold for your kindness and for making these projects and the podcast possible through your donations.

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