Episode 2 – Psychedelics, Science & Spirituality

Marion Gildea is a Master’s research intern in the field of Psychedelic Medicine at Imperial College London. In this podcast conversation, we discuss the current position of psychedelic research, its potential for clinical usage, depth psychology, and spirituality.
We discuss the subconscious mind as a sort of unknown entity that dictates behaviour from unseen corners, and how different approaches, including modern psychology and ancient Buddhist philosophy view this phenomenon.

In this episode I speak with Marion Gildea, a Master’s research intern in the field of Psychedelic Medicine at Imperial College London.

In this conversation, we discuss the current position of psychedelic research, its potential for clinical usage, depth psychology, and spirituality. We discuss the subconscious mind as a sort of unknown entity that dictates behaviour from unseen corners of the psyche, and how different approaches, including modern psychology and ancient Buddhist philosophy approach this phenomenon.

We go into detail about psychedelic research, what the experience is like for psychedelic research volunteers who participate in psychedelic research. We discuss the essence of the spiritual experience that often accompanies being under the influence of psychedelics, and the difficulty in reconciling those feelings with our scientific understanding of the nature of reality.

Still being in the early days of podcasting, please forgive the sound quality. We will be looking toward making a number of improvements as time goes by and hope it doesn’t stop you from enjoying the conversation all the same.

If this is something you are interested in, I encourage to follow or subscribe to the website. Alternatively, you could like our Facebook page, as all published material will be posted there!

Psychology & Conspiracy

Grapples with the multiple definitions of ‘conspiracy theory’. A scientifically supported narrative of the world of conspiracy theories.

Definitions of ‘Conspiracy Theory’

There are several definitions of the term ‘conspiracy theory’ floating around, both in the mainstream and in scientific literature. Let us examine a few of them here. The following is the Oxford definition: ‘a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for an unexplained event.’

Another, proposed by Van der Linder, is ‘A conspiracy theory purports that some covert and powerful individual(s), organization(s) or group(s) are intentionally plotting to accomplish some sinister goal’

A definition used is another study ‘Conspiracy theories can be treated as both rational narratives of the world as well as outcomes of underlying maladaptive traits’.

And yet, another definition commonly encountered in relevant literature. ‘A conspiracy theory usually refers to a subset of false narratives in which the ultimate cause of an event is believed to be due to a malevolent plot by multiple actors working together’.

The Problem of Multiple Definitions

The lack of consensus on a clear definition seems problematic. Upon closer inspection you will see that there is nothing in the former three definitions that imply that the theory is intrinsically false, only that it is alternative and involves conspiring forces.

The latter definition is closer to the implication of the falsehood of such theories, but falls short by using the word ‘usually’. This is problematic for the coherent categorization of alternative or anti-establishment theories as true or false. It lacks conscientiousness and does not provide us with a clear framework on which to operate, when investigating the causes, correlations and effects of the belief in these theories. It enables us to categorize any alternative-to-mainstream theory, that involves conspiring parties as a ‘conspiracy theory’. Which, although not explicitly stated in the definition, is generally presumed to be false.  

Did Hitler not conspire against the Jewish people? Was Julius Caeser not conspired against by the group of senators that eventually murdered him? Does believing in these historical events make me a conspiracy theorist?  I hope this is enough to illustrate the convoluted nature of a having multiple definitions for a word that is so frequently used in both mainstream and science.

This Review

For the pragmatic purpose of being able to continue with my narrative, to be able to justifiably include results from various studies, I will set the definition as ‘an alternative, unpopular view involving the covert conspiracy of influential forces’.

However, I would like it to be made clear that I am not making any assumptions about whether such theories are true or false. There is an overwhelming amount of ‘conspiracy theories’, some far more difficult to swallow than others. I have not addressed them and falsified them one by one, nor do I believe, has anybody. The remainder of this post is simply to review some surrounding factors involving conspiracy theories.

I will review some individual (internal) and environmental (external) factors that predict the belief in such theories, alongside the effects of conspiracist ideation on a societal and individual level.

What causes belief in conspiracy theories?

Results from a representative survey in the U.S reported that half of the American public believes in at least one conspiracy theory. This raises concern, considering it’s correlation with negative health and psychological outcomes.

Social unrest, uncertainty and the occurrence of very consequential events results in an increase in conspiratorial thinking. This is reflected by the serious rise in conspiratorial ideation that has occurred in parallel with the Covid-19 pandemic.  Some researchers have suggested that this is a type of defensive response to a complex problem. This perspective states that conspiracy theories help to regulate levels of acute stress prescribing an all-encompassing explanation for an otherwise very complicated problem. It does this by reinstalling the sense of order, control and predictability, after exposure to an external threat.

Conspiracy and personality

There are several individual factors that predict the belief in conspiracy theories. Studies have shown that people with a higher level of education, socioeconomic status and analytical thinking are less likely to endorse such theories. They also suggest that individuals who are mistrustful and cynical by nature tend to engage more in conspiratorial thinking. This brings me to an interesting personality type.

The Schizotypal Personality

GP PSYCHOLOGY

The bells of familiarity will ring for many of us when we hear about a character, more likely male, that is somewhat detached from society and social relationships. This character is often considered a loner, and usually has very strange supernatural and superstitious beliefs. They are often paranoid about the intentions and loyalty of other people, even those who are presumably close friends of family members.

Such individuals often endorse the existence of a magical realm and have strange perceptual experiences accompanying their strange beliefs. They likely experience a good deal of social anxiety, and sometimes lack the appropriate emotional responses, often appearing dull to others. They are not loners because they do not have social contacts, rather they isolate themselves by choice, feeling that nobody understands them. This is the Schizotypal personality.

Due to its maladaptive nature, it is considered a disorder, and resides on the lower end of the schizophrenic spectrum. It turns out that the Schizotypal personality is a very strong predictor of conspiratorial thinking, which makes sense when considering their intrinsically mistrusting nature.

In my opinion, it is not the role of mental health professionals to tell others whether their philosophical world view is right or wrong, and none of us can say with full certainty whether there are ‘supernatural’ elements to our world. This will remain true as long as we do not know everything about the universe. However, what is helpful, is aiding people in understanding what elements of their cognitions are resulting in their own suffering, and helping people make informed choices about how to orient their lives.

Consequences of Conspiracist Ideation

Although we cannot say whether the long list of all conspiracy theories out there are true or false, we can measure what effect the have on society.

We know that exposure to conspiracy theories decreases willingness to engage in politics and reduces prosocial behaviour, namely, reducing one’s carbon footprint. It also predicts the tendency and willingness to engage in everyday crime. Furthermore, it is associated with higher levels of anxiety.

A Suggested Antidote to False Beliefs

Don’t just believe everything you read at face value. Know the difference between a reliable source and an illegitimate source. Be willing to listen to reason.


See in text references

Other article sources

The Art and Science of Relaxation

In this article the author reviews some scientifically established negative effects of stress and benefits of relaxation. They also provide a quick and easy how to along with some useful links to get started.

The Dangers of Stress

Relaxation is an art, as important as it is for the functioning and wellbeing of people, it is largely overlooked. The dangers of stress to mental and physical wellbeing should not be news to anyone, but how seriously do most of us really consider this? Stress weakens our immune system, increases our blood pressure, causes erectile dysfunction, contributes to female infertility, deregulates our breathing and heart rate, and increases muscle tension.

Increased tension in the muscles leads to physical discomfort, pain, and so, psychological irritation. Prolonged physical tension also leads to faster aging and degeneration of the muscles, and who wants that?

If these physical symptoms of stress are not enough to motivate one to consider the necessity of relaxation more deeply, let us look at the mental consequences of stress.

Prolonged stress increases a person’s likelihood of developing a mental illness, research has shown this to be particularly true for anxiety and depressive disorders. Results from research conducted in the University of California showed that chronic stress causes long term structural and functional changes in the brain. It was found that chronic stress causes the under production of new brain cells and leads to shrinkage of areas in the brain responsible for emotional regulation and memory.

Unfortunately, many modern humans still don’t take heed of the dangers of stress, and our need to actively practice relaxation. We still condemn people for smoking cigarettes, it’s just so obviously bad for health. Yet those of us who work ourselves to the bone, often at the cost of our own health, are met with praise and reward for the stress we put ourselves under, not realizing, the extent to which it is damaging our lives.

The Concept of Relaxation

Martin Malchev / Alamy Stock Vector

The concept of relaxation is nothing new. In fact, it is very old. The yogis of ancient India have understood this profoundly powerful tool for thousands of years already, and it is an integral part of yogic practice. In Tai Chi and Qi Gong, the Chinese word ‘sung’ literally meaning ‘loose’ in one of the primary principles of practice. Once practicing relaxation techniques, you will surely notice yourself, that the relationship between body and mind is a bidirectional one. The relaxation of the mind communicates to the body that it is not under any sort of immediate threat, and results in the relaxation of the muscles, the dissipation of physical tension. Similarly, if one focuses first on relaxing the body, the mind will also slow down and become more at ease. Anybody who has had a professional massage should already know this to be true.

In contrast to the scientifically established negative effects of stress, research on the benefits of relaxation have shown that consistent, regular relaxation massively reduces mood disturbances and  increases immune function. It reduces the experience of chronic, non-malignant pain and psychological distress, while increasing all domains of quality of life as measured by the RAND-36 Health Survey.

The Modern Form of ‘Relaxation’

Sam Wordley BigStock

Many people associate sitting down at the end of the day to watch movies or series with relaxation and recuperation. There seems nothing out of the ordinary with the sentence ‘sitting and relaxing in front of the TV’. It isn’t uncommon for us to watch something on Netflix in bed and simply wait until we are too exhausted to keep our eyes open to fall asleep. This is how many of us ‘relax’, but if we can agree on the definition of relaxation as being in a state free from tension and anxiety, we can agree that this is not real relaxation.

A survey of 471 people showed that for particularly busy individuals (who among us is not particularly busy?), watching tv was actually a source of guilt and feelings of failure. They viewed it as a form of procrastination, having the sense of having ‘given in’ rather than having spent time to productively relax and rejuvenate.  

Other studies show that depending on the content, watching tv increases cortisol levels, the hormone responsible for causing a stress response.  

When we fall to sleep in this manner, our minds are often still in a state of turmoil, we toss and turn as our subconscious tries to process everything that happened during the day or prepare us for the day to come. We wake up, still tired, check our phones and put the coffee on, entering again into the cycle of motion, the cycle where deep relaxation never takes place.

How Can I Really Relax?

This is not to try to persuade you to stop watching Netflix or to quit drinking coffee. Rather it is simply trying to provide the reasoning for why we might want to stop misconstruing these behaviours with relaxation. That is exactly what it isn’t. It would be much more useful and realistic to ask that you simply consider allotting a few moments a day, on as many days as you can, to deep relaxation.

So how do you do this?

Meditation

Lying down or sitting, close your eyes and simply observe your breathing. You might find that in the first few moments, your mind begins to race, and your agitation heightens. Work through it, take deep breaths if you need to, but stay still for now. Just follow your breath until you notice the noise of your thoughts decrease, thoughts will probably not totally disappear, but they will become less dominating as you focus on your breath.

Once you have achieved this, starting with your feet (or your head) relax one part of your body at a time.

If you find it difficult to maintain concentration, try doing it in synchronicity with your breath. Inhale and focus on a part of the body. Exhale and relax that part of the body.

Stretching & Self Massage

When we are full of tension, our muscles contract and become tight, doing a few stretches manually loosens the muscles and invokes a state of relaxation. Another way to manually manipulate the muscles into letting go, is massage. For those who have a healthy wallet, it can be very worth it to treat yourself to a professional massage. The standard price for this is usually around €50 for an hour, give or take a little.

However, don’t worry if you don’t have the money to spend, self­-massage works just as well, though is a bit more effort. Self-massage is a common thing to do amongst the Chinese, tai chi practicing population. It’s believed to help the flow of energy in the body by promoting blood circulation, bringing oxygen to different parts of the body. You can check out the links below (not sponsored) for a practical guide on how to do this.

A Personal Note on the Efficacy of Relaxation

As a young person, I suffered immensely from a wide array of mental disturbances. Chronic anxiety, depression, insomnia, and night terrors, just to name a few. The point that I began to study and practice these simple and profound techniques, was the point of departure for me from all (let’s say most) of the psychological suffering that burdened me. By no means was it an instant fix, though you can expect to feel good straight after practicing. It took years of healing the relationship between my body and mind, and being aware of when tension returned, training it as though it were a wild animal.

I never chose to undergo psychological therapy or treatment, though I absolutely recommend this for those who feel they need it. Fortunately, for me, the principles of meditation and relaxation, alongside physical practice, was enough to metamorphosize my life from something terrible, into something wonderful. Without wanting this to become too personal of a post, I would have felt as though I were withholding a secret if I did not at least mention it.

If you are interested and would like some recommendations (not sponsored) for learning more and getting started practicing, have a look at the links below!

Wishing everyone happy relaxation!

If you’ve made it this far and enjoyed the read, please consider liking the post to show support. We are a new journal, so it means a lot to us. Like us on Facebook if you want to be kept in the circle of what we do next.

Links

Guided Meditation (Yoga Nidra) https://soundcloud.com/sonicyoga/yoga-nidra-guided-meditation

In-depth Book on Ancient Yogic Techniques https://www.biharyoga.net/a-systematic-course-in-the-ancient-tantric-techniques-of-yoga-and-kriya.php

Dr. Yang Jwing Ming on Self-Massage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1V07beMpMI

References

  • Relaxation and Imagery for Chronic, Nonmalignant Pain: Effects on Pain Symptoms, Quality of Life, and Mental Health (Yi Ling (Elaine) Chen, MPsych (Clin) and Andrew J. P. Francis, PhD)
  • Mental and physical health outcomes following the Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP) in a clinical practice setting (European Journal of Integrative Medicine)
  • Watching TV to Relieve Stress Can Make You Feel Like a Failure (Sifferlin, Alexandra) Time.com
  • Could Watching TV Be Good for You? Examining How Media Consumption Patterns Relate to Salivary Cortisol (Robin L. Nabi, Abby Prestin & Jiyeon So, 2016, Health Communication)
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016). Chronic stress puts your health at risk. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Erectile dysfunction: Symptoms and causes.http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/erectile-dysfunction/symptoms-causes/dxc-20314091
  • The Effects of Stress on Your Body (Healthline.com)

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Who We Are

The coming journal will be dedicated to delivering content of a scientific nature. We will be primarily focused on topics which may be useful in contributing to improved well being. We hope to make the vast sea of scientific research about the human mind, the human existence itself, more accessible to non academic readers. We hope to do this without compromising the integrity of science.

However, on another note, we also hope to deliver informative content pertaining to the 6000 year old body of philosophical and practical knowledge that comes from the East. Although not strictly scientific, we would like to give readers the accessibility to learn about eastern practices.

Such practices as meditation, yoga, Tai chi/Qi Gong have in many instances, taken the scientific community by storm. We would like to summarize and share what’s out there, while also providing an insight to the history of where these potent practices arose.