This article by Patrick McConnell was originally published on Microdose and appears here with permission.

The idea that psychedelics hold clues to consciousness and the nature of reality is a longstanding notion. Indigenous worldviews have spoken of spirits and other worlds throughout the history of psychedelic use.

Recent research has examined whether there is an inherent nature of psychedelics to change metaphysical beliefs about reality or even the consciousness of plants, animals, or inanimate objects. These studies do indeed suggest that psychedelics increase a sense of consciousness pervading everything and a philosophy called panpsychism.

But as society ramps up plans to deliver psychedelics en masse, concerns about whether or not psychedelic insights are true have been voiced. Assumptions about psychedelic users turning into liberal hippies are being challenged with “Right Wing Psychedelia.” Michael Pollan has even suggested psychedelics could be simply a “comforting delusion.”

While it’s easy to focus on “changing our minds,” can we really expect everyone to adopt the same “wholesale beliefs” after taking psychedelics?

What are Beliefs?

Technically, “beliefs” can mean many different things. We each hold an extremely complex system of beliefs, spanning morality, politics, religion, etc. Some of these beliefs are strong, some are weak.

Our beliefs can be found in the language we use, associations we make, and expectations we have. Ph.D. candidate Hugh Mcgovern gave Microdose the analogy that beliefs “are our software for engaging with the world around us.”

Current theories of mind suggest that this software creates our reality. Instead of passively absorbing the world around us with our senses, the brain compares past experiences to current ones and “generates” reality. This means that our beliefs affect not just our opinions but our actual perception of the world.

Beliefs Do Change

As the mind compares existing beliefs to what is happening around us, sometimes the world confirms the mind’s expectations. And other times, new experiences demand belief change.  It’s been suggested that psychedelics can “relax beliefs” and give people an opportunity to reprogram their software.

And let’s be clear — lasting belief changes can occur after psychedelic use. With the research completed, few would debate that changes big and small happen.

But we move into sensitive territory with the topic of how and why these changes are taking place, because many people now have established beliefs about how psychedelics work.

And …

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