Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Power of Belief

The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect: When Intense Belief Kills

There is a lot of New Age emphasis on thinking positively and believing in things to make them real. While a lot of this moves into the realm of visualizing yourself as rich and famous there seems to be a darker side to belief. Whether we think of it as a mystical technique or simple biology there is little argument that what we believe can affect us on a physical level. The placebo effect is a popular example of belief affecting biology. What about when placebo goes bad?

Depending on the specifics and the depth of belief, the nocebo effect can actually be deadly as is argued in the book discussed in the link above. As little as we understand the placebo effect we understand nocebo even less. Obviously there are ethical problems when it comes to testing the nocebo effect so it may be a long time before we get much understanding of it. I don't think we need to know the specifics to utilize the effect though.

Jumping back to the mystical side now, if we can cause bodily changes with our beliefs then this seems like a very useful ability worth cultivating. I think that anyone that has experimented with the vaguely-named practice of energy work can understand how a belief in an action can produce a physical sensation. This seems most useful in the form of the placebo rather than the nocebo, but these are just two sides of the same coin. If we can actively affect how our biology works with our belief then could we affect other aspects of the physical world? It might be something worth experimenting with.

What you could take away from the above article as well as this article is that what we believe has real consequences. Regardless of how superstitious or illogical a belief may be it can still have an effect on us. I have a feeling this applies to less superstitious and more logical beliefs as well in the sense that they could limit our potential in mystical or spiritual pursuits.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Magnetic Children and Zombies in Ireland

I'm just going to make a quick post with some interesting links this weekend. Hopefully everyone is enjoying themselves. I should have something more in-depth up next week.

Serb Cousins Share Same Strange Attraction

I'm wondering if this isn't just a case of sticky skin. I've seen a lot of these "magnetic people" but I never see where they've been tested for actual magnetism. This kind of thing usually just disappears after it's reported. If these people really do have this ability then it should definitely be studied more closely.

Did Zombies Roam Medieval Ireland?

I thought this was just a new spin on ways of keeping vampires from rising by using the buzzword "zombies" but apparently this find is unique for a few reasons. The whole thing is interesting because it shows that stopping the living dead goes back farther than we thought.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mind-Altering Substances and Spiritual Experience

The use of mind-altering substances in mystical experience has been with us probably since mankind first discovered these substances. I have no experience with mind-altering substances other than alcohol so I will be using that as the primary example. What I have to say most likely applies to substances other than alcohol but that is for you to decide.

Moving through the various literature or communities that discuss metaphysical or mystical experiences you will probably come across those that feel that entheogens and mind-altering substances are tools for experiencing spiritual reality. You will probably also encounter those that feel one should never use these substances because they will hinder ones abilities and progress or they will simply trick the person into believing they are having a profound experience when it was really nothing but the effects of a psychoactive substance. There are more complexities such as the legality and availability of certain substances, the culture that comes along with them, and the possible risks to health but for the purposes of this post I'll focus on the question of whether using substances makes an experience less real than not using substances.

Again, I speak only from the perspective of using alcohol but alcohol is considered to be psychoactive so what I say should be relevant to those that use other substances. I find that using alcohol for mystical purposes simply makes it easier to enter certain states of mind. If I am drunk then I am drunk whether I am being mystical or just watching TV. There is a certain baseline to the experience of drinking alcohol. Alcohol typically affects memory and motor function and usually will not make you experience profound spiritual truths without a little effort on your part. This has been my experience at least.

What I am trying to convey is that simply being inebriated has a character of its own just as being sober has a character of its own. One can choose to perform mundane activities or mystical activities in either state and aside from the obvious effects on memory and motor function there will not be a lot of difference in the experience. I have found that alcohol makes it easier to access the states of mind required for mystical experience, probably because of alcohol's famous ability to lower inhibitions all around. Alcohol also allows a person to relax which is, in my opinion, a fundamental prerequisite for altered states of consciousness.

Broadening the example a little bit we could ask the question: Does a mind-altering substance cause you to have a mystical experience or does the substance allow you to have a mystical experience? I'm sure there are as many opinions as there are people that possess them. I think that if a person has experience with a substance outside of a mystical context then they will be able to tell when they are simply under the influence and when something a little more out of the ordinary is going on. Just as we notice a difference from everyday consciousness when drinking alcohol because we are sober most of the time we will begin to notice when something goes beyond the effects of a substance if we have enough experience with that substance to know how it normally affects us.

This is not to say you should run out and buy drugs or alcohol because they might help you into altered states of consciousness. I'm writing this only to give my perspective on the entheogen debate. One does not have to use mind-altering substances to have spiritual experiences. I have had profound experiences while absolutely sober and to date nothing I've experienced while intoxicated has compared to my sober experiences. I only observe that alcohol helps me reach a calmer, more receptive state faster. It does have its drawbacks in that being inebriated can be distracting to ritual or other relatively complex mystical contexts. There seems to be a "magic" amount that gives you all the benefits with few of the drawbacks and this is probably different for everyone.

There you have it, my views on the use of mind-altering substances in a mystical or spiritual context. I could go on about the symbolism of alcohol or whether using these substances will actually hurt your spiritual progress but those are perhaps topics for another time. I do feel that some people probably should not use mind-altering substances because of personality flaws that could make them more susceptible to addiction or other problems. Not everyone is capable of controlling themselves and even the best of us can still fall prey to substance abuse so before using mind-altering substances for any reason, mystical or recreational, one has to examine themselves closely.

Ultimately the decision of whether to use or not is up to the individual and they must take responsibility for their choices and their actions. I'll say again that you can have intense spiritual experiences whether sober or intoxicated. For some people the use of mind-altering substances may be something they wish to explore. For those that want nothing to do with it then more power to you. I'm a firm believer that there are several paths to any destination and that all roads eventually lead to the same place.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hang on to your feet.

Human foot washes up on beach near Vancouver for 11th time in four years

While not necessarily paranormal, I have a feeling Charles Fort would have found it amusing. I certainly do in a morbid kind of way. It brings to mind thoughts of portals to other universes through which a human foot occasionally slips through. Or maybe it's a reality glitch which causes a severed foot to spawn in that area every so often?

In all likelihood the explanation is probably much more mundane, but this whole thing is just odd enough for me to put it up here. Enjoy.