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Ep. 23:

In this episode, Cyberdisciple introduces the theme of ‘prohibition-culture’ and how it relates to pop-psychedelia and James Kent-style scepticism. Topics covered include:

  • Characterisation of drug prohibition as an ego-preserving strategy
  • Safety-oriented culture
  • Microdosing as a non-coercive ego-preserving strategy, to avoid intense experience
  • Prohibition and international politics
  • History of prohibition
  • Anti-drugs propaganda
  • Changing attitudes towards drugs and prohibition across history
  • Prohibition-compliance in pop-psychedelia and in James Kent’s anthropological model
  • Egoic vs transcendent goals of psychedelic drug use
  • Danger of psychedelic ego death control loss
  • Debate over the value of a bad trip
  • Prohibition and the communism/capitalism dialectic
  • Tendency of power structures to co-opt rebellious trends
  • Models of psychedelic societies
  • Comparison between sexuality and psychedelia
  • Normal everyday life in a psychedelic society

Ep. 24:

In this episode, Max Freakout and Cyberdisciple continue talking about prohibition culture. Topics covered include:

  • Prohibition as ego-preserving strategy
  • Prohibition-compliant attitude of pop-psychedelia
  • Lack of radical thinking in pop-psychedelia
  • Psychedelic drug use by artists and musicians
  • Alan Moore’s writings about eternalism and psychedelics
  • Pressure to self-censor
  • Prohibition repeal vs drug policy reform
  • Imagining post-prohibition society
  • Understanding religion in post-prohibition society
  • Psychedelia and the communism/capitalism dialectic
  • Psychedelic collectivism
  • Utopian pipe dreams
  • Hiding initiation from the youth, delaying maturation
  • Metaphorical nature of psychedelic experiencing
  • Exoteric and esoteric conception of eating and drinking
  • The future relevance of exoteric religion, post-prohibition
  • Primitive culture’s relation to psychedelics

I don’t have any notes to post about Dose Nation’s ‘Final 10’, Ep. 8. Max and I discussed it in Transcendent Knowledge Podcast, Ep. 22.

I don’t have any notes because after listening to the previous seven episodes, I decided that James Kent is one of the last people I want to hear discuss the topic of psychedelics in Christianity. Actually ‘psychedelics in Christianity’ is not quite right, since Kent discusses the mushroom theory of Christian origins, that boring, old-fashioned, talked-to-death topic, instead of the more interesting ‘psychedelics in Christianity’ or ‘visionary plants in Christianity’, i.e. the more interesting question of ‘to what extent were visionary plants incorporated into Christian practice in all eras?’ (the Michael Hoffman question).

I also don’t have any notes on Epp. 9 & 10 of Dose Nation ‘Final 10’. Max and I agreed that we had given quite enough attention and had figured out the perspective of James Kent and Dose Nation.

Posting my notes has been a bit of clean-up, a way of getting my reactions and ideas about Dose Nation’s Final 10 into written form and of ending the project.

As part of wrapping up the project of analyzing Dose Nation’s ‘Final 10’ podcast series, I post here my notes written while listening to Episode 7. These notes served as the basis for my part in the discussion with Max about this episode in Transcendent Knowledge Podcast, ep. 21.

First up are notes on the episode, followed by expanded sections inspired by this episode.

  • This episode should be first in the series, not seventh. It’s probably the only one you really need to listen to in order to understand James Kent and his approach.
  • Kent claims that a major theme of the episodes so far is that western culture and psychedelics are not compatible. There is something inherent in the narrative of western culture that prevents pyschedelics from fitting. An interesting idea that could be turned to our uses in promoting egodeath theory. The problem is that western society has come to be dominated by, officially, a single, ordinary state.
  • But Kent has a weird view on modern cultural history. He claims that we’re living in a post-psychedelic age, that we would have seen the benefits of psychedelics, if there were any. As if psychedelics were actually integrated into modern culture. 
  • Treats Prohibition as some sort of natural reaction.
  • What does it mean ‘to make the world a better place’? Define your terms.
  • Bunk ideas of cultural progress
  • Fails to ask the question “What is the benefit we are looking for when we take psychedelics?” and consider the question and its associations.
  • Thinks that legitimization by psychedelics advocates comes from a purely selfish motive, that no one actually cares about other people, but only legitimizing their own experiences and feeling good about them. Kent is so cynical.
  • Kent’s main target is the idea that there is anything broken or wrong for psychedelics to fix.
  • Kent’s criticism of 20th cent psychedelics advocates and his mode of evaluating them evaporates when the analogy component of the egodeath theory comes in. Kent’s framing can only work without a robust understanding of analogy
  • Kent’s description of religion as ‘holding out a carrot’ fits with his focus on benefit. He frames religion as solely concerned with holding out some benefit for the future afterlife. He thinks psychedelics advocates have absorbed this idea. Kent instead wants a clear sense of benefit, of what he’s buying. In this he is a good consumer: he wants to know in advance what he is going to get out of his time, effort, money, attention.
  • Acts as though because he can make some criticisms of psychedelics advocates and their aims, therefore there are no benefits to psychedelics.
  • Kent claims that psychedelics produce a delusion in people that they are saviors. Again, a problem of causation: are psychedelics the cause of that? He has already argued that there is nothing inherent to the psychedelic experience, that everything about them is pure branding. His critique is primarily a moral critique of individuals, framed as a moral problem for individuals to address. Yet in his efforts to critique, he goes so far as to smear psychedelics themselves as the cause of the behavior he criticizes.
  • Kent seems to have cloaked his greivances against figures in the contemporary psychedelics community into a critique of psychedelics themselves.
  • Kent says that he views consumerism as inevitable. Critiquing western culture is delusional. Spirituality is always delusional. There’s much here that has little to do with psychedelics, but is reflective of Kent’s own obsessions.
  • Kent’s own cricisism of people who take psychedelics become delusional, think of themselves as saviors, and think of a problem that they alone can solve, unfortunately for Kent, obviates his own podcast series. Kent positions himself in this podcast series as a psychedelic insider who will save all the delusional people from the problem of psychedelic spirituality and ‘bad ideas’
  • Kent’s framing around ‘disinformation’ and ‘bad ideas’ is typical of elitist experts defending the status quo. Doesn’t ask whether ‘bad ideas’ are unique to psychedelics advocates, assumes that psychedelics advocates have a special unique problem with ‘bad ideas’
  • Kent is convinced that he knows reality and in this podcast series spreads the truth.
  • Criticizes Leary for using an electrical switch model of the mind, which Kent says we now know to be false. Then has to admit that the electrical switch model was the current model during Leary’s time. So Leary is here critiqued for not using our contemporary model of the mind, as if he could have used our contemporary model.
  • Kent overreaches and wants all of life to be defined and determined and measured according to the strictures of science. Kent’s atheism has produced in him someone just as moralistic as the religious people he criticizies. Kent believes he has found the one correct model against which all of life should be measured and evaluated.
  • Kent admits that he has had many bad theories and delusions.
  • Kent primarily describes himself and addresses himself, but projects his own life out onto other people. He says that psychedelics make people megalomaniacal and prone to bad ideas. Kent criticizes psychedelics advocates for their spirituality and asserts that psychedelics should be used for party culture only. Really, Kent is the megalomanial one and the one who has had ‘bad ideas’. He wishes that he had just stuck to party culture and never gotten interested in psychedelic spirituality. His critiques are a projection.
  • Kent still attached to his ‘bad ideas’, since he here describes it to us c. 25 years later. His story of his ‘bad ideas’ is a story of approaching something like the eternalism and self-control focus of the Egodeath Theory, but then turning away. He says he turned away from a ‘synchronicity’ theory of psychedelics out of fear of psychosis, i.e. of control loss. Mentions ‘sacred geometry’ as a route into ‘hyperspace’. Mentions Einstein, spacetime, 4-d. Quantum Theory seems to have pulled him off course. What happened, James? Kent is a failed Egodeath Theorist.
  • Kent is embarrassed of his old notebooks, written around the time he had his big freakout, but it’s a shame that he didn’t do more.
  • Kent says he gave up his theorizing in his journals because he started doing psychedelic journalism. So, the community and engaging with it to such extent prevented him from doing his work.
  • Dimissed spacetime as too concerned with the real matter of things and without enough ‘magic’. Moved into ‘brain theorizing’: another missed path. He tries to claim that he was ahead of his time.
  • Pushes his own path from ‘magic’ to ‘neuroscience’ onto human culture.
  • Criticizes people for publishing ideas that are ‘bad’. He doesn’t want people to publish. He is anti-creativity. He wants experts to write and publish, and everyone else to follow and read them. In hindsight, he is glad he didn’t publish any pseudoscience. A fearful approach. “You can’t risk being wrong.” What is this fearful nonsense? Related to his authoritarian, safety-oriented view of culture and defense of the status quo. It’s cowardly.
  • Why didn’t James Kent discover the Egodeath Theory? The primary reason: He was not centrally concerned with the problem of self-control. He avoided that topic. He was researching topics that were leading him towards it, but then he turned away. Secondary topics: He adopts a demonizing attitude towards religion, instead of committing to making sense of it. He was too much focused on the party culture. He was too focused on establishing a place for himself in ‘the psychedelic community’.
  • 1:17 Huxley, doors of perception. No mention of William Blake, acts as if Huxley theorizing in a vacuum, rather than a literary, poetic author. Illustrates Kent’s myopic sense of history and literary traditions.
  • 1:20 Reductionist reading of Huxley’s more poetic approach to language. Fine to criticize Huxley for poetic language, but I object to reductionist readings.
  • Says that having a visual distortion on ketamine, climbing to the top of a mountain for a new view on the landscape, and mystical visionary experiencing are all the same thing. In what way are those the same thing? It’s embarrassing to say that climbing a mountain gives a visionary experience just like a psychedelic does, especially as a self-proclaimed psychedelics researcher. How are they the same thing at all?
  • So, Kent’s reading of Huxley is going to be off. It’s pretty clear that Huxley and Kent have different understandings of what ‘visionary’ means. Kent approaches someone with a different understanding of a key term and then blames them or critizes them for not using the word properly, as if they agreed with him about the term. Kent’s not interested in understanding this difference or accounting for it.
  • I not interested in defending Huxley’s Doors of Perception, but Kent’s presentation is bizarre.
  • Kent’s critique is that it’s not a scientific theory. Huxley is poetic, so don’t expect him to be ‘science.’ It’s not appropriate to present it and judge it as something that it is not. Kent focuses on the scientific method and how Huxley fails to follow it, as if that were Huxley’s goal or approach. Kent overprizes ‘scientific method.’
  • Like with Leary, he has to admit that Huxley couldn’t have understood the brain in modern terms. This could be a simpler critique: just say that it is outdated because it relies on outdated models of the brain.
  • Ultimately, Kent doesn’t like that Huxley makes a religious argument. But this is no surprise, if you understand that the title of the  “Doors of Perception” refers to a William Blake poem. We have a situation in which someone with no background in religion or culture now tries to engage with texts that are steeped in the thought world and literary world. He completely misses the point and context of the writing. Similar to his failure to read Albert Hofmann in Episode 3.


Idea generation from idea that psychedelics and mderon western culture are incompatible

Pop sike not radical enough, especially health idea, is just fitting in with dominant cultural modes. Medical and therapy is not revolutionary, fits in nicely with contemporary culture. Kent is focused on ‘miracle cure’, which fits in with religion. Religion angle is perhaps radical, if properly understood. Religion in Pop Sike is not sufficiently revolutionary because it lacks the apocalypse, end of world, end of self, revelation. Not focused on real ending of egoic world model, more focused on peace and light.

What’s needed is to point out the Prohibition is a permanent strategy. Economic, carcereal, model for war on terror, surveillance state strategy. Standing up to it with clear-eyed view of what it is is revoluationary. Have to be practical material changes. Not allow system to continue. Analogy between egoic-control system and culture of Prohibition. Military, economic, carcereal system is wrapped up in each other. Revolutionary approach to this time and place is to go up against prohibition, against the empire, against command network. Corrupt command network of modern error (both ego and prohibition).

So yes, psychedelics are against modern western society, if we understand that in terms of safety, security, Prohibition, control.

Kent vs. Pop Sike. Pop Sike wants a little bit of a modification of contemporary world order. Kent is pointing out that psychedelics are too crazy for that too work and too woo. “Western society” is going to reject it. Kent is pro-consumer empire culture. Completely leaves out Prohibition. Thinks that it happened because people agreed that substances were dangerous and that’s what sustains it.

The conflict shows that what is needed is more discussion of what prohibition is, what it does, how it works.

Drug legalization shoehorned into prohibitionist culture. Egoic control culture will try incorporate psychedelics into itself, neuter it. Kent reflect this, he wants low doses for fun, parties, maybe some insight, but that’s it. Therapy model reflects this as well, get well to go lead to (safe setting etc). Microdosing too which is about lifestyle enhancement and productivity. All of those are linked by low dosing to avoid egodeath. Doesn’t want death psychosis end of the world.

More on prohibition:

Kent treats Prohibition as a natural outcome, genuinely motivated by concerns for safety. My interest is not so much the ‘modern Western culture’ but in Prohibition writ large:

  • Control oriented; officially single state; ordinary state as the normal baseline for evaluation
  • Economic strategy of covert markets and extra legal intervention
  • Carceral strategy; for-profit prisons; profit to judges and police departments; asset seizure; death sentences
  • Military global
  • Safety hyper attention, spreading out into culture; safety, surveillance, citizens policing each other
  • Shoring up and protecting of individual identity possibilism
  • Distorting effect on our thinking about history

Prohibition as economic, legal, military long term strategy; culture of Prohibition. Not fully synonymous with ‘modern Western culture.’ Nor is it a post-60s phenomenon; it was largely in place by late 60s, with cocaine, opium, cannabis, alcohol, etc.

My criticism of psychedelics ‘community’ is that it is insufficiently targeted against Prohibition. I largely agree with Kent’s critique that they are too-obsessed with legitimization in the face of Prohibition. Focused on that, they end up accepting the framing of Prohibition. Ultimately their actions suggest that want to legitimize psychedelics for a few people, under controlled circumstances. The risk is that we get psychedelics ‘legal’, but in a way that puts off Egodeath and does nothing about contemporary Empire.

Kent’s use of scientific method:

Reliance on ordinary state only scientific method itself is wrong :

  • Kent tells an overly simplistic just-so story of modernity and the scientific method. That is reason alone to reject his analysis.
  • The scientific method is not some inviolable objective cure all. The “skeptic movement” has not saved and will not save anyone. Academic and scientific institutions are just as fallible and prone to cultish group think and irrationalism as any other. I’ve spent my adult life in academia, take it from me. It’s faddish. Good ideas are ignored, intellectual development does not proceed along a straight line.

And it fails on its own terms (internal critique):

  • Kent hasn’t found an explanation of value of altered state that satisfies him as rational, so acts as if there isn’t one. Claims that scientific method would have found one, which is anti-progress (not allowing for progress). Fallacy of equating altered state with irrationality.

Summary of Dose Nation approach:

  • The simple move that Kent fails at is the metaphor analogy angle. 
  • Also fails the free will angle, cybernetic self-control.
  • This is a situation that the ego death theory solves: by insisting on a rationality oriented explanation of altered state experiencing, one that explains its rationale, and by providing an explanation for religion as metaphor (unlocking the explanation, the rationale).
  • Kent says there is no rational explanation because it is irrational (it’s just a hallucination, it’s incompatible with scientific method) and that religion is BS and that’s all. So, Kent fails to explain, really puts off doing either. Throws his hands up and says the only explanation is to reject. Kent’s position is thus to stay in the unintegrated prohibition status quo. Naive view of progress and how it works.

Huxley notes:

Kent’s treatment of Huxley’s reducing valve as a case study of limitations of ‘scientific method objectivity’ approach.

It’s fine for him to say that the ‘reducing valve’ is not a sound neuro-science theory, but Kent over steps his bounds. He fails on a literary, philosophical, psychological understanding, even as he claims to cover those things or provide a better explanation.

Objectivity scientific method works well in a controlled, hermetically-sealed lab. That is its proper place. I reject applying it strictly outside of that environment as the sole criterion for evaluating any and all topics. More is needed to cover things outside the lab.

When it comes to Huxley et al. Kent is outside his game. Literature, art, philosophy, that is my territory. It is a requirement when evaluating Huxley’s essay to mention William Blake.

The larger intellectual problem that ‘objectivity scientific method’ creates is that Kent thinks that he can get away with that alone. The approach encourages it. The approach of only prizing the scientific method to get to objective truth tells you that you can evaluate all you need by reducing every single topic to materialist concerns and that you don’t need any background on the subject other than using your scientific method in order to understand it and evaluate it.

Huxley notes form reading Doors of Perception:

Kent misrepresents Huxley. Huxley explicit that he does not mean being able to perceive more (Kent presents as if Huxley saying that on psychedelics you can perceive more of the world), but that perception is different and in some sense “more”, seeing the “Suchness”, an unmediated thing as it really is. Relatedly, Kent misses out on Huxley’s interest in language’s role in filtering and the effect that has on individual. For Huxley ordinary state is a state of linguistic concepts that individual mistakes as fully real or fully capturing something , while altered state allows for contemplative perception of thing in its total itness without any linguistic signifiers attached.

Huxley writing in a sophisticated way, expecting you to get the paradox of this. He says he didn’t see visions, that his subjective experience didn’t change. “The other world to which mescalin admitted me was not the world of visions; it existed out there, in what I could see with my eyes open. The great change was in the realm of objective fact. What had happened to my subjective universe was relatively unimportant.” (16)  The phrase in bold is a paradox. The altered state makes the world of ‘objective fact’ change, calling into question the realm of ‘objective fact’ itself. The dichotomy of ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ lose their meaning as opposites, a blurring, blending occurs.

Misrepresenting Huxley:

  • Valve theory is not from Huxley alone; rather Huxley cites philosopher C. D. Broad, who is citing Henri Bergson. (importance is that Huxley didn’t just think of it while tripping; Kent is framing this as a ‘bad idea’ from tripping. In fact, Huxley says that it comes after reflecting on his experience).
  • Valve theory is philosophical, not “scientific” (i.e. Huxley didn’t come up with it in a lab)
  • “Reducing valve” is an image (not a literal description of a part of the brain or brain chemistry). Drawn from plumbing or water works. “Funneled” “trickle” (23)  “by-pass” “flows” (24) “seeps” “watertight valve” (26) “oozes” (33) “pipeline” (37). Note that this is a loose cognition image
  • Comparatively minor part of the work, which is otherwise an extended, wide-ranging essay, including lots of art criticism. It’s not a work of “science,” and not presented as such or published as such. It has some interaction with scientific writing and thought, some familiarity, but it is not a ‘scientific publication.’
  • Not meant to imply that altered state lets you perceive all of the world, but that you perceive the thing in its total suchness without filter of language. Huxley explicitly rejects the total perception idea twice on page 24 and 26. Kent has nothing to say about the language topic. Note that the language topic is an ego topic.
  • Kent says that Huxley is wrong about the reducing valve, yet it appears that Carhart-Harris confirms something like it:
  • Massive projection!!! “Huxley sounds smug” give me a break. This is analysis?
  • Moving on to the Dutch doctor whoe trepanned himself. His attempt to connect to Huxley is tenuous and sloppy. Admits a “side-ways connection”. I’m assuming he was exposed to the valve theory. Huxley does not say that if you open up the valve, perception comes in more clearly, and your consciousness expands. That is Kent’s sloppy misreading.
  • Trapanation is symptom of psychosis. Smear Huxley by linking to trapanation. Lol claims you only get this in psychedelic community. Oh really? Explain why this is the psychedelic community. What is the psychedelic community? Is there no other explanation for why people got interested in this? What precisely does trepanation (pseudo-science) have to do with taking psychedelics?
  • Reading out Joe Mellen on the ego and govt, Kent can’t get metaphor, which he claims is European intellectualism BS.

As part of wrapping up the project of analyzing Dose Nation’s ‘Final 10’ podcast series, I post here my notes written while listening to Episode 6. These notes served as the basis for my part in the discussion with Max about this episode in Transcendent Knowledge Podcast Ep. 20.

  • Episode covers healing, medicine, ayahuasca ceremonies.
  • Kent describes how shamans do a certain kind of physical healing. Long-winded, not relevant. I don’t care about shamanic claims of physical healing.
  • Kent polemicizes against gurus.
  • Claims that psychedelics and Timothy Leary’s encouragement to “drop out” allowed gurus to take over people. This is misreading of Leary and of the cultural context of the 60s and 70s. What caused an interest in gurus in America in the 20th century? Kent wants you to think that psychedelics caused it, solely, apart from any other factor.
  • This episode well illustrates Kent’s sensationalism. He moralizes throughout: it’s so bad that anyone could ever encounter harm at ayahuasca centers. We should disapprove sternly of anyone who is even indirectly associated with harm experienced at ayahuasca centers
  • He describes a murder during an ayahuasca retreat. He reads from a news article, but the details are unclear. He interprets that the murder happened during an ayahuasca ceremony, and expands from here to blame all of ayahuasca tourism for the murder. An example of sensationalizing. I have no investment in ayahuasca, but sensationalizing strains credibility and is exhausting to listen to.
  • States that losing control and becoming ‘primal’ and ‘violent’ is the worst thing that could happen to someone. This is profound in a certain way: Losing control is the worst thing to an ego!
  • Reminder: Kent had a freakout on psychedelics. Instead of investigating further the dynamics of freakout, he turned to the ‘psychedelic community’ for an answer about what happened. From them on, he intentionally took small doses to retain control. Kent is obsessed with retaining control. He is the voice of the modern ego resisting control undermining psychedelics. While his critiques are valuable in some ways, he has this huge blindspot.
  • The focus on murder at ayahuasca centers is a bit over the top. As if no one ever murders anyone at any other time under other circumstances.
  • Kent’s tone of moral panic is culturally retrograde. Exposing ayahuasca centers as bunk and corrupt is fine and worthy, but moral panic supports Prohibitionist safety and security culture. If you’re going to moralize against psychedelic-related deaths, talk about deaths caused by Prohibition.
  • I’m very confused about what his point is about the shaman and death at the facility, and about the open letter from the ayahuasca community. Trying to attack the shaman as a lowlife criminal, but that the open letter authors chastising him were wrong to do so. The connection is not clear, and his sensationalizing and moral panic tone confuses whatever point he is trying to make.
  • Thinks that being a ‘spiritually-evolved master’ means being perfectly moral.
  • Kent has to admit that we don’t know what killed the kid, but Kent wants it to be the ayahuasca itself, I assume because it dehydrates you through excessive purging. But he’s inconsistent and wants it to be because ayahuasca makes you “crazy.” For the idea that ayahuasca makes you “crazy,” he’s relying on a W.S. Burroughs quote about “derangement”.
  • About Shamans, he says: “when shit goes wrong, they have no control and they don’t want to take responsibility.” Very revealing comment. Concepts of control and responsibility are wrapped up in making an individualized subject ego, one also capable of being blamed.
  • He criticizes indigeneous people getting scared about the deaths of foreigners, panicking, and not treating the bodies properly. In his ideal version of the world, they would be in total control, or someone would be in control, and would prevent ‘bad’ things from happening or would no how to handle ‘bad’ things with perfect understanding. Normative ethics of responsibility. Kent wants a bubble in which nothing ‘bad’ ever happens.
  • Attacks shamans for not being ‘spiritually advanced’ without defining what that would mean.
  • A more productive question would be “why are ayahuasca ceremonies appealing to modern Westerners?” Kent is not interested in all that. He’s interested in reinforcing the ordinary state, in reifying ordinary state egoic life, not having psychedelics impinge upon that.
  • General thought on cultural criticism of shamans as uncivilized: Western science and medicine is full of ‘uncivilized activities’ that resulted in progress of knowledge and ideas. If you prize rationality and self-experimentation and knowledge, you have to accept casualities.
  • An excessive focus on safety is authoritarian

As part of wrapping up the project of analyzing Dose Nation’s ‘Final 10’ podcast series, I post here my notes written while listening to Episode 5. These notes served as the basis for my part in the discussion with Max about this episode in Transcendent Knowledge Podcast Ep. 19.

  • Kent says that when he was younger, he was open to New Age, just as open to it as to “Science”. This is a weird pairing, as if there are only two options. What of, for example, Western religion, philosophy, theology, esotericism?
  • This episode continues Episode 4’s obsession with right belief.
  • Kent is critical of the idea that “thoughts shape reality” or “consciousness creates reality”. But what does this mean? He doesn’t define. This failure to define is indicative of Kent’s confusion of the two realms, ordinary-state possibilism tight cognition and altered-state eternalism loose cognition.
  • Kent criticizes interpretations of quantum physics that conribute to idea that thoughts shape reality.
  • Kent discusses philosophy of mind, but not in much depth and only to dismiss an interpretation he disagrees with. He mentions the hard problem of consciousness, discussed by Max in Transcendent Knowledge Podcast Ep. 6.
  • Kent is a hardline materialist. He is against the idea of a nonphysical soul and against the idea that there is some other sort of material that soul/consciousness is made up of
  • Kent claims that if you understand neuroscience and biology you would never fall for idea that there’s some other matter. This is typical technocrat: As long as you correctly understand a position, you would never ever think something else.
  • Kent implies that only superficial lightweight thinkers don’t agree that consciousness is solely material.
  • Kent implies that if only people were more ‘educated’ they wouldn’t make mistakes
  • Kent lumps together a huge number of ideas and positions
  • Note his habit of speaking: “the argument eventually comes around to [ideas xyz],” as if some absurd position he has come up with is an inevitable consequence of some other position.
  • It’s not every day you hear Descartes linked to the New Age, but ok
  • Kent criticizes the way spiritual ideas draw on scientific words to make spiritual ideas sound appealing. Uh, where do you think science got the words to begin with? Science relies on religious language! This complaint is also incompatible with his stance of cultural evolution from magic to science. For example, Kent complains about New Age taking the word ‘energy’ from science. But trace the word back, and one could make the case that science “co-opted” the word from earlier discourses. An ancient Greek dictionary, for example, indicates a range of meanings for the term ἐνέργεια, all predating modern scientific discourse, and none of which are “energy” in the way modern scientific discourse has come to use the term:ἐνέργεια
  • Kent’s main interest was in ketamine.
  • Kent says that he practiced taking smaller and smaller doses, to avoid losing control. His primary interest was perception alteration. So he knows that losing control is possible on psychedelics, but he sought to avoid that as much as possible. He doesn’t seem interested in the problem of control, but was afraid of psychosis, madness, frenzy, losing control. This was a potential problem to be avoided while exploring the real point of psychedelics, that of altering perception.
  • He thinks that being in a state of toggling of phenomenal perception is the ultimate goal of psychedelics. Makes visual fireworks the main point. This is entertainment-oriented and consumerist.
  • Discusses his own delusional paranoia, which he links to drug use, saying that delusional paranoia was a side-effect of drug use. Leaves out of consideration any other possible factor as to why he become paranoid (20+ years ago), but, no, it has to be because of drug use.
  • I say that the “problem” of delusional paranoia could be “solved” on an individual case basis by savvy analogy understanding.
  • Kent describes the death of author DM Turner and speculates about the psychological cause of his death. He speculates that Turner went to drugs and self-examination for something that he should have gone to therapy for. This is of course all a projection onto DM Turner. We don’t know that he did or didn’t, only that Kent has reasoned that this is a possible scenario.
  • “What’s the point of lucid dreaming of manifesting reality from your thoughts, if you can’t manifest a new reality for yourself, what’s the point and what’s the use.” This is an example of a mode of interpretation that focuses on horizontal in-time (as opposed to vertical timeless), moral, practical, material benefits. He here judges the altered state from perspective of ordinary state of consciousness. The ordinary-state possibilism tight cognition has an in-time, horizontal perspective on time and involves speculation about future actions and imagining possible outcomes. But the mystic altered state has its own independent value, set of experiences and ideas, and should not be judged by the standards of the ordinary state. Grasping eternalism is valuable on its own apart from ordinary-state possibilism life. For example, I think that a beneficial outcome of altered state experiencing is to resolve confusion about time and control and the instability of the uninitiated possibilism model of time and control. Kent’s literalist interpretation of ‘manifesting a new reality for oneself’ is typical of the ordinary-state. It’s also typical of capitalism, to be focused on outcome and product and value and benefit. A more radical approach is to deny that the altered state provides benefit for the self in the way the ordinary state defines benefit. An aspect of egodeath is that you stop, you die, you do not stretch across time, you do not reach out to create your future actions. You do not get anything out of it, not in the way the ordinary state understands it.
  • Kent’s partly right that there’s a lot of snake-oil salesmanship about benefits in the New Age, but he ignores that there is a distinct goal of religion and wisdom that has nothing to do with beneficial outcomes as usually understood in egoic possibilism state. Kent can’t get the play of metaphor between the possibilism-based understanding of words and the eternalism-based understanding of words.

As part of wrapping up the project of analyzing Dose Nation’s ‘Final 10’ podcast series, I post here my notes written while listening to Episode 4. These notes served as the basis for my part in the discussion with Max about this episode in Transcendent Knowledge Podcast Ep. 19.

  • Blue Oyster Cult, Veteran of the Psychic Wars. High-density of allusions to egodeath in BOC songs. Is Kent aware of this? No. Makes it into a literal description of himself.
  • Kent repeats that ‘nobody [in psychedelic community] had any idea what they were talking about’ overblown hyperbole. 
  • I like Kent’s critique of most spiritual practice in the 20th century America, that it produces no real change. This isn’t an unusual critique or unique to him.
  • Yet Kent’s description of spirituality, New Age, etc. is a mixed-bag, incredibly one-sided, painting with broad brushstrokes.
  • Kent has a ordinary state based understanding of religion. He is an experienced psychedelics user, but doesn’t get the connection to religious experiencing.
  • Kent’s not really interested in explaining, but in dismissing.
  • Complains about lack of paradigm-shift amongst ‘religious’ psychedelicists.
  • Lots of clunkers in this episode: ‘self-exploration is ultimate form of narcissism’
  • Kent misunderstands ‘transcendence,’ fails to define it clearly. At one time he says it means separating mind from body, but at another he seems to mean something else, like “leaving all of one’s problems behind.”
  • Kent contrasts rationalist psychedelicists and superstitious psychedelicists. This is an atheist style framing.
  • Kent obsessed with the question, “What is nature of reality?” Psychedelicists who are superstititious have a fundamental misconception about the nature of reality. 20th century literalism religion vs. science are both invested in that question of what is the nature of reality. Spirits do not really exist, but superstitious people do believe that.
  • Egodeath Theory and analogy are a different option. Not a version of religion, nor of atheism/science. It has elements of both. Third option, third way, only path forward. Thre is a stand off between religion and science. It wouldn’t be accuate to say that the Egodeath Theory is in the middle between those two camps, but it would be better to say that it is a different set of positions entirely. It adequately explains religion in simple and scientific language (e.g. cognitive science, phenomonolgy). But it also covers analogy and myth and provides a rich understanding of premodern religious system. How does analogy work in art, stories, words, ritual? Pop scientism cuts people off from using symbols and doing practices. Pop scientism is obsessed with making culture reflect directly the scientific conception of reality. Kent says it is dangerous to use symbols because it could lead people to believe something wrong. Obsession with correct belief (also true of contemporary religion).
  • Kent focused on what people believe. EDT mystic can say all sorts of things that science-only person would disagree with (yes, of course I was possessed by a demon; yes, of course I walked on water). EDT mystic knows that nature of reality is analogical between two realms.
  • What is the nature of reality? Who cares. You don’t need to understand reality to understand religion.
  • Joke that will drive James Kent crazy: good news Gospel of EDT for this time and place is that this stand off between literalist variants (religion vs. science) is over. EDT chose us to be its messenger, to bring its good news to 21st century schizoid West.
  • Kent critical of superstitious aspect of New Age and psychedelia. I agree that taking them as literal truth about reality is wrongheaded.
  • Frames Grof, Leary, Huxley, Hofmann as science. For them psychedelic action happens in head, but Later New Age superstitious psychedelicists ascribe agency to external objects being things.
  • Kent has no grasp of mystic analogy viewpoint. It’s an interpretative problem. He is obsessed with epistemological certainty about the nature of reality. He freaks out whenever anyone makes a statement that he views as contradicting the nature of reality. Lack of analogical understanding causes him to misinterpret both sides. Framing writers as either rationalistic or superstitious misrepresents all of them.
  • Kent has an insidious psychologizing of figures, e.g. “Terence was mentally unbalanced – not clinically” unbalanaced, but in some mysterious other way. Imports normative assumptions about what is balanced.
  • Obsessed with problem of disinformation. Typical technocrat: if only people had the right information, they would make the right choices. This is typical of egoic perspective: if I have the right information, then I will make the right choices.
  • 1:22 perfect encapsulation of obsession with belief “they earnestly believe the things they are saying. I believe that they believe the things they are saying”
  • Kent’s framing of issues shows the need in psychedelic culture for a clear ‘analogy’ position. He can’t handle poetic language, and conversely those using poetic language are vulnerable to Kent’s literalism. A strong position on analogy is needed.
  • Kent wants the content of the psychedelic experience to be neuro-science: ‘look at these optical illusions I’m experiencing’
  • Agree with his critique of individualized, feeling oriented New Age that will make you feel special.
  • Bungles New Age concept of their being a crisis in the world that needs to be solved. Crisis means a crisis in the egoic possibilism model.
  • Experiment: let’s read Kent’s focus on talking about the dark side of psychedelics for their analogy potential. He is constantly telling stories of death and panic. End of episode 4 “you may think you’re saving the world, but you’re freezing to death up in a tree.”

As part of wrapping up the project of analyzing Dose Nation’s ‘Final 10’ podcast series, I post here my notes written while listening to Episode 3. These notes served as the basis for my part in the discussion with Max about this episode in Transcendent Knowledge Podcast Ep. 18.

Tomorrow Never Knows

  • Against Kent, this is certainly not the first psychedelic song, whether Beatles or otherwise
  • Saying so reflects a narrow understanding of psychedelic music, focusing on sound experiments and explicit lyrics, but misses out on the real content from metaphorical approach to lyrics
  • Kent reflects a vague understanding of the lyrics of the song. He talks of death and shining as “tropes” established in early 60s for psychedelic experiencing. As if they were invented then and without a long history.

c. 3:20 on Leary et al. Manual

  • Kent claims that concept of “egodeath” is an “appropriation of Tibetan theology” for psychedelic experiencing. “Appropriation” is trendy cultural studies word now used as a weapon in the culture wars. He doesn’t explain what he means by it here, but it implies disapproval.
  • Kent disapproves that Manual likened psychedelic tripping to death because it made people think that they were actually dying. It gave them the suggestion that they were dying. “It’s a problem to feel like you’re dying.” For Kent, that is something to be avoided while tripping.

c. 5:10 on psychosis

  • “Anything in your head that you can’t stop.” This could be scary. Kent thinks it is bad to feel scared or in danger. He defines a psychotic reaction as being scared about psychosis, 6:50: “If you have sensations, feelings, that you don’t like, that you can’t stop, that are making you fear for your life and your sanity, that’s a psychotic episode.”
  • These 10 episodes intended to be about psychotic reactions on psychedelics, but that would be “too dark, too grim.” Kent hypes up how dark he could get; he has an edgy style; presents himself as serious and concerned, against all the unserious voices in psychedelics.
  • Mckenna from Episode 1: Kent describes Mckenna’s main trip at La Chorrera as a psychotic episode. Note how he describes it: “went crazy, split from reality, visions, communications with deities and spirits.” See the atheist reduction at work: all these are psychotic.
  • 8:50 makes the banal point that psychotic episodes can motivate people to change their behavior and alter the course of their life. Is the implication that that change is bad because it came from a psychedelic/psychotic episode? What’s the implied alternative? No one should change their life except in a way that they have fully determined for themselves? What counts as a reasonable cause for changing one’s life, in Kent’s mind? It’s all unstated, but he seems to imply that doing so based on taking a psychedelic trip seriously is bad.
  • Kent describes an early trip he had to illustrate how he never took what he was seeing seriously. Trees waving and idea that earth was breathing. He claims he always concluded that it was an “optical illusion” and that (14:30) “never once did I actually believe that I was seeing what I thought I was seeing.” Note the use of “optical illusion” to contrast with the word “believe.” Here we have the two competing frames typically used by contemporary atheists: “science” vs. “religion.” Kent always thought that it was an “optical illusion” (i.e. science) and never “believed” (i.e. religion) them to be anything else.
  • Kent then says that later on he had a trip in which he freaked out and experienced mania, referred to in Episode 2. He describes how he went to the “psychedelic community” to figure out what happened to him because the books he read weren’t satisfying.

c. 16:00 Albert Hofmann and “horror trips”

  • Hofmann against widespread LSD and Leary; Kent agrees that Leary was irresponsible.
  • Describes Hofmann’s account of his first trip as a ‘good’ trip because it was fun and not too intense.
  • Hofmann’s account of his second trip is a crisis and a ‘psychotic reaction.’ Kent frames it as the epitome of psychedelic psychotic trip.
  • “It’s not a ‘turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream’ experience, it’s a nightmare.” Illustrative of Kent’s banal misreading. He refers to the opening of song Tomorrow Never Knows, but takes it to be a description of a sort of trip, and not something more dynamic. For example, we could read it as a challenge (i.e. “try to turn off your mind, try to relax, try to float downstream”; provoking egodeath panic) or a way of shaping the experience to be more reassuring.
  • Hofmann describes a failure of his will, possession by a demon, defeat, a fear of insanity, thoughts of death, and a recognition of the absurdity of his situation, to be destroyed by his own creation. Kent focuses on Hofmann’s suffering and sense that it was a “mistake.”
  • C. 30:00 Kent engages in moralizing and projection, saying that H no doubt felt shame because he had incapacitated himself and needed to ask a neighbor for assistance. Kent says he has been in similar situations and felt shame. An example of Kent’s projection.
  • Kent describes Hofmann’s feeling of calm the morning after his trip as “mania.” He says that although the post-trip feeling is ‘nice’, it is still bad in this case because a part of a psychotic reaction to rebound later. Thus, everything ‘good’ about the trip is compromised by the ‘psychotic’ aspect. He admits that Hofmann didn’t and wouldn’t use the term ‘mania’, but nevertheless (arbitrarily) claims that we can still use it. Kent imports ideas drawn from psychotherapy, never once questioning them or defining that he is using them.
  • C. 34:40 “his life changed”, referring to Hofmann. Kent is incoherent here. He wants to claim that Albert Hofmann changed his life from a research chemist into a researcher of sacred plants because of his psychotic reaction. But he can’t even make that argument without admitting that Hofmann also acquired massive fame from discovering LSD. Kent wants us to believe that the sole cause of Hofmann shifting his research focus is that he had his ‘psychotic’ trip. It’s implausible. Is that really the most likely cause?
  • Note, too, the odd false dichotomy. Somehow for Kent being interested in visionary plants meant that Hofmann was no longer interested in chemistry. It’s part of Kent cramming everything into an atheist narrative: Hofmann was a ‘scientist’, but then he took his ‘psychotic’ trip seriously and became interested in ‘religion’. “How awful!”, Kent expects us to exclaim!
  • To-do: review Hofmann My Problem Child to see if Kent is exaggerating extent of change. I suspect he may be filtering Hofmann’s writings into the narrative he is trying to spin.
  • C. 38:00: Kent turns Hofmann into himself! In Episode 2 and earlier in this episode, Kent described how he was motivated by a bad trip to figure out what happened to him in that trip, leading him to contact leading psychedelic authors and become a journalist. Here he says that Hofmann was motivated by his ‘horror trip’ to research visionary plants because he had a deep desire to figure out what had happened to him. Kent project onto Hofmann, exaggerating the change and downplaying and ignoring other factors.
  • Kent is at his worst when discussing the last chapter of Hofmann’s My Problem Child. He acts like a vulgar, anti-intellectual. To Kent the chapter is all just so hard to understand and a product of European intellectualism. Come on. Are we supposed to take you seriously as a thinker? Stop acting dense. It’s an act, faux. Kent pretends like Hofmann’s writings about the nature of reality and knowledge is some odd, far-fetched, irrelevant, too-intellectual topic when discussing psychedelics.
  • Per Kent’s description of psychedelic legitimatizion strategies from previous episodes, Hofmann saw that the medical paradigm had been made illegal and hated the recreational paradigm, so the only option left was the religious/shamanistic paradigm.
  • Kent says that Hofmann is not ‘rational’ in his conclusion. To Kent the ‘rational’ conclusion would have been to admit that while LSD may have potential, it has rightly been deemed dangerous. Instead, Hofmann advocates that LSD be part of a neo-Dionysian rite to experience self-transcendence and oneness. Kent hates that because it sounds too religious to him.
  • Hofmann discusses concept of split between individualized self and world. Kent thinks this is a bizarre detour away from the subject of psychedelics into the world “European Intellectualism.” Kent treats this “European Intellectualism” as a bizarre and uncalled for field for Hofmann to incorporate into his treatment of LSD. Kent does not seem to grasp that Hofmann reflects his educational background. Kent only vaguely grasps that Hofmann comes from a broad German educational background, one in which citing, for example, Nietzche is not some bizarre detour, but a key aspect of thought. Kent seems to be a product of the rootless, ahistorical, disconnected American educational system, and regards Hofmann’s writing here with typically American anti-intellectualism. Here is an example of the limitation of only engaging with authors writing about psychedelics. Kent may be well-read in psychedelics authors, but he is totally out of his element here. He is trying to work through the concepts Hofmann is drawing from, but lacks the context to engage with much understanding.
  • According to Kent, Hofmann portrays Western thought as excessively individualistic, thereby creating a split between self and whole, resulting in a distressing feeling of alienation for the individual. Hofmann argues that psychedelics can address this split by allowing for self to connect to reality.
  • Kent acts as though Hofmann is a lone, weird voice who came up with these unusual, wild, far-fetched ideas. I’m embarrassed for Kent! Did he do any research? He presents Hofmann’s chapter as if it’s in an intellectual vacuum. The criticism of Western individualism that Hofmann deploys has been common for some time, and authors have proposed a variety of responses to it.
  • Kent the Atheist thinks that what Hofmann writes sounds like Original Sin. He clumsily lumps this characterization of the separate self and criticism of it to the concept of Original Sin, which for Kent the Atheist is obviously evil and bad and should be dismissed. Kent doesn’t like that Hofmann mentions god, Dionysus, and talks about ritual.
  • Of course, Hofmann’s chapter is not above criticism, but that’s another topic. It sounds like we could sharpen Hofmann criticism for our own purposes, to focus on tight cognition and its assumptions, including the idea of a separate self, the objective truth of tight cognition assumptions, and literalist interpretation.
  • 54:00 calls Hofmann’s chapter “philosophical b*llsh*t” to justify use of LSD. He implies that Hofmann came up with these ideas out of desperation because the medical use had been rejected by Prohibition and he himself rejected recreational use. So, Hofmann’s “last chance” for LSD is to “shoehorn” it into mystic ritual. Kent doesn’t consider or mention that Hofmann considered psychedelics to be part of religious practice from the beginning. Kent tendentiously ignores this in order to spin the position as some uncalled for wishful thinking.
  • Kent’s anti-intellectualism. He complains about Hofmann using terms he thinks are unfamiliar, like entelechy. Come on, stop acting like things should be dumbed down and oversimplified. It’s embarrassing. It’s not like Hofmann invented the word; the word has been a part of philosophical discourse since Aristotle and especially in German philosophy, which likely explains Hofmann’s familiarity with and use of the word.
  • Kent then simplifies the argument. All that Hofmann means, all that this fancy philosophical “b*llsh*t” about the separate self and alienation means is merely normal depression and anxiety, which he sees as part of the ‘human condition.’ Depression, anxiety, and the human condition are all taken as natural and obvious concepts that we all understand the meaning of, cause of, and context for.
  • 56:00 Points out that Hofmann’s trip reports don’t match with his philosophical goal. Hofmann’s trip reports don’t include a feeling of transcendence or communion, but are instead psychotic reactions that involve him losing control. Lack of individual control = oneness with source block universe. Hofmann may not be very clear on this, and Kent certainly doesn’t get that.
  • 59:20 more anti-intellectualism: “European intellectual gobbley-gook”
  • 100:00 critiques the idea that Western culture is uniquely alienated. Fine, sure.
  • Says that “everyone” who enters studying psychedelics from “European intellectualism” must bring these ideas along with them. Tendentious BS!
  • Again lumps “original sin” in. Atheist framing at work, importing concepts not there.
  • Kent is unable to grasp that the psychology or concept of alienation may be valid despite whatever other ideas are attached to it.
  • 101:00 Contends that all alienation per Hofmann’s chapter is is a metaphor for Christian symbolism, reducing such things as ‘philosophy’ and ‘dionysus rituals’ as mere covers for Christianity. Kent’s paranoid atheist style: Everything is really a mask for evil Christianity!!!
  • I agree that it’s not necessary to portray psychedelics as the ‘cure’ for a ‘sick’ Western culture. Kent is opposed to the idea of portraying psychedelics as a panacea for the human condition. Fine. But in the name of opposing that, Kent throws out all criticism of society as some sort of bizarre fantasy concocted by Hofmann to justify LSD. Many have advocated for some sort of change to modern Western society. Kent acts as though that is some strange thing to do.

c. 105:00 concluding thoughts

  • Stunningly boneheaded assertion. One thing that is never considered is that “psychedelics are hallucinogens.” LOL What an embarrassment! Never considered? Kent is merely repeating the Prohibitionist line. Hasn’t there been a fairly robust discussion about whether psychedelic effects should be called ‘hallucinations’? Either Kent is unaware of it and thus severely limited or he is obscuring it and thus untrustworthy and tendentious.
  • Kent implies that ‘truth’ is found not in altered state, but in normal tight cognition state. In that he is a fine Enlightenment reductionist. He is an example of egoic tight cognition rebelling against the power of loose cognition, fearful and paranoid of religious experiencing and ecstasy, of losing control.
  • As if calling the experience a ‘hallucination’ somehow protects one from egodeath.
  • He claims that all psychedelic effects are hallucinations and that that’s what they should always be considered. Anything else is wishful thinking and fanciful projection.
  • Does correctly point out that psychedelic spiritually advocates usually describe only the peace and light, transcendence and oneness experiences as spiritual, while allowing everything else to be something else. He says they should all be considered hallucinations. We could say instead that all of it should be considered religious.
  • Kent’s style involves using a serious tone and casting serious accusations: e.g. “intellectually dishonest” and “dangerous.” It’s an edgy style, self-important.
  • He thinks Hofmann shouldn’t say religious experience, but that it is a hallucination of a religious experience or a facsimile. Kent gets things backwards. He starts from the assumption that tight cognition is true and the base against which the altered state should be evaluated and judged. A less tendentious approach would be to define the two states as neutrally as possible and then compare. Each needs an understanding from within, not imported from the other sphere.
  • Kent engages in distasteful psychologizing of Hofmann, but it’s merely projection. Hofmann was motivated by wanting to promote his own legacy. He couldn’t be the creator of a recreational inebriant, that wasn’t good enough for him. So he came up with this “European Intellectualism” function. Instead of an ebriant it had to something high falutin like a Dionysian ritual sacred plant (as if that is an unusual or far-fetched idea). He attributes to Hofmann the desire to be remembered as a creator of a sacrament and so be considered a demigod vel sim. Note the atheist paranoia and projection: those who are interested in religion must either be deluded or striving to exploit people!!!
  • Ironic: Kent attributes to Hofmann a self-centeredness and focus on self-promotion that better describes himself. Kent the neoliberal capitalist can’t imagine anyone acting from any other motivation except self-promotion.
  • Kent implies that all LSD is good for is recreation.
  • Kent thinks the ‘rational’ and ‘natural’ conclusion to the book would have been that “LSD is a monster that he can’t control”.
  • Kent contends that Hofmann came up with the paradigm of the sacred drug (he didn’t; can only contend that if you are reading Hofmann My Problem Child in isolation), then Kent shoehorns that to a Christian focus on healing suffering. Atheist reduction.
  • C. 115:00 Kent’s psychologizing is annoying rhetorically. “I can understand [Hofmann’s] impulses.” Those are impulses that James Kent just made up and attributed to him!
  • Kent denounces a desperate attempt by European Intellectuals to put high value on LSD after its Prohibition. For this motivation to be true, they would need to have never said there was a high value on LSD prior to Prohibition.
  • Kent sees psychedelic loose cognition as extreme aberration of human consciousness. So, egoic tight cognition is normal baseline that should be adhered to. Kent lacks the idea of multi-state cognitive psychology, that any account of the mind and what is ‘normal’ must take into account altered state. WTF does Kent think of William James?
  • Kent’s conception of the use of psychedelics is vague: says vague things about fun and vague things about psychological insights. He is certainly against the idea of “spiritual healing.” He thinks that inevitably the promotion of psychedelics for religious purposes means that they will be used for “spiritual medicine” or as a “panacea for the human condition”, as if those are the only ways of putting it. Instead of thinking about the concepts, he recoils from anything that sounds religious to him.
  • Dismisses someone having a religious experience on psychedelics as merely “lying on a couch with eyes closed experiencing something in their own head.” Is he being dense about what religious experiencing is?
  • Kent exaggerates and despises Hofmann’s religiosity, sees it as a weird, desperate, uncalled for attempt to fit in LSD with his faith. In fact, says Kent, hallucinogenic intoxication is often depraved. What exactly does Kent think religion consists of?
  • C 118:00 Kent says that a trip may turn sacred, it may turn psychotic, it may turn delusional. How does Kent understand those terms? His framing suggests he thinks that they are mutually exclusive.
  • C 120:00 Kent’s points are often banal, but he states them with strong emphasis and formal-sounding words to make them seem more important than they are. He says something like “I assert that Hofmann started to look for the meaning or value of his experience after he had it.” Uh, no sh*t. Of course he had to have an experience to find value in it.
  • Kent concludes that Hofmann decided that LSD is sacred. Note the rhetorical sleight of hand. He takes Hofmann to task for asserting that LSD is something that in Kent’s mind it is not exclusively. Thus for Kent Hofmann is guilty of intellectual dishonesty and of misleading people because he said that LSD is something that it may not be. But what Hofmann actually says is different. He doesn’t say that it is sacred, but argues that its best use would be in that context. Kent disingenuously presents Hofmann as saying something he doesn’t. Hofmann knows that the substance isn’t intrinsically one thing or another, as Kent knows, since he discusses medical applications and recreational use in My Problem Child, which Kent has already referred to. It’s not that Hofmann is wrong, but more that Kent can’t abide by the idea of doing anything religious.
  • C 121:00 Kent claims that ‘transcendence and communion’ are wishful thinking, that Hofmann has painted over an experience with intellectualism. So does Kent think that the experience exists on its own? Yet earlier in the podcast he complains that Hofmann’s concept of reality and of a sender of information to the mind is inherently religious
  • Kent wants psychedelic experiencing to only be thought of as exciting and unique. This is a consumerist position. An entertainment position. All psychedelics provide is an exciting, unique experience, but Hofmann and other intellectuals aren’t satisfied with that and have “shined it up” with “high falutin cr*p.” Kent anti-intellectual. Also, where does Kent’s position that there is a simple experience to psychedelics come from? He seems not to grasp how much his conception is shaped by secular, consumerist, non-traditionalist America of the late 20th, early 21st century.
  • Anti-mysticism. Doesn’t think mysticism is important, doesn’t think mysticism happens on psychedelics. Doesn’t think that people are cured of alienation from modern world by taking psychedelics. Kent ultimately an uncharitable, uninteresting way of reading Hofmann and of working with him. Kent can’t imagine gently correcting and working with Hofmann, can only engage in attack and slander.
  • Remember: Hofmann proposes a context for taking LSD that could effect the results he wanted, but he is not saying that anyone who takes LSD in any context will get those results. Why does Kent act like he is saying that LSD always inevitably produces those results? Kent’s treatment of Hofmann is outrageous. Hofmann says “here is a potential set and setting and a hoped-for effect of taking LSD.” Kent then says “Hofmann says this is what LSD does, but he is wrong! He is intellectually dishonest and dangerous!”
  • Kent’s tone at the end, my goodness. Spare us the righteous indignation.

As part of wrapping up the project of analyzing Dose Nation’s ‘Final 10’ podcast series, I post here my notes written while listening to Episode 2. These notes served as the basis for my part in the discussion with Max about this episode in Transcendent Knowledge Podcast Ep. 17.

  • Kent is leaving psychedelic “community” and publishing world. I get the impression that now he feels he can be unpopular, while before he strove to be accepted.
  • The concept of “psychedelic philosophy” has the same problem as one of “psychedelic community”: in its current usage, it is overly narrow, and artificially so. Psychedelic philosophy is simply philosophy. For example, ancient Greek philosophy is informed by experience with psychedelics. A better distinction would be between “exoteric” and “esoteric” philosophy, or a similar sort of pairing, to indicate philosophy informed by experiential awareness of eternalism and analogy and philosophy not informed by that.
  • Kent deploys the idea that belief is programmed into people by culture. There is in fact a great deal of debate about this topic, but you wouldn’t know it from Kent’s presentation.
  • From his description, he seems invested and attached to his own self-narrative (the story he tells himself) about his “conversion” to atheism. He clearly has a grudge against non-atheists. Kent reveals that he was originally interested in the concept of the shamanic spirit world arising from psychedelics.
  • Complains that it’s wrong to only praise psychedelics. Sure, but lots of people also talk about the dangers. It strains credibility to say that “everyone only talks about the positives of psychedelics.”
  • Claims that Prohibition created a legitimacy crisis for psychedelics.
  • 10:20 Kent wants a modern product with guarantees of safety by dosage. Consumer safety.
  • Kent admits to being a nihilist, interested in the concept of the cosmic joke
  • Kent respects party culture. I approve of that; it has been put down too much by legitimizers. Yet why is Kent so combative? He’s not asserting merely that party culture is worthy of respect as a venue for psychedelic experiencing, but instead asserts that party culture is more worthy of respect than those who try to turn psychedelic experiencing into something more. It’s a tendentious framing that ultimately harms his argument. He implies that everyone who views psychedelics as anything other than a party attendant is importing some far-fetched notion to the experience.
  • Kent again attached to the idea that there is a natural spontaneous human nature: this is why he praises party culture. Implicaiton is that any other “use” of psychedelics or activity for it is an artificial unnecessary addition.
  • Kent thinks that there are a limited number of options for legitimizing psychedelics in the face of Prohibition. Medical, Religious, Historical
  • Medical. Thinks that this creates a darkside of thinking of psychedelics as a “miracle cure” for all diseases. He criticizes this as overblown in the discourse. He seems to think that because some people claim that LSD cures cancer therefore the claim that they have medical benefit is problematic. As if we should judge an argument by its most extreme or worst promoters. Kent claims that saying that psychedelics are medicine inevitably leads people to take very strong doses that lead to psychosis and cause damage. Kent acts like the idea that psychedelics are a medicine idea is some post-Prohibition idea.
  • Religious freedom. Kent thinks that psychedelics in a religious ritual has no place in western culture and says that doing so is “cultural appropriation.” FAIL. He describes a “rebranding” of psychedelics as a sacrament or entheogen (he says that entheogen means to ‘awaken the god within’; it means “creating god within”). He again complains that the problem with this formulation is that it inevitably leads to taking large doses, that there is no warning not too take to much. “It could lead to bad things” he says. Kent is pro-safety in a very post-9/11 American security state way. He thinks that there is hyperbolic propaganda around religious use. Again, he takes an extreme formulation as the inevitable norm: a tendentious way of arguing. He dismisses ‘gnosis’ as simply flowery language. Has he read any western philosophy and theology? Again argues that this discourse of psychedelics as religious only developed after Prohibition in order to legitimize psychedelics. Only a perceived need to legitimize psychedelics, no other reason. It strains credibility!
  • Historical. Kent criticizes looking for plants in art. Overly focused on the artwork argument, ignores other forms of evidence. He identifies cryptic hiddenness of entheogens, but lacks idea of intentional veiling and unveiling.
  • Throughout, Kent reacts to discourse. He oversimplifies discourse down and presents it in a way that is easy to dismiss it. Thus, tendentious arguing. Typical of many self-professed ‘skeptics’ these days, he doesn’t really do the work of thinking of the best versions of an argument and working from there.
  • He links the historical psychedelics idea to Mckenna’s evolutionary theory “stoned ape”, as if that were a necessary part of seeing psychedelics in history. This is uncalled for, not needed. It’s purpose is to damn by association research into historical use of psychedelics. Tendentious.
  • 38:00 Kent reduces lots of psychedelic discourse down to a desparate desire to relegitimize psychedelics in face of Prohibition. He thinks this leads to hyperbole concerning their use and value and an understatement of their dangers.
  • What are the dangers? That one can “go crazy”. What’s the assumption here? As if there weren’t plenty of ways that people “go crazy” without psychedelics.
  • Kent then hyperbolizes in his own way! He claims that party culture (as if it were some integral ‘culture’) has safeguards in place that are unrecognized by mainstream psychedelic discourse. It didn’t need top down administration or religious sanctions, but via peer to peer networks. Claims that party culture is the dominant force in psychedelic culture because most people encounter psychedelics via it (I wonder how one could prove that majority of people encounter psychedelics via party culture without ever interacting with medical or religious ideas).
  • 51:11 Again claims that people only say that psychedelics are miracle cures and sacraments in context of Prohibition. This is a fragile argument! Easy to disprove.
  • Kent thinks party culture is ‘realistic.’ At best he gives lip service to idea that psychedelics are good because they allow people to “explore thoughts.”
  • Kent is attached to the words used in formulations. He doesn’t like any medical or religious terms attached because they could lead to people taking big doses. Horrors!
  • He thinks that these forms of discourse promote the idea that psychedelics can’t hurt people. Is this inevitably true?
  • Note too how there is a failure of metaphor here. Kent demands epistemological certainty. He can’t accept the ambiguity of calling psychedelics many things.
  • 56:00 “Mental Health” He treats mental health as a neutral framework, as not itself culturally constructed in certain ways at certain times.
  • “I’ve met people adversely affected by psychedelic drugs.” Relying on moralizing anecdotes. How can we define causation? Kent wants to say that psychedelic drugs are the sole cause of someone’s ‘mental health’ being affected after ingesting one. But how do you prove that? “Bad experiences that they’ve never really recovered from.” Claims that there’s no support for those damaged by psychedelics to aid their recovery. This is confused, because he has just argued that party culture had an organic peer to peer system of harm reduction.
  • Kent reveals that he had a bad trip that significantly affected him. This makes the above clearer. Kent is projecting. He’s really talking about himself. This too neat and tidy narrative that claims to encompass all psychedelic users is really about his own narrative of himself and his experience. His claim that medical and spiritual talk inevitably leads people to take large doses is actually a reflection of his own life. His claim that there is no one to help people integrate difficult experiences is a reflection of his own life. Note how earlier he framed his story about how there is a lack of support for bad trips in terms of people writing to him asking for help. He reveals that he started communicating with figures in the psychedelic community in the early 90s after he had a bad trip, thus starting his journalism career.
  • Kent is example of need to have a working understanding of religion and myth and poetry/metaphor. He had a bad trip, lacked theory and metaphor to understand and integrate it. Expectation of perfect mental health and reductionist attachment to preset ideas, shying away from truly revolutionary thinking.
  • Kent’s “psychotic break” caused him to reach out to the community. He frames his journalism as a quest to find top of community in order to figure out what was going on in psychedelic experience. There’s a misfired metaphor here. He should have kept exploring the control source, but instead he went for the authorities in the earthly community.
  • 1:16 Acknowledges that ‘bad trips’ change and alter you, but doesn’t like idea that ‘bad trips’ teach you more than other trips and so are more valuable. Worried about dangers of saying that. Avoid bad trips because they have lasting impact. So Kent wants psychedelic trips without any impact on life. Kent’s critiques can also be seen as a sign that what ‘community’ or ‘psychedelic discourse’ needs is a better definition of goal of taking psychedelics. We should say that they do change your life, describe how, and describe why that’s worth doing and why some may want to avoid.
  • Kent complains that there’s no protocol on what to do after a bad trip, no expert. OH NO!!!! There’s no one to tell us what to do!!!
  • He advises going to therapy! Yes, Kent is a good citizen of the therapeutic state. Therapy he claims is more helpful than ‘psychedelic philosophy.’ Kent doesn’t want anyone to be scared, confused, panicked. If someone experiences those emotions, they have to get treated or risk long-term harm.
  • Kent is clearly projecting. He again looks back to his own experience to say that he didn’t get any advice.
  • He didn’t know then that he had a psychotic episode, though now he knows for sure that he did. Deploying a version of ‘mental health’ and definition of ‘psychosis’ as if it were normative.
  • Ends by saying that maybe his life would be different if he had. I get the impression that Kent regrets a lot.

As part of wrapping up the project of analyzing Dose Nation’s ‘Final 10’ podcast series, I post here my notes written while listening to Episode 1. These notes served as the basis for my part in the discussion with Max about this episode in Transcendent Knowledge Podcast Ep. 17.

  • For Dose Nation, Kent envisioned earning money from it. Imagined that it would turn into a media outlet. Kent has instincts of profit-oriented journalist in time of online branding
  • He complains about the smallness of the ‘community,’ that it is not large enough to sustain a media outlet focused on psychedelics. This chimes with something I’ve suspected: it’s a mistake to make psychedelics themselves the basis of a community or a principle of identity. There’s not enough there on their own. They are attributes of a community, identity, practice, discipline, but not the single sole marker of a community.
  • C. 1:05: Kent is a skeptic
  • Claims that US culture *is* consumerist. Nihilist libertarian. Insists that it is our “cultural heritage.” He treats capitalism as a given to enable amazing tech gadgets.
  • Linking American interest in shamanism etc.  to consumerist choice is good, but he deploys “cultural appropriation” in a hyperbolic way.
  • Against the “superstitious cosmology” of shamanism.
  • 1:23 pro-science, against cultural heritage
  • 1:24. Claims that psychedelics cause people to reject narrative of their cultural heritage and look for a newer more specific form of cultural narrative that speaks to them personally and emotionally. This is a libertarian individualized viewpoint. It also can’t account for cultures that use psychedelics to reinforce tradition.
  • Kent argues that psychedelics cause people to find cultural tradition laughable. Only in America where capitalism has destroyed vestiges of traditional social relationships, roles, and community.
  • His history is laughably bad. No mention of art, beauty, etc. 
  • 1:28. Claims that psychedelics are incompatible with modern western culture and that’s why they were made illegal. Pro-prohibition framing. Treats Prohibition as the natural response.
  • The framing that psychedelics *cause* people to dislike modern culture is odd. There’s an odd emphasis on causation. Are psychedelics the primary cause of disliking modern culture?
  • Yet he’s not wrong to critique the impulse to turn from western culture to other cultural traditions, as if those cultures didn’t have problems.
  • Kent defends modern western consumer culture, but attacks western tradition of religion/philosophy. The framing is so constrained. He acts as if the only option for psychedelicists is to reject Western cultural heritage, which is bizarrely interpreted to mean strictly modern consumerism, and to embrace some other tradition. But 1) it’s not the only option; 2) the embrace of other cultures is not solely caused by psychedelics.
  • 1:34 A capitalist libertarian view of human “nature”: claims that “primitives” would gladly bulldoze earth if they could. He thinks all people are profit-driven first and foremost. Yet I agree that there’s no magic other place to turn to.
  • 1:35 Kent is explicit that profiting off of the land is not merely “western culture” but “human nature.”
  • Kent has an axe to grind about the utopian “dropout” movement.
  • Agree that there are reasons to critique simply turning to a new culture as if it were that simple to solve all of your problems. Interesting that he labels that consumerist. But I disagree with his general nihilism.
  • 1:40 speaks against self-improvement via psychedelics. Fair critique, but scorched-earth and nihilistic. Has nothing to say about ethics/morals, only that “there’s only life and behaviors.”
  • 1:45 Kent is typical of contemporary Americans in his obsession with safety and trusting authoritarian power
  • Kent is thoroughly disillusioned with psychedelics community. Kent’s position: because I now think that leading figures in the psychedelics movement were wrong in the answers they provided me, I therefore think that there is no answer at all. Everyone who tries to provide an answer is lying. Kent has become stuck at the failure of authority to provide satisfactory answers to the question of the goal of taking psychedelics and their cultural place. Rather than formulate answers himself, he has gotten stuck in complaint. It’s like a child’s tantrum of frustration. In his cynicism and nihilism, he now asserts that there is no answer (instead asserting that psychedelics are for recreation only) and that anyone who tries to argue for a goal is misguided.

Max and I spent 2-3 months listening to James Kent’s Final 10 podcast series at Dose Nation that “explore the Dark Side of psychedelics”. That series consists of 10 episodes deconstructing aspects of popular psychedelia in order to reveal the ‘darker side’ of psychedelia. We recorded 6 episodes discussing the ideas and approach from episodes 1-8 of his series. The ‘Final 10’ episodes are so long-winded and so redundant that we lost interest in deconstructing episodes 9 and 10. We concluded that we had more or less figured out the framework, and have decided that we will not cover the last two episodes of the Final 10.

Although Kent stylized those episodes as his farewell to popular psychedelia, he is now recording a new series of 10 episodes with collaborators at Dose Nation. Perhaps he has now found the success and acclaim from the community that he complained had eluded him in the past. There’s something funny about that. He seemed so bitter towards the community, but instead of actually leaving, he now seems to have achieved a position as a self-styled serious-minded critic of the community.

Here in this post I want to clear out some general notes I made while listening to Dose Nation’s ‘Final 10.’ In others I’ll post my detailed reactions to individual Dose Nation podcasts. See Transcendent Knowledge Podcasts themselves for how these ideas were developed in conversation with Max. The below are only the basic ideas from which formulations arose extemporaneously while podcasting.


  • Episodes explore the ‘dark side of psychedelia’
  • Kent describes himself as a journalist
  • Publisher of TRP magazine circa 1997-2003
  • Dose Nation online intended to become a psychedelic journalism blog à la Gawker

Major analysis and criticism:

  • Advocates atheism and reductionism. Distrustful of any topic related to religion and friendly only towards materialist science.
  • Advocates radical recreational approach to psychedelics. Claims that psychedelics are only good for a bit of recreational fun and little more. Users should take low doses to avoid bad trips that interfere with recreation. Anyone who promises anything more than recreation from psychedelics is dangerous and misguided or deceitful about their effects.
  • Affirms some vague insight into psychology is possible from psychedelics, but doesn’t define that and focuses instead on attacking claims about the benefits of psychedelics.
  • Assumes a psychedelic ‘community’ of some sort. Doesn’t define this community, but he seems to mean psychedelic advocates, scholars, researchers, and their audience from the 1960s to today, primaily in the American context. This conception limits ideas about what psychedelics are and what they for.
  • Consumerist capitalist vision of the purpose and use of psychedelics. They are good for individual entertainment, no more. Longs for proper labeling and consumer oversight.
  • Against large doses because of danger of psychosis and harm
  • Prohibitionist-friendly. Treats Prohibition as a natural and obvious reaction to harm caused by psychedelics
  • Projects own motivations and feelings onto people analyzed.  
  • Treats ordinary state psychotherapy’s conception of the psyche and self as normative
  • Finds some faults with a person or their ideas, then throws out everything a person says as if that fault invalidates everything. An unconstructive, scorched-earth tactic.
  • Claims to be concerned with disinformation. Obsessed with correct belief. Implied idea: if everyone had the correct, accurate ideas, everything would be perfect.
  • Claims modern Western culture and psychedelics are incompatible. Apologist for ‘modern Western culture,’ which is viewed as a natural state.
  • Refuses to think analogically. Interprets religious statements literally, in terms of materialist science.
  • Puts focus of psychedelic state on minute perceptual distortion. Overly focused on ketamine.
  • Fearful of losing control. Took smaller and smaller doses in order to avoid control loss. His whole approach is based on maintaining control and on condemning psychedelics for the danger they pose to individual control power.
  • Impied rhetorical stance: You can trust this podcast because it is serious and skeptical, unlike the psychedelics advocates, who are too eager to promote psychedelics. Kent has many years of experience with substances and in the community, so he must be trustworthy.


  • Kent is leaving behind his career as a journalist in psychedelics and so is telling off the community and signalling his worth to Prohibitionists
  • The podcast signals to Prohibitionist leaders and mainstream Prohibition culture that actually Prohibition is correct. All the reasons that psychedelics advocates have for using psychedelics are overblown hyperbole and are dangerous because they encourage large doses


Metaphorical Psychedelic Eternalism
June 2020


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