OPEN Foundation

Stephan Tap

How Psychedelics Prove that Materialism is Baloney: A sneak peek into the work of Bernardo Kastrup

We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep – William James

One of the most fascinating findings coming from the scientific literature on psychedelics is their ability to drastically alter our beliefs and worldview. These form the basis of how we relate to ourselves, each other, and the world. As a result, they determine how we attach meaning to our lives and whether we ultimately feel happy, sad, or depressed. Our beliefs and worldview can, in short, be considered as one of the most important aspects of who we are and how our lives unfold.

The current prevailing worldview in Western society to which most of us pledge allegiance is that of materialism. I am not referring to materialism in the consumerist sense, wherein the main preoccupation of the human being is the pursuit and obtainment of things, but materialism from the viewpoint of metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the study of the fundamental nature of reality.

Bernardo Kastrup, one of the speakers at ICPR 2022, challenges the current worldview of metaphysical materialism. Specifically, he proposes analytical idealism as an alternative, the notion that reality is essentially mental and inseparable from mind. Bernardo has been leading the modern renaissance on metaphysical idealism for the past ten years and is considered one of the most energetic, diverse, and original thinkers alive today.

The story of how Bernardo came to idealism is truly fascinating. For those who are interested, I highly recommend two podcast episodes (listed below) in which he explains how he arrived at this particular understanding of metaphysics. In short, Bernardo started his career as a computer engineer, working for some of the biggest and most important companies in the world, including the Dutch company ASML, the world’s leading computer chipmaker for the semiconductor industry, and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world (i.e., the Large Hadron Collider).

Despite these prestigious positions, Bernardo always remained a philosopher at heart and was thus concerned with the bigger questions: “What is life? Where do we come from? What happens to our consciousness after we die?” More than anything, he pondered endlessly as a computer engineer on the possibilities and limitations of artificial intelligence: “If you put enough elements of a computer and chips together to aggregate computing power, when will it become conscious? More so, can it become conscious?”

Materialism and The Hard Problem of Consciousness

The unanswered question refers to a notorious problem that has been troubling scientists and philosophers alike for decades. It was first coined as ‘The Hard Problem of Consciousness’ by Australian philosopher David Chalmers in his famous essay Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness, which has been declared as the second most important unanswered question in science by Science. According to Bernardo, it should have been number one. 

Before we continue, let’s first briefly discuss what materialism is all about. This way we can better comprehend the Hard Problem.

Metaphysical materialism states that all of reality is composed of a small set of fundamental subatomic particles, which are described in the ‘Standard Model’ of particle physics. These particles are the basic building blocks of nature and responsible for the character and behaviors of all known phenomena, from the chair you are sitting on to the entirety of the Milky Way, to your body and loved ones, and of course your mind.

Materialism assumes that these subatomic particles are “dead” and, therefore, absent from consciousness. Now here is the rub: “How do you eventually get consciousness simply by arranging ‘dead’ subatomic particles together?” Alas, we have arrived at the Hard Problem of consciousness. Bernardo calls it a sore on the foot of materialism. In fact, it is such an obstinate problem that materialist philosophers, such as Daniel Dennett, have been accused of ‘explaining it away’.

How do you eventually get consciousness simply by arranging ‘dead’ subatomic particles together?

Other famous neuroscientists, such as Christof Koch, remain hopeful and claim that it is only a matter of time before we resolve the Hard Problem. Koch initiated his quest alongside molecular biologist turned neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick in the 1990s. Most of all, their primary objective was to discover the neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs), which refers to the “the minimum neuronal mechanisms jointly sufficient for any one specific conscious experience.” 

Similar to philosopher Daniel Dennett, consciousness has in their view a mechanistic basis and is ultimately a scientifically tractable problem. So long as we keep collecting more data about the inner workings of the brain through state-of-the art neuroimaging techniques and aggregate this over the years, we will eventually find the much sought after NCCs. The phenomenon of consciousness is, after all, produced by an assembly of dead subatomic particles that we would call a human brain. Consciousness is material brain processes at work.

Exactly how these material brain processes and the various mechanical movements of particles are accompanied by inner life remains, however, “a question left unanswered by materialism”, states Bernardo in Why Materialism is Baloney – How true skeptics know there is no death and fathom answers to life, the universe and everything.

It is here that Bernardo firmly states that such (scientific) pursuits are – and will remain – futile. We cannot solve the Hard Problem through science because of the simple fact that science cannot look at what nature is – science can only look at what nature does: “The scientific method allows us to study and model the observable patterns and regularities of nature […] But our ability to model the patterns and regularities of reality tells us little about the underlying nature of things”, writes Bernardo.

Tackling the Hard Problem: Idealism to the Rescue

To tackle the Hard Problem, we need to approach it through metaphysics, it being the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with the study of the fundamental nature of reality. Metaphysics looks at what nature is.

Now, Bernardo does not actually “solve” the Hard Problem, but rather circumvents it through his metaphysical framework of idealism. In fact, he suggests that there is no problem at all; it is only a problem when we believe the metaphysics of materialism to be true. And so long as we adhere to the materialist worldview, we keep misconstruing our conception of reality through a flawed conceptual framework that is ultimately nonsensical and self-defeating.

As I was reading about the Hard Problem and delved more and more into the framework of idealism, a quote from Einstein came to mind that perfectly encapsulates the current predicament: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Within the metaphysical framework of materialism, the Hard Problem cannot possibly be solved. It is created within a certain mode of thinking, a mode of thinking that is, according to Bernardo, the wrong one.

The Hard Problem is only a problem when we believe the metaphysics of materialism to be true.

So what, then, is idealism? As mentioned before, idealism consists of the notion that mind and reality are inseparable. Put slightly differently, it states that ‘mind’ is the medium of reality, not ‘matter’. This sounds rather abstract and confusing at first, because mind is generally referred to as something we use (although I have my doubts about some individuals) or lose. We see this particularly reflected in our everyday language: “use your mind for once!” or “he has lost his mind!”

Within the metaphysical framework of idealism, however, the mind is defined as something entirely different. In the opening of Chapter 3 in Why Materialism is Baloney, Bernardo provides a “most natural and obvious answer” to the question of what ‘mind’ signifies within the framework idealism: “Mind is the medium of everything that you have ever known, seen, or felt; everything that has ever meant anything to you. Whatever has never fallen within the embrace of your mind, might as well have never existed as far as you are concerned. Your entire life and universe – your parents and the people you love, your first day at school, your first kiss, every time you were sick, the obnoxious boss at work, your dreams and aspirations, your successes, your disappointments, your worldview, etc. – are and have always been phenomena of your mind, existing within its boundaries.”

Yet this description of mind within the framework of idealism remains just that: a description. Again, I want to emphasize here that in order to intuitively understand, or “grok” (to borrow from Bernardo’s lexicon), requires a different mode of thinking. Speaking from personal experience, this is an arduous process, particularly because the worldview of materialism is so firmly ingrained within us. It is a firmly established belief system accompanied by a habitual mode of thinking that is often considered infallible.

Mind is the medium of everything that you have ever known, seen, or felt; everything that has ever meant anything to you. Whatever has never fallen within the embrace of your mind, might as well have never existed.

To avoid eating the menu, we can use metaphors to get an initial taste of idealism. Fortunately, Bernardo provides no shortage of these in Why Materialism is Baloney – a triumphant feat on par with the wit of Alan Watts. In my view, the most intuitive analogy to start off with when trying to “grok” idealism is the whirlpool.

Whirlpools Within the Lake of Mind

Consider ‘mind’ as a lake of water. When this lake is still, water is flowing along freely without any hindrance. The water is not localized. Now, imagine a small whirlpool within the lake. All of a sudden, there is an identifiable pattern that assembles the water molecules in place within the lake. In other words, the whirlpool reflects a pattern that localizes the flow of water (see Figure 1).

We are able to point at this pattern and say: “Here is a whirlpool!” Other water molecules that are not localized through the whirlpool are ‘filtered out’ – they are kept away by the particular dynamics of the whirlpool. From this, Bernardo makes two observations regarding the whirlpool metaphor, namely that 1) the whirlpool reflects a localization of water within the lake and 2) that there is a ‘filtering out’ of the other remaining water molecules.

Figure 1
The whirlpool in a lake is a metaphor for a brain in the medium of mind (from Kastrup, 2014)

These observations lead to the following conclusion, namely that “there is nothing to the whirlpool, but the lake itself.” It is important to remember this statement in the next few paragraphs, because it contains the essence of idealism. Once more, the only thing that the whirlpool reflects is a very specific pattern of water that has been localized within the lake. Ultimately, it is all water. It is all one.

There is nothing to the whirlpool but the lake itself.

Bernardo mentions the brain as something very analogous to the whirlpool in the lake. More specifically, he talks about the brain as “an image [pattern] in mind, which reflects a localization of contents of mind.” And just like there is nothing to the whirlpool but the lake, there is nothing to the brain but mind itself. Within the metaphysics of idealism, the brain represents an identifiable pattern of the localization of mind. Similar to the whirlpool within the lake, we can point to the brain within the medium of mind and say: “Here is a brain!” And just as the whirlpool captures water molecules from the lake, the brain assembles subjective experiences from the medium of mind and ‘filters out’ experiences of reality that under ordinary circumstances do not fall within its boundaries.

There is nothing to the brain but mind itself.

Consider the following. Would you say that a whirlpool causes water? Or that flames are the cause of combustion? What about lightning being the cause of electric discharge? My guess is probably not. In fact, you would be rather perplexed when someone gives you these presuppositions: “Of course a whirlpool does not cause water. It is exactly the other way around; the water, or the lake, is the very thing that causes the whirlpool!” Naturally, the whirlpool and water are very much related to each other, but the whirlpool only represents a “partial image” of the whole process that is lying underneath it.

And the same can be said of the brain. It too represents a partial image within the broader medium of mind. According to Bernardo, saying that “the brain generates mind is as absurd as to say that a whirlpool generates water!” (italics added).

Understanding the brain to be a partial image within the broader medium of mind eliminates the Hard Problem entirely, because the aforementioned NCCs can now be interpreted differently. Yes, there still exists a clear and obvious relationship between brain states and someone’s state of ‘mind’, but now the former can be seen as a partial image of the latter. As Bernardo concludes: “The brain is an experience, an image in mind of a certain process of mind.”

What materialism is trying and claiming to accomplish is the impossible. It maintains that the brain is the very thing that causes consciousness and the plethora of subjective experiences that go along with it. But if you understand just a little bit of what has been presented so far, you can begin to see that this is a complete non sequitur. It does not follow that consciousness is the cause of brain processes, as one would similarly not infer that combustion and water are respectively caused by flames and whirlpools. Trying to fix it only results in what is keenly illustrated on a subreddit that creates some hilarious memes of Bernardo and idealism.

Of course, it would be unfair to entirely negate materialism based on just this metaphor, albeit it being a very useful one. This is where psychedelics come in, as their effects on the brain help make sense of this metaphor.

Brief Peeks Beyond: The Acute effects of Psychedelics on the Human Brain

In the past decade, Bernardo has written extensively about the acute effects of psychedelics on the human brain. More specifically, he has provided evidence of how neuroimaging studies seem to support the tenets of idealism – much to the dismay of other materialist neuroscientists, which include previous ICPR speakers as Enzo Tagliazucchi and Robin Carhart-Harris.

To be clear, Bernardo never suggested “malicious intent.” Rather, the intention was to emphasize how “paradigmatic expectations can make it all too easy to cherry-pick, misunderstand and then misrepresent results so as to render them consistent with the reigning [materialist] worldview.” Indeed, it is a clear example of how materialism permeates the culture and how unaware we are of our philosophical presuppositions.

In general, neuroimaging studies examining the acute effects of psychedelics on the human brain demonstrate that there is an inverse relationship between brain activity and subjective experience. Wait, what? Yes, you read that correctly. Psychedelic substances are found to reduce brain activity, rather than increase it. Such results vehemently oppose the intuitions of materialism. After all, it is brain activity itself that is supposed to constitute subjective experience: “consciousness is brain activity.” How else are we going to find the NCCs?

Down below follows a summary of two important neuroimaging studies and Bernardo’s interpretations of their results, which led him to conclude that the evidence thus far supports idealism.

The first study examined the neural correlates of psilocybin. According to Bernardo, this study was “extremely well designed” as it countered the “uncertainties of measuring brain activity with an fMRI scanner.” Here, he is alluding to the fact that the researchers used two ‘signals’ in determining brain activity, namely arterial spin labeling (ASL) and blood-oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). More specifically, ASL is a non-invasive fMRI technique for measuring cerebral blood flow (CBF): the amount of CBF indicates the amount of brain activity. On the other hand, BOLD measures the difference between oxygenated and deoxygenated blood in various brain regions that indicates the level of metabolism. Ultimately, it is the amount of metabolism which indicates the amount of brain activity in a given brain region.

With both these measures, here is what the authors from the psilocybin study reported: “we observed no increases in cerebral blood flow in any region” (italics added). Even more ‘alarming’: “the more the drug deactivated the brain, the more intense were the subjective experiences reported by the subjects” (italics added).

Reading further into the study, results become particularly worrisome for materialists when study participants made report of having had extremely rich subjective experiences, which included “geometrical patterns”, “extremely vivid imagination”, “seeing their surroundings change in unusual ways”, and having experiences that feature a “dream-like quality.”

Bernardo summarized the findings in one of his many blog posts and stated: “the brain largely goes to sleep. Who, then, is having the trip? It doesn’t seem to be the brain.”

Neuroimaging studies examining the acute effects of psychedelics on the human brain demonstrate that there is an inverse relationship between brain activity and subjective experience

Fast forward four years later and another study came out that examined the neural correlates of LSD. This time the findings received much more attention from the public and was covered by prestigious media outlets, such as The Guardian and CNN. Bernardo responded to this “fanfare” and explained to his readers how they are being “subtly deceived (again).” Because, similar to the psilocybin study, results yet again demonstrated observed reductions of brain activity across the entire brain (see Figure 2). As you can clearly see, there is a whole lot of blue. In fact, everything is blue which indicates reductions in brain activity.

Now, to be fair, the authors from the LSD study did find one small inconsistency when comparing findings to the psilocybin study. Apparently, there were results that indicated increases in CBF in the visual cortex of the brain when LSD was compared to placebo (see third row Figure 3). Such a finding would indeed support the view of materialism, i.e., more activity in the brain equals more subjective experience.

Figure 2
Brain activity as determined by magnetoencephalography

Yet, the authors from the LSD study concluded that the observed localized increases in CBF were possibly the result of measurement artifacts: “one must be cautious of proxy [indirect] measures of neural activity (that lack temporal resolution), such as CBF or glucose metabolism, lest the relationship between these measures, and the underlying neural activity they are assumed to index, be confounded by extraneous factors, such as a direct vascular action of the drug.”

Figure 3
Cerebral blood flow as determined by ASL

This is why the authors opted to put more emphasis on findings from Figure 2, as it represents the results of magnetoencephalography (MEG). This is another widely used functional neuroimaging technique for mapping brain activity. As opposed to indirect measures such as BOLD and ASL, MEG represents a direct measure of neural activity. Naturally, the LSD study authors concluded that MEG: “should [thus] be considered [as] more reliable indices [measures] of the functional brain effects of psychedelics” (italics added).

Of course, these were only two studies that examined the acute effects of psychedelics on the brain. But as many of you probably know, the psychedelic renaissance has been on full throttle in the past years. As both Bernardo and Prof. Edward F. Kelly alluded to in an opinion piece on Scientific American: “these unexpected findings have since been repeatedly confirmed with a variety of psychedelic substances and various measures of brain activity” (see 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017). 

Let us now transpose these neuroimaging findings in context of the whirlpool metaphor. Remember how we said that both the whirlpool and brain analogously represent an identifiability pattern, or image, within the broader medium of the lake and mind, respectively? And remember how we also said how they both reflect a localization and filtering of the contents of mind, which led us to conclude that there is nothing to the brain but mind itself? Here is what psychedelics seem to do.

Psychedelics perturb the dynamics of the brain to such a degree that there is a non-localization of the contents of mind (i.e., subjective experiences that are, under ‘normal’ circumstances, assembled by the brain). But now, by bringing psychedelics into the mix, subjective experiences from the medium of mind are suddenly no longer filtered out. The whirlpool stops existing, water molecules are able to flow along freely, and thus become one with the lake. Analogously, the brain stops “existing” as activity goes down that results in a bombardment of subjective experiences (e.g., “extremely vivid imagination” as the psilocybin study participants reported). Ultimately, the contents of mind that were, under ‘normal’ circumstances, assembled by the brain become one with the medium of mind. To put it in Aldous Huxley’s words, the psychedelic experience can bring about the realization that “each one of us is potentially ‘Mind at Large’.” 

The contents of mind that were assembled by the brain become one with the medium of mind

A sweet moment of irony, particularly for Bernardo, is how the authors from the psilocybin study unintentionally hinted toward the whirlpool metaphor themselves by mentioning Aldous Huxley’s metaphor of the reducing valve: “This finding is consistent with Aldous Huxley’s ‘reducing valve’ metaphor … which propose[s] that the mind/brain works to constrain its experience of the world.”

For people who are unaware, the reducing valve metaphor is a result of Huxley’s experience with the psychedelic substance mescaline. He reported his experiences in The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. Huxley’s description of the brain as a reducing valve – and its similarities with the whirlpool metaphor – become immediately apparent in the following passage: “The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive (italics added). Each person is at each moment capable of […] perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed […] by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.” To clarify here, when Huxley mentions that the brain’s job is “to protect us from being overwhelmed” seems to be analogous to the localization of the contents of mind. The same can be said for how subjective experiences are “shut out” and the filtering out process in the whirlpool metaphor.

Finally, these so-called peak experiences associated with psychedelics are not only reserved to dedicated psychonauts. In fact, “there is a broader pattern associating peak subjective experiences with reduced blood flow to the brain”, says Bernardo. This is further exemplified in Why Materialism is Baloney and another academic article in which he lists a host of findings from different domains (e.g., hyperventilation, meditation, gravity-induced loss of consciousness, cerebral hypoxia, cardiac arrest, and even brain damage). All seem to corroborate the phenomenon that less blood flow equals richer subjective experiences, not less.

Ego Death: Becoming One With the Medium of Mind

What I find is the earlier observation and remark that the brain, for a brief period, stops “existing.” I am alluding here to a widely studied phenomenon in the psychedelic literature referred to as ego death, or ego dissolution.

The experience of ego death consists of an altered state of consciousness in which there is a dramatic breakdown of one’s “sense of self.” Several neuroimaging studies have consistently demonstrated that psychedelics reliably facilitate this breakdown, something that occurs through the disintegration of an important brain network called the Default Mode Network (DMN) (see 2015, 2019 and 2020). The DMN is regarded by some neuroscientists to represent the neural correlates of the self or ego, as increased brain activation is primarily seen during self-referential processing. 

Bernardo interprets the neuroimaging findings in the context of idealism by using the whirlpool metaphor: “I couldn’t help but visualize the deactivation of the ego functions as analogous to someone inserting one’s hand in a whirlpool, disrupting the ‘loopy’ flow that maintains it, and thereby allowing the water molecules originally trapped in it to escape.” Within this metaphor, the hand represents psychedelics that perturb the dynamics of the brain and how it dissolves the sense of self, or ego, through disintegration of the DMN.

We have read before that study participants report “geometrical patterns” and experiences of “dream-like quality.” What else do they report during a psychedelic peak experience? More importantly, what do they report when experiencing ego death, or ego dissolution, once their DMN disintegrates? Lots of anecdotal reports can be found from the Erowid experiences vault, but these might not be considered as reliable or valid. Fortunately, there also are findings from clinical trials.

One such study was conducted by the Imperial College London. This trial’s primary objective was to investigate if psilocybin was effective in helping people overcome their treatment-resistant depression. This consisted of a group of 12 people who were seriously depressed, some of which “have had a depression for an average of 18 years and tried between three and eleven antidepressant medications and up to six courses of talking therapy and none of which had helped them.” With a response rate of 67% (N = 8) only one week after treatment, and another 42% (N = 5) of individuals who remained in remission (symptom-free) after three months, the results of this study were extraordinary, particularly considering the tenacity of the participants’ depression and after receiving only two oral doses of psilocybin.

Six months later, the study participants were interviewed by one of the research team’s clinical psychologists Dr. Rosalind Watts. She asked them a series of questions to assess patient experiences during the psilocybin sessions, including the million dollar question: “What happened during dosing?” I refer the reader to the article itself or to watch Watts’ presentation to prevent you from becoming overflowed by tedious and superfluous amounts of awesome quotes. Down below I have listed some of the most revealing descriptions that seem to correspond with the whirlpool metaphor and idealism.

In an entire paragraph devoted to the ‘Connection of a spiritual principle’, Watts describes what happened during the psilocybin session. Here, patients frequently report “strong feelings of compassion, love, and bliss” that were often beautifully put, almost poetically. For instance, one of the participants stated that during the dose: “I was everybody, unity, one life with 6 billion faces, I was the one asking for love and giving love, I was swimming in the sea, and the sea was me.” This is a particularly clear example that corresponds with the metaphor of the whirlpool, as the participant literally mentions how she was swimming in the sea and realized being a part of it.

Another report hits the nail on his head by exemplifying this transition: “Before I enjoyed nature, now I feel part of it. Before I was looking at it as a thing, like TV or a painting. You’re part of it, there’s no separation or distinction, you are it” (italics added). Other participants reported similar experiences during the dose, such as “connecting to all other souls” or that it “felt like sunshine twinkling through leaves, I was nature” (italics added). 

I was everybody, unity, one life with 6 billion faces, I was the one asking for love and giving love, I was swimming in the sea, and the sea was me

In general, the reports seem to follow a common narrative, namely that they are part of something greater than their little ‘selves’. Study participants as whirlpools have become one with the medium of the lake again. We can even be bold to suggest that these participants realized that they were “nothing to the whirlpool, but the lake itself.”

Analogously, the ego and the sense of self stops existing, as the DMN disintegrates and the contents of mind become one with the medium of mind. The great philosopher Alan Watts provides the quintessential description: “We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples’. Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe” (italics added).

Future Musings and Grokking Idealism

As mentioned in the introduction, our view of the world determines in large part how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world. Now, if we maintain that the metaphysics of idealism is true – and we are indeed all whirlpools of the same lake – consider first how this will affect your life and how you will behave to your fellow human beings. Bringing hurt to someone else would then literally mean bringing hurt to oneself.

But I think the implications of idealism go much further than this. In fact, idealism made me think a lot about what Carl Sagan alluded to in his brilliant TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage: “a new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed.” And this is what idealism does – it recognizes that we are all, in Huxley’s words, potentially Mind at Large.

This has led me to ask two fundamental questions that hopefully can be answered in the near future. Might the metaphysical framework of idealism result in a significant reduction of unnecessary conflict and suffering in the world as it sees that we are all connected? And what important role do psychedelics play in facilitating this worldview?

The possible transition of materialism to idealism will probably take some time. In part, this is because it is extremely difficult to intuitively understand, or “grok”, idealism. This inability is exacerbated through our cultural milieu that always rejoices in the viewpoints of materialism: “we grew up to believe that mind is a product of the brain, not the other way around”, says Bernardo. As a result, it has been imprinted in our very way of being and can be considered as the lingua franca of contemporary metaphysics. It is the exact reason why Bernardo provides some solace to his readers through the advice of giving all this some thought to let the metaphysics of idealism sink in.

Indeed, the drastic change in worldview does not come naturally to us. It requires what is coined by renowned philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn a paradigm shift – a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a certain discipline. What is more, we are protected by ourselves from what is referred to as an “ontological shock.” This happens particularly when beliefs are diametrically opposed to prior held personal, religious, or spiritual beliefs – something that OPEN director Joost Breeksema and neuroscientist Michiel van Elk refer to in Working with Weirdness.

Bringing it all together, I believe we are at the precipice of another Copernican revolution and that Bernardo represents a modern day version of Giordano Bruno. Bruno was a 16th century philosopher tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition and subsequently burned at the stake for his cosmological theories (e.g., stars were distant suns surrounded by planets). Such ‘theories’ are now considered common knowledge, and more importantly, common sense. Only centuries later, Bruno has been characterized as a martyr for science. Might the same be said of Bernardo? Possibly so, as in his own words, “future philosophers will be merciless at our stupidity.” Let us not “burn” him at the stake, for Bernardo’s thoughts too can one day become common sense.

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup will give his presentation titled Psychedelic effects are one piece of a much bigger puzzle on Saturday September 24th at ICPR 2022 in the Philharmonie, Haarlem.

Bernardo Kastrup is the executive director of Essentia Foundation. His work has been leading the modern renaissance of metaphysical idealism, the notion that reality is essentially mental. 

He has a PhD in philosophy (ontology and philosophy of mind) and another PhD in computer engineering (reconfigurable computing, artificial intelligence). As a scientist, Bernardo has worked for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the ‘Casimir Effect’ of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). 

Formulated in detail in many academic papers and books, his ideas have been featured on Scientific American, the Institute of Art and Ideas, the Blog of the American Philosophical Association and Big Think, among others. Bernardo’s most recent book is Science Ideated: The fall of matter and the contours of the next mainstream scientific worldview. For more information, freely downloadable papers, videos, etc., please visit

Podcast appearances
Jaimungal, C. (Host). Bernardo Kastrup on Analytical Idealism, Materialism, The Self, and the Connectedness of You and I [Video]. YouTube.
Kieding, J. (Host). (2021, June 15). Bernardo Kastrup — The Man Behind the Ideas: Identity, Truth, Philosophy, and Psychotherapy [Video]. YouTube.

Common misconceptions
There are several misconceptions about idealism (listed below). For this I refer the reader to pages 64 to 69 in Why Materialism is Baloney:
1. Idealism is not solipsism;
2. Idealism is not panpsychism;
3. Falling back into realist assumptions: “where is this mind stuff?”
4. Why can’t we influence reality at will if everything is in mind?

Michael Bogenschutz has new research on psychedelics and alcohol – AND IS COMING TO ICPR

Right after new results from his research on alcohol addiction and psychedelics emerged, Michael Bogenschutz confirmed his attendance at ICPR. A professor of Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Director of the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, Dr. Bogenschutz is well known for launching the first contemporary study of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for alcohol use disorder in 2015. He has published extensively on the topic of addiction and the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

Just one week ago, he reached another milestone in psychedelic research through his publication of the first double-blind randomized clinical trial of psilocybin for alcohol use disorder.  This trial took a long time to complete, as the recruitment process took place from 2014 until 2020. But the wait seems worth it, as the final sample reached a total of 95 participants. 

For Dr. Bogenschutz, this means a giant leap from his initial pilot study from 2015, which consisted of a sample of only 10 individuals – an issue that often looms over contemporary psychedelic research. 

The fifth edition of OPEN’s conference on psychedelics is almost here. ICPR 2022 will be held from 22-24 September 2022. Get your tickets before we sell out. Live stream tickets for remote viewing are available.

The study

All the individuals who participated in the study struggled with excessive drinking. More specifically, those randomized to the psilocybin or placebo (diphenhydramine) group, respectively drank an average of 7.5 and 6.6 drinks per day. Both groups received 12 weeks of manualized psychotherapy and were administered either psilocybin or diphenhydramine at week 4 and week 8. 

The study wanted to assess, most of all, whether the percentage of heavy drinking days was reduced following psilocybin. They found that the psilocybin group was associated with “robust decreases in percentage of heavy drinking days over and above those produced by active placebo and psychotherapy.”

The researchers assessed this 32 weeks after their first dosing session. The percentage of heavy drinking days was still 23,6% for the placebo group, meaning they drank heavily about once every four days, but for the psilocybin group, it was only 9.7% – once every ten days. 

On top of that, there were also higher reports of individuals in the psilocybin group who had stopped drinking entirely. 24,4% of the placebo group did so, compared to 47.9% of the psilocybin group.

Future research

Through these results, Dr. Bogenschutz is genuinely changing the field of psychiatry, as there have been no new drug approvals in nearly twenty years for alcohol addiction. The only three approved conventional drugs for the treatment of alcohol use disorder are currently disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate. Psilocybin, as such, might become a lifesaver for many people suffering from alcohol addiction. 

But Dr. Bogenschutz is not done yet, as he recently announced that there will be a subsequent trial that aims to include more than 200 participants. This time the study will consist of only one single dose of psilocybin and will be compared to the vitamin niacin as another active placebo. 
The Food and Drug Administration has recently approved this trial. It will be the largest to date to examine the efficacy of psilocybin-assisted therapy for the treatment of alcohol use disorder.

9 quality documentaries about lsd, mushrooms and other psychedelics you should watch

There are many documentaries about psychedelics nowadays, but only so little time to watch them all, let alone figure out which one’s are worth it! That’s why we came up with a list of documentaries on psychedelics that you can watch, or binge, comfortably from your own living room. They’re selected for their scientific soundness, cultural insight, or overall high quality.

All of them are worthy study material before you join us at ICPR 2022 near Amsterdam – where some of the speakers are actually some of the people featured in these series and films. Their work is at the basis of this renaissance in psychedelic research and the new generation of documentaries that it has spawned. Enjoy our dose of inspiration.

Hamilton’s PharmaCopeiaㅤ

If there is one documentary that hits all the marks when it comes to information about psychedelics, as well as other psychoactive drugs, while simultaneously delivering a high entertainment value, it is – without a doubt – Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, of which there are now three seasons.

This documentary series is written, directed, and produced by Hamilton Morris, a journalist and scientific researcher who explores the history, chemistry, and social impact of various psychoactive substances across the globe.

Hamilton illustrates how ubiquitous psychedelic drugs are and goes out on a limb to try several of them himself – showcasing his dedication and genuine curiosity when it comes to studying the effects of these extraordinary substances. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the merits of every episode on its own, but we compiled a hit list of our favorite episodes shown at the end of this commentary. That’s right – more stuff to binge this coming summer! Just watching these will suffice for at least 8 hours of entertainment, where Hamilton Morris meets with underground chemists that illegally synthesized MDMA; travels to Huautla de Jimenez in Mexico to visit the family of the legendary curandera María Sabina’s to talk about psilocybin-containing mushrooms; smokes 5-MeO DMT in the Sonoran desert under supervision of a shaman; and talks with Amanda Feilding about how she helped to fund the very first neuro-imaging study of LSD. Be sure to absolutely check this series out!

Quote of the series

It is so strange that these compounds exist. What is the purpose of any of this? 5-MeO-DMT? This? In a toad’s venom? And people may have only started using it 30 years ago? And it produces this peak experience of love? I can’t believe it! It is so amazing!” – Hamilton Morris

Our hitlist for best episodes:

  • Season 1
  • Episode 4 – Magic Mushrooms in Mexico
  • Episode 6 – The Lazy Lizard School of Hedonism
  • Season 2
  • Episode 1 – The Psychedelic Toad
  • Episode 2 – Peyote: The Divine Messenger
  • Episode 4 – Wizards of DMT
  • Episode 5 – Ketamine: Realms and Realities
  • Episode 6 – A Clandestine Chemist’s Tale
  • Season 3
  • Episode 1 – Synthetic Toad Venom Machine
  • Episode 4 – Synthetic Ibogaine: Natural Tramadol
  • Episode 6 – UItra LSD

Descending the mountain (2021)

Filled with aesthetically pleasing images, jaw dropping cinematography, a great psychedelic soundtrack, and a pinch of neuroscience, Descending the Mountain excels at every front. The documentary includes renowned psychedelic researcher Prof. Dr. Franz Vollenweider and Zen master Vanja Palmers. Their mission? To set out to a monastery on top of mountain Rigi in Switzerland to conduct a novel experiment in which experienced meditators received psilocybin-containing mushrooms in a group setting for the first time in their life. This experiment was double-blind, where neither the researchers or the participants knew what dose they received. Some of the meditators received an active dose of psilocybin, whereas others were ‘unfortunate’ (in their words) and received a placebo. It is amazing, to say the least, how these experienced meditators were able to deepen their meditation due to psilocybin, even after thousands of hours of meditation practice. One individual was completely ecstatic from the beginning till the end and amazed by what he was experiencing. Others felt it to be a collective experience, rather than an individual one, as they were able to feel the energy in the room. Ultimately, placebo or no placebo, the group setting was conducive to the experience at the mountain.

Quote of the movie

What can the mushrooms tell us today?” – Descending the Mountain

Halfway through the documentary, Prof. Dr. Vollenweider explains briefly how psychedelics work and that neuroscientific research of today has consistently demonstrated that they deactivate the Default Mode Network (DMN) – a key brain region involved in self-referential processing. With their experiment on Mount Rigi, they too found that the participants who received psilocybin were able to enter a deep(er) meditative state and showed less activity in the DMN when compared to the placebo group. Vollenweider explains how it: “makes you less focused on yourself because, in a way, you lose your ‘self’, and that this tends to make you focus more on others around you.” This dovetails neatly with the hypothesis that psychedelics are able to alter personality  and political beliefs, something that the documentary explores briefly as well through asking significant questions as: “What can psychedelics do for society today? What will happen if great leaders take these substances and make us think about our place in the world?”

Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind (2022)

Four years after the release of his book under the same name, Michael Pollan hit the big screen on Netflix with a documentary series: How to Change Your Mind. To say that his book had somewhat of an influence on the psychedelic renaissance is an understatement. Individuals even talk about a Pre-Pollan era and Post-Pollan era within psychedelic research. And now, with this new and cinematic tour du force, Pollan might continue to increase his reach by showcasing these tools to people all over the world sitting in their living room.

The documentary consists of a total of four episodes, each focusing on a specific psychedelic. The first episode focuses on the synthesis of LSD by Dr. Albert Hofmann in 1938, the research of its therapeutic use when treating alcoholism, and how it ultimately became a Schedule I substance – as it ended up on the streets through evangelist Timothy Leary and the CIA project MKUltra, that serendipitously turned on Ken Kesey. In the second episode, the viewer is brought to the world of psilocybin-containing mushrooms and features ICPR speakers William Richards, Paul Stamets, and Roland Griffiths. Here, Pollan discusses their historic use in religious settings, the introduction of the mushroom to the West, and how it is currently being researched for various debilitating psychiatric disorders, such as depression, end-of-life anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and cluster headaches. The third episode features ICPR speaker Rick Doblin and is all about the therapeutic use of MDMA for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Pollan interviews Ann Shulgin, the wife of renowned chemist Alexander Shulgin, – who recently passed away – about her personal experiences with MDMA and how it ended up becoming illegal through the so-called “Second Summer of Love”’ during the 1980s. Finally, Pollan takes a deep dive into the ceremonial use of the peyote cactus by indigineous Americans that are part of the Native American Church.

The documentary provides a solid starting point for anyone who is new to the world of psychedelics and likes to be prepared for what we have to offer at ICPR. It presents some of the most recently conducted preliminary research studies and their implications. Contrary to contemporary media headlines, it is refreshing to see that Pollan remains centered throughout the entire documentary with regards to the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and messages to the audience to do the same. This is a welcoming message that is to be embraced if we do not wish to repeat past mistakes.

The Psychedelic Drug Trial (2021)

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the leading cause of disability in the West, says ICPR speaker and Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology David Nutt. Across the globe, MDD is estimated to affect 350 million individuals and is responsible for more ‘years lost’ than any other psychiatric condition. Psychiatry has been desperate for novel treatments.

One of the current mainstays of treatment in psychiatry is escitalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), better known under its brand name Lexapro. This psychotropic drug increases the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain and has been proven by earlier clinical research to be effective and well tolerated in the treatment of MDD. But this begs the question: “How does escitalopram, or Lexapro, compare to psilocybin when used for treating depression?” This is what the research team in the Psychedelic Drug Trial set out to do.

Quote of the movie

If psychedelics can change the world, let’s put it to the test.” – Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris

The documentary presents an extensive in-depth look into how the study was conducted by displaying easy-to-comprehend visuals and various infographics. The documentary really shines here and you immediately get a clear understanding of what the study design looked like. It also exemplifies how current psychedelic therapy operates and provides the three important stages involved, which includes: preparation before the dosing session, the psychedelic dosing session itself, and the integration that follows.

What is more, you get to know some of the recruited participants who were told that they are randomized to one of two conditions. They will either receive 1) psilocybin or 2) escitalopram, not both. Almost all of the participants have been on antidepressants for decades and suffer from various side effects, including weight gain, sleep paralysis, and a flat affect. The psilocybin trial represents a “lifeline” according to some of the participants – a viable alternative to their current situation of “concentrating on staying alive” and trying “to live with this joylessness.” One participant is at the end of her ropes and tells the camera: “I would probably end my life if I didn’t go [through the trial].”

Soon after this introduction, we are taken into a living room like environment where the psychedelic therapy session took place. Participants at this point are talking about their extraordinary experiences and the various symbols they encountered during their psychedelic dosing session. The documentary really excels here due to its slow presentation of recorded monologues and by displaying aesthetic visuals that are aimed at encapsulating the participants’ experience while on psilocybin. One participant talks about one of her peak experiences where she found herself at the roots of a tree and: “was connecting with everything up there. The thing I really felt most … was a joy. Joy like I’d never experienced. It is really, really powerful stuff.

The documentary would not have been complete without a brief presentation by ICPR speaker David Nutt on how psychedelics such as psilocybin work in the brain and how they differ from escitalopram. Nutt first explains that antidepressants as escitalopram take about an average of six weeks to work and do so primarily in the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain that is overactive in depression: “It dampens the system and you become incubated against stress, which is good, but you also become incubated by everything else.” Psilocybin, on the other hand, works differently by targeting the serotonin 2A receptor, which are widely prevalent in the neocortex. Psilocybin also works through the disruption of the Default Mode Network that Franz Vollenweider similarly talked about in Descending the Mountain. Both professor Nutt and lead researcher of the study Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris believe that psilocybin works better and faster than escitalopram.

The results of this landmark study have been published in the highly esteemed The New England Journal of Medicine. Their conclusion? Both psilocybin and escitalopram work in the treatment of depression. But when taking into account secondary outcome measurements such as suicidality, psilocybin looks better than escitalopram. More recent neuroscientific findings of the current study have been published as well, which looked at how psilocybin affects the brain and how it differs from antidepressants. All in all, more research is needed as we venture forth in our pursuit to help people alleviate their depressive symptoms.

ICPR 2022 is almost here. Get your tickets before we sell out.

Journeys to the Edge of Consciousness (2019)

Journeys to the Edge of Consciousness is a unique animated film that chronicles the very first psychedelic experiences of Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, and Alan Watts. The film is interspersed with commentaries on these historical and influential events by ICPR speakers Rick Doblin and Amanda Feilding, and various other researchers within the psychedelic field.

The Dropout Drug

We first witness how Timothy Leary got involved with LSD through meeting Michael Hollingshead, a British researcher who studied psychedelics at Harvard University in the mid twentieth century. Leary’s first LSD trip was: “the most extraordinary experience of his life.” Yet to my surprise, he also felt a terrible sense of loss after this trip, as he did not know what to do with these new insights: “Once you see how it is all composed, it is hard to get back to the game.” This experience demonstrates that even psychedelic evangelists as Leary, a very intelligent man who was probably one of the most well-known proponents of psychedelics, would have benefitted from the importance of integration. The world would have been a very different place indeed if Leary underwent this integral part following psychedelic use. Instead, he decided to leave the highly esteemed university of Harvard and famously told students to: “tune in, turn off, and drop out.” This resulted in the then U.S. president Richard Nixon to call him the most dangerous man of America.

Commentaries from other experts on Leary’s psychedelic experience are very informative. They exemplify how psychedelics are able to lift the veil of ordinary reality, which can either facilitate, or in the case of Leary, diminish our well-being, because we see through the illusion, i.e., the play of life. You’re catapulted out of your ego and you can spend years of life making sense of it all, which might have happened to Timothy Leary according to Dr. Tim Read. Yet, Dr .Gabor Maté states that bad trips can also be interpreted differently: “Yes, a trip can be challenging, but what you need is proper integration. This is the work of healing. The psychedelic experience and its healing properties were lost during the 60s because there was a lack of intention. 

The Doors of Perception

Next we get a close look at Aldous Huxley’s famous psychedelic experience with mescaline that led him to write his famous work The Doors of Perception: and Heaven and Hell. During his experience, he realizes that “this is how one ought to see” and that the ordinary mode of consciousness is but one form of consciousness. Huxley talks about the suchness of things while on mescaline and develops his metaphor of the reducing valve of the mind, which limits our view of reality and who we really are.

According to ICPR speaker Rick Doblin, Huxley’s insights demonstrate where we should put our meaning: “not on consuming, but on something deeper.” Other psychedelic researchers talk about how people ‘wake up’ after their psychedelic experience, including alterations of the perception of the self and various changes in their value system. 

The Joyous Cosmology 

Finally, we witness Alan Watts taking modest amounts of LSD while in California and who decided to casually go for a stroll. His first undertaking was to listen to a priest in a church during a mass. He witnesses how people are putting on an “act of a person”, which is one of the key phrases of Alan Watts. His feeling of self became no longer confined to the insides of his skin as he felt connected to everything: “my individual of being seems to grow out to the rest of the universe.” The animated re-enactment of Alan Watts’ psychedelic experience gives us a glimpse into how psychedelics helped shape his philosophy.

Quote of the movie

Come off it shiva, you rascal, who do you think you’re kidding!? It’s a great act, but you’re not fooling me!” – Alan Watts

Neurons to Nirvana (2013)

Neurons to Nirvana is filled with numerous psychedelic researchers who will be attending ICPR, including Rick Doblin, William Richards, David Nutt, Roland Griffiths, and Amanda Feilding. The film gives a brief overview of classic psychedelics, including psilocybin, ayahuasca, and LSD. In addition, the entactogen MDMA is briefly discussed plus the medicinal benefits of other (non-)psychoactive substances as marijuana and cannabidiol.

The film starts with the serendipitous event of how psychedelics helped shape modern psychiatry and neuroscience. LSD, as it turns out, has a very similar structure to serotonin that led to the discovery of the serotonin neurotransmitter system. As a result, psychiatry started including brain chemistry into the disease process, whereas before all the accountability went to either the individual or the environment.

It was a revolutionary period for which the famous psychedelic researcher Ralph Metzner said that discovering psychedelics: “was like discovering another continent, like Marco Polo.” Both ICPR speakers Rick Doblin and David Nichols mention how psychedelics are able to occasion a mystical experience and how this helps experience the world as one as it breaks down certain barriers. Roland Griffiths adds: “there is this quantum change during a psychedelic experience – it belongs among the most spiritual and personal meaningful experiences of peoples’ lives.”

Quote of the movie

What is being purged actually, is psychological contents that you’ve been holding onto. You’re purging anger, you’re purging pain, you’re purging some false story about the self.” –Gabor Maté M.D.

A great feature of the film that is worth mentioning here is that it shows the capability of human individuals being able to change their beliefs when it comes to esoteric substances such as psychedelic drugs. This is illustrated when Dr. Sanjay Gupta appears on the big screen, an Emmy award-winning doctor for his show on CNN who used to vehemently oppose the use of marijuana. This was until the year 2009, as the scientific evidence started accumulating and Dr. Gupta discovered that it was used for thousands of years. He also found out that before there was a strong focus on the negative. Most importantly, Dr. Sanjay Gupta was illuminated by the benefits of marijuana: “the science is there!”. This clearly demonstrates how scientific evidence can pave the way for reconstructing our beliefs about psychedelics. Hopefully, other physicians, researchers, and politicians will follow suit.

ICPR 2022 is almost here. Get your tickets before we sell out.

The Last Shaman (2016)

The Last Shaman follows young adult James who is battling with crippling bouts of depression ever since he went to university. He is desperate for a way out as he tried doing everything according to the book on both a medical and personal level. In general, this involved seeing several psychiatrists, taking antidepressants, and picking up a regular meditation practice. Despite his arduous efforts, he remains depressed. At the end of his ropes, he travels to Peru to meet several shamans that might be able to help him.

The documentary is not for the faint of heart and can be very shocking in demonstrating how debilitating depression can be. James suffers from extreme anhedonia, which refers to the inability to feel pleasure: “I see a beautiful woman or a sunset and I feel nothing.” He explains how his depression affects him in front of the camera and this raw footage makes the documentary feel very personal, but also heart-wrenching to watch at times, as his eyes are filled with tears and his voice is featured by a tremendous amount of frustration and despair. He ends up meeting various shamans in different regions and engages in multiple ceremonies to finally reach salvation.

James’ journey ends deep within the forest at the Shipibo community – a place that resembles just the right amount of authenticity he is looking for. Shamans here do the practice because it is a calling, whereas the business side of things are left aside. James ventures deeper into his emotions, revealing one layer from another layer, and becomes a passionate ascetic. He maintains a very strict diet and stays in isolation for a total of four months, eating nothing but fish and rice and smoking the Mapacho tobacco. This experience ripped him of all attachments of his previous life. He believes he: “no longer has an inferiority complex anymore” and feels no more anger towards his father.

Quote of the movie

I’m here to be a very small part of something much larger than myself, and that is extremely liberating” – James

Iboga Nights (2014)

David Graham, the director and producer of the renowned and brutal documentary Detox or Die, returns to the big screen with Iboga Nights. His first documentary consists of his mission to cure himself of his opiate addiction through ibogaine – a psychedelic substance with dissociative properties that is extracted from the root bark of the iboga tree (Tabernanthe iboga). His film became a resounding success that resulted in an explosion of media, press and news articles. This inspired other addicts to follow in his footsteps by taking up ibogaine and get rid of their opiate addiction once and for all. Iboga Nights follows several of David’s ‘apprentices’. 

Iboga Nights is basically split up in three sections. The first is where we are introduced to a shaman from the Netherlands who has treated an approximate of 1,000 patients with ibogaine for their opiate addiction. To my surprise, there was almost no guidance involved; the shaman plainly administers the drug and then lets ibogaine take its course while the participants stay in their assigned bedroom. It was quite astounding to see how most turned out fine and even managed to go through the treatment without experiencing any withdrawal symptoms. However, the documentary quickly takes a dark turn that illustrates the significance of taking into account proper screening and guidance. For instance, one participant stopped breathing due to an underlying heart condition and was taken away to the hospital. Ibogaine is known for slowing down the heart rate that might be fatal. Fortunately, he survived. But another participant left the house and was hit by a truck. David wanted to end the film right there: “how can I be a spokesperson for something so dangerous?”

After these horrific events, David meets up with Dr. Ben Sessa and Dr. Jeffrey Kamlet to talk about psychedelic research and ibogaine. Both share a pessimistic view with regards to pharmaceutical companies and how they supposedly “treat” patients, as they make billions of dollars on pain pills that generally require daily use. Naturally, they scoff at this predicament: “Why do they want ibogaine that requires one dose to cure people. That does not make money?”

Quote of the movie

Does it not feel weird to have had that life, among such affluence, and now be living in a hotel shooting up crack and heroin and taking up methadone?” – David Graham

Fortunately, the documentary also contains the amazing journey of Sid who was severely addicted to morphine and completely transformed through his ibogaine treatment. He was sexually abused by an older man when he was only 11 years old. During his session, both David and Sid are serious by taking screening and guidance into account. For example, they check if Sid is allergic to ibogaine and during the ibogaine treatment will frequently measure his heart rate and blood pressure. It is astounding to see that even after five days of taking ibogaine and no morphine at all, any symptoms of withdrawal are virtually non-existent. But Sid knows that the real treatment starts after ibogaine, which requires integration and (simply) staying off the drug. Several months later David returns to visit Sid and witnesses another person in front of him. He has become a completely transformed person and has much more energy and life in his eyes. Sid talks briefly about his ibogaine experience: “I did not have many visions or anything, but it took my physical dependence away.” The urge, or craving to use drugs, is totally gone. Sid simply does not: “want to do that anymore.”

From Shock to Awe (2018)

The documentary From Shock to Awe chronicles the transformative journey of two military veterans that suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Because of this, everything they encounter on a day-to-day basis within their natural environment signals danger. With their bodies still in war and drugged by an arsenal of pharmaceuticals, they turn to the Amazonian brew ayahuasca as a last resort.

Quote of the movie

I left the warrior behind and let the sunlight take the steering wheel now.”

Both veterans are filmed during their ayahuasca retreat that consisted of four ceremonies, two during the day and two at night. During all dosing sessions, we see grueling raw footage of both veterans struggling with their deep-rooted trauma. The entire retreat resembles the archetypal hero’s journey of diving into the unconscious and coming back into the real world reborn. Through ayahuasca, they realized that all life is sacred, which is: “the exact opposite of what is learned during military training.” Their perception of everyday ‘signals as danger’ changed after only one weekend, as they heard a gunshot in the woods, locked eyes, and started laughing immediately. The PTSD response was no more.