How to Change Your Mind
Michael Pollan is a rock star. Not a shooting star, not a fleeting 15-minutes-of-fame star, not a one-hit wonder, but an honest to goodness Influencer, someone who moves the populace, sometimes in small increments, at other times across large swaths of thought, toward a better tomorrow.
I just finished reading How to Change Your Mind, What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, and it was, in a word, illuminating.
Pollan’s has written other books, seven, actually, books like Food Rules (“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” which cautioned against eating anything with more than five ingredients, especially if you can’t pronounce them); and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (a breakdown of the true cost of growing food) both of which have changed the way we as a society think about food.
The thinking behind Pollan’s work is grand and millennial — as in time, not people — and always represents a departure from current accepted thought. His suggested methods to institute change are not massive, but often a return to a simpler way, and when instituted, can be far reaching — like small ripples on a large lake with an underground spring that connects to groundwater that ties into a river that ultimately flows to the ocean, i.e., gradual change that shifts society in a direction, a more long-lasting variety that generally outlives it’s creator.
In The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell wrote about how ideas are spread in society and the types of people that spread them: mavens — those who know a lot about things and want to share their information with you; connectors — those who know a lot of people who do a lot of different things and want to share their connections with you; and salespeople — those who are naturals at selling a product or idea and making it sticky so that everyone wants to own or be a part of it. In modern day parlance, these people are called influencers. (Granted, in the internet age, there are said influencers such as youtubers who have become famous for applying makeup or making a sex tape who do not move the world to a better place; they are really just gaming the system.)
Pollan is both a maven and an influencer. It’s obvious from his books that he’s done the research. How to Change Your Mind starts in 1938 when lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD was first synthesized, and loops all the way up and around to present day via 1955 when an amateur mycologist, R. Gordon Wasson, purposely ingested a mushroom, one that the Oaxaca Mexicans called flesh of the gods, and which contained the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin that caused strange visions. Two years later, Wasson published an article in Life magazine and the magic mushroom craze was born.
Pollan’s in-depth look at first the natural history of the fungi, the government regulations that have blocked mushroom research and development for decades; the experts in the field of mycology (relatively few, sadly, since science is discovering that mushrooms are capable of assisting us with a great deal of things from improving mental health to removing plastic waste from the planet); the LSD and mushrooms craze in the 60’s and how that hurt the mushroom movement; the healing nature of psilocybin (used by the Aztecs for thousands of years); and finally, his own foray into mushroom healing is riveting and insightful, making the case for further studying the use of psilocybin, particularly in a society awash in mental health issues like major depression which affects as many as one in 12 adults.
After reading How to Change Your Mind, I am convinced that Pollan is right. Like Columbus, Pollan went in search of a new world, one that began inside the mind and moved outward, one that connected him to all life on the planet and beyond. Like Columbus, he may not have been the first to cover this terrain, but he documented his experience in such a way that the rest of us could tag along, reaping the benefits of what he discovered on the journey. We may be years or even decades away from incorporating such mind-expanding awareness into our world, if ever, but the job of the influencer is done. The case has been made and the facts are there for all to read and decide upon — and that is the beauty of having a mind to change.