Field Tripping

This Is Your Mind on Michael Pollan

Episode Summary

Michael Pollan, award-winning and world-renown nature, food, and neuroscience writer, joins Ronan to discuss our complicated relationship with caffeine, how mindful gardening started him on this path to psychedelic curiosity and enlightenment, the value of disciplined meditation, and more! Michael is the author of numerous New York Times bestselling books that have made a massive impact throughout the world. His new book, 'This is Your Mind on Plants,' explores our relationship to three specific plant medicines: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. His 2018 book 'How to Change Your Mind' started Pollan on the topic of exploring and researching our relationship with psychoactive substances – and what we can learn from them. So grab a cup of coffee and enjoy this episode!

Episode Notes

Michael Pollan, award-winning and world-renown nature, food, and neuroscience writer, joins Ronan to discuss our complicated relationship with caffeine, how mindful gardening started him on this path to psychedelic curiosity and enlightenment, the value of disciplined meditation, and more! Michael is the author of numerous New York Times bestselling books that have made a massive impact throughout the world. His new book, 'This is Your Mind on Plants,' explores our relationship to three specific plant medicines: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. His 2018 book 'How to Change Your Mind' started Pollan on the topic of exploring and researching our relationship with psychoactive substances – and what we can learn from them. So grab a cup of coffee and enjoy this episode!

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Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] Michael : Domesticated plants hold up a mirror to us too, because we can read in their qualities what we value. In the same way you can look at a flower which evolved to appeal to bees and get a very precise record of what bees find attractive, uh, whether it's scent or pattern of light, or whatever. Well, you can look at the domesticated plants we depend on, whether it's corn or cannabis or, uh, or opium, and get a pretty precise record of our desires and who we are, and, and so finding ourselves in the mirror of these plants and fungi, uh, has fascinated me for a long time. And, you know, I, I'm just very interested in consciousness. I mean, I think it's, you know, it's the great mystery and, um, and psychedelics, you know, has the potential to teach us things about consciousness, about our, [00:01:00] our, our own individual consciousness, but also hopefully consciousness as a phenomenon.

[00:01:15] Ronan: Hello everyone and welcome to a very special episode of Field Tripping, an episode that we are titling This Is Your Mind on Michael Pollan, because today we have joining us the author and journalist Michael Pollan, who has finally, after a 1.5 year all out charm offensive on my part, finally relented and agreed to join us on Field Tripping. Michael, before we get started, I wanted to express my gratitude to you on three levels. The first is to thank you for joining us today on the podcast. The second is to thank you for responding to our cold outreach about three years ago, when we first started Field Trip and literally had no idea what we're doing, and only really have the vaguest sense now. And finally, for [00:02:00] helping me finally, I think, effectively articulate what I think my hope is for Field Tripping as a podcast, and permit me to explain. I've never prepared or thought about what I was going to talk about more in a podcast than this one actually, in part out of respect just for who you are, in part because I want to make this conversation insightful and meaningful, and in part, because there's a real part of me that wants to show my chops on creating really good content. Anyways, as I was laughing to myself at 3:00 AM in the morning, the other day, when I came up with what I think is this very witty title for the episode, what I realized is what I'm actually trying to do at this podcast is to help listeners maybe, just briefly, see or experience the world through the eyes or mind of another person, hence the name Your Mind on Michael Pollan. So many podcasts out there about facts and information are about how to do things differently in your life. I'm not interested in facts. Facts are easy. I'm interested in the unknown, the, the leaps of logic that require [00:03:00] creativity, because we don't yet know the facts. And getting the thoughts and opinions about those unknowns from people who may have some interesting ideas about them, like you. Said differently, I want this podcast to help people not doing things differently, but to see things differently, and as a result, just maybe help people be different too. And what I realized is that if nothing else, isn't that what psychedelic experiences are really all about in the first place? So my first question to you today is have you had a coffee?

[00:03:31] Michael : Yes. Uh, in fact, I'm, I'm enjoying an espresso, uh, as we speak. 

[00:03:35] Ronan: Excellent. Is it good? 

[00:03:37] Michael : This is my one daily cup of coffee, so I treasure. And a lot of people misinterpreted, um, the message of the coffee section in This Is Your Mind on Plants, that since I was taking this fast from coffee for three months, I was against coffee. Um, and in fact, I was on a podcast with Senator Cory Booker and he [00:04:00] was like, kind of cursing me for having persuaded him to give up coffee. And I said, I wasn't trying to persuade you to give up coffee. And in fact, if it makes you less effective, I'm going to feel really bad. But, um, but people take away that message that whatever I do is normative in some ways. Um, I had a very specific reason to give up coffee for that period of time, which was to understand my addiction to it and, uh, and the effect it was having on my consciousness. So I was very happy to go back to coffee. 

[00:04:29] Ronan: But do drink less now? 

[00:04:32] Michael : No, I probably drink more if anything. Uh, I just appreciate it. I, you know, I don't, I'm not having any problems sleeping and if you're, if you don't have a problem sleeping, there more benefits than, uh, deficits to, uh, to drinking coffee. I mean, it's, it's actually quite good for, you know, there's a lot of evidence that it's protective against various health problems, uh, and if it doesn't make you jittery or unhappy- um, I should say I stop drinking it by noon every day. [00:05:00] Um, and then if I drank it deeper into the day, I think it would affect my sleep.

[00:05:04] Ronan: Do you follow Dave Asprey at all, and the Bulletproof Coffee movement? Are you familiar with that? 

[00:05:09] Michael : I took a peek at that. I didn't, I didn't go into great depth. Um, that's coffee with fat in it or something? 

[00:05:16] Ronan: Yeah, the whole idea there is that A, he's a big believer that coffee is a fantastic thing. It's the biggest source of antioxidants around the world. And it helps optimize- 

[00:05:26] Michael : Which is an astonishing fact, but that's, that's less in praise of coffee than an indictment of the American diet, that we're not getting antioxidants from where we should, which is vegetables. 

[00:05:37] Ronan: Yeah. Fair. Very fair point. Um, yeah, it's just, he uses coffee- 

[00:05:41] Michael : So what's in the Bulletproof coffee, besides coffee?

[00:05:43] Ronan: He puts coffee and either MCT or grass fed butter. And his whole point is, is that it's not just about coffee. Coffee is great to actually, but fasting is really important as well, uh, in terms of optimizing, um, and coffee doesn't break the fat- [00:06:00] fast and fat doesn't break the fast either. So you can kind of assuage your hunger, and get amped up as needed to be super productive throughout the day, and still be able to fast. So it's kind of like the best of all worlds. And I tried Bulletproof coffee. I don't like butter in my coffee. I don't really drink coffee that much either to be quite honest, I never really liked the flavor, but, uh, it's, it's interesting. And it's interesting watching how coffee goes in Vogue and out of Vogue, it's good for you. It's bad for you. Um- 

[00:06:26] Michael : We have very complicated feelings about coffee. I mean, I, I definitely saw that and I think it has something to do with our general kind of insanity and fanaticism around food and what we take into our bodies. And, um, uh, we really have this all or nothing attitude, you know? You're eating, you're either eating meat or you're not eating meat or you're paleo or you're vegan or an, and this kind of, um, very rigid approach, um, that doesn't, isn't the foundation [00:07:00] of a healthy diet, I don't think. Um, it's, it's, it's eating disorders of another kind. I mean, they're, you know, they're less damaging, but, um, uh, I just think it takes up a lot of headspace and, um, it doesn't benefit people that much. I mean, I think a relaxed approach to eating is very important to your health. Uh, and, and few of us have a relaxed approach to eating these days.

[00:07:25] Ronan: Yeah. It's hard. It's hard. It's also interesting how- did the absence from coffee kind of make your heart grow fond? Did the separation gave you a newfound appreciation? 

[00:07:33] Michael : Oh yeah. I was really unhappy off of coffee. I mean, I, one of the things I learned was that what I think of as my normal baseline consciousness, that transparency, that norm, you know, that normality was in fact a product of coffee. And in the absence of it, I felt like a slightly different person. And that, um, it made me realize that my baseline consciousness was [00:08:00] caffeinated consciousness. And you know, I've been drinking coffee since I was like 10 years old. I got a very early start. 

[00:08:04] Ronan: Oh, wow. 

[00:08:05] Michael : And, um, well, it was sort of a time I could hang out with my dad. My dad worked crazy hours and seldom got home before- he had a long commute and he seldom got home before I went to bed when I was a kid. And so getting up in the morning and having coffee with him was, you know, it was kind of a great ritual and, uh, and he was a huge coffee drinker. I mean, he would drink it all day long. Um, so I developed a taste for it pretty early. 

[00:08:30] Ronan: That's awesome. 

[00:08:31] Michael : But, um, but the absence of it did make my heart grow fonder and, um, but it made me appreciate its power and that this is a drug, this is a psychoactive drug. It's a subtle one because unless you take too much of it, it does feel transparent, unlike a lot of other drugs, which, which you can tell how they're changing consciousness, um, it feels very normal. Um, but in fact, the, the, the kind of focus we have, the ability [00:09:00] to, um, block out things and concentrate on one thing at a time, those are all gifts of coffee. And, um, and in its absence, you really feel their absence. And, um, so it was a, it was a really valuable lesson and it's something I, I do recommend to anyone who has a, has a relationship to a psychoactive substance or any habit is to take a break every now and then, you know, the lent idea is a good idea, um, because it teaches you things about yourself and about the substance and that it allows you to be more mindful in whatever you're going to do. And you know, now I'm back on coffee and it's a routine, but I'm definitely more mindful and appreciative of it than I was before I had that fast. But I was also doing it to write about it. I mean, I was reporting from a frontier of consciousness or, um, and, um, And it's, you know, in a lot of my journalism, I have experiences, so I can report about them. Usually they involve taking a psychoactive [00:10:00] substance, this involved abstaining from a psychoactive substance, which actually proved to be much harder. 

[00:10:06] Ronan: Did you like the person you were not on coffee? 

[00:10:10] Michael : [laughter] No, he was kind of dull and sluggish and, uh, he wasn't as sharp. He couldn't find the right word as easily, and he sure had trouble writing for, at least for a few weeks. And that was, that was a big challenge. Um, and then he was envious of people enjoying their coffees and, uh, you know, tried to get as much out of mint tea as he could or chamomile. But, um, but as I told myself, when I was trying to write, um, you know, what work of genius has ever been produced on camomile tea? Um, I I've yet to see it.

[00:10:45] Ronan: You never know. 

[00:10:46] Michael : And there have been a lot of works of genius produced on, on coffee. 

[00:10:50] Ronan: Yeah. 

[00:10:50] Michael : Um, I mean, you know, Balzac would be one good example. Diderot, I mean, many of the, many of the writers of the enlightenment, um, were [00:11:00] serious coffee addicts. 

[00:11:01] Ronan: Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:11:02] Michael : It's no guarantee though. I didn't, it's not like I wrote a work of genius on that, on coffee.

[00:11:07] Ronan: I don't know. I think something- 

[00:11:08] Michael : But I got closer than I would have without it. 

[00:11:11] Ronan: I don't know. I mean, I was going to save this for later in the podcast, but, uh, you know, when, when I was preparing for it, I put it on social saying like, Hey Michael, Pollan's coming on the podcast. Would you like to ask any questions or share anything? And the consistent feedback, there were some questions, but the consistent feedback from the small number of people who responded, and it's probably not a very diverse group or just that, like, you know, uh, please tell him that his books helped save my life, or please tell Michael that, uh, how to change my mind, How To Change Your Mind, um, you know, inspired me to pursue a particular path. So, uh, you know, I don't know how you define genius, but I would say that that's a pretty good indication of, of a work of genius. 

[00:11:49] Michael : Well, you're too kind, but I mean, I do- it's humbling to me how many people tell me that that book did change their life and, and led to a- [00:12:00] and when they tell me that my immediate question as well, for the better I hope not, for the worse. And for most people, it was for the better, I can point to one or two for whom it wasn't.

[00:12:10] Ronan: Oh really? 

[00:12:11] Michael : Oh, yeah. I mean, when things go wrong in psychedelic experience, and it's important to remind people that they do go wrong sometimes, um, I hear from people and I hear some, you know, some, some sobering stories from time to time. 

[00:12:27] Ronan: Really? 

[00:12:27] Michael : Yeah. I mean, people who have had, um, uh, uh, bad things happen, um, bad trips, really bad trips, uh, the surfacing of trauma they didn't know how to process. Um, it's often people who were not guided or not guided well, um, it's a consequential thing to do, and there is a kind of roll of the dice, um, cause you don't know what's going to come up and you don't know whether you're going to be able to deal with what's going to come up. And then there have been actually the occasional, uh, I've heard from a couple people who, um, oh God, I heard from [00:13:00] one mother whose son, uh, committed suicide in the midst of a psychedelic trip, a college student. 

[00:13:05] Ronan: Jesus. 

[00:13:06] Michael : These are heartbreaking emails to get- and someone who lost their father, who died during a, uh, guided psilocybin session. Um, probably, and, you know, the result of a heart problem, um, that wasn't, that they weren't aware of. And it is, you know, it can be a big experience that would like any big experience would put strain on your heart. But, you know, she never really found out what happened, but, um, so yeah, I think people should, um, I don't mean to scare people unduly, but it is, it's a big step, and you should make sure you're healthy and you disclose all your medical issues to a guide and, um, and be prepared for what can be a trying experience and, and minimize risk by being guided. I think that's the most important thing. 

[00:13:53] Ronan: Sure. Uh, have any of those emails ever made you question, like whether you've opened a pandora's box that you [00:14:00] didn't really intend to?

[00:14:03] Michael : No. I mean, I think, I do have a feeling that, um, we are in this period of irrational exuberance around psychedelics, and that as happens, especially in American culture, we tend to go overboard. It's all or nothing. You know, these giant swings of the pendulum. And now there are many people who think that this is a cure-all, you know, and that this will take care of everyone's problems, everyone should do it. And, um, I, you know, so I think. I think, you know, we're losing our perspective a little bit and it'll be important to restore it. I mean, there are, you know, it's, it, it doesn't solve everybody's problems. And, you know, there are people who have, uh, you know, I, I have the testimony of many people whose lives were changed in positive direction. I met two vets, uh, two veterans, uh, yesterday, uh, Seal team [00:15:00] guy and another Iraq vet, and, um, their lives were saved by psychedelic experience, by ayahuasca in one case, psilocybin in another, these people who were processing trauma for years and, uh, and had now devoted themselves to making this available to other veterans and those, those stories are common and incredibly heartwarming. Um, but you know, for some people it's, it's not the right thing, it's not for everybody. And, um, and, and then there are people who are just, you know, Are feeling pressure to do it, who don't want to do it. And, um, you know, because of it's become so current. So I just worry that things, you know, that there's an overenthusiasm and that we lose, we lose perspective. Um, and that perhaps people who are suffering from mental illness that will not be helped by psychedelics, um, you know, various forms of personality disorder, it isn't really clear that it's useful for people in that situation or schizophrenia. Um, [00:16:00] so yeah, so I mean, I do, I do feel, um, uh, it's important to sound a cautionary note.

[00:16:07] Ronan: Sure. 

[00:16:07] Michael : And, and, and there are problems in the field. I mean, we're learning about therapy abuse, there, you know, there have been cases of, of, uh, therapists who've, who've abused their power. Um, Now that happens in all forms of therapy, there's a long history of that in psychotherapy, but there are particular vulnerabilities when the patient has taken a psychedelic, especially MDMA with the way that it, um, increases this sense of a bond, you know, it, it, it increases what the Freudians would call transference, you know, the, uh, a powerful relationship between the, the, uh, the patient and the doctor or the therapist that, that unscrupulous therapist can take advantage of. Uh, and, and that has happened, um, both above ground and below ground. Um, so that's a risk we need to be alert, alert to. So anyway, I, you know, I do feel as important, [00:17:00] uh, to, uh, Um, sound cautionary notes about this. 

[00:17:04] Ronan: Yeah, no, I think that's entirely fair and I appreciate the, the balance of the conversation. Cause I think you're right. It's, it's the nature of, call it Western society, uh, to overemphasize and then, you know, uh, have a slingshot reaction the other way very often. 

[00:17:19] Michael : And I would hate to see that happen too, that, you know, one of the reasons I think it's important to acknowledge these problems is when they come up, that they don't have an outsize influence either. I mean that, that the pendulum doesn't swing back. We saw that in the sixties, of course. Um, up until about 1965, uh, you would not believe how promotional the press was around psychedelics, even in mainstream magazines like Time in Life were actively promoting LSD. And then the culture turned on a dime and you could not read a positive article. And, you know, um, the baby went out with the bath water, and research stopped for [00:18:00] 30 years because of that backlash. And, uh, and think what we would know now had that research continued the whole time. So, um, you know, I'm concerned about that too. And, um, uh, that if people are only hearing good things, when they start hearing the opposite they'll think that, oh, the whole thing is a fraud or a misbegotten. And, um, and I think that would be a shame because I, I have no doubt that the potential to relieve a great deal of human suffering, uh, uh, is with these, with these substances when they're used properly. 

[00:18:35] Ronan: Yeah, no, that's a, that's something I'm want to go into a little bit more, uh, a little bit later, I had a couple of questions specifically about that. Um, you, you shared a very lovely story about drinking coffee with your father when you were 10. My story is not nearly as interesting- well, and not nearly as thoughtful about being a kid. But I have here that when I was a kid about six or seven years old, and I remember my grandmother referred to one of our dogs as being a shit disturber. And I remember spending the [00:19:00] rest of the day going around, telling everyone I could about that fact, because it gave me the first ever legitimate reason to use the word shit. I think I even picked up the phone and called people to tell them that. Anyway- 

[00:19:12] Michael : [laughter] I have a license for my grandmother. 

[00:19:14] Ronan: Totally. Uh, one of the things that came up as I was preparing for this podcast is that I think you and I actually share a very similar characteristic and maybe I'm over-hyping myself. I think you used the word or the expression exploring, quote, edgy ideas. Either way, I think it's- at its core. It's about trying to stir things up on some level and, and what makes I think you and I both good shit disturbers besides being beautifully bald is the fact that we can do and say things that some may find provocative or offensive, but that there's something about each of us that makes it somehow less scandalous or, or less offensive to people. And so with that said, I'm wondering, like, what set you on your path to becoming a journalist in the first place? Uh, the path to start down, you know, what's turned you into the effective [00:20:00] poster boy for exploring one's consciousness. And just before you answer that, I was also thinking that like the whole process of journalism in some ways is pretty psychedelic if I was thinking about it, which is, you know, you go out there, you offer insights, and then you hold a mirror up to somebody, right? To see the world in a different way. And it was just a really cool connection I saw, being like, yeah, that is kind of the essence of psychedelics. Um, that's a side note. What, what kind of put you on the path to journalism and then specifically into, um, exploring consciousness on the, on the, in the way you have? 

[00:20:34] Michael : Yeah. Well, on that first point, I think what journalism and psychedelics have in common is, uh, journalism strives to create new perspectives on familiar things, 

[00:20:45] Ronan: right. 

[00:20:46] Michael : and put the camera at an angle that you haven't had it before, uh, or take the camera into a place that hasn't gone before. Um, and that is, uh, definitely parallel to a psychedelic [00:21:00] experience. Um, you know, I certainly didn't set out to become a poster boy for consciousness change. Um, and in fact, I wrote about other topics before I got to this, um, but my, what really got me serious about writing, I was always interested in literature. I studied literature in school. I was an English major in college. I was a magazine editor for many years before I was a writer. I just loved being around writing and writers, and, uh, I thought publishing was just an exciting thing to do. I love seeing work I'd done in print. Um, you know, there, there very few highs, like getting the first bound copy of your book, uh, you know, arrived by FedEx and hold it in your hands. It's still, even in this digital age, the physicality of that experiences is truly thrilling. And I've had it, you know, nine times now. Uh, and I'm, I'm, I'm not tired of it yet. But, um, my writing really began in my garden when [00:22:00] I started kind of seriously gardening, and this was in my late twenties, early thirties. Uh, we bought a farm house, um, outside of New York, about two hours away and spent weekends there. I was working as a magazine editor in New York at Harper's magazine. Um, and, um, in the course of gardening, things were happening and I was learning things, um, that I thought had something to teach, uh, or a new perspective on our relationship to the natural world and other plants. And I started writing a series of essays about my adventures and misadventures in the garden and, and, and kind of drawing lessons, uh, about the human relationship to the natural world and other species. And my love of plants and my sense that I was in this reciprocal relationship with them that, uh, I was certainly manipulating them to get what I wanted, but, but suddenly it dawned on me, they were manipulating me too, to get what they [00:23:00] wanted, which was of course habitat and care and protection from pests and all the things I was doing for them. Um, that relationship really is at the heart of all my writing since. Um, and so I, uh, my first book was the series of essays, it's called Second Nature. It was published in 1991. And, um, it really was about what I was learning about our relationship to nature. And I, I recently had occasion to reread it because I did a book on tape. It had never been an audio- it came out before there were audio books- and I was stunned to see that so much of my thinking, at least in a germinal form about food and agriculture and consciousness change and psychedelics, was there in this germinal form, um, to the extent where I'm like, God, I haven't had a new idea since 1991. Um, but of course they weren't recognizable as [00:24:00] such. There were seeds, not, not plants yet. And, um, so that interest in looking at our relationship to nature, not as one of dominance, but as reciprocity, um, and symbiosis, which of course it is, um, coevolution, I mean, we co-evolve with it with this suite of domesticated species, both plants and animals, um, led to my interest in food and agriculture, um, agriculture, you know, the, the farmer faces all the challenges the gardener does, uh, in terms of getting what he or she wants from nature while nature needs to get what it it needs. Um, and, um, and so I wrote for many years about food and agriculture and, um, that was my beat. Um, and then along the way, I started reading about this research going on about psychedelics. And I had had a long interest in [00:25:00] this very peculiar use of plants we have. I mean, people understand we use plants to feed ourselves, we use them for beauty, but we also use them to change consciousness, whether you're talking about coffee or, or ayahuasca, or, um, uh, cocoa, any number, um, opium. Um, and that struck me as a very interesting use of plants that I needed to explore. And I began that exploration earlier than people realize, in a book called, uh, The Botany of Desire, which came out in 2001 and has a long chapter on cannabis.

[00:25:31] Ronan: Right. 

[00:25:31] Michael : And I, and I also had a history of growing cannabis, uh, before it was legal to do, and, um, and reflecting on, you know, that as a strategy of a plant, um, gratifying, the human desire to change consciousness is a great way to get your seeds spread around the world. And, uh, and cannabis figured that out, you know, thousands and thousands of years ago. Um, so, so to me, it's all a very [00:26:00] organic process of exploring the human relationship to the natural world in this realm where we're not merely observers or spectators as we are in a lot of nature writing, but we're active participants. Um, and, and, you know, you talk about holding up a mirror, um, domesticated plants hold up a mirror to us too, because we can read in their qualities what we value. In the same way you can look at a flower which evolved to appeal to bees, and get a very precise record of what bees find attractive, uh, whether it's scent or pattern of light or whatever. Well, you can look at the domesticated plants we depend on, whether it's corn or cannabis or, uh, or opium, and get a pretty precise record of our desires and who we are. And, and so finding ourselves in the mirror of these [00:27:00] plants and fungi, uh, has fascinated me for a long time and, um, uh, and, you know, I'm just very interested in consciousness. I mean, I think it's, you know, it's the great mystery and, um, and psychedelics, you know, has the potential to teach us things about consciousness, about our, our, our own individual consciousness, but also hopefully consciousness as a phenomenon, um, where it comes from, why we have it. Um, you know, w w why do we need it? I mean, why couldn't everything we do be automatic, you know? Why don't we just run algorithms? Uh, we do a lot of unconscious processing as it is. We know that conscious awareness is a very small percentage of the activity going on in our brains. Um, you know, it's the tip of the iceberg. Um, so why is there any tip? Why isn't it all submerged? 

[00:27:53] Ronan: Yeah. 

[00:27:53] Michael : I don't think we know. 

[00:27:55] Ronan: Are plants conscious?

[00:27:57] Michael : Well, that's an interesting question. I've written about [00:28:00] plant intelligence. They're definitely intelligent. I think it depends on whether you're defining conscious as aware of the environment,

[00:28:09] Ronan: Right. 

[00:28:09] Michael : Um, or aware that you're aware of the environment, you know, that second order, uh self-consciousness. Uh, I don't, I see no evidence they're self-conscious. There is a lot of evidence they are conscious, um, that they respond to stimuli in a way that suggests they're taking in a lot of information and processing it, um, without brains. And that's interesting too, that there, that neurons may not be the only way to do this. Um, and that plants suggests that, um, there are other ways to, you know- I mean, there, there've been very interesting experiments showing that plants can learn. You can do the kind of Pavlovian experiments of, uh, exposing them to a stimulus and, um, and they will come to anticipate it and react in a particular way. Um, so, I think [00:29:00] we still have a lot to learn. I do have a huge respect for plants in their, um, and their capabilities, but I'm not willing to say they're conscious or intentional 

[00:29:09] Ronan: Right. 

[00:29:09] Michael : in what they do. 

[00:29:11] Ronan: Yeah. One of my favorite moments on this podcast so far was actually with them, uh, Matthew Johnson from Johns Hopkins and, um, 

[00:29:17] Michael : Yeah. 

[00:29:18] Ronan: The line he said, which stuck in my head, and has stuck in my head since, which is amazing because, you know, being sleep deprived with young kids and all that kind of stuff, nothing sticks in my head, his line was, It takes a magical level of thinking to believe that consciousness derives from an arbitrary level of complexity. And I was like, that's quite profound actually. Like where is the line from conscious to unconscious? And why is there that line between what is conscious and unconscious? And I don't have an answer, but we were, we were exploring the concepts of panpsychism, you know, whether it's all materialists. And, you know, I was having conversation with some friends who believe that our consciousness is a byproduct of [00:30:00] just the what's happening in our brain. That it's, that there's no free will per se, um, that everything we perceive as free will is actually predetermined, but we just, because there's a space in time, uh, between, uh, the recognition and the action, um, we perceive it as free will. It's a super fascinating conversation. I don't know if you have any- 

[00:30:19] Michael : I've read that too. And I don't know if I buy it. I mean, you know, there's all, I mean, the, the idea that thought could affect anything, right? This immaterial thing called a thought, um, and that before you've thought it, um, the decision's already been made and they, they did these livid experiments that, you know, purported to show that it was, I forget how many microseconds before you press the button and resolve to press the button that in fact there was an action potential that was in motion, but look at thoughts that come from outside you, in other words, Donald Trump puts a thought in your [00:31:00] head that makes you do something. Um, is that, how has that predetermined and is it predetermined in his brain or your brain? Yeah. Um, I mean, consciousness is influenced by other consciousnesses and I think that that's a force you have to look at also.

[00:31:12] Ronan: Right. 

[00:31:14] Michael : Um, so I'm not sure I buy that. 

[00:31:15] Ronan: Yeah, that's a, that's a fair point. I hadn't considered that. 

[00:31:18] Michael : I think what Matthew said is interesting. I mean, it's, it's, um, most explanations of consciousness finally resort to some kind of magic, you know, it's an emergent property of a complex system. What does emergent mean? I mean, it's a little hand-wavy it seems to me. Uh, or panpsychism which, is it, is it, solves the problem philosophically, but then you have to think about what kind of experience does a particle have? Um, and, uh, it's such a, it's, it's such a primitive form of consciousness as to be something else it seems to me. So I dunno, there's [00:32:00] not a lot of satisfying explanations out there. It's just a reminder of what an extraordinary, um, uh, miracle consciousness is. And, um, to contemplate a world without human consciousness is, is, is truly mindblowing. Um, and that may, that may come about, um, uh, you know, if we manage to extinguish ourselves as a species, um, 

[00:32:26] Ronan: Very true. 

[00:32:26] Michael : But you know, we do represent nature becoming aware of itself, um, which is a big responsibility that we're not taking very seriously.

[00:32:35] Ronan: That's a very, very good point. I hadn't thought about it that way. I'm going to have to, I'm going to have to chew on that and come back to that question. 

[00:32:43] Michael : See if that sticks. 

[00:32:44] Ronan: Yeah, no, that's very interesting. Um, going back to the, just you becoming a journalist and writing, uh, I was struck by your prayer, uh, during the wachuma ceremony in, uh, Your Mind on Plants, to be less in your head and more in your [00:33:00] heart. And another thing that, um, really struck me as I was reading it was when you experienced the ugliness of letters on the page. Um, and to me, what came up in that moment was the kind of recognition that reading is as sublime and complex, as it can be, is only really in our head, not really in our emotions. Um, and, you know, truthfully as two bald Jewish, uh, two bald men of Jewish descent, um, you know, the mind becomes more active of the heart is not feeling. How much has that stuck with you? You know, to me, that seemed like one of the most poignant moments in your experience, at least that you conveyed in the book. And I'm just wondering where, where that sits with you now. 

[00:33:43] Michael : Well, most of my psychedelic experiences have taken me to that place, of feeling more emotionally connected and more emotionally open and available. And it's really one of the things I prize about the experience. I do live in my head a lot of the time. Most writers do. And, [00:34:00] um, and so we're at a kind of remove, and the revulsion I felt about print, which was such a weird thing for me, cause I, you know, I just breathe reading, I mean, I love to read, I read as a, almost a physiological necessity, I mean, it is a kind of breathing for me, um, was this sense that those little marks on the page are human created. They're they're not anything in and of themselves. You have to refer to a whole symbol system to, to bring in reality that way. And yet here was reality without that mediation. Uh, and this was on, uh, experience, masculine experience that I describe. It wasn't wachuma at that point. Um, and I just wanted to put down the book and, I don't think many people can read on psychedelics. I don't see a lot of reading getting done. Um, uh, but that unmediated encounter with nature, with, you know, a [00:35:00] bowl of apricots with, there was so much, uh, that was so much deeper than anything you could read going on around me, that it seemed like what a waste of that consciousness to try to spend it, uh, making sense of marks on a page, um, that were in fact describing things in nature, um, uh, why not go right to the source? So it, it is, it is that, you know, there's this deep drive we have for unmediated reality, um, and so much stands in our way. Um, but you know, if you think about Thoreau and Emerson and that whole tradition, John Muir, of American writers, contact contact, you know? I mean they want, they want to, um, reach the, the hardness of the ground and the, and the, the beauty of the flower without anything, you know, intervening. Yet, of course [00:36:00] there's always something intervening, but, but you can remove a bunch of layers on psychedelics and, um, uh, uh, and get closer, I think, to the, um, to the, you know, the sensory truth of the matter. 

[00:36:14] Ronan: Yeah, no, I think that's fair. Has it, has it changed your relationship to reading at all, um, that experience? Or did you go back to it just like caffeine? 

[00:36:23] Michael : I go back to it. I find that compared to some other people, I know who've who've whose lives have been changed by psychedelics, I tend to go back to baseline. You know, I have these ideas in my head and it, and it's a good, uh, reminder, uh, to get away from reading sometimes and go outside. And, um, and it's made me more mindful, both of the process and of the opposite of the process, you know, having to do working with words all the time, but, but it's not like it fundamentally changed my relationship to, uh, [00:37:00] to what I do. Um, I don't think, I don't think so. I mean, I think the changes in my life had been still, you know, around the margins. I mean, learning important things about myself, psychologically about relationships, um, about what I value. I mean, all that does stay with me, but I don't feel like there was a before and after, and I was, I was a fundamentally different person. 

[00:37:23] Ronan: I appreciate that. 

[00:37:23] Michael : Maybe I haven't taken enough. 

[00:37:25] Ronan: There you go. 

[00:37:26] Michael : Maybe I need higher doses. 

[00:37:28] Ronan: And I think it's important though, and this is one of those things that I think gets lost in, in, um, you know, th the way communication happens these days, particularly on the media, which is, it tends to focus on the extreme instances. It's the military veterans who have experienced things that virtually no one should experience. It's Lamar Odom, who is so broken to the point of, of being dead, quite literally, um, or it's the Joe Rogan's, uh, you know, the, the, the Silicon Valley bro dude types. Um, and it just doesn't relate to most people, but I think as people start to understand [00:38:00] and appreciate that you can have very magical, intense psychedelic experiences and still come back to just about the same, maybe slightly different is really important because those slight differences over the course of time, you know, if you think about like something moving off, just 1% over the course of time, it's far away from where it started and that, and that matters.

[00:38:20] Michael : Yeah. And there are people too who say I don't want to change. And, um, you know, and we have experiences that are really valuable that don't necessarily, you know, create right angle change. Um, and, and those experiences are valuable to, without question. Um, I think, you know, it's so much has to do with your intention in, in doing this and whether you're trying to fix a problem, uh, or not. And, um, and you know, to the extent I was trying to fix a problem, it was around this idea of, of, um, opening myself up. I mean, I'm a very forward-looking person. I am a worrier. I, I dwell in the future more than I'd like to. [00:39:00] And, um, and I have learned on psychedelics some tools for, um, occupying more of a present tense moment. And, and in fact, one of the, I would say one of the most lasting changes has been the way psychedelics has opened up a meditation practice for me. And as it has for many people, um, it's kind of a logical way to, um, fold psychedelic experience into your life and reconnect with the insights you've had on the experience, is through meditation. Um, and, and I think psychedelic experience makes it, it's a bad word to use, easier to meditate, um, more comprehensible, uh, that the process makes more sense after a psychedelic experience. And I remember interviewing Jed Brewer, who is a psychiatrist now at Brown Medical School, who studies [00:40:00] meditation and is, and is also interested in psychedelics. And, uh, he said to me once that, I could imagine a time where we, we would use psychedelic experience as, as part of the process of learning how to meditate, uh, beginning that practice, because it gives people kind of a preview of where you're trying to get in meditation, um, that sort of distance on your own thoughts that, um, that, that level of focus. Um, and I think he's right. I think there's something to it. Um, and it's no accident that, you know, a lot of the, a lot of the people who brought Buddhism to America, um, began themselves with psychedelic experience. And not just Buddhism. Hinduism, too. Um, that if you want to turn, your- psychedelics are not going to be a practice. Um, it's not something people are going to do every day or every week. Um, so then how do you sustain what you're learning from it? Well, meditation, I think is the, [00:41:00] is the technology for doing that, uh, for a lot of people and it has been for me, so I've gotten much more serious about meditation and I often use, kind of, riddles that came to me in psychedelic experience, odd moments, odd scenes, as something to kind of run through my head when I'm meditating. And it actually can bring the, bring back the experience. People, I think people don't make enough of the fact that a lot of psychedelic experience is meditation, and that we dwell on the kind of dramatic climax of the event, uh, where we have, you know, surrendered control of our mind to whatever movie is playing. Um, and that is an interesting and revealing part of the experience. But then there's this long denouement, which might be half of the trip where you're not, you you've regained some control or of your attention. You can [00:42:00] decide what to think about. You can do work, uh, mental work, um, and it is a form of meditation and a very valuable one, because you're, you're really not easily distracted. And, um, and it's that period of the trip that I think meditation can represent, uh, uh, some continuity with. 

[00:42:22] Ronan: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that, I think that's exactly right. It's kind of like working out, right? Like when you, when you exercise, lifting the weights is the hard part, but the, I think the real kind of magic opportunity is in the stretching and the cooling afterwards, that's when your body starts to translate that into something. And you're right, after that, that peak experience and the after effect, when you're just left with your thoughts and, and nothing's intruding is where I think a lot of the, the real magic happens in psychedelic experiences. 

[00:42:50] Michael : Yeah, no, it's a precious, it's a precious part of the experience and doesn't get written about or talked about nearly enough.

[00:42:56] Ronan: Yeah. That's fair. I'm going to ask you to put on your forward [00:43:00] looking hat for a second and maybe something to worry about as well. You talked in, um, your mind on plants quite a bit about how caffeine fueled, you know, was a fuel for a capitalist world, uh, that kind of evolved, and in some ways it's very persuasive. That's the case. What do you think the world would look like if it was psilocybin as opposed to caffeine.

[00:43:22] Michael : You're blowing my mind, Ronan. Uh, [laughter]I don't, well, first of all, I don't see a daily use of psilocybin, um, it doesn't fold into, um, uh, modern life as easily. I mean, th the genius of caffeine is how it can be, um, woven into the fabric of a, of a functional working life in a way that I don't think psilocybin can. Psilocybin will always be the vacation from, uh, routine life. Um, a world in which many people were having psilocybin experience, would it be a different [00:44:00] world and how would it be different, it's a really interesting question. And that turns on the fact that, um, is, does, um, psilocybin change belief or behavior or values in a predictable way? Um, and I don't think we know the answer to that yet. Compared to, compared to coffee, to caffeine, compared to a lot of drugs, cocaine or opium, the effects of psychedelics are much more variable. So while, you know, the effect of caffeine on everybody has certain things in common and you can, you can measure them, you know, increase of focus, improvement of memory, um, uh, improve improvement of wakefulness and endurance, I mean, physiological effects that affect consciousness. It's hard to say the same thing about psilocybin. Um, just because, uh, it's, [00:45:00] it's a mental catalyst, you know, the pharmacological effects are kind of light in a way. Um, It's a catalyst for things in your mind, and they can go in any number of different ways. So there is a, there is an idea out there that, um, and there's some very sketchy science behind it that, uh, you know, psilocybin experience increases, um, openness, uh, the personality domain of openness that it, uh, increases what's called nature connectedness, you know, how much you feel a part of nature, that it reduces neuroticism and other, you know, negative personality traits- 

What will all the Jews out there?

I know, I know it'd be a real threat. Um, uh, I think they should watch out. Um, but um, this research is really preliminary. The sample of people who've taken psychedelics or have volunteered to be in trials [00:46:00] is not a representative sample of the population by any means. Um, and my guess is those people who felt more nature connected were already well inclined toward the environment or toward, you know, they liked nature, they thought about nature. Um, what happens if you give psychedelics to people who are, you know, coal industry executives? Are they going to have the same reaction? Or it could be that psychedelics are an amplifier of what's already there. And that means it could send society off just intensification of trends that are already there, both good and bad if lots of people took it. So. I don't think we know enough to answer that question is the honest answer. That's exactly the kind of research I think we need to do. I think we need to take a, um, demographically representative group of people, politically, um, with regard to nature attitudes, um, demographics, and, and, and [00:47:00] see if they do respond in a consistent way. If this trait of openness, uh, can be found in many different kinds of people have this trait of nature connectedness or, or reduction in, uh, egotism or narcissism. Um, all of these things, we, we, we fervently hope psychedelics would encourage in society. Before we put it in the water supply, I think we should do some more research and see, um, if indeed it would give us the society we want to see. Um, this actually is, you know, I'm involved with this, uh, Center for, uh, the Study of Psychedelics at, at, uh, at Berkeley where we're not focused on clinical work, but basic science and social science around psychedelics. And this is something we want to study is, um, the belief change and the behavior change that, that, uh, comes out of psychedelics. Is that real? Uh, in what direction does it take people? Is [00:48:00] there any consistency to it or is it all an amplification of, of prior, um, attitudes? Um, and so until we know the answer, it's very hard to, uh, it's very hard to offer a, uh, persuasive take. I mean, you know, I'm just trying to be as, uh, skeptical as I possibly can.

[00:48:23] Ronan: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. And I think that's a very fair answer. It's it's something even, ignoring the openness traits or, you know, the creativity or nature connectedness traits, it's something that I was thinking about quite a bit when I was at the Code Conference in, in LA, um, a couple of months ago. And I actually got to talk to Sam Harris a little bit about this. And my question is like, to what end? To what end is- if psychedelics are as effective at treating trauma and depression, just only on those two narrow categories, if we can elevate human consciousness and just eliminating those, how does society get different? Like what, what [00:49:00] is different about what we're doing? Where does it end? Where do we go? You know, and, and what Sam and I talked about is he talked about how human biology is not meant to live in peak experience, that we can go into peak experience, but we're always going to dip back into normal- 

[00:49:13] Michael : Right, well by definition, right? I mean, peak experiences is exceptional. 

[00:49:18] Ronan: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So it's kind of like, if, if we're always going to swing back to something that in that gap between peak and normal, there's always going to be a space for disappointment, disillusionment, in my mind. And I was like, so to what, to what end is this? To what end, if, if all the promise and hope of psychedelics actually comes to be true, and there's no certainty about that and all your cautionary tales earlier, I think are valid. So what difference does it make? And, um, how does the world look different? And what I kind of came back to is the only real answer we can give is, and this is I'm going to pose it back to you is, it really comes back to what do we want it to be? That is, that is the fundamental question is that it's [00:50:00] not just being a passive participant in this great experiment, but it's being a proactive narrator of the outcomes that we want to achieve. And so I'm going to-

[00:50:08] Michael : Yeah I think there's a lot of truth [to that]. If we, if we want to use psychedelics, let's say to solve the environmental problem, crisis. Um, if enough people sought the experience for that purpose, they would be a lot more likely to get that result, but they have to start there. And there are many people not interested in solving the environmental crisis. And, um, so, so I, I see psychedelics having the potential to amplify an intention like that. Um, but that's, that's not a shared intention. So, you know, we have a very polarized society and the hope would be that this would reduce polarization and, and pull everybody in the same direction. Um, and I, I, I fear that may be naive. [00:51:00] But even, you know, taking what Sam Harris said about peak experience, there is the residue of the experience too. And that makes a contribution. I mean, let's say if one of the features of psychedelic experiences is just a slight softening of ego, um, uh, a little less identification with ego, um, that, you know, could have a beneficial social effect. Um, so much of, so much of what's gotten us into trouble is egotistical thinking, right? The, the, the objectifying of the other, um, you know, the other appears very different, differently under psychedelics very often. Um, you suddenly realize, um, or at least I realized now I'm a gardener and I was inclined in this direction that, you know, plants have a kind of personhood too, and they have a subjectivity and you respect things that have a subjectivity and, and you manipulate things that you think are just objects. Um, so [00:52:00] let's say that that's a common, um, formulation or something that people have insight into. That could be helpful, but you know, we have to figure out how universal it is. 

[00:52:11] Ronan: Yep. Yeah. One of my, my first experience actually with psilocybin, one of the aspects of it was that, uh, we were in a bit of a dispute with a previous employer, and, uh, even though we thought we had, um, acted perfectly rationally and maturely, um, they were still annoyed with us. And we were trying to comprehend it, but we were trying to comprehend it from a logical perspective. And what we realized is that a lot of emotions are not necessarily logical. And, and I felt a deep sense of empathy, of like, oh, they're genuinely angry, you know? I'm not super angry. It wasn't going to be an explosive affair, but they felt genuinely hurt and pissed off. Uh, and I could feel that I could feel it viscerally, not just being like, well, the math doesn't make sense for why they're angry. The fact is that that they're angry and feeling that [00:53:00] gives me a whole level of empathy for what they're going through, and it really enabled, um, resolution to that conversation. And I think probably if nothing else, the reader integration between emotion and thinking, right? Getting out of our heads so much, not ignoring science, not ignoring data, but pairing it better with emotions and instincts to make much more, what I call intelligent decisions, which is the integration of both of those features of experience, um, could go a long, long way. 

[00:53:31] Michael : And I think MDMA has that potential too, and one of- the kinds of experience or, or, um, uh, I dunno what you call them, but, but projects to use MDMA to resolve conflict, you know, Rick Doblin's always talking about sending MDMA to the middle east, and he sent it to the arms negotiators in Russia once. Um, and you know, when you have people, uh, or, or simply in couples, couples struggling with their marriages, um, [00:54:00] It seems to allow people to, um, hear, hear threatening ideas without getting defensive, talk about difficult issues without getting, um, too overly upset. I mean, it's amazing the kind of conversations you can have, um, without the usual, uh, defenses popping up. Um, and that, that may have a political utility, um, that would be fascinating to explore. 

[00:54:29] Ronan: Yeah. Yeah. I think, uh, another thing that struck me in Your Mind on Plants, as you described your problems as being quote weightless, uh, and the chapter on mescaline, and I thought that was a really interesting choice of words. I mean, if you have insight and want to explain it, that's great, but in many ways I can imagine in the middle east conflict, if all of those histories and traumas that people carry become weightless, then it becomes a much easier conversation to cross paths. 

[00:54:57] Michael : Yeah. And if not weightless, a little [00:55:00] lighter, um, and, uh, you know, a little more and people becoming a little more empathetic, um, and also be able to express their anger without making the other person, uh, flip out. Um, you know, that, that you can just take anger out and look at it. And, um, uh, and again, going back to that word, have some, have, have a different perspective on it and not, not go to your, your normal place of, uh, of defensiveness. 

[00:55:28] Ronan: Yeah. I had a couple more questions on, on journalism and then I'll let you go. But, um, you mentioned in your conversation with Noah Feldman, thank you for pointing me to that interview, uh, that you felt a bit uncomfortable becoming an advocate after the Omnivore's Dilemma because you grew up, I guess, in a, in a school of thought around journalism that journalists shouldn't have opinions. But we now live in an era where, uh, I saw a headline that many Americans believe Joe Rogan is more trustworthy than Anthony Fauci. Uh, and I'm wondering what you feel about the state of [00:56:00] information and media in this world and how do we start to address that? Because the polarization you talk about, I don't think there's any doubt about that, but the insidiousness of it is the media platforms that we have right now don't lend themselves to anything in terms of reconciling those polarizations. And as, as a journalist and someone who's very thoughtful about this particular subject, I'd love to hear your thoughts on that. 

[00:56:27] Michael : Yeah. I don't know the way out of it. I mean, we have gone from a period where there were certain sources of information that carried authority. Um, mainstream newspapers, um, you know, television networks, the big three networks and their news divisions, um, to one where everyone has their own media that reinforces what they believe. Um, I think that the advent and success of Fox news has been one of the most destructive things that's happened in this [00:57:00] country. Um, a moment came in the 1980s, uh, when president Reagan was president where Rupert Murdoch, who was not an American, uh, sought and was granted a license, uh, to own TV stations. There was a rule that you had to be an American to do that. Uh, at the same time, uh, we had regulations, uh, something called the Fairness Doctrine and the Equal Time Rule that required television stations since they were using public airwaves to present alternative points of view, equal time for candidates. Um, and we dismantled that system. And we are still paying the price. Um, and, and the price is this retreat into information bubbles, uh, where people can, uh, support whatever they think, uh, where there's no consensus on fact, where the New York Times or the Washington Post is treated as, uh, as partisan as Fox News or Joe [00:58:00] Rogan. Um, and that, that, that is a very dangerous and destructive situation. Uh, if you can't agree on a set of facts, it's very hard to have a democracy. Um, and, um, so I don't know what the way out of it is. Um, in terms of advocacy, you know, my journalism has brought me to that place on a couple occasions. I mean, I have views around food and agriculture that at a certain point, it would have been disingenuous for me to pretend I didn't have. I believe that journalism can be opinionated, yet nevertheless, there are ethical constraints. One is accuracy. Everything I publish has to be fact checked very carefully. Um, and that is, uh, that is, uh, you know, still a legacy media value, most magazines I write for and, uh, and newspapers, I write for insist that you back up your assertions. [00:59:00] Um, that's not true on Fox News and it's not true, you know, in many places in the media. Um, and then there is the virtue, there is the ethic of fairness, um, that even if you're going to write a take down of Monsanto, say, as I, as I've done, you need to present their case as, in a way that they would recognize and claim as fair. Um, that has to be part of what you're doing, even if you proceed to then take it apart. Um, so accuracy and fairness are the last, uh, you know, uh, barriers to complete insanity, I think. Um, and, um, but, and part of the problem with the internet and Facebook is that people don't have a way of, of, of knowing whether the information has been subjected to those two values or not. Uh, obviously, you know, Facebook has decided that doesn't matter. Um, and [01:00:00] so, you know, rumor, um, circulates. You know, when you, when you turned on NBC News or opened up the New York Times, that was the frame for that information, and you knew something about its quality. I'm not saying it was perfect in any means, by any means, um, but when you open up something that someone sent to you or that you saw tweeted, or that you saw on Facebook- 

[01:00:23] Ronan: It sounds like, on your phone, like not, not a cell phone. 

[01:00:26] Michael : It looks the same. It looks like information. It's written in declarative sentences. It has quotes, it, it, you know, it has all the, uh, all the features of journalism. But it's not journalism. Uh, it may be disinformation, you know, created by a Russian bot, um, but how do you tell that apart? Um, so there's this kind of leveling of all information and, you know, it seemed like a good idea once to dethrone these gatekeepers and there were problems with having gatekeepers. Um, but I think we're now realizing what we lost [01:01:00] in the process. And what we lost may have been the foundation of democracy. Dark note to, uh, to end on. But I, you know, I don't have, I don't have any solutions. Um, uh, you know, it's- except to do the kind of journalism I think is important and teach other people to do it. I mean, I'm a teacher. I spend a lot of my time teaching young journalists, uh, and hopefully to, to, you know, keep those, those values alive. Otherwise it's just a free for all. 

[01:01:33] Ronan: Yeah, I just read the quote, um, you said, Psychedelics are wonderful to the point of being terrifying. And I think that's kind of a really apropos point to end on, um, because we've talked about some wonderful things and we've talked about some terrifying things. So one last question for you, which is, um, if you don't mind sharing what, uh, what is next in the world of Michael Pollan and what is the next subject for you to drill down on. [01:02:00] Do you know?

[01:02:00] Michael : Yeah, I'm still kind of working out what my next book is going to be about. Uh, I, I'm not ready to really talk about that. Um, a big focus of my life right now is, is this, um, Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics. I'm putting a lot of effort into, uh, getting that, uh, off the ground. I think beyond the clinical applications that are so important and relieving human suffering, as I think we now have good evidence psychedelics can do, they have the potential to teach us a great many other things if we can do the kind of research we need. And that research may- is not just going to be doctors and therapists, that's going to be neuroscientists understanding brain mechanisms, it's going to be social scientists understanding behavior change. Um, it's going to be work in the humanities. It's going to be storytelling. So, um, I'm hoping to build an institution where a lot of that work can take place. Um, so right now that's my, you know, if I, if I have a further contribution to this field, it's going to be through that. Um, the [01:03:00] Berkeley Center.

[01:03:01] Ronan: I think that's fantastic. I think I actually got an email from someone. Are you recruiting for an executive director right now?

[01:03:06] Michael : We are, actually. And if anyone has good ideas, uh, yes, we need an executive director and we also have launched a new newsletter. And if you want to stay up with, uh, events in the field, a weekly digest, um, it's called the, The Microdose. It's on Sub Stack, comes out every Friday. And it's very brief hits, uh, that tell you what's going on. What's been written that week about psychedelics. So it's a really efficient way to stay in touch. Uh, and then on Mondays, there's a second installment, which is an interview with, uh, five questions for a newsmaker in the field. And those have been really interesting too. So, and that's totally free. Um, so I encourage people to, uh, to check out The Microdose.

[01:03:48] Ronan: Awesome. I'm going to actually ask you one final question, which is, are you optimistic for the future? Are you cautious? Are you both? How are you feeling? 

[01:03:56] Michael : You know, I am by temperament an optimist. I think it's [01:04:00] important to, to, uh, to, to state that upfront. I think a lot of our attitudes toward the future are hardwired into our temperament and temperament is something you're born with. That said, I'm more worried than I've ever been. Uh, there just some, you know, some, you know, really worrisome trends. Um, our, our species- we have not demonstrated with COVID that we can deal with a crisis that is more imminent, more vivid, more immediately threatening than climate change. And we fucked that one up pretty royally. And, uh, and now, you know, there is another one coming. And, um, uh, so can we, I, I know, I know that things are falling apart at every moment in history and it is a very common, uh, emotion, but I think the threats we face are of, of a very serious order, um, more serious. I mean, they're planetary. [01:05:00] They're, you know, they're civilizational, not just national. Um, and so, uh, I don't, I mean, I'm sorry to leave you, uh, on that note, um, you know, we may surprise ourselves. I hope we do. I think it's not an accident that psychedelics are having their moment right, right now. Uh, they may be a tool to help with the kind of, you know, creativity, um, and egolessness we need. Let, let let's hope that that's hope they're up to the task before us. 

[01:05:34] Ronan: I think that's a really wonderful note to end on. And, uh, you know, maybe coming out of this specific podcast, people will be able to look through the world, look at the world through the lens of a little bit of Michael Pollan. And I think that would go a long way to help things, uh, positively as well. So with that, thank you, Michael. Thank you for making the time. Uh, it's been a pleasure. Thank you for all you do. Uh, you know, definitely think the world is a more thoughtful and [01:06:00] conscientious place for, for all the books that you've written on a very important subject. So just a note of gratitude for your doing what you're doing. 

[01:06:06] Michael : Oh, thank you Ronan. I really appreciate your words. A pleasure talking to you as usual

[01:06:15] Ronan: In This is Your Mind on Plants, Michael mentioned that psychedelics are "wonderful to the point of being terrifying." In coming out of today's conversation, I have never believed that more. My experiences on psychedelics have consistently been wonderful, insightful, enlivening, challenging, exhilarating. They do, in my opinion, and an opinion that's been backed up by dedicating my career, my success, and my reputation on it, hold the potential to be a real catalyst for alleviating human suffering and helping humans elevate their consciousness and put us on a path to addressing some of civilization's most vexing problems. However, to the extent that psychedelics are just amplifiers for beliefs that we already hold in a world where [01:07:00] "truthiness", in the words of Stephen Colbert, is the closest we're going to get to objective truth. I can see how the psychedelic renaissance is also terrifying. But I'm not going to give up hope. The people I've met in the psychedelic renaissance are powered by the right motives. The results I've experienced firsthand and witnessed in the people we've helped at Field Trip are real. But the real source of my hope I carry is in having had an insight while reading This Is Your Mind on Plants laying next to my sleeping three-year-old son Cohen. As I read about how Michael's wife Judith let go of the sins of her father, I started to reflect on how I hadn't been there for Cohen nearly as much as I'd like. That I'd never really told him just how great and amazing and wonderful he was. And that helped me understand things about myself. In that moment, I realized that psychedelics have been with us throughout human history in the form of children. Like psychedelic drugs, children take what we give them and give us exactly what we [01:08:00] need, whether we know it or not. Children bring us together, make us feel more connected, give us hope and purpose and love. They shine a mirror on who we are and what we've been through. They always have and they always will, and so whether this modern renaissance with psychedelic drugs continues and delivers the promise that we hope, we will always have the potential to tap into what they offer simply by looking at our children. The path there may not always be easy, but if you look around, you'll see we've got exactly what we need to get there. 

Thank you for listening to Field Tripping, a podcast that's dedicated to exploring psychedelic experiences and their ability to affect our lives. I'm your host Ronan Levy. Until next time, stay curious, breathe properly, and remember, every day is a field trip if you let it be one. Field Tripping is created by Ronan Levy. Our producers are Conrad Page and Harley Roman, and associate producers are Sharon Bhella, Alec Sherman, Macy Baker, and Tyler Newbold. Special [01:09:00] thanks to Kast Media. And of course, many thanks to Michael Pollan for joining us today.

And you should think about picking up one of his books. It could dramatically shift how you see the world. How To Change Your Mind has certainly brought psychedelics into the forefront for many people, and his new book, This Is Your Mind On Plants, dives deep into how amazing molecules in plants, like opium, caffeine, and mescaline can shift our consciousness and our societies in so many powerful ways.