The Spiritual Power Of Psilocybin, Ctd

Materialists return fire. One writes:

The Shrooms from inside the brain with a voice emanating from a cell phone is completely flawed. Of course a reasonable person would not believe that the voice originates from the cell phone, because a person using a cell phone knows that he or she is talking to another person. We know this by common sense and because we have used cell phones before.

Consider for a moment that we dropped a cell phone down to a tribe of people who have not had contact with the outside world for hundreds of years. One of them picks it up, not knowing what it is, and when it begins ringing, fumbles around with it until he accepts the call. It is possible, if not likely, that this person would think the voice on the phone was indeed originating from the phone. It would be perhaps equally likely that the people of this tribe would believe the voice of the phone was god’s. God is always what we attribute to the unknown.

We might not know how or why psilocybin has the effect on the brain that it does, but that in itself does not mean that something spiritual or supernatural is at work. It only means that we do not yet understand what is happening, just as that tribesman does not understand what a cell phone is.

Another further breaks down the analogy:

It is a universal experience of people who speak on the phone to have also conducted conversations with people in person, where we have heard, seen, touched and smelled them. Very often in fact, we conduct conversations over the phone with the very same people we have spoken to in real life. If any doubt were to ever arise in ones mind as to the true origin of the voice in the phone, a quick real life conversation with the supposed source of that voice would be all that was needed to set ones mind at ease.

We know how cell phones work. Cut down your nearest cell phone tower, or put your phone in a Faraday cage and the voices coming from the phone disappear. Use a radio scanner to see the radio frequencies it receives and emits with the corresponding conversation. Blast enough radiation across the band and the voice drops away.

You will notice that none of these experiments will work with god. You can only ever to talk to god on the phone as it were, no double checking by having a real life conversation with him (and of course, even talking to him on the “phone” is not by any means universal. I have never had the pleasure myself, but even amongst people who have, there seems to be quite a debate about what his telephone number is and what he likes to talk about). There are no prayer waves, and thus no prayer Faraday cages or cutting down the prayer cell tower. If you cut down the cell phone tower, no amount of faith or belief will make your, or anyone else’s phone work.

Another steps back:

This is ridiculous.  Look, scientific theories are abstract models of the universe.  Models explain data.  We can compare two different models by evaluating how well they explain the data – our observations about the universe.  There are models that include a god or gods that have omniscient powers and are undetectable in the physical world.  The problem is that none of these models explain the data any better than models that do not include gods.  That’s Occam’s razor.

The materialist view does not require us to dismiss any model, including one that includes undetectable gods.  We dismiss it because it has unnecessary complications.  But if we suddenly have some observation such that that model becomes the best fit to ALL the data, then we bring it back into play.  That observation might be, say, somebody rising from the dead (in such a way that there is no other possible explanation that fits with any other model).  There is nothing “mad” about this.  It is in fact completely logical.  Most of us happen to think that something that would bring that model back into play is extremely unlikely, so there is no point in working with it until something like that does happen, and whatever that is is indisputably support for that model (rather than being explainable by people lying or some trickery).


This thread has clarified for me the essence of the materialist/spiritual divide. Spiritual folk believe that faith that makes them happy is self-validating. It MUST be true. How could it feel so right and powerful if it were untrue?  This seductive thought is absolutely refuted by the complete lack of reproducibilty across individuals, religions, cultures, and time. It is clearly a highly error-prone way to think, if not error-guaranteed.


There’s a distinct problem with your reader’s comparison of the religious or sacred sense to other perceptions: it presumes that the sacred sense is a perception, and not a reaction. For instance, say I enjoy the taste of Chinese food (and oh, I do). Do we then say that the Chinese food objectively contains my enjoyment, and that my enjoyment reaction in my brain is merely a perception of that objective enjoyment? No. Enjoyment is merely my subjective response to a stimulus. Someone who hates Chinese food would not derive that same enjoyment from the same stimuli. It’s certainly clear that not everyone receives the same dose of sacred sense from the same stimuli – I get much more of it from nature, while a friend finds it in a loud, raucous, speaking-in-tongues Born Again church that I frankly find intimidating and alien.

Finally, your reader presumes that a materialist viewpoint is inherently inferior – that it does not lead to the same happiness and love that “living from the point of view of conscious being” does. My partner and I have shared love for nine years, and I am extremely happy. Materialism is why I am happy. Everything that I am will die out when I stop breathing – this knowledge makes each moment precious, because I have no hope of eternity to remove the importance from the moment. It forces me to consider each moment deeply, to derive what I can from it. It makes me treasure everything I have, because I am aware that it is fleeting and unique – that this moment will never repeat again, because I do not have infinity to wait for it to recur. If I had infinity, then wasting my life would mean nothing, because it is only an imperceptibly tiny fraction of the time I am allotted.

The discussion thread thus far – in chronological order – here, here, here and here. Fear not. I will return to this debate soon.

(Photo of Psilocybe Cubensis by Flickr user afgooey74)