According to Sam Harris, meditation is not the only route to atheist spirituality. In 2011, he wrote “Drugs and the Meaning of Life“:
I have a daughter who will one day take drugs. Of course, I will do everything in my power to see that she chooses her drugs wisely, but a life without drugs is neither foreseeable, nor, I think, desirable. Someday, I hope she enjoys a morning cup of tea or coffee as much as I do. If my daughter drinks alcohol as an adult, as she probably will, I will encourage her to do it safely. If she chooses to smoke marijuana, I will urge moderation. Tobacco should be shunned, of course, and I will do everything within the bounds of decent parenting to steer her away from it. Needless to say, if I knew my daughter would eventually develop a fondness for methamphetamine or crack cocaine, I might never sleep again. But if she does not try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in her adult life, I will worry that she may have missed one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience.
Whoa! Psilocybin or LSD as one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience? Not just an “important rite of passage.” But “one of the most important” rites of passage?
At first, I was tempted to interpret this as Harris advocating some form of materialistic hedonism – an atheist hasn’t experienced all there is to be experienced if that atheist has not tried a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD. But Harris is clearly talking about more than some mere fun experience – he refers to this experience as a “rite of passage.” According to Wiki, a rite of passage is “is a ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another.” Harris doesn’t seem to have a ritual in mind (yet), but he does seem to think a very important transition occurs from LSD trips. He makes this clear:
there was a period in my early 20’s when I found drugs like psilocybin and LSD to be indispensable tools of insight, and some of the most important hours of my life were spent under their influence.
LSD is a hallucinogen. From a materialistic atheist perspective, the LSD trip is nothing more than one particular brain state that is characterized by various forms of hallucinations. In fact, such drug-induced hallucinations have a long history. As Wiki states, “Psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants have a long history of use within medicinal and religious traditions around the world. They are used in shamanic forms of ritual healing and divination, in initiation rites, and in the religious rituals of syncretistic movements such as União do Vegetal, Santo Daime, and the Native American Church.”
It is most fascinating that Harris’s experience with various types of drug-induced hallucinations, historically associated with various religious rituals, is something the atheist declares as among “the most important hours of my life.” He even considers these hallucinogens to be “indispensable tools of insight.”
So again, Harris is not talking about drug-induced hallucinations as some form of recreational, hedonistic experience – something akin to a carnival in the mind; he instead views them as “tools of insight” and lists such experiences as “some of the most important hours of my life.”
I think it quite possible that I might never have discovered that there was an inner landscape of mind worth exploring without having first pressed this pharmacological advantage.
Pay close attention to the language. Harris thinks he has “discovered” an “inner landscape of the mind.” Really? In what sense is his drug-induced hallucinatory state a “discovery” of anything? He may feel like he has “discovered” some “inner landscape,” but how does he know that all of this is not just an illusion?
It’s pretty clear that Harris thinks his LSD trips led him to some Truths:
However, there is no question that the mind is vaster and more fluid than our ordinary, waking consciousness suggests. Consequently, it is impossible to communicate the profundity (or seeming profundity) of psychedelic states to those who have never had such experiences themselves. It is, in fact, difficult to remind oneself of the power of these states once they have passed.
See? “There is no question.” “The mind is vaster.” But what does that mean? When Harris says he can’t communicate the “profundity” of these drug-induced hallucinations, he is admitting his “insights” are beyond the reach of science – they must be shared subjectively.
Harris then begins to reminisce about his acid trips:
I have visited both extremes on the psychedelic continuum. The positive experiences were more sublime than I could have ever imagined or than I can now faithfully recall. These chemicals disclose layers of beauty that art is powerless to capture and for which the beauty of Nature herself is a mere simulacrum. It is one thing to be awestruck by the sight of a giant redwood and to be amazed at the details of its history and underlying biology. It is quite another to spend an apparent eternity in egoless communion with it.
Wow. Again, notice the word choice – the drug “disclosed” deep layers of beauty and made possible “communion,” two things both art and science are powerless to provide. I’m not sure why we are supposed to believe this “beauty” and “communion” are anything other than a hallucination.
People generally come away from such experiences with a sense that our conventional states of consciousness obscure and truncate insights and emotions that are sacred.
Ah yes, the “conventional state of consciousness” is inferior to the drug-induced hallucinatory state.
So let me get this straight. Sam Harris, the man who for many years has mocked Christians, is the same man who thinks his acid trips were among “the most important hours” of his life. He thinks a hallucinogen is an “indispensable tools of insight.” He believes the hallucinogen discovers things, reveals thinks, discloses things, and makes “communion” possible. He believes these insights and revelations are obscured by our “conventional state of consciousness.”
Seriously, this is the guy who mocks Christians. This is one of the New Atheist leaders.
Yet this information about Harris could help to clear up one oddity. We just saw that Harris actually opposed the nomination of Francis Collins to head the NIH because of some delusional notions of Collins doing harm to scientific research. Over five years later, Harris still cannot admit getting it so wrong. Perhaps when Harris wrote his article fretting about the dangers of Francis Collins………he wasn’t in a “conventional state of consciousness.”