The human brain, contrary to what mom told us, is not a miraculously engineered wonder of the Western world. It’s miswired, misaligned, and mistaken much of the time. Many charlatans — or psychologists if one prefers — believe that the brain’s first experience, birth, permanently damages it. Birth is violently traumatic, and both emotionally and physically brutal. In response to high levels of stress such as this, our brains shoot us up with adrenaline, hydrocortizone, and steroid hormones (glucocorticoids, if you really want to know) which means our first birthday present is that we get to enter the world innocent, healthy, and high as fuck.
— And that’s OK, because if it weren’t for altered states of consciousness, we’d have no genuine experience of this world’s completely random nature at all.
Since we can’t be born every time we want a fresh jolt of reality, we spend the rest of our lives self-medicating.
The brain operates a crackhouse in our heads, producing such heavy hitters as dopamine, a natural upper which makes us talkative and excitable, endorphin, an anæsthetic which has three times the potency of morphine, and serotonin, a mood enhancer which makes us act and feel like hippies. Most of the meds recommended by school psy-charlatans for depression or anxiety alter the amount of serotonin produced by the brain.
These mind-altering substances have side effects which can prove worse than the emotional irregularity they medicate, such as violent tendencies, hallucination, depersonalization, derealization, psychosis, phobias, amnesia, and obsessive compulsive disorder — and that’s just for the benzodiazepines. We don’t hit heart arrhythmia until Eldepryl (™).
Sexual dysfunction and gastrointestinal distress commonly affect patients taking Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs. Pop-culture knows this hip family of psychomeds well, which boasts such rock stars as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft. Approximately twenty-two million Americans take these drugs every day, or statistically, every fourteenth American one encounters on the street.
So, the next time you’re shocked at the number of complete assholes you meet in a given day, remember that fourteen percent of America hasn’t taken a shit in four days and hasn’t had an orgasm in months.
If the human brain were able to regulate its chemicals, nobody would recommend cooking up meds like Prozac and Paxil. Since science has proven that many do not, though, society accepts these meds and also allows for a margin of error in prescribing them to healthy people. Many groups in the United States froth at the mouth over the prevalence of drugs such as these — as well as that of other mind-altering substances, both legal and illegal.
One might as well try to place the entire nation on a single diet as try to stem the amount of self-medication engaged in by Americans, though. Seventy-two million of us diagnosed ourselves and regularly took some sort of alternative medication in 2002. The rest of us might not consider ourselves medicating, but we do, of course, and not just the usual Tylenol, Robitussin, and Pepto-Bismol, either. We purposefully alter our brain chemistry all the time.
Over half the population of the U.S. drinks coffee on a daily basis to take advantage of its stimulant properties. Sixty-four percent of us drink alcohol, perhaps to counter the tension from all our coffee. Twenty-two percent of us smoke cigarettes to relax, especially while drinking alcohol or coffee. Approximately eighteen percent smoke grass. That’s without even discussing all the more-inventive drugs, such as LSD-6 and MDMA.
In addition to all this we must consider the oceans of so-called “health nuts.” Fitness fanatics come in various degrees of seriousness and mental stability, from the casual weight-lifter to the manic Olympic triathlete, and nary a one of them considers himself or herself a drug addict. Nevertheless, the scientific community established long ago that physical exercise heavily affects hormone, endorphin, and serotonin levels, and also that addiction to these natural substances occurs easily, naturally, and predictably in lab rats.
Since these highly addictive endorphins target all the same opiate receptors, 24 Hr. Fitness can be considered the modern American opium den.
We certainly do like to fuck with our brains. Who can blame us, though? As aforementioned, we’re the inheritors of broken machinery, the unhappy inhabitants of chaotic mental domains which do not even function in the haphazard, unpredictable way they should. Humans fix things. When a shoe comes untied, we tie it. When a brain comes apart, we glue it together with whatever we happen to have on-hand: coffee for fatigue, whiskey for tension, tobacco for anxiety, what-have-you.
When we tinker with our minds, we’re seizing temporary control of our neurochemistry. We don’t drink alcohol in spite of its tendency to impair our judgment; we drink it precisely because it impairs our judgment, and unlike other mind-altering addictions such as — oh, I don’t know — television, say, we know exactly how our brains will change when we indulge.
Humans have used mind-altering substances since the dawn of time. Beer, alone, has a documented history going back six-thousand years before Christ. When we look at our ancestors from so long ago, though, we can’t help but notice that their uses for beer, wine, tobacco, drugs, et cetera extend far beyond self-medication. Of course, they were used for recreation, but the original use for most of these so-called vices was for creating an appropriate environment for religious and spiritual rituals.
The Greeks drank wine to evoke the ancient god, Dionysus. The Jewish tradition of the Passover Seder requires four glasses of it per person. Five-million Hindu sanyasi sadhus smoke hashish to repress their sexual desires and aid their meditation. Over fifty American Indian tribes practice Peyotism today, a religion centered around ritual use of natural mescaline, which they use to communicate to the dead and to various deities.
These people aren’t balancing their serotonin — they’re putting gods on speed-dial.
Not seeing angels and demons, yet? Here, drink some more of this.
These days religions get a bad rap. Atheists can say the bad reputation of spirituality reflects its failure to cooperate with contemporary Western civilization, sciences, paradigms, and increasingly agnostic peoples. Religions themselves, however, deserve no animosity. One cannot judge a philosophy by its misuse.
Religions originally appeared because humans became convinced of evidence alerting them to other beings, other worlds. Rituals appeared because humans wanted to commune with these other beings, other worlds. Mind-altering substances proliferated in rituals because they provided sufficient evidence of their usefulness to millions of adults with brains the size of canteloupes. We no longer use these drinks and drugs to speak with gods, though, because so many people these days seem to think they can do it without spending beer money, and many others don’t think very much of the idea of talking to gods, anyhow.
In other words, lots of boring self-styled “realists” think those other beings, other worlds never existed in the first place.
The funny thing is, everyone on planet Earth believes wholeheartedly in lots of things that don’t exist. The value of currency, for example, is absolute balderdash. It is valued for its various markings and symbols which invoke the names of people who lived hundreds of years ago, and which declare mottos and oaths in ancient, dead languages, markings and symbols which cast an enchantment over both buyer and seller, and in this mutual confusion one can purchase an automobile with nothing but decorated scraps of parchment paper.
There is no difference between the purpose of the markings on a dollar bill and that of the markings inscribed within a sorcerer’s sigil, or those upon an altar, or even those upon a WELCOME mat. We live in a world of our mind’s creation, and everything real to us has been made real by us.
How did we miraculously make reality real? Easy. We simply named it that, like we did the table, the chair, and the dust bunny. “Reality,” we said, “thou shalt be real,” to which so-called reality said in its easygoing way, “Alright,” and that was that.
The unreal didn’t mind being left out at all, though, because all of a sudden, it didn’t exist.
So, here we are, then . . . Nothing is real, and nothing is unreal. Quite a mess we’ve gotten ourselves into at this point, and we’re very proud of it. Naturally, we’ve taken the next step and done what any bipedal, cerebrally cortexed hominid would do in this situation: we’ve become ontological agnostics. We don’t know what truth is, where to find it or how to prove that it’s there, but we believe in it all the same, bumbling about like the decorated surrealities we are, chasing after decorated scraps of parchment paper, and taking turns chastising one another for having faith in decorations.
What arrogant, blustering bastards we all are.
But how can we escape this cycle of idiocy? How can we step from delusion and credulity into anything but delusion and credulity, if everything we know seems illusory and incredible?
Cold, crisp, clean — beer. And pills. And smokes. And coffees, wines, and liquors; buttons, tabs, and capsules. Strenuous, extended exercise. Yoga. Za-zen meditation. Brutally sorrowful dramas, uproariously hilarious movies. Bitter, hate-filled debates. Violence. Pain. Exquisite, sin-soaked and passionate pleasure. The sweetness of selfless generosity lifetimes long, the glorious splendor of victory in competition, the self-righteousness of upbraiding one’s brother for having fallen from grace. Mind-altering substances, mind-altering experiences.
In a paradoxical word, we can step away from the illusory by taking a break from reality.
In a life where nothing you think real can possibly exist, a world of erratic change and nebulous phantasms, mind-altering substances and experiences offer the most realistic opportunities available to a human.
— But of course, one could just go on as a believer . . .
With a glazed look and a raised glass I remain,