As we shall see in much more detail later, psilocybin is believed to cause its effects by acting upon nerve cells, or neurons, within the brain. In particular, it acts upon those neurons which utilise a substance named serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical messenger, or neurotransmitter, which allows individual neurons to communicate with one another in order that information can be transmitted and processed. Now, the various compounds employed by brains in order that they are able to process information have evolved over millions of years and they are determined by the chemicals available in the environment, in particular, from the raw materials available in food. Serotonin has emerged as a key neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, because it can be produced from these raw materials. You cannot just have any old chemical compound acting as a neurotransmitter; it has to have arisen through evolution under the deterministic constraints set by the laws of chemistry and the further constraints set by food/raw material availability.
Hence, serotonin is bound up with the chemistry of the environment. If the chemical constituency of the natural environment were radically different, Nature, or Gaia, would have had to have evolved completely different neurotransmitters complementary to the constraints set by that environment. In this sense, we are indeed what we eat and the notion that consensus reality is a popular serotonergic hallucination yields a formidably uncanny wisdom. Our minds, our very consciousness, depends upon the hardware of the brain, which in turn depends upon chemical structure, which further depends upon diet. Natural psilocybin mushrooms can enter ones diet, and the new chemicals subsequently operating within the brain will alter awareness so that consensual serotonergic reality shifts to a rare psilocybinetic reality.
Having said this much it should now be absolutely clear that the psilocybin experience is wholly natural, and that it arises out of an environmentally driven alteration in brain chemistry in so much as the psilocybin mushroom is part of the environment. There is nothing artificial about this process at all. Just as we can selectively pick wheat in order to make bread for our physical well-being, so too can we selectively consume natural psilocybin mushrooms for our spiritual well-being. Both wheat and mushroom are legitimate natural expressions of the Gaian system within which we are embedded. I think it unlikely that Koestler considered these environmental facts before making his negative judgements.
The second line of defence against Koestler's classic objections is that it is not certain that technological short-cuts - as he called them - are necessarily bad. Is not the Earth viewed from space satellites not beautiful? Viewed thus, is it really any less beautiful than if we were to build a really large ladder and thence clamber up to get the same view? Should we abandon all labour-saving technology and make things as hard as possible for humanity?
I think not. Huxley's vision in the Doors of Perception of a mass-marketed psychedelic that enlightens the world cannot be faulted on its technological methodology. If technology, pharmaceutical or otherwise, can hasten some form of Utopia then the only thing stopping this is a sense of distrust and guilt, arguably instilled more often than not by dogmatic religion. Indeed, Leary surmised that Koestler's mountaintop parable arose from a deep-seated Catholic guilt, a guilt that arises all too easily in the face of pleasure, ecstasy, and the limits of human freedom.
Having defended the idea of humanity-saving technology, I would once more remind the critical reader that psilocybin is not a technological product anyway. Koestler perceived it so because his psilocybin came in the form of a Sandoz pill, the perfect symbol of a modern technological fix. This is in direct contrast to the very earthly symbol of the wild mushroom.
When Koestler left Leary's company to return to New York, it was wryly noted that he did not walk back but got a plane. Leary concluded that to ignore psilocybin as a psychological tool would be akin to rejecting the microscope because it made seeing too easy, a good analogy since both tools uncover the hidden riches of Nature.
I think it safe to conclude that Koestler's negative attitude stemmed principally from his painful store of POW memories and the unresolved conflicts lying in the depths of his psyche. In particular, I would suggest, as did Leary, that Koestler's Catholic guilt played a large part in his rejection of the mushroom.
This same type of traditional religious guilt, which seems to have plagued man for time immemorial and which easily transforms itself into an oppressive drive against other people's freedom, was also displayed, amongst others, by the 19th century French poet Baudelaire who eventually came to be vehemently opposed to the use of psychoactive substances. Like other 19th century poets and writers such as Byron, Shelley, Balzac, De Quincey, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who reputedly wrote Kubla Khan after an opium reverie), Baudelaire had once used 'trendy' psychoactive plant products like opium and cannabis for creative purposes. Yet he later came to utterly despise them, as if they were the root of all that is evil and misleading, no less than the most cunning of the Devil's tools for thwarting mankind from reaching God.
The point is missed, almost deliberately it seems. These plant substances are not inherently evil, rather they become destructive if used in excess or for the wrong reasons, much as any benign substance can become harmful if used beyond sensibility. Had Koestler been in the possession of the right frame of mind and received the ultimate gift of the psilocybin mushroom, that is, had he perceived a direct communion with the transcendental Other and realised that this was a wholly natural phenomenon, then perhaps he would have embraced psilocybin's cultural healing potential.
It seems then, that if the potentially spiritual effects of the mushroom are likened to a torrent, or stream, then the stream can 'hit' the wrong human mind, or at least the wrong state of mind, causing the stream to be blocked. Where it cannot flow on and blossom, psilocybin's gloriously numinous potential will remain unrealised. God's flesh is clearly not everyone's 'meat'. Such an unfortunate fact must be considered at length before any kind of non-trivial psychedelic investigation be commenced.
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