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Heard Doctor Strassman on talk shows of late? His previous book must please the Jamesian tough-minded with its neuro-endocrinology more than this 'theurgified' escape from Occam's razor does. The monk used the method if not the Latin phrase for 'KISS'--'Keep it simple, stupid'/'Keep it sweet and simple'--well before being congratulated for the phrase, as I style it, 'entia non multiplicanda' (sunt understood)--'We must not multiply categories or hypotheses' beyond the elegant (as a fuller version goes). He so touts religio-theistic correlates of physiochemical experience as to argue theistic determinism of biology but not the reverse (4, 11). See the critical section on what his book does not propose (14 ff).
Strassman first overviews bible essentials prior to the first injection with DiMethylTriptamine. Part I wends through chemical intervention, the pineal gland--Descartes smiling--to religion candidates to harness his horse to. Come next in Part II basic Hebrew bible notions. Part III templates body, emotions, perception, cognition, volition/will, extended to relatedness, 'kavod' [Don't you hate it, for example, when gurus use Sanskrit-based terms?], messiahs, resurrection, wisdom, poetry, false prophets, and other escatological. Find here real peoples' experiences which Strassman interfaces with prophets' words, though with uneven cogency. Final parts cover the future of prophecy, if any, and both the metaphysics and a medico-theistic model of prophecy, ending in useful appendices and a narrow bibliography. The index helps and the language is unlikely to leave a college student or even a bright high-schooler in the fog of despond given his limpid style.
Important sections tell what DMT is (32-3), basic concepts (chapter 2), total somatic effects (40-4), and characteristics of the prophet (95-6). We here begin a crescendo of critique of his basic concepts. For 'consciousness' he unfortunately uses dictionaries, since he, like me, is not a philosopher, but unlike me, is not a psychologist with substantial socio-cultural knowledge. For him the 'with' of the 'knowing,' con/cum and scire (20), means internal faculties, rather than other persons amidst social forces. And 'awareness' attends to the outside despite the fact of our common-sense arousal by pain, joy, curiosity. What prevents us from awareness intrapsychically and interpersonally? He makes 'spiritual' (21) tow the line as sacred when that term, along with 'anima,' 'psyche,' 'pneuma,' 'phren,' 'merely' refers to breathing, between the in and out of which lie all the secrets of the universe as Taoists tell us. I quibble that 'altered' states (21) may just be infrequently 'variant.' Commendably, mystical experience (22) “may occur within or outside of a religious tradition.” Agreed, it “lacks imagery, concepts, and verbal content,” but I add that self-collection floods knowledge of verbal, graphic, musical contour through the funnel of people we call geniuses, a term now felt too vague. He claims “one's sense of self merges, unites, or 'becomes one' with [without the suggested “loss of the sense of self” (285) or “absorption” to the point of evanescence (?)] something 'other.'” He doesn't realize that 'other' doesn't need to stand ecstatically outside of oneself but can just be a bigger version of our self. Yet, I've seen worse definitions. I could commend him so long as he doesn't either impose theology on it or claim loss of anything while admitting a meaningfully growthful expansion of humane capacity.
Chapters ten to fourteen place bodily experiences of volunteers against prophetic statements. Such reports often coincide but diverge, as well, despite claimed similarity. Examples: vomiting versus bowels writhing in pain (117), a hammering heart versus no breath left in me (118), you are loved versus you shall love a deity (128), a woman's figure versus a fearsome statue (149), tangled in colors versus a stream I could not cross (169). It's hard to line up both languages.
The main issue is how to define 'prophet.' He, but never she (!), can't be relationally in tune with people in a 'mystical' way and still be apart. But that leading can become fascist. Cannot mutual outflowing relatedness create a sense 'union' with the other, even a child, the experience of whom reminds us of 'be as little children' (if we overlook capacities for meanness).
Strassman diverges from Buddhist-Hindu senses of nirvana which, among other things, James defines in the sense of a dying candle flame evanesced into smoke, leaving an unlit wordless vastness. Or do you prefer the world's rivers flowing into the ocean or a salt statue tossed into the sea, leaving a scarcely noticeable dispersion?
Strassman ignores important works: J. H. Austin, M. D., Zen-Brain Reflections; W. Barker, M. D., Brain Storms; W. Bartley III, Werner Erhard; Howard Becker, “Becoming a Marijuana User,” American Journal of Sociology, 59(3): 235-242; R. M. Bucke, M. D., Cosmic Consciousness; M. Csikszentmihalyi, Flow; B. Ehrenreich, Living with a Wild God; W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience; M. Daniels, Shadow, Self, Spirit; R. A. Havens, Self Hypnosis for Cosmic Consciousness; M. Laski, Ecstasy; R. Otto, The Idea of the Holy; E. Underhill, Mysticism, and many similar works; Robert A. Vaughan, Hours with the Mystics; R. G. Wasson, The Road to Eleusis; R. Zaehner, Mysticism Sacred and Profane. I don't recommend all, but a Strassman must know them. Perhaps the next edition?
I wish Strassman could trace biology through social psychology and historical culture. A training so narrowly physiochemical won't work. Becker suggests you can't absorb raw experience without experienced users' explanations rooted in the times. An experiential virtuoso like Teresa of Avila expresses herself in archaic religious terms, while today we describe a trip of hunger, laughter, and interpersonal buzz. Wasson says Plato passed an apprenticeship in the Eleusinian Mysteries using a cousin of LSD, a fungal wheat 'rust,' enabling the philosopher to bring his endowments to the table, 'garbage in garbage out' for the rest of us. Bucke describes Jacob Boehme flooded with knowledge as the gleam of a polished pewter vessel dazzles him as if he 'had passed through universities.'
Nor can he ignore Werner Erhard's aha! on the way to work between Corte Madera and the Golden Gate producing an integrative cognitive-emotional theory and an organization through which 'bodhisattva-ized' legions passed (myself excluded, though his mere presence in Kobo Hall, Detroit, was integrative for me, hardly hearing his 'world hunger' speech).
With a fuller psycho-physio-cultural background he might have shown the neuroendocrinological path through cultural expressions of that biology. He did not Occamize--simply explaining physiochemical processes dripped through coffee-grounds of socio-cultural constructs. He embodies monotheistic commitments in a deus ex machina that gratuitously burdens a portrait hard enough to paint in minimalist terms. He'd have begun well to strip 'kavod,' 'glory,' (285) of deities, avoiding pifalls like 'loss of sense of self' while favoring intrapsychic-interpersonal fulfilment.
© 2014 Anthony P. Bober
A.P. Bober has studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical" view. His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with publications in the first two fields. Currently he is writing a book on mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neuroendocrinology.