Sunday, September 27, 2009

Psychedelics and Nutrition: Carnivorous Cultures vs. Fungal Cultures

One of the positive side effects of psychedelics is their ability to improve one's nutritional habits. Albert Hofmann relates in his book LSD: My Problem Child how extraordinarily his sense of taste was enhanced after his first LSD trip. The experience of great excitement one gets when biting into carrots or lettuce after a psychedelic experience -- sensing their rich sweetness -- is tantamount, for me, to eating for the first time after six days of fasting. Suddenly, each fruit and vegetable regains its original heavenly taste, as though we are experiencing, for the first time, the real taste of food.

Psychedelic Eating
Psychedelic experiences tend to change our relation to food in many other ways. Ayurveda and other spiritual traditions recommend performing a ceremony prior to eating: contemplating the source of your food, and conveying thanks for having given its life so that you can live.

Ayurveda also teaches us to dedicate our full attention to the food we are eating, in a manner befitting the act of sacrifice, while receiving the life of the food: not to talk while eating, not to watch television or read the newspaper, to eat in meditation, in concentration. Mindless eating is a sort of barbarism, like mindless murder.

Psychedelic experiences tend to change our relation to eating in a way parallel to that recommended by a number of spiritual traditions. Devouring food during a psychedelic experience, or shortly thereafter, bestows wholly new dimensions on the act of eating. I remember a special moment when, before consuming a grapefruit, I saw its glowing vivaciousness for the first time. I held it for minutes, which seemed like eternity: fondling it, inhaling its rich scent, feeling it alive and pulsating in my hand. I remember the moment of peeling its skin, which reminded me of defloration -- only much enhanced since our intercourse was totally unique and would happen only once, and end with our complete and irrevocable unification. The red flesh of the grapefruit was exposed for the first time to the light, and while I stripped away its skin, I intently watched its composition -- tens of thousands of miniature succulent fruit pieces interlaced into what seemed like a huge crimson wing, composed of myriad translucent membranes.

That feeling of endless intimacy that I shared with that grapefruit is difficult to describe. I felt as though it was the first time in my life that I was actually seeing what I was putting into my mouth, and this tremendously enhanced the experience of eating.

I ate together with friends, and the act of sharing the food reminded me of the act of grokking, which Robert A. Heinlein so famously describes in his book, Stranger in a Strange Land. I was not only eating the food, I was becoming one with it. The concept of eating finally received its full meaning -- as a mystical ceremony, an act of uniting, a sacred deed accompanied by the categorical imperative to completely change and give full respect to the food that I eat.

Pyschedelic Nutrition

I do not mean to claim that every person who will use psychedelics will change his nutrition. Of course, you can use psychedelics and still eat indiscriminately. One of the common impulses after a psychedelic experience is to run directly to the nearest hamburger stand. You can fall victim to it once, or even for many years, but a serious user of psychedelics will often start receiving messages which call upon him to:

1. Stop destroying your body with harmful nutrition. -- Malignant nutrition is the continuation on a personal level of the ecological pollution caused by the human race.

2. Stop taking the lives of others. -- Develop a moral basis to your nutrition. Start eating consciously -- because barbaric eating is the basis of barbaric existence.

Eventually, although many might disagree, the use of psychedelics is -- in my eyes -- incompatible with eating meat, or to be more exact, with eating the industrial meat grown in cattle concentration camps and consumed today in larger doses than at any other time in our civilization's history. A person who is in close contact with the mushroom (or other psychedelics) will eventually receive, again and again, that same message which calls upon him to forsake this path. He can ignore it once, twice, or even a hundred times -- but with many people, the message will eventually be heard. One stops eating meat or limits meat consumption one way or the other; I have seen this happen many times.

Amusingly, even those opposed to the use of psychedelics are aware, in some distorted way, of their influence on our eating habits. This Anti-LSD film from the sixties tells the story of a girl who takes an LSD trip for the first time and goes to a hot dog stand, ready to shove a hot dog voraciously into her mouth, but after she drowns her hot dog with ketchup and mustard she hears a voice. Suddenly she sees the hotdog as a living creature, and the creature begs her not to eat her and take her life. For the makers of the film, this awakening sensitivity is clear evidence for LSD having driven the poor girl crazy.

Carnivorous Cultures and Shroom Cultures

This brings me to the modern meat-addicted consumer society. While the mushrooms ban the eating of meat, carnivorous society bans the eating of mushrooms. Eating meat and eating mushrooms present, so it seems, two basically opposed cultural alternatives.

While the psychedelic alternative signifies the potential for a society based on awareness of our body, our ecological surroundings, and our fellow people, the meat society is a society based on:

Destruction of the Body -- Eating red meat is, according to many clinical studies, one of the prime factors contributing to cancer, heart problems and many other medical complications.

Ecological Damage – The UN has already declared that the gigantic mass of cattle which is being grown on planet earth, and the great amounts of methane gas emitted by these animals, is one of the chief reasons for global warming.

Economic Damage -- Caused by the growing medical expenses to take care of millions of meat-stuffed citizens suffering from cancer, heart problems and other medical complications caused by the excessive eating of meat.

Moral Damage -- The meat society is based on the mass-killing of life kept in concentration camp conditions. This society, based on sin, cannot help but be a basically violent society -- and this is without getting into the more abstract interpretations the various spiritual traditions give about the negative influence of meat-eating.

In comparison to the millions who die because of meat eating, the number of deaths caused by psychedelic mushrooms sold in Amsterdam during the years of legal purchase amounts to no more than a few dozen. (These tragic cases could have also been easily avoided, since in the vast majority of cases, users were hurt because of the inherently false capitalistic model in which the mushrooms were sold, which meant that people consumed mushrooms without deep knowledge, and while violating the basic laws of the intelligent use of psychedelics.)

Despite this overwhelming data, our society prohibits psychedelic mushroom eating and allows, or even advocates, the eating of meat. For the carnivorous society which sanctifies the values of war and carnage, the harmonious values of the mushrooms are an intimidating alternative which must be suppressed at any price, because they might raise questions about the entire carnivorous civilization, and its values of force and authority.

Eating meat and eating mushrooms are more than just two nutritional options -- they are cultural alternatives, different modes of thought: of relating to the body, to nature, to the other. As long as our society chooses to fortify the former by supporting monstrous corporations dedicated to the raising and killing of cattle, and ban the latter with billions of dollars spent on the “war on drugs,” it cannot pretend to be surprised about the bad shape in which our planet and culture find themselves.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Technomysticism: Consciousness in the Age of Technology

I am happy to announce that I have concluded the writing of my book Technomysticism: Consciousness in the Age of Technology. The book will be published this May in the Israeli Madaf publishing house. It was written in Hebrew, but hopefully it will be translated to English in the near future.

In a world which is rapidly shaped by a surge of new technologies, the ways in which sense, feel and think are changing incessantly. In this hyper-mediated world technological man has two options: To be a slave to technology or to become a technological kung-fu artist. Technomysticism is a discipline which deals with the question of how to use technology in harmony and awareness.

The book Technomysticism deals with the daily, intellectuals and spiritual implications of technologies such as the internet, cellular phones, digital cameras, television and psychedelic substances.

The book looks at questions such as: How consciousness is influenced daily by various technologies? How to live a spiritual life in a world composed of instant messages and perpetual stimulations? How a society with a technomystic awareness will look like? And why technology and media are an integral life of any inner search?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The psychedelic party of Israeli politics

The article was originally published in the Reality Sandwich web magazine.

What is the Geula Party? Is it a political statement? Art? A spiritual manifesto? The Geula party seeks to be all of the above, but it is first of all an attempt to transmit a radically different message to the Israeli people on the eve of the Israeli elections which will take place this Tuesday, on the 10th of February.

Like the Intergalactic Underground, the idea for the Geula Party came from voyages in the psychedelic realms. It was there, while traveling in inner space, that I confronted a voice which urged me: "In this chaotic reality in which you live, you have to raise your voice and say something that will break the wall of lies in which the people are caught, in which you yourself are caught."

"Israel," the voice said, "is in a psychotic state, and what it needs now is an holistic cure."

Psychedelically-induced voices tend to make some curious demands. This one called upon me to leave everything in my life in order to start a new party, one that will be radically different from everything Israeli politics has to offer, a psychedelic party which will bring a truly mind expanding message to the people. This was the Geula party.

"Geula" is the Hebrew biblical word for salvation or redemption, and it has an important part in Jewish thought about inner freedom and the end of time. The Geula Party uses both Israeli as well as Jewish symbols but plants them within a psychedelic context. It was designed to be an alien apparition in the field of Israeli politics, but all the while draw from the bank of the Jewish and Israeli collective unconscious.

So what is it? To put it briefly, I can call the Geula Party a consciousness expansion party. In contrast to the other parties that run for parliament, the Geula Party runs in the inner elections, i.e., the elections going on inside our consciousness (in Hebrew the word "elections" and the word "choices" are the same -- "B'chirot").

Who do we run against? Well, we run against various other inner parties and powers that compete for people's attention and state of mind. We run against carnivorous capitalism, the powers of nationalism, the powers of commercials and mass media, and also the powers of random choice, of just living your life with out making one truly aware choice.

During the past three weeks, since the end of the war in Gaza, we have been broadcasting campaign videos on the web, calling upon Israelis to wake up, to take active inner action and raise the voting turnout in their inner ballots. We have been arguing that while one can only vote every four years and while our influence on politics as individuals is rather limited, we are casting our inner votes at every moment, and our influence there is absolute. You can argue for hours in vain about the political situation, but spending a few minutes wisely exploring your consciousness can change your life. Maybe, we suggest, if people start making their inner choices/elections, then one day things will start getting better in the outer world too.

The Geula Party calls upon Israeli voters (And of course, on people wherever they are) to start taking responsibility for their lives, to drop out from the hoax of culturally defined reality and choose the good, choose the Geula.

The Medium is the Message, and the Message is You

Although I have been openly writing about psychedelics in Hebrew for the past few years, advertising an openly psychedelic party could have been highly unwise in the current Israeli context.

However, a program for psychedelic consciousness expansion for Israeli society was badly needed for the Geula Party to go anywhere. Some tools for our mind to grow needed to be developed. The nine-minute program, another transmission received from the other realms, became the main part of the political platform of the Geula Party.

The nine-minute program is a consciousness expansion program made up of nine one-minute, open-ended consciousness exercises designed to help people cope with life and to enhance abilities such as love, faith, gratitude, and connection with the cosmos, with the past, and with the future.

The idea of the nine-minute program was further developed into the Inner Product Market, a part of the Geula Party website which functions as a web 2.0 platform for consciousness expansion. The Inner Product Market enables people to upload consciousness exercises they developed, and enables others to download consciousness exercises from the site into their consciousness -- thus creating a community for collective consciousness expansion. The idea behind the IPM was to create a basis for a society which will not be based on polluting consumer products, but on consciousness "products," and in which we are not simply consumers but consumers and producers of consciousness.

What we say to people is that we have to assume responsibility for our consciousness. We advance this idea with the slogan: "The medium is the message and the message is you." Marshall McLuhan was of course the one who said that the medium is the message. Adding the statement that "The message is you" means that before all other media, the most primal medium is that of our bodies and consciousness, and these are the first media that need to be explored and taken as the base of our reality, rather than culturally defined identity.

Consecrating Dizingoff Center

On the 10th of February, election day, the Geula Party will meet in front of the Dizingoff Center Mall in the center of Tel Aviv to perform a special ceremony. The ceremony, which draws inspiration from biblical sources as well as from the actions of the Yippie movement in the sixties, is meant to consecrate the Dizingoff Center Mall which is a symbol of modern day Israeli society with all of its sickness but also with everything that is so beautiful about it.

During the ceremony we plan to encircle center mall seven times while blowing our horns, and then stage a special ceremony in which we will sing some songs, and perform twelve consciousness exercises, one of which will include trying to get inside the consciousness of the next prime minister, whoever they will be, purge them of everything that is evil, and make them into slaves and servants of justice for the rest of their life.

The peak of our ceremony will be the forming of the alliance of the righteous. The alliance of the righteous is the alliance of all the people who are willing to proclaim that in 2009 --whomever the next prime minister will be, whatever our politicians do, and what other forces in the world do -- we choose to assume responsibility for our lives, to be good, and to be happy.

Is this politics? Is this art? Is this mysticism? Terrence McKenna said the first thing every activist must do is to become psychedelic. We like to think of the Geula Party as psychedelic activism, as a movement which advances "art that is politics, politics that are art. Mysticism which is politic, and politics which are mystical".

Israeli politics of consciousness

I realize that this text might raise a few eyebrows. Is it even possible to talk about consciousness given the current situation of Israel?

Since the last elections three years ago, Israel has engaged in two wars, the prime minister had to resign over suspicions of corruption, and the country's international position has radically deteriorated. Israel has polled a few times as one of the most hated or negative countries in the world, along with Iran.

I spent the whole of yesterday evening trying to write an introduction to Israel's current situation. I've decided to leave it out of this article because it was too tedious to read and too painful to write.

I realize with sorrow what the image of Israel and Israeli society is at the moment. I have seen some amazing people here react in totally different ways to the essential impossibility of the Israeli situation, either by becoming nationalistic or by becoming anti-Israeli or just by trying to distance themselves completely from the situation in Israel, sometimes by immigrating to other countries.

After 30 years of living the politics of this scarred country, the more I try to explore and to understand the political situation I live in, the less I feel I know. Both left and right ideologies seem to have crumbled. I personally can not believe anyone who thinks they have a sure solution for the situation. And by this I don't mean to say that we shouldn't look for one.

The only thing I can say about the situation in Israel is that it is not simple. Thinking about it in purely political terms has brought me nowhere. The only thing it made clear to me is the overwhelming pain and fear that people here experience on both sides. It is easy to hate Israelis and it is easy to hate Palestinians, it is easy to pronounce both as fools or fanatics. I prefer to think of them as humans in a really really cruel situation. What I am looking for is a way to feel compassion for all these people, regardless of the horrible mistakes we are all making.

It is difficult to engage in the politics of consciousness in the current situation in Israel. What is allowed for psychedelic activists in other parts of the world is liable to be called escapist in the bleak Israeli reality. But for me, psychedelic activism makes more sense than any other form of activism.

The Geula Party believes that the solution must start from within. And if we do offer a political solution in the conventional sense of the word, then it must be a totally different one, one that starts out from the psychedelic revelation that we are all first and foremost human beings and that the cultural definitions which have been forced upon us are a hoax.

If you ask me about a solution for the situation, I would have different proposals, but the only really good one I would have is: People should be people and live together. There is no other way. The thing that put us in this horrendous situation to begin with is culture. Without culturally-defined identity, there would be no reason for people here or elsewhere to fight in wars. What we must realize is that we are all under occupation, the occupation of false consciousness, the occupation of culture.

If we want to live in peace we must first let go of those cultural definitions that have been forced upon us and which prevent us from living together as human beings. People must realize that before everything else, we are humans, and that everything that hinders people from understanding that is destructive and should not be part of our identity.

Jacques Ellul said in The Technological Society: There are no political solutions, only technological ones, the rest is propaganda. The human race simply deserve a better political system, one in which all people are truly equal, one which brings people together and does not divide them by imaginary lines on a map, a political system in which the hellish wars we are currently experiencing would seem ludicrous since there would be no system to even make it possible.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

How spam is driving us towards Artificial Intelligence

An interesting story by Dora Kishinevsky made me think about the way spam might be part of an evolutionary path pulling us towards artificial intelligence.

Kishinevsky is writing about the arms race between spammers and CAPTCHA systems. For those of you who've forgotten, CAPTCHA systems are those systems installed on many websites today in order to prevent spam and hinder bots from creating their own user accounts.

The CAPTCHA system demands proof that the user is human and not a bot. It verifies the user's humanity by asking him to retype a string of characters which are then presented in the form of a graphic image.

This worked fine for a while. The problem is that as spammer's Optical Character Recognition systems are getting better and better at their work, they also have more and more success in bypassing CAPTCHA systems. This created to the need update the CAPTCHA systems time and again, displaying less and less legible texts, in order to keep ahead of spammer's OCR abilities.

Today the characters displayed in the CAPTCHA image are often so deformed that human users themselves can't read them. The text on the screen appears distorted as if the computer is on some sort of trip, and if you yourself are not completely sharp and fit, you can surely forget about getting on the site.

New solutions include more advanced systems which play a recorded word and ask the user to type it. However as Voice Recognition software is a highly developing field today, this solution also seems temporary at best.

"Solving CAPTCHA riddles takes up more and more time" writes Kishinevsky. According to Kishinevsky the next stage might be:

"A system to distinguish bots from humans which will be based on pictures. In one of the experimental versions the user sees a number of pictures, for example a picture of a flower, an apple, a shoe and a glass of juice and has to click on the common element which joins them, say "red". In another version the user needs to choose one of the pictures according to a clue which is presented beside them, say "food", and mark the contour of the object with a mouse".

Because I find it hard to believe that we will defeat the bots, it makes me think that not much time will pass before the bots manage to do those things as well, tell us the names of objects in a picture and solve many other new kind of challenges which we will design in order to perform the task of the classic Turing Test, to try to tell bot from human.

In the end we might reach the moment in which we find no new suitable test, nothing which can help us decide who is bot and who is human. And then? Then we have actually reached some sort of artificial intelligence. Haven't we? And all because of the spammers. So don't you say spammers have no positive role in the world. They too might be part of the big plan.

Or maybe they might be driving us nearer to a technopocalypse. This might be a good time to remember digital prophet Daniel Suarez who says internet bots are one of the imminent dangers currently facing the human race.