According to the entheogen theory of religion: religion is essentially rooted in the experience of intense psychedelic tripping, the world religions consist of collections of stories which serve as metaphorical descriptions of psychedelic experiences (in particular the experience of mystical death and rebirth/ressurection/transformation).

This theory fits with the scientific evidence that entheogenic drugs trigger mystical/religious type experiences when they are administered in an appropriately conducive setting (the recent Johns Hopkins psilocybin study concluded this).

It would be interesting to get the atheist take on this theory, the issue here isnt religious beliefs (such as the belief in God) but rather religious/mystical/transcendent experiences of the kind that people commonly experience under the influence of entheogenic/psychedelic substances.

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@Gallups- I am a person who have had these experiences from drugs and other means that do not require carpet bombing my brain with chemicals. And even  i really can not understand how the hell they draw these conclusions from it. Just because it is a real subjective experience does not mean the experience in any way correlates to objective reality. For me to accept that would it not logically require objective proof?

Gallup- "Oi, he's just makin' it up as he goes along!"- life of Brian.

@ Gallup's Mirror

"It only "makes sense" if you blow your brains out on psychedelic drugs"

You need to take psychedelic drugs in order to know what these kind of experiences are like, but it is still possible to understand to some extent that psychedelic drugs cause religious experiences without ever taking the drugs because there is plenty of testimony and scientific evidence about what the drugs do.

@Gallup's Mirror Untrue. I replied in an earlier post that I'm in total agreement with John's comment, so I'm not at loggerheads. I rephrased my comment to say that it's pointless to ask the thoughts and opinions of people who are completely close-minded about this topic, as there are many here. Because if you refer to my original comment, I do make reference to the backlog of experiences I've had with some of the users here at TA who completely and flat-out deny the evidence, such as yourself.

But I do disagree with your statement that psychedelics do not cause "religious experience," because as John said, there's plenty of scientific evidence backing the fact that they do cause these type of experiences. So, would you kindly stop denying the evidence? Well, you're obviously not, and that's exactly what I mean by the backlash of close-minded responses.

The Johns Hopkins study confirmed that psilocybin causes mystical type experiences, and that study was an update of the psilocybin study at Harvard in the sixties which concluded the same thing, psilocybin is a 'mystagenic' compound. It is very well established now that this is what the 'entheogenic' class of drugs do, it is the reason the name 'entheogen' was coined in the first place. Entheogen means something like 'causing an experience of God'.

As Mckenna acknowledged with his comment about 'psychedelic and clueless', this does create a broad division between the psychedelic insiders who know about the awesome potential of these drugs, versus the 'clueless' outsiders who havent discovered the psychedelic cognitive dynamics.

Hoffman explains how the esoteric interpretation of religious myth is only recognised by the psychedelic initiates. The 'clueless' outsiders interpret religious myths as literal stories of actual people and historical events, whereas the esoteric psychedelic insiders recognise the religious myths as descriptions of their own altered state experiences.

Jesus explains the 'psychedelic or clueless' principle in Mark 4 with his 'parable of the sower':

"Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,

“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
    and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’[a]

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?"

As Mckenna acknowledged with his comment about 'psychedelic and clueless', this does create a broad division between the psychedelic insiders who know about the awesome potential of these drugs, versus the 'clueless' outsiders who havent discovered the psychedelic cognitive dynamics.

Hoffman explains how the esoteric interpretation of religious myth is only recognised by the psychedelic initiates. The 'clueless' outsiders interpret religious myths as literal stories of actual people and historical events, whereas the esoteric psychedelic insiders recognise the religious myths as descriptions of their own altered state experiences.

@John Burrows I've never heard McKenna's distinction elaborated in such a way, but I like the way you've laid it out there. I've always felt the same way in terms that if a person has not had experience is, in a way, are only in reliance of their ego to attempt to understand his/her situation, i.e. their life and their place in the universe, etc. while the person who has had this experience then interprets or recognizes, as you said, religious language or metaphors as kind of attributes or, I like your use of description instead, of this state of mind which I believe it goes without saying that we all kind of tap into this universal state in that there's universal and archetypal motifs in this experience, because if there weren't, then of course, we wouldn't be able to "recognize" it as so, as well as the the allusions that accompany this state of the very ego itself being part of this "illusion," and once you have all that, you, as Terence once said, "can return to everyday life more like an actor on a stage rather a person caught in a universe they can't understand."

Here's the full quote by Terence that relates to this, I believe, it was his response when asked, "What is a shaman?":

"The shaman visits the end. All that precedes the end, in other words, it's like turning to the last page of the novel and finding out how it all comes out, once you know how it all comes out, you're free from the ordinary anxiety of worry and concern, you return to your place in time more like an actor on a stage rather than a person caught in a universe they can't understand. That's the key thing, they shaman understands the universe in which he or she is living and the rest of us are only provisionally groping to understand, and this understanding is achieved through this higher dimensional view point. The shaman literally looks down on time as a king looks down on his kingdom from his castle." -Terence McKenna

Jimmy it is nice to see a person who has done their entheogenic homework, you are clearly very well read on this subject.

Regarding Mckenna, thanks for posting that youtube link of Mckenna talking about Allegro's "Jesus=mushroom" theory. It is important to see the difference between Allegro's theories about christianity versus Michael Hoffman's theories about it. Hoffman agrees with Allegro that the historical Jesus didnt exist, the stories about Jesus are mythological symbolism not literal history. But Allegro differs from Hoffman in terms of their theories about what the symbolism actually symbolises (ie they disagree about the meaning of the symbols). Allegro interpreted the stories as references to physical amanita (not psilocybe) mushrooms, but Hoffman interprets them as references to entheogenic experiencing, psychedelic altered state phenomenology. This is the interpretation that Mckenna failed to recognise, he didnt see that Christianity is basically one massive arrow pointing to the psychedelic experience (particularly mystical ego death). As you can hear in that youtube clip, Mckenna even distances himself from Allegro's theory (he says "im not even sure if this is true" right after he introduces it)

So Mckenna got christianity completely wrong, and he didnt realise the maximal entheogen theory of religion. Michael Hoffman is a considerably more advanced thinker than Mckenna was in terms of his understanding of the altered state and its relevance to religion. The religiously transformed mind can interpret all religious/mystical/mythological symbolism as descriptions of altered state phenomena

Almost every idiot has heard by now the theory that the Eleusinian mystery initiates were tripping out on *something*, but it is a far more controversial claim to say that entheogenic experiences were what influenced the early christians (as opposed to an actual man named 'Jesus', but that's a whole other discussion).

@John Burrows You know, if I could find them, I'll try and link you to some other talks where McKenna differs in his view from John Allegro. McKenna didn't believe that Amanita muscaria was the culprit behind the Beatific vision of Christianity. He'd often make the point of Amanita muscaria being unreliable in producing the "ego death" phenomenon. He always argued over Wasson and Allegro that a psilocybin-containing mushroom is more likely to have been the original psychedelic.

The portion where he said that he wasn't sure if it were true or not is the idea of Jesus not existing as a person, but as symbolism.

One thing that I'm not sure about in Hoffman's theory is he relates this "ego death" experience to a fatalism. Terence was not a hard determinist, and the whole idea behind Hoffman's website is to define the "ego death" phenomenon as the revelation of hard determinism. Michael Hoffman mentions in his website the recently deceased guru of India, Ramesh Balsekar, who proclaims something similar of eastern religion, that the "enlightenment" emphasized in eastern religion is the insight of an Eternalism that is exactly aligned with Hoffman's concept on "ego death," except Ramesh doesn't pin psychedelics as the sole route to this enlightenment, but perhaps one path of many to it.

So how many prof/grad students that study M-theory are also heavy drug users? A few I expect, but I also expect that one does not 'need' DRUGS to do the work, but only a good clear mind. If you are some super-person, while on drugs, but otherwise 'no-one-special', off drugs, is this about an internal self perception, or are the results subject to peer review? If your brain is mush, I expect that the results would be just more of the same! Ever experienced 'word salad' from some of the mentally disturbed? It can be very interesting... 

Joe Rogan once asked Michio Kaku if he'd try out psychedelics, but Kaku declined. I'll post a link to that, because your question is sort of answered in this piece. I'm going to try and link to a specific portion of the video, but if you don't have an ad blocker on, it may start at the beginning. If it does, the spot is 1h14m58s.

Joe Rogan interviews Graham Hancock

Because this phenomenon is a phenomenon in consciousness, it's very hard for peer-review to tease apart exactly what's going on. I mean, neuroscience doesn't even have a description of consciousness, and so the topic is very slippery to begin with. However, the best we can do is basically what Dr. Rick Strassman has done with his research by administering these powerful psychedelics at various dose ranges, and then closely interviewing each volunteer over their impression of it. I'm not sure if you're familiar with Strassman's book "DMT: The Spirit Molecule," but he has detailed research involving intravenously injecting volunteers with pure N,N-Dimethyltryptamine.

I want to make a point relative to your question, James. Now, in my own experience with psychedelics and speaking to many others about it, one common theme I've noticed within these type of experience is the appearance of "fractals." These things at lighter doses, say, of psilocybin only appear as slight distortions in your vision, but if you are to raise the dose, then what initially appears as a subtle distortion that overlay anything you may be viewing then contorts everything within your view into fractals. It's very similar to the iron filings that will contort themselves into a specific pattern when in close contact with the magnet. Now, on the light doses, you can imagine these transparent hallucinatory distortions by metaphor of a magnet sort of being at a distance away from the iron filings to the point where the filings sort of slightly oscillate toward it, but don't necessarily all contort into this pattern due to the magnet not being within close enough range, also due to the fact that this is often the result of a light dose. Now, with the higher dose, it's as though the magnet comes within range to contort all the iron fillings into this pattern. Well, these hallucinations are something like that, and with the higher doses, you tend to see this very specific fractal pattern appear.

Now, as an aside, I believe I've mentioned Jason Padgett in other threads, who is basically your everyday average joe that is until one day he was mugged and brutally beaten. The severe concussion he sustained to his head caused brain damage on one portion of his brain that forced his brain to overcompensate in areas of the brain that are dormant in most people. He went from being a guy who could care less about math, to a mathematical savant due to his ability to see fractals in every direction.

I've never read any theory as to why "fractals" are such a common motif within these experiences, but it's interesting to note that the looms of the brain itself are fractal, and perhaps this is a factor in this phenomenon. I apologize for this long-winded response to your question, James, but here's my summation:

After reading through Strassman's book, I was surprised to never find an instance of the word "fractal" even mentioned! Now, the conclusion I came to is that perhaps just as most people aren't aware or truly understand the concepts behind "M-theory," a lot of people are unfamiliar with the term "fractal," and perhaps have not even heard the word before. So, obviously, the next best word or phrase to describe a "fractal" is something like a "geometric pattern," or "kaleidoscopic imagery," or "mandalic imagery," phrases of which are mentioned throughout the book by the volunteers when describing their hallucinations. It even took Jason Padgett a while to realize that what he was witnessing was, in fact, fractals, but prior to his concussion, he had no clue what a fractal was. So, I agree with what you implied, James, a person well-versed in M-theory or just a person who is exceptionally articulate will be able to get more out of the experience or perhaps just be able to express it better. This is precisely why Humphry Osmond gave Aldous Huxley mescaline, because he knew that Huxley was an extremely articulate writer and perhaps could he could express what may be going on. If you clicked the link to that interview, Joe Rogan talks about how he asked if Michio Kaku would ever consider taking psilocybin mushrooms, but unfortunately Kaku declined. 

How are you 'not sure' about this part of Hoffman's theory? This is not the entheogen theory of religion, the issue of determinism/fatalism relates more strongly to Hoffman's other theory, the cybernetic theory of ego transcendence (or the ego death theory). Hoffman employs the model of the 4-dimensional block universe (where time is the 4thspatial dimension, the universe is an eternally frozen 4-dimensional block) to explain the experience of radical control loss in the psychedelic state of consciousness (psychotic bad trip)

@ John Burrows The way it's presented in Hoffman's website seems to imply that these things go hand in hand, that is the "Entheogen theory of Religion" and the "Cybernetic Theory of Ego Transcendence." That the "ego death" experience, in a way, has always been the insight of hard determinism according to Hoffman.

I find it an interesting take on "ego death," because in my own experience with psychedelics, the whole reason I stumbled across Hoffman's website is because I felt the psychedelic experience was some how revealing the illusion of free will, and when I typed to see if anyone else was getting that impression in Google, that led me to Hoffman's website. So, I thought that a peculiar coincidence that it wasn't simply my own impression, but other people were getting that, too.

Terence's argument against determinism was extremely weak in light of his strongly deterministic theories about time and the eschaton. It only takes up about 1 sentence in 'invisible landscape'. Rational, critical thought leads inevitably to determinism, and psychedelic exploration also leads inevitably towards deterministic ego death.

Yes, because the psychedelic experience seemed to imply a "hard determinism," I became obsessed with the idea, and it's a common topic that springs up every now and then on this forum. But usually, the furthest it'll get is a discussion about Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, Gödel's incompleteness theorems,  quantum indeterminacy, etc. You know, things which throw a wrench in trying to make sense out of all this. I thought Terence had some pretty weak arguments for libertarian free will, because he seemed to side with the notion that there exist some kind of existential libertarian free will. I want to quote a segment from the Hazelwood House Trialogue, he says at 35:38:

“If a prophecy comes true, does that mean then that in principle all of the future is determined? You see, we have to avoid determinism here because a true determinism means thinking is pointless, because in a rigid determinism you think what you think because you couldn’t think anything else. So the concept of truth is utterly without meaning in a rigid determinism.”

If I had to comment on the "truth" in the light of a "hard determinism," I'd imagine it to mean that every moment is an experience of "truth" in some sense, because every moment is an inevitability in a "rigid determinism." There's another mention of this is in his talk "Philosophical Gadfly" at the 2h25m26s mark.

That is the primary project, the secondary project is then to demonstrate how all religious myths describe the experience of discovering timeless determinism in the intense altered state. According to the entheogen theory, there was no historical Jesus or historical Buddha/Mohammed/Moses etc. All these stories are mythic symbolism that allegorically describe tripping, they are not singular historical events. Anyone can trip out and witness the transformative beautific vision (if only they know the secret forbidden technique), not just some singular historical person who lived 2000 years ago. The historical individual is utterly unimportant, what really matters is the experience that they are depicted as going though – entheogenic ego death.

I'm not sure if you're familiar with Aldous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy," which basically a similar idea, that all religion has its root in "mystical experience" or the "ego death experience." I agree with you about Ramesh, I've never come across anything written about Ramesh where he discusses psychedelics, because I've read a couple of his books, and I've seen some videos of his on YouTube. He does seem like a well-read person on all these topics, so I only assumed that perhaps he's considered psychedelics. Alan Watts, on the other hand, who was good friends with Huxley, would often express this view of "Perennial Philosophy" as well in his talks, but Watts, like Huxley didn't see psychedelics as the sole root to this experience. I linked to this in an earlier post, but I'll re-post it. Watts doesn't use the term "ego death," but he does use Richard M. Bucke's term "cosmic consciousness," and he also spoke of the founders of religions not as symbolisms as Hoffman does, but as normal human beings.

Alan Watts discussing "Cosmic Consciousness" as the root of religion

So, that's why I find this title "Entheogen Theory of Religion" to be somewhat misleading only if you interpret it through Huxey's "Perennial Philosophy." In other words, the title "Entheogen Theory of Religion" seems to imply only the imbibing of psychedelics can produce the "ego death" experience. I know Michael Hoffman doesn't believe that there were such people as Gautama, Christ, Muhammad, etc., but if, say, someone like Gautama were a real person, then it's possible that he could have had an experience of "ego death" naturally through meditation. However, "Entheogen Theory of Religion," as I mentioned earlier could still fit if you include Strassman's conjecture, that even in the natural experience through meditation, it may come back to an entheogen, because he speculates that the natural experience may be a result of an induction of endogenous N,N-DMT.

@ Jimmy

Do you really believe that people can experience ego death just by meditating?

@ John Burrows Have you ever looked into the case of Ramana Maharshi or other practitioners of Advaita Vedanta? The insight they arrive at seem quite on par with the insight one takes from psychedelics. 

I'm not sure if you've ever read Strassman's work, but he speculates that what meditation may be is a natural induction of endogenous N,N-DMT.

Now, I meditate, and have never been able to produce any psychedelic-like experience through it, but I don't believe I've been able to do it properly. I've explained this in another thread, so I'm going to copy and paste it here, but make some edits as some of the stuff I go over we've already established in this thread, like your comments on Ramesh Balsekar, for instance.

All the Buddha demanded from the devotee was nothing less than the extinction of the ego. So, in my own investigation, I've come to see Buddhistic meditation as a kind of quietism, an experiment in consciousness where the purpose, in way to put it, is the cessation of thoughts. Now, that may seem anti-intellectual pastime, but I think you'd find, if you were to attempt it, you'd find it's quite a difficult psychological endeavor.

The more I look into meditation as practiced in ancient India, the more it seems to imply that what is going on in meditation, is not only the cessation of thought, but the cessation of "personal will." Now, perhaps, this is what Gautama truly meant by "desire," after all, "desire" is what was translated by scholars in trying to decipher the Sanskrit and Pali languages. But I think "desire" leads to all these other connotations that may cause confusion, I believe that perhaps what was meant by Gautama was something more subtle than "desire," and that is "personal will," your sense of "agency." So, it's not only thought that is an obstacle in meditation, but also your sense of "personal will."

Since you seemingly direct your thoughts, they are included in your impression of "personal will" or "doership" as they call it in India, but notice there is also emphasis on breath. So, aside from the powerful obstacle of thoughts, there is also the obstacle of breath. In other words, you can feel as though you inhale or exhale, and that you will this to happen, but the goal of breath in meditation, if it is the cessation of "persona will" is to breathe involuntarily as in sleep. Do you will your breath in sleep? Gurus even speak of meditation being a "conscious sleep," and sleep an "unconscious meditation."

So, I think what one is attempting to rid of in meditation is this personal sense of "agency." Of course, you cannot "try" and rid of your thoughts. That would be paradoxical as in attempting to rid of your ego with your ego. There is a common analogy in eastern philosophy of a ripples the water of a pond representing thoughts, in order for the pond to become still, it must be left alone. This silencing of the mind is the emphasis of meditation.

Art of Meditation

As you probably know, there's speculation of DMT involved in the REM stage of sleep when the heavy dreams are taking place. If you ever watched someone smoke DMT, within about a minute, they seem to instantly enter into a state of REM. Likewise, if you ever watched some of these documentaries of the fMRI tests that have been done on Tibetan monks or Zen Buddhists, during meditation they, too, instantly undergo REM. Coincidence? 

Now, I know Terence McKenna often rejected the idea that one could enter these states "on the natch," but he later in life admitted that perhaps this was a possibility, and that endogenous N,N-DMT had something to do with it because he had enough people come up to him and make this claim throughout his life.

Michael Hoffman's take is interesting to me, because of its inference to fatalism. You know, here's a lot of rhetoric in eastern philosophy and in religion in general surrounding the concepts of predestination and free will. For instance, in Hinduism, you'll often hear the rhetoric such as "There is no doer" or "nondoership" basically referring to free will as an illusion. We've mentioned Ramesh Balsekar's interpretation where he claims, yes, there is a cosmic law, and if you somehow distinguish this veil of "ego," which he does equate to the seeming impression one has of having a "personal will," then you see that all your actions (or anyone's actions) weren't necessarily your actions, but the actions of the universe itself. This is also called "nondoership" or "akarma" in Hinduism which seems quite congruent with the notion of "ego death."

Perhaps this is why there's a lot of talk in Buddhism of "sentient beings," and that no matter where "sentient beings pop-up" or "life arises" in the multiverse, they ultimately have to succumb to this principle of predeterminism. It's an interesting concept, because then it says no matter how evolved a sentient being may be, it is in a way, no superior nor inferior to any other being (or thing, for that matter). I like to imagine that maybe this is why a Buddha can sit in total acceptance and content.

If you do take into consideration this interpretation, then it's as though they (buddhas) do not feel impelled to tell others of their insight, because from their perspective, everyone is, in a way, exactly how they should be according to this cosmic law. So, it wouldn't matter either way if they were ignorant to this revelation or not, there's no urgency for them to awaken from the hypnosis of the ego. So, they're not going to come knocking on your door in the fashion of Jehovah's witnesses in attempt to "awaken" you. What do you think?

@ Jimmy

“Have you ever looked into the case of Ramana Maharshi or other practitioners of advaita vedanta? The insight they arrive at seem quite on par with the insight one takes from psychedelics”

Per the entheogen theory of religion, advaita vedanta functions as a philosophical model of what is discovered during intense entheogenic cognition; Brahman the ultimate reality that is the source of everything. But as far as I know Ramana Maharshi never tripped out on entheogens.

“I'm not sure if you've ever read Strassman's work, but he speculates that what meditation may be is a natural induction of endogenous N,N-DMT.”

He makes this claim amongst many other similarly baseless speculations, such as DMT coming from the pineal gland. I don't see any real value or relevance in Strassman's work, the only thing that is interesting about Strassman is that he was the only scientist who got the chance to do experimentation on human subjects with DMT. He didnt discover anything particularly interesting in his experiments, which is why he is only known for making these arbitrary speculations like 'DMT might get released when people dream or meditate' etc etc

“I meditate, and have never been able to produce any psychedelic-like experience through it, but I don't believe I've been able to do it properly.”

People don't typically experience anything that is remotely similar to intense psychedelic tripping during sober meditation, try to find an experience report that states otherwise. The (vanishingly rare, and suspect) exceptions prove the rule, the typical effect of meditating is a sense of calm and relaxation, nothing like the frenetic mental firework display of a strong acid/mushroom/DMT trip. Don't be hypnotised by drug-war lies and propaganda like the claim that you can trip without drugs just by meditating, it is very insidious but with your entheogenic awareness you ought to be able to see through it.

“Now, I know Terence McKenna often rejected the idea that one could enter these states "on the natch," but he later in life admitted that perhaps this was a possibility”

I was unaware that Mckenna changed his view about this, do you have a quote from him about this? I think that the important issue is not whether drug-free tripping is a “possibility”, but rather it is the point that drugs are the only immediate, repeatable and reliable way to trigger intense tripping (Hoffman uses the term “ergonomic” to describe this quality of drugs). It might be true that some people rarely trip out when they meditate, but by contrast everbody, always trips out when they take a sufficient does of entheogenic drugs.

“If you do take into consideration this interpretation, then it's as though they (buddhas) do not feel impelled to tell others of their insight, because from their perspective, everyone is, in a way, exactly how they should be according to this cosmic law. So, it wouldn't matter either way if they were ignorant to this revelation or not, there's no urgency for them to awaken from the hypnosis of the ego. So, they're not going to come knocking on your door in the fashion of Jehovah's witnesses in attempt to "awaken" you. What do you think?”

I think that these 'Buddhas' who you describe here are oversimplifying by not taking into account Mckenna's distinction of psychedelic and clueless.

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