Hard Determinism: A False Dichotomy

Determinism and Reciprocal Causation

Intelligence organizes the world by organizing itself.” ~Jean Piaget

An argument which proves too much, proves nothing.” ~M.M. Mangasarian

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” ~Albert Einstein

Carl Popper advocated the concept of scientific falsifiability. He asserted that a hypothesis, proposition, or theory is observably valid only if it is falsifiable. This criterion has become a fundamental test of scientific validity. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

Falsifiability or refutability of an assertion, hypothesis or theory is the logical possibility that it can be contradicted by an observation or the outcome of a physical experiment. That something is “falsifiable” does not mean it is false; rather, that if it is false, then some observation or experiment will produce a reproducible result that is in conflict with it.

Causality, as a proposition, states that every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause. This is a falsifiable scientific principle, testable by observation or experiment.

Determinism, as a proposition, states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. This is a philosophical assertion that is not scientifically falsifiable for complex organisms, like humans (as opposed to inanimate objects): it can not be proven by observation or experiment. However, it is falsifiable for inanimate objects.

This distinction between inanimate objects and animate beings is often overlooked (i.e. ignored) by hard determinists. They would have you believe that physics recognizes no causal difference between a brain and a rock: that both are just collections of atoms controlled by causality in exactly the same way. They, in effect, deny possession of their own minds and with foolish certainty sacrifice common sense to the altar of material reductionism. Albert Einstein warned against such doctrinaire edicts when he said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Knowledge is a relatively safe addiction; that is, until it becomes idolatry. Certainty is an illusion. It’s not determinism versus free will; one or the other. That’s a false dichotomy. There are other possibilities: ones you’re likely to miss if you take the wrong approach. And, with their emphasis on the material reductionism, hard determinists are taking the wrong approach. The fact is, physics is concerned with the inanimate universe. Biology is concerned with animate life. Physics deals with simple inanimate objects. Biology deals with complex animate organisms and beings. Physics is amazing and glamorous . . . but it’s the wrong discipline to apply to the question of free will.

I hate using the term, ‘free will’: it suggests we are free of causality. We are greatly influenced by causality but not absolutely so. To me, free will — at minimum — requires the ability to make choices. We are goal-seeking creatures who daily demonstrate individual and group purpose. We plan and execute plans. That means making choices. The challenge is to explain how. There are causal differences between rocks and brains. By denying this fact, hard determinists are erecting a false dichotomy that makes things ‘simpler than possible’.

Eugene Wigner was a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist and mathematician. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics for “his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles“. Wigner is important for having laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics as well as for his research into the structure of the atomic nucleus. Wigner is also important for his work in pure mathematics, having authored a number of theorems.

In his famous and thought-provoking essay, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”, Wigner mentioned the inanimate nature of physics 5 times:

  1. “The physicist is interested in discovering the laws of inanimate nature.”
  2. “However, the point which is most significant in the present context is that all these laws of nature contain, in even their remotest consequences, only a small part of our knowledge of the inanimate world.”
  3. “It should be mentioned, for the sake of accuracy, that we discovered about thirty years ago that even the conditional statements cannot be entirely precise: that the conditional statements are probability laws which enable us only to place intelligent bets on future properties of the inanimate world, based on the knowledge of the present state.”
  4. “It surely is not a “necessity of thought” and it should not be necessary, in order to prove this, to point to the fact that it applies only to a very small part of our knowledge of the inanimate world.”
  5. “A much more difficult and confusing situation would arise if we could, some day, establish a theory of the phenomena of consciousness, or of biology, which would be as coherent and convincing as our present theories of the inanimate world.”

Note, in particular, that last one (#5). The possibility of understanding the many phenomena of life is a far-off dream and far from assured compared to the progress we’ve already made in physics. Biology deals with animate, phenomenal, complex systems. Physics deals with inanimate, physical, matter/energy . . . not because of some arbitrary classification but because they are fundamentally divergent.

The difference between physics and biology is an important one. Any single cell in your body (of which there are over 200 kinds) includes more processes and performs more functions than any single inanimate object in the universe. Furthermore, our bodies contain more of these cells than The Milky Way contains stars – and that doesn’t even take bacteria into consideration. We are complex systems of complex systems. Animate beings (most notably, humans) are unlike anything else in the universe and dwarfs the inanimate universe in complexity.

I believe the fundamental reason for the divergence between physics and biology is because inanimate objects and animate beings have different modes of response to causality. According to the laws of physics, inanimate objects are highly predictable: given the relevant variables, science can predict outcomes with a high level of accuracy. But animate beings are another matter entirely. They are far less predictable and this lack of predictability increases with the complexity of the organism in question (humans being the most complex).

For brevity’s sake, let’s stick to humans. The properties of human intelligence evolved to take advantage of the properties of causality: namely, it’s linear, sequential, alignment with time (temporality) and its repeatable predictability (consistency). Because causality flows with the unidirectional arrow of time and produces consistent results, we can have a measure of confidence in our ability to anticipate and prepare for those predicted results.  The many simultaneous external streams of feedback between us and the environment (the present) is augmented by internal mental feedback from our memories and experience (the past) in a non-linear process known as ‘reciprocal causation‘. Causes and effects — internal and external, past and present — combine in our brains to produce a “homogenized” perception of reality. Our decisions (choices) are then based on those perceptions. In effect, causes and effects integrate and lose their differences. The resulting choices we make are simultaneously causes and effects.

I suspect that reciprocal causation is where the “window of opportunity” for human purpose (self-determinism) exists. This is how choices are made without violating causality . . . because, for us, causality isn’t merely in the moment; sequential, linear and simple — it’s augmented by past experience; reciprocal, non-linear and complex. Reciprocal causation represents the most advanced known mode of response to causality because it allows us to interact with it in complex ways through myriad, simultaneous, feedback streams: internal and external, past and present, with an eye toward the future. The causal difference between a rock and a brain is radical and immense. Our ability to recognize, remember, understand and anticipate causality provides a rich internal environment not present or possible for inanimate objects. The difference is interactivity as opposed to mere reactivity: reciprocal causation as opposed to linear causation. Intelligence incorporates the past, present and future to anticipate and prepare for causality — thereby providing us a temporal advantage over causality. When you think about it, how could you have intelligence without anticipating causality?

Reciprocal causation is a fundamental principle of biology found in many processes such as epigenetics and neurophysiology. With reciprocal causation, an action is both cause and effect (Richard C. Francis, Epigenetics, page 124). It is not limited to biological phenomena and, contrary to intuition, is not a violation of causality. Reciprocal causation  is central to complex systems and their emergent phenomena such as consciousness and life itself. The operative mechanism in reciprocal causation is feedback between us and our environment.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines feedback:

Feedback is a process in which information about the past or the present influences the same phenomenon in the present or future. As part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop, the event is said to “feed back” into itself. Ramaprasad (1983) defines feedback generally as “information about the gap between the actual level and the reference level of a system parameter which is used to alter the gap in some way”, emphasizing that the information by itself is not feedback unless translated into action.

Conscious intelligence is not “all in the brain” – it’s an amalgam of feedback between 3 components: the brain, sensory organs and environment. If you never had any one of these 3 components, you could never develop conscious intelligence.

Triadic reciprocal causation is a term introduced by Albert Bandura to refer to the mutual influence of feedback between three sets of factors: personal (e.g., cognitive, affective and biological events), the environment and behavior. He groups the brain and sense organs under “personal factors” (which also include experience and genetics) but the interplay between brain, sensory organs and the environment are still maintained. Because of triadic feedback, our behavior influences the environment, dynamically altering it – as it alters us – in a perpetual feedback loop. This transformative process is where, I believe, human purpose is formed.

How accurately any of this reflects reality is a matter of opinion. We simply don’t know enough about the brain to understand even simple processes – much less complex ones like self-aware intelligence or free will. What it suggests to me is that trying to explain biological processes with physics is like trying to observe the moon through a microscope. You need the whole picture: not a narrow focus. The material reductionism of physics is the wrong approach to a complex system; and the human brain is the most complex system in the universe. A neuron may be amenable to physical reductionism but a brain is not. Maybe someday but not now. Physics can certainly make contributions to neuroscience but, overall, the brain and its attendant phenomena are the purview of biological sciences and complexity theory, not physics and material reductionism.

What I do know is that the central role of feedback, in life, introduces myriad opportunities for the emergence of amazing phenomena unlike anything else in the inanimate universe: abiogenesis, reproduction, regeneration, replication, respiration, digestion, circulatory and other autonomous systems, motility, reflexes, instincts, epigenetics, sensory perception, symbiosis, immunology, evolution, consciousness, intelligence and, yes, free will (which, to me, is more akin to goal-seeking human purpose than to libertarian volition).

Because the brain is a complex system, what is deterministic at microscopic scales need not be so at macroscopic scales. Self-organization, adaptation, feedback, emergent properties and other phenomena lead to systems that are more than the sum of their parts. Life itself is a self-organizing, adaptive, emergent phenomenon of organic compounds. Given the feedback-rich systems of the human brain, life seems a much more improbable emergent phenomenon than does intelligent free will. After all, we already know the brain is fertile grounds for emergent phenomena like consciousness, intelligence and imagination: why not also free will? Can you even have intelligence without free will (making choices)? Or maybe it would be better to think of free will as a prerequisite component of intelligence.

The hard determinist’s insistence that free will violates causality and/or determinism is a false dichotomy stemming from the misapplication of physical reductionism to biological processes – most notably, the failure to recognize that causality can have a reciprocal mode with animate beings not possible with inanimate objects.

I think the dynamic process of intelligent feedback produces reciprocal causation and enables choice by blurring cause and effect; obviating their differences. Reciprocal causation, is a non-linear mode of causality in which an action can be both a cause and an effect: a dynamic feedback loop that feeds off of itself, like Uroboros: the ancient Egyptian mythological serpent, swallowing its own tail. Such a process is ripe for producing the emergent phenomenon of free will, despite the false dichotomies of physical reductionists who reduce thought to mere neuronal activity.

If you make the scientifically unfalsifiable claim that free will is impossible because neuronal activity is causally deterministic, then your linear thinking is really painting yourself into a corner because ALL neuronal activity (like imagination and reason) are causally deterministic. If you thus consider free will impossible, then so is reason. And if reason is impossible, how do you know anything at all? That’s just nuts. Remember, an argument which proves too much, proves nothing. I’m suspicious of, and dissatisfied with, any scientifically unfalsifiable claim – particularly one that talks me out of possession of my own mind. We need to make things as simple as possible; not simpler.

It might prove to be that we really are causal automatons living the illusion of free will. It might also prove to be that life is just the first in a string of physical phenomena emerging from complexities only possible with living beings in viable biospheres such as Earth. I believe there’s a natural explanation for free will and that it’s most likely to come from a mechanism, such as reciprocal causation, evolved to interact with and anticipate causality. Feedback is the key to reciprocal causation. It is with feedback that we are self-aware. Feedback provides context. Feedback informs our decisions. Consciousness and intelligence are impossible without mental feedback. We may not yet be able to prove it but I think reciprocal causation offers plenty of potential for free will to emerge from feedback – just as surely as consciousness and intelligence do. I mean, it seems like a minor feat compared to conscious intelligence itself. I believe we are self-determined, have purpose, make choices and are responsible for our actions. The challenge is to explain how; not to deny it.


© Copyright 2012 AtheistExile.com

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Carl Sagan in Marihuana Revisited

All images in this post are from Wikipedia and created by Yves Tanguy.

Dr. X

By Carl Sagan

This account was written in 1969 for publication in Marihuana Reconsidered (1971). Sagan was in his mid-thirties at that time. He continued to use cannabis for the rest of his life.

In a blog entry titled, ‘Inner Space and Outer Space: Carl Sagan’s Letters to Timothy Leary (1974)‘, authored by ‘lisa‘, at the Timothy Leary Archives website, the author explains why Carl Sagan used a pseudonym for the article reproduced, below.

Disguised as “Doctor X,” to protect his reputation,  he wrote this for his friend Lester Grinspoon’s book, Marihuana Reconsidered, in 1977:

“The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serendipity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”

At the time of his visit,  Sagan was surely aware that Leary had been originally sent to prison for possession of less than a joint of cannabis.

Like Leary, Sagan also exemplified the connection between mind-expanding drugs, which increased intelligence, and scientific breakthroughs. In “The Amniotic  Universe,” an article drawn from Sagan’s book Broca’s Brain, and published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1979, Sagan shows a deep and perceptive familiarity with the effects of LSD, MDA, DMT and Ketamine in his review of Stanislav Grof’s extensive and revolutionary LSD research. He writes about the effects of LSD in particular, speculating that “the Hindu mystical experience” of union with the universe “is pre-wired into us, requiring only 200 micrograms of LSD to be made manifest.”   Eminent psychedelic historian Peter Stafford, author of Psychedelics Encyclopedia, placed Sagan in a list of famous people who have taken LSD. Sagan was also number 1 on io9′s recently published list of “10 Scientific and Technological Visionaries Who Experimented With Drugs.”

Without further ado, here’s the article . . .

It all began about ten years ago. I had reached a considerably more relaxed period in my life – a time when I had come to feel that there was more to living than science, a time of awakening of my social consciousness and amiability, a time when I was open to new experiences. I had become friendly with a group of people who occasionally smoked cannabis, irregularly, but with evident pleasure. Initially I was unwilling to partake, but the apparent euphoria that cannabis produced and the fact that there was no physiological addiction to the plant eventually persuaded me to try. My initial experiences were entirely disappointing; there was no effect at all, and I began to entertain a variety of hypotheses about cannabis being a placebo which worked by expectation and hyperventilation rather than by chemistry. After about five or six unsuccessful attempts, however, it happened. I was lying on my back in a friend’s living room idly examining the pattern of shadows on the ceiling cast by a potted plant (not cannabis!). I suddenly realized that I was examining an intricately detailed miniature Volkswagen, distinctly outlined by the shadows. I was very skeptical at this perception, and tried to find inconsistencies between Volkswagens and what I viewed on the ceiling. But it was all there, down to hubcaps, license plate, chrome, and even the small handle used for opening the trunk. When I closed my eyes, I was stunned to find that there was a movie going on the inside of my eyelids. Flash . . . a simple country scene with red farmhouse, a blue sky, white clouds, yellow path meandering over green hills to the horizon. . . Flash . . . same scene, orange house, brown sky, red clouds, yellow path, violet fields . . . Flash . . . Flash . . . Flash. The flashes came about once a heartbeat. Each flash brought the same simple scene into view, but each time with a different set of colors . . . exquisitely deep hues, and astonishingly harmonious in their juxtaposition. Since then I have smoked occasionally and enjoyed it thoroughly. It amplifies torpid sensibilities and produces what to me are even more interesting effects, as I will explain shortly.

Promontory Palace, by Yves Tanguy

I can remember another early visual experience with cannabis, in which I viewed a candle flame and discovered in the heart of the flame, standing with magnificent indifference, the black-hatted and -cloaked Spanish gentleman who appears on the label of the Sandeman sherry bottle. Looking at fires when high, by the way, especially through one of those prism kaleidoscopes which image their surroundings, is an extraordinarily moving and beautiful experience.

I want to explain that at no time did I think these things ‘really’ were out there. I knew there was no Volkswagen on the ceiling and there was no Sandeman salamander man in the flame. I don’t feel any contradiction in these experiences. There’s a part of me making, creating the perceptions which in everyday life would be bizarre; there’s another part of me which is a kind of observer. About half of the pleasure comes from the observer-part appreciating the work of the creator-part. I smile, or sometimes even laugh out loud at the pictures on the insides of my eyelids. In this sense, I suppose cannabis is psychotomimetic, but I find none of the panic or terror that accompanies some psychoses. Possibly this is because I know it’s my own trip, and that I can come down rapidly any time I want to.

While my early perceptions were all visual, and curiously lacking in images of human beings, both of these items have changed over the intervening years. I find that today a single joint is enough to get me high. I test whether I’m high by closing my eyes and looking for the flashes. They come long before there are any alterations in my visual or other perceptions. I would guess this is a signal-to-noise problem, the visual noise level being very low with my eyes closed. Another interesting information-theoretical aspects is the prevalence – at least in my flashed images – of cartoons: just the outlines of figures, caricatures, not photographs. I think this is simply a matter of information compression; it would be impossible to grasp the total content of an image with the information content of an ordinary photograph, say 108 bits, in the fraction of a second which a flash occupies. And the flash experience is designed, if I may use that word, for instant appreciation. The artist and viewer are one. This is not to say that the images are not marvelously detailed and complex. I recently had an image in which two people were talking, and the words they were saying would form and disappear in yellow above their heads, at about a sentence per heartbeat. In this way it was possible to follow the conversation. At the same time an occasional word would appear in red letters among the yellows above their heads, perfectly in context with the conversation; but if one remembered these red words, they would enunciate a quite different set of statements, penetratingly critical of the conversation. The entire image set which I’ve outlined here, with I would say at least 100 yellow words and something like 10 red words, occurred in something under a minute.

Indefinite Divisibility, by Yves Tanguy

The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before. The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I’m down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse. There also have been some art-related insights – I don’t know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate. For example, I have spent some time high looking at the work of the Belgian surrealist Yves Tanguey (see above). Some years later, I emerged from a long swim in the Caribbean and sank exhausted onto a beach formed from the erosion of a nearby coral reef. In idly examining the arcuate pastel-colored coral fragments which made up the beach, I saw before me a vast Tanguey painting. Perhaps Tanguey visited such a beach in his childhood.

A very similar improvement in my appreciation of music has occurred with cannabis. For the first time I have been able to hear the separate parts of a three-part harmony and the richness of the counterpoint. I have since discovered that professional musicians can quite easily keep many separate parts going simultaneously in their heads, but this was the first time for me. Again, the learning experience when high has at least to some extent carried over when I’m down. The enjoyment of food is amplified; tastes and aromas emerge that for some reason we ordinarily seem to be too busy to notice. I am able to give my full attention to the sensation. A potato will have a texture, a body, and taste like that of other potatoes, but much more so. Cannabis also enhances the enjoyment of sex – on the one hand it gives an exquisite sensitivity, but on the other hand it postpones orgasm: in part by distracting me with the profusion of image passing before my eyes. The actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion which comes with cannabis smoking.

I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness. Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I’ve had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor. Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds. A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word ‘crazy’ to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums. The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: ‘did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday? He must be crazy.’ When high on cannabis I discovered that there’s somebody inside in those people we call mad.

When I’m high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era. I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time. Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me which I won’t attempt to describe here, a kind of mandala embossed on the high. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.

Mama, Papa is Wounded!, by Yves Tanguy

There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day. Some of the hardest work I’ve ever done has been to put such insights down on tape or in writing. The problem is that ten even more interesting ideas or images have to be lost in the effort of recording one. It is easy to understand why someone might think it’s a waste of effort going to all that trouble to set the thought down, a kind of intrusion of the Protestant Ethic. But since I live almost all my life down I’ve made the effort – successfully, I think. Incidentally, I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way. If I write the insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do.

I find that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for. I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of gaussian distribution curves. It was a point obvious in a way, but rarely talked about. I drew the curves in soap on the shower wall, and went to write the idea down. One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics. Because of problems of space, I can’t go into the details of these essays, but from all external signs, such as public reactions and expert commentary, they seem to contain valid insights. I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books.

But let me try to at least give the flavor of such an insight and its accompaniments. One night, high on cannabis, I was delving into my childhood, a little self-analysis, and making what seemed to me to be very good progress. I then paused and thought how extraordinary it was that Sigmund Freud, with no assistance from drugs, had been able to achieve his own remarkable self-analysis. But then it hit me like a thunderclap that this was wrong, that Freud had spent the decade before his self-analysis as an experimenter with and a proselytizer for cocaine; and it seemed to me very apparent that the genuine psychological insights that Freud brought to the world were at least in part derived from his drug experience. I have no idea whether this is in fact true, or whether the historians of Freud would agree with this interpretation, or even if such an idea has been published in the past, but it is an interesting hypothesis and one which passes first scrutiny in the world of the downs.

I can remember the night that I suddenly realized what it was like to be crazy, or nights when my feelings and perceptions were of a religious nature. I had a very accurate sense that these feelings and perceptions, written down casually, would not stand the usual critical scrutiny that is my stock in trade as a scientist. If I find in the morning a message from myself the night before informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe, or even that certain politicians are desperately frightened men, I may tend to disbelieve; but when I’m high I know about this disbelief. And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously. I say ‘Listen closely, you sonofabitch of the morning! This stuff is real!’ I try to show that my mind is working clearly; I recall the name of a high school acquaintance I have not thought of in thirty years; I describe the color, typography, and format of a book in another room and these memories do pass critical scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs. Such a remark applies not only to self-awareness and to intellectual pursuits, but also to perceptions of real people, a vastly enhanced sensitivity to facial expression, intonations, and choice of words which sometimes yields a rapport so close it’s as if two people are reading each other’s minds.

Cannabis enables nonmusicians to know a little about what it is like to be a musician, and nonartists to grasp the joys of art. But I am neither an artist nor a musician. What about my own scientific work? While I find a curious disinclination to think of my professional concerns when high – the attractive intellectual adventures always seem to be in every other area – I have made a conscious effort to think of a few particularly difficult current problems in my field when high. It works, at least to a degree. I find I can bring to bear, for example, a range of relevant experimental facts which appear to be mutually inconsistent. So far, so good. At least the recall works. Then in trying to conceive of a way of reconciling the disparate facts, I was able to come up with a very bizarre possibility, one that I’m sure I would never have thought of down. I’ve written a paper which mentions this idea in passing. I think it’s very unlikely to be true, but it has consequences which are experimentally testable, which is the hallmark of an acceptable theory.

I have mentioned that in the cannabis experience there is a part of your mind that remains a dispassionate observer, who is able to take you down in a hurry if need be. I have on a few occasions been forced to drive in heavy traffic when high. I’ve negotiated it with no difficult at all, though I did have some thoughts about the marvelous cherry-red color of traffic lights. I find that after the drive I’m not high at all. There are no flashes on the insides of my eyelids. If you’re high and your child is calling, you can respond about as capably as you usually do. I don’t advocate driving when high on cannabis, but I can tell you from personal experience that it certainly can be done. My high is always reflective, peaceable, intellectually exciting, and sociable, unlike most alcohol highs, and there is never a hangover. Through the years I find that slightly smaller amounts of cannabis suffice to produce the same degree of high, and in one movie theater recently I found I could get high just by inhaling the cannabis smoke which permeated the theater.

There is a very nice self-titering aspect to cannabis. Each puff is a very small dose; the time lag between inhaling a puff and sensing its effect is small; and there is no desire for more after the high is there. I think the ratio, R, of the time to sense the dose taken to the time required to take an excessive dose is an important quantity. R is very large for LSD (which I’ve never taken) and reasonably short for cannabis. Small values of R should be one measure of the safety of psychedelic drugs. When cannabis is legalized, I hope to see this ratio as one of he parameters printed on the pack. I hope that time isn’t too distant; the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.

Reply to Red, by Yves Tanguy