I had a professor, Aryeh Kosman, who was one of the world's premier Aristotle, Plato, and Early-Modern philosophy experts, and I still thank the lord I was able to study under him in college. An old bald white-bearded man originally from the Bay Area in Cali, he brough his socks-and-birkenstocks style to the little East Coast Quaker school where I washed up. He said he had been friendly with Timothy Leary during his years as an undergrad at Harvard, and he told us that in the sixties, when LSD first became widely available for recreational use, it was known as "the enlightenment drug," a drug that you could take one time, shed your old self like a molting reptile, and see clearly for the first time.

But then came the anti-war movement, civil rights movement, Charles Manson, and too many middle-class white kids running off to be stoned vagabonds, and whether fairly or not, psychedelics fell out of favor with the government and society in general. Of late, psychedelics have made comeback in the popular discourse, in respectable society at least. Silicon Valley bros like to talk about micro-dosing at their start-up jobs, and ascending journalists like Ezra Klein have started looking into the potential for psychedelics to be used in theraputic settings. In 2020 Oregon voted to decriminalize all drugs, including psychedelics. Public opinion is changing.

My own experiences with psychedelics are limited to the use of psilocybin. Over the years I have lost count but I can say in theory that I have been on more than five trips in my life and fewer than twelve. I won't go into detail about where and when. It is not easy to get access to psilocybin, so when you have access, it is usually because your friends are into it, and so without commenting on my own friends, I will say only that I have had numerous intimate conversations in my life with people who have done their fair share of psychedelics, and I have a decent grasp of what type of experience they provide.

My opinion is worth sharing because in all of the discourse, I haven't seen it expressed, and yet I think it is a very basic and succinct summation of what psychedelics can do in recreational doses. So here it is: I think that psychedelics provide a useful first step towards enlightenment, but they can just as easily set you back, if you are not careful to reflect upon the experience you had, and memorialize what you learned. Most importantly, psychedelics can help you achieve a sort of ecstatic state, but enlightenment is not ecstatic, as I define it. Enlightenment is like volunteering at the soup kitchen or standing up for a subordinated person. Its not fun, and it is a risk to your personal success.

Starting with the basics, psychedelics make you doubt your senses. And not just a little bit, as in, "Are those people laughing over there laughing at me?" or "What was that noise?" but anywhere from seeing faces and patterns where they do not exist, to full on hallucinogenic psychosis. Having your senses deceive you so completely is a great way to kick-start philosophical inquiry. It puts you face-to-face with the question of what is real. What is reality? If sense data can be manipulated so readily with a tiny drop of a substance, how can we be sure our experiences reflect anything real?

Best case scenario, you come away with the lesson that experience as we know it is a simulation run by your brain, and it operates on expectations. Expecations of what sense data will come in, and what objects, symbols, or meanings in which to conceptualize that sense data. If you can get a grip on your trip, there are other lessons to be learned, the most important being that you can choose your outlook. As one good friend put it, "I was seeing all these demon faces in the clouds, and I thought to myself, 'Enough! I don't want demons! I want monkeys,' and suddenly the demon faces morphed into happy laughing monkey faces, and my whole trip changed.

Realizing that you will never get to the truth directly, has other profound consequences. First of all, not only can you not get to the "objective" truth, but nobody can. And so the truths that are most truthy, like physics and math for instance, are a complex synchronized dance of brains reaching consensus. Brains reading the words left behind by other brains, and forming new expectations with which to parse sense data, and to generate their version of reality. Far from landing us in the dreaded space of "relativism," to use an old scare-word from the nineties, it is a relief to know that objectivity is a structure of consensus.

To go further and say that relativism means everything is "illusion," is going a step too far. Because if everything is "illusion" then illusion loses its meaning. Do it the latter Wittgenstein way: What do we mean when we say illusion? How is it used? Well, we mean that which remains when a sleight of hand or optical trick is revealed. Ah, yes...when the trick is revealed. But the trick is never revealed with brain-expectations-consensus-reality. The curtain is never pulled back. So in an important sense, nothing has changed. It's just that you realize that the "simulation" has built into it this limit of inside/outside, which is just that: a limit. You will never get there.

There is no view from nowhere, in other words, but the view from anywhere implies a view from nowhere, in order to situate itself in a coordinate system, with shared views. And now we are really far out there, aren't we? Out somewhere frictionless that barely touches reality, in which God is glued to us with such ultra-sticky stickyness that he or it is always just around the corner. Our own shadow, so to speak. Have you tried to jump your shadow? In any case, this is where most people are sort of left after an acid trip. As they settle back into their routines, the exigencies of the simulation and the structures retake their ground.

Halfway to enlightenment, there is a fork in the road. One way leads to profound isolation and mistrust of others, slowly or all at once. The other way leads to enlightenment, but there are many more steps to take. Without a return to other people it can feel like you were "red pilled," and like you see things that other people don't see. This is actually a dangerous place to be. Not only are you isolated, but you feel like some demi-god who owns privileged access to the truth, and that just isn't healthy.

It isn't just LSD or psilocybin that can distort the simulation, it's everything that has a real impact on the simulation, which just is reality, after all. There are structures of power, violence, outright brainwashing, micro-cues, all of it affects how you ultimately mediate objects and symbols, and beyond knowing that these things have an effect it is very difficult to conceptualize what that effect would be, and to imagine what it would be like to have a world that is "clear" of these things, like the Scientologists say (to give just one example of distorting effects).

While its great to knock around in the old tin can upstairs, it's not enlightenment. Real enlightenment is just realizing that others have feelings, and that their feeling feel just as real to them as your feelings feel to you. And you need to work with other people to understand what the hell is going on. And you need to trust experts to understand subject matter facts, but you also need to see that their realities are distorted by countless other things. Most importantly, if you give a damn about human potential, you need to thing about and appreciate the living hell that constitutes the reality of so many people.

Oh, was it scary to you when the clouds didn't look happy? Was it terrifying to you to think about how your ecstatic expectations might be ever so slightly dashed? Well, realize and appreciate that the reality many if not most people face would be so scary to you and cause you to dissociate so fast that your head would spin. You've gotta help. That is the meaning of life: To stop the endless bad trips. That is enlightenment...living like the abyss is your home.