Recent musings from my notebooks: H. H. Art Kleps, Buddhism and Christianity, Unamuno, C.S. Lewis

A dream about His Highness Art Kleps

A dream I had last night has convinced me to take up the thorny subject of His Highness Art Kleps again. Immediately after the dream I was of the opposite opinion. I was glad I woke up, and thought, “I should forget about writing any more about him.”

In the dream a small van with silver and black paneling pulled up to deliver party supplies. The driver also handed over a receipt for $2000 which had been charged to the church account. With a sinking heart I remembered that I had placed the order, and at the same moment I realized that Art had just arrived. “Who ordered that?” he demanded to know, and then he instructed me to tell the guy to take it back and not to pay the bill. I put off telling him that it had already been paid. He was already accusing the man who delivered it of fraud, and I knew that it wasn’t fraud and that Art was going to want me to back up the claim that it was. Then he asked me, “Why did you order it?” I replied that I had had a feeling that something important was going to happen so that there would be a celebration. I was being dishonest, and trying to flatter him that his arrival was the important event. In fact I had had no such premonition and was just hoping Art would be pleased with me or at least not mad at me. At the same time I was disgusted with myself for letting myself be controlled by Art in this way.

As I began to realize it was a dream and to wake up, I was dismayed that this ghost from my past still had this power over me in my dream. I thought about the fact that I have been thinking for some time about writing about my relationship with Art, and at that moment, I resolved not to do it. I just wanted to be done with him. But now I’m thinking that I don’t need to be done with him. I just need to change the relationship by making it clear to myself that it was good and right for me to be a loyal disciple of his for a while and then to quit, and that it is not clinging to the past to want to think about what he was right about and what he was wrong about. Yes, he is dead, but also he is still alive, and that is consistent with what he taught and with what I now believe and tell anyone who is interested.:

Art Kleps says (in “The Excommunication of Timothy Leary”, DTS,

“The understanding which the peak psychedelic experience brings to everyone is always and everywhere identical (but is repressed in a million different ways): Life is a dream, and it is your dream. This message, which we may call ‘solipsism’ or ‘nihilism’ or ‘yogacara’ or ‘madhayamaka’ or ‘Zen’ Buddhism is the message of every great mystical philosopher in human history—the message, within the dream, that tells you it is a dream.

“Everything else is repression.

“Three dimensional space is an illusion. The flow of time is an illusion.

“History is an illusion. Timothy Leary is an illusion. I am an illusion.

“Within your illusion, the great religious traditions (repressed, no later than they begin, in a million different ways) always stand for the assertion that one does not ‘attain immortality’, but rather realizes, upon one’s enlightenment, that there is no ‘death’ any more than there is any ‘life’, other than as fake dramas to maintain the illusion of externality, multiplicity, and space-time. One’s mind does not exist in the world, the world exists in one’s mind. What is the nature of that mind—that is the question. The ‘conscious’ wish system, obviously, is only a part of it. The ego may steer, but it does not rule. There is more to it than that.”

But I say (Dreams and Resurrection, pp. 24-5):

“. . . [I]f I am dreaming right now, then there must be a waking reality relative to which this is a dream. Even though I am not consciously aware of anything in that reality, I may be in some way dimly aware of it or it may be affecting what I am dreaming. So, the relativistic conception of dreaming and waking does not have the consequence that there is no reality and all is merely a dream. We would be equally justified in saying that there are no mere dreams and all is reality. We are more justified, though, in thinking that sometimes we sleep and dream, and other times we are awake; that these alternate on a fairly regular basis; that, although it is possible that in the future we will sleep and never dream again, or sleep and only dream, and not wake up again, or that we will wake up once and for all and never sleep or dream again, we have no basis in experience that would justify us in expecting any of those possibilities.”

The medieval sense of “comedy”

The medieval sense of “comedy” is that of a narrative that ends happily. It is in that sense that, for example, Dante’s Divine Comedy is a comedy. The central revelation of a peak LSD trip and of Christianity is that life is a comedy in this sense, not in the sense of a performance intended to provoke laughter (which is consistent with the fact that life does include times of laughter).

Buddhism teaches that nothing is permanent, that the cause of suffering is wanting some things to be permanent, and that there is a solution to the problem of suffering, which is the realization that nothing is permanent. Christianity teaches that we are permanent (“we” includes all subjects of experience), and that suffering is bearable because in the long run joy is so much greater. So, I suppose both Buddhism and Christianity teach that life is a comedy in the medieval sense, and the whole issue depends on whether it’s true that nothing is permanent.

For Unamuno, who wrote The Tragic Sense of Life, the life that is tragic is a life with no afterlife. For him, the life that includes the afterlife is a comedy, in the medieval sense, and not a tragedy. And this is because he hoped for the apokatastasis, the restoration of all things.

C. S. Lewis would say that he, too, hopes everyone will be saved, but he doesn’t realize, as Unamuno does, that if even one person is not saved, then life is a tragedy, after all, for all of us. The evidence that he doesn’t realize this is that he is happy to defend what he calls “mere Christianity,” which teaches that some, maybe even most, people will be damned forever. The ethics of this misunderstanding of Christianity is no better than the utilitarianism of nonbelievers. One should repent of one’s sins, ask for and accept God’s forgiveness, and teach others to do the same; and do this in the hope of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number,” while allowing that many will not attain happiness at all, because if they haven’t repented and accepted forgiveness before their death or Judgment Day, whichever comes first, it is too late for them forever.

Jesus didn’t say, “Maximize utility,” or “Do the best you can do.” He said, “Be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

Art Kleps says (Millbrook , Bench Press edition, p.93):

“It all comes back to Dick Alpert’s question to me when I was explaining what I had realized back at Millbrook: ‘I do have a life of my own, don’t I?’ That’s his business. All I know about him is what I know about him, and, if he ‘thickens the plot’ I’m glad he is there to serve as a character in my story. I am content to have him think of me in the same way.”

But I say:

When Art says, “I am content to have him think of me in the same way,” he shows that he does think Dick Alpert has a life of his own. Even when he says, with emphasis, “That’s his business,” he implies that Alpert does have a life of his own. But when he says, “All I know about him is what I know about him, and, if he ‘thickens the plot’ I’m glad he is there to serve as a character in my story,” he says something consistent with the solipsistic reasoning that since he can’t know Alpert’s experience in the same direct way that he knows his own—that is, as the subject of that experience—then he can only know Alpert as an object of experience and that, as far as he knows, he himself is the only subject of experience that exists. And that reasoning is flawed. It is true that my experiencing of something is not the same as your experiencing of that same thing (or event or process). But to believe that is to believe that I am not the only subject of experience. It’s not just your business whether or not you have a mind of your own. It’s my business, too, because it makes a difference in how I should treat you.

C. S. Lewis and universal salvation

In God in the Dock (p. 157), Lewis says there are two sides to Jesus: “On the one side clear, definite moral teaching. On the other, claims which, if not true, are those of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men. There is no half-way house and there is no parallel in other religions.” And he makes a similar argument in Chapter 3 of Mere Christianity.

But in Hinduism there is the doctrine that the Atman, the true inner essence of each one of us, is Brahman, the ultimate reality. Lewis might reply that this is different from what Jesus was saying, because Jesus was saying that he alone among men is the Anointed who has the power to forgive sins, not that all men do. These claims, Lewis argues, are either the ravings of a lunatic or they are true. But a third possibility is that Jesus means that he is the only one so far who truly realizes that God is a loving Father and that we are all his children, so that if only we all realize it, we, too, could say—and mean it—“I am begotten of the One God, before Abraham was, I am,”—and Abraham could have said and meant it, too. Lewis thinks this possibility is ruled out by the creeds (Jesus is the only begotten Son, and we are made by God, not begotten), but how is Jesus’s recognition that he is a child of God so different from our believing Jesus when he says that we are also the children of God? Isn’t this what Paul means by our “putting on Christ”?

On p. 178, in his “Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger,” Lewis writes: “. . . I think that Jesus Christ is (in fact) the only Son of God—that is, the only original Son of God, through whom others are enabled to ‘become sons of God.’” This is in reply to Dr. Pittenger’s speaking of “the validity of our Lord’s unique place in Christian faith as that One in whom God was so active and so present that he may be called ‘God-Man’” (p. 177). Lewis’s response is that if “may be called” does not equal “is,” then he disagrees.

My question is this: Does Jesus tell us we can become children of God in the same sense and to the same degree that he is, or only in some different sense or to a lesser degree?

On p. 180, Lewis has this to say: “Moderns do not seem startled, as contemporaries were, by the claim Jesus there [in the Synoptic Gospels] makes to forgive sins; not sins against Himself, just sins. Yet surely, if they actually met it, they would feel differently. If Dr. Pittenger told me that two of his colleagues had lost him a professorship by telling lies about his character and I replied, ‘I freely forgive them both’, would he not think this an impertinence (both in the old and in the modern sense) bordering on insanity?” In Chapter 3 of Mere Christianity he makes the same point: “We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct.” (p. 51)

My answer: For those who saw Jesus as just a boastful liar who was really nothing more than the son of a carpenter from Nazareth, it would fit that he would grandiosely claim to forgive sins not done against him. But those of us who believe Jesus should ask ourselves: Is Jesus telling us, “I am the Son of God and you aren’t and never will be. At best you can be a son or daughter of God in some lesser sense.”? The creeds may suggest this, and Lewis may agree, but I don’t think that is what Jesus is saying in the Gospels. It follows that we, too, can in our better moments forgive others for sins done against others and not ourselves only, without being raving lunatics. If God forgives all sins of everyone, surely it is not lunacy but the height of sanity to try to do the same.

It isn’t clear to me whether or not Lewis believed in universal salvation. I do. What I mean by universal salvation is not that God makes everyone accept His forgiveness and obey the two greatest commandments, because that is logically impossible. No one, not even God, can make someone else accept a gift, because then it wouldn’t be a gift, or love himself or herself or anyone else, because then it wouldn’t be love. When I say I believe in universal salvation I mean I believe that God offers forgiveness and love to everyone, and that everyone, sooner or later, realizes this and accepts it. I also mean that if even one person rejects it and misses out, then no one is saved. The promise is that God will be all in all, not all in some.

The reason to try not to sin and to try to love one’s neighbor as oneself and to do what is fair, decent, and morally right is not fear of everlasting punishment if one doesn’t or hope of heavenly reward if one does. The only good reason is that it is an obligation that one takes on oneself. It comes from inside. This doesn’t mean that it is a mere fancy or a social construct. The obligation we take upon ourselves is as real as anything can be. To say that we are all sinners means that we don’t live up to our ideals. But they are our ideals, not someone else’s. Thus, we don’t need to believe in God in order to account for why we care, not only about being treated fairly, but also about whether we treat others fairly.

The reason to believe in God is to account for the ultimate subjective, personal fact for each one of us that he or she is just this person and nobody else. If there were not these facts—one for each of us—none of us would have any reason to care about what happens, or any ability to do something about it even if we did. And it is not up to any of us to choose which person he or she is, out of all the persons there are (although it is up to each of us to choose what to do given who he or she is). It is just given. It doesn’t make sense to think of this most personal fact as given by an impersonal nature. God, then, who is a person and not a thing or a force or a collection, and who has a power none of us has, is the one who makes it so that each of us is who he or she is, out of all the persons there are.

The major flaw in Sam Harris’s ethics

Sam Harris believes that all questions of value depend on consequences in terms of “the well-being of conscious creatures like ourselves.” (The Moral Landscape, p. 62) The major flaw in his ethics is that he doesn’t understand the overriding importance of the question of whether our fate is eternal death or everlasting life. He argues convincingly that the thinking of a Muslim suicide bomber is not a repudiation of consequentialism, given his or her expectation of experiencing an eternity of happiness after death and that he or she will also gain admittance for seventy close relatives. Of course Harris believes—and I agree—that there is no good reason to believe such behavior will please God, but for Harris the reason is that there is no God, whereas for me the reason is that God hates cruelty in this world or in any world. But if God (in Harris’s terms, “if the universe were so designed that . . .”—but if you’re going to talk about the universe being designed, why shy away from “God”?) gave us life, consciousness, and self-consciousness for a limited time after which we would become permanently unconscious, God would be a cruel god. It isn’t that an afterlife makes what happens in this life irrelevant. It’s the opposite. The prospect of one’s ultimate fate being the complete and permanent loss of consciousness is what would make what happens in this life irrelevant.

I used to think, as Harris no doubt thinks, that even if one becomes permanently unconscious upon dying, the objective fact will remain that one did have exactly the life that one had. But I have become convinced, at least partly by reading Unamuno, that that objective fact will be worthless because eventually it won’t be experienced by anyone other than God, if He exists—and God would have no reason other than cruelty to create me with an abhorrence of the very thought of permanent unconsciousness and then make that my fate.

Harris rightly rejects a worldview according to which the universe is so designed that it is justified for suicide bombers to kill themselves and other people because they will be rewarded in the afterlife for doing so. But he endorses a worldview according to which the universe is so designed that living, conscious, and self-conscious creatures exist for a time who love life and love others and want themselves and those they love to go on living, but who inevitably die, once and for all, and become permanently unconscious. He has no more reason to accept the second worldview than he has to accept the first one.

Pointing the way to psychedelic Christianity

There are two pieces of psychedelic literature I have recently read that I see as pointing the way to psychedelic Christianity. They are “A Mescaline Experience,” by H. H. Price and Cleansing the Doors of Perception, by Huston Smith.

What I mean by “psychedelic Christianity” is an understanding of Christianity that acknowledges psychedelic experience as a way of being in the right relationship with God. This does not mean that one can’t be a true Christian without having had a psychedelic experience. Neither does it mean that anyone who has a psychedelic experience is automatically transformed into a Christian. Psychedelic Christianity, as I understand it, is the religion of those who acknowledge that a psychedelic trip can result in the same kind of total transformation of one’s worldview as happened to Paul as a result of his experience on the road to Damascus, and that the deepest truths of the Christian religion are the best way to understand it, as they are the best way to understand the ultimate goal of living, which is for God to be all in all in such a way that every creature that God has created also continues to be there, in his or her or its own uniqueness, enjoying the goodness that God has given. That is, all that is implied by the term “psychedelic Christian” is the acknowledgement that Christianity and psychedelic experience are not in competition with each other but are perfectly compatible.

H. H. Price’s article was originally published in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 58:1 (1963), and has recently been republished on Peter Sjostedt-H’s website, at

Price is a philosopher whom I have admired ever since I first came across his work several years before I retired from teaching philosophy at Citrus College. I highly recommend, in particular, his Essays in Philosophy of Religion. In “A Mescaline Experience” he describes his first (and perhaps only) psychedelic trip, which took place in 1952. I will quote from it and then explain how I think it points the way to psychedelic Christianity.

He writes: “To say that what had now happened was from an esthetic point of view a change for the better is to say much too little. To put it quite simply, all the things around me, even the most commonplace and dingy objects, became so utterly beautiful, at once so wonderful and so satisfying, that I felt I should be content to go on gazing at them for the rest of my life….

“It was wonderful, yet tranquil and peaceful, completely satisfying, so that nothing better could be wished for—or so it seemed to me at the time.”

Then he describes going outside: “All I can say is that this outdoor scene was as completely delightful and satisfying as the indoor scene had been, and I well remember thinking at the time that even the Celestial City could not be more beautiful than this.”

But in his general conclusion later in the article he seems to back down from what he had written before: “The very most I will dare to claim for my own experience is this: If there be a place, or rather a state of consciousness, corresponding at all to traditional ideas of Heaven or of Paradise, and if it can be supposed that something analogous to visual experience is possible to persons in that state, then I can believe that the visual world they experience might be something like, but better than, the wonderfully lovely and satisfying visual world which mescaline disclosed to me, though all its contents, in my case, were perfectly ordinary physical objects.”

Why the two “ifs”? What his experience showed, according to his description of it, was that there is a state of consciousness corresponding to traditional ideas of Heaven or of Paradise. He reported that he well remembered thinking “that even the Celestial City could not be more beautiful than this.” And he remembered thinking that the experience was “completely satisfying, so that nothing better could be wished for,” but then he added “or so it seemed at the time.” But he gives no reason to justify the “or so it seemed at the time.” Did he later come to see that there was something illusory about the experience? He gives no indication that that is the case. He objects to William James’s characterization of “our normal waking consciousness” as “rational consciousness” by noting, “I am not prepared to admit that the ‘mescaline’ type of consciousness is irrational. So far as I can see, this drug (unlike some others) does not affect one’s reasoning powers at all.”

Price does give a reason for not using the term “mystical” to describe his mescaline experience. He writes, “In my experience there did not seem to be anything like the ‘dissolution of the ego’ which most mystics have described.” He contrasts his experience of gazing at an armchair with Aldous Huxley’s report of an encounter, while under the influence of mescaline, with the legs of a bamboo chair, in The Doors of Perception.

Price: “I remember being fascinated by a certain armchair a foot or two away from me, which seemed to me the most beautiful sight I had ever seen, so satisfying that one might be content just to gaze at it for ages. (It looked very different when seen with ordinary eyes next morning.) But not only did it seem fascinatingly beautiful; there was a strong impression of being confronted with an independent entity, existing somehow for its own sake, as an end in itself, and a strong impression also of what some philosophers have called haecceitas (literally, ‘thisness’)—an impression of being confronted not merely with some independent entity or other, but with this single individual one, not as a member of any class, but just as the individual entity that it was. And that it should so exist, as the individual entity that it was, appeared to be something intrinsically good.”

Here is what Price writes about the experience reported by Huxley: “In [a] passage about a bamboo chair which he saw, he speaks of ‘not merely gazing at those bamboo legs, but actually being them.’” And he quotes another sentence by Huxley: “In my present state, awareness was not referred to as ego; it was, so to speak, on its own.” Price goes on to say that nothing like that happened to him: “What philosophers have called the subject-object relation did not vanish. It did, however, seem less important and less insistent than it ordinarily does because the visible world, seen in the new way which mescaline induces, was so delightful and so satisfying that in the enjoyment of it one “forgot oneself,’ as we say. But this quite familiar ‘forgetting oneself’ does not amount to anything like the dissolution of the ego which mystics have described. It might have been very nice to be the armchair on which I gazed with such delight and fascination, or at any rate to have the experience in which such paradoxical language seems appropriate. And yet I am not so sure. It was also very nice to be, or seem to be, aware of the armchair in its haecceitas, as just this individual entity existing for its own sake, and as something whose existence was wholly good.”

How does all this point to the view that psychedelic experience and Christianity go hand in hand? Price did not mention Christianity, after all, nor any other religious tradition, except for his observation that his experience did not amount to the kind of transcendence of the ego reported by mystics, as in Huxley’s description of not just seeing, but being, the bamboo chair legs he was looking at. But consider the belief, which Christianity inherited from Judaism, that each thing that God has created is good—not “good for” something, but simply good in itself. The term haecceitas, which Price employed to describe what he saw as the individual uniqueness of the armchair that captured his attention during his mescaline experience, was originated by the medieval Christian philosopher Duns Scotus. Another medieval Christian philosopher, Nicholas of Cusa, also expresses the goodness of the existence of each individual creature and the tranquility and peacefulness experienced by Price:

“God in His infinite goodness gives being to all in the way in which each can receive it. With Him there is no jealousy. He communicates being without distinction; and, since all receive being in accord with the demands of their contingent nature, every creature rests content in its own perfection, which God has freely bestowed upon it. None desires the greater perfection of any other; each loves by preference that perfection which God has given it and strives to develop and preserve it intact.”

And we seem to hear echoes also of Genesis 1:31: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” Notice that the scripture says “every thing,” not “everything.”

Huxley also used some Christian terminology in The Doors of Perception, and there is a Christian mystical tradition of the annihilation of the self in oneness with God; but Huxley, along with his friends Christopher Isherwood and Gerald Heard, had for years associated with the Vedanta Society of Hollywood. Vedanta, which is the non-dualistic philosophy of the Hindu tradition, teaches that the ego, that part of the self which expresses individuality, eventually realizes that it is one with the Self, which is beyond individuality. There is a clear contrast between Vedanta and the view expressed by the Christian philosopher, Nicholas of Cusa, and experienced by Price on his mescaline trip.

The contrast between Huxley’s and Price’s respective experiences induced by mescaline doesn’t in itself show that psychedelic experience supports Christianity rather than Vedanta. It can be taken instead that one has a choice between the two. But I am satisfied with that. My reason for preferring Christianity over Vedanta is that I want to have everlasting life without ceasing to be the individual person who I am. The reason I believe in God is that I just find myself with the very personal knowledge of which person I am out of all the persons there are. I’m not aware of how that is something that I could have decided, and it doesn’t make sense to me to think that this most personal fact is caused by an impersonal Nature or Brahman or Void, nor am I aware of any reason to doubt that it is a fact and, moreover, one in the absence of which no other fact could be acted upon. The reason I am a Christian is that I believe that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ teachings and Paul’s vision of our being children of God, who die with Christ and are resurrected with Christ, express the deepest truths about the ultimate goal of living.

I am well aware that there are psychedelic people who prefer other religious traditions as well as those who are atheists. My mission is not to try to persuade anyone to take a psychedelic trip or to become a Christian (although it is true that in Psychedelic Christianity I dare any despairing intellectual who professes the belief that life is meaningless to take 250-500 micrograms of LSD). Rather, it is to tell the truth about my experiences and to help people to see that the beauty and truth of the great Christian religion are livable options for those with (spiritual) eyes to see and (spiritual) ears to hear—and those include the physically blind and deaf. After all, the physically afflicted were among the first to recognize Christ.

Huston Smith’s Cleansing the Doors of Perception is a collection of essays on the religious significance of entheogenic plants and chemicals, written over a thirty-nine year period. ( It begins with an account of his first psychedelic experience—as part of Dr. Timothy Leary’s project at the Center for Personality Research at Harvard University in 1961 and, like Price’s, Huxley’s (and mine, I might add) via mescaline–and it concludes with a summing up of his reflections which he wrote for the first publication of this book in 2000.
[A note on terminology: Smith declares in the Preface that he prefers the terms entheogen(s) and entheogenic (“God-containing” or “God-enabling”) over the term psychedelic (“mind-manifesting”) because he thinks the latter is too bound up with a particular time period, “the psychedelic sixties.” However, he doesn’t replace psychedelic with entheogen or entheogenic in the chapters that are reprints of essays that he wrote during that time period. I don’t share his qualms about psychedelic and will use both it and entheogen interchangeably.]

When I took my first psychedelic trip, in 1968, while I was somewhat apprehensive at first, the experience was otherwise wholly positive and enjoyable. Like Price, I was struck by the deep, never before seen colors. I became aware of rich details of things I saw and heard that must have been there all along but that I wouldn’t have normally noticed. Everything was absolutely new and fresh. I remember saying to my friend, “I didn’t know it would be so much fun!” Smith’s first trip was quite different: “The world into which I was ushered was strange, weird, uncanny, significant, and terrifying beyond belief.” (p. 10) In the front matter of the book he quotes R. Gordon Wasson: “Ecstasy! In common parlance ecstasy is fun. But ecstasy is not fun. Your very soul is seized and shaken until it tingles. After all, who will choose to feel undiluted awe? The unknowing vulgar abuse the word; we must recapture its full and terrifying sense.” (p. viii)

In Smith’s account of his mescaline trip, which took place at Timothy Leary’s home on New Years Day 1961, he also writes, “Later, after the peak had passed and I had walked a few steps, I said to Tim, ‘I hope you know what you’re playing around with here. I realize I’m still under the influence and that things probably look different from your side, but it looks to me like you’re taking an awful chance in these experiments. Objective tests might reveal that my heart had been beating normally this afternoon, but there is such a thing as people being frightened to death. I feel like I’m in an operating room, having barely squeaked through an ordeal in which for two hours my life hung in the balance.” (p. 12)

I later had an experience like that, too. It was the worst trip I ever had. I had a vision of the Devil—but I reminded myself that I didn’t believe that the Devil existed—and immediately after, my heart was beating so fast that I thought it would surely exhaust itself and I would soon die. I think most people with much experience with psychedelics will at some point have undergone the classic “bad trip” or “bummer.” And these colloquialisms don’t do justice to the terror. And this is part of the anti-addictive property of psychedelics. People tend to take them less frequently over time and eventually stop altogether because they feel that they have learned what there is to learn, to the point that trying to repeat the experience isn’t worth hazarding another trial by ordeal. At least that has been my experience. I’m not trying to persuade anyone not to take another trip either. But my experience was also that a bad trip could be as deeply instructive as a more pleasant one, and I went on to have other trips after that one, including a big one during which I felt no resistance at all, and it seemed to me that there was a very real sense in which I died and was instantaneously reborn.

There are some people who have a glimpse of Hell on their first trip, with the result that their first trip is their only trip, and they find it difficult to conceive why anyone who has had such an experience would ever want to take another trip. But despite the terror Smith underwent on his first trip, he also knew that there was something of deep value in it, and it was not his last. He continues, “For several years following my initiation, the entheogens were the center of my reflective and social life. Reflectively, to have become overnight a visionary—one who not merely believes in the existence of a more momentous world than this one but who has actually visited it—was no small matter. How could what felt like an epochal change in my life have been crowded into a few hours and occasioned by a chemical?…if chemistry does not tell the whole story, what is that story? And what part do chemicals, replacing angels as divine intermediaries, play in it?

“Questions like these assaulted me with an urgency that reconstructed my social life. Family and friends remained in place, but beyond those I sought out associates who shared my compulsion to talk about and understand our shared secret. This is the stuff of which churches are made, and with the Harvard Project an ad hoc ‘church’ emerged…. What to make of the entheogens was the question, and we lived for the times when, like Socrates and his friends, we could hang out together to talk.” He reports that once every month or so, they gathered to take their sacrament “in a vaguely ritualistic context—incense, candles, favorite poems, passages from sacred texts, and spontaneous inputs in the style of Quaker meetings.” (pp. 15-16)

The foregoing is from the introduction to Chapter 2, “Do Drugs Have Religious Import?” which consists of an essay that was originally published in the Journal of Philosophy (Oct. 1, 1964). His answer to the question in the title is an unequivocal Yes. He criticizes R. C. Zaehner’s case for a No answer as a refusal to look at the evidence: “What we seem to be witnessing in Zaehner’s Mysticism, Sacred and Profane is a reenactment of the age-old pattern in the conflict between science and religion. Whenever a new controversy arises, religion’s first impulse is to deny the disturbing evidence science has produced…. When the fact that drugs can trigger religious experiences becomes incontrovertible, discussion will move to the more difficult question of how this fact is to be interpreted.” (p. 24)The scientific evidence he has in mind here is the Good Friday Experiment, about which I will say more later.

He goes on to tackle the difficult question of the relation between psychedelic experience and the rest of one’s life, and concludes, “Drugs appear to be able to induce religious experiences; it is less evident that they can produce religious lives.” (p. 30) He criticizes what he calls “the religion of religious experience,” which he characterizes as having as its goal “the acquisition of desired states of experience irrespective of their relation to life’s other demands and components.” He writes, “If the religion of religious experience is a snare and a delusion, it follows that no religion that fixes its faith primarily in substances that induce religious experiences can be expected to come to a good end. What promised to be a shortcut will prove to be a short circuit; what began as a religion will end as a religious surrogate.” (p. 31)

Here we begin to get to the heart of why I think Smith’s book points towards psychedelic Christianity. A lot hinges on what he means by a religion’s “fixing its faith primarily in substances that induce religious experiences.” I think what he means is that what is of supreme importance is not the substances themselves, as if one were to set a pill on an altar and bow down to it, nor is it the religious experiences themselves “irrespective,” as he says, “of their relation to life’s other demands and components,” as if one accrues merit points for each psychedelic trip, with the times in between counted as boring details. Rather it is the difference the religious experiences make in one’s life, including all the times when one is not on a psychedelic trip. Somewhere in his writings, Smith coins (or possibly quotes—I don’t remember which) a slogan: “Altered states should lead to altered traits.” Of course, it isn’t just any alteration either. It should be an alteration for the better. But I can easily see a religion being accused by outsiders of putting its faith primarily in substances that induce religious experiences, when what is really happening is that its adherents emphasize the importance of the substance because they have observed that it tends to produce religious experiences which in turn lead to lives that are changed for the better.

Such is the case of the Native America Church, whose members have had to fight legal battles to establish their right to use peyote, which contains mescaline, for religious purposes. In one of the later chapters of Cleansing the Doors of Perception Smith quotes from a collection of testimonials by members of the Native American Church. Many of these testimonials emphasize the efficacy of peyote, which they call “the Medicine.” Some of the quotations taken in isolation could be misinterpreted as expressing worship of peyote, but when one reads them all, one understands that the reason they believe in the Medicine is not that it enables them to acquire desirable experiences with no connections to the rest of their lives, but rather because it has changed their lives for the better.

It is quite clear in this chapter that Smith does not regard the Native American Church as vulnerable to the criticism of being a religion of religious experience which will end as a religious surrogate rather than a genuine religion. Is this why I say that Smith’s book, like Price’s essay, points the way to psychedelic Christianity? It is part of the reason. The example of the Native American Church shows that the sacramental use of psychedelics in the context of a church is a workable possibility. But Native Americans might not want to characterize their religion as psychedelic Christian. The testimonials in Smith’s book indicate the religion of the Native American Church is theistic and in accord with the spirit of Christianity, but the members don’t appear to be eager to identify their religion as Christian. For example, Albert Hensley, a Winnebago, is quoted as saying, “Our favorite term for Peyote is Medicine. To us it is a portion of the body of Christ, even as the communion bread is believed to be a portion of Christ’s body for Christians. In the Bible, Christ spoke of a comforter who was to come. Sent by God, this comforter came to the Indians in the form of this holy Medicine. We know whereof we speak. We have tasted of God and our eyes have been opened.” (p. 117)
An unidentified Kiowa says this: “In the first creation God himself used to talk to people and tell them what to do. Long after, Christ came along among the white people and told them what to do. Then God gave us Indians Peyote. That’s how we found God.” (p. 118)

Having read the testimonies Smith has collected, I would count members of the Native American Church as psychedelic Christians, but I suspect that a history of being disapproved of by non-psychedelic Christians leads them to contrast their religion with that of Christians who don’t believe in the Medicine.

To complete the picture of why I think Smith’s book poses a problem to which psychedelic Christianity is the solution, we need to consider, first, his criticisms of Leary’s leadership of the psychedelic movement, and then what he writes about his participation in the Good Friday Experiment.

The problem, again, is the difficult question of how best to integrate one’s psychedelic experiences with the rest of one’s life. The solution to this problem is not made any easier by the answer of the mainstream culture, which is that no one should have any psychedelic experiences in the first place, or, for anyone who has done so, that he or she should stop doing it. But this is nothing new. Christianity itself was illegal for a longer period of time than psychedelics have been illegal.

Timothy Leary’s attempted solution to this part of the problem was to seek publicity in the hope that curiosity would induce enough people to try psychedelics to ensure that the good news would spread by word of mouth so that societal resistance would be overwhelmed. Smith thinks this is where the psychedelic movement “went off the rails,” as he puts it. Smith is not alone in this kind of criticism of Leary. Albert Hoffman, the discover of LSD, says the following in an endorsement printed on the back cover of Smith’s book: “His [Smith’s] views are completely in accord with my own,” and he expresses similar criticisms of Leary in his book, LSD: My Problem Child. And Michael Pollan, in his new book, How to Change Your Mind, similarly blames Leary, whom he calls a “disgraced scientist,” for the backlash that curtailed scientific research into the promise of psychedelics. This is a topic for another day, but I will just say, at this point, that, as someone who would have been unlikely to have been chosen as an experimental subject or as one of the leaders of society to be informed of the secret of LSD, I am grateful to Tim for letting the cat out of the bag.

Smith begins his criticism of Leary’s leadership with a backhanded compliment, as follows:

“History shows that minority faiths are viable, but only when they are cradled in communities that are solid and structured enough to constitute what in effect are churches. To date [1967], the psychedelic movement shows no signs of having within it the makings of such a church . . . but perhaps I should qualify that in one respect. The psychedelic movement does have a charismatic leader: a man of intelligence, culture, and charm who is completely self-assured and apparently fearless. When Arthur Kleps, head of a branch of the short-lived Neo-American Church, testified before the Special Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Narcotics that ‘we regard Dr. Timothy Leary with the same special love and respect as was reserved by the early Christians for Jesus, by Muslims for Mohammed, and by Buddhists for Gautama,’ we sensed the presence of charisma, the magnetism of a person who is regarded by his followers as an embodiment of spiritual power.” (p. 36)

These comments interest me personally because I was a member of the Neo-American Church from 1971-1978 and knew Art Kleps well, years after Smith had called the church “short-lived” in 1967. And you can do an internet search and see for yourself that the church still maintains an active website and accepts members, even though Art Kleps died in 1999. And Art was the founder of the Neo-American Church, not head of a branch of it.

Some nine years after his Senate testimony, Art excommunicated Leary from the Neo-American Church for the occultism evident in his “Starseed Transmission” statement. And three years later I left the Neo-American Church, having doubts about the philosophy of solipsistic nihilism that Art espoused.

My experience supports the statement that Smith makes after acknowledging Leary’s fearlessness and charisma. He says that having a charismatic leader is not enough. Then he goes on to make three principal criticisms of the psychedelic movement (as it was in 1967): that it lacks a social philosophy, that it is antinomian, and that it fails to draw the line between the exoteric and the esoteric. (p. 37)

As for the criticism that the movement lacks a social philosophy, after noting striking parallels between Tertullian’s admonition to the early Christians on how to live in confrontation with the Roman Empire and Leary’s advice to those who had tuned in to psychedelic experience that they should drop out of American social institutions, Smith points out that an important difference is that the early Christians, unlike the psychedelic enthusiasts, expected the imminent end of history through divine intervention. He argues that this apocalypticism gave them a philosophy of history that justified their refusal to take part in politics, trade, or academic philosophy. (pp. 37-38) But is it really so clear that the psychedelic movement, especially in those early years, lacked this element of apocalypticism? I think that many of us regarded the sudden widespread availability and use of LSD as divine intervention that marked, perhaps not the end of history, but the end of it as we had known it up to that point.

Smith continues in his criticism of Leary’s leadership by noting that another possibility, rather than apocalypticism, as an alternative to the shortcomings of the prevailing culture, would have been a revolutionary social program of improvements that the psychedelic counterculture would make. But he doesn’t think Leary or any other psychedelic leaders have put forth any such proposals. (p. 38) In response, I ask that we consider the American, French, and Bolshevik revolutions, and the fact that two of the three resulted in rule by terror. It might have actually been a good thing that Leary didn’t have much in the way of a detailed proposal as to how society should be run and instead advised people not to follow leaders, while at the same time acting as though he thought he was one.

Smith thinks there is one other possible path that could have been followed. Rather than expecting divine intervention or advocating a revolutionary social program to improve society, the psychedelic movement could have established utopian enclaves in which lives could be lived independently of the mores of the mainstream culture. And he recognizes that some attempts were made in this direction, but he observes that none have proved to be viable in the long term. (ibid.)

He concludes that the psychedelic movement, being neither apocalyptic, revolutionary, nor utopian, has failed to produce a social message that is worthy of respect, and this is his first main criticism of it. (p. 39)

His second main criticism comes under the heading of antinomianism, “the belief that it is possible to advance in virtue to a point where one stands above the law and is entitled to lay aside its commands in the name of a higher morality.” (ibid.) He doesn’t explain or give any examples of the ways he thinks Leary or other psychedelic leaders have advocated antinomianism. I assume he has in mind the fact that they continued to use LSD after it was made illegal and encouraged others to do so also. I know that Art Kleps and all members of the Neo-American Church held the position that using psychedelic substances to stimulate visionary experience was protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Smith himself made the same argument in favor of members of the Native American Church being exempt from laws against the possession of peyote. Did he think the Native Americans should have ceased practicing their religion if the U.S. Congress had not effectively agreed by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993? Was the Native American Church guilty of antinomianism before that by insisting on the rights of its members to use peyote as a sacrament?

Again, the force of Smith’s charge of antinomianism against the psychedelic movement circa 1967 comes down to the problem of finding a context of guidance as to how to live one’s life in the light of one or more religious experiences induced by the ingestion of a psychedelic. This problem is especially acute when the powers-that-be regard the use of psychedelics as dangerous and destructive and pass and enforce laws against it. Under such circumstances, defying the law is necessary in order to find out if taking a psychedelic really can produce a religious experience, but finding out that it can doesn’t solve the problem of how to live one’s life accordingly.

Now we come to Smith’s criticism of the psychedelic movement circa 1967 that I find most objectionable: that it fails to observe the esoteric/exoteric divide. He cites Jesus’ admonition not to cast pearls before swine, and writes, “In its early centuries, Christianity reserved a number of its dogmas for those who had undergone probationary instruction and been baptized. The promise that was exacted of them, ‘I will not speak of thy mysteries to thine enemies,’ still appears in orthodox Christian liturgies.” Next, he cites examples from Hinduism and writes, “India honors higher states of consciousness fully as much as today’s psychedelic proponents do, but insists that if they are accessed by persons who are unprepared for them, one of two things will happen. Either (as I have said) the subject will be damaged, or the significance of the experience will be missed and the encounter trivialized. . . . The psychedelic movement pays lip service to these dangers by advising screening and preparing subjects, but on the whole it honors the esoteric/exoteric distinction only perfunctorily.” (p. 42) He then discusses the Ch’an/Zen tradition in Buddhism, which came to emphasize integrating the satori experience into daily life. However, as far as I can see, this fact has nothing to do with the esoteric/exoteric divide, but is a return to the main point about the value of the peak experience being realized in how one lives one’s life.

I object to Smith’s criticism of Leary’s failure to reserve the holy teachings for the select few because I think it is unChristian and unpsychedelic. (It is interesting that Art Kleps criticized Leary from the opposite direction, that is, for the esotericism implied in his latching onto the fad of occultism.) True, Jesus said we shouldn’t cast pearls before swine and distinguished between his followers, to whom had been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, and those outside who look but don’t perceive and listen but don’t understand. (Mk 4:11-12) And he told the twelve when he sent them out that if any place didn‘t welcome them and refused to hear them, “You, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mk 6:7-122) But he never told them to withhold from anyone the message that the Kingdom is near. On the contrary, he said, “There is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.” (Mk 4:22) And he said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:14-16)

And I say that is unpsychedelic to arrogate to oneself and one’s associates the right to decide who gets to try psychedelics and who doesn’t. The peak psychedelic experience blows away such pretensions.

I have great respect for Huston Smith’s life and work. I used his The World’s Religions as a text in the Great Religions of the World class I taught for years. His ability, to present the viewpoint of each of the world’s religious traditions as if looking out from inside that tradition, has no equal that I know of. He is a saint for explaining clearly why religion matters in an era when too many people think “scientific” materialism will do the job, and he is a psychedelic hero for helping Congress to see the light about the religious rights of members of the Native American Church to use peyote. But I think his assessment of the psychedelic movement and his recommendations for the way forward are unworkable and unduly pessimistic. He writes, “Despite the fact that I do not see within the psychedelic movement the makings of a viable church, I hope that (as legal use of the entheogens seems destined for the immediate future to be restricted to research) ‘religious research’ will not be considered a contradiction in terms. If a sincere group wishing to use the entheogens for genuinely religious purposes were permitted to do so while qualified observers kept close check on what happens to the group and in the individual lives of its members, the result would at least be interesting, and might be instructive.” (p. 43)

When Smith says that he doesn’t see within the psychedelic movement the makings of a viable church, he is evidently excluding the Native American Church from what he is calling “the psychedelic movement,” because it clearly is a viable church, as he himself recognizes. More importantly, for everyone who believes that psychedelics can induce genuine religious experiences but who is not a member of the Native American Church, Smith’s conclusion involves an abject surrender of the First Amendment right to freely practice one’s religion. His statements raise a serious question: Who are the ones qualified to permit or to forbid a sincere group to use entheogens for genuinely religious purposes? In regard to his hope that religious research might be permitted, presumably the “qualified observers” who are supposed to keep “close check on what happens to the group and in the individual lives of its members” will not themselves be members of the group or even sympathetic “fellow travelers,” for that would compromise scientific objectivity. But no self-respecting sincere and genuine religious group would consent to having purportedly neutral “researchers” to keep close check on the individual lives of its members in a social and legal context where governmental officials claim the authority to pass judgment on whether or not they should be permitted to continue to practice their religion.

In Smith’s book, there are only two psychedelic trips of his own that he describes in any detail. I have already quoted parts of his description of his first trip in Timothy Leary’s home on New Years Day 1961. You will recall that he found that trip to be terrifying but also productive of an epochal change in his life, and he said to Leary, “I hope you know what you’re playing around with here.”The other trip that he describes in some detail occurred on Good Friday of 1962, during what came to be called the Good Friday Experiment or, sometimes, “the Miracle of Marsh Chapel.” The contrast between Smith’s remarks to and about Leary and his comments about Walter Pahnke, the designer of the Good Friday Experiment, is quite striking. (It is worth noting that Leary was one of the two academic advisors who were responsible for supervising Pahnke’s project.) Of Pahnke he writes that “it is difficult to imagine how the history of the entheogens might have been different had he not died in a scuba-diving accident, for he brought to his serious involvement with mysticism the scientific training of a medical doctor and his intention to devote his career to studying the resources of chemicals for religion.” (p. 16)

Chapter Seven of the book consists of an interview of Smith by Thomas Roberts, Professor of Educational Psychology at Northern Illinois University, about a previously unreported incident that occurred during the Good Friday Experiment. Smith tells about the design of the experiment and the previously unreported incident (one of the members of the experimental group thought he had been chosen by God to announce to the world the dawning of the Messianic Age and had chosen a singularly ineffective method of carrying out his mission), and then Roberts asks him, “Anything else?”

Smith replies, “Only the gratitude I feel toward Wally for having mounted the experiment…. [I]t enlarged my understanding of God by affording me the only powerful experience I have had of his personal nature. I had known and firmly believed that God is love and that none of love’s nuances could be absent from his infinite nature; but that God loves me, and I him, in the concrete way that human beings love individuals, each most wanting from the other what the other most wants to give and with everything that might distract from that holy relationship excluded from view—that relation with God I had never before had. It’s the theistic mode that doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have to say for it that its carryover topped those of my other entheogenic epiphanies. From somewhere between six weeks and three months (I should judge) I really was a better person—even at this remove, I remain confident of that. I slowed down a bit and was somewhat more considerate. I was able to some extent to prolong the realization that life really is a miracle, every moment of it, and that the only appropriate way to respond to this gift that we have been given is to be mindful of that gift at every moment and to be caring toward everyone we meet.” (p. 105)

And what was the design of the experiment? It was elegantly simple. There were twenty volunteer subjects, mostly students from Andover Newton Theological Seminary. There were ten more volunteer guides who had previous experience with entheogens. (Smith was one of the guides.) Fifteen of the thirty would receive a dose of psilocybin, and the other fifteen would receive as a placebo nicotinic acid, which produces a tingling sensation. It was a double-blind experiment. That is, neither the volunteers nor the investigator would be informed, until after the experiment, who had received the psilocybin and who had received the nicotinic acid. The experiment would take place on Good Friday in a small chapel, Marsh Chapel, in the basement of the building at Boston University where the Dean of the Chapel, Howard Thurman, would be conducting the Good Friday service, and the service would be piped into the chapel where the subjects were. The day after the experiment the subjects were to write a report about what they had experienced, and these reports would be scored by independent raters “on a scale of zero to three for the degree to which the subject’s experiences included the seven traits of mystical experience that W.T. Stace lists in his classic study, Mysticism and Philosophy.” The subjects were not told of Stace’s book beforehand nor were they encouraged to read any literature on mysticism they were not already familiar with from their studies. (p. 100)

Smith reports that the results were unambiguous. With the exception of one borderline case, those who had received the psilocybin reported religious experiences that matched the criteria on Stace’s list. Those who had received the placebo did not. Twenty five years later, Rick Doblin of the Multi-Disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, located the participants and conducted follow-up interviews. The subjects who had received the psilocybin still vividly remembered details of the experiment and regarded it as a life-changing and beneficial event. Members of the control group reported that the experiment had had little impact on their lives, except for two of them who reported to Doblin that the service had had a beneficial effect in that it had inspired each of them to try psychedelics after the experiment. (

Smith’s book highlights two interrelated problems concerning psychedelics: 1) the problem, for each person, of how to integrate psychedelic experience into his or her life as a whole, and 2) the problem, for society, of how to adjust to the existence of a sizable minority who have experimented with psychedelics and believe their lives have improved as a result. Smith thinks a viable church is the solution and criticizes the psychedelic movement for being unable to produce one, not counting the existence of the Native American Church, which predates what he calls “the psychedelic movement.” My claim is that psychedelic Christianity is the best solution for both of these problems.

What I mean by saying that psychedelic Christianity is the solution is that we don’t need a new church, we just need a deeper understanding of the one we already have. The worship service that was piped into the chapel where the Good Friday Experiment took place did not use some special “psychedelic” liturgy, nor was it the ritual of an exotic religion borrowed from someone else’s culture. Rather it was the product of centuries of organic development of rituals and language that evoke the sacred and connect our modern world with ancient truths.

The great Christian themes are forgiveness, love, and victory over death. One must take up one’s cross, that is, recognize that life involves one’s own personal suffering as well as joy and that one does have to die one’s own death from this life, while at the same time one is saved from eternal death and separation from the people one loves. Psychedelic experience has no truths truer than these to teach, but it can intensify one’s gratitude for them, making it easier to fulfill the greatest commandment.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:36-40)

I’m not saying it is easy except during rare moments, but integrating one’s psychedelic experience into the rest of one’s life, turning altered states into altered traits, is no different from one’s goal as a Christian to live one’s life, day by day and moment by moment, in accord with the good news that the Kingdom of God is near. In the Kingdom of God everyone fulfills those two commandments.

Of course, there are those who think that Christianity doesn’t make sense and so won’t be persuaded that psychedelic Christianity is the solution to anything. Up until eight or nine years ago, I would have been one of them. My psychedelic experiences convinced me that religion is important, but not that there is a personal God. That has come after a long time of reflecting on philosophical questions, especially the question of personal identity, as I already mentioned.

There are some people who understand Christianity in a way that doesn’t make sense to me. For example, I think people are right to be cautious about all drugs—legal, illegal, psychedelic or not—and that some people would be better off never taking any drug than risking addiction to a bad drug. But I also think some drugs can save lives and some can save souls. Drugs can be used to commit suicide. On the other hand, I have heard of more than one case in which someone who was suicidal was persuaded by a friend to try taking a psychedelic and came to love life again. So, it isn’t wise to take either of the positions “Drugs are good!” or “Drugs are bad!” But several people on separate occasions independently of one another (but not independently of a source who came up with it, I imagine) have argued that since the Greek word pharmakeia means “sorcery,” and the Bible condemns sorcery, it follows that the Bible condemns the use of psychedelic drugs (pharmaceuticals). Of course, it would equally follow from those premises that the Bible condemns the use of aspirin, insulin, blood pressure- and cholesterol-lowering drugs, and everything else one can buy at a pharmacy. But that doesn’t seem to bother them, and they go ahead and warn others that I am a false prophet leading people astray, and so is anyone else who says psychedelics and Christianity are compatible. Such people are no doubt sincere and mean well, but I think they resemble the scribes and Pharisees who condemned Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath and charged that his healing must be by the power of Beelzebub.

And, of course, there are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Neo-Pagans, and followers of other religious traditions, who do not accept Christianity, psychedelic or not. I would be willing to engage any such person in a mutually respectful conversation in which I would learn about his or her worldview and would try to explain why Christianity makes sense to me. In this essay I have just wanted to explain how I think both Price’s account of his mescaline experience and Smith’s book about the religious significance of psychedelics can be taken to support the view that the truths learned through psychedelic experience and the truths that Christianity teaches are the same, and, as I said, that we don’t need a new church but rather a deeper understanding of the one we already have.

Mixed feelings about psychedelic science

The attached article is a perfect example of why I have mixed feelings about all the excitement around the scientific approach to integrating psychedelic experience into our civilization.  Let’s begin with the title: “Psychedelic Drugs Really Do Lead to a Higher State of Consciousness.” Yes, it is satisfying to see that fact affirmed. However, did we really need the experiment reported in the article to tell us that? Not if we have experienced psychedelics for ourselves. But experiencing something directly yourself is not “scientific” according to the modern, science-worshipping view of what science is. It is mere anecdotal evidence.

The scientific method grew out of a period when thinkers began to follow the empirical principle: try it and find out for yourself, instead of accepting whatever The Philosopher (Aristotle) said about it. Our modern version of quoting The Philosopher is citing what “the science” says and being dazzled by numbers and jargon. Replacing “Try it and find out for yourself,” the new principle is “It is real only if it can be measured.” From the attached article: “The scans looked for tiny magnetic fields produced in subjects’ brains to measure neural signal diversity, or the complexity of brain activity.” We go immediately from something apparently value-neutral and relatively uninterpreted (“tiny magnetic fields”) to something implying interpretation (“neural signal diversity”). A signal is something that is meant to convey some meaning to somebody. But these scientists strain to appear to be doing nothing more than measuring something without saying whether that something is a good thing or not.

Fancy titles and institutional affiliation help lend an aura of authority, too. Well, who am I to talk? After all, I am Janitor and President of the Institute for the Advancement of Psychedelic Christianity. Anil Seth, co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Essex is quoted in the write up as saying, “Since this measure has already shown its value as a measure of ‘conscious level,’ we can say that the psychedelic state appears as a higher ‘level’ of consciousness than normal—but only with respect to this specific mathematical measure.” If we already have what really are signals, and not just “signals”, whatever those might be, we already have a mind doing the signaling. Do any of us consciously send signals to the scientists to show how stoned or unstoned we are by producing tiny magnetic fields in our brains? Are we to say it is our subconscious minds doing it? I feel sure the working assumption here is that the mind is nothing more than the brain, and it is that assumption that I believe to be false, since what it is like to be the subject of an experience is not an object or process that can be described from an impersonal, third-person point of view. If we consider the field of consciousness and the brain of a particular person, to claim that the field of consciousness is nothing more than the processes going on in his or her brain is to claim that the field of consciousness is nothing more than a part of itself. A person’s brain, whether one’s own or someone else’s, to the extent that it is an object of consciousness at all, is always a circumscribed portion of one’s own field of consciousness.

There is always something going on in the brain of a living human being, and it is not surprising that there will be correlations to be discovered between observable brain processes and reports of experiences by the person whose brain it is. The question is whether discovering these correlations help us understand more about what we care about. Robin Cahart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial College London, is quoted as saying, “People often say they experience insight under these drugs—and when this occurs in a therapeutic context, it can predict positive outcomes. The present findings may help us understand how this can happen.” I have several questions and comments:

1) Why the qualifying clause, “when this occurs in a therapeutic context”? Is an insight that occurs outside a therapeutic context automatically suspect or less valuable? And what counts as a therapeutic context? Does putting a subject into an MRI machine or using some other apparatus to detect the magnetic fields inside his or her brain enhance a therapeutic context, or does it detract from it?

2) If someone says they have experienced an insight, then unless they are lying or mistaken, this is a positive outcome. It is not just a predictor of a positive outcome.

3) The suggestion that “the present findings may help us to understand how this can happen,” i.e., how someone can have an insight as a result of psychedelic experience, is just another one of those promises we hear about the wonders neuroscience is likely to bring in the future. The present findings themselves are nothing more than a stamp of “scientific” approval on what we already know.

I think this scientific approach to psychedelics is intended to make it more respectable to take psychedelics. And it may do that. I am no expert on how to make things respectable. But if it does, and if it comes at the price of hiding the fundamentally religious nature of psychedelic experience, it isn’t worth it. Studying religion, philosophy, art, music, or literature in the light of one’s own psychedelic experience are more likely to lead towards wisdom than is studying someone else’s psychedelic experience by aping the methods of the physical sciences. This is not to say that science itself is not worth pursuing. I will be happy if neuroscience discovers some cures for neurological diseases. But neuroscientists shouldn’t think they know any more about consciousness itself than anybody else.


Scientific and Religious Authorities

Under what circumstances and to what degree is it wise to rely on scientific and religious authorities?

(This is an excerpt from Psychedelic Christianity.)

Psychedelic Christianity is based on the empirical principle: try it and find out for yourself. It is a distortion of empiricism to think of it as belief in only what can be confirmed by what appears to the senses, or else we must expand our concept of “the senses.” If I feel joy, for example, is that something I know through sense experience? Out of all the people I know about, I know which one I am. Is that something I know through sense experience? Whose sense experience? Empiricists prefer belief in what is experienced by oneself directly over belief based on someone else’s claim to authority. Ironically, all too often people who think of themselves as believers in science betray empiricism by accepting unquestioningly the pronouncements of authority figures who claim to speak for science. If we are to accept a claim as based on scientific research, we must understand the claim and at least something about the research. Of course, we don’t always have the time or desire to look into it for ourselves, and so we accept the word of someone whom we regard as an honest expert. But we at least have to do a little thinking about whether there are other credible experts who disagree and about criteria for deciding who is more likely to be reliable. Otherwise, our acceptance of a supposed authority’s claim is worthless.

Similar considerations apply to supposed religious authorities. Psychedelic Christianity is not an appeal to the Bible as “the inerrant word of God.” The appeal is always and only to what rings true in the light of one’s own experience. This doesn’t mean that we should never rely on authorities or that we shouldn’t regard the Bible as authoritative. It just means that there is no escaping the fact that one has a choice as to whether or not to believe a particular source is a reliable authority; that when one does rely on an authority, one can only really do that by understanding what the authority says as it applies to one’s own experience; and that accepting that a person is an authority doesn’t necessarily imply that everything he or she says is correct.

God and the Paranormal

I presented this paper on God and the paranormal as a guest lecturer in Dr. Bruce Solheim’s Paranormal Personal History class at Citrus College, Glendora, California, on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018.

God and the Paranormal

When Bruce asked me to give a guest lecture for this class, I asked him what he would like for me to talk about. He suggested “God and the Paranormal.” I replied, “Good idea! If God isn’t paranormal, who or what is?” But what does “paranormal” mean, anyway? Philosophical questions are rarely, if ever, answered simply by looking up a word in a dictionary, but it is a place to begin. Here is the definition from Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary:

paranormal designating or of psychic or mental phenomena outside the range of the normal

I don’t know about you, but I’m not wildly enthusiastic about that way of defining it, since I don’t think we have a clear, uncontroversial conception of what is outside the range of the normal for purposes of this definition. For example, presumably the mental phenomena experienced by someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are outside the range of the normal, but I don’t think we would usually use the word “paranormal” to describe them.

Google Dictionary has the following:

paranormal denoting events or phenomena such as telekinesis or clairvoyance that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding

This definition is an improvement because it includes some helpful examples of what the term was coined to designate. And I won’t deny we need some idea of what is normal if we’re going to know what is para- or beyond normal. But this definition raises the question whether there might be some kind of non-normal scientific understanding and, if so, how it would relate to normal scientific understanding. For example, what about the psychic effects of ingesting a psychedelic substance such as LSD? Are they beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding, or not?

Cambridge Dictionary (online) gives us this:

paranormal impossible to explain by known natural forces or by science

I like this one the best because it doesn’t rely on knowing already what is “normal science” or what is inside or outside the “range of the normal.” Here is something to consider about this definition, though. Since “paranormal” is defined as “impossible to explain by known natural forces or by science,” we might ask: known by whom? Will what is paranormal be relative to each individual’s knowledge of natural forces or science? If so, one might think that the more ignorant a person is, the more things will be paranormal for him or her. Or, do we say that what we mean by the “known” in “impossible to explain by known natural forces or by science” is “known by scientific experts,” i.e., by those who know the most about natural forces? In that case, something that a less educated person about science would count as paranormal might be explainable in terms of natural forces by a more educated person about science, so that it wouldn’t really be paranormal after all. Furthermore, it could happen that something that was impossible to explain by the most well-informed scientific experts of an earlier era might have become explainable by experts of a later one.

Here is another thing to consider. Think of the examples of the miracles attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. Being able to do something of a certain sort indicates possession of effective knowledge of that sort of thing, doesn’t it? If Jesus was able to perform miracles, then he must have known how to perform miracles. So, even though those miracles seem paranormal to those of us who don’t know how to do them, including, presumably, the most well-credentialed physical scientists, they weren’t really paranormal because they would have been possible for Jesus to explain, had he chosen to do so.

Someone might object, “Well, sometimes people are able to do something without being able to explain how they do it.” Yes, that’s true, but in the case of Jesus, whom his followers came to believe was the son of God at least partly on the basis of his ability to perform miracles, it doesn’t seem likely that he could just do it without really understanding how. It seems more likely that if he didn’t explain how he did it other than by saying that whoever had seen him had seen the Father, it wasn’t because he didn’t know how he did it, but rather because he thought that we wouldn’t be able to understand the explanation, or else possibly because he didn’t think the how of it was what mattered.

So, again, either the miracles performed by Jesus weren’t really paranormal after all, or else we have to say “paranormal” means “impossible to explain as a result of natural forces by the experts on natural forces, except for the one who knows the most of all about natural forces, i.e., the one with the power to create or change natural forces.” In other words, if only God can understand it, then it’s paranormal.

A different objection would come from those who don’t believe Jesus really performed those miracles, that either they were made up later by people who had other reasons for believing in Jesus and wanted to enhance his reputation by getting people to believe he could perform miracles, or else that there was really some sort of natural explanation for what seemed to be a miracle in each case. Lazarus wasn’t really dead, but in a coma, for example. Or, it was probably an exaggeration that there were five thousand, and members of the crowd were satisfied with just a crumb of bread and a tiny piece of fish — it seemed like a feast to them — because they were so excited by Jesus’ teachings. Or, in the cases of miraculous healings, the blindness or lameness was hysterical and healed by the emotional well-being generated by the attention paid to the blind or lame person by the charismatic center of the crowd’s attention.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is a motto we are likely to hear when talking about miracles or the paranormal. So, here the question would be: does it count as extraordinary evidence that we have written records of multiple claims of Jesus performing miracles that have been preserved and handed down as sacred scriptures for 2000 years? Obviously, there will be disagreement about the answer to that question. So, we need to ask the general question: What would count as the kind of extraordinary evidence that should convince us that a miracle has taken place?

Before attempting to answer this question, let’s take a look at a dictionary definition of miracle. This is from Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 3rd edition, 1997, and I’m including the etymology, which I think is worth taking note of.

miracle OFr<L miraculum, a strange thing, in LL(Ec), miracle<mirari, to wonder at < mirus, wonderful < IE base *(s)mei-, to SMILE
1 an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws and is hence thought to be due to supernatural causes, esp. to an act of God 2 a remarkable event or thing; a marvel 3 a wonderful example (a miracle of tact) 4 MIRACLE PLAY

In the “Guide to the Use of the Dictionary” at the front of the volume, the editors state that the order of senses in the definitions are usually in historical order, from the etymology (the sense or senses of a word before modern English times, through the original modern English sense to the most recent senses. They then admit that the exact historical development of a word is often obscure and that sometimes different meanings developed at about the same time. Now, for purposes of our discussion we aren’t interested in the fourth sense listed here, of a miracle play, which was a type of medieval religious dramas dealing with the lives of the saints. And I’m not particularly interested in sense 3, which seems to be the use of the word “miracle” as a bit of hyperbole, not to be taken literally. So, if we look at just senses 1 and 2, I think it is clear that sense 2 most closely reflects the etymology of the word. After all, in the etymology there is nothing about apparently contradicting known scientific laws, as in sense 1.

Here is one question we should ask: can something be remarkable, amazing, a marvel, mind-blowing (in the parlance of the 60s), and yet not be something that contradicts known scientific laws? I think it is clear that the answer is Yes. Aren’t there certain big moments in life, such as the moment one first discovers romantic love, or the moment one first sees one’s child, that are amazing, a marvel, and yet that don’t contradict known scientific laws? When we ask whether an event or action contradicts scientific laws, we are asking about how things are objectively, leaving aside anyone’s subjective, emotional feeling about it. When we ask whether something is amazing, wonderful, a marvel, something that makes us smile—a miracle in the original sense—we are asking precisely about someone’s subjective, emotional feeling about it.

Suppose a miracle in sense 1 occurs and is witnessed by a scientist who knows all about the scientific laws which are apparently contradicted by what he or she has just witnessed. For such a scientist, the event would probably be a miracle in both sense 1 and sense 2. He or she would know that it appears to contradict scientific laws and would also probably feel a sense of wonder, amazement, perhaps even dread about it. In contrast, I can imagine that there could be some non-scientist who observed the very same event—it might just be an arrow moving towards a certain number on a dial, for example—and would not be amazed or even all that interested. That event would not be a miracle in sense 2 for that non-scientist, even if told by the scientist that it was a miracle in sense 1. And for either a scientist or a non-scientist, I can imagine that an event—say the birth of a child or the successful recovery from a dangerous and life-saving surgery—could be a miracle in sense 2 but not in sense 1.

Now that we’ve differentiated between the subjective sense (sense 2) of miracle and the objective sense (sense 1), let’s see what light it sheds on our original question: What would count as the kind of extraordinary evidence that should convince us that a miracle has taken place? If we are asking about a miracle in sense 2, the answer would be simply the subjective feeling that something wonderful and amazing has just occurred. If we are asking about a miracle in sense 1, that subjective feeling of amazement may or may not be present. We would need whatever kind of evidence would be required to convince us that one or more scientific laws appear to have been contradicted by what just happened.

According to the eighteenth-century British philosopher, David Hume (1711-1776), the definition of miracle is exclusively that of a real and not just apparent violation of the laws of nature, and he claims to prove conclusively that we could have, at best, only a reason for believing that such a thing had appeared to happen, not that it had really happened.

He has a point, I think, at least about this: that when we use the word miracle in the objective sense (sense 1), we are saying more than that an event or action apparently contradicts known scientific laws. If it really is a miracle, then it really does contradict known scientific laws. For instance, we wouldn’t say that a trick performed by a magician was a miracle, even though it appeared to contradict known scientific laws. We might say that it appeared to be a miracle. So, a sense 1 miracle is something that really does contradict known scientific laws. Then we can ask if there really are any miracles in that sense of the word. That is what Hume does, and his is answer is No. I don’t think he is right, though, that this is the only meaning of miracle that is worthy of philosophical attention. And I don’t think he has proved the impossibility of a sense 1 miracle, as I will try to explain.

Hume argues as follows:

A law of nature holds without exception, so if an exception does occur, then it wasn’t really a law of nature after all. Since a miracle is, by definition, an exception to a law of nature, and a law of nature, by definition, holds without exception, a miracle is a contradiction in terms. Suppose someone reports to us an event which apparently conflicts with a law of nature. According to Hume, the only reason we could possibly have for believing such a report would be if we believed that that person’s trustworthiness was, in effect, itself a law of nature, that he or she always tells the truth and is never mistaken about anything, without exception. Then we would either have to abandon our belief that the reported event contradicted a law of nature or abandon our belief that the person’s trustworthiness was a law of nature. If we were more convinced of the person’s trustworthiness than we were that the event violated a law of nature, then we would believe that the event had actually happened, but that it was only an apparent miracle. Conversely, if we were not convinced of the person’s absolute trustworthiness, then, since what he or she reported appears to contradict a law of nature, we would believe that he or she was mistaken or lying. Either way, any subjective amazement would be irrelevant because we would still be assured that there is no possibility of a real miracle happening. [This argument in Hume’s own words is on the handout.]

If Hume’s reasoning is sound, it would show that if our only reason for believing in God is our belief in reports of miracles handed down in sacred scriptures, then we don’t really have a good reason for believing in God. Applying his argument to the reports of Jesus’s miracles in the Gospels, for example, we would have two alternatives: either 1) it is a law of nature that the writers of the Gospels infallibly told the truth, so that what they reported actually occurred but only appears to violate the laws of nature; or 2) what they reported really does contradict the laws of nature, didn’t actually happen, and we were wrong if we thought the Gospel writers were infallible truth-tellers. We would need a reason for preferring the first alternative, independent of believing already that God guarantees the truth of the Gospels, in order for the reports of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels to count as evidence in favor of God’s existence. And it seems unlikely there would be such a reason to prefer the first alternative, since we know that even the best and brightest people at least sometimes lie or have mistaken beliefs, and it is pretty clear that the miracles reportedly performed by Jesus go way beyond what one would ordinarily expect to happen in the circumstances described, to such a degree that it isn’t a stretch to say that they are contradictions of laws of nature. People who have been dead for several days don’t naturally rise and walk out of their tombs upon being told to do so. Mixing dirt and spit and putting the resulting mud in the eyes of a blind person isn’t normally a cure for blindness. It isn’t a natural turn of events when a crowd of five thousand people can all be satisfactorily fed by a few fishes and loaves of bread. Normally, people can’t walk on the surface of a non-frozen lake.

But is Hume’s reasoning sound? The dictionary gives us a reason to doubt his premise that “miracle” just means a contradiction of one or more laws of nature, namely, that there is another sense of the word—and etymologically the original sense—according to which a miracle is something that is a cause for wonder and amazement, without regard to whether or not it contradicts a law of nature. But Hume if he were here, or a defender of Hume, could readily admit that there is this other sense and ask us to consider the soundness of his reasoning if we focus on the sense of the word according to which a miracle is something that at least apparently contradicts one or more laws of nature. The point of the argument is that this can never be anything more than an appearance, since a law of nature doesn’t allow for exceptions. Someone who doesn’t really understand the law of gravity, for example, might think that it is contradicted by the weightlessness of astronauts in the Space Station, whereas a scientifically educated person would know that their weightlessness is perfectly consistent with the law of gravity.

So, the question is: is it true that a law of nature, such as the law of gravity, would not be a law of nature after all if there were even one genuine, and not merely apparent, exception to it, as, for example, if a man really did walk, with no special equipment, across the surface of a non-frozen, water-filled lake, here on earth?

Suppose the following is true: God exists and is the creator and sustainer of the universe, so that what we discover and call the laws of nature are the predictable regularities he builds into the universe. He could change them any time he wants. Most of the time he doesn’t want to, because it would make it difficult for us to live and learn to love him as he loves us if the world were too unpredictable; but at certain times he suspends one or more laws temporarily. He does this in order to remind us of his existence. Then he restores the laws just as they were before. If all this is the case, would Hume be right to conclude that these laws of nature—the ones God suspended—were never really laws in the first place? Surely, it is more reasonable to think that this is one way in which a law of nature could have an exception, that is, that the creator of that law could suspend or change it and then reinstate it. [This view is expressed by Milton in the passage on the handout.]

The point is that Hume’s premise that a law of nature cannot have any exceptions and still be a law of nature depends on the assumption that either there is no God or that, if there is, He never temporarily suspends a law and then reinstates it. And it would be circular reasoning to think that an argument proves what it assumes to be true.

So, here is where we stand. If Hume’s argument is sound, it would show that if our only reason for believing in God is our belief in reports of miracles, then we don’t really have a good reason for believing in God. However, his argument is not sound unless either there is no God or, if God exists, He never performs miracles. We seem to be at a stalemate that leaves us unsure whether his argument is sound.

Can we get beyond this stalemate? One consideration that seems to tip the scales in Hume’s favor is the observation that it is a sound methodological principle in science to assume that there is a natural explanation, in terms of physical laws, for whatever one is trying to explain. Bringing in the acts of a supernatural being as part of the explanation means it is no longer a scientific explanation. Science is the pursuit of the kind of knowledge that gives us more predictive power, and to bring in the power of the deity in order to explain something is to admit that we don’t have predictive power concerning that thing.

But, I said “seems to tip the scales in Hume’s favor” because I believe we can give due weight to that methodological principle and still realize that science does not and cannot give us the whole truth about reality. The reason is that another methodological principle of science is to omit any emotional or otherwise subjective considerations from its account of things. A scientific description is an impersonal one, as if from no particular point of view, or from an all-seeing God’s-eye point of view. And yet each of us experiences the world from a subjective, first-person point of view. When we are pursuing science or trying to act justly, we can and should put aside our personal biases and try to imagine the situation from the perspective of an ideal, impartial observer. But that we each have a subjective, first-person perspective is just as factual, just as much a part of the way things are, as any objective, scientific fact.

We have already noticed how Hume’s argument depends on the premise that only the objective sense 1 of the definition of miracle matters. It isn’t surprising, then, that his argument concerns the trustworthiness, or lack of it, of other people’s testimony about the occurrence of miracles. He doesn’t talk about a case in which you see for yourself what appears to be a miracle.

One can doubt the testimony of one’s own senses up to a certain point. We know there are such things as optical illusions, mirages, and hallucinations, and that when we wake up from a dream, those dreamed events didn’t occur in our waking life. But if we doubt everything that our senses tell us, we have to give up any thought of empirical scientific proofs. And I submit that anyone who has had a mystical or religious experience cannot doubt that nature is not quite as mechanically predictable as Hume’s conception of exceptionless laws of nature would require.

This is related to an independent reason for believing in God—independent of whether or not he ever suspends or changes the laws of nature—and one that has convinced me that God exists. This reason is that it is a fact that, out of all the people that there are, I am just this one and nobody else, and the same is true for you and for everyone else. An account of reality that omits that fact would be incomplete. It would be like trying to use a map to get somewhere without knowing what point on the map represents your current location. It would render you incapable of using such words as “here,” “now,” “this,” and “I.” This fact, of which person I am, which person you are, is an essentially personal fact, and it doesn’t make sense to me to think that it could be given by some set of impersonal laws of nature. It makes more sense to me to believe that God, who is a person and not a thing or a force or a collection of things and forces, creates a universe that is predictable enough to be interesting to all the subjects of experience he also creates, each being one particular creature and not any other, and each with his or her own first-person perspective from which he or she experiences the world. Given this independent reason for believing in God, reports of miracles in sense 1 as well as sense 2 become much more believable. Surely, the one who creates the predictability can also suspend it or change it in ways that we don’t understand.

Thus, I think that Hume’s argument is not sound, because it depends on the false assumption that either there is no God or, if there is, He never performs miracles. So, Hume hasn’t convinced me that if our only reason for believing in God is our belief in reports of miracles, then we have no good reason for believing in God. Furthermore, believing that miracles are possible makes one more open to the possibility of experiencing a miracle oneself, so that it isn’t only a question of believing the reports of others. And if one has experienced a miracle, it makes it more likely that one will believe in some miracles reported by others. Of course, it doesn’t follow that every report of a miracle or of some paranormal phenomenon is true. As I said before, even the best and brightest sometimes lie or are mistaken in their interpretation of what they have experienced. For that reason, it is reasonable to be skeptical when someone claims something has happened that is impossible to explain by known natural forces or by science. The Bible itself warns us against false claims of miracles. But it is not reasonable to dismiss automatically all claims of miracles or paranormal phenomena, on the grounds that a miracle is by definition a contradiction of one or more laws of nature, and that a law of nature, by definition, can have no real contradictions. We simply don’t know that, and furthermore, I think we have good reason to doubt it. We have no good reason to restrict the meaning of miracle to the objective sense 1, and a miracle in the subjective sense 2 is just something amazing or wonderful, whether or not it conflicts with a law of nature. And we don’t have any good reason to think a law of nature cannot be temporarily suspended or changed.

The foregoing reflections lead me to the following conclusions:

Paranormal phenomena, which are impossible to explain by known natural laws or by science, may yet one day be so explained; so they call out for more scientific research. A miracle in sense 2 that turns out to be explainable in terms of natural forces may be one of the realest and most significant things that have happened in one’s life. But if it turns out never to be explainable in that way, we should not for that reason conclude that it is unreal or insignificant. It would then be a miracle in sense 1 that is not just apparently but actually impossible to explain in terms of natural forces. And it would still be one of the realest and most significant things that have happened in one’s life.

A revision to my new book prompted by reading Galen Strawson’s

I recently read and enjoyed Galen Strawson’s new book, Things That Bother Me. The chapter called “The Unstoried Life” was so persuasive to me that I wish I had read it before I wrote Psychedelic Christianity, because there is one sentence in it that I would like to take back and change. This reminds me of Jorge Luis Borges saying that his father had given him one piece of advice about pursuing a literary career: Don’t rush into print.

Here is the original sentence (p 58):

“No matter what one’s profession or calling, everyone’s greatest work of art is the story of his or her life, told by living it.”

And this is how I would now rewrite it:

”No matter what one’s profession or calling, everyone’s greatest work of art is the living of his or her life, moment by moment, even though most of those moments are quickly forgotten as they flow into new ones.”

And I would add the following sentence at the end:

”That is more important than any object one creates and leaves behind.”

This is what shines like gold in the light of the ultimate goal.

While I’m at it, I wonder if anyone has noticed that Schelling is misspelled as “Schilling” near the bottom of p. 21.