Mushrooms and mysticism

Over at HuffPo, Mark Kleiman has a piece entitled Mushrooms and mysticism in which he reports on a remarkably thorough study into the effects of the “magic mushroom” hallucinogen psilocybin. The team at Johns Hopkins confirmed what most people would expect: psilocybin reliably (over 60% of the time) triggers a “full” mystical experience.
The author then starts in on the public policy issues: the fact that the National Institute on Drug Abuse wants to drop the whole thing, and the question of what happens when freedom of religious expression collides with drug policy:

If taking a dose of psilocybin under controlled conditions has a better-than-even chance of occasioning a full-blown mystical experience, it seems fairly hard to argue that forbidding such use doesn’t interfere with the free exercise of religion…. [The[ treaty banning psilocybin… seems to run squarely into the internationally recognized human right to religious practice, belief, and expression.

OK, I’m sure that those are important topics. But to me this study is just another nail in the coffin of religious experience as “evidence” for the supernatural. Four hundred years ago most people from Europe (including those taking over the Americas) were hard-core dualists: souls and other spirit-beings not only inhabited bodies, but could even invade them. Today, most intelligent people accept that a neuro-chemical brain malfunction (with genetic predisposition) is a better explanation than demonic possession for what we now call schizophrenia. Perhaps the overwhelming evidence for the natural, non-mystical origin of religious experience, coupled with facing up to non-issues like this will eventually banish “soulism” too. It’s about time.

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