R. Gordon Wasson has been a long time advocate of a seductive hypothesis: that entheogens (psychedelic mushrooms, etc) have played a significant role in the evolution of many religions, from Hinduism in the East to Persephone devotion in the West (a mystery cult that survived for 1500 years at Eleusis in ancient Greece). And in the preface to one of his books, Persphone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion (Yale, 1986), he has a wonderful affirmation of intellectual skepticism:
In the opening chapter of my SOMA I said that there always hovered in my mind’s eye the admonitory finger of Tristram Shandy’s warning against the occupational hazard of those who advance hypotheses:
‘It is in the nature of a hypothesis when once a man has conceived it, that it assimilates everything to itself, as proper nourishment, and from the first moment of your begetting it, it generally grows stronger by everything you see, hear or understand.’
It seems that once you buy a new car—say, a sky blue Volkswagen—suddenly you notice sky blue vehicles everywhere. So it’s fair to ask yourself, at least once in a while, three things:
- In the realm of ideas, what have you bought lately?
- Where do your confirmation bias “eyes” naturally land?
- What would happen to your way of seeing the world if you made a conscious effort to downplay what you think you know, and notice other things?
Would that be perverse—not following your habitual perceptions and intuitions?
And why have you always trusted them in the first place?
Imagine someone who opened the doors on her most comfy and familiar epistemic closures and started walking through them. What would happen to her as a human being? Where would her life go?
Sounds like an interesting idea for a screenplay, doesn’t it?