The Reason Why the Drugs Might Work
Escaping the "Propositional Prison"
“The drugs don’t work, they just make things worse.” So famously sung Richard Ashcroft of The Verve in the late nineties.
Yet, in America especially, research into the potential therapeutic benefits of restricted psychoactive substances is at an all-time high. Banned drugs like psilocybin and ibogaine are being investigated for a wide range of mental health issues, including depression and PTSD.
We don’t really know why drugs of the tryptamine class, as these are, might have therapeutic benefits. But one theory that is gaining ground these days I find particularly interesting.
This theory could perhaps usefully be termed the “propositional prison” theory. Propositional knowledge is the knowing that comes from rational, semantic investigation. It is the business of science, mathematics and of looking at the world in one specific, object-orientated way. It has been the backbone of Western civilisation since the Enlightenment. And there is little doubt that its adoption has given our culture adaptive advantages that have allowed us to dominate all other cultures, as well as furnish us with amazing technology.
However, what has been great for technology has not always been great for humanity. Propositional logic is a mindset - one dominated by a sense of thing-ness, one that puts these “things” in categories, creates progressions from one “thing” to the other, one that creates and labels aspects of these “things” as good, bad, useful, useless etc.
If our brain is overly dominated by propositional thinking, increasing evidence suggests that its capacity to communicate within itself is diminished. Different modules of our brain actually use language to communicate with each other. And this connection between different bits of our brain helps to keep us mentally healthy. But, as more and more brains become reliant only on propositional thinking, when looking at the world around us, so the capacity for internal brain communication also decreases. And, as it does so, we become more and more prone to mental health issues.
Psychoactive substances suspend our capacity to only see the world through the lens of propositional logic for some hours. In this time, the connectivity between different areas of our brain is restored and all sorts of useful information can be communicated. We may have conscious insights into where we are going wrong in life, and see changes we need to make. Or the communication may be fully unconscious, yet nevertheless useful.
Learn more on this topic by googling “John Vervaeke, Propositional Tyranny.”