How psychedelics work: Fire the conductor, let the orchestra play | Michael Pollan

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Michael Pollan explains what goes on during the mental fireworks of a psychedelic experience.

– If your ego had a “location” in the brain, it would be the default mode network, where much of your self-critical mind chatter happens.

– Taking psychedelics down-regulates this brain network.
Researchers describe the effect of psychedelics as “letting the brain off its leash”, or firing the conductor to let the orchestra play. Without the default mode network acting as a dictator, areas of the brain that don’t normally interact meet, producing phenomena like hallucinations and synesthesia.

– An overactive ego may be what punishes those of us plagued with anxiety, addiction and mental health disorders. Psychedelics can have a beneficial effect by temporarily killing the ego, jogging the brain out of negative thinking patterns.

Michael Pollan’s latest book is How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence – ( He has written seven previous books including Cooked, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Botany of Desire, which received the Borders Original Voices Award for the best non-fiction work of 2001, and was recognized as a best book of the year by the American Booksellers Association and PBS premiered a two-hour special documentary based on The Botany of Desire in fall 2009.


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