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On Creativity, Marijuana And "a Butterfly Effect In Thought"

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On Creativity, Marijuana and "aButterfly Effect in Thought"

Posted: 7/18/11 09:58 AM ET





By Jason Silva <http://huffingtonpost.com/jason-silva>

"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A humancreature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive." [...] "...by some strange,unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they arecreating."- Pearl Buck, Winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938.

In a blog post last year entitled "Marijuana and DivergentThinking" <http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2010/03/marijuana_and_divergent_thinki.php>, Jonah Lehrer explains that many creative tasks require the cultivation ofan "expansive associative net, or what psychologists refer to as a"flat associative hierarchy." What this essentially suggests is thatcreative people should be able to make far-reaching connections among all sortsof seemingly unrelated ideas, and to not dismiss one possible connection justbecause it seems far-fetched.

Creativity and insight almost always involve an experience of acute patternrecognition: the eureka moment in which we perceive the interconnection betweendisparate concepts or ideas to reveal something new.

The Imaginary Foundation <http://www.imaginaryfoundation.com/> says that "to understand is to perceive patterns" and this isexactly what all great thinkers have done throughout the ages: they haveprovided a larger, dot-connecting, aerial view of things that subsumes theprevious paradigm. As Richard Metzger has written <http://books.google.com/books?id=cQr-ZucmGpAC&pg=PA24&lpg=PA24&dq=%22What+great+minds+have+done+throughout+history+is+provide+an+aerial+view+of+things.%22&source=bl&ots=cs8EJNXdth&sig=lizNLVA07XFykC3Yp5QOMhzA4RI&hl=en&ei=fzwkTu25JOji0QGMxvHaAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22What%20great%20minds%20have%20done%20throughout%20history%20is%20provide%20an%20aerial%20view%20of%20things.%22&f=false>:


What great minds have donethroughout history is provide an aerial view of things. A larger moreencompassing view that often subsumes the previous paradigm and then surpassesit in completeness with the vividness of its metaphors. Consider now how theevolving notions of a flat earth, Copernican astronomy and Einsteinian physicshave subsequently changed how mankind sees its place in the cosmos,continuously updating the past explanations with something superior.


Media philosopher Marshall McLuhansets a wonderful example as a patternistic thinker: he saw the electronic globalvillage coming decades before the Internet and interpreted electroniccommunications as extensions of the human nervous system. He connected thedots. A recent review of Douglas Coupland's McLuhan biography said <http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/02/11/marshall-mcluhans-biography-douglas-coupland/>:


More than anything, it paints McLuhan as a masterful dot-connector andvoracious cross-disciplinary thinker, a curious octopus if you will.


McLuhan, "was a master ofpattern recognition," wrote Coupland, "a man who bangs a drum solarge that it's only beaten once every hundred years."

This heightened ability to draw connections and novel associations betweendisparate ideas or objects is the hallmark of creative thinkers, who are alwayssearching for the initial conditions or tools that epiphanies are born from.

I believe that Marijuana is perhaps one of the best cognitive tools forcreativity.


In his ScienceBlogs post, Jonah Lehrer points to a paper recently publishedin Psychiatry Research, which "sheds some light on why smokingweed seems to unleash a stream of loose associations." In order to examinethe relationship between marijuana and creativity, the study looked at aphenomenon called "semantic priming," in which, Lehrer describes:


The activation of one word allows usto react more quickly to related words..Interestingly, marijuana seems toinduce a state of hyper-priming, in which the reach of semantic priming extendsoutwards to distantly related concepts.


He cites Vaughan Bell:


As cannabis certainly causes smokers to have freewheeling thoughts, theresearchers decided to test whether stoned participants would show the'hyper-priming' effect...[And indeed they found that]...volunteers who were underthe influence of cannabis showed a definite "hyper-priming" tendency,where distant concepts were reacted to more quickly.


Essentially, marijuana can extendthe range of our free-associative capacities. It increases the novel ways inwhich we find connections between ideas, and it also extends the range of ideasthat we might somehow relate to one another.

While not surprising, it does offer a scientific validation for what so manyartists, philosophers and scientists have been saying for ages: that marijuanais a cognitive catalyst that can trigger heightened free-associativecreativity, increased pattern recognition, and insight.

In this short video I explain how Marijuana sparks a butterfly effect inthought:



"Cannabis is an assassin of referentiality inducing aBUTTERFLY EFFECT in THOUGHT," says <http://hplusmagazine.com/2011/06/24/an-ecstatic-dialogue/> Darwin's Pharmacy author Rich Doyle. This effect"de-conditions our thinking" leading to whatRealitySandwich.com described <http://www.realitysandwich.com/node/591> as "the really big connectivity ideas arrived at wholly outside thelinear steps of argument. These are the gestalt-perceiving, asterism-forming"aha's!" that connect the dots and light up the sky with a newarchetypal pattern."

You can see the hyper-priming, free-associative effect at play when Doyle addsthat "cannabis induces a parataxis wherein sentences resonate together andsummon coherence in the bardos between one statement and other, rather thanthrough explicit semantics."

"...The words-leap-to-mind, one-after-another, of themselves withouthaving to be searched for," adds anthropologist Henry Munn. "It's aphenomenon similar to the automatic dictation of the surrealists except thathere the flow of consciousness tends to be coherent: a rational enunciation ofmeanings."

"...the fluency, the ease, the aptness of expression one becomes capableof are such that one is astounded by the words that issue forth... For theinspired one, it is as if existence were uttering itself through him..."

To quote Khalil Gibran, it feels as if words "come through you but notfrom you and though they are with you they belong NOT to you." You feel asif you are having a download.

Psychonaut and ecstatic poet Terence McKenna, who described language as anecstatic activity of signification, wrote <http://books.google.com/books?id=S-kDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA60&lpg=PA60&dq=mckenna+excites+vocalization+and+empowers+articulation.+It+transmutes+language+into+something+that+is+visibly+beheld&source=bl&ots=tZM9cRBL3R&sig=7K3jNGNb-ypEeGx0K6kPMHyzsYM&hl=en&ei=4z0kTu_YJ4Le0QH0xNWRDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=mckenna%20excites%20vocalization%20and%20empowers%20articulation.%20It%20transmutes%20language%20into%20something%20that%20is%20visibly%20beheld&f=false> that marijuana "excites vocalization and empowers articulation. Ittransmutes language into something that is visibly beheld." Indeed itliberates our linguistic straight-jacket.

Perhaps this is why so many artists have enjoyed Marijuana's effects.

Charles Baudelaire was fond of hosting "hashish parties" wheremembers of the intelligentsia could use hashish to elicit a very affective'rhapsodic oratory':


People completely unsuited forword-play will improvise an endless string of puns and wholly improbable idearelationships fit to outdo the ablest masters of this preposterous craft...

Every difficult question that presents a point of contention for theologians,and brings despair to thoughtful men, becomes clear and transparent. Everycontradiction is reconciled. Man has surpassed the gods.



Walter Benjamin wrote the book On Hashish where he articulatedphilosophical "protocols": first person accounts of marijuana intoxication.

Carl Sagan publicly came out saying marijuana often triggered creativeoutbursts. So too for Richard Feynman and recently there has been evidence thatShakespeare himself was a toker.


Accompanying this extended, intellectual hyper-priming, what we also gainwith marijuana is an enhanced ability to marvel.

As described in Darwin's Pharmacy, "...a sense of interior andexterior dissolves in awareness and awe."

"...there is an upwelling of fresh insight coupled with a feeling ofubiquitous harmony," in the experience.

The vision -- which i hasten to point out, is neither "religious" nor"otherworldly" -- feels like a"startling recognition."

This sense of revelation and awe can be illustrated by a tendency to indulgeheady thought experiments like this one described in Doyle's book:

"Christopher Uhl reminds us that "while gazing 'up' at a night sky,one in fact hangs off the planet and near the edge of a galaxy, vertiginous,suspended over the infinity of space. "

Uhl then quotes <http://www.hent.org/world/rss/files/heart_cosmos.htm> cosmologist Brian Swimme:


As you lie there feeling yourselfhovering within this gravitational bond while peering down at the billions ofstars drifting in the infinite chasm of space, you will have entered anexperience of the universe that is not just human and not just biological. Youwill have entered a relationship from a galactic perspective, becoming for amoment a part of the Milky Way galaxy, experiencing what it is like to be theMilky Way galaxy.


MARIJUANA AND ART : The 'Ecstasy' ofBeauty

"Beauty is an altered stated of consciousness, anextraordinary moment of poetry and grace, a rousing symphonic climax To seekbeauty is to have the willingness, the inclination, and the impetuous desirefor this encounter to transpire. Great art expands the way we see. It upliftsthe human spirit from the barbaric and thrusts it towards the numinous." -Director, Imaginary Foundation

"One day we'll fall down and weep and we'll understand it all" - Treeof Life film.

The sentence above sentence is heard in the trailer to Terrence Malick's Treeof Life and I believe it speaks of the ecstatic illumination burstingforth during our properly understood encounters with great art, great love andgreat truth.

As I've said before, Marijuana enhances our ability to marvel: Insome mysterious and uncannily recurring way, marijuana can induce an almost'synesthetic ecstasy,' whereby a loosening of the usually firm borders thatseparate our five senses allows for a broader, deeper, more profound, and oftentime-dilated "interpretation" and "internalization" ofmoment-to-moment experience.

Marijuana treats us to an awareness of a simultaneity of sensations, a sort ofmeta-pleasure, which is not surprising, given the roots of the term 'ecstasy,'as Rich Doyle writes:


"Ecstasy" comes etymologically from the experience of "beingbeside ourselves." The mathematician Brian Rotman has written extensivelyon this idea that we can experience "parallel" rather than"serial" reality."


This makes it a great tool for theappreciation and study of art.

Imagine the here and now" as a usually folded accordion, revealing only afraction of what is there: what weed does is it unfolds this 'accordion of thepresent moment', by sharpening our focus, diverging our thoughts, loosening ourreality tunnel, augmenting our semantic priming, removing our judgments andslowing how we perceive time...

Subjectively, this manifests itself in the perception that the "feelings" elicitedby art and music are in fact the ACTUAL feelings the artist felt, somehow,dizzyingly 'captured' by the work, immortalized, held in 'static communion' by thecanvas, or musical recording, or camera... and now able to enrapture andenchant us indefinitely.

We FEEL (and correctly recognize) the emotions of the artist, we apprehend thewordless, yet-no-less emotive SENSATIONS that were vividly translated from theartist's inner-experience into a communicable form. It is for this reason thatwe say that "music communicates the uncommunicable", or that"art is about certain feelings that cannot be expressed accurately inwords", or that "a picture is worth a thousand words." We aretherefore able to understand art as a tool for communication.

Art may be an important supplement to traditional language, due to its abilityto convey and communicate truth that doesn't fit inside the present constraintstraditional language might impose on us.

Perhaps this is why filmmaker Werner Herzog says he prefers "ecstatictruth" to factual truth... For whereas a literal journalist might havecertain facts straight, the articulation of a poet or artist, though less"factual", can actually reveal a deeper truth. As Alain DeBottononce wrote <http://www.amazon.com/Art-Travel-Alain-Botton/dp/0375420827>, the artist is "willing to sacrifice a naive realism in order to achieverealism of a deeper sort, like a poet who, though less factual than ajournalist in describing an event, may nevertheless reveal truths about it thatfind no place in the other's literal grid."

This still leaves open the question of why the artist chooses to make art. Whydoesn't he just "experience the present" and be done with it. Itcertainly would expend less effort.

Ernest Becker wrote in The Denial Of Death that the artist'smotivation comes from a desire to channel the anxiety about our mortality in acreative way. While not disagreeing, I might add that it is when we make artthat we defy death.

Richard Doyle explained to me that among other things, a desire to make art"shows that there is compassion, a will to share the outcome of the workof beauty on us, a bubbling desire to awaken us to our common ecstasy. Whysuffer when we can SEE?" He continued, saying that insight comes frompractice in letting go of prior thought formations and that marijuana does not<"cause these sessions but "occasions" them. this is whycannabis must be understood as a teacher plant: if used with intention, welearn to let go of what we 'know' and, instead, wonder."


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Dear Michael, THANK YOU, THANK YOU THANK YOU so very much for sharing this article. I've always seen things differently, so, whatever chemical it is that dos it, must be abundant in me, because I've been this way all my life. Mj just enhances it and helps me channel it. The sense of wonderment is something I've always had. I think with the creative side of the brain. When I think, write, or talk with people, I often jump from one subject to another, though they may seem unrelated, then I have to backtrack and explain it to my listeners, or readers, in case they don't connect the dots. There's a lot more that I can see in those articles than just how mj enhances creativity, what you shared has helped me realize something on a more fully conscious level.


Sincerely, Sb

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