Throughout my tenure as one of the news editors at The Anomalist, I am consistently astounded by the complexities, and sheer depth, behind forteana and associated topics. For the past three years, one topic has remained elusive to mainstream science and anomalists: the problem of consciousness. From Alex Tsakiris,1 Rupert Sheldrake,2 Greg Taylor,3 near-death and out-of-body experiences, and the therapeutic properties of psychedelics,4 I apprehend how neurologic and cognitive sciences are one of the final frontiers challenging the contemporary, threadbare materialist paradigm.
When Alan Watts asks, “What makes you itch?”5 This makes me itch. It’s also the answer I was too thunderstruck to give when Loren Coleman asked me last November about my particular field of forteana.
One of the interesting bits, from my various feeds, is a study concerning decreased segregation of brain systems across the healthy adult lifespan.67 Now that‘s a mouthful. Micaela Chan and company reveal how too little neurological segregation appears to be a Bad Thing™.
Reviewing data from fMRIs,8 old people, on average, have more connections between networks in their brain than younger subjects. Don’t despair as one of the paper’s authors, Gagan Wig, told Randy Doting at Healthday, “There were some younger adults that had lower system segregation, and they had poor memory ability. Likewise, there were older adults who had higher system segregation and good memory ability.”
A counterintuitive finding, especially for those embracing the analogy of human brains as computers. Today’s chips have more circuits and networks than the breadboards and vacuum tubes of yore, making my ghetto laptop several orders of magnitude faster than ENIAC or UNIVAC. It’s wrong to assume, since it makes an ass of you and me, but these kinds of findings ought to give any proponent of biological robotics pause and consider challenging their dearly-held hypotheses.
Since the universe is associative, another dot demanded to be connected in the form of a pretty, New Scientist-esque, graphic from the Proceedings of the Royal Science Interface.9 On the right, a subject under the influence of psilocybin exhibits a crazy number of connections compared to the straight subject on the left. Since it’s a drug, the effects are temporary, and with legitimate study of psychedelics remains rare as hen’s teeth, no one knows if any new connections are created after popping mushrooms.
Recent entheogen10 studies illustrate the profound changes in subjects suffering addiction, anxiety, and depression, where traditional cognitive and drug therapies have fallen short.111213 Raising the question, is this the same mechanism creating new connections as one grows older? Or is the rapid onset of psychedelic experiences integral for affecting these physical and mental transformations?
It’s not a crazy question since old folks tend to be happier than their sullen, youthful counterparts.14 Psilocybin is analogous to serotonin, the happiness molecule, enabling it to interact with serotonin receptors as an agonist, and generating a euphoric state.15 Serotonin in the brain increases with old age,16 possibly related to the inability to turn off cortisol production.17 On the other hand, happiness in our sunset years might come from experience, contributing to sanguine attitudes among seniors.
Or, maybe, growing old is like getting stoned. G’wan and ask your grandma about what a long strange trip it’s been.
I’m a teetotaler, but not high strung nor an anti-drug snob like Penn Jillette ↩
functional magnetic resonance imaging, it shows the brain in real-time rather than sending disparate snapshots to physicians and researchers ↩
means the same thing as psychedelic, its etymology means ‘becoming divine within’ ↩
fedora not included ↩
Sapolsky and Donnelly, 1985 ↩
cortisol manages stress, controls blood pressure, and helps blood sugar, but suppresses the body’s immune response. ↩