The Negative Space of Buddhism in Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

August 27th, 2018

A talk to the White Heron Sangha, Sunday August 26, 2018

1.

One afternoon last May on my way home from working at City Farm San Luis Obispo, the car radio came on with my favorite program, Science Friday. I was surprised to hear the genial voice of Michael Pollan speaking with its host Ira Flaytow. Before I could could pick up the thread of the conversation, out popped the words psilocybin, LSD and mescaline. So that’s what he’s up to now, I thought.

Ever since I heard Pollan read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2007) during a long drive to Canada ten years ago, he’s been one of my favorite writers and most informative teachers.  That book’s comprehensive reflections on the history, biology, economics, politics, and morality of America’s food system altered my tastes, motivated me to design a required general education course in argumentation at Cal Poly around its subject, and inspired me to spend a good part of my retired working life on our local urban farm. The broad impact of his work was demonstrated by a local incident that received national notoriety.  When Pollan was invited to give a public lecture here by Hunter Francis, the director of Poly’s center for sustainable agriculture, large agribusiness funders pressured the university administration to deny him an opportunity to speak unless he was part of a panel that included a professor of Beef Science from Kansas.

That book and two later short ones—In Defense of Food and Food Rules—mainstreamed attitudes about industrial agriculture, factory farming of animals, and healthy eating that had been elements of the counterculture of the sixties. As effective manifestos for change, they contributed to the revival of organic and local food movements. It struck me as fitting that he was now addressing another suppressed strain of that culture of my youth.

The conversation I tuned into was promoting a new book by Pollan called How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Flaytow was dwelling on the opening theme of the subtitle—the New Science of Psychedelics.  What turned me on, however, was its coupling of Science with Consciousness and Transcendance incorporated into a “how-to” book promising doubled satisfaction, with a pun on “change your mind.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Better End? Euthanasia and Buddhist Values

February 4th, 2018

A talk to the White Heron Sangha
February 3 2018

As a child, I grew up in a small family consisting of my mother, Lise, my father, Henry, and my grandmother, Elise, all refugees from Hitler’s Germany who arrived in New York in 1938. Elise and I adored one another all through my childhood and youth. Though she spoke little English, she was vibrant and irreverent and eloquent in expression and gesture.  She was also adored by the customers for whom she worked as a seamstress and to whose homes all over the City she travelled by subway until well into her eighties.

After my first year in graduate school in California, I returned to New York for the summer of 1964, spent nights in Greenwich Village with a friend and days in upper Manhattan studying for my Latin qualifying exams at Elise’s small apartment. She’d make me sumptuous hot lunches and watch admiringly as I practiced my conjugations.

A couple of months after I returned to California my parents wrote me that Elise had suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed her left side and left her unable to walk or speak. They had no choice but to place her in a nursing home and expected it would be over soon. But by the time I came back for a visit at Christmas, it wasn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Year-End Progress Report on City Farm San Luis Obispo

January 21st, 2018

For the last four years the core mission of our non-profit has been to fulfill the terms of our 20-year lease with the City of San Luis Obispo: to manage the 15 acres of arable land at the Calle Joaquin Agricultural Reserve so as to 1) facilitate production of crops by small commercial organic farmers and 2) to provide educational programs about local agriculture to students and the general public.

During 2017 the City Farm School Project has continued for the fourth year to provide innovative instruction for academic credit to students in the “Farm” class at Pacific Beach Continuation High School with the enthusiastic support of students, teachers and administration.  Throughout the year and during summer school, students walk to the farm with their instructors from their nearby campus twice a week to engage in hands-on learning about soil, irrigation, planting, cultivating, harvesting, cooking and eating the food they grow. Read the rest of this entry »

Entropy vs. Life

June 21st, 2017

“The universal tendency of things to become disordered is a fundamental law of physics—the second law of thermodynamics—which states that in the universe or in any isolated system, the degree of disorder always increases.

…it is a common experience that one’s living space will  become increasingly disordered without intentional effort: the movement toward disorder is a spontaneous process requiring a periodic effort to reverse it.

Living cells—by surviving, growing, and forming complex organisms—are generating order and thus might appear to defy the second law of thermodynamics.  How is this possible? The answer is that a cell is not an isolated system: it takes in energy from its environment in the form of food…..It then uses this energy to generate order within itself.…a direct linkage of the “controlled burning” of food molecules is required for cells to create and maintain an island of order in a universe tending toward chaos.”

Bruce Alberts, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis et.al., Molecular Biology of the Cell,  Garland Science Publishers, 2015, pages 52-54.