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Weekly Review Issue No.11
On working among the ruins, real magic and reducing death anxiety through psychedelics
Hello and welcome back to another Weekly Review. For new subscribers, thanks for signing up! I hope you’ll find at least one thing interesting, useful or enjoyable. If something particularly resonated, I’d love to hear about it.
This week for me
I was fortunate to participate in a session with Dougald Hind, Liz Slade, Richard Smith and Lloyd Davis and some other very nice people as part of a tour for Dougald’s new book At Work In the Ruins. Amongst other things discussed, one of the piercing things he remarked upon was not that we are at the end of the world, but we are at the end of the world as we know it. The feelings of collapse are all part of this - the lack of vision for the future is because we are at the end of an arc, it is the end, but not The End. So as we come to the end of this world, another will emerge in time. What will that be like? Better? Worse? That’s for us to decide and make I think.
Let’s get onto the links!
Research on the edges
Short and sharp - and funny - piece by Doug Rushkoff, on the reminder that magic exists, or that the Universe is a wonderfully playful thing when you want it to be.
We are all going through a rather dark moment, and sometimes it feels as if our future options are quite limited. I assure you they are not, at least if we don’t measure them by the metrics of the closed-minded utilitarian cynicism that got us in this mess.
I found this fascinating - as someone who has experienced many years of the presence of ‘others’ through my years-long - and now thankfully almost entirely in remission - night terrors. I love to find researchers and practitioners operating in very new spaces, often combining disciplines in ingenious ways.
It was a 36-hour trek and they had to make it to the other side in order to save the rest of their Expedition. They were very reticent to say much about that experience. They referred to it obliquely in their accounts years afterwards, sometimes describing it as providence coming in to save them. It comes down to that feeling that, in Shackleton’s words, ‘often we were four, not three’. Later on, Shackleton told a British journalist that there were things that happened which can never be spoken of, as if it went beyond ordinary knowledge, the things that we think we know about the world… as if they'd crossed over some the threshold. And that's true of lots of accounts of spiritual, almost transcendental presence… something is so unusual, and feels so significant for the people experiencing it, that they also feel like ordinary language just doesn't scratch the surface.
If I was to ask ChatGPT to create an academic paper that would include everything I care about, it would probably look like this. Such fascinating, important and powerful work.
Although little research has specifically investigated the mechanisms through which psychedelics may reduce death anxiety, there are several candidate mechanisms. Grof suggested that many of the most profound therapeutic effects of psychedelics stem from the experience of unity, which is the result of an intense sense of agony and death, followed by a sense of rebirth.
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What I like about this, is that it’s a just an image of a badly scanned page from a book, at a dodgy angle. Like it was hastily, secretly copied while no one was looking. Like a wee bit of sacred knowledge, uploaded to the world wide web in 1994. But really it’s just a helpful primer for anyone (like me) who is trying to work deeper and to understand what these terms that get banded around a lot, mean.
PERSONA: Your mask. Your social appearance and behaviour. The part of yourself that your ego is willing to reveal to others. In dreams, the persona is represented by clothes, make-up etc.
I’ve been enjoying the frankly prolific work of Aleski Perälä for many years, but come back to him again over the last few weeks. On the one hand, he has a sound that’s in the same category of IDM/ambient dance music as Aphex Twin et al, but his work is mostly done through what’s called the Colundi Sequence. As per a piece in Bandcamp:
The official line, though, is that Colundi isn’t so much a new invention as a “rediscovery” of ancient knowledge. “Music all started going wrong with Pythagoras, when they started dividing strings into octaves, a very mathematical approach,” explains Perälä. “The actual important thing, I find, is the frequencies themselves; it’s more about what feels good to people on this planet, and what’s effective?”
It’s a very different way of making music, and the result is ‘bubbly, beatific post-rave tracks peppered with curious melodies and a general sense of cosmic optimism.’
His back catalogue is almost endless, so you can dive in anywhere, but here’s just one: