Thomas B. Roberts: “Psychedelic Directions, Where Does Your Mind Alight?”

Thomas B. Roberts: “Psychedelic Directions, Where Does Your Mind Alight?”

  • Post category:Interview

What better way to celebrate Bicycle Day than interviewing the man who coined it? For those who aren’t aware, the day commemorates Albert Hofmann’s cycle home from the laboratory after intentionally ingesting a whopping 250 micrograms of LSD. This marked the first LSD trip, described by Hofmann as such:

“Little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux.”

Thomas B. Roberts’ contribution to the world of psychedelics goes far beyond coining Bicycle Day, however. Through the lens and vocation of educational psychology, Roberts has sought to understand what the fullest development of the human mind may look like, and how we might achieve it.

With a hefty task on his hands, Roberts employed a number of tools – beyond psychedelics alone – to conceptualise how we may reach such a level of development. In his latest book, he refers to these as MindApps. 

Roberts has also served as a mentor to many looking to become more deeply involved in the psychedelic space, via both theoretical and/or academic pursuits, but also practice. At the tail end of this interview, he provides a wealth of advice on this topic, including suggested resources for those looking to pursue such a path.

It’s always interesting to ask people like Roberts—who have been deeply embedded in the psychedelic space for far longer than the present renaissance—their opinion on this current moment. What’s even more interesting is to ask them to share their thoughts on potential futures. Aptly, then, Roberts ended the interview by sharing some likely directions for today’s psychedelic-inclined students as this space rapidly develops.

Without further ado…

Bicycle Day Patches
Thomas B. Roberts' Bicycle Day Patches

Psilocybin Alpha (PA): It’s a pleasure to speak with you, Thomas, given your significant contribution to this space: from coining Bicycle Day to your prolific authorship in the form of key books and papers.

Perhaps we could start with today’s celebration, though: how did you come to coin Bicycle Day?

Thomas B. Roberts (TR): I wish I could remember. My usual way of coming up with ideas isn’t to start with a problem then figure out a solution, but to have a word, phrase, or idea pop into my head unsolicited (often between 2 and 4AM). Then realize it’s something that I can use. I have no idea about Bicycle Day.
 
I have the feeling that originally, I thought of LSD Day or Hofmann Day or something similar, and that Bicycle Day popped into my head, and it felt right.
 
When I wrote to Albert Hofmann, he was annoyed that I had chosen the bicycle and not the molecule. He thought I had missed the mark by selecting a minor, a side issue of his discovery, not the important thing itself, the molecule. He was, after all, a chemist. And I think he’s got a point.
 
However, as we corresponded, I explained to him that a bicycle ride is more dramatic than the schematic of a molecule, and his ride is more exciting than a stationary drawing of a molecule.
 
Midnight April 18th in Boston would have been April 19th in Switzerland. Two revolutionary days!
 
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
 
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
 
‘Twas the 18 th of April in ‘75
 
And hardly a man I now alive
 
Who remembers that famous date and year
 
And the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
 
I guess he understood. I suppose the way Bicycle Day caught on pleased him too. We continued to correspond in a friendly way, and I offered to buy his bike, but he no longer had it.
 
People imagine that Bicycle Day must have been a sort of wild, noisy hippy event, but it was more of a family picnic with some close friends, with children present, and a few people who had never done psychedelics. Depending on the weather, it was sometimes inside our house and sometimes in the back yard. All people who recognized Hofmann’s discovery as a revolutionary event, though.
 
A recommendation from Thomas: Brian Blomerth. Bicycle Day (2019) Anthology Editions, Brooklyn, NY. An artist pictures the story of Bicycle Day in hundreds of drawings. A dynamic, engaging, informative, humorous, and delightful collection.
 

PA: Perhaps you could (attempt to) give our readers a brief overview of your work?

TR: Although it’s just the last couple of years that I’ve retrospectively phrased it this way, the questions I’m spending my life on are the basic ones of educational psychology:

  • What is the fullest development of the human mind? (Body should be included too, but it’s not my topic.)
  • How do we achieve it?

My early writings, e.g. Four Psychologies Applied to Education, fit within this standard ed psych mold.  But thanks to my own psychedelic experiences, around the early-1970s, the ed psych question evolved into “How can I help other people see the benefits of psychedelics that I see so obviously?” Psychedelic Horizons, The Psychedelic Future of the Mind, and Psychoactive Sacramentals (now retitled Psychedelics and Spirituality) express this period of my ideas.

Now, in MindApps I’ve broadened my view of psychedelics to be one group of mind development techniques among many others – mindapps, and I embed them all in what I call Multistate Theory.

Psychotherapy is certainly the way to start. After all, people are suffering. But psychotherapy is only a beginning. Culturally, we’re in a long-term project of enlarging our idea of what our minds are, of what we can learn and know, of what our minds can become.  Eventually, when we combine mindapps in various recipes, will we design synthetic mind states that have never existed before? Do rare and unusual abilities reside there? Is this a clue to the fullest development of our minds? Are psychedelics and other mindapps ways to achieve it?

A full map of our minds must include both naturally occurring states and synthetic ones.

PA: What’s your opinion on the recent surge of for-profit actors seeking to develop psychedelic medicines, often through conventional drug approval pathways?

TR: The way I approach this topic is to ask:

What is the most efficient and fastest way for psychedelic psychotherapy to reach the most people?

More people are more interested in “Can I make money in this?” than they are in “How can we reduce mental illness?” However, with money as ‘bait’, the vast sums needed for discovering, developing, testing, and achieving Federal approval (and parallel approvals worldwide) can be raised. It’s easier to raise money for potential profits than as goodwill donations. Compare MAPS’ funding to what’s already been raised in the emerging psychedelics industry. Psychedelics can take advantage of personal and corporate greed to spread themselves, and they are.

Additionally, a side benefit of “going public” is that thousands of people in the financial community who wouldn’t otherwise bother with psychedelics will exercise due diligence and learn what people in the psychedelic community already know. The financial community investigates a new technology and asks, “Does it work?” Psychedelics do work. IPOs and their private kin spread knowledge.

Should private companies be the only route to distribution and service? No. I think we need a full range of psychedelic services:

  • large international companies,
  • national health plans,
  • national and regional companies,
  • group clinics,
  • pro bono groups,
  • individual practitioners.

Customers/clients/patients will have the choices they want.

PA: As alluded to above, in this present ‘psychedelic renaissance’ much of the focus is on ‘treating’ mental health ailments. What’s your opinion on this focus versus, say, the employment of psychedelic therapy in more proactive contexts: personal growth, wellbeing, etc.?

TR: I would not use the word “psychotherapy” to apply to non-therapeutic uses of psychedelics. To me the most obvious uses for personal and cultural growth are

  • Entheogenic – used to educate people about psychedelics’ religious and spiritual uses, in particular about mystical experiences, or primary religious experiences as they are also called. This education should extend to university courses on religion such as the psychology of religion, professional programs in divinity schools, seminaries, and theological schools, religious groups such as religious orders and guilds. Some sort of retreat centers need to be established for laypeople too. J. H. Evans’s 2-volume Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances is the most thorough approach to the entheogenic uses of psychedelics that I know of.
  • Intellectual – practically every academic discipline can expand its circumference of ideas by including psychedelics both as topics to examine and as methods of research. The sciences-humanities gap can be bridged by psychedelics. Philosophical topics such as reality and truth are open to experimental study. There are even psychedelic ways of systematically inventing new paradigms. I’ve described some of these in MindApps.
  • Problem-solving – is psychedelics’ most promising opening because it extends across all fields both theoretical and practical day-to-day problems. Psychedelics provide ways to tap into the most powerful parts of our minds, to combine our unconscious memories and ideas into new insights. The best description of this that I know of is in Jim Fadiman’s book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide.

PA: Your latest book, MindApps, presents a number of ways we may “expand our mental powers and creative abilities,” and you position psychedelics as just one of these. Could you elaborate on this landscape of technologies and practices?

TR: 

Digital apps are to our devices
as
Mindapps are to our minds.

Once you see this, everything else falls into place. Digital apps increase the power and functions of our devices; mindapps do the same to our brain-mind complex. A natural question arises, “Besides psychedelics, can we install other kinds of apps that’ll strengthen and add new ways to use our minds?

Yes, hundreds, perhaps thousands. In addition to other kinds of psychoactive drugs, think of all the kinds of meditation, yoga, martial arts, biofeedback and neuro feedback; brain stimulation via magnetic, fields, light, and sound; prayer, hypnosis, rites of passage, sensory isolation and overload, breathing techniques, genetic technologies, and many more. While current neuro researchers don’t intend their discoveries to develop into mindapps; each new neuro discovery suggests a potential future way to influence neuro activities.

If we are to build a complete map of our minds, it has to include every mindbody state, its characteristics, and ways to achieve them.

To stretch the Multistate Theory even further, we’re entering a time when instead of using each mindapp one at a time, all the mindapps will become ingredients that mind designers can combine in new recipes. Say, psilocybin + magnetic brain stimulation + meditation. Mindapp combinations will produce novel mindbody states, ones that have never existed before — synthetic mindbody states. These artificial states will introduce a new kind of artificial intelligence — brain-mind based AI.

PA: In your writing, you tend to use the word mindbody as opposed to consciousness. Could you explain that a little?

TR: The meaning I stipulate in MindApps is identical to Charles Tart’s “states of consciousness”  —  the overall pattern of mind and body functioning at any one time. Our obvious default ones are wakefulness, sleep, and dreaming. However, the word consciousness has half a dozen different meanings so that when people get together to discuss consciousness, they think they are discussing the same thing but aren’t.  I use mindbody state to remind myself and others that I’m not talking about the many other uses of consciousness in MindApps. For example:

  • Awake and not asleep or in a coma, interacting in the world
  • Self-reflexiveness, a sense of I, thinking about one’s own thinking
  • Social role, as women’s consciousness or workers’ consciousness
  • Level of spiritual attainment, higher levels of consciousness
  • What one habitually thinks about, money consciousness, ecological consciousness
  • Stream of consciousness, whatever one is aware of from moment to moment in one’s mind

I have no objection to the word consciousness, but it would help discussions if people would clearly state what they mean. Whenever I hear someone say consciousness, I ask myself what do they mean? Do they actually know? Sometimes it seems like the word consciousness is used because it sounds impressive but is little more than an empty placeholder of a word.

PA: It’s clear that beyond being an influential author, you have also acted as a mentor to many looking to become more deeply embedded in the psychedelics space. What advice would you give to college students looking to pursue further study on, and perhaps even a career in, psychedelics?

TR: In the 1990s, an article in the MAPS BulletinSo You Want to Become a Psychedelic Researcher?” described the situation.

How can I get involved? Unfortunately, psychedelics are still heavily stigmatized, and there is as yet no obvious infrastructure into which enthusiasts can channel their energy. There are no psychedelic research graduate programs, no psychedelic student groups, no psychedelic scholarships, and few professors willing to provide mentorship or funding agencies willing to sponsor such research.

Because the article mentioned me as one source among others, I started to receive emails asking for advice, mostly on how to find a psychedelic graduate program. So many letters! I collected my advice in a brief essay. In spite of its title, most of it applies to undergraduates as well. It has had over 5000 views.

My first advice used to be “Stay legal. If you don’t, you’ll end up in jail, and the psychedelic world will miss a lifetime of work you would have accomplished.” In the latter decades of the 20th century, it was common for people who wanted careers in psychedelics to think that the only paths open to them were to make or sell psychedelics illegally or become underground psychotherapists.  I’m happy that most of them did “stay legal,” figured out how to carry psychedelic lights through the dark decades of prohibition, became leaders, and some are now even approaching retirement age.

In 2006 that changed. When a team at The Johns Hopkins Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science published “Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-type Experiences Having Substantial and Personal Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance” in Psychopharmacology, the combination of a well-respected 1st author, prestigious medical school, top-rated department, and prestigious journal gave the green light to hopeful psychedelic researchers and psychotherapists, but less so for other careers.

The neurosciences and medicine are most open to psychedelics. Getting a place in a top program that offers a professional degree will give your interests credibility when your career starts. The field of professional qualifications and standards is still developing and has yet to settle, so current professional licensure is likely to help.

I foresee additional futures for psychedelics that are far vaster than the neurosciences and psychotherapy. I think we’re off to a good start, but only a start. For people who have psychedelic interests but are not interested in becoming scientists or therapists, each person has to build their own route. Whatever your interests, try to figure out how to give your academic path a psychedelic flavor.

  • Courses in, say, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and many others are naturals to psychedelics. In my honors psychedelic course, I had a wide sample of students from across the university, and almost all of them could see psychedelic angles for their majors.
  • Term papers or projects are opportunities. Professors like questions. Try, “What does (name of department or topic) tell us about psychedelics?” Or vice versa.
  • A little used opportunity is the often-neglected courses that appear toward the end of each department’s listing in university catalogs. Titles like “Directed Readings,” “Independent Study,” “Selected topics,” “Advanced Study,” and so forth. It’s necessary to find a professor who’ll agree to oversee your work, probably one you’ve had a class with already. It’s best to have a clear question or topic in mind and a list of readings, projects, and so forth that will address your topic. If you have a couple friends who might join you in a small tutorial-like class, so much the better.
  • If you’re lucky, the job you end up after you graduate may be one that you can adapt toward your psychedelic interests, if not totally, at least partially. For example, my main job was as an educational psychologist and most of the courses I taught were that kind, and I steered part of my academic work toward my psychedelic course over the years. It’s too early to know when all academic fields will develop psychedelic subspecialties, but the world of ideas is growing in that direction. You may be just the right person establish a new psychedelic perspective.

FUTURES

Recognizing that predictions of the future always miss some unexpected events and are often wrong other ways, what futures look most likely for today’s students?

  • Licensed, professional mental health workers will be in demand to staff clinics, hospitals, etc.
  • Emerging psychedelic businesses will need the full range of managers and other employees. Psilocybin Alpha lists many businesses. No doubt there are more, and more will be coming.
  • Foundations, NGOs, Federal, state, and local governments will eventually need staff to fulfill their missions.
  • In addition to the current focus on the neurosciences, a wide range of academic disciplines including the other sciences, liberal arts, arts, and social sciences will enrich their offerings in order to serve increasing student demand. See MindApps.
  • In addition to medicine, graduate programs in law, public policy, government, social work and related fields need to be updated.
  • Will churches, seminaries, theological schools, religious orders, and similar organizations recognize that entheogenic opportunities can provide depths of understanding to texts, beliefs, and doctrines? Will they add primary religious experiences to their curricula?

The Internet is rich with student-oriented sites. Two of my favorites are:

Undergraduates: Intercollegiate Psychedelics Network.

Graduates: Graduate Student Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Psychedelics psychotherapy and neurosciences directions predominate now.  Their entheogenic and intellectual directions are building. Where does your mind automatically alight? “Follow your bliss,” Joseph Campbell.

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