Emerging From a Smoke-Filled Solipsism
Fifteen years ago, I changed my mind about how drugs changed my mind. And it changed my life.
My experiments in college with marijuana, mushrooms, and ayahuasca dictated the path of my education. Drugs, I felt, were a singular path to accessing a deep, primordial truth. I felt like I had to study philosophy to express my intoxicated revelations. By articulating what was so evidently clear to me while high, I expected everyone to immediately recognize my status as the next philosopher king.
Ironically, my biggest revelation was when I discovered that the profundity of my stoned ideas was delusional. Instead of achieving unfettered access to objective truth, I was looking at myself in the mirror.
The below essay and illustrations are artifacts from my senior year as a philosophy major at UC Berkeley. I wrote it at an inflection point where I went from thinking that mind-expanding drugs were my ticket to success to feeling like they were a dangerous poison.
Previously, I was too embarrassed to share this essay, in part due to my melodramatic word choice — who would call marijuana “poison”? And my perspective, since I wrote this, has evolved significantly. I’ll explain at the end.
I decided to publish this now given the attention Michael Pollan is bringing to the benefits psychedelics. I emphatically support the movement to understand the value of mind-expanding drugs. However, I believe experiences like the one I share below should be part of the conversation.
Spring 2003. Berkeley, California.
When I first stumbled upon Charles Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises, I was immediately offended by the title. I believed that marijuana had shown me something exceptionally real. Thus I was concerned that his use of the word “artificial” indicated that he had ultimately dismissed drug intoxications alongside the rest of society’s squares. But after five readings of Baudelaire’s chapter The Poem of Hashish, I consider the 19th century French poet to have rescued me from becoming lost in a poison. Baudelaire’s words that best jostled me out of my absorption in marijuana were the following: “He who would resort to a poison in order to think would soon be incapable of thinking without the poison. Can you imagine this awful sort of man whose paralyzed imagination can no longer function without the benefit of hashish?” By god, this is the sort of man that I was on the verge of becoming. Granted, I still had a long way to go. I am definitely not your typical stoner. In fact, since high school, I have despised being high in social settings. My states of intoxication are relatively contained. I smoke pot once or twice a week, by myself, late at night, always before I go to bed. Nevertheless, marijuana has largely determined the direction of my philosophical inquiries over the course of the last two years. I believed that the drug was my ticket to intellectual success.
Without a doubt, Marijuana has given me the strongest taste of truth that I have experienced to date. William James describes the epistemic feel of such moods: “They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain.” With marijuana, I felt that I could get beneath language. An idea that surfaces in the landscape of marijuana intoxication feels grounded, more than just an empty slot in a language-game. This distinction first attracted my attention during an intoxicated listening of the Black Star album in which rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli discuss the state of being black in the United States. While awareness of institutionalized racism has a clear place in the liberal white language-game, that night I realized that my own understanding of black oppression was horribly intellectualized. Afterwards, I considered myself to be one step closer to knowing what it feels like to be black in America. It became my mission to describe the difference between my old, banal understanding and my intoxicated, “heightened” understanding.
What is this intense feeling that ideas provoke for the intoxicated subject? In answering this question, we gain our best insight by considering Baudelaire’s characterization of marijuana as a magnifying mirror. This is not to simply say that one can perceive the world’s objects in more detail. What is magnified is the significance of objects, not the objects themselves. Normally, when you survey a room, switching your attention from object to object, you can easily maintain a fixed train of thought. It seems that there is a defined boundary between yourself and the external world. But the world seen through marijuana’s magnifying glass is not separated from you by this boundary. Baudelaire writes: “The depth of life, troubled by numerous problems, wholly reveals itself in any scene that falls before your eyes, however ordinary or trivial it might be, and in which the first object you encounter becomes a speaking symbol.” As you glance at a patch of red, you enter a red world. Suddenly, your whole life is understood in terms of red. Your ideas are red alongside your future and your past. Baudelaire comments that “From time to time I caught a passage of a sentence which my mind, like an agile ballerina, employed as a trampoline to spring yet deeper into the land of dreams.” When you emerge from your altered states, your previous intellectual inquiries are remembered as mere surface level strolls through a flat terrain. By smoking a plant, you become liberated from your Western-scientific-ego that never ventures outside the cage of its own “physical” boundaries. Finally, you have the courage to think! You can plunge deep into the world, embarking on trains of thought that are not leveled down by a compulsion to keep track of “the big picture.” You see each object, mental or physical, as a particular — a doorway into a unique world. When your exhausted ego suddenly expels you from your red world, you say, “Now I know what it is to think!” And you are amazed by the fact that most of your friends do not really know what “red” means; even though they throw the word around all the time. But then your magnifying mirror focuses on a new object and your life begins afresh. You are a pillow!
This sort of absorption in the world can go too far; to a point of no return. This is a danger voiced by Carlos Castaneda in his fiction The Teachings of Don Juan. The sorcerer Don Juan warns the narrator that “the noise of a brook or a river can trap a bewitched man who has lost his soul and carry him away to his death.” Under the magnifying glass, the sound of a brook is its own world. In this world, the subject exclaims: “I am the sound of a brook!” Fortunately, the remaining sliver of an ego should eventually yank the prisoner away from the eternal abyss of the dreamed dwelling. But if there is no ego left to perform the rescue, the subject is insane. Perhaps the “man” now believes himself to be God — that is, the sound of a brook.
But perhaps the greatest evidence of marijuana’s magnifying mirror is the intoxicated subject’s perception of time. Baudelaire writes: “Fortunately, that interminable fantasy lasts only one minute, as you observe when a lucid interval, which you won with great effort, gives you a chance to glance at the clock. But now you are borne off on a new current of ideas, which will toss you in its living whirlpool for yet another minute, and that minute too will seem an eternity.” When your ego expels you from a world disclosed by marijuana, you understand how a life’s duration can take place within one minute. Only when you temporarily resist intoxication’s sway does objective time enter the picture (that is, you can judge the length of a minute or approximate that it is 3:15 a.m.). Time (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) is there only when you turn away from the world. Marijuana proclaims that objective time is not for thinkers. To unapologetically think is to plunge into eternity! It seems that the foundation of our scientific culture is our obsession with looking at clocks. Our constant need to be places at specific times is what keeps us detached from the world, ego intact, with our eyes glued to the big picture. But marijuana’s magnifying glass frees us from these chains. Baudelaire writes: “The notion, or rather the measurement of time, had been destroyed, and the length of the night could be measured only by the multitude of thoughts that crowded my mind.” Marijuana intoxication permeates subjective time. Meaningful objects are magnified; that is, they are filled with eternity. I should mention that being constantly sucked into eternity is extremely stressful. To be intoxicated is to be hard at work — grasping for your self against a backdrop of eternity. A significant dimension of the relief that one feels in returning to a sober state is the restoration of one’s sense of objective time. With objective time comes a solid self capable of relaxation — a self that has “the leisure to notice the passing of the hours.”
Of course, under marijuana’s sway, you are more likely to be found sitting on a couch than moving about the room. Seen through the magnifying glass, any decision to perform the most basic action is like a decision to fight a war. Baudelaire writes: “In this exalted state man feels himself to be so far above material things, or is rather so overwhelmed by his intoxications, that he must summon vast reserves of courage merely to lift a bottle or fork.” After having smoked marijuana you get sucked into the worlds that open up in each object you encounter. The ideas that run through your head are constantly surprising you. Suddenly your training and social conditioning offers no hand in coping with these distractions. In a normal condition, you decide to pick up a fork and you do it. But in this agitated state, after you initially seek to pick up the fork, suddenly the toaster grabs you. Your initial decision to use the fork is only an antique left over from a previous life. How can you mindlessly follow through with an intention while a whole world in your kitchen (the toaster) is left unexplored? To complete an intoxicated act is to consciously resist worlds for the full duration of the act. This is the most exhausting task you have ever experienced.
Baudelaire tells us of an adventure from the perspective of an intoxicated subject who becomes aware of a future engagement: “Another wave of evil fortune seized me. I was suddenly overwhelmed by a new anxiety, trivial and puerile, for I recalled that I had been invited to a formal soiree. I envisioned myself among this company of intelligent and upright men, each of whom would be in complete control of his faculties. I would be obliged to maintain a calm demeanor, to conceal my agitated mind in the harsh glare of the drawing-room. I was confident I would succeed, but much shaken when I imagined the efforts of will that such an exertion would cost me.” After the party was over, he observed that “None of the company ever guessed the superhuman efforts I had to exert just to seem like everyone else. But I shall never forget the tortures of this ultrapoetical intoxication, constricted by decorum and thwarted by obligation!” Each of us, imbedded within a culture, simply knows how to behave appropriately in social settings. Under the sway of marijuana, however, your dreams spray in every direction. You must consciously funnel your thoughts into the direction most conducive to behaving in a manner that will not alarm the others. And this sort of behavior does not even seem natural. “Wisdom, good sense, and the logical thoughts of the sober, prudent observer, delight and amuse you like a particular form of dementia.” And you can imagine all sorts of different, yet equally valid dementias. The behavior of the sober man is visibly arbitrary and ungrounded, making it all the more laborious to converse with him.
With each action that an intoxicated subject is obligated to perform, the ultimate end is to reach a time of liberation; that is a time where it is permissible to dream freely. Baudelaire conveys the explosive release that an intoxicated subject feels after he survives a long walk to attend theater. “Settled at last in the hall, sitting in my reserved box seat, with three or four hours of relaxation before me, I thought that I had finally reached the promise land. All of the thoughts and feelings that I had been suppressing on the way to the theater, with all of the feeble energy that I could muster, erupted at that moment as I abandoned myself freely to that silent frenzy.” To force an intoxicated subject into action is to imprison him, deeming portions of his landscape off limits. While the subject is able to wander outside his mental cage, he thinks that to do so would be social suicide.
Thus you can see why Baudelaire advises those on the verge of smoking marijuana to make sure that they are free of future obligations. He writes: “Beware, for cares and anxieties, recollections of obligations demanding your attention at a specific time, will toll like a passing-bell through your intoxicated thoughts, to poison your pleasure. Each care will become a torture and each anxiety a cruel torment.” But clearly it is impossible to completely rid yourself of all future obligations. There will always be things that you must do in the future. And the ultimate thing that the future holds for you, of course, is death. While the average man greatly fears death, under marijuana’s magnifying glass, the thought of death is an ineffable torture. In fact, for the intoxicated subject, ‘death’ takes on a new, more primordial meaning. In sobriety, we fear our ultimate demise; that is, (e.g.) one day being hit by a truck or dying of cancer. But under marijuana’s sway, death appears on your immediate horizon. As we have seen, with the smoke in your system, you are a slave of your circumstances. Your thoughts are so dramatically ordered by the external world that one should say you are your circumstances (e.g., you are red, or you are a pillow). To make the decision to walk to a neighboring room can seem as drastic as the decision to commit suicide. You are so absorbed in the moment, that the possibility of future moments is utterly inconceivable to you. The future entails a change of circumstances, and thus the death of your present self. The horrible reality of marijuana’s world is that you cannot stop the future. Baudelaire relays the thoughts of an intoxicated man in the grips of fear. “I was like a frightened horse that flies off into a gallop toward the edge of a precipice, wishing to stop, yet knowing that he cannot. Certainly, this was a terrifying gallop. My thoughts, bound to my circumstances and surroundings, to the accidental and to all that the word chance implies, had taken an absolute and purely rhapsodic turn. It’s too late! I continually repeated to myself in despair.” In the grips of intoxication, to look into the future is to see that you have no control over your own destiny. But yet the future keeps coming! And with each moment, you become enthralled in a self only to see it ripped away from you a moment later, in a manner that your logical mind cannot predict. Intoxication is bearable only because each moment is an eternity.
In Being and Time, Martin Heidegger describes the phenomenon of fear: “This bewildered making-present of the first thing that comes into one’s head, is something that belongs with forgetting oneself in fear. It is well known, for instance, that the inhabitants of a burning house will often ‘save’ the most indifferent things that are most closely ready-to-hand.” Marijuana scares the subject into the present. The future is so horrible that one shrinks away from it. To escape impending death, one flees into any possibility at hand. While a man in a burning house saves the stapler on his desk, the intoxicated subject, in a similar state of frenzy, becomes absorbed in a toaster. The toaster offers the possibility of an eternity — a dream world protected from death.
In shrinking back from the future, you must flee into possibilities disclosed by your past. And this past, under marijuana’s magnifying glass, is more than just yesterday, or last year — it is your childhood. You have the sensation that you are seeing the world’s banal objects for the first time. Baudelaire conveys this sentiment: “And grammar, even arid grammar, is then endowed with the evocative power of sorcery; words are reborn, clothed in flesh and blood; the noun, in substantive majesty, the adjective, transparent garment which clothes and colors it like a glaze, and the verb, angel of motion, which imparts momentum to the phrase.” This feeling of acquiring an innocent eye, I believe, is what primarily lures individuals to smoke the plant. It seems that marijuana is your tool to dig up desires deep inside you. Marijuana calls out to you and says, “I can be your hammer! If you use me, I can shatter your social conditioning exposing your true self that exists beneath — the child before he was stolen away by the public.”
In a sober state, we constantly perform actions without stopping to ask ourselves, “Why am I performing this action?” We obediently behave, of course, as our arbitrary culture tells us to behave. Our minds might as well be empty receptacles — culture flows from the previous generation, through us, to the next generation. For me, this sentiment has been especially poignant during my time studying philosophy in college. As I am indoctrinated with the “correct” way to think about the world, I feel that I never have the chance to make ideas my own. If I were to frequently pause to build ideas up from my experiences, I would be doomed to solitude for I would not know how to play the necessary language-game. So like every other student, I proceed with the blind faith that I am learning the concepts most conducive for effectively contemplating the world.
Marijuana was my tool for preserving my individuality during this time when the pressures to conform are most threatening. Marijuana’s great benefit, I thought, is that it pushes me a level inwards, to a more primordial level. In the grips of intoxication, I do not automatically act as I usually do. I finally make the time to stop and ask “why?” So then when I do decide to perform an action, it is my decision, not the public’s. Smoking marijuana was my means for reclaiming my life. In the grips of intoxication, I can literally see my thoughts. Thus, I can see which concepts are real and which one’s are blatantly absent, that is, places in the language-game unsubstantiated by my experiences. I understood the marijuana experience largely as a filtering process: I could sift through my ideas, keeping only the one’s that were authentically mine. I always considered it to be a great irony that pot smokers are perceived as “lazy.” While intoxicated, I may be physically inactive, but I feel more active than ever; working hard at the mental projects that hide between the lines of sober thought. Although marijuana leaves me bewildered when I am confronted with the most basic tasks (e.g., folding laundry is far too difficult), I thought that my transgressions were a social service. I thought that by digging into my primordial self, I could become maximally connected to the world; thus I would be able to contribute to society to the best of my ability. I could slice through our objectification-obsessed culture with a wisdom acquired by looking at the world from a particular perspective.
Marijuana was my secret weapon. I had the strong feeling that I had an advantage over those around me who are locked inside the cages of their scientific egos. It seemed that everyone else was playing silly language-games. While they could follow the patterns of brilliant minds, in actuality, they were just floating around in a vacuum, completely ignorant of the beautiful worlds that correspond to their jabber. But I was different: my thoughts were real. When I philosophized, I moved across a real landscape. The words of philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein referred explicitly to mountains on the horizon. Marijuana convinced me that I was an “intellectual king.”
Referring to souls like mine, Baudelaire writes: “He completely confounds dream and action, and his imagination burns ever brighter before the enchanting display of his own amended, idealized nature, substituting that fascinating image of himself for the real individual, so deficient in resolve, so rich in vanity.” In everyday language, the verbs ‘to act’ and ‘to think’ have separate meanings. Actions require movements of the body while thoughts do not. But we have seen how smoking marijuana complicates this otherwise clear cut distinction. In a sense, a shifting occurs: actions get pushed almost out of the equation, taking on a character that resembles death. And thoughts move up to the foreground, taking on the character previously belonging to actions. The intoxicated subject proclaims: “thinking is acting!” Some individuals, after returning to sober reality, would dismiss this conclusion as an hallucination. However, I was swept away by the narcissistic satisfaction of seeing my thoughts as real. Thus, I would do anything to validate the epistemological status of my exalted states. So I rejected the possibility that the intoxicated subject merely creates realities otherwise absent. I was convinced that smoking marijuana was a means to uncover phenomena that were always present in sober reality, only hidden. Thus I took the notion that thoughts are actions as a deep truth that holds in both sober and intoxicated reality. In sum, marijuana led me into a sort of grammatical confusion. So to get straight about the phenomena of marijuana intoxication, I must undo my confounding of ‘thought’ and ‘action.’
I have an inclination to see marijuana as a tyrant who tries to dictate the direction of my soul. After marijuana has instilled a narcissism in me, I am increasingly tempted to turn back to the drug that gives me my greatness. And my intellect is imbued with the hidden purpose of justifying my increasing desire to transgress. However, one could also make the argument that the real tyrant is my imagination itself. Perhaps marijuana is only my imagination’s vehicle to separate itself from me, leaving me as its slave. Baudelaire comments upon the ludicrousness of choosing to smoke marijuana: “This evident lord of visible nature (I speak of man) has thus sought to create paradise through pharmacy, like a madman who would replace solid furniture and real gardens with scenery painted on canvas.” What I now realize is that the fundamental back drop of the intoxication is my imagination. My initial decision to smoke marijuana, of course, was a product of my imagination. It was my imagination that led me to flee my everyday dwelling. Thus it is a poetic justice that it is my imagination that steals my destiny, leaving me to passively observe my life as it unfolds like a novel. Normally, even when one’s body is controlled by an outside force, one still can, for the most part, control the course of one’s thoughts. But smoking marijuana transforms your imagination into an autonomous entity that you no longer control. Your imagination substitutes itself for the world. Instead of being surrounded by solid objects, your thoughts now characterize your milieu. Thus you are left to survey your life as if it were a landscape — not a real landscape but one you have given birth to.
What makes marijuana intoxication so deceptive is that the subject is not aware that his imagination has been substituted for the real world. Baudelaire writes: “The idler has contrived to artificially introduce an element of the supernatural into his life and thoughts: but he is, after all, and in spite of his heightened intensity of sensations, only the same man augmented, the same number elevated to a much higher power.” Marijuana creates the illusion that you are being guided by an independent source of truth — one that will show you the correct way to proceed with your life. And this “truth” is a powerful one because it seems to have always been there, hiding in the margins. Marijuana makes you feel so confident in your intellect because it leads you to believe that your ideas are real, more than mere dreams. Baudelaire writes: “In considering the impressions from outward objects you forget your existence, until you confuse the objects of your senses with the objects of the real world. You stare at a tree that harmoniously rocks in the breeze; in a few seconds that would for a poet be a natural comparison becomes a reality to you. You endow the tree with your passions and desires; its capriciously swaying limbs become your own, so that soon you yourself are that tree. Thus, when looking skyward, you behold a bird soaring into the deep azure. At first, the bird seems to represent the immortal yearning to soar above earthly concerns. But you have already become the bird.” The intoxicated subject does not understand that his world is a work of art that he created. Instead, he walks away thinking that the overwhelming truth he now sees has always been in the world, just covered up.
Referring to intoxicated revelations, Baudelaire writes: “Such thoughts belong to the earth rather than to heaven and owe a great part of their beauty to nervous irritation, to the eagerness with which the mind embraces them.” The content of my stoned ideas never appear significant the next day. In fact, many of my realizations seem “obvious” in retrospect. Yet I remained convinced that the intoxicated contemplation of an idea substantially heightened my understanding of the idea. Consequently, while sober, I devoted myself to explain the new significance I had uncovered. One of the primary negative consequences of my marijuana habit was that it imbued me with a false passion. I embarked on missions to carry through my high ideas. But the problem is that any idea I encounter during an intoxication is amazingly beautiful. And, as we have seen, the intoxicated subject is a slave of his circumstances. There is no superior force leading him to proceed correctly; he arrives at his thoughts by chance. In my pursuit of the ineffable, marijuana caused my intellect to passionately run in random directions.
Furthermore, the intoxicated subject is the only one who can see his “truth.” No matter how much he works to clearly articulate his revelations to the public, he will never be understood to his satisfaction — the content of his intoxicated ideas, by its very nature, is intelligible only from his perspective. Thus we can see why Baudelaire writes that hashish “gives with one hand what it takes away with the other — that is to say, it feeds the imagination, without allowing one to profit by the gain.” Marijuana hides the real objects to which words in our language refer. When the subject articulates his ingenious revelations, he is not understood because his words refer primarily to his thoughts.
Marijuana (a.k.a. my imagination) led me to believe that I could use it as a tool to explore the world with a wholeheartedness otherwise impossible. But as I succumb to my child-like curiosity to chart the world that Marijuana discloses, I only plunge deeper and deeper into my own self; not even my true self, but a fantastic image of my self, one that is fundamentally distinct from external reality. So the more occasions I smoke, the more my intellect becomes isolated from the world. Marijuana slyly convinces me that I could finally see the beautiful image of my true self. But, in actuality, my revelations are predicated upon a profound forgetting of my self — that is, the self that exist in the world as opposed to merely in my own head. I fear that it will take years to dig my way out of the solipsism that marijuana demanded of me.
Baudelaire writes: “If I compare [hashish] to a suicide, to a slow suicide, or a murderous weapon that is always sharp and bloody, no reasonable soul would disagree.” He tells us to “be assured that these stimulant poisons are not only one of the most direct and terrible means employed by the Prince of Darkness to entrap and enslave deplorable humanity, they are also among his most perfect embodiments.” So after all of this, is there any reason for a sane man to intentionally place his destiny in the hands of marijuana? Without a doubt, marijuana does not offer anything that resembles the magnitude of what my puerile impressions suggested. But this does not imply that the drug has nothing to offer. The intoxication remains interesting because the world that marijuana discloses bears a definite relation to “the real world,” i.e., the shared world in which the sober man dwells. Baudelaire is careful to mention that the intoxication is “grounded in reality. The sound will speak, utter distinct words, but there has, in fact, been a sound. The intoxicated eye will see strange forms; but the same forms and images, before having been clothed in a strange or monstrous guise, were simple and natural.” We have seen that the intoxicated subject’s milieu is his imagination; layers of dreams obscure the unshakeable external world. But we must not forget that it is the world that inspires one’s dreams. Although the subject mistakes his imagination for the world, the world forever remains present. Imagine an actor who becomes so involved in a part that he believes himself to actually be in the castle in which the story takes place. In his exalted state, the actor may forget that his feet stand solid on a wooden stage in a theater. But, of course, his forgetting of the stage does not suggest that it disappears.
If there is a real benefit of marijuana, it exists in the realm of art. In Twilight of the Idols, Friedrich Nietzsche writes: “For there to be art, for there to be any aesthetic activity and observation, one physiological prerequisite is indispensable: intoxication… What is essential in intoxication is the feeling of increased strength and fullness. This feeling leads us to donate to things, to make them take from us, to force ourselves on them.” After smoking marijuana, you have no choice but to be an artist. You are the creator of your world. You make the thoughts that constitute your reality. These “objects,” in their magical clothing, pull you in. What you have created now creates you. Without discriminating, you become the object before you — (e.g.) a toaster or a sculpture. The intoxicated subject resembles someone who wanders out of a museum but continues to see each object as a work of art. A soul is in the most danger, I think, when he becomes infatuated with the worlds inside banal objects such as toasters. Toaster-worlds have nothing to offer except utter solitude. Art objects, on the contrary, are the creations of artists such as yourself. When you enter an art object, you enter a world that is intended and cared for. Baudelaire writes: “Music, that other language so cherished by idlers, or by those intellectuals who seek from it a repose amid their varied toil, unfolds the capabilities of your intellect and recites the poem of your life; it enters within you, and you mingle with it. Music expresses your passion, not in a vague and obscure manner as it has done previously during informal parties and evenings at the opera, but in a definite, positive manner, each movement of the rhythm delineating a known movement of your soul. Each note becomes a word, and the entire poem that permeates your mind is like a dictionary endowed with life.” While intoxicated, you are an artist, thus you speak the artists’ language. On the one hand, if you try to philosophize in this artistic state, you fail because your words have no real footholds. Only with extreme mental energy can you formulate the most obvious claims. Art, on the other hand, points to real features in the landscape. Your dream-world and the artist’s dream-world merge into one. As she points to mountains and rivers, they appear on your horizon. Soon, after an expansive and intricate terrain has been laid out before you, a volcano erupts. And you are with the lava as it rushes in and out of every emotion-packed crevice. In sum, marijuana allows you to explore an artist’s mind with a freedom otherwise impossible. You can see the artist’s thoughts!
At some point, however, sober reality rears its head. Baudelaire asks: ‘The gambler who has found sure means of winning is called a swindler; what then should we call the man who wishes to purchase happiness and genius for the price of a few coins?” If you seek the help of a drug, on some level, you are looking for an escape. You are tired of passively watching your moods come and go — your fleeting excitement deteriorating into boredom — so you take matters into your own hands. By smoking a pipe, you can change your mood whenever you desire. You can control your own destiny, it seems. But your wish to escape comes true with an unexpected force. Baudelaire warns: “To be sure, any man who does not accept life’s conditions is selling his soul. It is easy to grasp the connection between the satanic creations of poets and the creatures who have yielded to the influence of the stimulant drugs. Man wished to be God, and soon he has, by virtue of an ungovernable moral law, fallen lower than the level of his true nature. He has sold his soul to the lowest bidder.” Marijuana’s devilish trick is that it appears to be a great source of power. But with each transgression, it yanks more and more away. Soon, one cannot even claim ownership to one’s own thoughts. Marijuana told me that the only way to find truth was to sell my soul. I obediently followed its commands. I started to believe that the only way I could really think was to forfeit my agency and watch the dream-worlds miraculously appear on my horizon. But now that I have realized that my rational mind has no place near the intoxication, I am significantly repelled from the drug. It is only my artistic inclinations that draw me in. But for the time being, I will stay clear of the poison. Baudelaire writes: “The man who by the strength of his will can deliver himself, after having been long under the dominion of hashish, and despite the weakness engendered by the habit of his servitude, bears a resemblance to an escaped prisoner. He inspires in me more admiration than does the prudent man who, having always carefully avoided temptation, has never transgressed.” Although I was in grave danger, I believe this journey will prove to have been an invaluable experience for me. But before I can reflect upon the benefits of the experience, I must spend some time to regain control of my life. That is, I must expel marijuana from the shadows of my consciousness and take back my imagination.
Reflecting back, I love my college education. I entered with some serious puzzles that I needed to sort out. With the the help of some great teachers and friends, I felt like I could close the chapter of inward philosophizing and start a new chapter as a creative, productive member of society. A few months after college, I got a job in the tech industry and have been happily working as a product manager ever since.
15 years later, I still like to smoke weed and experiment with other drugs occasionally. I do not agree with my assertion that “my rational mind has no place near the intoxication”. Instead, I believe that drugs, while dangerous, can be used strategically for intellectual benefit.
The key, I believe, is to separate the subject matter from the content of your intoxicated ideas.
When I’m high, the most obvious observations feel revelatory and profound, like I need to immediately Tweet them to the world. When evaluated under the light of sobriety, the conclusions I come to when stoned are not themselves valuable.
However, while the conclusions fall short, the subject matter is generative. When high, I find myself thinking about things I generally gloss over. The richest intellectual gift from drugs is new subject matter to explore when sober.
When I feel creatively dried up, marijuana opens the door to exciting new paths of sober inquiry. Like with other things, using drugs for intellectual gains requires discipline. I advise against performing consequential actions while intoxicated, which is hard considering how strongly you feel at the moment. Instead, I recommend that you write down your revelations and revisit them in the new day. Otherwise, you can get lost like Carlos Castaneda’s bewitched man who gets carried away by the river.