Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Power of Good - Round 2

A second part to possibly the most important post on my blog;

"Good" is all that makes us feel happy. It is the actions and thoughts and things that we don't and won't regret. That is the simplest way to know if you are doing good - "Could I possibly regret this?"

Smiling begets happiness, and vice versa. The two are intimately connected - you can try it:

Relax, breathe a little, clear the mind, and make a big, huge smile.

It grows on you doesn't it? I'm sitting here, nose stuffed up, head throbbing, dizzy as a kid who rolled down a hill, but if I smile it picks me right back up. Warm (imaginary) sunshine hitting my face, embracing the good.

I wanted to get a little deeper, and something I touched on in my previous post. When I said
"When you are happy, the world is happy."

It doesn't seem always true, but it makes a big difference. I wanted to play a little mental exercise though. What if all the bad in the world, all the negative, is only there because it always has been. Since the beginning of life its been kill or be killed. We've had predators as long as we've had mouths. As we grew more conscious and more aware, we became empathetic - another being's suffering is our own.

There are those that dismiss this empathy and embrace of all life as beautiful as something silly, foolish - something science easily dismisses. But science certainly does not, in fact science says nothing of morality at all!

Back to the point - what if all the negativity we experience in todays world - all the suffering, has just been carried over from our years of un-empathetical behavior? What would happen if all people smiled just an hour more a day? What would happen if all people began to be charitable in just a few more actions a day?

Since the greater use of "happy" parts of the brain begets more and stronger uses of "happy" parts of the brain (giving, smiling, and loving), the world would exponentially get happier. 

What if by simply being nicer, the world changed? Literally. Since our perception of the universe is dramatically altered in various ways depending on our mood - to have a global shift in the direction of good and happiness could literally change how the world is seen. I'm not just saying that people would seem nicer, and the day would be a bit brighter - but literally things would become more valuable, time would become more fulfilling, life would be richer.

Before you go all skeptic on me, what have you got to lose?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Nine things I've learned in the past year.

Nine things I've learned in the past year.

1) Be confident in who you are, love yourself for the same reason, and USE that to get to where you want to be.
2) Where you want to be isn’t really where you want to be… It is getting there that brings the most joy.
3) Every perspective has an equal and opposite, and every variant in between. We all choose some paths, and butt heads with others once in a while. Taking everything you know yourself and everyone else knows with a grain of salt is powerful.
4) The world is a blank canvas. You have the paint brush of emotions, thoughts, and realizations. YOU paint this picture, no one else – so choose your colors carefully.
5) Caring about anything up to a point of sadness, anger, or negativity means you evaluated something wrong.
6) Being able to admit you're wrong is far more rewarding than being correct.
7) For every “I love you all” there is a “But love is just an emotion” person.
8) Spreading paranoia, fear, and conspiracy theories is retrogressive
9) Spreading genuine kindness is beautiful.

From here on out, I want to embody these 9 concepts as much as I can.

I've always had this advice to others, but never gave it to myself. I could learn a thing or two.

See you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thoughts on Consciousness

The Conscious Mind...

We're all conscious right? You think you're conscious, I think I'm conscious, I even think monkeys are conscious. 

First mental exercise - Where do you draw the line on consciousness?
In order to believe we are conscious, we must understand that something allows us to be conscious. •Whether it be a soul, or some spiritual element - or be it some physical part of the brain that somehow creates our experiences.

If you believe we have souls, then you obviously must believe that there is definite "line" in which you draw and give things souls or not souls. Does your pet dog have a soul? How about a snail? A fish? A plant? You must define a line, somehow to classify "souled" or soulless, or else accept that everything or nothing has souls (or some spiritual element).

If you believe that consciousness is directly attributed to the brain, then, again, you must draw a line where consciousness arises. You may draw the line at people, you may draw it at primates, maybe animals, maybe all living things, maybe everything. But you have to define it.

As neurology and psychology become more advanced and we are able to probe the brain deeper and deeper, we continually come up with results that show the brain is attributed to consciousness. Removing or damaging parts of the brain result in people unable to form coherent pictures of reality, thus probably meaning consciousness is affected.

Interestingly as well, we are conscious that we are conscious, which has real implications on how we perceive and act. Hence I am writing this article - I know I am consciousness, and that is directly tied to the brain, meaning consciousness (where ever it is) communicates directly to our neurons.

Although this may be obvious, this falsifies the idea that maybe consciousness is simply an observatory mechanism - unable to have any input on the brain.

However this interaction between consciousness and the brain does not mean that consciousness is in control of our body's actions. That is, we believe we have control, the "we" or "me" being the conscious experience. But within the past decade, studies are continually showing that this is incorrect - our brains make decisions before we are conscious of them! 

So what can we extrapolate from this? Well it would seem that our consciousness is some kind of illusion that "we" are in control - for example the illusion that we have free-will and "we" decide things consciously for our body to act out. In fact, it seems our unconscious brain makes decisions, followed by a conscious interpretation of this action - and reinforces that consciousness was in control the whole time.

What we experience in consciousness, almost seems to be a lag time or delay after our actual decisions are made... but also seems to correlate exactly with our actual actions, which seem to be odd as well. Its almost as if our brain makes decisions, orders them, categorizes and evaluates them, then, all at once, sends out the actions and the conscious experience of the decision at the same time.

So is there any room for "magic" here - that is, is consciousness really special? Does it have some kind of spiritual connection or meaning? How the hell can this actually work? If consciousness is in fact, just some by-product of evolution, and some nearly pointless ability to experience life (in a biological context) where the fuck is the color red located?

That is all.

See you!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Verified Mind-Blowing Astral-Projection-Like Experience

To partake in this experience the best results are going to be with people who

1) Smoke weed and are comfortable with being very high
2) Have some enjoyment in electronic music that has a loud bass line

This is a solid technique to completely forget you're in your body, experience full synesthesia, and experience what some would call astral projection

The following things are highly, highly recommended. The choice of music is not strict, but I've never heard any better examples, and these are perfectly formulated to produce the most heart-pounding, mind-blowing, synesthesia-wielding, astral projections to the beyond:

•Enough marijuana to smoke in one sitting to make yourself very high. When you are done smoking you should be barely able to remember why you started smoking.
•An MP3 player with good quality headphones, or the most fabulous stereo system on the planet.
•A room with little light and no other distractions
•Being very tired helps, but isn't always necessary
•These two albums. I suggest these two for a number of reasons, but the main being they are very progressive which allows the mind to truly expand and create incredible imagery:

Infected Mushroom - Converting Vegetarians
Infected Mushroom - Viscious Delicious
Or classical mushroom, or IM Supervisor... they are all ok but not the 2 newer albums. Viscious delicious is a must.

Effects will be the greatest if you've never heard these albums before! But don't fret if you're an I.M. fan, you can download any of the 1200 mic albums as well, but they are a second best.

On With the Experiment!
Keep up with how other people are doing here:

Smoke your herb, or however you want to do it. The goal is to be high to a point that you are not usually, a high where that almost pushes the zone of comfort, but still easy to relax. 

Go lay in bed and get very comfortable, imagine how comfy you are, and put in your head phones. Put the music on at a very low volume, just enough to hear every beat and sound - as the song progresses turn up the music, little by little until it, too, is just under the threshold of comfortableness - but you still can listen with ease. Do this slowly, all the while having your eyes closed and preferably under the covers. 

As the song peaks, so should your volume (to the loudest comfortable level).

At this point, colors and visions should be everywhere. You should be imagining yourself flying through space, visions of objects and great plains and buildings dancing everywhere. You may forget you are in your body. Your eyes may begin to vibrate and roll back - a normal thing. Pure euphoria and bliss may start to pulse through you.

Have fun. If it gets too intense for you, of course take the headphones off and take a breather. Not everyone enjoys this type of music, but you should try this first, as it is one of the most progressive mind-blowing music genres (artists) out there. 

If it doesn't work, put something softer in like Pink Floyd or one of the classics. Again, this is to expand your mind, bring some feelings you've never had before, and to have fun.

Don't do it too much or you'll end up like me.

So You Want to Know "Why"?

Spoiler! Do not read if you have not done it!

You've done the experiment? Really? Ok... go ahead.
The reason I ask you to do this is actually not for astral projection at all. The real reason I did this is because it was about the time that I started doing this in High School that I started to find extreme changes in my perceptions of reality - to great degrees. I found that at the same time I was picking up this "hobby" so to speak, of getting high and listening to this music before bed, I started a new awakening. Reality was literally shifting before my eyes.

As I evolved in this new perception, I started to wonder what was the cause, and what was really going on with me (I felt quite crazy, actually). Five years later I think this may have been a contributing part to the larger story. What I wanted to see:

1) Firstly it appeared to me that maybe this was a masculine-only phenomenon. No females I had ever talked to ever expressed experiencing something similar. I also had a feeling this music and being high combination was innately male. I have since completely proven this wrong, and won't be so foolish again.

2) I wanted to see if other people would have similar experiences of extreme senses of euphoria, fear, or like wise emotions. When I would do this, I would be in such a state of "awe" I could hardly breath for the emotions were so powerful - to see if anyone could have similar experiences would, at the very least, comfort me. Seeing that others have the same experience is indeed comforting.

3) I wanted to see if this experience was capable of being manifested outside of the music, outside of being high, or both, simply by trying to get to that state again. Again, seeing that others have had similar experiences... comforting, and I'm glad people are able to access this perception at will.

4) I wanted to see if this actually had some daily-life changes, even with no attempts to change perceptions. This is the ultimate test of this experiment - do these experiences actually effect how we perceive reality forever after? On some level I have gotten confirmation that this experience, does in fact have this effect.

This is, I believe, one of the closest experiences to psychedelics or entheogens one person can have without actually doing them, but doing them after fulfilling this experiment, would be quite the experience indeed.

Again - Check out the participants of the project HERE:

Have fun with this, and don't worry - some people experience a "cloaked" figure, this is just a fabrication of the imagination, do not fear it. ;)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pramiracetam & Lion's Mane - Review, Effects, Dosage

Pramiracetam belongs to the Racetam families, which are nootropics. Nootropics are thought to increase the ability of the brain to fight alzheimers, increase memory, and even increase cognitive function. Below I will address these, and my personal experience with them.

If you only care about the Pramiracetam reviews skip to the Big Bold Blue Letters below. Otherwise here is some background on the racetams.

So, I don't know how the racetams work, and frankly I'm not interested. However, I'm interested in if they work, and to what degree. 

The reason I first got interested in the racetams is back about 4 years ago, when Piracetam started to get big. I was just entering my second year of college and I felt a bit stupid - like I was slowly losing my cognitive luster of yester-year. It was kind of a paranoid, delusional thought that brought me to the interwebz to find something to help, and I got on the band wagon, bought 500grams (yeah... that is a lot!) of piracetam, as well as acetylcholine (more on this later).

After about a week of solid use at the recommended dosages and even greater than those, I lost interest. Not much was happening. It was kind of like a caffeine high for about 15-30 minutes after ingestion, and then nothing. Every once in a while I would try it again, and it was just not doing anything.

I went back to research nootropics again after a year or so of disappointment from piracetam and saw new ones had entered the market - oxi- and aniracetam. I bought both. Again, nothing much was happening. I found myself studying just as hard, getting less results, and in some instances, my ability to focus was lowered. This wasn't what I had expected, and kind of scared me even more - what if these were doing some kind of damage?! (Don't worry I doubt that to be the case)

So in all my research what I came up with was there are two really important factors in nootropics - the nootropic itself, and a substrate on which it can work with - that acetylcholine I talked about before.

Acetylcholine is strongly tied to memory - we absolutely need it to make new memories, and its used in both long term and short term memory. 

Racetams increase blood flow to the brain (be warned to not drink or take drugs on these, as the effects can dramatically change). This became apparent one day when I had taken my usual dose of piracetam, aniracetam, and oxiracetam and later, in order to study, ingested some ritalin. The most awful, pulsating headache I've ever experienced followed me throughout the rest of the day - Never was this to be repeated again.

Working out on racetams made me simply want to keel over.

After 4 years of cold-shouldering the substances, once again it was brought to my attention that a new racetam was on the scene. Pramiracetam. I decided to give it a whirl.

After about 1 week of taking pramiracetam daily, I wasn't getting any effects I wanted. My studying wasn't better, I didn't feel more ambitious, and my memory wasn't enhancing. No noticeable effects. I continued the use, but something just wasn't right. It was almost as if I could concentrate less with pramiracetam. I would find myself in front of the computer screen, barely able to keep my body from going limp, and wanting to lay down on the floor from being tired.

I didn't have much pressing matters, so I continued on with the dosage, but also found this in my search - Lion's Mane mushroom. It is reported to be a rare compound that actually influences Neural Growth Factor - the holy grail of enhancing cognitive ability. I started taking the racetam and this supplement in tandem. Still feeling tired, after about a weeks worth of both in combination I stopped. 

Then something amazing happened.

It was my first day I had stopped taking the supplements, and I felt "normal" - no tiredness, no wilting in my chair. I felt good. I felt better than good. In fact, I felt very on top of everything - but my question:

Is this an effect of the supplements, or me just being back to normal?

I tested this, and I started to take these supplements on an every-other-day basis. What ensued was incredible. On the days I take the supplements I feel a bit cloudy - liek I'm not taking much information in. On the days I'm off the supplements I feel normal - and by normal, I mean I feel how I should feel. Information gets stored much quicker, I'm able to "connect the dots" easier. How can I REALLY test this though?

Plant Biology 101: 
First Midterm Grade: B- [Only taking pramiracetam, acetylcholine]
I had studied for this test for a solid week. I came out of the test thinking, "My god - am I really that stupid?" I felt absolutely terrible after taking it, I had studied so much and got a less than decent grade.

Second Midterm Grade: A [Piracetam, acetylcholine, Lion's Mane]
I didn't study at all for this test the night before, and for only about 2-3 hours the day prior. I was finding myself able to fully remember entire complex scenes, cycles, and structures only after one or two looks. The entire calvin cycle was memorized under 4 minutes. Photosynthesis was under 10. 

I had never felt this in control of my memory before. 

I was able to look at page of notes, copy the page of notes, and then spit out the information verbatim, only 5 minutes after. This was unprecedented for me.

So you must have the question - is it the Lion's Mane, the Racetam, or both?

I do not know, but I believe it to be both working synergistically. 

I think there is something amazing here. Please, do yourself a favor, and get some of these supplements if you need the extra memory. 

Good luck.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Morality - Can it be objective?


Morality is often distinguished from science. It is philosophy - something that can never be proven, and more directly, is presented to us in such a way that there is never a true Right or Wrong in any given situation, but according to everyone's upbringing, and society - we make choices.

Yet, 99.9% of this planet's inhabitants will say it is wrong to kill someone for fun. A slightly smaller number would make the same claim for animals, and it this number would almost completely turn around if you stated the same question, in regards to plants. Very few people would decidedly say it is morally wrong to kill a plant for fun:

Mowing your lawn would become an incredibly difficult task to do if you had to decide it on a moral basis!

So what is it that drives us to believe these moral codes (or disbelieve them)? Why is it that we hold plants in a lower regard than animals? I doubt anybody would argue that breaking a rock for the fun of it is morally wrong, so where do we begin to distinguish this?

Of course, it is life, but we view life in varying degrees - we base this on varying degrees of consciousness. We do not know for certain what animals are more conscious than others, but most people would rather kill a slug than a husky, and killing people is obviously not a good thing. 

So it is just some kind of subjective thing - these morals pertaining to the killing or hurting of other living beings? Or could it be possible to extract some kind of objective stance on this - for example, the greater the conscious level of the being, the more respect it deserves. 

Sam Harris argues this very point (and is the purpose I created this article). After you watch the video, however, I want to bring up some important questions I have come up with.

So, if you agree with his above statements - that is, that morals can be and should be objective stances, we must look at how we value these, and the relative levels we give them.

For instance:
We have worms (arguably one of the lowest animals), rabbits, cows, dogs, apes, and humans. The majority of people around the world would agree that we should be able to kill cows for our own survival, but dogs are iffy, and killing apes would only be ok in a small minority of people. But how do we make this decision - it is obvious a very bold line we draw - We kill cows, that is fine, but dogs are not to be killed. It is interesting to note, that pigs are known to be quite intelligent animals, rivaling the most intelligent dogs, yet we do not question there sacrifice for our plate.

It is clear that most people in the world are not objective about this - that is, there is not a clear distinction they will make in the category of "what is OK to kill" and "what is not OK to kill".

A Bit of a Mental Exercise:

Taking this concept even further, imagine 5 million years from now, when the diversity of the planet is immense, and the humans of today look like fumbly, stupid, prehistoric animals. In 5 million years, would we value that prehistoric human animal of the 2000's as on a level of intelligence to not kill? The intelligent beings on earth at that point would be so far advanced that the humans of today would be on the scale of our pigs, or dogs. But it is disgusting to believe that by that time we would be farming our "lesser evolved" ancestors for food, wouldn't it be?

So how can one draw a line now which is objective, only to have the line move later on - how can this be objective?
Should we define some point in mental cognition that leaves that animal safe from the slavery of the farm pen?

I don't have the answers to these questions. I still have the pre-developed notion that morals are subjective things, so it is difficult for me to even consider that these are objective. Yet, I do not want to feel bad about what I am eating. I do not want to be able to empathize with it, nor imagine that it suffers. I can easily see this in apes in a zoo, or dogs locked in 3x3' cage, so I choose, obviously, to not eat them. A rabbit becomes tricky, and I would rather not, if I can avoid it. Cows, pigs, even chickens I find have some form of suffering which I hope to minimize in my life's footprint.

I think we can easily make objective stances on which animals are more conscious than others, but to make an objective placement in which they are OK to kill for our own benefit - I'd rather not take part in. I would say "but its up to you" - but that would defeat the entire post, wouldn't it?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Everything Entheogen

What is a psychedelic?

The term usually represents a group of compounds or plants that change perspectives, feelings, and generally, reality. Under this definition, most things are psychedelics - caffeine makes you more alert (or nervous), sugar can make you hyper (or tired if you're me), and high amounts of nicotine can make you not want to move. If you wanted to be even more broad, since food releases endorphins, you could classify foods as psychedelics.

This is "Fly Agaric" or Amanita Muscaria, a strong psychoactive reportedly used by the
Scandinavians for "berserker rage". If you attempt these - make sure to boil or bake them, as they are
poisonous otherwise!

However, I'm going to use the term to describe, analyze, and reflect on the strong psychedelics - those that distort vision, bring bold revelations, and perhaps even cause hallucinations. Most psychedelics are not hallucinatory - they simply distort visual capabilities - they do not, generally, create fictitious visions of dragons and monsters. So what are some examples of psychedelics?

The most well know are definitely Marijuana, LSD, and psilocybin, with mescaline (peyote), ayahuasca, ibogaine, Salvia Divinorum, DMT, LSA usually taking a back seat and only known to the people actually interested in the substances. For those foreign to psychedelics these words may be new, but all of them are derived from natural substances, with LSD being the only one that isn't found in nature.

EDIT: As Martijn from pointed out, the word Psychedelic has unfortunate bias, tying it to hippies, the 60's and an image generally not accepted to be powerful and serious. Thus, I'd like use the term Entheogen - which, I agree, is more appropriate. The term Entheogen (from wikipedia) is summed up as "generating the divine within". Usually entheogen also includes the experience of a ritual, but I will use it more broadly, to represent all these psychedelic compounds.

So what is a psychedelic entheogen experience like?

In all honesty, no sum of words can ever truly represent the experience. It is like trying to explain to a taxi driver what its like to walk on the moon - the feelings and emotions are completely subjective and can only truly be experienced "on the other side". One person's interpretation (and subsequent explanation) is going to be dramatically different from many other's.

It is very dependent on who you are as a person, where you are in your life, and how you view yourself, as well as others. In fact, this is one of the most useful and powerful reasons to partake in entheogen use - you will be able to see (if you allow it) the explanations of these questions, or qualities of yourself.

When we go through our life, we feel good days and bad days. We focus on the negative, we focus on the positive. We go back and forth, and our thoughts usually don't amount to much, it is the untrained monkey brain that allows this to happen. That is we "swing from tree to tree" or "thought to thought". We lose so much time worrying or occupying our minds with thoughts that go back and forth - rarely do these random thoughts amount to any intrigue, excitement, or curiosity. These beneficial feelings usually come from experiences, not simply thinking on one's own.

Below I illustrate this; a jumping back and forth between thinking good about things and thinking bad, but there is not much more to be said.

Psychedelics aren't always so different, that is, we can often simply amplify our jumping thoughts, or our monkey brain. We jump from positive to negative, the difference now being our feelings are incredibly amplified, and there is a sense of clairvoyance as to why certain things are negative and positive. This can be helpful, but this isn't one of the most profound experiences, or reasons why I take entheogens, rather - there is a certain change of experience, of perception...

In the entheogen experience, a rarely encountered feeling while sober occurs - enlightenment. Its when we see things from "above" we become aware of ourselves and our surroundings to a level almost incomprehensible while sober. There is an almost sure-fired path to enlightenment, as long as we look for, and accept it when it is presented. 

An illustration is below, and, although simple, the feeling that it is accompanied by is profound.

Now we have become aware of our intrinsic monkey brain! We become aware of our awareness - a hyperconsciousness, a new, higher level of consciousness. No longer do we see the vantage point of "I" - we start to question the I, and view it as a stranger. The body, the mind, the "me" becomes separate, and we can see without the filter of our social lives. 

The revelations here can be soothing or confronting. We can become enamored with how great life is, and the endless possibilities we have before us, or we can become trapped in thoughts that seem to limit us, relationships that block us from fuller potentials. 

The most profound feelings I have had on entheogens is when I see how the "I" acts in certain situations. It is as if I have been constantly living life with a veil over my perspective, blinding me of my own actions. Entheogens puts up a mirror, allowing one to dissect, examine, and understand one's self.

My Experiences

I have a few experiences, but am by no means extremely experienced (which I would define as 15+ strong trips). I have taken psilocybin, DMT, Salvia, LSD, Mescaline, marijuana, and a very weak brew of ayahuasca - I tried LSA but it only made me want to puke. My experiences are mostly moderate, with my first psilocybin trip and many of my DMT excursions being the most intense, and Salvia being one of the most vivid. Smoking weed for me is on par with a mushroom trip, I kid you not.

What happened on these trips - where did I go? What did I see? Why did I keep going back?


My first mushroom trip was exhausting and debilitating. I had taken them at a party, and suddenly became overwhelmed with sleepiness. I decided to drive home, expecting the mushrooms to be a dud. As I got in the car, suddenly my small coupe became as large as a limousine  and the sky became a vibrantly on fire with blue and green. I drove around, admiring this, but with my pre-conceived notions to fall asleep soon, I went headed home. As the world started to warp for the first time, I ran over a curve and suddenly realized the severity of my situation. I needed to get home fast, but safely, as my condition was escalating. I made it home safely, but approaching the door of my house a wave of dread came over me. Being inside a house was so much different than being outside. It was as if I knew as soon as I walked into my house, my world would change - and it did. Its almost as if someone took my brain out, and replaced it with a new one. I became a different personality inside, as I was expecting to interact with my Father (Which didn't happen, thankfully).

As the trip escalated, my thoughts became sporadic. I started to wonder if this was going to end or slow down at all (a beginners foolish thoughts), but of course it would. My mind raced - I kept imagining myself dying, and everyone else becoming sad, friends and family committing suicide from my death. People forgetting about me later. The emotions came like hurricanes that rocked my body and heart. I was becoming weak physically and mentally. I just wanted it to end.

I awoke anew, fresh and happy to have survived the night. Life was so calm, everyone seemed so quaint and happy. It was almost as if everyone knew what had happened to me, but was being extra nice and comforting. This comfort didn't last long - my perspective jumped from "everyone is so nice" to "does anyone know about this stuff at all?" to "what if everyone knows about this type of thinking, and I'm the only one that doesn't?". My thoughts became paranoid, stressful and panicky. I became ultra-aware of what everyone was saying and doing. I tried to find out if what I was projecting onto people - whether they were intelligent or not - was true. I would search for words people used, and phrases, tones, and body language - anything to validate or falsify whether or not I could "read" people.

Analysis of Post Trip:
The trip brought up so many questions and realizations, but it seemed unfinished. I had been confronted with the fear of (painful) death, the fear of being alone, the fear of insanity. The way I had seen things was brand new, it was like all of my deeply rooted thoughts, lodged way deep in the back of my brain had emerged all at once, and all in unison. It very much seemed like my subconscious had taken over, and these thoughts that were foggy little things, biting at my heels my whole life had completely consumed me. I was not ready for that night.

Yet I had heard so many stories of absolute bliss and happiness on these substances and I wanted to obtain that - so began my psychedelic excursions and so began the most introspective and challenging years of my life. I needed to find that bliss and happiness that seemed to elude me. I left the trip with the question of "Why was my experience so incredibly negative, while others were able to experience such great things?"

Salvia kind of makes the world look like this...

After a few unsuccessful tries with psilocybin again to clarify things in my head (they were just not potent enough to induce strong effects) I was offered Salvia Divinorum. I knew about it, and thought I'd probably never try it, but I gave it a shot. The person who gave it to me kept taking tiny, tiny hits, and I thought how stupid he looked, and figured I better show him how its done. I took hold of the glass pipe, lit the plant matter, and inhaled the biggest lung of smoke I can think of. As my body began to shake, I fell back to the ground, and as I hit the ground my body became 'stale' and I found myself falling through a vortex of body parts. 

It is so uncanny how the world turned into human figures and this prius commercial I simply MUST add it:

Falling through an tunnel of hands grabbing and pointing at me I descended into a tiny vibrant, primary colored house (yellow, blue, red). Obviously designed for children. There were my four friends, standing there - in the house which was about 2 feet tall and 10 feet wide (I was crawling beneath ceiling and floor). Yet I somehow knew they were actors. That this Salvia Reality was the actual reality - the more valid reality - and they had known this all along, but were acting as if they didn't. Almost like a cosmic Truman Show. I was to just be something to watch and learn from, but with no awareness of my own. This was the confrontation of my greatest fear - that all reality was an illusion, and everyone knew this but me

I came out of the trip shaken, but not broken. I was determined to conquer this fear.

Analysis of Post-trip:
I had been shown my absolute worst fear. A fear I had subconsciously created since I was a child. When I was young I was constantly depressed about death, and God. I was one of those "Why is there so much suffering if there isn't a god?" kids. Unbeknownst to me, I had created this fear that I was alone in this world - that even the closest to me were simply 'actors' of some sort in a cosmic play. I was the only one unaware of it going on - the guinea pig for some kind of existential analysis. A fear so grand and so complex - yet it hid beneath my line of sight for so long...

A good rendition of a full ayahuasca experience. 

This section will be very short. I had brewed my own ayahuasca with little understanding of what I was actually doing. The concoction turned out to be very weak, but I had ingested it anyways. I laid on the beach watching the sun set over the horizon. As the feeling began to creep up on me that something was going on, the innate fear of my previous trips exploded. I attempted to accept it and hold it in as a powerful person would, but this beast could not be contained. I turned on my stomach to the sand, and there, hugging the cold grainy earth - I heard and felt a heart beat. Earth was hugging me back, but it was miles down. At the time I had figured it would be best if I do not partake in this trip any further and forced myself to vomit.

The visuals were beautiful - the horizon was waves of purple and orange. My friends felt very warm and close to me. Everything they said I examined with the up most clarity. A wave of my hand displayed to me the internal skeletal structure, as if an X-Ray had been given. Speaking to my father shortly after was the warmest conversation I had had in a long time. I was generally interested in every word he had to say. I had never felt such contentment with the small things in life. But again, I felt as if I had been blocked, by fear, from my goal.

Analysis of post trip:
The light load of the trip was extremely beneficial to mental clarity, and my ability to respond to stimuli. I could drive my car without worry, and holding conversations was a pleasure. But the X-Ray hand bothered me. It was a split second - like the substance wanted to show me it's true potential. It has been foretold that many Shamans, after ingesting Ayahuasca, can immediately explain all ailments of a man or woman. They can easily tell an intestinal parasite has taken hold, simply from the skin color - but its more so that the drug shows these deep qualities of health within us. Upon taking the drug, understanding and empathy were at their peak. I understood where everyone was - as if they were all on some mental journey towards something- some had given up, some were ambitious, some were fearful. Things the sober mind lacks in understanding. After these trips, ayahuasca and psilocybin, it became apparent to me that the subconscious is always doing these things - it knows where people are (metaphorically), and how they feel, and what they believe of the world yet it doesn't communicate that to our consciousness. Why is it so? This very fact is why I continually go back to entheogens - I want to see that connection between the subconscious and the conscious mind. To have full awareness of my mind. Even the highest levels of meditation, I do not believe, can mimic this type of full-bodied awareness.

Alex Grey's rendition of "DMT Dreaming"
Oh, DMT, how you've treated me so. DMT, Spice, Elf Spice, Hyper Space - these are all synonyms for the compound. It is naturally derived from many plant sources, but most likely anything you come across will be from Mimosa Hostilis Root Bark (MHRB), which is a pretty tropical plant with purple root bark. Although MHRB has a very large amount of DMT (relative to other plants) it is not known to have been used in many ayahuasca rituals, this is where Psychotria Viridis comes in - a tropical plant that grows in the Amazon.

My experiences with DMT are anywhere from mild to absolute awe-struck, bodily detachment, speaking to gods, and so forth. My first trip that I actually felt on DMT (previous were completely unsuccessful) destroyed me. I was warped to another plane of being and judged in front of three gods. They told me horrific things, terrible fears, and confronting truths about the world. They told me how the universe actually worked. Then, they said "Do you want to hear it?" I knew what "it" was - it was the answer to everything. Before I could answer they told me. I remember the feeling, although it fades with each passing month. What the said was so profound, so disturbing, yet what followed will explain:
"Now that you have heard, we will give you the choice - completely forget what we have said, and go back to your life, or keep what you have learned."
In my mind I said "I cannot possibly deal with this. There is no way I could live with knowing this..."

And so, I was sent back to Earth, my memory wiped clean of the exact details of the conversation, but the feeling remained. A sunken absence of a soul, almost. I wandered that day as if I knew the world was going to end. Everything seemed different, but sad. I knew I needed to change myself. I had too much fear, too much pent up anxiety about things - why was I so afraid of what they told me?

Analysis post-trip:
These gods were images I had seen before, and as I looked at them, I knew I had created them - they were figments of my imagination. I had seen these images of Gods from video games, movies, and various other places, so as they approached me (or I approached them, I can't remember) it became apparent that these were parts of me, not some extraterrestrial beings. So how could I have come up with something that so distraught me, as to completely wipe it from my mind? How could anything possibly explain what had just transpired? The paradox with these higher levels of consciousness is - at one point, you may realize that everything you see is some kind of regurgitation of all you know. This isn't new information that's being presented, its just a separate perspective being seen, a separate paradigm being understood. Yet how can one create such incredible visions? How could I induce my own amnesia of the event?

Subsequent trips:
After my heavy trip I've gone in and out of DMT space multiple times. The ability for DMT to completely change what reality is is an incredible tool for our minds. We can see the connections of all things so easily; I sat on my friend's floor and inhaled. As I sat, the world became vibrant with energy - all things were electrical impulses, vines of energy and information pulsing and throbbing through all matter. My hands became one with the floor, and as I lifted off, the vines took shape again. Instantly I seemed to understand the "physics" of this realm. I understood it didn't have E=MC^2, or our various mathematical 'laws'. Here it was completely different - all things flowed and changed rapidly. There were no laws.

Again - how could I have come up with such intricacies on my own account - my own subconscious?

I've never felt bliss to such an extent on DMT. It has gotten to a point where every breath is reminiscent of a whole-body orgasm, a result from asking the substance to "Show me happiness". I was clutching my pillow, giggling with the most incredible sensations of love and goodness, almost to a point where it was unbearable.

Take Home Message

I could think of so many things to say, but none of them really give justice to entheogens, but I will attempt to sum them up in as precise a manner as I can;

The Hidden Mind

Entheogens are very subjective, depending on what you expect of them, how you feel about your life and yourself, and your spiritual or religious perspectives will influence your trip to a great degree. Not everyone is fully aware of what they really believe, though. We have these fleeting thoughts in our subconscious, or even our conscious that we are not always aware they are there. Our fears, our deepest beliefs. Those of us who label ourselves as "Christian", "Jewish", "Hippie" or "Goth" will come to terms with these labels - as they are only illusions. Our true beliefs shine forth in entheogens, and that is for sure.

A person can go their entire life acting, and believing that they are a good person. Yet every once in a while they may have a question, or a doubt "Am I really doing the right thing?", the slightest doubt of ones self can come full force in a trip, presenting many conflicting view points in the person's life.

In the same way, a person who is doubtful of one's self constantly, but knows "At least I'm doing the right thing" will more likely than not be immensely rewarded in a trip - as their true nature shines through.

The smallest of doubts and fears can consume us, just as the smallest pick-me-ups and positive thinking can elevate us to new happiness on these substances.

Duality of Entheogens
This is one of the hardest questions I deal with today - Is what I 'see' on Entheogens an absolute truth, or is it simply warping of the mind to produce intense revelations, paradigm shifts, and perspectives. Were the Gods I saw on DMT truly other beings, souls, or entities that simply took form into my memories? Was it just a self-created illusion, produced from the new drug in my brain? 

Countless times have I tried to examine this, and many times I have been shown that not all revelations I see on these entheogens, no matter how truthful they seem, are in fact truths. There has been many times where, while quite high, I imagine that people act a certain way for a certain reason, and it is true for all of us. Yet, in a sober light it becomes an obvious fallacy - nothing more than a thought based on curiosity and imagination.

Is what we see while experiencing entheogens true, but when we come down to sobriety our the laws and truths that govern our lives change? Could it be possible that while peaking on ayahuasca - everything one sees is an absolute truth, as long as the entheogen is active, yet upon coming down, we enter back into the physical reality?

How can one answer these questions? As you can imagine, these can be struggles to answer and deal with, and puts the entire use of entheogens into question. Are we merely kids in a sandbox, playing with our brains, or is there something absolutely profound here? I would hope for the latter, but we may never understand.

Changes in Life

Without a doubt taking a strong entheogen for the first time will change your life. It describes the world in such a new perspective, that no matter what is being shown, the experiencer must learn something incredible, confronting or comforting. Life becomes both more real, but less serious, as we see things from an outside perspective. What was once a hectic race to become something, to fill goals, now is seen as a steady trail, possibly branching off in many directions. Life becomes a journey, and we become observers of this body, along for the ride, attempting to gain as much happiness and goodness as possible, while minimizing the negativity and sadness. 

There is without a doubt in my mind that this simple "bird's eye view" that these entheogens give us at moderate doses is worth the effort. The higher doses are for those inquisitive enough, and curious enough to stress the mind on existential questions at hand. 

Generally, people will see life as more or less a play - we are all actors. Some of us more believable than others. But on entheogens we put down the mask, we put down the act and we watch, at least for a while. Sometimes what we see may be disturbing, sometimes absolutely beautiful. An incredible journey through the mind and soul.

Lifting of the veil

I love this term, and when someone recognizes this from their own experiences, often they also adopt it. No matter where we are in life, no matter how we feel, we are always filtering our reality. We only see what we want to see, or what we've been trained to see. Our entire lives are built on efficiently examining our environment. A hunter may never see a diamond in the dirt, but a gem hunter may be unaware of the deer only a few yards away. We are constantly going through life, choosing (subconsciously, or indirectly) these filters we put on. I call them veils, because sometimes what we see, profoundly impacts our mood.

Entheogens lift this veil. High doses create an incredible wealth of information to flow through us. Things that once seemed simple become incredibly complex and dynamic. We are able to master feats before that seemed difficult. Ideas sporadically come to light, and problems seem to be solved much easier.

Depression can be removed. Finally the day comes when the world is no longer grey, but we have a chance to see all the vibrant colors of life, all the happenings, the details that surround us.

Anger diminishes, as we empathize with those we have hurt. We now see the true implications of our actions, far beyond what is simply said or done from our hand.

Stupidity and intelligence become meaningless. We see all things as simply beings; existing in their lives. Who was once stupid becomes intelligent, and who was once intelligent becomes stupid in face of how relative the terms are.

Finally, and most dramatically, we see the web of life, or the web of existence. All things seem intimately connected. Every action we make effects everything else, from the feeling of our home, to our relationships with friends, to the light and energy being emitted - travelling far beyond this solar system. We are not alone in this universe, we are never alone. A quote from Cloud Atlas wraps this up nicely;

“Our lives are not our own. 
We are bound to others, 
Past and present, 
And by each crime
 And every kindness, 
We birth our future.”
Final Thoughts
My final thoughts are important, and I want to emphasize them. I no longer feel a need to take entheogens. I have been there, and seen what was presented to me, and have gained so much that it will take me a life time to observe and analyze what's already happened. I may go back now and again, but these experiences have shaped who I am to a great degree. I enjoy my place now, and need not to question it for some time.

In the words of the Great Alan Watts:
"When you get the message - hang up the phone."

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to Draw...ANYTHING

So you think you can't draw horses?
Think you can't draw faces? Hands? Buildings? 3D objects? WATER?

Well yes you can, and I will tell you (and later show you) how.

The technique is very simple, almost too simple. But, granted, it takes a bit of training and practicing still - but its a powerful tool and won't take much explaining.

This is the technique to draw anything you see - anything at all. Put all that stigma away, all that baggage that says you're not good at drawing, and replace it with "this is how I will learn to draw".

Sit down and get comfortable, find a place where you can easily see things around you, but are able to draw. Have a hard surface under your paper, and keep the paper steady. Now grab a ruler and place in front of you anything you'd like to draw - a vase full of complicated flowers, a moose skull (why the hell do you have that?), and vase and candle, whatever you want.

Now pick a point in space - an imaginary point in your subject matter, preferably a corner. Just imagine that as an anchor, that is where you'r going to build your picture from. Here is where the technique comes;

hold out your ruler at arms length and measure from that point to any other interesting, exciting, or unique point in space. It could be from the bottom of the vase to the top, for an example. Now take your ruler back to your paper and draw a light line that is equal in length and direction. (If you're paper is too small, divide the distance by half).

At this point you should have a nearly perfect length of the vase drawn on your paper (as an example). From here on out you will just be repeating this step, using starting points and ending points, but always have the starting connected to some point. When you first start out, go CRAZY with lines. When you stop, and are done, you should only see LINES LINES LINES LINES. Not only does this look cool by itself, if you look closely at your paper and the subject matter you should be able to see that they are very similar in size and shape (details omitted, of course).

To do this by hand is very difficult, but if you master this technique it will come with time.

Now that you have your crazy line drawing, start involving detail in the drawing - start adding the actual curvature of the base of the vase into the base of your drawing. You know the length already, now you just need to add in the curves. The most important thing here is : DRAW WHAT YOU SEE. Most people when they draw subject matter in front of them aren't drawing what they see. They are drawing what they think they are seeing.

For example if you put a coffee cup in front of a 4th grader and ask her to draw it, she will not draw what she sees, she will draw a coffee cup, any coffee cup - one she made up in her head. If there is a star on the coffee cup, she will make her 5-sided star and add it to the cup, even if there is a 6 sided star on the cup! (This is just an example, maybe the kids a genius and floors you with her talent).

When you see something, don't think about what it is. ONLY draw the lines that exist. Forget about the bias of it being a vase, or a flower, or a skull. Don't focus on what these things are, only see the lines - the shapes that are made from their form. This will unbias the mind and allow for the best benefit.

As you add more and more detail stop and look at both the subject and your drawing - does everything look OK? Are some of the angles too sharp or wide? Are some things too long? Does it just Then erase and try again, keeping in mind the anchor points and lines you put in before, maybe you'll have to redo those as well.

Don't draw what you THINK you see. Draw only what you see.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Maximizing Creativity

So you want to be Creative? This will be a post about how I learned to draw and is in three major portions - how I began drawing [elementary], how I got better at it [middle, high school], and how I developed my style [college] and my abilities now. Let me assure you, if I had known all of this stuff at once, the time from beginning to my skills now would be a year or less.

Being creative isn't always intuitive for everyone. But this isn't the same as being only possible for some people, while others must live without it. This is surely false. Here I hope to convince you that creativity is very learned.

How does one become creative?
The short answer is one learns to enjoy it. 

You will not be a creative individual if you rather dislike being creative in whatever context you find yourself in. For instance, I will never, ever be creative behind a computer in a cubicle, while people are talking over the phone about weather for 8 hours a day (don't ask).

However, if I am drawing, and I really enjoy whats being produced, I most certainly will attempt (and improve) again. So how did I start drawing and being "creative"? When I was in elementary school, me and my friends would have competitions. Each day we would bring in a drawing we made at home and we would show some of our friends, and they would tell us which is better. I didn't always win, but when I did it made me feel really good. But it wasn't only that. It was the realization that "wow I bet this will really make people like mine" which soon became "I really like this drawing" - myself. 

I did not simply come into being drawing and being artistic! 

My parents HEAVILY encouraged me on making art. Both parents had art all over, as well as books for me to both copy and practice with. Notice how I just said copy?

Copying is practicing. I know when you first do it it may feel like cheating - regardless if you make an amazing reproduction. But this is learning - this is how you master your mind-to-hand control, and develop your own styles. Counter intuitive?

When I was expanding my horizons in drawing I picked up a lot of Anime drawing books. They were "How-To" books and gave both procedures to draw things and also really good examples of good Anime. To start, or when I hit something very hard I would literally trace the outline, but as time went on this was less needed. I became familiar with styles of anime, and then various more advanced drawing types. A lot of my inspiration came from Fan Art of some of my video games, actually!

As I continued to copy, transform, and learn from other sources, I started developing my own style. Doodling that made me say "This looks cool". Usually produced from boredom in class, but this is how I trained myself in what is appealing to my eye and what isn't.

If I started drawing something and it didn't quite look interesting - I would try and imagine what would make it more interesting, and then do that.

In fact, much of my abilities come from turning mistakes into appealing aspects. If I add a line, and it goes a bit over what I had hoped, or looks disproportionate, I will figure out how I can change the entire picture to reflect a better aesthetic for the "mistake" - in this way, there are no mistakes. 

The real key here is the ability to start drawing [or whatever your artistic expression is], and no matter what, always end on a good note!

Not mine, but beautiful style, no? Look at the shadowing.

Mine, make sure you examine the jaw...

Not mine. Beautiful form, the differences in line weight, the bio-mechanical. Wonderful!

I think the next section, on how I actually learned to draw anything will be in a new post. Stay tuned, as it REALLY DOES SHOW YOU HOW TO DRAW ANYTHING. I used to tell myself I can never draw a hand, or I can never draw faces or people. Then, I learned this technique... and voila. Can do anything.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I've Hit Rock Bottom

"I think I've hit rock bottom"

For me, hitting rock bottom is the ultimate catapult up, but I know this isn't the case for everyone. I think, though, that if a person is able to see rock bottom from a view outside of their own, they will be able to really 'take the reigns' so to speak and climb back up. However, if a person hits rock bottom, and only sees it as "happening to me" and, generally, only internalizes the negative, it will consume a person's thoughts, their day, and their outlooks. Nothing good will come of this.

How to maximize the benefits of hitting rock bottom is to say
"Holy shit - I need to stop doing this, living like this. There is no way I can keep going on like this.
 I will regret this when I die if I continue." 

When that revelation hits, you know its time to change. At that instant it is important to act. It is at this very vulnerable time that this epiphany [of negativity] allows the brain to become plastic, and the person to change readily.

Without that epiphany, change is slow, boring, and tiresome. Its like picking up a new habit that you're only slightly interested in, like exercising when you've been only moderately active your whole life. Daily habit changes are difficult, but certainly not impossible. But that is another post.

For me, I purposefully hit rock bottom sometimes, when I know things aren't going to change just from "I should probably change". I need the statement to become "I need to change".

Hitting rock bottom in a useful way is the ability to see it from a new light, a new perspective. If you continually see your actions the same way, day in and day out, the negative perspective will not push you to do anything, you will simply trudge onward.

A new perspective can be created in only four ways that I know of, maybe there are more, but I don't know:
1.Meditation - meditation can be used in such a way as to completely change your perspective on something. It takes some learning, but after becoming relaxed and focusing on breathing imagine how you would want to see the world. Imagine a way to improve yourself or your surroundings. Imagine yourself being the person you want to be.
2. Hallucinogens - These can be so confronting and intense, that a new perspective is impossible to avoid. These substances cause the brain's signaling pathways to be changed and warped, and it is reflected in how we perceive while under the influence of these. Our lives become radically different as we see them from a new angle, sometimes for better or for worse. Often, people can identify their own negative perspectives here and know how to change them much easier than when sober.
3. Intense Events - evens like seeing a car crash or being in one ourselves can really snap us into reality. We 'wake up' from our daily grind and realize what we have is precious, and that negative view points and negativity overall is only slows us down. Someone who may be depressed or in a hard place of life and seeing a car accident will, undoubtedly, feel much worse. They may hit rock bottom - and realize, though, that time is short, and one must not simply wait for things to get better - they can create good around them, rather than apathetically ignoring it.
4. Completely Random - there are some days when we just wake up and its a new day. Its like someone slipped us something in our sleep. We see the world new, and people seem more vibrant. The color, the air, more crisp. Things seem to make sense on a day like this. It is enlightenment. These are "push-off" days. The days you can really use to elevate yourself to a new level, and allow it to be much easier maintained. I see them as days where the brain becomes extremely plastic, that is, its very easy to mold and change. These are days we should watch inspiring talks. Begin new habits. Talk to new people. These are our push off days.

Next time you aren't feeling so bad there are two things you can do. You can simply sit in it, and wait for things to get better which may or may not happen - OR - you can sit and feel bad, and absorb it - think about how terrible this feeling will be 10 years from now, 20 years from now if you don't change. How you will feel on your death bed if you don't change - BOOM. Push off. Get out of that state of being. Shed the negative and reach for high ground.

Just a short post I wanted to get out there...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Consumerism Trap, Or... America

The Plague of Consumerism and Materialism

Today I had a lengthy discussion about the state of the world with my wonderful girlfriend, but unfortunately the  majority cannot be positive things to speak of. Namely;
"western" society is constructed in such a way to minimize happiness, optimize productivity, and concentrate wealth.

Is it really true, though? Could this really be how things work?

The beginning of the conversation started from an earlier conversation I had on;

I think that having a yearly salary of $5 million is detrimental to the self, as well as the community, and at larger scales, to a global environment. However, at the same time, I do not feel comfortable with a government entity being able to say "Hey, you can't make anymore money, sorry." Not because I don't need more than $5 mil/yr, but because I don't think government's place is to do that. I think that change needs to be internal, personal, and psychological.

But moving on, I made the point that it is very clear that
1. People buy more things when they feel bad
2. People feel good when they buy things

These are general, and people can deny them if they choose, but deep down, we like getting new things, we like "advancing" our lifestyle - a new computer is a great example. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, yes and no. Objectively, in an ideal situation - no, not at all. However, the world isn't ideal, and you are a prey to consumerism. Let me illustrate my point:

I hadn't watched the news for a few months, let alone any television at all, but to humor myself, I turned on the local, nightly news. What was I about to witness - some governmental campaigns? Perhaps some new bills being introduced? How about a new energy source, or research project in the academics? No, I was blasted with 5, yes 5, separate news stories about brutal homicides and tragic deaths. How did I feel after watching this? Besides feeling like absolute shit, because I have the rare disease called empathy (sarcasm), I laughed a little inside. Why was it that this news decided to plaster me with terrible events?

The connection hadn't become clear for months. I realized that larger news agencies - those responsible for big impact (CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc...) knew about the previous idea - these news agencies KNEW that if I felt bad, I would buy more. Sound like a conspiracy theory? Next time you watch the Today Show (or to humor yourself, do it for the first time) you will notice something:
The order of events in news broadcasting go a little something like this:

"And today's news - a mother brutally murders her family..."
[which is followed by the details of the story]
"Wow what a terrible story!"
[Short discussion, feel bad, wow that sucks!]
"So what are the newest fashions, today? Lets go to time square to find out!"

Have you picked up on it yet? What is going on here?

Its a simple recipe;
Make the consumer feel bad.
Present something [to buy] to make them feel good.

If you can identify what is going on here, maybe you can see the subtleties beyond this; it is everywhere. I can't admit it, and don't believe it myself, but my girlfriend admits she likes to watch people suffer - she enjoys watching people be humiliated on TV. Hence why reality shows are so popular. People, for whatever reason, tend to enjoy others experiencing negative things. A strong sense of empathy will take you out of this group - however, with only a little bit of empathy, maybe you'll feel just a slight bit bad. And now a word from our sponsors. See, again?

Television has become a manipulation of our instincts. When we feel bad we want comfort. So what would a truly ingenious capitalist do?
Make people feel negative all the time, while providing easily accessible materials to choose from and, most importantly, purchase.

Do you believe it - A blind sheep in the shopping mall that is America? Allowing external influences control your happiness, your sadness?

Consider it, the next time you buy something new - did you really need it? Why, exactly, did you buy it? Where did you hear from it? What made you actually consider buying it, rather than just blowing it off?

I will leave you with a [true] anecdote;

A father of one daughter continues to get coupons from Target about baby products. His child is 17, and his wife is gone, so why is he getting these coupons? He calls and complains to Target, exclaiming that his daughter isn't pregnant, and he doesn't like getting these coupons that encourage that type of behavior. His daughter agrees, and says she doesn't even want to think about having a kid, and how terrible that would be at her age. Three months later, she her belly expands, and it's obvious she is pregnant. She literally didn't have a clue, but Target did. How did Target know?

Target tracked her buying habits covertly. They realized trends in what she was buying (specific foods, comfort items) and matched it with other pregnant women. The coupon was sent out automatically via an algorithm. Target knew she was pregnant - before she did. If you think this is incredible, I hope you can comprehend the possibilities beyond this. No matter how much you believe you aren't under the influence of advertising - you most certainly are.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Should I go to Graduate School?

The question undoubtedly hits many undergrads after (or before) they receive their bachelor's degree. It's one of those really tough questions that should be answered with clarity and understanding, which usually takes time - something we don't always have when applying (and spending lots of money) to graduate schools.

I'll give you my $0.02 on the subject, but remember, this is only me, and there are many other perspectives out there.

Should you go to graduate school: The easy answer is yes, given that the question is so broad. Graduate school is where you actually become a master in certain techniques, learn quite a lot in your field of interested, and get to use that wonderful brain of yours to create, expand, and explore in new territory.

However, the world is not an ideal place, and it is highly unlikely that 100% of your graduate school experience is going to be happy-go-lucky and steadily continuing without ever doubting your decision. Here are the points that I find most important in deciding whether to go to graduate school:

  1. First - can you get in? Is your GPA above a 3.0 or 3.2? If not, you may find it difficult to get into good programs. A strong GRE score, along with exceptional letters of recommendation can get you in, with an "lower" or "average" GPA. Really though - if you're considering graduate school, you probably can get in to many of them.
  2. Masters or PhD? Very few programs pay you to get a masters, but many pay you to get a PhD. The national average is around 24-26k a year, which isn't bad. If you are going to medical school, you need to pay for it yourself, unless you can get some really fantastic fellowships and scholarships - but that isn't my field.
  3. Are you passionate about anything academically? When I started graduate school (only 4 months in so far) I had the wrong idea that, really, I could only get into the "hard" sciences, and that "soft" sciences aren't worth anything. Hard sciences are chemistry, biochemistry, mathematics, engineering, etc. While "soft" are sociology, psychology, ethnobotany, etc. If you are passionate about learning ANYTHING at all, there is a program out there for you. Search, search, search. Just recently I met someone who was doing research on how Maya interact with plants. He's written a few books and travelled all over the world. He retired a few years ago, but was taking students - I would have absolutely died to do this!
  4. Do you care what happens after graduate school? For me, I don't give a damn. I'm currently in a Plant Biology program, but once I fulfill my PhD, I have no plans in continuing on to post-doc work, or becoming a professor. I would love to teach, but the details are hazy. If you really want to go on after, and become a post-doc, or become a professor, you really need to be competitive - which means doing "out-of-the-box" research, and literally devoting your life to the work. You will need to spend a bare minimum of 40 hours a week in lab.
  5. Do you like to travel? Some programs differ in this respect, but in the hard (and some soft) sciences, you're travel will be limited, and your new school will become a pretty heavy shackle on your leg. For me, I plan on definitely taking months off in the future, but it's not always possible (or safe) to do so. It really depends on your professor.
  6. Can you deal with people telling you what to do? Some labs also differ in this regard. Many professors will tell you exactly what they want you to do. They need to keep their record of publications of high quality and good quantity, so they may pressure their students to push projects. This can be heavily taxing, and may not allow the graduate student "breathing room". I'm, again, lucky as I feel I can do whatever I want, in the realm of plant biology.
  7. The biggest of them all: do you really want to give up these years of your life? I'll be brutally honest; graduate school will become your life if you're going to succeed, and get your degree. This pertains more-so to PhD but a masters can be just as involved. Generally a PhD is 4-7 years long, which translates to years of 22-29 years of age. That's a lot of time, and at the prime of your life. If you have a professor that is lenient, you can take plenty of time off and explore the world if you'd like. Others aren't so lucky. Make sure you get into a program and in a group that is nurturing to you as an individual person, not just someone to do work.

P.S. Did I mention you'll probably get paid for learning? Pretty sweet deal.

For me, I don't really stress the future, nor the present. When it gets bad I go on vacations, and when its good I absorb it like a sponge. I don't really care what happens after school, so the pressure to do extraordinarily well isn't something on my mind all the time. I'm motivated, but I'm not stressed. If I really cared about getting a tenure track position and an amazing post-doc position somewhere, I wouldn't be writing this blog - I would be reading academic journals till I drop.

I hope this helps answer some questions out there.