Jason Silva, host of National Geographic Channel’s Brain Games, calls marijuana legalization a huge win for civilization. Beyond cannabis’ therapeutic uses, Silva offers an argument that being able to choose to use cannabis represents a step toward cognitive freedom. The decision to legalize will also disassociate the drug with criminality and boost its association with an immersive altering of consciousness.
Jason Silva: Well I think that what’s happening now is a transformational moment here in American culture. I think the fact that the majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization is a huge win for civilization, for mankind, I mean for American society. It’s like not just for the sort of limitless medicinal potential that cannabis has. You know cannabinoids have been shown now to even like shrink tumors. I mean it’s an unbelievably therapeutically active substance. But also for the simple issue of cognitive liberty, right. Sort of a country that is founded on the principles of free thought and the idea that everybody should be able to think what they want to think and do what they want to do as long as they’re not hurting anybody else. And this is, you know, nowhere more exemplified than in the right to choose a marijuana joint over a martini if that’s what floats your boat. Also, marijuana consciousness, as Rich Doyle writes, is extraordinarily sensitive to the initial rhetorical conditions. You know, Leary’s ubiquitous set and setting, to the point that there is no drug by itself. There is the context in which the drug is taken. And so when you change the cultural context in which people are able to have marijuana you change the particular flavor of marijuana consciousness.
You start eliminating the association with criminality and the paranoia and the fear of getting caught and instead you create a canvas where people can smoke a joint before going to a boutique movie theater to have a very increased cinematic immersion. Or you can create spaces where people can maybe vaporize some cannabis before going and listening to a symphony orchestra. Or maybe they can go on these beautiful, sort of guided marijuana hikes, where the set and setting would be curated for a particular marijuana flavor. I mean it’s almost like the notion being that intention, you know, you change the intention, you change the stage and that intention could actually transform the subjective experience that people have when they participate in the use of cannabis. And, you know, it’s just very exciting because I think that we’re going to see new forms of entertainment, new forms of sort of — new cultural spaces for people to partake in what they’ve been doing for hundreds of thousands of years, which is altering our consciousness whether it’s through external technologies or internal technologies. I mean mindfulness, meditation, rave concerts, you know, Burning Man, theater.
These are all technologies, techniques — rhetorical technologies that capture and manage attention and are able to elicit transformational interpersonal experiences. Only when we are immersed in some capacity, as Diana Slattery says, can you mediate attention and can you actually have transformational, educational, interpersonal experiences. And people pay money for that. They’re like, "Here’s $20, you know; put me in that IMAX movie theater and take me through a black hole and let me experience Interstellar." You know, where the outer journey becomes a metaphor for the inner journey; the external outer space interstellar becomes a metaphysical head trip. I mean we pay money to be taken out of ourselves. We pay money to dissolve boundaries. We pay money to experience intersubjective life worlds. And anything that helps us get there, as long as it’s not hurting anybody else, it’s cool man. It’s cool. And so I’m interested. I’m interested in what’s going to come out of that, you know; what this boutique, high-end marijuana culture is going to create. The marijuana equivalent of the high-end wine bar or the really, really trendy scotch bar where everything from the lighting to the music to the cups in which people drink the alcohol is created to create a certain mood. What’s going to be the marijuana equivalent of that? A sort of highbrow experience for aesthetically minded types. There’s a great book by David Lenson where he talks about the marijuana consciousness as one which creates this dialectical pattern of reconcilable estrangement. So the first thing that happens — and again reconcilable estrangement with the world of perception. So the first thing that happens is there’s an italicization of experience by distancing you from the set of stimuli. It’s why, you know, why a sort of aesthete might smoke a joint before going to the Guggenheim. He’s going there to experience first an alienation from the world of ordinary perception so things become novel, new, and interesting, and strange. And then there’s a reconciliation with that estrangement. So the world is italicized.
The world is seen as if for the first time. And then right afterwards, there’s a witnessing of that transformation and a reconciliation with the world of objects so that the thing that is seen as if for the first time can be regarded, can be revered. We call this sort of sacred consciousness archetypical consciousness, you know. So that something like an ordinary scoop of ice cream represents the idea of ice cream, you know. A piece of art, a sculpture standing in a museum hallway becomes a sort of archetypical figure of man trying to make a statement using form and function. I just think that what it does to consciousness is very useful because it provides a change in perspective similar to when astronauts go to space and have a change in perspective. What they call the orbital overview effect that transforms the consciousness of the astronauts because they’re able to see reality, in this case Earth, from a different perspective that creates an ontological transformation blasting new tunnels between the mind and the other. So too in the world of everyday life, people will be able to alter their consciousness legally in a safe space and have that change in perspective that results, hopefully, in some kind of transformation, heightened appreciation, increased compassion, increased well-being, and increased creativity. It reminds me a bit of that Stanford study on the subject of awe, where they described awe as an experience of such perceptual expansion or such perceptual vastness that you have to reconfigure your mental maps of the world to assimilate the experience. So maybe the first time you saw the Grand Canyon or the first time you saw the IMAX film with the Hubble Space Telescope. And it turns out that awe, once it passes, leaves us with all these increased feelings of bliss, wellbeing, creativity, compassion, kindness, right. And so if we’re able to mediate and assist eliciting those sensations of awe, in this case by legalizing marijuana in safe context, then why shouldn’t we do that? That’s what kind of excites me, you know. Just the notion that there are new modalities of consciousness that we will be able to safely explore and inhabit.