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The psychedelic origins of yoga
While we usually associate yoga with flexibility-inspired exercise, evidence shows a lack of psychedelic mushroom tea could lie at the foundation of this discipline.
The word "soma" is not new. Northern Californians pass over the Bay Bridge into South of Market, its acronym SOMA. More broadly soma was the pleasure drug in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. In that book it worked as an opiate, keeping addicts from questioning external circumstances. The original usage of the word implied something entirely different.
Huxley, a devoted student of Eastern philosophies, knew that. The word first appeared nearly 3,500 years ago in Indian texts. The Soma Mandala is the ninth chapter of the Rig Veda, one of the world's oldest religious texts. All 114 hymns praise this energizing drink in stark terms. In one hymn, soma is praised:
We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.
Soma is the god Indra's beverage — poets requesting that the drink bless them with divine favor. Expansive language is used: flying through wide-open spaces, touching infinite space, merging with deities. These passages have led scholars to assume that the foundation of soma was amanita muscaria, a psychedelic mushroom that has been used in shamanic and spiritual rituals for millennia.
This theory was proposed by author and amateur mycologist Robert Gordon Wasson in 1968. His co-author, the scholar Wendy Doniger, has since written numerous books on India. The pair drew parallels between the poetic flights of fancy used to describe soma in the Vedas to Siberian shamanic rituals, which use the same mushrooms to create similar mind-expanding experiences.
In her 2010 book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, which ingeniously looks at Indian history and philosophy through the lens of women, Doniger writes about sacrificial soma rituals, common in Vedic times. These texts were written when most citizens lived in the mountains, where mushrooms were abundant. She noticed a textual shift when people moved into early urban civilizations around the Ganges, however. Soma disappeared, replaced by kriyas, purification exercises that informed the earliest instances of yoga.
Mushrooms were gone, but people needed their fix. Without the god-inducing beverage, they began creating intense breathing exercises to alter their consciousness. Yoga was born.
This little sliver of history would remain a footnote if not for a rather intriguing current parallel: both psilocybin (another psychedelic compound found in over 200 species of mushrooms) and yoga are aiding in addiction recovery.
Psychedelics and yoga both came to prominence in America in the middle of the last century. Sure, they were both around earlier, though not mainstream. Finding mushrooms or ayahuasca, an Amazonian brew that is also having positive results with recovery, required trips to Mexico or Peru; yoga was, for the most part, written off as voodoo, witchcraft, or as part of cultish sex rituals.
The discovery of LSD in 1938 coincided with pictures of early yoga poster boy Theos Bernard circulating after the publication of his book on Tibet, Penthouse of the Gods. Writers, artists, and philosophers began exploring inner space through entheogens, a term coined to "generate the divine within," while Bernard's contortions appealed to a growing physical fitness culture in America.
These seemingly odd bedfellows are both rooted in the quest for altered consciousness, something humans have been pursuing as long as we've been a species. Terence McKenna believed the self-reflective leap in consciousness distinct to human beings was fostered by the very mushrooms brewed by Indian bards four millennia earlier. This quest for "other" states is also at the foundation of early yogic texts, most prominently the Yoga Sutras, compiled by a little-known Kashmiri man roughly 1,600 years ago — also the book that informs all modern yoga — includes an entire section on what you can do when rearranging your consciousness in peculiar ways.
Today kriyas are most prominently practiced by Kundalini yogis, who use these intense breathing exercises to alter consciousness. The epicenter of that movement is in Los Angeles, where a sizable percentage of these white-turbaned yogis are former addicts — drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, the culture of narcissism perpetually rampant in Hollywood. Kriyas leave one feeling recharged and refreshed, filling their brains with the hormones and chemicals to replace the dopamine and serotonin surges their previous crutches provided.
Psilocybin users are having similar success. As Michael Pollan reported earlier this year in The New Yorker, researchers at NYU are seeing breakthroughs in patients enduring "existential duress" during their end-of-life phase. Earlier studies showed like results for those recovering from cigarettes, alcoholism, and cancer. Psychedelics, used for thousands of years in a variety of existential and healing modalities, are finally being scientifically studied in a culture that could use the mental and emotional alleviation they provide.
It's hard to imagine modern yoga, with its Insta-glamorizing of lithe bikini-clad women and shirtless men posturing on beaches and mountaintops, having origins with Indian sadhus drinking heady brews to mentally fly above those beaches and mountaintops to convene with Indra in the clouds. That's more a failure of imagination, however. Altering consciousness is an ancient component of our evolutionary heritage. That many are finding both therapeutic in an oversaturated world speaks to our eternal quest for creatively stretching beyond our boundaries. The rituals of old remain our rituals today, still seeking solace outside our skin by being firmly acquainted with the person inside of it.
Correction: An earlier version of the post listed amanita muscaria and psilocybin as the same psychedelic compound.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.