Review of Sam Harris’ Waking Up, Part IV

Part III

Against the War on Drugs

In Waking Up, Harris takes time to join the many voices that are calling for decriminalization of mind-enhancing drugs and advocates their use to experiment with altered states of mind. This, he acknowledges, is not without its dangers, but unlike other methods of exploring consciousness, he says that psychodelics carry a “guarantee of profound effect”.

The “war on drugs” has been lost and should never have been waged. I can think of no right more fundamental than the right to peacefully steward the contents of one’s own consciousness. The fact that we pointlessly ruin the lives of nonviolent drug users by incarcerating them, at enormous expense, constitutes one of the great moral failures of our time.

In speaking out about exploring consciousness as a spiritual practice, he argues that regulating one’s mental state is not just a civil right: it’s a choice, an art, a spiritual exercise, and even says that consuming mushrooms is “one of the most important rites of passage a human can experience”.

… it seems that psychedelic ecstasies must be steered toward our personal and collective well-being by some … principle.

Harris also argues that ethical guidance is needed in the use of entheogens, and cites the example of human sacrifice by the Aztecs to argue why we should not idealize entheogens in spirituality. This is where we must acknowledge the role of ethics, of philosophy as a moral guide.

It is unclear what Epicurus has to say on this, and some of the Epicureans on social media, when the subject is addressed, have expressed hostility against the idea that entheogens can be a source of insight or pleasure, praising instead sobriety and a clear mind. This remains an open discussion.

Entheogens are believed by some to have contributed significantly to fashioning modern humans. Terrence McKenna proposed the Stoned Ape theory to explain how the human brain grew to twice its size within the evolutionary blink of an eye. Joe Rogan posted an interesting discussion video on this theory, the latter part of which is outlandish but the first part of which makes sense: that our ancestors were following the herds during a period of climate change and, in their droppings, would have found mushrooms. Rogan dismisses the idea that meat eating only caused brain change, because other primates also eat meat.

Part V


About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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3 Responses to Review of Sam Harris’ Waking Up, Part IV

  1. Pingback: Review of Sam Harris’ Waking Up, Part III | The Autarkist

  2. Pingback: Review of Sam Harris’ Waking Up, Part V | The Autarkist

  3. Pingback: Applying the Epicurean Theory of Justice to Cannabis Legalization | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog

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