Our perceptual filters shape the world
As these things go, moments after posting my reference to Terrence McKenna, i discovered in my in tray, a link to this article by David Suzuki. It interested me as it spoke to a lot of the subjects I have been endeavouring to address of late. David speaks of perceptual filters, references a story told by Wade Davis [who's inspiring TED talk I referenced here] of the cultural and geographical landscape I am currently inhabiting, and articulates an experience with loggers very similar to a historical one of my own.
If presented with the autopsied brains of a diverse array of people, no expert would be able to distinguish from the brains’ anatomy or neurocircuitry the gender, religion, or socio-economic class of the cadavers. Because we are members of one species, our brains, neurons, and sensory organs are similar in structure and chemistry. But if you were to ask both men and women about love and family, Israelis and Palestinians about Gaza, Catholics and Protestants in Belfast about British occupation, Republicans and Democrats about Karl Rove, and Shia, Sunni, and Kurds about U.S. troops, you’d think the respondents came from different planets.
What this demonstrates is that we learn to see the world through perceptual lenses formed by heredity, upbringing, personal experiences, religion, socio-economic differences, and so on. Even though we detect our surroundings in the same way through eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue, our brains actively filter that incoming information so that it “makes sense” according to our individual values and beliefs. This creates huge dissonance between fossil-fuel executives, environmentalists, and politicians when we discuss an issue like climate change.
Suzuki goes on to describe an experience with Davis which caused him to think about the profound manner in which a cultural perspective determines a people's relationship with their environment. He contrasts the vast difference between the attitudes to environment between a resident of a Peruvian mountain village, and a Canadian logger. In his account of a confrontation with one such logger, he says;
The confrontation made for good television, but I was frustrated at our inability to find common ground. Finally I told them, “I worked as a carpenter for eight years, and to this day, I love working with wood. No environmentalist I know is against logging. We just want to be sure that your children and grandchildren will be able to log forests as rich as the ones you’re working in now.” Immediately, one of the men replied that he’d never let his kids to go into logging. “There won’t be any trees left!” he said. And there it was. Those men knew that they were cutting the trees down in a way that ensured there would be no harvestable timber for future generations of loggers, but they saw the trees as the way to put food on the table day after day and make the house and car payments at the end of the month.
Some years ago whilst endeavouring to assist in the halting of an illegal logging operation in Central Victoria's increasingly scant state forest, I was greeted by the sight of an aging but virile, chainsaw wielding logger sprinting towards me with anger and frustration writ clear in his eyes and on his weathered face.
"Come 'ere ya f***ing hippy f***ing c***", he screamed, spittle flying from his mouth. He brandished his chainsaw maniacally, "I'll give ya a f***ing haircut"
I adopted my best Aussie drawl and met him calmly.
"Ah yeah, hippies mate, don't get me started! Look mate, I got no problem with logging mate, logging's an honourable trade. Me, I'm from three generations of rice farmers, mate, out Deniliquin way. That mob can't make a living any more because of the salt problem caused by too much clearing and over irrigation..."
Within 10 minutes we were sitting on a log, sharing a cup of tea and some organic chocolate donated by the local businesses, eager to protect their environment and the tourist trade it afforded them. George looked over his shoulder to see if any of the other loggers were within earshot and said to me sotto voce
"Yair mate, ya don't need to tell me we're killin' the forest, we know it. 50 year ago mate we used to look after this forest, I could fell two trees over the river and go down half a mile and drink a glass 'a water outta that stream, clear as crystal it were. This industrial loggin' mate, it's bullshit, but what am I gonna do? I'm 67 years old mate, and I got family to support."
There were tears in his eyes.
The operation was found illegal in the courts and the logging process halted, until such time as the corporations found a loophole or a less publicly obvious forest to exploit..
Suzuki concludes his article;
How can we resolve such differences in perspective? I don’t know, but I am sure that the challenge has to do with what’s locked inside our skulls. I have spent more than 40 years trying to use the electronic media to inform and educate, but I continue to be flabbergasted by the strength of those perceptual filters.
We have to find ways of overcoming those blocks so that we can begin to agree on some basic principles. We are not outside or on top of the web of living things; we are deeply embedded in and utterly dependent on it for our survival and well-being. Without that understanding, we will continue on our destructive rampage.
My experiences about the world, with people of all different ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic situation has lent me to believe that our differences are largely illusory. Most people want to live happily, without fear or struggle. They want their children to be happy, to eat and be educated well. On the whole they want to be kind to their fellow humans. I believe few want consciously to destroy their environment or those with whom they inhabit it. Those that do, I feel have simply forgotten, or been taught by state or religion to see with a perspective too narrow to allow for the effect of their actions upon the web of life and consciousness around them.
My experience in working with the Sacred Medicines has consistently shown me the incredible power of these Teacher Plants to show each and every one of us that "we are not outside or on top of the web of living things; we are deeply embedded in and utterly dependent on it for our survival and well-being".
If, as Suzuki suggests, "without that understanding, we will continue on our destructive rampage", why, when we have the possibility of learning from teachers who can offer us precisely that understanding, are these plants outlawed in most countries in the world?
What cultural mechanism, especially in light of substantial scientific evidence that regular Ayahuasca drinking in the context of the UDV church leads to healthier, happier, more culturally cohesive individuals, can justify the continued prohibition of such substantially profound possibilities?
I will leave you to your own conclusions, and with a quote from a National Geographic article I referenced some time ago;
The taking of ayahuasca has been associated with a long list of documented cures: the disappearance of everything from metastasized colorectal cancer to cocaine addiction, even after just a ceremony or two. It has been medically proven to be nonaddictive and safe to ingest. Yet Western scientists have all but ignored it for decades, reluctant to risk their careers by researching a substance containing the outlawed DMT. Only in the past decade, and then only by a handful of researchers, has ayahuasca begun to be studied. At the vanguard of this research is Charles Grob, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UCLA’s School of Medicine.
In 1993 Dr. Grob directed the Hoasca Project, the first in-depth study of the physical and psychological effects of ayahuasca on humans. He and his team went to Brazil, where the plant mixture can be taken legally, to study members of a church, the União do Vegetal (UDV), who use ayahuasca as a sacrament, and compared them to a control group that had never ingested the substance. The studies found that all the ayahuasca-using UDV members had experienced remission without recurrence of their addictions, depression, or anxiety disorders. Unlike most common anti-depressants, which Grob says can create such high levels of serotonin that cells may actually compensate by losing many of their serotonin receptors, the Hoasca Project showed that ayahuasca strongly enhances the body’s ability to absorb the serotonin that’s naturally there . 'Ayahuasca is perhaps a far more sophisticated and effective way to treat depression than SSRIs [antidepressant drugs],' Grob concludes, adding that the use of SSRIs is 'a rather crude way' of doing it. And ayahuasca, he insists, has great potential as a long-term solution in maintaining abstinence.