The Natural Mind
Preface to the Revised Edition
READING OVER this book in order to bring it up to date left me
feeling that I should explain its tone. To do so I must describe
the circumstances of its creation.
The Natural Mind is a product of the sixties. It grew out
of experiences I had in college and medical school in Boston from
1960 through 1968 and during a medical internship in San Francisco
the following year, when streets and campuses were battle zones.
Though written in 1971 and first published in 1972, the book embodies
the spirit of the preceding decade and the generation that came
of age in it, full of optimism, righteous anger, and openness
Just before I started writing I spent a frustrating year working
at the National Institute of Mental Health in a suburb of Washington,
D.C. I was serving military time in the Public Health Service,
wanting only to avoid political confrontations. This was 1969,
however, the first year of Richard Nixon's presidency, when social
turmoil and polarization were increasing daily. The National Institute
of Mental Health was caught up in the storm, and despite my best
intentions, so was I. My administrative superiors came to regard
me as a political liability. They opened my mail, tried to prevent
legislators and reporters from reaching me, and threatened to
send me to Vietnam if I did not behave.
The problem was marijuana, then as now a red-hot issue because
of its countercultural symbolism and associations with "undesirable"
elements of society. I had designed and carried out laboratory
studies of marijuana with human volunteerssome of the first
research of its kindin my senior year of medical school. The
results were published in leading journals in 1968 and 1969 and
got a great deal of publicity, including front-page coverage in
the New York Times.
I had also used marijuana myself in order to know its effects
firsthand. The conclusions I came to about it were sound, but
they did not support the establishment view of the drug as an
unmitigated threat to mental health, more menacing than alcohol.
I published my findings in the naive belief that honest information
on the subject would help resolve the acrimonious debate that
was tearing families and communities apart. For the first time
in my life I found that telling the truth got me in trouble. My
employers did not want the public to know what I had discovered
about marijuana, and they resented all the attention my published
work continued to receive.
By the end of the first half of what was to have been a two-year
stint as a Federal employee and commissioned officer, my working
life in Washington had become intolerable. I was typed as a rebel
and troublemaker, was barred from doing any work related to marijuana
or other drugs, then was ordered to move to the Federal addiction
hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, to work as a ward doctor for
heroin addicts. I refused to go. Eventually, I resigned job and
commission and was denied military credit for the year I had served.
I applied for deferment as a conscientious objector, but stated
that I would not do any alternative service for a system that
seemed to me committed to dishonesty.
My first act as an unemployed ex-official of the U.S. government
was to go off to an Indian reservation in South Dakota to study
with a Sioux medicine man. I wanted to learn from him about herbal
medicine and about ways of changing consciousness without drugs.
On the reservation I participated in sweat lodge ceremonies, grew
a beard, and "dropped out." When I returned to my house
in rural northern Virginia, I found my draft board had granted
me conscientious objector status without a hearing. Suddenly and
unexpectedly, I had no obligations and nothing but free time.
Over the next year (1970-71), I started to practice yoga, experiment
with vegetarianism, and learn to meditate. I also reflected on
events of the recent past and began to write.
What I wrote was the original edition of this book, now in its
[third] decade in print. The context of the writing influenced
its tone, which flashes anger in spots and delights in sniping
at such institutions as universities, professional medicine and
psychiatry, and, of course, the National Institute of Mental Health.
I have not altered tone or style in preparing this edition. I
have made a number of textual changes in the interest of accuracy,
reflecting what I have learned since 1971.
If the book's style now seems to require explanation, I am gratified
that the content withstands the test of time, even though much
has happened in the interim with regard to drugs and consciousness.
No one in 1971 foresaw the epidemic of cocaine use that now prevails,
for example, or understood cigarette addiction to be the hardest
of all drug addictions to break and our most serious public health
problem. Few people believed that alternative medical treatments
would become as popular as they are now, or that scientific study
of body-mind interactions would ever become respectable. No one
knew about endorphins, the morphine-like molecules made in every
human brain that serve as our own internal narcotics. None of
these changes and discoveries are inconsistent with the ideas
in the book; in fact, all follow logically from them.
At the time of its first publication The Natural Mind drew
much praise for its original and radical insights. It also drew
harsh condemnation from a few prominent critics within the medical
establishment who saw it as an apology for drug use. They misread
my arguments and attacked me for saying that human beings are
born with a need to use drugs. What I wrote was that human beings
are born with a drive to experiment with ways of changing consciousness.
Drugs are but one of many possible techniques, having their own
risks and limitations. The idea that it is normal to seek changes
in consciousness has never been discredited.
The Natural Mind argues that high states originate within
the human nervous system rather than in any external substances.
Research on endorphins and other neurochemicals strongly supports
this theory. The book also insists that such states have great
positive potential, a suggestion confirmed by demonstrations of
the power of the mind, when not in its ordinary mode, to modify
functions of the body and counteract disease. I have developed
and explored that theme through the intervening years in my own
investigations and writing. My later booksThe Marriage of
the Sun and Moon (1980), Chocolate to Morphine (1983),
and, especially, Health and Healing (1984)all expand
Over the years I have received many comments from readers of The
Natural Mind. Most frequently, readers tell me that the book
articulates ideas they have had and makes them feel better about
themselves, specifically about their interest in experiencing
other forms of consciousness, which they had learned to regard
as abnormal and unhealthy. These comments reveal the burden imposed
on individuals by our culture in its failure to come to terms
with the human need for variations in conscious experience.
If I were to write The Natural Mind today, it would be
much shorter. I would omit a lot of the argument and focus on
the new way of thinking that is the heart of the book: The root
of the drug problem is the failure of our culture to provide for
a basic human need. Once we recognize the importance and value
of other states of consciousness, we can begin to teach people,
particularly the young, how to satisfy their needs without drugs.
The chief advantage of drugs is that they are quick and effective,
producing desired results without requiring effort. Their chief
disadvantage is that they fail us over time; used regularly and
frequently, they do not maintain the experiences sought and, instead,
limit our options and freedom.
What I mean by the "new way of thinking" in the book
concerns conceptual models. I believe that we cannot know reality
directly through intellectual activity. Instead, we construct
models or paradigms of reality through which we interpret and
make sense of our experience. There is much talk these days of
"paradigm shifts" and conflicts between proponents of
alternative models in many fields of human activity, from physics
to medicine to the social sciences. Alternative models are neither
right nor wrong, just more or less useful in allowing us to operate
well in the world and discover more and better options for solving
The Natural Mind suggests a new model for solving the drug
problem and other problems like it, all of which will continue
to worsen until we change old conceptions. The new model I propose
postulates that consciousness is central and primary. This reversal
of the prevailing scientific view (which sees consciousness as
secondary and peripheral to material reality) changes conventional
ideas of cause-and-effect relationships. Furthermore, the new
model substitutes "both/and" formulations for the "either/or"
formulations of the old model, opening more possibilities for
personal freedom, reducing the discomfort of existence, and making
life much more creative.
That is the essence of The Natural Mind. Its message is
as timely now as when it first appeared, since the need to rethink
basic conceptions about drugs and consciousness is as urgent now
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