The “Misattribution of Meaning” (Or Not)

There’s an interesting article on how psychedelics seem to infuse the world with meaningful experience.
It includes this passage:

Like in bouts of psychosis, psychedelic-induced meaning can be found everywhere and anywhere. It’s no longer dependent on an external trigger that the sober mind would also find meaningful, like the birth of a child. On psychedelics, I could stare at tree bark for three hours, or dirt, or the back of my eyelids, and feel that I’ve discovered the hidden order behind all phenomena. It seems like it’s not particular things that are imbued with meaning, but the whole of perception itself. “I might call it a misattribution of meaning, where everything gets imbued with a sense of meaningfulness,” Manoj Doss, a research fellow in the department of psychiatry at the University of Texas at Austin, told me. “A lot of times I can attribute the noeticism I’m getting to a memory. We’re usually good at aiming these feelings of knowing. But sometimes they get cut loose. Under psychedelics, I think there’s this misattribution process, where the prefrontal cortex is sending that off in all kinds of different directions where they don’t make sense.”

It was interesting to me that the writer referred derisively to the experience of staring at tree bark and discovering the hidden order of the universe. I’ve had that exact experience — looking at the bark of a tree, I saw the tree pulsing with life, breathing. I didn’t experience it as a semi-inanimate chunk of wood, but a living, breathing being. Ask an arborist which is the more accurate impression — chunk of wood or living being. There’s no question which is the reality, and it ain’t chunk of wood. Likewise when I perceived the simple light of day not as mundane reality, but as a substance pouring from the sky, an inexhaustible gift of life-giving energy free to all, it was not “a misattribution of meaning,” it was a psychedelic assisted insight into a profound truth to which we are so often blind.

No doubt, people emerge from psychedelic experiences with all kinds of crazy ideas. But I would argue that’s not the fault of psychedelics, it owes not to the experience itself, but to a not fully prepared or integrated attempt to interpret it after the fact. Psychedelics allow you to glimpse a more profound glimpse of reality. Making sense of that is the work of a lifetime.

Acid Test, Optimized Edition

My publisher is putting out a new edition of Acid Test, with a search engine optimized subtitle (never occurred to anyone in 2016 apparently) and an introduction from Rick Doblin, the book’s hero and the man who has brought psychedelic therapy to the brink of complete legalization. This is all about the flood of news about the progress being made in the final stage of FDA testing, and the great hope for a coming (soon.) revolution in the treatment of a whole range of mental health challenges

Nature’s Acid Test

Sure wish I had come across this when I was writing Acid Test.

This is the most bizarre mind-bending story about psychedelics I have ever seen, and that’s a pretty high bar. Quick (if unbelievable) summary: Scientists have discovered that a fungus which infects cicadas, eating away their lower body until their butts and genital organs fall off, genetically manufactures psilocybin, the psychedelic substance that gives magic mushrooms their magic. Instead of killing these cicadas, the psilocybin and an amphetamine like substance the fungus also manufactures, make the insects uninterested in food but hyperactive sexually — even minus their sex organs. This hyperactivity causes the fungus node where their hind parts used to be to spread through air and soil, infecting the next generation of bugs. So it in effect uses psilocybin as a kind of insect mind-control and chemical warfare weapon.

Have I overemphasized how weird this is?



It’s been a couple of years since my book about my grandfather and the dark side of fame and fortune came out, but it’s always nice to see a thoughtful review.

Flying Tigers Take a Bite out of Amazon

The Flying Tigers: The Untold Story of the American Pilots Who Waged a Secret War Against Japan by Sam Kleiner, my latest book editing project to see publication, is out and already breaking into the top 500 on Amazon, an increasingly difficult feat in an increasingly crowded media world — especially for a first time author like Sam. Check it out here.

Where Harry Potter Was Born

My Washington Post travel story on Edinburgh.

Some more photos.



Acid Test’s Trip to the Movies


Just read the first draft of the screenplay based on Acid Test by the brilliant Patrick Massett
It’s unspeakably cool to see the real life story morph into a feature film. Too soon to say when it will get produced, but the first hurdle is passed.


Thoughts on Making “The List”

The Operator will debut at number three on the New York Times bestseller list (combined hardcover and ebook nonfiction; it’s no. 4 on the hardcover list) of May 14. Having a book I wrote, but have no cover credit for, make such an impressive showing obviously produces mixed feelings. Mostly I’m thrilled for the success — I’ve always wanted to write a bestseller — but there is a tinge of, not regret, but wistfulness I guess … If only.
But here’s the reality: It’s Robert O‘Neill’s remarkable life, and his impressions of that life, that made this a book that everyone would notice, and want to read. I was paid a fair sum to do the writing, and Rob couldn’t have been a better subject. I didn’t know this when I signed on, but he was smart, funny as hell, honest and unafraid to put himself out there. He also has an incredible memory. Not only that: he’d taken detailed notes on what he’d gone through, beginning with his mind-blowing stint at BUD/S, the infamous SEAL tryouts.
It was nonstop fascinating to work on this book, and really absorbing to try to inhabit Rob’s world and write in his voice.
The four-month Orwellian ordeal of getting the book vetted by the Department of Defense was no picnic, but other than that, the project was a joy for me, and I only continually gained respect for all involved, primarily Rob, his (and my) agent Howard Yoon of RossYoon agency, and Scribners editor Rick Horgan, who is something of a genius in his own right.
Finally, I’m just thrilled that so many people are, and will be reading it.


The Operator is now in operation!

My recent ghostwriting project, The Operator: Firing the Shots That Killed bin Laden and My Years As a SEAL Team Warrior, published today, April 25, and as of noon it was #4 on Amazon bestsellers list. Robert O’Neill is a smart, articulate guy with a one-of-a-kind story to tell. You can read the first chapter here, just click on “Look Inside”.  Check it out.


My Top Secret Mission

I haven’t been able to talk about this for the past year, but I’m very excited to say that the ghostwriting project I took on last January is finally coming to fruition. The Operator, the very personal story of Robert J. O’Neill’s 400-plus Navy SEAL combat missions, will be released by Scribner April 25. Rob was the SEAL Team shooter who put two bullets in Bin Laden’s forehead. He was also present on missions to rescue Capt. Phillips from the Somali pirates and Marcus Luttrell, of “Lone Survivor” fame. How he became THAT GUY is an amazing, almost unbelievable story, and Rob was able to relate it to me with such detail, insight and humor that the book is far more than a series of tense firefights — though there’s that too. It reveals a world of warriors most of us could have never imagined. Honestly, if I hadn’t written it, I’d read it in a fever.