In the third installment of his fascinating four-part essay about depersonalization, the strangeness of the self, and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, Mark Dery describes his lifelong angst and his research into taking magic mushrooms to treat it. It's an enlightening, deeply personal read.
In angst, the self comes unglued from consciousness, like Peter Pan's shadow severed from its owner by a slamming window. The "I" we always thought was "me" seems suddenly, terrifyingly Other, a linguistic figment.
As a staunch materialist-rationalist, I'm wary of the Goop-y, New Age undertow of exhortations to dethrone the "tyrannical" ego, which recall '60s shibboleths about sticking it to The Man. I'm suspicious, too, of the Freudian agenda behind the quest for the neural correlate of the ego. The skeptical inquirer in me raises a Spock-ian eyebrow at researchers' claim that they've pinpointed the precise location of the narrative self in the posterior cingulate cortex, an assertion that's a little too reminiscent of Descartes's belief that the pineal gland is the seat of the soul.
At the same time, what character can resist an invitation to meet his author? Or to rewrite the story of who he is? Here, in a handful of shriveled little mushrooms, was a map of the labyrinth that would lead me to the Minotaur — to the source of my melancholy, whether it's brain chemistry, childhood trauma, career doldrums, or the Beckettian tragicomedy of struggling to find meaning in life despite knowing we're born to die, a realization that renders all our attempts at meaning-making absurd yet which is, paradoxically, the philosophical precondition for investing our lives with meaning.