Today’s guest is Christopher Timmermann who hails from Santiago, Chile, where he obtained a BSc in Psychology prior to undertaking a Neuroscience MSc in Bologna, Italy.
We explore the comparative effects of DMT, LSD and psilocybin on brain function, our need and capacity for transformation, and the potential for altered states to offer us experiences from which new and creative ways of thinking may emerge – something that may prove vital if we are to innovate our way out of the climate crisis.
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Chris is currently completing his PhD in neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, leading a project focusing on the effects of DMT in the human brain and experience, while also understanding its potential use for mental health conditions.
He has researched the effects of psychedelic drugs in the human brain with Robin Carhart-Harris and David Nutt, and he is developing his research with a focus on the effects of psychedelics in consciousness and brain connectivity.
NN: So Chris, thank you very much for joining me in conversation for this 10th episode of the third series. Very excited to be speaking with you.
CT: Oh, thank you Nathalie for having me on the show and looking forward to our conversation very much.
NN: So, I’m going to ask you what I’ve been asking everyone else to address, to open up the conversation. And that’s the question of, where do you think we’re headed as a species?
CT: Well, I like it, it’s a very broad, big question to begin.
CT: If I could sum it up, I think we’re headed towards a challenge, and possibly towards change or if you want to sound a bit more cryptic, transformation. As a species, I think we’re faced with two major things which potentially have an incredible potential threat for us, which is the ecological crisis and the geopolitical crisis, which includes nuclear power and so on. So I think that these two things, which are just creeping up everywhere, for example, the denialism of climate change has become so much of a fringe thing nowadays. It’s just so evident, and it’s so palpable and concrete that I think as a species we’re entering this domain of challenge, and it’s no longer an abstract thought, an abstract idea.
It has now become more and more an embodied thing. So we see the consequences of that a bit everywhere. And I think that, that’s kind of existential impression of how things are getting to be now, that idea of change happening all around us, poses the question of challenge to us. How do we deal with this change? How do we negotiate the aspects that needs to be negotiated for this idea of transformation to be the less painful as possible? And who knows? Maybe in a crisis there is an opportunity as well. So I think that will be kind of where I think we’re headed into this very challenging realm.
NN: It’s interesting. As you’re speaking, this reminded me of a podcast I was listening to, a fascinating author that I had the pleasure of interviewing here. Her name is Manda Scott, and she was talking about how it may be a trope, but it’s true that the mindset that gives rise to a difficult situation or a problem will not give rise to the solution to that problem. And so the sense of literally transforming or changing one’s state and mind is something which has come up quite a few times in terms of creating an environment in which to address this with a different approach.
I’m curious what your thoughts are about that, especially given your background working with entheogens and the effects of, for instance, DMT on brain function. I know that you conducted the first study to investigate the effects of DMT on brain function. So, what are some of the things that you’ve seen in this nascent research that maybe connect with how we might start to relate to the crisis in a different way?
CT: Well, I think there are different angles into that, but I think the central aspect is again the idea of change. And if you look at the history of psychedelics, and if you look at the different domains in which psychedelics interact, which are very broad, so they interact in the social realm, you can have examples in the counter culture, you can have examples in music and arts, et cetera. It interacts with biology, brain function. You can see the transformations in that domain, and the way that we relate to each other and the way that we relate to nature. And I think one of the key things that we’ve been seeing popping up, at least from the neuroscience perspective on what psychedelics do is precisely this radical kind of like shifting gears, alteration, transformation, idea of inducing disorders so that new order can emerge at a certain point.
NN: That’s fascinating.
CT: Yeah. Precisely in that sort of idea of change, I think that overflows in the way that we relate to each other. And you have very interesting, specific applications and of all that, in the medicalization idea takes place, which is idea like psychedelics for a couple therapy, right? So the idea of transformation, transforming this relationships, the idea that we transform a relationship with nature, which I think is one of the most exciting kind of possibilities coming out of this whole psychedelic research thing happening in the last decades, is this very interesting, curious and unique finding that apparently will start resonating more with nature in these States. And we don’t know why, so that’s hugely important. And then there’s the idea of social transformation at large, and you have examples like counter culture and so on.
I think that’s again, the idea of change. It appears to be particularly relevant, the potential for psychedelics. It’s easy also to fall in some sort of idealism to think that, if we just do it, everything will be okay. Or this notion that if you give this to certain politicians with bad ideas, then they will become more compassionate, so on. And I think that as you get more and more deep into trying to understand these effects, be that from the discipline that you are interested, whatever that may be in topology, psychology, science, et cetera. You start to find how complex it is, and how there’s no one obvious direction in which things can take safe for a few exceptions. And then as it becomes more complicated, you start seeing that there’s a key element on how the substances are mediated by the context in which they happen.
I think that, that’s also very, very interesting, because the substance like the idea of studying psychedelics not only tells us something interesting about the possibility of transformation, but it tells us how always this possibility of transformation needs to be scaffolded in a particular environment, needs to be mediated by particular group of people, a guy for example, context ceremony setting, et cetera. So I think that’s kind of the interesting potentially important role that psychedelics may have in these times.
NN: When you’re talking about this power for transformation and the scaffolding to enable certain experiences in that space for transformation to happen. So facilitating these sorts of experiences, what are some of the key elements that need to be present? Because you often hear about set and setting dosage, and of course these are important things, I certainly know lots of people who are now interested in these things go off and have ceremonies, we’ve people in dubious places that seem to be very inexperienced in terms of skilful compassionate facilitation. What would you advise that people need to look for? The components for this scaffolding that they need to make sure is there if they’re thinking about exploring this experience.
CT: Yeah. Well, from a purely harm reduction perspective, right? Because it’s difficult for my position to really command on things, but I would say that there are two main aspects to the whole idea of mediation, and one has to do with safety. So the minimum conditions for the experience to be safe and that nobody gets harmed. And the second one has to do with the specific objectives, and what people are looking for when they do the experiences. That can vary depending on the specific aims or the particular context around the answer that the people engaging with it are. In terms of safety, we hear a lot of this idea of set and setting. And it’s interesting because we’ve started to put a bit of science into that, or at least some data. So in our research, we performed survey studies that are prospective.
So we ask people before they go into a ceremony, a session or so on, what are their intentions, for example, or we asked them what context will it be? Will it be guided by someone or not? And it’s interesting because we figured out that the idea of set and setting, you can translate it into components, for example, intention. And we found out that more benefits can be gained or the experience can be safe or less challenging if the intention is about connection more than escapism, for example.
NN: That’s fascinating.
CT: And here you have a classic difference compared to other substances, including alcohol or stimulants in which the idea of escapism is pretty much the norm. So the old cliché that psychedelics are different, while it is a bit too much of a binary sort of idea because a lot of people take psychedelics in a purely fun, almost escapist sort of way. It’s very rare, but it does happen and can happen. It is true that the experience is very much on the fringe of confronting yourself with things that you don’t necessarily want to be confronted with. And for you to have that experience, you need to be in an environment in which you can relax into that experience, and if you have a specific purpose for that confrontation to be potentiated.
I think those are kind of the abstract sort of ideas of how this whole thing can be mediated. Another important thing I think, considering that maybe broad audience can be listening to this, is the importance of doing it with someone who knows what they’re doing. And it’s tricky navigating this space especially nowadays with so much offer coming out and with so much demand, the whole process of mainstreaming of psychedelic use is really undergoing in a very, very strong fashion.
So, it does become tricky and challenging, but there are some good resources out there to try to understand, what is the idea for good sitting session or a guide or a therapist or interesting resources by harm reduction group like KosmiCare which have a manual on how to sit with people who are having challenging experiences with psychedelics. So these organizations like KosmiCare they are … There’s also other type of organizations all around Europe, but the main idea is that you go to a festival where people take a lot of psychedelics and many of these people are going to have challenging experiences. So in the that, festivals offer the possibility of having somebody sitting with people having these challenging experiences. So there’s a lot of knowhow out there as well on how to deal and how to mediate these experiences. The issues that the knowhow has usually undergone in the underground, because the drugs were illegal. But there are very interesting resources out there for sure.
NN: I don’t know if you came across this book, I mean you’re in this field, you’ve probably conducted some of the preliminary research that was then cited, but there’s a fascinating book, a mainstream book that came out by Michael Pollan, called How to Change Your Mind, and it attracted very elegantly neither the history of psychedelic use and especially it’s more recent research. So in the 60s and 70s in the States, and then the backlash and then now the resurgent interest again in scientific exploration of the use of an impact of psychedelics. And I wonder with all of this stuff coming out now, from the conversations I’ve had with some practitioners, there is a concern that as with other things like midwifery or nutrition or herbology, these practices that hold indigenous traditional knowledge. And when I say indigenous and traditional, I mean local to the land in which this knowledge has arisen – so I’m talking about all over the world here.
But there is a tendency for predominantly the scientific West to dismiss these other forms of knowing, these other forms of knowledge gathering and try and institutionalize through the scientific method techniques, which then only become available to and sanctioned by people who are part of that scientific system. And whilst I understand if you’re going to be a surgeon, I have lots of surgeons in my family, you want someone who’s been through a medical training in seven years plus whatever actually it is, training on top of that. I do worry that some of the people who are best positioned to guide people through these experiences, you have been forced underground, you don’t necessarily have years of traditional psychotherapeutic technology under their belts. I’m worried that these people then get side-lined out and this is something that Michael Pollan raises in his book, and I think it’s a really interesting perspective.
What are your thoughts on this, given that you’re in a really interesting position from within the research side of things, but also seeing how non-scientifically trained guides can actually facilitate better experiences? I don’t know if I’m being clear there, there is a lot of thought all out in one go.
CT: No, I completely get your question, and I think it’s super relevant for different reasons. I think one has to do with safety and the other one has to do with making the most out of this experience. There’s an interesting separation in this idea for knowhow, what you may call I know that. So the idea of knowing through action and practice, for example, guiding and so on. Versus the theoretical abstract notions that you go and learn in school and so on. Like I said before, I think there’s a lot of knowledge out there on how to conduct ceremonies in the optimal way. There’s incredible amount of interesting knowledge and practices carried out by the different indigenous communities for different healing purposes.
I think that if the scientific community or the medical community or whoever is kind of involved in this process, which are many different actors in the mainstreaming of psychedelics, if they do not take into account that knowledge, that’s a huge waste. Now, the interesting aspect also on indigenous knowledge is that even if you go to one place, there’s no one single indigenous knowledge, there’s a plethora of things all the time and many times it’s not structured. So I think there is of course a political dimension to this whole thing in the way that, who gets to say the way things are done, right? But there’s also an element of practicality of how do you gather this knowledge? How do you make the best practices out there? And I think that’s quite interesting because if you look at the main practices involved in psychedelic therapy and in guiding psychedelic sessions within mainstream scientific and therapeutic contexts, many of the postulates derive from indigenous practice.
So let’s say for example, the idea of having music in a session, for guiding people, and let music be the guide. This is a thing that has being carried out for many, many years in ceremonial context, in indigenous populations, this has been the case all the time, the idea of ritual. We don’t call it a ritual, but what happens in the guiding sessions, the idea of a structure, the idea of what you might call a protocol, but a protocol with meaning, a protocol in which the stakes are high, if you will. It’s all very much resonance with the idea of ritual. So I think that it’s interesting because in the therapeutic world, especially in the therapy in general, not just psychedelic therapy, the idea of the knowhow is the basic element deriving success in therapeutic outcomes, much more than your abstract theoretical knowledge.
And I think that intuition is out there. And it’s interesting because it is incorporated in the scientific trials. So, the knowhow are somehow percolated, now what will be interesting down the line is the way in which the therapy gets instantiated at a larger scale in which it has to be put into the national healthcare systems-
CT: … in which expenses need to be brought down. And that’s a huge challenge. That is not an easy thing, because in a way … And this is a super interesting point of tension, is that psychedelic therapy almost forces us to restructure the therapeutic elements, so that the idea of preparation is there, so that the idea of ritual is there to some extent. And so for the idea of integration, for it to be either. So I think it’s a challenge for many different reasons, absolutely.
NN: I’m curious, what are some of the most surprising insights you’ve discovered personally from the work that you’ve done?
CT: Interesting. I have to have a very broad perspective. I would say that for me, one of the things that has been super interesting to kind of understand and delve into, is the notion of the diversity of experience, the richness of experience, the commonalities of experience, the idea that people might be going to a specific space. And it all comes from this notion in a big way of perennialism versus constructivist ideas of spirituality. So the perennial notion basically says that all these different altered states, or religious experiences or spiritual experiences are all kind of part of the same animal. Whereas your opposing view would say, no, no, this is just very relative. It’s all construction based on social and cultural norms, and so on. So trying to get into this space and really understand this experiences is because of the approach that I’ve been taking with the research, is not just looking at the brain, but just really understanding experience from a very methodical point of view.
And when we started to go into that direction, it was interesting to see and try to tease apart what might be common things between different experiences, what are some of the means out there surrounding these experiences and how do they percolate into the experiences?
NN: Oh, it’s fascinating.
CT: I think in that trajectory along the line, there was a huge appreciation for the fact at least from my end, that experience is really being overlooked within the realm of neuroscience, and in the realm of cognitive sciences. And it’s even overlooked in the realm of psychiatry in the way that we diagnose people. We put them in a little categories and boxes so that they have a practical implementation. But in reality, the idea of experience is so much more diverse that we can understand. And there’s a huge importance into that. I feel like it almost a necessary part of human beings to understand their experiential repertoires, and…
NN: I think that’s all we have, is experience. We forget that we are all subjective inter-relating beings. It just seems extraordinary to me that we’ve gone so far in a certain direction that subjective experience would be missed out. It’s like looking at a human and just looking at the head. It’s kind of being like, “That’s the human.” You think yeah but there’s this whole other system that you’re just ignoring. I don’t know.
CT: Exactly. Yeah. It’s the same old story. The map is not the territory. And I think it’s the primacy of everything that we have, it’s this first register that we have to know anything, is experience. So I think that this idea of taking experience seriously is something that we should be very serious about. So that has been super nice and super interesting to delve into, at least in terms of what I’ve kind of found in the research figured out. It’s not that I’ve figured it out, but I think that it’s very interesting how different little roads and ideas and inspirations open up when you start looking into these experiences a bit more carefully.
NN: So I want to circle back a bit to the study that you conducted, looking at DMT on brain functioning. I was curious to ask what you found to be similar in terms of the results of its effect on the brain as compared to for instance psilocybin and LSD, because there’s a lot of interesting researches been done also in the US I think, around the psilocybin and LSD use in End-of-life patients and other various things. Yeah, what did you find and what are your thoughts on what you found?
CT: Yeah. We’ve conducted a couple of experiments using DMT, so DMT is the substance that I’ve focused on the most a bit unlike psilocybin and LSD at your regular dose. DMT has a peculiar effect, and this is kind of like this idea of breaking through into alternate realms or realities of, and that’s the feeling that people have, right? The full immersion. That’s kind of the notion into something that feels separate, another world of sorts. So we were really interested in that, and trying to really figure out what might be some of the mechanisms behind that or that are associated to that if you don’t want to have a super reductionist view that the brain is necessarily generating this whole thing, but it’s also just something that is a part of it in a way.
Well, one of the earliest findings is that we saw that there were a lot of commonalities with near death experiences, and we wanted to research that, again, the idea of commonalities of experiences. So one of the first thing that we did is that we compare the experiences from our participants and people who had actual near death experiences, and we found out that basically their experiences were mostly comparable. So this is an idea that it has been going around for a while, the idea that DMT can induce near death experiences for something or disorder that might be associated to the process of death, so that was one of the initial findings at least in terms of experience. And this links back with what you were mentioning, this connection between psychedelics and death and dying, the idea that it can generate experiences which bring people to a place more intimate in relationship to the idea of death, which can have interesting therapeutic applications.
So that was one of the first things that we looked into. Then we looked into the way a brain function would be altered by the administration of DMT. So to do that, we measured brain waves and brain patterns that are measured through what you call the electroencephalogram. This is kind of device that picks up electrical activity coming up out of the brain. So we had our participants and we gave them some doses of the DMT and we carry it towards the brain function. And one of the differences compared to LSD and psilocybin that we found is that; with LSD and psilocybin, one of the things that the team has been seeing over and over again is that the brain becomes more disordered. Instead of functioning in its usual patterns, instead of taking the usual roads and communicating in digital ways, novel patterns start to emerge.
There’s more disorder in terms of brain activity, there is more information if you will, doing the same amount of time like LSD and psilocybin. We found that the brain, when you looked at it in a specific way, the level of entropy or disorder was incredibly enhanced. So it was like the effects of LSD and psilocybin, but it was much, much stronger. Brain function became more unpredictable. But at the same time within that disorder, we saw a signature of emergent order, if you will-
NN: Oh, that’s fascinating. How did that showed up?
CT: So that showed up in the form of theta waves. So theta waves patterns are usually what you see when people are sleeping and more specifically when they’re dreaming, when they’re having vivid dreams. So this shows up in REM sleep cycles. So it’s very interesting because when you look at the phenomenology or the basic idea of what’s happening in a DMT session, some people have their eyes closed and they’re partially disconnected from the environment. And when they dream, the same sort of idea is happening. People are partially disconnected from the environment, but within there’s a whole world of experience taking place. There’s a full sense of immersion in which people are not only having visual experiences, but they’re having emotional experiences, they’re very involved, this are space full of meaning many times.
So we saw a very interesting aspect in that, and this emergent order, this theta way pattern happened at the peak of the experience. So when people were having the strongest moment of the experience, which is usually when people describe that the ante-breakthrough experience is taking place, so that was one of the main findings I would say in regards to the DMT study.
NN: That’s absolutely fascinating. I don’t know what one interprets off the back of that then because I think … Well, so how would you interpret that if we’re talking about subjectivity and the experience, so the qualitative side of things as a scientist, how would you pick in and interpret that, would you give yourself permission to interpret that?
CT: I think as a neuroscientist you try to explain things in terms of brain activity and brain function. But there’s a side of you which … Like I said, at least from me, the primacy of experience cannot be reduced completely to brain activity. So with the neuroscientists cap on, I would say, well, it’s interesting because we have theta wave pattern, you also see it in terms of dreaming and sleep. And this may account for experiences of immersion at large, right? We’re not entirely sure that it’s exactly the same pattern that’s originated in the same part of the brain, but that’s important to also mention. But we do see that same pattern, and you see that same pattern also in other altered States of consciousness.
You see it in temporal lobe epilepsy, you see it in some States of psychosis as well. So it’s interesting because it all relates to this notion in which your experience is no longer being determined by the external, but by the internal. You’re a bit more shut off from the environment, you’re in a state of partial disconnection in which your fully immersive rich experience is now determined by what’s happening inside of you and everything that we store, our experiences, memories, traumas, and so on. Now from the idea of understanding experience and the primacy of experience, there’s a lot of phenomena that we haven’t really accounted for, which appears to be stable in terms of these experiences, which are very fascinating.
Other people report in these DMT experiences that they meet entities, beings, and that these encounters with these beings do not feel trivial in the sense of just watching a screen with a being. But that being has an actual intention, has a sort of personality and so on. Or that the place that people are going when they have these experiences is a place full of significance and importance, something like, an idea of a source or something like this. This is interesting because it’s not just in the current use of DMT, but you see it in the use of Ayahuasca which contains DMT and it’s also prevalent in other psychedelics. So it’s very intriguing that you can have the stable experience, that this thing reoccurs over and over again.
Another interesting aspect is the experience that people feel in their body, a strong sense of vibration. Many of my participants always started with this experience of vibration in their bodies. And then this full sense of immersion. But before that, the body. That’s interesting, although you can say that your experience can be mediated by cultural means and semantics and ideas, what’s happening in the body is much more primal than that. People feel this sense of vibration at the beginning, this strong sense of rush, that sense of overwhelmingness in that, and after that there’s a sense of disembodiment. So it’s like what precedes the idea of disconnection from the external environment, is the sense of rushing the body. It’s almost like a transitional state.
And that’s super interesting because when you look at other altered States, this idea of the body entering some sort of vibration is relatively common. It’s an interesting notion, and it’s particularly interesting because it doesn’t have an obvious verbal mediation and a cultural mediation, something that you’ve read about, right? So that’s another fascinating thing, and we don’t quite understand it but we could try to understand these things, it’s very interesting.
NN: And is there any research that’s been conducted exploring what gives rise to the physical reaction? Because having a sense of physical vibration through one’s body that’s quite a potent experience. For instance, if you’re in a meeting and suddenly your whole body started feeling like it was vibrating, you’d probably take a moment and take yourself to the bathroom just to check in that you’re okay. Do we know what it is that gives rise to that, and these experiences?
CT: We know that endocrine levels of some measures go up with that experience, not necessarily with the body experience, but things that could be associated to that in some sort of way, so the increase of certain hormones. So this has been studied and there’s data on this. But the interesting component out of that as well is that it also carries emotion many times. And people feel that this experience in the body is somehow significant. So it’s almost like the way that I sometimes think about this, and what I get a bit speculative is I feel that it might be an interesting therapeutic side of these experiences. The idea of reconnecting to a body, to a primal state, to a primal aspect of experience where also according to some theories we store trauma, our history before it reaches into some sort of register of symbols and language and so on.
So the idea of accessing a bit that, that sort of pre-verbal state it might open some interesting therapeutic possibilities if you will. Or if you want to be a bit more far out on your ideas, it connects you with something more primal about being a human being, it connects you back to your body. We live in societies in which we’re very much in the head. So I think that’s very interesting, there’s a lot of interesting aspects to explore in there. One of the things that I’ve been particularly fascinated about, is this notion, this possibility that this connection to the body is mediated by the same mechanisms that we connect with nature, or that people connect with nature when they have psychedelics experiences. It’s all about connecting with life, or something of the sort. That’s speculative. I could be wrong, but I think it’s a fascinating possibility.
NN: So your friend whom I spoke with, Sam Gandy, raised this really interesting thread around psychedelics and the emergence of feelings of nature connectedness, is there something that you’ve also witnessed in DMT experiences in the trials that you’ve been running?
CT: Some of the participants I do mention them, like I said, we’re not doing it in an environment in which there’s a lot of nature around. But a lot of people do mention experiences of nature, even though if they have a right close with DMT-
NN: That’s fascinating.
CT: So the idea of encountering animals or the idea of encountering green areas of any kind that you can think of, or even the idea of the experience of water being immersed in some sort of, it’s very common. I think that from a science and a philosophical point of view, why do people connect with nature more? It’s like psychedelics experiences is not obvious, it’s not clear and it’s not resolved. And I am personally fascinated by it. I think it’s incredible. And one of the things that I would love to do is to understand those mechanisms. Try to see if there is some sort of resonant mechanism that’s undergoing. And when these experiences are happening, it’s a resonant element with nature. And it has huge potential implications.
NN: What’s the biggest implication that you take from that, that you’re excited about?
CT: I think that this idea … Again, it’s very simple. Just understanding, taking the time to spend more time with nature, get in touch with those inner rhythms a bit more maybe, the idea that human beings can again start to maybe … I don’t know if again, maybe it’s just a different way of doing it. Maybe it’s not about reconnecting with nature, but just connecting with nature in a different way. I think it opens up possibility of transformation on how we relate with nature altogether. It’s not necessarily the only thing of course, but it might help in that direction. And I think that’s very important these times, it’s particularly relevant. It is a moment in which nature is really finding our relationship with it, because in a way it’s reacting.
And that puts us in a specific existential challenge and in existential situation. And if we have something that could help in that direction or that could, I don’t know how to say it but maybe it lubricates the possibility of change, then that’s a very interesting possibility.
NN: One of the things that I’ve noticed that haven’t been mentioned, were clearly in trials is a bit different because the setting is that of a controlled environment. But one of the things that I’ve not heard mentioned by many people, especially Western people going to ritual spaces in, for instance, the Peruvian Amazon basin, we now know about all sorts of tourism opportunities for that which kind of turns my stomach a bit. But it’s now something that people know a lot more about. One of the things you hear a lot about is people laying down and entering this kind of, you talk about this somewhat connected, somewhat disconnected state, so it’s like half in, half out.
I don’t know exactly what the percentages would be. But one thing that you don’t hear about is when people get up and interact directly with nature while experiencing a full blown Ayahuasca experience. And it’s not something that I’ve come across in the literature, I don’t know if you’ve come across that or have any thoughts about that. This is more of a personal investigatory question as opposed to anything else, but-
CT: That’s fair enough. I know that there’s a religious uses after Ayahuasca in some parts of the world. So I know that some of these groups like the Santo Daime group, they do sometimes ceremonies in natures, whatever. The retreats are very varied in reality. You hear many different things and possibilities and settings and so on. A structured retreat in which you are purposely exposed to nature, I think it’s more of a rare thing to hear about. Some people have talked to me about things like that at some point, I think. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes much more and more common. Especially as you hear the loss of species and animals, there’s a feeling of … I could imagine a future in which an element of nostalgia would make people propel more into immersive experiences with nature. You’re seeing it with VR now actually, that’s interesting.
NN: Oh, it sounds something like Punch Drunk, like immersive theatre which I love by the way, I love immersive theatre. But something like that where the real thing or in the future on Star Trek where you have Holodecks which I also love the idea of, but not to replace something which has lost, I think that’s the thing that is the most disturbing to me is the idea that we could lose all of this, and would then be left with a virtual poor reproduction of something that was once so much more rich.
CT: Yeah. I think it’s already happening though. I see these headlines all the time, like 80% of wildlife is now destroyed. It’s like these kinds of titles they pop up. I think the loss it has been undergoing for a while. I think we’re already in some sort of run off nostalgic to a certain extent. Just imagine the fact that we live in cities in which we’re not necessarily surrounded by green spaces. I think we’ve been in that path for a while now. But the thing is that we do have the opportunity not to reach a critical point in which things change in a very drastic way. And I agree with you. I think that the idea of living in space just with recreated green spaces in little hologram ports is quite sad actually.
NN: It makes my whole body want to just shrivel up. It’s like when people say, “Oh, but wouldn’t it be amazing to go on a spaceship?” I’m thinking it would be fucking claustrophobic and awful, I just want to be here, my feet on the earth and trees nearby, and the sound of birds and a bit of running water. Be happy as you like. And yet, I live in a city, as many of us do. So maybe it is that sense of rekindling our love of and desire for nature. I was talking about this with someone today, this the sense of Eros, not as a necessarily sexual force, but as a force of vitality.
And often that arises when we’re longing for it, when we’re in separation from it or from the object of our desire, whether that’s dancing or being with a lover or eating amazing food, whatever it is. But there’s a space that’s required in order to generate the desire to reconnect. And I wonder if that what’s needed and secondly, that’s what’s happening and showing up in various different ways, including through eco-anxiety, which is now something that you’re hearing more about in the sense of depression and isolation that’s associated with less connection with, not only ourselves and each other but with our living well.
CT: I haven’t heard of it.
NN: Yeah. So I don’t want to take too much more of your time, but I do want to ask you before we wrap up, what insight or little kernel of wisdom would you give to people who are listening?
CT: My kernel of wisdom.
NN: Maybe that’s too laden with pressure…!
CT: No, no. I’ll go there. I’ll just give it a little thought…
NN: You can take your time.
CT: I think… The notion of… I’m also a musician and I do science and I do music. And one of the things that I always try to balance out in my life is not to be too much just on the science and forgetting about the other aspect of myself. And I would say that there is a big importance of … And this is going to sound a bit cliché, yes, but the importance of finding beauty and aesthetics in the thing that we do as individuals and the things that we do collectively. And I think that the notion of living in poetry is kind of a very beautiful thing. And I think that it’s the challenges that we may face as a species or the way that we can go forward as human kind or whatever it is, they will end up being, maybe merged with technology, who knows.
I think it’s important to carry beauty in that, to carry this idea of a song, carry the idea of meaning, because I think there’s a lot of energy and power in that. And I think this may be linking a bit with what you were saying before with the notion of Eros being this kind of life force or something like a pool guiding life or pushing people into these challenges and overcoming them and finding strength. Yeah, that would be the little bit of wisdom that I can contribute.
NN: No, it’s beautiful On that note reminds me of this beautiful snippet of poetry from one of my favourite authors, Anaïs Nin, and it seems strikingly relevant at this precise moment in time. It goes, “and time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”. And I think that’s what we need right now.