Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Live • Online • 6:00pm PT • $36
In conversation with Dacher Keltner
From number one New York Times bestselling author Michael Pollan comes a radical challenge to how we think about drugs, and an exploration into the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants—and the equally powerful taboos.
Of all the things humans rely on plants for—sustenance, beauty, medicine, fragrance, flavor, fiber—surely the most curious is our use of them to change consciousness: to stimulate or calm, fiddle with, or completely alter, the qualities of our mental experience. Take coffee and tea: People around the world rely on caffeine to sharpen their minds. But we do not usually think of caffeine as a drug, or our daily use as an addiction, because it is legal and socially acceptable. So, then, what is a "drug"? And why, for example, is making tea from the leaves of a tea plant acceptable, but making tea from a seed head of an opium poppy a federal crime?
In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs—opium, caffeine, and mescaline—and throws the fundamental strangeness, and arbitrariness, of our thinking about them into sharp relief. Exploring and participating in the cultures that have grown up around these drugs while consuming (or, in the case of caffeine, trying not to consume) them, Pollan reckons with the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants. Why do we go to such great lengths to seek these shifts in consciousness, and then why do we fence that universal desire with laws and customs and fraught feelings?
In this unique blend of history, science, and memoir, as well as participatory journalism, Pollan examines and experiences these plants from several very different angles and contexts, and shines a fresh light on a subject that is all too often treated reductivelt—as a drug, whether licit or illicit. But that is one of the least interesting things you can say about these plants, Pollan shows, for when we take them into our bodies and let them change our minds, we are engaging with nature in one of the most profound ways we can. Based in part on an essay published almost twenty-five years ago, this groundbreaking and singular consideration of psychoactive plants, and our attraction to them through time, holds up a mirror to our fundamental human needs and aspirations, the operations of our minds, and our entanglement with the natural world.
Michael Pollan is the author of eight books, including How to Change Your Mind, Cooked, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire, all of which were New York Times bestsellers. He is also the author of the audiobook Caffeine: How Coffee and Tea Made the Modern World. A longtime contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Pollan teaches writing at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley. In 2010, Time magazine named him one of the one hundred most influential people in the world.
Dacher Keltner is a professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley and faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center (greatergood.berkeley.edu). Dacher’s research focuses on the biological and evolutionary origins of compassion, awe, love, beauty, and humility, as well as power, social class, and inequality. Dacher is the author of several hundred scientific articles, several books, including Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, The Compassionate Instinct, and The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence, and has written for popular outlets like the New York Times. Dacher has won many research, teaching, and service awards, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has consulted for Apple, Pinterest, Google, the Sierra Club, and was a scientific consultant for Pixar’s Inside Out and for the Center for Constitutional Rights in its work to outlaw solitary confinement.
Michael Pollan photo by Tabitha Soren; Dacher Keltner photo courtesy of author