Interview with Michael Pollan

At the age of 60, seminal author and journalist Michael Pollan embarked on the most unusual journey of his career – an investigation into psychotropics and its effects. In an exclusive interview with the author, we discuss evolution, wonder and the profound value of the psychedelic experience. Interview by Lavinia Tan

For years, in a series of unconventional experiments,  bestselling author and journalist Michael Pollan has turned over the questions and moral dilemmas that come tethered to the experiences of life. “Transformation,” remarked the writer, “I’m just fascinated with that process; how you turn nature into culture, how you turn one thing into the other”. In his book A Place of My Own, the author shared a first-person account of constructing his writing studio from the foundations up. In his later bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he reared a cow to better understand the process of eating from source to table. In his latest inquiry, Pollan concerns himself with the progressive topic of psychedelics, and their potential to serve as an antidote to what ails the individual and collective self.

His latest publication How to Change Your Mind takes us through the mystifying passages of the psychedelic experience and challenges the misconceptions that shroud these substances. In a series of first-hand experiences, the author consults with shamans, samples desert toad venom, and mushroom hunts with an expert mycologist, all in an attempt to answer the motivations behind humankind’s peculiar fascination of altering one's consciousness. Pollan’s affirmative journey of discovery presents a thrilling narrative that marries mysticism with scientific exploration to reach beyond the self and question what it truly means to change your mind.

Q: Considering your body of work, what inspired you to examine the idea of what we consume and how it affects our culture?


Michael Pollan: I am very interested in the way we engage with the natural world. Although a lot of people don’t see it that way, I think of myself as a nature writer. I am very interested in nature, not as just something we observe from the outside, but as something that we actively participate in. When we eat, we are taking nature into our bodies. It is changing us, and we’re changing it. We’ve got no choice. So that has been a common theme in my work for a very long time. I’ve always been interested in how we use nature to gratify our desires, and of course, we have a desire for nourishment, for sweetness, for beauty. And then we have this other peculiar desire to change consciousness. Every culture on Earth uses some plant or fungus to change consciousness and what is that about? What good is it to us? What good is it for the other species? These questions have been in my work. But after doing several books on food, I thought it was time to really look at it closely.

Q: Do you think that your enquiry into psychedelics could only come at this time in your life?


MP: For me, I wasn’t ready to engage with these substances when I was 20 or even 30. I just was wasn’t ready, I wasn’t interested in other worlds. I was intensely interested in this world. I was afraid of the drugs and I did not feel like I was psychologically sturdy to try LSD or psilocybin, even in my teens. So for me, it was really something that became intensely interesting. I was in my 50s and that’s an age where you do feel you have these grooves of thought. You have these mental algorithms that you use to get through the day and organise your experience. And while they may be very effective and efficient, you also realise that they’re very routine and they’re not allowing you to experience the surprise of novelty.
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