Just as we install apps on our devices, can we install “mind apps” in our heads that boost our own functionality and our creative and intellectual potential? According to educational psychologist Thomas Roberts, we’re already doing that.
In his book, Mind Apps: Multistate Theory and Tools for Mind Design, Roberts defines exercises such as psychedelics–which is his main area of focus–along with yoga, meditation, hypnosis, and breathing techniques as mind apps. They take us out of our default mindbody state and innovate our thinking and creative processes because of it. Similar to chemistry, if we were to experiment with putting these mind apps together, could we produce novel mindstates that have yet to be experienced?
Dr. Thomas Roberts, a professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University and former visiting scientist at John Hopkins is full of questions about how mind apps like psychedelics can evolve our understanding of our consciousness from a single-state to a multistate idea. Meaning, Roberts dismisses the classic statement that the only useful thinking occurs in our default waking state. Our concept of how consciousness functions needs an update, according to Roberts.
Whereas conventional psychology somewhat dismisses “other states,” focusing much more on our default waking state, Roberts proposes that we’re operating on a variety of levels. Thus, in his mind, psychedelics have potential that extends beyond therapy. They are tools in our intellectual, creative, and psychological development.
Bright, jovial, and inquisitive, Roberts sat in front of a long bookcase filled with volumes and discussed his book and theories about the innovative and educative application of mind apps such as psychedelics. Be sure to check out this legendary psychedelic researcher and author on Delic Radio, hosted by the refreshing and witty, Jackee Stang. They go deep into how psychedelics are exercise for the brain.
RS + Dr. Thomas Roberts Interview
RS: Why do you see psychedelics as being mind apps?
Thomas Roberts: Just as we can install apps in our electronic devices and increase their functions and power, we can install apps in our minds and increase their function and power. Mind apps are things like psychedelics, hypnosis, meditation, breathing techniques, brain stimulation, martial arts, and chanting. These activities have been on the fringes of psychology. If we expand our view of the human mind as not only functioning in our default awake state, then these things could move to the center.
RS: You’re using the term “mindbody” as a replacement for the word “consciousness.”
TR: If a bunch of people got together to talk about consciousness, they’d all have their own meanings. A philosopher of consciousness means being able to think about thinking and being aware that you’re thinking about thinking. In sociology, there are concepts like women’s consciousness and proletarian consciousness. I would use it to define our default mindbody state and what one could call altered states of consciousness. When we’re dreaming, we’re in a mindbody state. When we’re high, we’re in a mindbody state.
If we think about all these “mind apps,” like hypnosis and brain stimulation for example, can we create different recipes that produce new mindbody states?
RS: Can you elaborate on that?
TR: There’s a lot of good research on meditation, hypnosis, and yoga, but they only look at each of these mind apps one at one time. A good analogy here is chemistry. We can put all these different elements together and produce an infinite number of molecules. In the same way, can we put these mind apps together and generate things that have never been done before? We can be creative with our minds. We can build new subjective experiences and cognitive processes. That’s the big idea behind this.
RS: What you’re saying is, we could take something like meditation or hypnosis and see how those practices can work together in order to produce novel mindbody states?
TR: Psychedelics are not just about psychotherapy. They’re about intellectual and artistic development. That’s an area that needs to be looked at.
Take for example Noble Prize winner Kary Mullis. As an educational psychologist, it’s interesting to me how he learned how to visualize and became better at visualizing through his psychedelic experiences and transferred that skill back to his ordinary state. Then, he could visualize the process that got him the Nobel Prize. It’s similar to remembering a dream. You wake up the next morning, know you had a dream, but you don’t remember it. For me, it often downloads around 10:30 in the morning. There’s a transfer of information that happens among states. That’s an example of how we can transfer to other mind-body states, learn skills in those states, and transfer them back. But can people learn to transfer information better?
RS: Can you talk a little bit about single state fallacy?
TR: That’s the fallacy of supposing that all good thoughts appear only in our ordinary, default mindbody state. Certainly, I’m a real fan of this state. It’s evolved for very good reasons. We need it to operate and we’re in it now. That doesn’t mean, however, it’s the only worthwhile state. If we give up the single state fallacy, then we start asking: What are these other states? How do we get into them? Are they good for anything? Which ones are good for what and which ones are just curiosities? It blows the roof off of what education psychology is or what psychology is to include all of these other mindbody states and think about the abilities that may reside in them. It’s like exploring a new continent.
RS: Maybe this is an evolution in how we look at our psychology. We know that we have an individual reality, realities that we share, and realities that exist in our minds.
TR: Probably everybody who’s relatively experienced with psychedelics had this experience of saying, “This is real, this is really real, this is realer than real!” What do we do with that experience? What we’ve developed is some way of changing the intensity of reality. It can also do the opposite. You’d say, “This is unreal. I can’t believe this is happening.” Ontology is a study of reality. What we can do then is actually do an experiment on the sense of reality.
I like to think of our minds as rheostats. We can amplify or turn up the sense of reality or turn it down.
RS: So, you see psychedelics being used in an educational context?
TR: You can do experiments on reality, you can do experiments on truth. Anyone who’s done psychedelics knows that you can hear music as you’ve never heard it before, and understand artists and colors as you’ve never understood them before. This allows us to do experimental studies on these large ideas like sacredness, truth, beauty, and so forth, rather than philosophize in your chair. So, it opens the door. We can now do research on it.
A good example of that is Benny Shanon’s book The Antipodes of the Mind. I mention it in my book. Benny is a cognitive psychologist from Israel who went to Brazil on vacation. While he was there, he got interested in ayahuasca. As a result, he realized that there was more to cognitive psychology than the cognitive psychology of our ordinary default awake state. Almost all cognitive psychology looks at our ordinary awake states.
What he said is that psychedelics, or rather ayahuasca in his case, gave him insights into cognitive psychology that he hadn’t had. Furthermore, cognitive psychology gave him insights into ayahuasca that he hadn’t had. So this back and forth between an academic field and psychedelics, I think, can be carried through all the academic fields. Some of them might be very productive and some probably won’t be. But that’s the opening. In his case, he invented a new paradigm of cognitive psychology that included all these insights.
RS: Which areas would you say are in most need of some novel ideation?
TR: Well, definitely psychology.
RS: And you talked about religion.
TR: If we look at most religions now, we look at them in terms of words. You know, “I believe such and such.” This word approach comes from the invention of print and being able to put religious ideas into print. For example, if we ask somebody about their religion, we’d expect them to say, “This is what I believe.” We don’t expect them to say, “This is what I do.”
Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press made religion transfer from behavior-oriented, meaning people went to church and did things, to a word-oriented religion. I think we’re moving from text to an entheogenic religion, that is religion informed by mystical experiences. We don’t have to read about some saint or somebody somewhere a long time ago having a mystical experience, we can have one. Now whether or not it’s a legitimate one is a question that I think would never be resolved, but there’s a lot of good research that shows if it isn’t a legitimate one…
RS: How would you define legitimate?
TR: That’s exactly the question. People argue for their assumptions. But they’re only assumptions. Are mystical experiences something in common across all of these religions that are the same or similar?
RS: With ayahuasca, for example, a lot of people will see a snake or will experience the divine in the form of a snake, so that is a commonality in terms of the experience. Then, if you define it as “feminine” then this energy could be looked at in different forms across different religions.
TR: Is sacredness something out there, say heaven or God? Or, is sacredness something going on in our heads? Just as we were talking about psychedelics amplifying or toning down reality or truth, can the sense of sacredness be amplified in our heads? If so, we can then do experiments in religion. How to interpret them is the problem because people always go back to their own assumptions.
RS: You’re proposing that we can use psychedelics to investigate all these states. Mindapps are for people to enhance their own creativity, cognition, and ideation. Then, you’re saying that these are tools that could be used in a much larger way for our evolution as species. Out of curiosity, is virtual reality a mind app?
TR: I don’t know enough about it to answer but it seems like it could be because you’re putting different perceptual stuff into your brain. That would qualify as another whole family of mind apps.
RS: I’ve definitely been with people that enhanced my perception of reality–or opened doors to different mindbody states. Can people be mind apps?
TR: That’s an interesting idea, that people could be mind apps. I hadn’t thought about that.
RS: Then, can love be a mind app too?
TR: Oh yes, without a doubt.
The book Mind Apps: Multistate Theory and Tools for Mind Design is now available for purchase.
About Dr. Thomas Roberts
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D., is professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University and a former visiting scientist at Johns Hopkins. The coeditor of Psychedelic Medicine and the author of Psychedelic Horizons, he speaks at international conferences on entheogens, consciousness, and psychedelic science. He lives in DeKalb, Illinois. He launched the celebration of Bicycle Day (April 19th) to commemorate the day that Albert Hofmann first intentionally took LSD.