The Frontal Cortex

Is This Real Life?

Sorry for the radio silence: I’ve been traveling and promoting the new book. (More on all my tour events in the near future, except to note that I’ll be in Seattle on Monday, then Powell’s Books on Tuesday!)

And set your Tivos: I’ll be on the Colbert Report tonight, trying not to make an ass out of myself.

In the meantime, enjoy this youtube clip that I can’t stop watching. It’s a home video of a 7 year old shortly after experiencing nitrous oxide (?) at the dentist for the first time.

His epistemological confusion reminded me of two things: 1) my own encounters with lysergic things and 2) that totally apocryphal story – it’s way too good to be true – about T.S. Eliot doing mescaline. Apparently, while Eliot was hallucinating he became convinced that he’d discovered the secret of the universe and wrote down the secret on a cocktail napkin. A few hours later, after Eliot sobered up, he remembered that he’d had a revelation but couldn’t remember what the revelation was. So he went in search of the cocktail napkin, which was stuffed into one of his coat pockets. This is what the napkin said: “The world smells like turpentine.”

I heard this story from an old literature professor, and I’m rather sure that it didn’t actually happen. But it should have happened.

Bonus story: Coleridge was one of the first people to play around with nitrous oxide.


  1. #1 james betz
    February 5, 2009

    Were you not supposed to be on Colbert last night?

    I swear their schedule said wednesday: jonah lehrer. I was excited for this only to find out they had steve martin on promoting his new pink panther movie.. which if it’s anything like the first is probably terrible.

    funny enough, i had a friend link me to that video yesterday, it is rather hilarious, though i did feel somewhat bad for him.

    good luck with the book promotions! i just finished reading it yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. #2 Cam
    February 5, 2009

    Wasn’t it ether and not mescaline?

  3. #3 OftenWrongTed
    February 5, 2009

    Being on The Colbert Report is working without a safety net!

  4. #4 erika kuester
    February 5, 2009

    you navigated the colbert report very gracefully. i look forward to reading more of your work.

  5. #5 Rachel
    February 6, 2009

    Great job on the Colbert Report. I’d imagine that must be a nerve-wracking experience. Look forward to reading the new book!

  6. #6 Susan
    February 6, 2009

    Watched you holding your own in with Colbert tonight. He’s pretty fast on his feet and you were great to hang in there and make your points. Just ordered your book and look forward to reading it. Continued success to you.

    Friday Harbor, WA

  7. #7 emily
    February 6, 2009

    hahaha COLBERT!!! ahh Colbert is hilarious, but i must say my interest in you was piqued, so I’m probably going to read that book…

  8. #8 jope
    February 6, 2009

    Seattle! Squeeeee! *clutches ticket*

  9. #9 Eric Hayes
    February 6, 2009

    Sounds like a book I would really enjoy and so I will be purchasing it tomorrow! You did a great job on Stephen Colberts show… you did NOT make an ass out of yourself!

  10. #10 Jennifer
    February 6, 2009

    On the Colbert Report, you said that the pre-frontal cortex was “uniquely human.” Not true. Monkeys and arguably even rats have a pre-frontal cortex.

  11. #11 Anibal
    February 6, 2009

    Anyone knows where is the video (to see online) feauturing our great Jonah.

  12. #12 Mickey
    February 6, 2009

    I saw u on Colbert. You held your own. Great job! Personally, I think you are adorable. 😉

  13. #13 crawford
    February 6, 2009

    Fun show last night. It’s gotta be a challenge to resist jumping on top of those crashing waves that Colbert creates and surfing. Enjoyed it.

    Thanks for the good bad reminder of why I never again want to go back to my old recreational ways.

  14. #14 Lisa
    February 6, 2009

    This reminds me of the Sarah Silverman episode where she smokes pot all day with her friend Brian and they have revelation upon revelation. It’s called Brian Rage. Check it out!

  15. #15 sc
    February 6, 2009

    i really enjoyed your interview on colbert!

    but that clip is totally disturbing. that poor kid needed help orienting!! sure, it may only be temporary, but it’s a form of suffering for our mind not to be able to recognize itself/its world… the dad seemed unconscious — so removed from his child’s scrambled and uncomfortable experience. i wish all parents had access to peter levine’s work on reconnecting after traumatic (minor or major) experiences.

  16. #16 Comrade PhysioProf
    February 7, 2009

    Dude, you dropped acid!? HAHAHAHAH!

  17. #17 Steve Silberman
    February 7, 2009

    Ha ha, those dorky acidheads and their bogus revelations.

    And yet, I know dozens of people who had authentic, life-changing, and constructive insights on psychedelics, including myself — which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has studied the traditional use of psychedelic botanicals in Mexico.

    While it feels hip and knowing to dismiss these insights as childish, it might even be more hip and knowing to talk to people whose lives benefited from the smart use of these substances. Granted, doing that work isn’t easy; in part because so many public advocates of these substances are self-important blowhards and hyperbolizers like Leary, McKenna, and Pinchbeck, and sites like Erowid are full of unscientific weirdness and hype.

    Dale Pendell’s “Pharmako/Gnosis” is a wonderfully informative and beautifully written book. (The whole trilogy is well worth reading.) Here’s a good source on traditional use:

    Straight with the Medicine

    Just sayin’.

  18. #18 David Kerlick
    February 11, 2009

    I had heard Henry James, not T.S.

  19. #19 okey oyna
    February 19, 2009


  20. #20 okey oyna
    February 19, 2009


  21. #21 okey oyna
    February 19, 2009


  22. #22 Bedava Okey
    June 8, 2009

    Thank you very good

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