Communion Of Dreams

Legend of a Mind*

Almost 30 years ago I took psilocybin for the first time. I repeated the experience several times over the next couple of years, and have largely spent the time since making sense of the whole thing. Some of this is reflected in Communion of Dreams: descriptions of synesthesia in the book were based largely on my own experiences while under the influence of ‘shrooms, and the use of ‘auggies’ (drugs designed to increase neural processing) were also inspired by those experiences.

But the use of psychedelics was largely from another time. Not the first instance of my having been out-of-phase with the rest of society.

So it’s somewhat surprising to see new research being conducted using these drugs. Research which really should have been conducted decades ago, were it not for the paranoia of the “Just Say No!” years. This weekend’s edition of To The Best Of Our Knowledge provides a nice insight into this:

It’s taken decades for study of mind-altering drugs to be taken seriously. Now a handful of scientists are at the forefront of new research. One of them is Roland Griffiths is a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins. He’s just turned his attention to psilocybin, a classic hallucinogen commonly known as magic mushrooms. He tells Steve Paulson about his findings.


We hear a clip from Annie Levy who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the late stages she took part in an experimental study designed to see if taking psilocybin could help with the fear and panic about dying. In her case, taking a single dose was a life-changing experience in her final months.

It’s a shame, really, that the therapeutic use of hallucinogens has been stymied for so long. There is such a long tradition of using these drugs to access deeper insight and spirituality in many cultures that one is almost tempted to say that humankind’s evolution has been influenced by psychedelics as much as learning to use fire. That we have cut ourselves off from these natural psychotropics is a shame – and again is reflected in Communion of Dreams in how we have artificially lost part of our natural birthright.

Jim Downey

*From the Moody Blues, of course.

Picking and choosing.

There was a very interesting segment on the Diane Rehm show this morning about how reproductive science has advanced considerably in the last few decades, and the impact that is having on both individuals and society. In the course of the discussion, the participants touched on a number of issues both of interest to me personally, and pertaining to Communion of Dreams.

In this post in March, I discussed the genetic disease which runs in my family, and how that helped inform my decision not to have children. At the time I entered the normal child-rearing years, the appropriate testing wasn’t available. Now it is. And while I could still make the decision to have children, my wife and I are content without those additional responsibilities.

Anyway, in the course of the discussion on Diane Rehm’s show, there was mention of the fact that couples seeking IVF treatment have the option to perform genetic testing on the individual embryos produced by the procedure, and could then select which embryos to have implanted with the hope that they would quicken and grow. Huxley’s Brave New World is potentially here with this level of scrutiny and selection.

So, what about Communion? In it, I stipulate a history of a pandemic influenza, which kills hundreds of millions, and leaves most of the surviving population sterile. But here I left off from my usual attention to scientific detail, in not specifying exactly what the mechanism in effect was. Because, knowing full well the potential that modern medical science has to offer, I thought it might be a simple answer to just have non-sterile couples producing lots of viable embryos using current IVF tech, and then have those embryos implanted in host mothers, thereby circumventing the threat of human extinction. Like the parents who can now pick and choose which embryo has the greatest potential for survival, I made my own selection of what plot mechanisms were most viable. (Please note, I am not trying to equate the two!)

This is something that all writers have to do: make decisions on what to include, what to exclude. Science fiction writers have to do more of it, since in theory you can decided to invent just about any new technology or science to suit your purpose. But for me, I try to establish a given technological level, and see what makes sense within those constraints. According to most who have read the book and responded to me (either in person or in comments here), I did a pretty fair job in resolving most of the issues. But I know that in this particular case, I pulled a little sleight of hand, and my own sense of honesty pushes me to acknowledge it.

Jim Downey