(From YouTube)

Dan Riley [00:00:39]:
Maybe we could start just with what you remember from beginning the trajectory into the psychedelic world. And you were, I think, mentioning a little bit about some of the advice you were getting from your own mentors.

Matthew Johnson [00:00:53]:
Yeah, just that, hey, watch out for this. It looks like it's taken up a lot of your time. That might not be good for your career. Is this going to go anywhere? So really well meaning advice, but I've heard from some folks that have the same folks that said, wow, that's really cool that this has worked out. But there was also then, like I was starting to say, the folks at the institution that got really nervous. I mean, it was really like at arm's length. Well, okay, I guess this work is happening, but we're going to be really cautious and distance ourselves from it when we can. Until the money started coming in and then just.

Matthew Johnson [00:01:44]:
It's really sad. That changed all of a sudden. Then the department leadership becomes interested in things when really sizable funding comes in for it. So that was the one thing that really changed things, just to be completely honest. Until then it was just know these threats to shut things down about having some sort of weird political oversight over it, which actually never materialized. But there were some weird things like the initial study at Hopkins had to be sent to an external IRB, which is very unusual. And there were things like, I remember just going to IRB committee meetings and people kind of laughing, telling Cheech and know jokes and just sort of not taking this seriously, even when getting into kind of the cancer distress work. I don't know.

Matthew Johnson [00:02:47]:
And I get it. I'm well known for telling a good joke or a bad joke from time to time, but still, sometimes you just get a sense like, I'm fine with the joke, but it's like, can you open up to the fact that there's also something here that's of interest without it just being sort of like, there's a lot of smiles, sort of like that certain kind of smile, like, okay, I know what's really going on here. I don't know what's really going on here, but sort of like, well, it's just cool to get people high and I don't know, this kind of vibe that you're up to no good or this is just, I don't know, just a thing of fun for you rather than. And of course, hopefully the work people are doing is they find it interesting, they find it fun, but not in absence of the idea that in this case, there's really important scientific questions to be asked, including ones that could help people.

Dan Riley [00:03:59]:
To me, I would bet you agree with this, that this is such an important, probably example for the humanness of the scientific endeavor and the hurdles that somebody like you socially just has to push through and overcome the conviction that you probably needed to be willing to have other people think that you're a fool or that you are way off base in how you're orienting your career. And I wonder if you've given some thought to that, about what it was for yourself that gave you the internal conviction that I'm sure you needed to push against the grain. Because anyone who's read the history of scientific progression knows that at the beginning, new ideas that are eventually taken to be scientific truths are often viewed with that same sort of at least humor, if not outright derision.

Matthew Johnson [00:04:59]:
Right. Of course, the historical description of this was Thomas Coon's the structure of scientific revolutions from, I think, 1962, where he used the word paradigm to describe this kind of a change in kind of big picture changes in science and how it doesn't take convincing the people that are. He was very explicit. It doesn't take convincing the people that are out there. It takes waiting for them to die off in a new generation to take over. And he laid out these very clear examples. It took 100 years, or I guess, more of like 50 to 100 years, but for Darwin's origin of species, natural selection to even start getting traction. And same thing with Isaac Newton's principia, the laws of mean.

Matthew Johnson [00:05:53]:
These things are in competition. And I'm not, certainly not putting psychedelics in the same category, but literally the greatest scientific discoveries ever made were just met with. It took a half century for them to take root, and we're met with derision. I've come to think that scientists are not only no better than your average person in terms of falling prey to fads and to following the way the wind is blowing and what the person in charge thinks is interesting or not. And I'll say psychiatry is really bad for that is my impression especially. But not only are they no better but they're probably worse on average. I mean, you look when, frankly, when societies collapse, typically the scientists and the academics are not the ones that are fighting for the right thing to do. They're usually actually the first person to fall in line because it doesn't even take threatening them with violence like a lot of people.

Matthew Johnson [00:07:14]:
Just the fear that you may not move up the next rung in your career is enough for a lot of professional class folks, including scientists. And then just on any given number of subjects, climate. And to be clear, I think climate issues are a problem. I think that climate is changing and we really need to focus on. It's probably only going to be technology at this point that really provides paths forward. But this talk of when I ever hear anything like 99% of scientists agree, it's like, oh, that's not the way to sell it. 99% of scientists thought the sun circled the earth and thought that diseases were caused by demons. And you name it.

Matthew Johnson [00:08:07]:
All kinds of stuff I know from nih funding priorities. It's like if they put out a call for grants, it's like people fall in line. I mean, I've submitted stuff that I thought wasn't that promising, or at least that wasn't at the forefront of what I thought was most significant in terms of NIH grants, because it keeps you afloat. And hey, you can answer a question, maybe it doesn't work out, you at least publish the negative results, but there's just such desperation for funding to keep your career in science that you really can't take scientific consensus. You have to be very cautious around scientific consensus and you can see some of the things behind the scenes about how decisions are made that you can really take advantage of that. I don't know what has led me. I mean, my experience with, with the psychedelic research field has certainly cemented this, but was something there to begin with that made me, I don't know, think differently about these things? Maybe I wasn't very, I don't know. I typically had a small number of friends and it wasn't like I was kind of like when I was very young in high school, it's like I was thankfully had somebody and some small number, but I was never kind of big in the popularity game and this type of thing.

Matthew Johnson [00:09:50]:
And so maybe that kind of gave me a bit like of an outsider, I guess. Maybe that's. I don't know, maybe that's a part of it, but just kind of being skeptical of what the prevailing ideas are and kind of then reaching a certain age then realizing like, no one really knows what's going on. I remember there's a chapter in the autobiography of Kerry Mullis who invented PCR, who actually says he wouldn't have done so had it not been for his experience with psychedelics, but he. Independent of psychedelics, he has a chapter, I think it's something like no one's minding the store or something like this. Sort of like, kind of in the scene where no one's in charge. Like he realizes as a grad student, he was a biologist and he was into astronomy, and he submitted astronomy paper and got into one of the top journal, was like, I don't know if it was science or nature. It was one of the big journals.

Matthew Johnson [00:10:54]:
And he realized afterwards it got published. He was like, it was a bunch of bunk. It was some stupid idea by a grad. But yet when he first tried to publish the polymerase chain reaction, which absolutely revolutionized all of biology, like, it was rejected. No one's in charge. There are things in this world, especially when humans, they don't make sense. And don't assume just because everyone's not believes in this or thinks this is the right way, don't assume that's a reality. And I remember this is one of the things Terrence McKenna would go off in some of his interesting lectures about.

Matthew Johnson [00:11:34]:
It's like no one's in charge. Not the lizard people, no one. Like all the conspiracy theories, it's like, guess what? It's no one. We're kind of just like walking blindly off of a, well, hopefully not off of a cliff, but something like, don't underestimate how blind we all are and how we're just like, we hardly know anything. I don't know. The psychedelic area has only cemented that type of seeing it, how now it's embraced, especially now it's not just the fact that it wasn't taken seriously, now that it's taken so seriously. And in fact, even to a degree that's kind of scary in more naive way, you see this kind of whiplash and think you just see the kind of the herd just get the signal that it's, oh, now this is legitimate. Now my friends won't think I'm weird for saying this is interesting, or my boss won, or my coworkers won't think I'm weird.

Matthew Johnson [00:12:40]:
Now it's sort of like, now that it's okay, everyone's moving in that direction.

Dan Riley [00:12:47]:
So much of that, I think, is really worth thinking quite a lot, you know? I know just from the very little I understand about the history of know Einstein's papers and Darwin's work. I mean these were two men who were working outside of the structure at that time of formal academia. They were independent agents, as I understand their histories. And I want to get into what you have learned through the many years you've done about in psychedelic research that you think is important for a public audience to know. But before we get into there, maybe one last question about the herd mentality and what you've witnessed in your career, that not only is no one in charge, but that often the people who are leading scientific studies are the most likely to conform. What the root causes you attribute that to, is it primarily status hierarchies? Is it a desire for a need for money and an inability to be truly independent and therefore speak one's mind? How do you make sense of that phenomenon, which it sounds like you've seen quite a bit in your career?

Matthew Johnson [00:14:01]:
I think those two things, the status and the money, but also kind of these are all interactive, I think institutional corruption, which ultimately results in a misalignment between what makes for great science and what builds a career. And so that can be a really strong misalignment. And so you can get people building careers out of things that they know the game, how to get publications, how to get grants, how to schmooze. But when you really step back and you see what impact has the work had, you don't see much. And so, yeah, for example, whether anyone like Johns Hopkins has ever, in the chart above me has ever read a scientific paper I've done, they counted the number of publications. When it comes to it's just these kind of blind metrics. And again, it's like the incentive structure. I mean, I'm a behavioral psychologist, that's my first scientific lens, that's my initial training.

Matthew Johnson [00:15:26]:
And so it's like, what are the contingencies? And a lot of times it's like bringing in universities, it's mainly bringing in the money. And so it's not great scientific discoveries and those can go along with each other, but it's a relatively weak correlation. It's a modest correlation at best. So I think that corrupt nature, where perverse contingencies are prevailing in terms of what is governing things, is a big part of this, really. I see that as the same as why the confidence in politicians, in the media, it's all at historic lows at universities, and it's for the same reason. And I think it's a shame because we do need these institutions, we need to save these institutions. But I think it's, it's not random. I mean, I think there's an increasing kind of deterioration of how these places are.

Matthew Johnson [00:16:46]:
I mean, just look at universities with this just dramatic inflation of bureaucratic positions, and just with this, faculty and students are becoming a smaller and smaller and smaller portion of what's going on. Less like the center. And even in students, it's like you look at universities attracting students with a lazy river. I think I saw in one example just this sort of experience kind of thing. It just seems like this. And just the ability of universities to be really the center of the enlightenment, of this continuation of this kind of new era, a few hundred years old now of thought, where we can just get ideas on the table and freely discuss things. In a lot of ways, universities are the last place where you get that now, because so many things that are just, if they're politically incorrect, they're not allowed to be discussed. So just for many reasons, these institutions are just becoming more and more difficult to achieve.

Matthew Johnson [00:18:06]:
Core missions like teaching students, like conducting good research.

Dan Riley [00:18:13]:
The irony in that is unbelievable how that has occurred. And as you were talking about the gamification of career progression in academia and scientific positions, I was thinking about, I don't know if you know the name Paul Graham. He's a technologist and an essayist, and he has written some of my favorite essays I've ever come across. And one of the things he talks about related to education reminded me of the way that you were describing, as I understood it, how people are gamifying their positions. They know how to play the game, to get the money to accelerate their career and not actually do legitimate work. And one of the lines he has from this one essay that I love, which I'll be happy to send to you, is the worst thing that schools do for people is they teach people to hack bad tests, not to learn, not to do things, not action oriented. And I've always thought about that line because I know that was me for so much of my younger years. You're looking to get the grade rather than actually doing the work.

Dan Riley [00:19:29]:
But eventually, I think there's a hollowness to that that isn't particularly satisfying. So that's a short aside there, but I'd love to put it to you. I always like to have these conversations as though somebody is listening who doesn't know that much about this field and what you've gleaned over the years of you doing this work. Obviously, you care deeply about this. And one thing that I kind of came away from primarily from doing research about you. Is so much of this to me in my reading of your work, is you're interested in. It's very simple, but in helping people and trying to give people tools that can improve their quality of life. And to a lay audience who doesn't know about the work at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere, and putting your scientist hat on, what are the big main takeaways for you that we've learned or you've learned the field has learned in your career related to how it can help people.

Dan Riley [00:20:35]:
You talked earlier about people who are dying of cancer. I know you're very familiar with the research on addiction. This is a huge subject. But in general, what should the public know about what has been learned over the last 1020 more years?

Matthew Johnson [00:20:54]:
I think the big picture is that one way I've been thinking about it recently is that there's an increase in agency, that people are more able to make changes. Another way to put that is this is accelerated learning. Now, the direction of that learning isn't necessarily going to be a good thing just with the pharmacology. In fact, there's good reason to think you can use these psychedelics to brainwash people like Charles Manson did and like the CIA was investigating for many years. In fact, there may have been a connection between the two of those, but Manson and the CIA. But that with the right intention and the right goal and the right support that they could, and sometimes, astonishingly, as I've done a bunch of survey and others have, outside of even that support, sometimes I think you're tweaking your gain. You're less likely to have a meaningful, life changing experience when you're just taking it to have fun. But sometimes, lo and behold, that's what happens.

Matthew Johnson [00:22:08]:
But certainly maximizing that, turning up the game with a therapeutic setting, that people can make the changes in their life that they recognize but seem unable to fulfill, that they are stuck in ruts. They're stuck at like a local minimum and kind of calculus speak. They can't get out of it. They are in a suboptimal place. They're in a well. Whether it's in their overt behavior, like an addiction, how we define it, or if it's in their thought patterns, which I just view as internal behavior, it's all behavior. It's all operating by the same laws. But whether it's the way you think, the self defeating thoughts and depression which has behavioral manifestation, or with the more behaviorally defined addiction taking too much of a substance and it causing problems, being unable to stop, and that, having obviously thought, correlates as well.

Matthew Johnson [00:23:14]:
It's all the same thing. People get stuck in these suboptimal patterns, and psychedelics can be used to increase one's agency, one ability to feel like they have the degrees of freedom to make a change and to help that sustain. Now, this could be because of the animal work suggesting neuroplasticity. We have a lot to figure out there in the field because we also know things like cocaine cause neuroplasticity. But we're dealing, obviously, something with a little more special than cocaine. So we're still trying to figure out the secret sauce. Biologically, certainly acutely, when the drugs in the system. There's a lot of things in the brain happening that are very interesting.

Matthew Johnson [00:24:02]:
The brain is taking on a radically different pattern of communication within itself that probably is very much related. It's probably the reflection of that very altered perceptual change, that very different interaction with the world, and one's very perception of oneself and how one is in the world. But it's such a radically different perspective that people can step away from that. They can have realizations that at times touch on ground truth. That's not a guaranteed, because again, you can be convinced of something delusional, but that can also be a ground truth, like greater realizations of some of your own patterns. And then one can move that can be so compelling that it sticks with someone. So it really is more like an experience. And so in that sense, it really is psychotherapy, even though it's prompted by a biological event, the ingestion of this substance that has effects on the brain, what happens after that is what you would call psychotherapeutic process.

Matthew Johnson [00:25:22]:
It's people having a different, taking a different perspective on themselves, trying out different models, different ways to view themselves and reality embarking on a different path forward. And in a therapeutic context, really a magnification, when it's done well, of the therapeutic alliance and the support that we know is helpful across the psychotherapy, no matter what school of thought, whether a freudian or a cognitive behavioral therapist, et cetera. And so people like, when someone is better, whether they're smoking, they've overcome smoking, addiction to tobacco, or they're less depressed, or they're less anxious about the cancer six months, a year later, it's because they've learned something. They can tell you a story the same way that someone who I don't know went through. They got married and had kids, and now they're a different person. They're meeting up with their college budy and they're telling how I'm different. It's like that. It's like, let me tell you about what happened when they learned what it was like to really be responsible for someone else or to, or to undergo a tragedy in their life or, you know, or visit a different culture for the first time.

Matthew Johnson [00:26:38]:
And, and so, like, you know, you can have you, there's a narrative around that and, and someone could actually describe how that's changed them. So I think it is more like a psychotherapy, a learning experience, which doesn't guarantee that it's going to be positive, but that's what the therapeutic aspect, the set and setting, having good therapists or guides. And it also sets up the potential for the abuses because it is such an intimate, there is such an ability to change somebody that we've really got to keep on a radar screen. We got to make sure clinicians are not developing sexual relationships with their clients, which is, that's a thing. It happens far too often, even in regular therapy and in all of these things, the practice of medicine and in psychotherapy. But it's going to be even more so here because of the vulnerability. And you have something even more so here where someone is, they're providing this access to what some would call the spirit world or the divine or God. I view that scientifically and clinically.

Matthew Johnson [00:27:53]:
You have to be agnostic about that. You can neither confirm nor deny for the patient. It's just they can make whatever they want to at those levels, but you're there to support them. But there is this risk of kind of stepping into this role of being the guru and pretending that you can fill in the holes at those levels about the nature of reality. And it's like, no, you need to hold the person's hand and be like, I'm here to support you. I can tell you what brain receptors are flying in your brain when this stuff is in, but we ultimately still don't know what's happening. And at those levels, you're just as much of an expert as I am or anyone else. And so I'm just here for you to help you help this would be meaningful for you and to support you through that process.

Matthew Johnson [00:28:45]:
I think that needs to be the heart of the. That was a tangent, but the vulnerability and the plasticity of this is a part of both the potential benefit as well as part of why it can be potentially dangerous if we don't do it right.

Dan Riley [00:29:02]:
Yeah, I like the way that you put that the imagery of being in a well. And you ticked through some of the different applications just a minute ago for people who are, as I understand it, just have a terminal cancer diagnosis and have a high amount of anxiety, people who are addicted to nicotine, people who are addicted to alcohol. And my understanding is that very often they have tried everything that they have access to in normal civilization to try to get out of those wells, and they can't. And like so many things in life, the devil is in the details. And I'd love to give you an opportunity to talk about this is not a panacea. This is something I've heard you harp on in articles I've read about you, that this is not a magic bullet or a silver bullet, it's not a magic pill. But what are the success rates looking like in these domains of life where people are metaphorically in a well, they're not in a good place, and these experiences seem to help get them out of that well.

Matthew Johnson [00:30:13]:
Yes. One of the reasons I really was attracted to the smoking cessation area, aside from having done work going back to early grad school on tobacco and nicotine, is the fact that it's so easy to biologically verify. So we can be a little more. It's not like some rating scale, which nothing that's use the best tools you have. But for some of these other sores, they're inherently like these other clinician or patient administered scales. But with the smoking, we could breathe through this. Go take a piss, and I'm going to analyze your urine. We can trust, but verify.

Matthew Johnson [00:30:48]:
And so she's recently completed a trial where at a year out, it looks like we're compared to nicotine patch over doubling the success rates of helping people quit smoking. So a year out, 52% still abstinent in our first pilot, by the way, that was what I just told you. There's only a single session of psilocybin. In our pilot study, with three sessions, we had 80% biologically confirmed. It was a small sample of 15 people. But 80% at six months were smoke free, and we went out to two and a half years of very long term follow up, and 60% were smoke free. So these are very high success rates because the best medications at six months a year, you're talking about stuff in the 20%, the very best, like in 30%, and same thing with talk therapy. So you just don't get the best treatment that's ever been published before that this is if you had not one but two medications and you kept people on continuous talk therapy for an entire year.

Matthew Johnson [00:32:03]:
Then you got somewhere in the 50%. That was some really good work, but that's a lot. There really are high success rates. But then for, say, depression, there have now been a number of studies, but what is typically seen is that in the studies that have gone out this long, one to several months later, people will, you'll get 70 plus percent that are in remission, meaning their levels are low enough into the normal range of the scale, and you'll get even higher numbers of that, even higher numbers that are achieving what's called a significantly clinical, clinically significant reduction. So like having of their symptoms so very high. So most people are being substantially that. And that's the same thing with the work with MDMA and treating PTSD. And we saw these results with anxiety and cancer that like six months later there were, on average, people were in the normal across participants and most individual participants were in the normal range of these clinician administered scales assessing depression and anxiety.

Matthew Johnson [00:33:34]:
So it doesn't work for everyone and it doesn't mean that the person doesn't have problems, but it substantially helps most people. Now, these are also trials that there's a lot of things we're excluding because as the research goes on and as it gets into clinical practice, there's going to be less exclusions. And so the results invariably, and this is the pattern in science, they're not going to be as good. But nonetheless, things are looking so good in these samples that even if they turn out to be half as good, that's still really good compared to what's out there. So, yeah, it's a weird balance because it's like, it's not a panacea and you really get nervous when someone comes in. So this is my last hope. I've done everything. And it's like, no, that's a dangerous way to think because this may not be the thing and no one's done anything because we know, even with all of these disorders, like, sometimes you do the same thing on the fifth try and then it works.

Matthew Johnson [00:34:38]:
It's like, yeah, just because you tried to use one of these existing medications or even something like nicotine patch, it's like you may have tried it before, but it might actually work for good this time. So it's like you always want to encourage people to never give up, and we have a science behind that. My opinion, it's like we know it's true. The more attempts, even if you fail, ultimately it's actually not a failure because it makes you more likely to be successful the next time. And the same general thing is true for all of these disorders. So you get nervous when people see this as their only hope because it doesn't work for everyone. I think it's going to be also a more complex landscape when it's in clinical treatment. I think we need more research on repeated treatments.

Matthew Johnson [00:35:24]:
Some people it seems to help a lot, but then it fades in a few months. Some people it seems to still be helping, but a year later they say, I'm still getting benefits. But, wow, it does seem like just to do this once a year, it could really help me out. I think you're going to see that it's going to be more like. Especially when you're talking about treatment resistant depression. I think on the ground it's going to be more of a break. Certainly very different than standard psychiatric. Take this pill every morning and it's going to reduce symptoms.

Matthew Johnson [00:35:56]:
But having a session once every two months, three months, might be more of the norm, more in line with maybe sort of like ECT. So you do the sunset or now people go on. It wouldn't be as frequent as like TMS, the magnetic stimulation of the brain. But yeah, people shouldn't hold their breath that it's going to be the one thing that saves them. But it is really promising. I think it's going to help a lot of people that haven't been helped to date, but that's not going to be everybody. And it's not the only thing. And the other thing with not being a fantasy is that when it works, it really seems to be because that person is doing their own psychological heavy lifting, and that's part of the agency.

Matthew Johnson [00:36:49]:
It's not like this thing just automatically, it seems to be the person is really at the center of it and it's not just treating symptoms. That's why it can go to the core of some of these psychological issues, because the person is at the center of it and they can have a different relationship with how they're handling their own life. And they can have this conscious change in how they're orienting, like just what they're doing, how they're thinking and behaving on a daily basis, which means it can be really hard and these treatments can be very difficult. And that means it's not for everyone. Not everyone would be interested in doing this, because sometimes it can be a very frightening experience. It can also, even if you come there, like, just to quit smoking, it could unearth some trauma. I'm not talking about recovered memories. You didn't.

Matthew Johnson [00:37:46]:
But yeah, just something that you thought like, well, that's a thing. It's been years ago, but man, that can kind of come up and be like, no, I'm the thing that needs to be dealt with here because something happens. Like the psychological defense mechanisms. We don't know this, we need more research on it, but it seems descriptively, something like that is happening. Like the defense mechanisms are lowered and someone. Things can hit people really hard in a way they didn't before. They just kind of see themselves from this kind of like naked perspective and they're like. And that can go really deep.

Matthew Johnson [00:38:27]:

Dan Riley [00:38:29]:
God, I really appreciate you saying all that. Do you think just in terms of the. You were mentioning that it sounds like there is some difference for it's not a panacea, but it sounds like with repeated attempts and tweaking and feedback loops and applying reason to this, that is the way to go. There's a bit of a bespoke aspect to this that's individual. And would you say a fair analogy to this might be something like diet, that broad strokes, lots of vegetables, exercise, whole foods are good, but in terms of the ideal diet for a specific person that is really unique to that individual, even though at a high level we can say with high confidence that certain activities are, certain foods are better than others.

Matthew Johnson [00:39:24]:
Yeah. That there will ultimately be an individualized treatment for people. I think that's going to be true. And that's sort of like the holy grail of medicine in generally, although I have to say, other than cancer chemotherapy, which actually really has, I've seen some dramatic examples of now things that were thrown out. Now we know that your genetics specific genotype and now this drug is like really a lifesaver. But for the most part, individualized medicine has been a big failure in mainstream medicine. But it doesn't mean we're not going to get there. But I think there's a lot of hope there.

Matthew Johnson [00:40:06]:
Particularly more along the lines of what you're talking about, like with health and nutrition, probably this is a better example than with medicine, which it's a shame there's different categories, but unfortunately they are the way we treat them, but just things. I think I'm 49 and the stuff that I figure it out, I just can't do. The exercises you can do and can't do. And you see examples of like, I've known multiple people in their 60s or 70s that think they're really healthy and. But they just don't listen to their body and just they had to have knee replacements because they were running an hour a day, and it's like it wasn't good for them, or the thing they thought was good for them wasn't. Or they get into this type of diet and it doesn't fit. So I think, yeah, diet is probably a good example where people have to know what's right for them, and this won't be for everyone. I think there will be different options.

Matthew Johnson [00:41:05]:
Like, MDMA is probably going to be a more palatable option for many people that, say, wouldn't be up for at least a high dose of something like psilocybin, a classic psychedelic, because it's less of the potentially, like, reality itself is unzipping, and I don't know what the hell is even. I don't even know. I'm a human. Like, what is this? It's not that you can have a bad trip on MDMA, but it's more of, like, being an emotional despair, like, for example, in dealing with trauma. But that's directed towards a therapeutic goal, but it's more palatable. It's one of the reasons why it's more reliable in terms of just the recreational use. It's like, it's easy to get together and dance on, and there's very few unsatisfied customers, whereas there's plenty of people where they took too many mushrooms on the dance floor. They're like, holy shit, get me out of here, or they end up on the floor in the corner.

Matthew Johnson [00:41:57]:
Everybody has to be tending to them the whole time. MDMA is sort of like a little gentler, and so there'll be menus out there for people. And I also think, given that, I do think there's strong potential. I have some survey data I haven't published yet, but that seemed to suggest that there's probably potential for all of these. Whether it's the fact that MDMA has been pursued for PTSD and it's looking so good and probably would be the first approved, or that psilocybin for depression or psilocybin for addictions, it's like you could scramble these up, because I think there are those general mechanisms. So MDMA for. Ben Sus has done a bit of work on this MDMA for addiction, like alcoholism, or psilocybin for PTSD. My prediction is there's going to be a room for all of this, and there's going to be efficacy with all of that.

Matthew Johnson [00:42:56]:
And so perhaps it may come down to this individual tailoring of what sounds like the thing that fits their personality best. And I also think the diet and exercise, just example, is a good one because that gets to the agency part of this. This is way more like really finding a good diet and exercise that fits you than it is like ozempic. This is not easy, and if it works, it has the potential to feed forward in terms of establishing new patterns. And I'm a big believer that we shouldn't give up our agency. And just like some of the supposed people in charge of the people pushing ozempic and whatnot, this idea that diet and exercise have no potential for helping people, oh, they fail. And it's like, well, maybe we're not doing it right because you're not violating the laws of mass energy. And I've known plenty of people.

Matthew Johnson [00:44:11]:
I get very discouraged when people send these message culturally that you have no agency and that it's only this one medication. I want plenty of tools for all per clinicians, but there's risks and benefits to all of these things. And sometimes there's some major downsides for some of these options. Not to say that they're never useful or called for. I view psychedelics in that same kind of lens of like, I want to maximize human agency. I want people to feel empowered. I want to be able. And sometimes people say, man, I feel weird smoking cigarette amount.

Matthew Johnson [00:44:52]:
This will be like some meeting later on, hanging out. They're like, I feel weird like I'm smoking. I was like, yeah, I'm fine with smoking. If someone wants to quit, I want to help them quit. I don't want to force anyone. I'm well embedded in the tobacco field. Like most of the scientists, they're very kind of anti smoking. I just want to empower people to reach their own goals.

Matthew Johnson [00:45:23]:
And if you want to get smoking out of your life and there's good reason to, yeah, I'd love to help people do that. And so just this sense of agency is like the big thing for me, that the psychedelics are about letting people flourish in this kind of internal conflict that we have around so many of these things, whether it's thinking about yourself from a certain perspective or engaging in this habit or this addictive behavior that in many of your moments, you know, you need to get away from. It's like this can kind of get all the using a metaphor here, but all of the aspects of the psyche around the same boardroom table and be like, all right, guys, no one's leaving until we're figuring this out, and then we're going to be on the same page and we're going to do it. You're not going to have this compartmentalized motivation. And so it's like this maximizing agency is kind of. That's the way I've been thinking about it more recently.

Dan Riley [00:46:22]:
I know just in what I've read about you and your own life, I mean, I think my read is that you tend to have more of a holistic approach to life, that this is a tool. But you seem like somebody who's exercising many times a week and spends a lot of time with your family, and that this is a component to, as you said, trying to make people live a flourishing life and to be able to achieve their goals. And I wanted to read a couple of quotes from you about psychedelics in general and then ask you a question about one of your former colleagues. Here is one which I thought was, I had never really thought about it this way, but this is from you. That, quote, one of the hallmarks of psychedelics is just their variability. It's not the mean, but the standard deviation. And I think you alluded to this earlier in the conversation about just how wide the experience can be. And I think set and setting probably have something to do with that.

Matthew Johnson [00:47:24]:
I don't remember that. I sounded like a real nerd.

Dan Riley [00:47:31]:
I think that may have been when you were talking to Lex, who probably.

Matthew Johnson [00:47:36]:
Helped me go along the nerd path. I love to nerd out with good. Still. I'll still stand by that.

Dan Riley [00:47:49]:
Yeah, fair enough. And there's one other one that you said, which you said often, this is paraphrasing, but often during a psychedelic experience, it hits people so hard how much they love people. This is just like related to how profound these experiences can be. You were mentioning something in an article I was reading about mental health care in America, and this is a line I read from you. That, quote, it's mental health care in America, quote, it's in dire straits right now. We're seeing that for the first time ever, Americans'life, expectancy is lowering, not increasing, with the two big factors being addiction and suicide. You were talking about what the results are right now, and these substances seem to be perfectly catered to, potentially helping with these. And then the final one is that in terms of the optimism that you were just alluding to in the future, in looking towards a healthy future, quote, where we have thinking about, and I heard this from a former guest of mine, Roland Levy, I think his name was, who started field trip health.

Dan Riley [00:48:59]:
And he made this offhanded comment when I was talking to him about how he thought in the future, this would be sort of like a dentist appointment that people a couple of times a year to stay healthy, that this would doing ketamine treatment or doing MDMA, or using some of these tools to try to bolster their life. And this is a line from you about a future quote where we have routine mental health checks. How is it a thing to have physical checkups every year, but not a mental health checkup, which I thought was pretty profound. I don't know if you want to comment on any of that, but those were some of the more interesting things I came across in doing some research on you.

Matthew Johnson [00:49:44]:
Yeah, honestly, that last one, man, I think of the school shooting thing, and I just think, how are we not having mental. Why is that just not norm? Yeah, maybe you could skip it, but it was like you don't want to necessarily tell your neighbor, oh, I haven't been in the dentist in ten years. It's kind of embarrassing. It should be kind of embarrassing. Hopefully we move into a culture where it's like the norm. Of course you're going to see someone, like a couple, whatever it is, some routine, every three months or maybe once a month. It's almost like. I don't know, when I think of people in the military, it's like, yeah, you keep your weapon clean.

Matthew Johnson [00:50:32]:
It's like if you never defrag your hard drive, or I guess you don't really need to do that these days, but whatever, just throw away your. Clean out your files or something. It just seems like it's. Or, yeah, you never exercise because things go to entropy. I do think it's just hard to imagine. I often think we're here at a blink of an eye. Well, we may not, but if we're around in 500 years, something extraordinary is going to happen. Either we're going to go extinct soon, that's going to be extraordinary, or we're going to be around in 505,000, 10,000, a million years.

Matthew Johnson [00:51:15]:
That's extraordinary, too. What in the world is that? Even, like, 100 years from now? It's hard for me to imagine. If we haven't knocked ourselves back to the stone age, it's like, how are we not going to be hardcore with mental health? How are we not going to have this not perfect, but much more of an understanding of the mind? And how could it not be that we need this increase in mental preventative health care? I mean, look at medicine, dentistry. That's the thing that taking care of whatever, cleaning your gun or whatever your example is. I'm not a big gun enthusiast. Don't ask me why. That was the thing that came to my mind. But you want to keep your tools in shape.

Matthew Johnson [00:52:05]:
And it just strikes me that we check in when things. It's the equivalent. Our mental health is the equivalent of only seeing the doctor. When your tumor is so big that it's like bulging out of your neck. It's like, that's what we're doing with mental health, and let's wait till the kid just throws up his hands and he just goes on a rampage or whatever, and it's like, we need to really check. I mean, I think this is the idea for school counselors, but it's never been realized. It's never been, as far as I know, just fully realized where everyone has this person that really knows them, that can keep a tab not just to check it, but for that person's help, for them to be able to open up to and discuss things and if things start going off the path. So I do think that's just like, I hope that happens, and I think psychedelics are a part of, not necessarily that everyone's going to get a psychedelic trip all the time, but just the interest.

Matthew Johnson [00:53:06]:
Psychedelics is a magnifying lens for society, like by bridging psychiatric treatment with psychology. Once again, it is about this unfolding narrative of you as a person and the story of your life, and it's important to kind of keep ownership of that. So I think that that's going to be something that we should have a check in on as a way to kind of keep our engine. That's probably a better example. Keep your engine running clean. Get an oil change. Check your fan belt every once in a while because it's going to snap. When you're on some just long trip, you got to make sure these things are running.

Matthew Johnson [00:53:50]:
You can't just never change your air filter. And then the other examples you gave, it's more about the variability. It's true. It's very wild. The classic psychedelics, like Psils, have more than MDMA. Like I was saying before, it's just like they're just wild in their potential effects, which is really crazy given their relatively minimal mental, I'm sorry, physical effects. It's like they dilate the pupils a little bit, raise the blood pressure a little bit. For most people, if it's severe cardiac risk, that could be a problem.

Matthew Johnson [00:54:31]:
But for most people, there's pretty minimal somatic effects. But like this wild change in mental function that could go any number of directions and you could know what it's like to be going completely crazy at times and just engaging in completely delusional thoughts, but then have some of the clearest moments of one's life seemingly with this clarity and just with things seemingly self validated in terms of life priorities. So it's just this wild range of. And this absurd laughter over just the craziest things. Just like, there's that too. And just sometimes people get just completely cracked up at this whole idea of existence. It's like, this is weird. We're just these people walking around.

Matthew Johnson [00:55:30]:
It's like being blown out of context. We're used to things. We're used to think like, this is normal. And I think one of the things psychedelics do is kind of remove that. And then people realize, like, wow, this is not normal. It's from one perspective a miracle that we're these beings and we can interact with these other beings and we have these things that we're trying to do. It's just a very absurd kind of thing, a miraculous thing, an absurd thing. Some as like a hilarious thing.

Matthew Johnson [00:56:06]:
But people have such wildly different perspectives on reality that they could take all these different perspectives, and it seems like that seems to be good for people that can safely do it in the right setting. I don't know. There might be something about just having that broad context. Yeah, sometimes it helps to be, take a perspective. Like Bill Hicks would talk, know, life is just a. It's like some of the people with psychedelics be, dude, like, yeah, life is just a ride. And the more you can take that perspective, the better off. Doesn't mean you're supposed to be lazy about things, but it's like, yeah, engage in the game as well as you can and do the things, but at the same time, when things go wrong, just to have that kind of broad perspective, it's easier said than done, for sure.

Matthew Johnson [00:57:03]:
But I think psychedelics can leave people with this impression that things are so big and that we're lucky to be having what we're having, that it could kind of reset people, recalibrate them to what's important or not, and not take things so seriously.

Dan Riley [00:57:20]:
Yeah, for sure. I think one of the things you were mentioning earlier, what could be more important than people's psychological state and mental health? And perhaps one of the things that is just helpful in that domain is persuading people that the mind is a muscle and that you were talking about agency earlier and that with the right habits of mind and habits of life, that your baseline experience of this world might be significantly better than what you tend to be experiencing life as being. And there's a great book, I bet you've probably heard of this. I think it's called the precipice by Toby Ord or Toby Orb, which talks about. It's basically like an existential risk book. And he's making the case basically, that the next hundred or so years are the most important 100 or so years in the history of humanity. Because one of the two outcomes you just articulated will come about, right? We will go extinct or go back to the Stone Age, or we will very likely develop technology and just interplanetary.

Matthew Johnson [00:58:37]:
Life we can't even imagine.

Dan Riley [00:58:40]:
And that these years are so precious because there's so much on the line for the future of consciousness and the future of humanity. And I remembered coming across those ideas, and they're kind of mind blowing when you think about the era that we're living in.

Matthew Johnson [00:58:58]:
Yeah, that sounds like a great read. It's like we're in this 4 billion year, well, depending on how you frame it, like, whatever, 13 billion year relay race. And it's like now the universe has this ability to look at itself and to have this experience. And we're so close to being, to exploring the stars. Who knows what we're going to figure out? And once we do that, once we escape the planet, it's like we're kind of guaranteed because then we have the diversity. It's like, okay, even when the sun explodes, we could go on. So it's like we're like 13 billion years in. And if we don't make the next hundred years, right, because we're the monkeys that just developed these nuclear bombs, like yesterday, basically, in the scheme of things.

Matthew Johnson [01:00:01]:
And it's like, are we going to make it or not? It really is, like right now, that's going to determine this. Like, and who knows? Maybe it's happening all kinds of places throughout the universe, but at least the 4 billion years on our planet, it's taken this long to get there. And it'd be such a shame to. For that to be reset. I mean, we'd probably pick ourselves up back in a few million years if we knocked ourselves at the bit. Who knows? If we go back to microbes, might take us hundreds of millions of years to catch back up. We shouldn't screw it up. We should keep this relay race going.

Dan Riley [01:00:47]:
Absolutely. Yeah. And I think anything that can be done to enhance human well being and human mental health is a step in that direction of trying to keep the relay race going. And I know we're getting towards the end of the conversation and I want to close on a couple of just quick points. I had a chance to email a little bit with your former coworker who died last year, Roland Griffins. And I was reading his, it's basically an obituary of his in the New York Times last night. I think he died last October and he seemed to be someone way ahead of the curve. And there's a quote in the New York Times article I wanted to read which talked about the work he was doing at his death.

Dan Riley [01:01:39]:
And the line is, quote, at his death he was completing a paper about a study he had conducted in which clergy from a wide range of faiths received a high dose of psilocybin to see how it would affect their life and work. And I have to imagine anyone like yourself that's been involved in this world for so long, like Roland's curiosity about these substances, and I know he was a scientist like you are, that he was also interested in the spiritual and the unknown. And I'd love to give you an opportunity just to comment about him and also that line about the work he was doing towards the end of his life and how your work and your experience with these people who you've worked with for so many years, how it's affected your metaphysical outlook, how it's affected your religious views, your non religious views, your outlook on life in general.

Matthew Johnson [01:02:41]:
Yeah, I'd say my perspective is that it's one thing to kind of discuss the spiritual, but on the ground it's like how you treat other people. So ethics. Yeah. For me, and in fact in the psychedelic field, the psychedelic field has been a big part of me cementing kind of something I already knew, but not nearly as well, that it really comes down to treating. It's how you treat your fellow, you know, human being. And that kind of utopian visions of kind of spirituality and kind of an interest in spirituality can really be a cloak. This thing called spiritual bypassing really is a real thing. And so I don't know, sometimes in conversations like this I go out, I try to stay grounded, but I like to speculate on.

Matthew Johnson [01:04:17]:
But we really hope even conversations that I'm not letting people reconveying is that I have any answers to the big question. You know what I mean? Sure. I'm no one's guru. It's fun to speculate on what. And I might have my own ideas about what the big picture going on is, but I want the psychedelic field to stay grounded and recognize that we can have a tendency to kind of engage in these utopian visions. And when that happens, it can be a recipe for unethical behavior, for really sacrificing anyone in the quest for that utopian vision. And you see that with different religions. You see it in political philosophies, you see it in political revolutions where the pure becomes sacrificed, like the Bolsheviks turning on their fellow socialists during in the early years and sending them to be killed or to the gulags.

Matthew Johnson [01:05:45]:
So it's just sort of a common theme. And so it's just one of the things that I want to focus on and that I've learned because of the psychedelic field and my interactions in it is that you don't know the book by its cover and that you. Yeah, psychedelics and spiritual experiences will never replace an understanding of ethics and some of those lessons that we learned through life experience, through good literature, through the people that we meet, and for some people through religion. But, yeah, we really have to kind of stay grounded in ethics when we get into the spiritual realm, which can mean many things for many different people.

Dan Riley [01:06:33]:
Fair enough. And I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you, because this was one of my favorite points from this conversation about, you were talking earlier about what it was like 20 years ago to want to get into this field. And the mocking reaction, seemingly, that you often receive from people who heard about that interest. And I'm curious for you if there are other areas of exploration or inquiry or truth that in your mind are in that same bucket that psychedelics were in 20 years ago that we're not talking about, but we really should be. If there's anything not even necessarily related to the mind, but not close to that, what, if anything, comes to mind in your mind to maybe convey to curious minds that might be listening to this who have that same sort of spirit of adventure and independence that you seem to have exhibited throughout your career.

Matthew Johnson [01:07:40]:
Yeah, I can think of a few things. Like the first one that comes to mind is the UFO phenomenon. I think anyone that just dismisses it as if it's a complete joke and that it's not even. I'm not saying one has to be convinced of one way or the other, but I think if someone exposes themselves to the data, they will be perplexed, like there's something extraordinary going on. And frankly, I think the idea that some of this technology is somehow China has leapfrogged the western powers by like decades or centuries is, frankly, it's more difficult to pass Occam's razor than the idea that there's some type of, whether it be interstellar or maybe there's been another civilization here that we're not aware of, something truly extraordinary. I think there's enough data to suggest that it's at least arguable that's more likely than any human being. And if so, that would be a progression of this thing where we've always put ourselves, the civilization thousands of years ago that thought they were the only people, that someone finally took that canoe past the horizon where they couldn't see land anymore. And most of those people died.

Matthew Johnson [01:09:04]:
And some of them actually hit some other land mass and there's other people. And then fast forward to 500 years ago, and then it's like, or I guess 1000 somewhere, that it's like there's an entire hemisphere that the others didn't. At least the people on the other landmass, Eurasia, didn't know about, in Africa, didn't know about. And then it's like you get to Galileo and Copernicus, and it's like these heavenly bodies. It's like maybe we're not the center of what we came to know as the solar system. And so it's like this kind of decentering of us not being special. The whole idea of, like, we were being visited or being monitored, like something, if there's some other intelligent life form, it would be a continuation of that. I'm not saying I'm certain, but I'm open.

Matthew Johnson [01:10:09]:
I think there's likely something like that going on. But the important thing is that I'm open. And I think I see that same type of mockery. And to me, it's frustrating that people don't take that seriously to just weigh the evidence for what's happening, because I think, especially now, when there's a lot out there now since 2017, where you've got to bend over like something weird is happening. Either we have some crazy technology and some part of our government, and then why would they be flying that around us? Strike carriers in the Navy? What is this, like, the Air Force, like, screwing with the. Like, why would they do like. I don't just. There's things that just doesn't make sense.

Matthew Johnson [01:11:00]:
And so another thing I would put into that category is, like, psy phenomenon. And I would say the same thing. This for people that used to be called paranormal, but telepathy and telekinesis, remote viewing, those are the three big kind of categories. But I'm very open. I'm somewhat red on that science. And I think that's a whole area of science that I won't say I'm 100% convinced, but I think there's likely something going on there. And in fact, if there is something going on, if there's a real effect there, it's not supernatural. It's just an aspect of nature that we don't understand yet.

Matthew Johnson [01:11:45]:
Maybe there's some sort of communication or interaction through these other dimensions that physicists speculate and some are more convinced are there that we're not perceiving of. Maybe it's that. Maybe it's some Em waves would have sounded like magic hundreds of years ago. It's like maybe there's some other form of who knows?

Dan Riley [01:12:12]:
And for somebody who has never read anything about this and is hearing about this for the first time, what have you learned specifically that persuades you, especially with the second component, the paranormal component, that there might be something there? What are the stories that you recall, if any, about these possibilities that really made you scratch your head and think there was something there?

Matthew Johnson [01:12:41]:
Actually, it started with years ago, probably like 15 years ago. A buddy of mine down the hallway at work, like sort of another scientist, sort of dropped a paper, threw it on my desk, says, Johnson, read this. It was one of these papers from Rupert Sheldrake, who he actually, in the old days, had these trilogues with McKenna. Anyway, so he's kind of had some connection in the psychedelic field, and he's come up with this biological theory of morphogenetic fields, which I always want to be open, but no, I'm not thinking that's likely to be true. That seems a little out there and without the evidence. But he came up with these experiments that he wrote a book saying, I forget what. Something like seven experiments you can do at home to like. And he's published a bunch of papers, peer reviewed papers on these effects.

Matthew Johnson [01:13:38]:
But there's things he's very much into these experiments, and they're sort of the antithesis of what. If you're familiar with the Gansfeld experiments, where the ping pongs in the eye and you're seeing what random image is projected in the other room, or the work that uses the long digits of random numbers to seeing whether there's a deviation from men, these are very sort of arcane things that are like. His point is that when people report these phenomenon in real life, at least the stories, whether you buy it or not, they tend to be things that are very person centric. So in other words, things like a woman, attractive woman, getting a sense that someone's eyeing her, some creep is, like, staring her up from the back. And lo and behold, there's someone there, or a dog acting really weird before its owner comes home. Like someone else in the house is like, yeah, the dog went crazy, and then you were home. And the one that he's done a lot of work with is telephonics, the phenomenon of somebody saying, yeah, I haven't thought of you in months, but I was just thinking of you. And I called him, like, what the hell? It was you.

Matthew Johnson [01:14:57]:
And so it's that one where he devised these experiments, and he's published a bunch of times on it, and he even did it on live. I don't know if it was live, but it was recorded. It might have been live, I'm not sure. But on some british television show back well over probably like 20 years ago. But this basic paradigm where you have a certain number of people, like four callers, and at given time points, you randomly select which one of these four callers is going to call the recipient, and they make a guess once the phone is ringing, who was calling before they pick up the phone. And I actually replicated, because I read so many of these papers, he's actually done it by email and several times, and he's found interesting relationships. Like somebody, it seems to be somebody with social. Like, the accuracy is higher with someone's sister who may be separated from Singapore to London than it is with mere acquaintances of someone who's just across town or a couple of blocks away.

Matthew Johnson [01:15:58]:
So it seems to be more of, like, emotional closeness rather than physical proximity. That drives things, if you buy into any of this. But like I said, I dove into it. I'm like, either they're making stuff up, or it seems like there's something here because there's all these little things, even these. And some of these sci researchers are forced to really go down experimental rabbit holes that most of us are actually go beyond what most science needs to do. Like things like, oh, well, what if people are like, microseconds off and you just know unconsciously, oh, that one of those four people is, oh, that's Larry. He's always a little late on things or whatever. And so it's like maybe you picked up that and didn't know it.

Matthew Johnson [01:16:37]:
They've even done things where they've used a random time generator to not make it on the given 805 or whatever it's supposed to be, but to scramble up the timing to make sure that wasn't a compound. And it's held up to all of this. And so I ran one of these myself with my wife, and did it as rigorously as any study I've ever done and got very significant results. The chance that her accuracy was as high as it was was one out of 500. So it was a p value of 0.2. So it's a pretty straightforward statistical binomial distribution. It's one of four callers. We had 24 trials, April.

Matthew Johnson [01:17:18]:
It wasn't like we ran it, did p hacking, ran it till we got a significant effect. We said no. Based on the literature, it should be. 24 is a safe if we're going to call it based on that. And so the accuracy was, like 13 out of 24, which is. Well, the null hypothesis is it's only six. And so it's actually extreme. Each additional person beyond six, one fourth, I'm sorry, one fourth of 24, it gets more.

Matthew Johnson [01:17:50]:
The statistics are, it's way less probable. So you get up to 13. It's only a one in 500 chance that you would get that by chance alone. Now, it doesn't prove. And yes, there could be some, like, maybe she was tricking me through some very sophisticated way. It's like, whatever, to me, that's in the category of. I don't know, maybe Martians were manipulated to go to the alien example. But who knows? There could always be something else.

Matthew Johnson [01:18:21]:
But I don't think so. But it also could be just chance. It could have been the one in the 500. I haven't really followed up with doing a bunch of these things, but that's the one time that I delved into it myself, and I was astonished by the results because I had read all this literature. Then I tried it the one time by myself and came up with. And she is the type of person who's not nearly as interested as me, but if there is something like this, it seems to run in her family. These stories that we've all heard of people that weird things happening at weird times, these weird synchronicities. So I'm thinking there's probably something.

Matthew Johnson [01:19:03]:
Probably 95%. Again, I'm not 100%, but I think there's probably something going on there that we just don't understand. I think it's just another level of nature that we're not sensitive to and the type of thing that we'll look back on. Kind of like if you had shown a cell phone to someone 500 years ago or even 100 years ago. The only way to explain it, that's just magic. It's a God calling device, bounces up into the heavens. And the signal comes down to, it's like it's just magic. And so that's the level that we're at probably with if this stuff is real, but it leads to then there's all kinds of stuff.

Matthew Johnson [01:19:52]:
We don't know what consciousness is. We don't know if matter is secondary to consciousness or matter is if consciousness comes from. But if some of these phenomena are real, that's another kind of layer of like, yeah, maybe there's this, in fact, one of the books, a summary of the literature. I think Dean Raiden was the author, like the conscious universe. He kind of summarizes a lot of the science in this area of sci phenomenon. And so this is all to be clear. You know, maybe there is something to the idea that if consciousness was primary somehow and matter of as a manifestation of that, that might be somewhat of one way where some of these phenomenon are plausible. I don't know.

Matthew Johnson [01:20:42]:
But yeah, those are some weird things. And again, I try to be open. I also want to be open to me being wrong about those things, but those happen to be ones where I think like, yeah, just weighing the evidence seems like something really weird is going on. I think just most of us are just. And especially in science. In fact, there's science on this, that the general public is more open on this stuff. And the more you get, like you get into humanities people a little more skeptical, then you get into areas like psychiatry, then you get really skeptical. But there's also reason as a psychologist, it's like, yeah, we have confirmation bias and all kinds of psychological ways where we can fool ourselves.

Matthew Johnson [01:21:22]:
So we've got to be aware of that too. And it's also true that if some of those phenomena are real, it doesn't mean that 99% of palm readers aren't full of shit. Both can be true. It doesn't mean that everyone claiming to be sensitive to these things is, I think, in terms of other things in this category, last one, I'll say just, and it could be political, but one of the real disappointing things. And now we see evidence of kind of things that went on behind the scene with the pandemic, how things just became so politicized and how just even the idea that, well, this virus could have escaped from this lab that was working on viruses, including plans to potentially engineer viruses to have this capability in the spirit of getting ahead of the curve and building ways to potentially defeat that, the whole idea that that was so absurd that it showed up in this area, that it was just scientifically like mums the word. And I really think there was a fear that, yeah, man, if you were funded, know, good luck, especially the allergy and disease, whichever one Anthony Fauci was in charge of. Don't hold your breath for another grant. I mean, it's reasonable for someone to have that fear.

Matthew Johnson [01:23:05]:
And so you just saw these kind of, this, I don't know, on all sides, no matter what kind of someone's politics are, it seems like there was this kind of shifting into camps where beliefs became like badges, where there really wasn't any naturalistic connection. It's like these are all things we could do science on. It's like all these questions that came up about masks and about the origin of the virus and all this stuff. And I think at least some of those things turned out on the side. I mean, I'm typically pretty liberal guy, but some of these things turned out to be the things that initially the more conservative folks were vouching for, but then just sort of like, see no evil, hear no evil, and just this inability to follow the science. So that's another kind of area where I think just in general, thankfully, now things have shifted. I mean, it's very mainstream to say, yeah, it's decent. I think there's a decent chance.

Matthew Johnson [01:24:14]:
We don't know, but people have different opinions. But it's at least there's government agencies that say, yeah, that's the most likely thing. It came from this lab. But there was a time where that was just like, you're going to be thrown off the island even to raise that kind of common sense, at least question. So for a while, we were in that period where that was just something that was beyond the pale because it was so politically charged. And it does make me fearful how we respond in other emergencies when we really have to figure things out and we have to look at data really quickly and how we're just kind of burning our credibility societally. So that kind of just general category of response to Covid was one where I think that part of this where I think people weren't. Yeah, it seemed like we weren't sensitive to aspects of reality because it was just sort of.

Matthew Johnson [01:25:25]:
It seemed like it was outside of mainstream consensus. And yeah, I think to our detriment.

Dan Riley [01:25:37]:
These reactions are bordering on heresy. When you have tribes and you have your sacred cows and your own individual tribes, I mean, this is why independent thinking is so unusual, because we're pack animals. And when you have your tribe and you have your herd, historically, if you spoke out against the assumed beliefs, the cherished truths of your tribe. You were risking your life, and in some way that hasn't changed that much that you now are. Maybe you won't be killed, but you.

Matthew Johnson [01:26:20]:
Could be fired, lose mortgage, lose your grants. It's scary. And I want more acceptance of, like, it's okay that people disagree with you. We actually need. Society should work by natural selection. The magic of natural selection is, like, you need variability. And that's going to mean some people are wrong, but we need. I mean, that's the way our court system of justice works.

Matthew Johnson [01:26:53]:
It's like, right or wrong. Give me the best argument. Get a lawyer defending this person, and they're not doing something immoral. The way we can get at the truth is saying, do your best job arguing this, and then do your best job arguing this, and then we'll let it settle out, and then we'll see. So we need, like, if there's someone that's arguing that, whatever it is, like I say about the vaccine, another aspect. I want to hear the best arguments for all. I want to see the data, and I want to see the best arguments that are to be had on any perspective. And we get into a weird territory.

Matthew Johnson [01:27:31]:
Even if you're convinced someone is wrong, it'd be like, okay, but let that person speak. Because then if people are afraid of being thrown off the island, then we're never going to have the ability to sort out what truth is. We have to be okay with people disagreeing with us and being cool with it. That's okay. Yeah. I mean, we could have fun with each other and be like. We could even tease each other about it. Doesn't mean they're necessarily, like, an evil person, because we might think they're a whack job, but whatever.

Matthew Johnson [01:28:08]:
It's like, that's kind of what an enlightened society is based on, the ability for whack jobs to say. It's like free speech, the ability for people to say something, and it's like, well, people don't have to listen to that. And then you can say something. You could say the person's wrong, but when you try to muzzle that person, we're going down a dangerous road.

Dan Riley [01:28:36]:
I don't know how any adult after a certain age, couldn't look back at their own life and what they used to say and used to believe and not think, at least in a few instances. I was that whack job.

Matthew Johnson [01:28:47]:
Yeah. Things that I definitely was.

Dan Riley [01:28:50]:
I definitely was, too. And I think that can help. But you mentioned the enlightenment earlier. I think these experiences often remind me what a miracle that was and how unusual the kind of scientific method approach you just talked about, which you find in our court system, how that is so in many ways against human nature. It's not easy for us to think that way and to live that way. And I talk about something to be grateful for, the fact that we live in this time where despite our nature, we have these institutions and these principles and these freedoms that many people fought very hard for before we were ever around.

Matthew Johnson [01:29:42]:
Right. And in fact, one of my things where I was a whack job earlier, and I think a lot of people go through this phase where it's just sort of like you want to throw at everything. I don't know. It's like humanity is nothing but bad. There are cancer on the world, and it's like, sort of the United States is nothing but this horrible cancer. And it's like, this is this very unbalanced perspective because it's like, yeah, there were some horrible sins, but there was also a system of government that really did it was fighting against all of human nature. And it really was like this absolutely brilliant idea of power corrupts, and we've got to set up this system that's going to be stable. And it was like the model for all of the democracies in the modern world.

Matthew Johnson [01:30:28]:
I mean, it really was revolutionary. And, yeah, that was as evil as it was limited to white men at the time, but there were at least mechanisms in there that was expanded over time. And then we fought a war and threw 300,000 plus federal soldiers into the meat grinder to rectify that. And so that it's sort of like, yeah, we can't just throw this thing out. This is a system of government that's adaptable and that had human rights at the very. Even though they were a complete contradiction, and even though some of those authors knew that, I mean, Jefferson knew it nonetheless, at least, even if they were hypocrites, some of, like, human rights were baked into the very beginning, and like the Bill of rights, where I guess the first Amendment near the very beginning. And so there's a lot that's good there, and that the whole idea that you have your day in court, you have the right to face those that are accusing you, the executive doesn't have unlimited power, that all of these things are just like, they're brilliant. And despite all the perverse contingencies that have crept up around that system, and as imperfect as it is, it's still really variations of this are the only way to go, and we have to be thankful that we have this.

Matthew Johnson [01:32:09]:
We were gifted this way to navigate life and form a society that doesn't fall prey to the absolute horrors that can crop up and do. Crop up.

Dan Riley [01:32:24]:
Yeah, I think that's a good place to stop. One quote I love, which is about what you were just mentioning, and I think about this idea a lot, that the line is, don't compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative, meaning that we don't live in a perfect world, but there are better systems than others. And the trick is, just like you said, figuring out what those are and slowly trying to improve them over. I think. So that's something that's always stuck with me. I know I got way more of your time than I asked for, Matthew. And it's getting late.

Matthew Johnson [01:33:04]:
It's been a fun conversation, though.

Dan Riley [01:33:06]:
It really has, man. And I just want to close by saying how much I have respect for you in your own independence and your own work. And I really hope this is just the start. And I know I speak for a lot of people and express and that admiration. So thank you for all the hard work and determination and independence.

Matthew Johnson [01:33:27]:
Very cool. Yeah. Thanks for saying that, Dan. You got it.

Dan Riley [01:33:31]:
Great to meet you.

Matthew Johnson [01:33:32]:
You too.