Author Archives: Nick Piron

Fact Told Artistically

Some of you Netflix junkies might have seen the documentary “DMT: The Spirit Molecule.”  It’s a stoner classic.  Some people don’t know, though, that the documentary is based on a book of same name.  I won’t go through the rigmarole of explaining why the book is better than the movie (I feel like this audience would generally tend to agree with that statement), but in some ways it really is.  Of course, the pleasure of the pretty lights, coupled with the narration by Joe Rogan, has its merits.  It’s clear that the documentary was styled as an entertainment piece, something to appeal to a certain target market.  However, the book is a narrative rhetoric that makes a case about the potentially spiritual properties of the psychedelic drug DMT.  What we see in the book is a midway point between logical-information dissolution and a creative art form emphasizing the imaginative boundaries of psychedelic possibility.  The documentary enters into the latter.  Through the artistic nature of DMT: The Spirit Molecule, the author is able to communicate a highly controversial critique of scientific ideology of the pharmaceutical industry.  The story poses an adventure, and becomes rhetorical.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule is a non-fiction book by Rick Strassman, MD, published in 2001.  Strassman is the world’s leading expert in dimethyltryptamine (DMT).  He was the first scientist to study DMT in humans after a propaganda movement in the late 60’s effectively outlawed psychedelic research.  Strassman’s studies, which occurred throughout 1990’s, began in 1991 after the DEA and the FDA approved research into the safety of DMT use in humans.  Although Strassman’s mandate was simply to develop a means for ensuring safety in human trials, he took notes of the user’s experience in over 1000 different DMT trials.  DMT: The Spirit Molecule narrates Strassman’s early-career interest in the DMT, his ardous battle to acquire governmental permission, and then color commentary on his experiences during the tests.   Strassman argues that DMT, which is naturally found in human beings, is created in the pineal gland, and is secreted during dreams, near-death experiences, birth, death and potentially other highly stressful times.  Strassman makes a scientific argument that DMT is the cause for all visionary religions, and that it has a much more prominent role in life than it is given credit.  His book spends much time recounting the barely-explainable experiences of the test subjects in attempt to help the reader understand how moving the substances can be.

What’s most interesting about this form of non-fiction is the way it begins in a linear, traditional-scientific narrative, which accounts for the pre-history and pharmacology of the drug, but then it becomes an abstract tale of human perception.  The crazy stories and insane visual images that Strassman describes give us the sense that what he’s telling is scientific commentary, not immersive memoir.  The reason the commentary seems so material is that it represented a general spectrum f recurring images

These included “a fantastic bird,” “a tree of life and knowledge,” and “a ballroom with crystal chandeliers.” There were “tunnels,” “stairways,” “ducts,” and “a spinning golden disc.” Others saw the “inner workings” of machines or bodies: “inside a computer’s boards,” “DNA double helices,” and “the pulsating diaphragm around my heart.” Even more impressive was the apprehension of human and “alien” figures that seemed to be aware of and interacting with the volunteers. Non-human entities might be recognizable: “spiders,” “mantises,” “reptiles,” and “something like a saguaro cactus.” (Kindle Locations 2665-2670)

Strassman goes onto recount individual stories that account for different types of categorical DMT experiences.  His story-telling ability allows the user to use their own imagination to recreate the imagery recounted in the subjects’ testimonies.  This is in stark comparison to the documentary version, which presents a visual version of the testimony for the audience instead of encouraging individual imagination.  Since DMT experiences are highly subjective, this subjective method of story-telling conveys a much more convincing argument than the documentary.  The writing-form allows the audience to fill the gap with their own perspective, and thus drawing much more credibility.

By introducing us to the story in the voice of a scientist, Strassman is able to gain the readers trust.  Is only through this trust that the wild stories he presents later are so evocative.  We don’t see the stories as glamourous recounts; we see them as actual occurrences.  This adds potency to the reading.  We know that the more a writer gains the trust of the reader, the more immersed in the story the writing will become.  As Strassman unfolds the beautiful narratives of psychedelic journeys, his exigence in un-fair drug policies become so much more meaningful.  We crave the experience, and detest the prohibition.  Had it been told in a more dramatized version (like the documentary) or in esoteric science article, we would not have the opportunity to approach the critique with such sincerity and vigor.

 

Strassman M.D., Rick (2000-12-01). DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences. Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.

The Best Part of “Believe” is the “Lie”

I took College-English senior year of high school and I never got credit for it, but I should have. Come another, different, senior year—four years later—and I’m still using some of the concepts I learned in Mrs. Marciano’s class. We did Kite-Runner that year, and I struggled through that; you can only imagine my abhorrence when we entered the “Non-fiction” part of the class that would feature another story of the Middle-East, a place that I had absolutely no cares about. I tried to get involved with Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson, but I just couldn’t. Why do I care about non-fiction? Why would I want to read this? The story is sweet, I guess: Mortenson finds a village of (Savages) when he gets lost attempting to climb K-2, the second-tallest mountain in the world. Mortenson documents how the villagers take him in, nourish him, and then how he spends years trying to build schools and other infrastructure in their archaic village. Really, it’s a sweet story, but my 17-year-old self didn’t want to hear it if there weren’t bad guys getting blown up or good guys getting the girl. I didn’t like it, okay?

My predisposition changed when, after we had finished the book, Mrs. Marciano introduced a criticism of Mortenson’s book called “Three Cups of Deceit,” written by John Krakauer who, we were told, was a very famous journalist. Krakauer’s beef started when he donated to Mortenson’s foundation, Central Asia Institute (CIA), but then later found out that the majority of the donations were used to fund Mortenson’s book promotion, not for the humanitarian ventures he claimed it was for. Krakauer mentioned this, but he also suggested that Mortenson wrote a non-fiction book in which he exaggerated the truth of his heroics and participation. Essentially, Krakauer claims that the basic events in Morten’s story that took place— Mortenson stumbling into the village, Korphe, and promising to build a school there— never actually occurred. Additionally, some of the most intense parts of Mortenson’s sequel Stones into Schools turned out to be fabricated or exaggerated as well. While Krakauer acknowledged that the intention of both books was to help the people targeted by the CIA, he claims that Mortenson did not appropriate allocate the funds received and that the story was a disgrace to the non-fiction genre.

At the time of the lesson, back in 2011, I felt ever-so vindicated. This annoying book was being attacked by someone important, not just my friends and I in the back of the classroom. But here, in a non-fiction class, some five years later, I have to wonder what side I stand on. Of course, if people are donating to a cause it is right to be argued that there money should go to where they are told its going, but, I mean, am I supposed to feel offended by Mortenson’s fabrications. I wonder if I am? I just wrote a non-fiction essay. It would have been a lot easier if I could have plowed through some walls of truthiness. My story would have been better, my writing would have been easier. But I didn’t. I stuck to the truth, mostly, because that’s the point of this genre… Mostly… I stuck to the truth mostly. What does ‘mostly’ mean? Well, you see, I forgot somethings, so I added some details where I couldn’t really remember what happened. I also had to smush some characters together, because I couldn’t fit everyone I ever knew into my three-thousand word essay. And, actually, I smushed some of the plot to make it brisk and interesting too. There’s the part where I skipped years and years and years between parts of my story. Oh! And I made up most of the conversations too… But they happened they just didn’t happen when I said they happened, or with who I said they happened with… if I remember right. But, mostly I stuck to the truth.

The truth is subjective. It’s different in everyone’s mind. It’s told by language— which is nothing short of constant metaphor. Sure, I bet someone out there can prove that Greg Mortenson never talked to This villager at that time, the same way I’m sure my girlfriend could tell you how most of my story is substantively and chronologically inaccurate, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. It’s true because I say it is, and you can only prove otherwise if you care so much that you act on the things in my story. In Mortenson’s story, people didn’t walk away with a beautiful tale in their hearts, they walked to their cell-phones and started donating. They did that before they did their research, and then got mad after they had made bad decisions. Mortenson’s story is a story, and we should treat it like one. We have to remember that non-fiction, the way we talk about it, is created by artists and not reporters. While artists sometimes have rhetorical moments, they are not necessarily sources of truth.

Of course, as a reader you’re allowed to avoid the un-truthers. That’s your prerogative. But remember that every story, no matter how true, is grounded in some kind of fiction.