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Regarding Michael Pollan’s New Book This Is Your Mind on Plants (harpers.org)
153 points by Petiver 78 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments


- In 1997, Michael Pollan wrote an essay, a section of which was originally "about making opium tea from his home-grown poppies and drinking the tea". He had some "fear that the Drug Enforcement Administration would raid his house and seize his property" if this were published, as he thought it could be viewed as “taunting the government.”

- The published version (available at https://www.wesjones.com/pollan1.htm as pointed out by https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27804124), under the title "Opium, Made Easy" in Harper’s Magazine, left out that section.

- Pollan's new (2021) book "This is Your Mind on Plants" restores that material. (Which, incidentally, involved finding a zip drive, and using LibreOffice to read the old Word document.)

- Recently, in a Tim Ferris podcast, Pollan's version of the events of 1997 (see https://tim.blog/2021/06/30/michael-pollan-this-is-your-mind... starting with the phrase "in the ’90s at the height of the drug war") kind of suggests that the section was left out because of the advice he got from the lawyers of Harper’s Magazine.

- (Though he does mention their lawyer saying "you must publish this article for the good of the Republic", and a contract the publisher made saying “If you get arrested, we will not only defend you, we will pay your wife a salary for the whole amount of time it takes for you to defend yourself and if necessary, serve your sentence. And if they take your house, we’ll buy you a comparable new one.”)

- In the posted submission here, John R. "Rick" MacArthur, the president and publisher of Harper's Magazine, points out they did their very best to get him to publish it, and it was Michael Pollan who "insisted on withdrawing the passages about making and drinking the tea".

- It concludes with "Pollan took the easy way out. I don’t blame him for having been afraid. He just now shouldn’t try to lay responsibility for his decision on anyone but himself."

That's the summary, but after having read both the posted article and the transcript of the podcast (Edit: and most of the 1997 article, which is a fine picture of paranoia), it's not clear to me what disagreement there is, if any. Both versions seem to agree almost entirely: both versions point out that the publisher heavily pushed Pollan to publish the article in its entirety, even offering him that amazing contract, and it was Pollan who chickened out.

The main disagreement seems to be about Pollan's speculation in the podcast:

> I mean, he’s a crusading publisher, like a crusading journalist. And I shouldn’t speak for him, but my guess is he was hoping something would happen. He was hoping I would get arrested. This would put Harper’s on the map. This would be a giant case. He would take it to the Supreme Court, and he would. He has bottomless pockets. I mean, and publishing for him is kind of an avocation. And he was always looking for the big story that Harper’s would get involved with. I mean, we saw that just last year with the Harper’s letter around free speech versus the efforts to curb free speech in the name of various woke values. He’s not afraid of controversy.

Here the publisher himself mentions "It was a bitter blow to me, because I have always put the freedom to publish in the forefront of my work, and I lost some respect for Pollan after that", so the entire thing seems a non-issue to me. All we've left of the disagreement is

• the (rich, fearless) publisher encouraging an author in every way possible to publish something controversial,

• the (not-so-rich, not-so-fearless) author thinking/speculating something along the lines of "it's easy for you, but I'm not so bold as to court controversy; it's [not] my cup of tea".

This summary is longer than the article

Well, counting now, the "summary" part of the comment is 329 words long (and there are another 312 words in the comment), while the posted article here is 900 words long (the original one was nearly 18000 words). But consider that the relevant part of the podcast transcript is 2000+ words long and the comment above is a summary of both, and more importantly the summary is written from a neutral point of view, in chronological order with some added context, and I think it has some value…

But yeah, after typing the comment (mostly for my own understanding) and realising how short the posted article was, I did consider whether to post the comment or not, but having accidentally ended with that perfect pun, it was hard to abandon it. :-)

i wish i read your summary of the summary before trying to save time reading the article by reading the summary

I'm just gobsmacked that the publisher saw himself as superior to Pollan given that neither of them was willing to risk federal charges and possible prison. There was nothing stopping MacArthur from making his own opium tea and drinking it.

Publishers generally shouldn't be in the business of poaching writers ideas, even if the writer eventually is too afraid too allow what they've written to be be published. It is not as if there was some urgent conspiracy that wasn't being exposed--the public was aware that opium existed--the tea drinking just supported the point of the essay. Your reading is rather uncharitable.

Nobody should poach ideas. But there's nothing wrong with asking, "Hey, if you are that firm on not wanting to write about it, do you mind if I do?" The publisher apparently didn't do that, but still saw fit to "lose respect".

I also don't see what's uncharitable about my reading. I see a rich man looking down on somebody for not being willing to take a risk he won't take himself. What do you claim I'm missing here?

This seems like a weird spat over an author deciding to omit an admission of illegal activity from his published works. It’s quite amazing that Harpers went so far as to commit to defending him and financially compensating him to extreme degrees (including the value of his house, if seized) in the unlikely event that he was prosecuted.

It’s strange that Pollan would turn around and try to shift blame rather than simply staying quiet. What does he think he stands to gain by throwing his former publisher, who went to great lengths to support him, under the bus? Why not simply let it stay in the past? Or admit the truth and give credit where credit is due?

I have to say, the more of Pollan’s work I read the less I enjoy his writings. He seems intent on riding the current waves of pro-drug and anti-enforcement sentiment to propel his own notoriety as an author. This also manifests as very one-sided portrayals of drug use that glorify and exaggerate the benefits while downplaying the negatives. In his book “How to Change Your Mind” I felt that every pro-psychedelic argument was presented with little questioning, while he only offered easy strawman counter arguments as skepticism, easily dismissed by the reader after reading a few more chapters of his pro-psychedelic writings.

“How to Change Your Mind” was very popular several years ago and continues to circulate in certain circles. I’ve read many anecdotes of people who sought psychedelics after reading his book with the expectation of life-changing experiences or psychedelic treatments for their conditions, only to be disappointed when they didn’t experience the miraculous experiences and transformations he describes.

I wish we had a more engaging alternative writer to reference about the realities of psychedelics and other drugs. Someone who was more interested in delivering realistic, albeit necessarily less boring, descriptions of the realities of this space. Some of the depictions of psychedelics as miracle cure-all medicines have gotten out of control and have become completely detached from the actual research, which puts a heavy emphasis on many (10-20 or more) therapy sessions surrounding the guided and monitored psychedelic administration. These books tend to downplay the realities and instead glorify the romantic notion of mushrooms as a forbidden, mystical cure for all ailments. The realities are much less clear-cut and definitely not always as positive as they sound in these modern psychedelic mysticism books.

>I wish we had a more engaging alternative writer to reference about the realities of psychedelics and other drugs. Someone who was more interested in delivering realistic, albeit necessarily less boring, descriptions of the realities of this space.

Was pollen really all that disingenuous in the reality of psych use/effectiveness at treating medical conditions?

Seems his claims were pretty in-line with the research overall. If anyone has a quote of pollen overstating benefits, feel free to post the quote as I, for one, would like to see it.

I'm surprised by this view of how to change your mind. Most of his personal experiences in the book mentioned there were no major changes. I also thought the book was level headed compared to the typical stuff you read about psychedelics. His history section was really neutral and all of the trips were done under supervision of a therapist. If you came away from that book expecting miracles I think you just hear what you want to hear.

If someone is really trying to do you a favor, and all you see is conspiracy theory, that is bog standard reaction to too much acid. It doesn't matter _how_ you do it, or how much, if you get to the stage where, as well as opening your mind, you close your mind to the good intentions of of others, you have done too much. All too common I'm afraid. Bad things happen in the world, someone offering to underwrite your losses because they respect you as a writer is not one of them.

I'm curious as to where you got the impression that conspiracy theorizing is a standard reaction to "too much acid". I've not seen anything of the sort despite a fair amount of exposure to the culture.

'I've read many anecdotes of people who sought psychedelics after reading his book with the expectation of life-changing experiences or psychedelic treatments for their conditions, only to be disappointed when they didn't experience the miraculous experiences and transformations he describes."

Now this sounds at least as interesting as anything Pollan himself writes about.

I'd be interested in hearing the details of what they tried and how (ie. their set and setting).

Why these substances work for some people and not others (even when administered in the exact same therapeutic settings and using the same protocols) is one of the biggest open questions in psychedelic research.

See "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman". Feynman was convinced by Dr. Timothy Leary, in the 1960s, to try LSD. Feynman then thought he'd solved some problem he was working on. But when he went to give a talk on the problem, he realized that he had not solved the problem. He had only hallucinated that he had solved the problem. After which Feynman didn't try LSD again. "I like to think. I don't want to break the machine", he wrote.

The "I don't want to break the machine" part from the book was mainly about alcohol, and only secondarily about LSD:

> I started to walk into the bar, and I suddenly thought to myself, "Wait a minute! It's the middle of the afternoon. There's nobody here. There's no social reason to drink. Why do you have such a terribly strong feeling that you have to have a drink?" ­­ and I got scared.

> I never drank ever again, since then. I suppose I really wasn't in any danger, because I found it very easy to stop. But that strong feeling that I didn't understand frightened me. You see, I get such fun out of thinking that I don't want to destroy this most pleasant machine that makes life such a big kick. It's the same reason that, later on, I was reluctant to try experiments with LSD in spite of my curiosity about hallucinations.

Also, according to this passage, Feynman's experiments with LSD/hallucinations came after (and despite) this decision, and they are described extensively in the book. I don't remember a mention of Timothy Leary in the book (it mentions John Lilly; maybe you've mixed up the two), and I also don't remember the part about him giving a talk about a problem he thought he had solved.

I love that book, and find Feynman eloquent, likeable, and funny. He was also incredibly smart and highly accomplished.. in his own field.

But Feynman, like many other intelligent, famous people, had a bad habit of opining on and dismissing out of hand subjects he knew little about. He did this with philosophy and with psychedelics.

At least he tried LSD, but he was clearly not an authority on LSD, and his experience with it was minimal. Not to mention that back in the 60's little was known about how best to use it (there was some research in to this, but most people were not aware of the most effective methods.. and even now, while we know better we might not have the optimal method figured out).

While Feynman might not have solved his scientific problem on that particular session that doesn't mean that it's useless in helping problem solving. In fact, there has been research that indicated that it helped with both creativity and problem solving: [1][2] and there's still ongoing research in to this subject.[3][4]

As we all know today, the benefits of psychedelics can extend far beyond helping with creativity and problem solving, however.. they can help with various personal and mental issues, for example, increase empathy and openness, help with end-of-life anxiety, help with relationships, etc... apparently Feynman was either completely ignorant of this potential or chose to ignore it while focusing only on the narrow subject of scientific problem solving and his fear.. which is understandable, but not really a fair assessment of the potential of psychedelics.

Which isn't to say that Feynman should have taken more LSD (that's a personal choice for everyone, and I respect his decision).. but just because Feynman didn't doesn't mean no one should.

[1] - https://www.amazon.com/LSD-Spirituality-Creative-Process-Gro...

[2] - https://maps.org/news/media/4814-jim-fadiman-on-psychedelics...

[3] - https://sciencetrends.com/does-microdosing-lsd-stimulate-cre...

[4] - https://maps.org/news/multimedia-library/3171-can-psychedeli...

To say Feynmam knew "nothing about" a drug he actually personally experienced is a hard sell.

"Feynman was either completely ignorant of his potential or chose to ignore it". [citation needed]

IMHO he did rather well i his limited time on the planet.

It's interesting that you quote me as saying that Feynman knew "nothing about" LSD, when I actually said he knew "little about" it.

Not the same.

Having one trip does not make you an expert. It makes you a novice with still a lot to learn. Feynman, as smart as he was, could not become an authority on LSD after a single trip.

The comment said "this potential" (referring to a use case of LSD), not his potential.

"I like to think. I don't want to break the machine"

The 60s had some quite negative urban legends regarding LSD's effect on the brain:


I think it is useful to come up with incorrect theories and then and thus understand what is wrong with them. Then one can come up with a better one perhaps.

For Feynman it must have felt like a dangerous experiment since it led him to come up with incorrect conclusions. But I tend to think I learn most from my incorrect thinking (assuming I realize it is incorrect)

It’s almost as if taking cannabis (and a few other things) off schedule 1 would allow for publicly funded research into the dangers and benefits of these drugs so that we all could be better informed.

People do study pyschadelics. A lot. Cool stuff about ketamine is coming out o HN, turns out the trick is not to take 5 grammes a day. ;)

I have been involved in publicly funded recreational drug research, it does happen. Trouble is drugs takers don't like the results, which unfortunately are not entirely positive. e.g. huge numbers of people in mental institutions in the Uk had their episode triggered by recreational drugs, especially weed, which we all consider a soft drug. Studies happen, the information is there but people don't like it because it does not help their arguments. Despite many studies it still comes down to the question of weather an individual has the right to fuck themselves up or not. There is still no study that shows smoking is good for you.


Dont hold your breath.

Per NIH/NAS [1]:

> Despite these changes in state policy and the increasing prevalence of cannabis use and its implications for population health, the federal government has not legalized cannabis and continues to enforce restrictive policies and regulations on research into the health harms or benefits of cannabis products that are available to consumers in a majority of states. As a result, research on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids has been limited in the United States, leaving patients, health care professionals, and policy makers without the evidence they need to make sound decisions regarding the use of cannabis and cannabinoids. This lack of evidence-based information on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids poses a public health risk.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425757/

Clearly something is terribly wrong if law or policy dictates scientists can not study a specific subject, based on political reasons

I live in Europe. There is plenty of work done on health risks of canabis. Smoking is strongly associated with lung cancer, yes weed too. That should not be surprising. If you think otherwise you are reading the wrong Internet. Smoking is also strongly associated with mental disorders. There is a lot of evidence. Huge numbers. If you smoke weed you _must_ have friends that's have had a bad one on weed at some point, even if you never have yourself, which I doubt, if you are over 18 and live in the US I would be very surprised to hear you have no anacdotal evidence of mental health effects. If you really don't go talk to a psychiatrist and ask them what they do all day. Weed is part of the culture we all know it's ups and downs. I am in favour of legalization but you have to be honest to discuss it. If _you_ have a lack of evidence about the effects of weed read more, ask your friends, about 70% of my friends smoke weed regularly. Those that do don't have regular issues with it, naturally, but that is a long way from saying there is no evidence of health effects or the lack of evidence itself _is_ the health risk. That's crazy talk. Depression and demotivation is normal, and documented. Of course, if you smoke, you don't need a doctor to tell you that. Smoking weed is so common the numbers are very good.

Large numbers make good averages.

Psych health care workers deal with people with drug problems on a daily basis, that's pretty much all they do. Psychs know _which_ drug each patient has issues with. A huge percentage of psychiatric work is related to drugs and alcohol. The percentage that is weed is well known.

If you deny that, no one will ever take anything you say seriously because everyone one else is basing health care policy on these numbers.

Your trouble is probably that you are looking for a study that says that weed is good for mental health, and there isn't one.

It's fun, you get high, but it does have negative health consequences. That is essentially it, no one has yet found a control group that got better exam results from smoking bifters in the park.

The difference between high thc weed and weed as gaia intended exacerbates the issue, modified indoor weed does most of the damage. Natural weed has anti-psychotics and skunk messed up the balance.

You are making a lot of unsubstantiated statements that rely on personal anecdotes (a lot of my friends type stuff), lumping cannabis with other drugs, and in a tone that implies a whole lot of serious bias. I am not saying I don’t believe you, but you aren’t giving me a lot of reasons to believe you.

I don’t know what the situation is in the UK. In the US cannabis is considered schedule 1, meaning it’s harmful and has no medical uses. Cocaine is schedule 2 and can be administered to a patient at a hospital if appropriate. I am not saying that cannabis is harmless. I am saying I don’t know and I would like my tax dollars to be spent to find out what it can and cannot do. Currently researchers in the US have a very hard time getting funding for cannabis research (that is research that involves cannabis, not surveys of its users, etc.). Universities won’t touch it, and getting actual cannabis to experiment on is nearly impossible because again the federal government considers it to have no medical uses based on very little prior research that is now widely thought to be outdated.

I don’t really get your point. Is it that cannabis == bad so let’s not study it? Or cannabis has been studied enough so let’s not take it off schedule 1? You also called it a psychedelic which it isn’t, so I am confused by that.

You need mental help. Skunk definitely has less thc. High thc weed smells like cat piss, not skunk.

He does seem to be sliding down hill. A decade ago I picked up his book The Botany of Desire not knowing what kind of writer he was or his fame. It was a very interesting read, especially the part about apples and the history of their variety. It led me to try other, more delicious varieties than I had known. It also included a more surprising section on cannabis. He recounts a time when he grew it in his garden (which tells you that his interests aren't only agrarian or abstract). The cannabis growing account ends with a rather humorous story about him selling firewood to a person who shows up in his driveway and turns out to be a sheriff in his day job. A frantic attempt to dispose of the aforementioned illegal controlled substance ensues so that the sheriff doesn't finds out, and I won't ruin the ending.

Fastforward to the other articles and books mentioned here, and I'm starting to wonder if this earliest episode led him to try more daring and far riskier exploits. Has writing about drug cultivation and his conflicts with authorities large and small become his shtick?

I haven’t read his more recent writings, but The Botany of Desire is a fascinating book. It will show you how interesting the history of plants and their relationship with culture can be. I read it many years ago, but I still find myself going “did you know...” to people before recounting something I learned there.

I’ve enjoyed and gotten a lot out of every book of his I’ve read.

Watch Hamilton Morris’s interview with Pollan. I think people are starting to get tired of his schtick, so he’s no longer getting the benefit of the doubt.

Can you elaborate on this? I've watched that interview and didn't get the sense that anyone was "tired" of Pollan. Hamilton is an expert and maybe was able to bring the conversation away from some Pollan's talking points, but I would say the drug community is overall mostly grateful for the discourse he's fostering.

I was talking about the part where Hamilton is calling out Michael Pollan for approaching the subject from a naive position: https://youtu.be/XvMArmwI10Q?t=120

> I’ve read many anecdotes of people who sought psychedelics after reading his book with the expectation of life-changing experiences or psychedelic treatments for their conditions, only to be disappointed when they didn’t experience the miraculous experiences and transformations he describes.

I'm in this camp (though I've never read Pollan).

Living up to your name, I see.

Wholeheartedly agree. People looking to cure their depression are going to quite surprised if they actually find themselves in the worst imaginable hell possible.

It's so bewildering how substances like psychadelics and opiods can simultaneous be the thing producing the most heavenly euphoria or the most terrifying hell; by a roll of the dice too in psychadelic's case. The universe is funny.

I saw Michael Pollan speak many years ago, ~2005?, at the LA public library, about _The Omnivore’s Dilemma_. He talked about nostalgia for family farms; I grew up in Iowa on a family farm, and in 2005 I knew that rural America had been depopulated and small family farms were few and far between. I asked him how that “density” could be restored, to recreate what he wanted. He had nothing to say, nor had much to say about the forces that had led to the current state of agriculture.

It was an extremely unsatisfying answer as part of an unsatisfying talk. He struck me as an unserious person.

I've been saying, to anyone who will listen, that:

Pay kids to move to, or simply stay, in Kansas.

After the kids get some relevant degrees, give them zero interest loans, new tractors, whatever. I really don't care what it costs.

Simply redirect all those agricultural subsidies from corporations to families.

> Pay kids to move to, or simply stay, in Kansas. [...] give them zero interest loans, new tractors, whatever.

Direct incentives like this usually get gamed or don't work. I prefer the Georgist approach, working with, not against market forces. Make all land speculation fully unprofitable by taxation, and make all returns from labor and capital (i.e. wages, interest, and non-rent profit) free from taxation or rent. Use the difference to fund a citizen's dividend.

> Simply redirect all those agricultural subsidies from corporations to families.

Absolutely, all direct subsidies must go, but let's not replace them with other subsidies. A Georgist system would replace all rentier subsidies with a labor and capital friendly free market.

But for all these kids, what do they have to give up?

Cities/suburbs come with appealing perks: entertainment, dining, large dating pools, etc.

What percentage of young people could we really convince to give up those things and how much would it cost us?

I don't doubt that some young people badly want a rural/agricultural lifestyle. I'm skeptical that we could convert more of them with just money.

Or an organization dedicated to offering training and subsidized equipment rental. Something similar exists in NZ

Our foreign policy gave money to foreign recipients to be spent on our own gear and services. I'm find with doing that domestically.

WFH allows some of these kids to stay in Kansas.

that's also my impression after reading his book on psychedelics. interesting and eloquent but also shallow and generic.

This is why I'm afraid to do drugs. I'm worried that it will do something to my brain so that I'm impressed by shallow experiences.

I wish I was more impressed by all the shallow, mundane experiences in my day to day life

You really can be, and I think it's worthwhile, and it does not require drugs.

It does require time, however. Time to practice beginner meditation, and time to sit and reflect on everyday objects.

But the payoff is simply INCREDIBLE. That feeling of "time is going by faster and faster" is replaced with almost the opposite, of remembering an event and being surprised how recent it was compared to how distant it feels.

I actually do meditate and agree :)

But I've been pretty bad about the practice lately and need to commit more. It has helped me a lot, but there are a lot of benefits/mind states I haven't even scratched the surface of

The best practice I've found to date is like this:

First, I learned how to do breath-attention meditation, where I put my attention on my breathing.

Then, I committed to doing this meditation immediately upon being annoyed by something or waiting for something.

It's all internal, meaning I don't sit down in Lotus or close my eyes or change anything about my outward appearance.

At the time, I would have semi-pointless meetings at work, which I didn't have to do much participating in, so I would do it then.

Even for 5-10 seconds or 30 seconds, it has a huge payoff, because it taught me the habit and process of entering a meditative state.

I've since had this idea reinforced by a teacher, who said that in the beginning you should practice entering meditation more than staying in meditation or exiting meditation, because you cannot do one without the other.

I think there is a difference between appreciating the mundane experiences in life and thinking you've had a religious experience because you've briefly poisoned yourself. Imo they are opposites, actually.

> because you've briefly poisoned yourself

You've clearly made up your mind that psychadelics are not for you, and that's totally fine! But this notion of being condescending towards something you've clearly never experienced (and I assume know very little about) just makes you come across as myopic - not the other way around.

FWIW I've never tried psychadelics so I'm not particularly defensive here. Just pointing out the hypocrisy (or at least that's how I interpreted it) of your position.

I've done a few different drugs from alcohol to weed to LSD and the real benefit to the truly mind altering drugs is that they kinda throw a randomness into your mind and you make connections you normally wouldn't that might be useless 95 percent of the time, but by the end of the experience that other 5 percent had helped you too understand something more clearly or from a different perspective. Something like DMT will only take 15 minutes to trip with but it's more risky vs. shrooms which is more prolonged but less intense. Used for different things, each is.

For drugs like weed or alcohol (alcohol being the more dangerous of the two, so you have to be careful), the benefits are much like any medical prescription and vary for each person. I use it for sleep and to focus because it turns off the random stray thoughts when I need that and I'm ADHD and autistic, so it also keeps me off disability and harsh ADHD drugs.

I understand your pov very well because at one point in my life I thought much as you, so don't take insult, I'm just trying to tell you another pov. I'm not saying drugs are great for everyone, or everyone is mature enough to handle them, etc., but for those like me who treat them like tools or a medication that deserves respect and careful consideration, they're invaluable. If they weren't illegal and sketchy to source, it would be easier to teach others, who are going to do it anyways, the safe methods and doses for different drugs.

Anyways, nothing you probably haven't heard, so I won't bore you anymore!

From one guy who writes about drugs supposedly being shallow* to assuming that drugs make people shallow is quite a leap of logic.

* I mean, two people on HN called him shallow. Must be true, right?

Same reason I’m afraid to try meditation.

lol. your everyday experiences are the ones that are shallow

He did a netflix documentary on food that, frankly, left me with the impression that he's a pseudo-intellectual.

He went off on the harms of GMO and the wonders of whole foods. He used a lot of flowery language which ultimately was him saying "See, science is garbage, buy my new age theory of life!".

"[Pollen's] recent remarks on a radio podcast during which he laughingly speculates about my motives were simply not true: 'My guess is he was hoping something would happen. He was hoping I would get arrested. This would put Harper’s on the map. This would be a giant case; he would take it in front of the Supreme Court, and he would. You know he has bottomless pockets.'"

It seems like this podcast comment might have sufficiently motivated the editor (McArthur) to write this article. Not that this is a bad thing. We all have a sense what it's like to want to restore truth to an unjust public comment.

Aside: We'll never quite know pollen's motive for censorshing his book's personal psychedelic use content.. could be as simple as arguably unfounded paranoia.

I believe that this is Pollan’s article from 1997, related to the main post here:


Very interesting, thanks!

Interesting. I listened to this on the Tim Ferris podcast and, foolishly in retrospect, just took it at face value. I generally enjoy Pollan and I suppose I assume he has integrity, or is trustworthy in his writing and podcasting.

Regardless, this seems to potentially fall into the category of misremembering or simply having a different frame of reference at the time. Diverging points of view are common enough, especially within this time frame.

I definitely came away from the podcast with no bad feelings about anyone. While it would have been nice if Pollan didn’t incite this kind of response through his recollection, it seems harmless enough.

It is important though to be as objective as possible with things like this since no one could possibly fact check it.

One of the reasons I stopped listening to Ferris’s podcast is that he’s a totally uncritical interviewer. His guests are allowed to blatantly self promote

Not to mention the blatantly self indulging attitude as well. Of course, he’s talking to people who are at the least millionaires if not more, so that’s expected, but some episodes just reek of tone-deaf “I’m smart and rich and have no idea how insensitive my hobbies and activities might sound to a Normal person” sense.

But he does talk to a lot of smart people, and there’s often much interesting to learn about, so I put up with their egos and extract the information by listening.

Ferris is kind of a grifter. If he were to probe deeply, then others might do the same to him.

I try to remind myself that Ferris started out in marketing (as I recall) and it shows - he’s an aggressive self promoter. Even so, some of his guests are excellent and I enjoy his themes and topics.

I agree, but I still enjoy some of his guests. His podcast can serve as a good stepping stone to other great people.

Not to invoke Godwin’s rule, but this scenario seems a bit too far off from acceptable for “that’s now how I remember things going down” to just let it slide, blaming someone else with a clearly different storyline in a fundamental sense seems a lot more deliberate on the persons part. Just because you didn’t care enough about he involved subjects to walk away from a podcast doesn’t mean the truth can just be twisted any way?

Also is it possible to walk away from a podcast offended at all? The explosion of this medium and the way everyone seems to consume it suggests you can’t afford to emotionally involve with what you’re listening to anymore.

It's not clear there's any "blaming someone else with a clearly different storyline" here. The storylines seem to agree almost down to the lowest detail, even to the ascription of "blame": both accounts agree that the author was afraid, the publisher pushed him to publish, but the author was so paranoid that even the publisher's (amazing) attempts to calm him only spooked him further. Even from reading only Pollan's account, the podcast interviewer reached the impression of "In reading that chapter, that section, coming back to Rick, I kind of fell in love with Rick MacArthur, honestly".

The only disagreement is over Pollan's speculation in this podcast about why the publisher supported him to such an extraordinary extent, and although MacArthur felt those words to be "nasty jibes" (understandable, if one focuses on the "He was hoping I would get arrested" part rather than the "He’s not afraid of controversy" part), such clearly-marked speculation ("And I shouldn’t speak for him, but my guess is…") seems not quite a case of the truth being twisted.

I’m generally pretty selective of what I listen to, and I try to by critical of what I hear, so the idea of being bothered by what I hear isn’t too crazy. There are definitely episodes/casts/whatever where I hear things and come away disappointed.

You’re probably right though; if what Pollan said elicited a response, he probably shouldn’t have said it. I’m wondering why he did, now. It wasn’t a very entertaining account by any means.

What's missing from the article and the comments is the fact that Michael Pollan mentions that a friend of his, Jim Hogshire, had recently been put in jail after a raid by a SWAT team for growing poppies and having a book related to opium in the house. This fueled his paranoia for having the same thing happen to him. Seems a fairly reasonable reaction.

I think I listened to the podcast in question biking last week.


For what it's worth, I came away with a completely positive view of Harper's, though maybe I didn't pick up on every word of it.

Perhaps too off topic, but given how easy it is get get opiates from poppy 'milk' - as shown from the original unpublished article - I've wondered why we don't see more of it from fairly tame occasional use like Pollan to addicts going around scoring and milking poppy bulbs in the neighborhood.

Poppies seem to grow really easily in a lot of places. You don't have to be a fancy chemist to just smoke or shoot the gunk.

Here's a typical Vice story on this, big headline, fairly unsatisfying reality lol.


In Pollan’s latest book, and in the original Harper’s article, he references the book Opium for the Masses by Jim Hogshire. After listening to the book, I went to the google machine and found that the book is readily available on Amazon, and even on Kindle!

Opium for the Masses: Harvesting... https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004URM3DG?ref=ppx_pop_mob_ap_shar...

I never knew about Michael Pollan and his works. But now I'm tempted to buy the book. Controversy is good for readership


Just to give a counter example, I know of Michael Pollan from his being a regular guest on NPR’s Fresh Air where he discusses the books that he has written, in a career which dates back to the 1990s. His books frequently cover aspects of the hacker ethos.

My psychiatrist father was just talking to me about this book yesterday, who definitely does not listen to Joe Rogan. Don't give Joe Rogan so much credit.

Please stop summarizing articles you didn't write. It isn't helpful or convenient. Just post the link you found interesting with a comment about why you found it interesting.

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