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Andrew Weil
Andrew Weil
Profile of Andrew Weil Biography of Andrew Weil Interview with Andrew Weil Andrew Weil Photo Gallery

Andrew Weil Interview (page: 3 / 6)

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  Andrew Weil

It's also interesting that you're applying firm, solid science, without necessarily advocating any one conclusion

Andrew Weil: Exactly. That's been difficult for people to understand sometimes, especially in my early work, I did a lot of work in the late '60s and early '70s in the field of addictions and psychoactive drugs. One of the products of that work was my first book, The Natural Mind, which laid out a theory that humans are born with an innate need to alter their consciousness, and considered the psychological and social implications of that. This need can be satisfied in many ways, drugs being just one of them. That was indeed a very controversial book. Later...

I wrote a book called From Chocolate to Morphine, which was a review of all drugs that can affect the mind. And there was an organized attempt, this was in the early 1980s, to ban the book. And a prominent senator from Florida stood up on the floor of the Senate and waved the book around and said that this was a very dangerous book, because it was neutral, that it didn't tell people to not use substances. And that's exactly what I aimed for; I wanted to put out neutral information. And I think that when you're working in situations that are very polarized, often neither side understands the middle position. You know, the position of neither advocating nor discouraging, of just trying to carve out a balanced path.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

How do you live with that? It must be difficult.

Andrew Weil: It has been difficult. As I moved from writing about addiction, drugs and consciousness, to writing about health and medicine, I soon realized this was no less a controversial area to operate in. When I first became interested in alternative medicine in the early '70s and began writing about it, I saw the same kind of polarization I had seen around the drug issues. "You're for it or against it!" There were very few people who were trying to bring science to bear on these questions, and carve out a kind of middle position.

I have a very strong sense of my own -- of what's right -- and I'm able to operate fairly independent of all that kind of storm that goes on. And maybe I would relate that to my upbringing, and as I said, being an only child and having learned to be independent, and think for myself, and operate on my own. I would say, more than difficult, it was lonely for a long time. Because there were not other doctors out there who were advocating the kinds of things that I was doing. And I was often attacked from both sides. From the alternative side for being too mainstream, and from the mainstream side for being too alternative.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Andrew Weil Interview Photo
In many cases that means you're on to something.

Andrew Weil: Well, I stayed with that something, and it's been quite remarkable to watch the culture catch up with that.

Was Natural Mind another theory that came from observation?

Andrew Weil: It came from my own experience, which I've always drawn on. I spent a lot of time in South America, and I learned Spanish very well. One of the things I was delighted to discover was that in Spanish, and other Romance languages, the words for "experience" and "experiment" are the same word. In Spanish, "esperimentar" means both to experience and to experiment. There's a very interesting lesson there that we miss in English. That experience is a source of experimentation. One way to experiment is to look to your own experience. I have never been able to understand how people trying to investigate some phenomenon would rule out their own experience as one source of information. For example,

One of the pieces of information that I put in The Natural Mind was looking at the phenomenon of young children spinning to change their consciousness, whirring or spinning. You know, this appears at very young ages in all cultures. Every culture that I've ever been, kids spontaneously discover that by spinning they can drastically change their experience. Now, when I saw this it resonated with my own experience. I remember doing this as a child. So I'm interested in other people doing it. And then when I begin talking to experts on child behavior and they tell me they've never seen this or there's no literature on it, that's the kind of thing that really catches my attention. This looks like something that's pretty important. You know, what it is? Where does it come from? And why isn't it studied?

Andrew Weil Interview Photo
That was one of the pieces of evidence that I brought into The Natural Mind, arguing for an inborn drive to change consciousness.

In other words, we often do it ourselves, without resorting to drugs or substances.

Andrew Weil: Sure. We do it all the time. Drugs are just one way of satisfying that need. The advantage of drugs is that they provide these experiences immediately and there's no requirement for work. The disadvantage of drugs is that when they wear off you haven't learned anything. They don't teach you how to do it the next time. If you rely on the drug as the way of changing consciousness, that leads to dependence on drugs.

The other point I made in The Natural Mind was that the experiences people have come from within, they come from the nervous system. The drug, or whatever other external thing is done, is a trigger or releaser of that innate experience.

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This page last revised on Feb 27, 2013 11:30 EDT
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