#17 From dirt path to paved path
I’ve been having some curious thoughts lately. They relate to the human tendency to order nature and the world at large. I’m currently in Oslo. I walk along the sidewalks in the perfectly gridded city center. Square block after block of buildings, parked cars, some rows of trees. There is nothing accidental in these scenes of urban planning perfection. Everything is thought out, designed, executed, and then used by future people. When one walks in nature, through some forest, meadow, or field, one decides where to go and then walks in a straight line toward their destination. One cannot do this in a city. To go from one end of the city to another I must zig zag through city blocks, stop at traffic lights, maneuver around and through parked cars, mailboxes, statues, and so on. There is of course the “quickest” route, but it is not as quick compared to an edifice-less area of land.
Today I walked from my flat in Torshov to a restaurant-bar where good friends give me free coffee while I read my research texts. I was walking in standard auto-pilot mode when it dawned on me again that my path to the restaurant was predetermined by the sidewalks, that is to say, that my experience of walking to this restaurant was in a way limited to the confines of consensus-based walking paths. Sidewalks should exist, yes, so pedestrians are safe from the multitude of moving vehicles at people’s disposal these days. (If there is a God, please save us from app-activated scooters, now!) However, as I turned several sidewalk corners I noticed that I would walk around a patch of grass, a garden, whatever; I stayed on the predetermined path set forth for me. I thought: acknowledging the fact that I cannot walk through buildings, wouldn’t it be interesting to take the most direct route to my destination, therefore, entailing the stepping into and over garden beds, people’s private property, through parks, etc. Why must I stick to this sidewalk? It is unnatural, isn’t it? to follow a predetermined walking path in a human-made concrete jungle, at least compared to moving about freely in open nature. What idiot architect designs a (small) yard to be placed in front of an urban dwelling, essentially extending the amount of time it takes me to walk to my destination. It is ridiculous, it is against nature, even though the architect would argue that s/he is doing their part to inject a bit of nature into the urban environment. No need for these small gardens. It is for this reason we have parks, especially for all those people that live on the second floor or above that do not get to enjoy a front yard, in a city.
The urban park is an exemplar of my interest about this topic. It is a patch of nature, sometimes quite large, plopped right in the middle of surrounding blocks of brick and glass. The park and its environs is a blending of worlds, a compromise perhaps, to placate people like me who want to get to their destinations more quickly. Parks have other utilities, but for our purposes a park speeds up one’s walk home. If I need to get to the other side of the park, I do not use the sidewalks to walk around the park; I and many other people walk through the park because it is efficient and gets me where I want to go. We take for granted that most of these park paths are paved. But were they always paved? I think not. If you’re nearing the corner of a big park and want to get to the park’s perpendicular side, I doubt you or anyone else will be a good pedestrian and walk along the sidewalk around the corner of the park. You will likely take a shortcut through the grass. Over time, many people taking shortcuts, trotting over the grass, will kill the grass beneath their soles. There will be nothing left except exposed, compacted dirt. The messiness and disorderliness of exposed dirt paths (especially when it rains) with no fine line between pavement and grass gives city planners the idea to pave the dirt path, again, to create order from chaotic nature.
As I walked along the now paved park path, I thought about Heidegger’s book, Pathmarks. I haven’t read it yet, and I have no idea whether he speaks of actual paths. (Note: I just searched for the term path in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on Heidegger. There is mention of the terms path and paths in his book, Being and Time. Haven’t read that one yet either in full, so I look forward to adding an addendum to this post after I read those books.) I wondered how many people would have needed to violate the rules of good pedestrianism to effectuate the paving over the dirt path shortcut, in effect, condoning the understandable shortcut through the park. The unpaved path is seen as counter to the rules, whereas the paved path signifies an acquiescence, likely to the dismay of some. The fact that it’s paved means city or county officials recognize the desire of many people to cut through parks and other terrains.
Two thoughts about psychedelic trailblazing.
First, in a literal sense, psychedelics modify neuronal networks, allowing parts of the brain that normally do not speak to each other to indeed speak during the altered experience, and, there are long-term and thought to be positive effects from even a single dose of psilocybin (see Carhart-Harris and his team’s research on this). This suggests that taking psychedelics creates new paths, neuronally, but also, cognitively. People will have to think about their experiences, how to categorize them, how to make sense of them, thus, ensuring the path stays continually trotted. These paths and likely subsequent new paths—however you want to conceptualize the term path—get wider and permanent the more people take psychedelics.
Second, I think about the people who have taken and who currently take psychedelics in light of the unfavorable and highly stigmatized climate in which we are currently. The pioneers of all major psychedelics took them knowingly breaking the law. The verdict is still out whether they were on the right side of history, but current research in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, for example, is in favor of those past and present pioneers.
Regarding psychedelics, the path is still unpaved. Psychedelic users, like people who step off the sidewalk to take a shortcut through the park in a natural, not-fighting-against-nature way, go against the norm. One thing I haven’t brought up yet, obviously, because it just came to me now, is this: if people take a shortcut by way of psychedelics, what is it a shortcut to? Is the shortcut to spiritual or personal development, evolution of one’s consciousness, acquired knowledge by means of otherworldly perceiving and being, etc.? Considering many psychotropics are plant-based, this would suggest that we can and should consume them in a safe and responsible manner (obviously, not lethal ones).
So, by taking the path/shortcut, those means of moving that goes against sanctioned predetermined paths such as sidewalks, in addition to not fighting against nature, leaves us with the next thing to consider: intention. My intention for cutting through the park is to save time and thus speed up my journey home, especially when it’s cold or rainy. As well, it just makes sense to take the path of least resistance. I leave you with this thought about intention. We all have different intentions for taking psychedelics and mine will be different from yours. As long as you get what you want from your experiences or are given what is needed whether you wanted it or not, remember to occasionally veer off predetermined paths in order to make your own.
This post was supposed to end at the end of the previous paragraph; however, I had another thought as I reread it. If taking the shortcut eventually kills the grass that is stomped, then, what are we stomping and eventually killing by taking psychedelics? Culture, unsustainable ways of being, our sanity? What are there repercussions from taking any kind of shortcut? Again, I leave you with further unanswered questions. Enjoy the mental mastication.
Heidegger, M. (2001/1927). Being and Time. (J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson, Trans.). Great Britain: Blackwell.
Heidegger, M. (1998/1967). Pathmarks. (W. McNeill, Ed.). Cambridge University Press.