But who really knows what’s going on?
In 1967, Richard Alpert, one of the early investigators of LSD, carted his psychedelic pills halfway around the world hoping to find someone who better understood their properties. In India, he met Neem Karoli Baba, a Hindu guru and mystic intrigued by the hallucinatory drugs. “Do you have any?” the yogi asked of the pills, and indeed, Alpert did. But after handing over 900 micrograms of the world’s purest LSD, he watched in astonishment as the mystic swallowed the massive dose and simply laughed in Alpert’s face.
“So either he’s tripping all the time,” Fox says, while relating the story to his students, “or his body was able to render the drugs inert.”
As it turns out, Harry Houdini was also a yogi, and advanced yogis claim to slow their heart rate down to a near-stop, Fox explains. The philosophy professor is giving a lesson on meditation, on how “breathing can get you pretty high,” and it’s here that he explores breathing’s unique property: something that is both voluntary and not; a bridge between the things we have control over and the things we don’t.
Perhaps then, it is not unlike the human brain.
When Fox reflects on the first truly mind-blowing thing he ever read, he cites The Illuminatus! Trilogy, a 1975 science fiction series with a radical premise: That every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard is correct. In some ways, the book, with its wild notion that the only limits we have are the ones we impose on ourselves, would dictate the rest of his career.
“I’m an open-minded skeptic,” Fox says. “I’m not a big believer in belief.”
It all goes back to the arrogance of ignorance Fox so disdains. “There’s a plague of stupidity,” he laments. “Nobody is thinking for themselves anymore. Everything has become too easy.”
In defiance, he and his students turn to texts like the Daodejing, forcing them to wrestle with seemingly contradictory concepts:
A Way that can be followed is not a constant Way.
A name that can be named is not a constant name.
The absence of designation initiates the world as a whole;
The presence of designation engenders the ten thousand things.
“These texts are so obscure, they force students to think for themselves,” Fox says. “To think philosophically is to make arguments. The best questions are the ones that lead to more questions, not the ones with answers.”