Hi! I’m Max, and this is Superb Owl, an exploration of the gaps between science and spirituality.
Nearly a decade ago, I had a wild LSD trip and entered into a state I’d now call “spiritual crisis”. I struggled to understand what exactly had happened, even whether it was beneficial or pathological. It turned out to be a potent mixture of the two.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find much support at the time. I was afraid I’d be put on anti-psychotics if I went the typical route; this would have been a relief but would have likely subverted the benefits. So instead I read everything I could get my hands on.
The science-oriented texts I found were interesting but unhelpful; the spiritual resources I found were sometimes helpful but generally untrustworthy. Eventually I came across a handful of spiritually-oriented academics—like William James, Carl Jung, Robert Moore, Tanya Luhrmann, Robert Thurman, and Michael Pollan—and started to get a better handle on what was happening in my head.
After a few years of floundering I finally got my symptoms under control, but I kept devouring information. I took up a serious meditation practice and began doing dreamwork. I grew and learned more than I could have imagined.
My primary goal with this blog is to process and share that experience—an experience that’s still unfolding today. I want to help science-oriented people dip their toes into spirituality, and I want to help the spiritually-inclined stay grounded in reality. Mainly I want to be the resource I needed 10 years ago.
Why the name, you ask? I don’t have a good answer. I like owls.
Max Goodbird is a pseudonym (get it??). Given the hyperpersonal nature of some posts (as well as the admissions of illegal drug use!) it’s important to me to stay anonymous. This also makes it easier for me to be completely open—I don’t need to worry about how my family or employees or childhood friends would react to what I’m writing.
That said, here’s a vague sense of who I am:
I’m a White guy in my mid-thirties. I live near Boston. I grow tomatoes.
I’m single and childless. I’m not sure if I want change that. I’m mostly cis, heteroflexible, and poly-curious.
I have multiple STEM degrees, and have taken some graduate-level physics. I’ve worked as a software engineer at a FAANG company and cofounded a failed startup. I currently serve as the VP of Engineering for a tech company with dozens of employees.
I spend most of my non-work time reading, writing, meditating, playing music, and talking to people. When I’m out of juice I watch TV or scroll.
I drink 2-3 nights a week. I smoke cannabis about once a week. I use psychedelic-ish drugs like LSD, mushrooms, ketamine, nitrous, and MDMA a few times a year. I’ve never tried DMT.
I had a cocaine habit in my early twenties. It was sometimes fun but mostly a giant waste. I don’t recommend it. I also drank and smoked pot daily for many years, though not to excess. Again, mostly a waste, a mindless habit. My spiritual crisis (mentioned above) pulled me out of it.
I was raised Catholic. It wasn’t for me. I tend to take issue with anyone who claims spiritual or moral authority.
I still carry a lot of Christian programming. Concepts like God and hell and salvation and sin rattle around in my head. They often butt up against the newer concepts of suffering and liberation and no-self that I’ve absorbed from Eastern religions. Sometimes the conflict leads to new ideas; other times it just creates cognitive dissonance.
I try to meditate for 30-60 minutes per day, but I don’t stress about missing a day or two. I’ve been doing this for about eight years. Occasionally I do longer (e.g. full-day) sessions or go on retreats. I don’t follow any particular tradition.
After a couple years of practice, I learned how to regularly access a large, comfortable, equanimous space. Sometimes I find myself in more exotic or blissful mindstates. I don’t feel comfortable making claims as to how these experiences map onto particular ontologies like the jhānas, though I’ve speculated about this elsewhere.
I take dreams seriously—they seem to be deeply connected to my waking mental health. I remember the majority of my dreams. I’m often lucid, though less so lately. I’ve used galantamine and other supplements to enhance my dream life. I’ve accessed some fascinating mindstates within dreams.
I’ve experienced (what I believe to be) ego dissolution on psychedelics—specifically on the “wild LSD trip” mentioned above. I’ve dipped back into that state on subsequent trips, as well as in dreams and meditation (especially with a small amount of cannabis), though not as deeply.
I’m intensely concerned with alleviating suffering. I’ve seen first hand the terrors of the third world, and carry the weight of knowing that my own wealth, directly or indirectly, contributes to others’ poverty. I have no idea what to do about this, so mostly I just give 10% of my income and try not to eat meat. This feels wholly inadequate, but I’m not sure what else to do. Give 20%? Go vegan?
I’m fascinated by problems in epistemology, foundations of physics, philosophy of science, metaphysics, morality, and the structure of conscious experience. I’m also confused by how intractable some of these problems seem, despite all the brilliant minds obsessing over them.
I’m tentatively a panpsychist and a pantheist or panentheist. I choose to see the universe as enchanted and sacred. When deciding whether to adopt a belief, I tend to weigh its truthiness and its practical effects equally—I think everyone’s beliefs have as much to do with values and identity as they do with facts, and I try to embrace that.
I’m generally a happy person, though I’ve experienced moderate depression for bursts of time since my early teenage years. I sometimes suffer from social anxiety. But through therapy, introspection, meditation, and dreamwork I’ve made huge strides in mental health. My baseline mood is higher than it’s ever been before, and has been on an upward (though volatile!) trajectory for the better part of a decade.
Above all, I’m really happy you’re here. If you want to get in touch, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.