One of the main components of all religions is altered states of consciousness (ASC). Not necessarily drugs (plant- or animal-derived drugs snuffed or otherwise ingested), although it can be. Other ways include meditation, sweat lodges, fasting, chanting, even breathing can be used to break out of the ordinary. Think Thomas Tallis in a church full of stained glass. Or dancing in your living room to Angelique Kidjo. Or walking in a garden or even on a city street if you pay attention to the noise and smells.

There is a physical and evolutionary reason why we are stuck in our mindsets, our bubbles. The world is an astounding place, life and sentience is a mind-bending miracle, but we don't recognize that, absorbing only a tiny fraction of its mystery, because we have to do the dishes. Everyday life forces our brains to build in default patterns of behavior, default ways of thinking. "Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them," that's Whitehead of course, and I think that's an apt description of the problem.

We start out as babies in a constant state of awe and ecstasy (I love pictures of infants swimming underwater), and gradually we learn how to do the first thing, and then we don't have to think about that thing anymore. One less mystery. The older we are, the more things we've created default thinking for, the deeper the ruts. I believe that may be the root of racism and sexism and many other forms of ruling people out, that we've predetermined a quick subconscious way to make snap decisions about who is "not to be trusted." But what altered states of consciousness can give us, according to author Michael Pollan and others, is the ability to temporarily break out from those entrenched ruts, to let the ego go, shed the boundaries of day-to-day life and seek a higher plane.

I suspect that shamans using ASC helped the creative evolution of society. Culture and science may advance because someone was able to overthrow the ruts of what brain scientists call the "default mode network." Become one with the universe, or talk to god, or commune with nature or visit the oracle, or simply stop worrying about the dishes for just a few minutes.

In fact, it occurs to me that doing the dishes might lead to an asc, if your kitchen window looks out on a garden.