Transcript: Music and Psychedelic Medicine: Healing Through Sound – Mendel Kaelen
Please enjoy this transcript of our interview with Mendel Kaelen.
While a PhD researcher at Imperial College London, Mendel Kaelen investigated the brain mechanisms of classic psychedelic drugs and their effects on music-perception and music-evoked emotion. After a year off spent integrating his Ayahuasca experiences in the Amazon, Mendel completed his Master’s Degree before founding Wavepaths, an algorithmic music system that unifies immersive arts, psychotherapies, and intelligent technologies into new models of care. In this episode, Mendel and Paul explore the beauty of randomness, the healing potential of psychedelics, our debt to primal sound, and the power of music to make meaning.
- Using music to make meaning, drive healing, and create powerful therapeutic outcomes.
- From marine biology to neuroscience to the Amazon to musical entrepreneur: tracking the path of a unique career.
- Out of body experiences, traveling astral realms, and the final frontier of understanding the human mind.
- The beauty of randomness and the fruits of curiosity.
- Harnessing the creativity of artists, musicians, designers, architects, and engineers.
- Explicit learning, implicit learning, and using psychedelics to create corrective experiences.
- How psychedelics help create the mental flexibility required to assign new meaning to our experiences.
- Tracing the role of music in guiding human evolution: from ancient flutes and pre-verbal language to baby talk.
- Music’s role in society and spiritual traditions.
- Music as an invitation to journey inside of oneself.
- How Wavepaths aims to help therapists provide life-changing experiences.
- Creating the world’s first generative music system.
0:00:00.0 Paul Austin: On today’s podcast is Mendel Kaelen, neuroscientist and entrepreneur, who is researching and developing a new category of psychotherapeutic tools for care seekers and care providers, founder and CEO of Wavepaths that unifies immersive arts, psychotherapies and intelligent technologies into new models of care.
0:00:21.8 PA: Welcome to The Third Wave podcast. I’m your host, Paul Austin, here to bring you cutting edge interviews with leading scientists, entrepreneurs and medical professionals who are exploring how we can integrate psychedelics in an intentional and responsible way for both healing and transformation. It is my honor and privilege to bring you these episodes as you get deeper and deeper into why these medicines are so critical to the future of humanity, so let’s go and let’s see what we can explore and learn together in this incredibly important time.
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0:03:29.8 PA: Listeners, welcome back to this episode of The Third Wave’s podcast. I am with Mendel Kaelen, PhD and neuroscientist from Imperial College, who is now the founder and CEO of Wavepaths, which is a web app, an algorithmic music product that unifies immersive arts, psychotherapies and intelligent technologies into new models of care. Mendel and I met for the first time around in 2018, I think it was the week after Burning Man, and we connected for a call right after Burning Man when I was still at the hotel in Reno, coming out of the burn. We hopped on an initial call, I was in the Netherlands, in the UK, a couple of months later for Synthesis, and we ended up having lunch together, did a fundraiser soon after that in London, which Mendel came to, and so we’ve just been close friends and entrepreneurial sort of mirrors for the last couple of years. And we’ve been meaning to do this podcast ever since then and had to reschedule a couple of times and finally, finally got it on the calendar, and I’m so, so happy that we did.
0:04:34.0 PA: This podcast goes through Mendel’s early journey growing up in the Netherlands, and his path in undergrad and why he chose to pursue neuroscience and psychedelic therapies into the research he did at Imperial College with Robin Carhart-Harris and David Nutt looking at music and meaning-making and how that leads to certain therapeutic outcomes. And then into his journey as an entrepreneur, as founder and CEO of Wavepaths and how through Wavepaths as a platform, they’re creating a new standard for psychedelic music and how psychedelic music can lead to healing and transformation with… On that project are artists like Brian Eno, Greg Haines, Jon Hopkins, there’s several incredible artists that are part of that platform. And so in today’s conversation, it was just a thorough deep dive into Mendel’s past, why music is so important, what even music is, why it’s so important, how music creates a container for healing and why it’s effective as a therapeutic modality.
0:05:43.7 PA: So why is music so critical as part of the healing process for depression, addiction, alcoholism, and then we go a little bit into sort of the vision of Wavepaths and what Wavepaths is building and how you as a listener can get early access to Wavepaths, all these sorts of things. So fascinating, fascinating dive today, and you’ll sense the resonance and the mirroring and the closeness between Mendel and I throughout the conversation. So without further ado, I bring you Mendel Kaelen.
0:06:13.6 PA: Bring us into the just present moment, how you’re feeling, where you’re at, what’s around you, how you’re feeling emotionally, how you’re feeling work-wise, just bring us as the audience into that, and then we’ll flesh out from there.
0:06:30.4 Mendel Kaelen: Well, first of all, it’s just really nice to finally do this together with you…
0:06:33.1 PA: Yeah, it is.
0:06:33.2 MK: We’ve been trying to do this for quite some time.
0:06:37.6 PA: Yeah. I think two and a half years almost. We first connected mid-2018, yeah…
0:06:42.4 MK: When was the first time we met actually? When was that? Was it at a…
0:06:47.7 PA: It would’ve been… It would have been September 2018.
0:06:52.3 MK: 2018, right.
0:06:53.5 PA: I don’t think we’ve ever met in person. No, we did meet in person, we met in the UK…
0:06:57.0 MK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
0:06:57.5 PA: At the end of 2018.
0:06:58.3 MK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
0:07:00.9 PA: Yeah.
0:07:01.0 MK: But yeah, it’s good to be connected again and I’m calling in from Algarve, Portugal. I moved here three months ago in September, after having lived in London for eight years. And it happened spontaneously, wouldn’t say impulsively, but I’ve been thinking about this for a long time to move away from London and find something, settle in somewhere, where I am surrounded by a bit more nature, a bit more peacefulness. And this is the silver lining of the pandemic for me. What kept me in London has always been the team that I’ve been building since 2019 for Wavepaths. Really feeling it, still believing that it’s important to share the same space with people that you do creative work with.
0:07:50.1 MK: But in the pandemic, first of all, our team became fully virtual. And then we on top of that we decided to hire people from different countries and continents as well. I saw the second wave coming. And I said to myself, I’m not gonna allow myself to be locked up in a grey, rainy city, while everything that has been great about that city is gone in this pandemic. You can’t go out, you’re not allowed to see friends, all these things. So I bought a one-way ticket, I’m here. I am learning how to surf, I adopted a dog, I’m making new friends.
0:08:30.4 MK: I found a really nice place where I can stay at least till the spring next year, it’s a free-standing farmhouse near a beach. And it’s really good. Yeah. And in terms of where I am emotionally, I just started to reflect a bit more over the last few days, feeling the end of the year is dawning upon us. And all of us are feeling this eagerness to finish really important things work-wise. And at the same time, it’s a moment to also take a step back already. And, for me, I just am really filled with a really good feeling of accomplishments, pride of the team, because this year has been a journey for everyone. Beyond Wavepaths, of course, needless to say, for the entire world, this has been an absolutely insane year on many different fronts.
0:09:28.8 MK: And at the same time, we went through it and we got stronger. And we have accomplished a lot of really good things. And it’s really amazing to end on that, that good note and move into 2021 with that note. Yeah, so, good to be here. Looking forward to have the conversation with you, Paul.
0:09:47.5 PA: It’s a note of completion in some ways. The end of the year is always that note of completion, a note of gratitude.
0:09:54.0 MK: Yeah.
0:09:54.9 PA: For even though this pandemic is happening, there’s been so many beautiful developments in the psychedelic space, which we won’t sort of go over right now, but Psilocybin therapy legalized in Oregon. People in Canada, health practitioners can give Psilocybin out, we’re seeing drug decriminalization for Cannabis at the federal level. And the crisis around COVID is only further amplifying what we knew was already there with the mental health crisis. And so it’s so… That’s something that I’ve had a lot of gratitude for is having the sort of foreknowledge of this is the future of psychiatric medicine.
0:10:41.3 MK: Right.
0:10:41.9 PA: This is a totally new paradigm. And there’s now that sort of, finally, the energy and momentum that’s coming behind all these really beautiful projects, like Wavepaths in the psychedelic space, and I think that’s just, in itself, something very personal for both of us in terms of as entrepreneurs and CEOs and founders. It feels very reassuring to have that momentum.
0:11:06.6 MK: Yeah, it’s definitely a great analogy to view the pandemic as some form of psychedelic that has, for many people, activated subconscious fears and concerns and conflicts that were in a way already there but in a dormant state. And then when we look at our leaders, it seems to be that these are, many leaders of many countries, to have never experienced a challenging trip and caused the worst interventions you can have in a challenging trip, which is full-on panic and misinformation and confusion. But I agree with you. I think on the long term, this pandemic is, of course, with the footnote that there has been a lot of immense suffering as well and many lives has been lost, that on a larger perspective, I do believe that there are good consequences that can come out of this and are already coming out of this in the long term.
0:12:05.5 MK: I will never forget these images of the Himalayan mountains that were suddenly visible in Nepal and in different parts of India. I had similar experiences, and in London, and the southern suburbs of London were suddenly flooded with curious goats, wild goats, and it’s very similar to…
0:12:24.3 PA: Foxes.
0:12:25.1 MK: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah… Yeah.
0:12:26.0 PA: It’s a rest, a reset. In so many ways.
0:12:30.3 MK: And for myself, like in 2019, I’ve been traveling crazy, I had so many flights all over the world to Asia, Canada, United States, different parts of Europe. And that all was good, and fun, and important. It was all work-related. And it’s always a real… It’s of course always really exciting, especially when you visit a new culture, like my first time in Taiwan was really amazing, for example and Brazil as well. But like many have realized, as well, maybe you don’t need to travel that much. Maybe many of these meetings or even conferences can actually take place virtually to minimize some of the burden on our planet, for example.
0:13:12.1 PA: Cutting the busyness?
0:13:15.9 MK: Yeah, yeah, exactly, minimize the burden on the planet, but also on ourselves. Yeah, it’s a very good point.
0:13:21.1 PA: Which is… And there’s an interconnectedness there. As above so below, it’s… And I think that’s what a lot of people are sort of reflecting on is the state of the world, so to say, or the state of… Nation states or whatever you wanna say, it’s just a reflection of what so many individuals are going through in terms of sickness and being poisoned and struggling with disconnection and there’s a sense of existential loneliness. And that feels like the sort of bigger task coming out of the pandemic are what are the new structures and the new systems that really support human flourishing and human well-being and what structures and systems support that. I think more than anything, that inward process, that going inwards, that sense of developing a rich inner life because we’ve realized the futility of the… Being driven by consumerism and external things.
0:14:21.7 PA: And that’s where I think your work is so interesting because a lot of this is about making meaning. A lot of the healing is about what are the new stories that provide meaning in our lives and how is that meaning facilitated by psychedelic therapy and in particular the music that’s part of psychedelic therapy. And so I think that feels like, to drop into that rabbit hole a little bit, I’d love to just start with your personal story of obviously, you’re running Wavepaths now, which we will get into a little bit later on in the conversation. But just bring our audience into Mendel as an undergrad 12, 14 years ago, and you grew up in the Netherlands, you’re Dutch, Psilocybin truffles have been legal there, had you had some interesting experiences with those and that sort of informed an academic path in psychedelics? Or what was just the evolution of you and Psilocybin and neuroscience and music and just bring us into that, that beginning story, that origin story.
0:15:34.9 MK: Sure, yeah, so just before I answer that question, when you talk about the undergrad, what years are we talking about? Is that high school basically between 12 and 18 or is it the first years of university?
0:15:48.5 PA: First years of university would be a better way to put that, the more European way of putting that.
0:15:54.9 MK: Yeah, yeah. So I grew up in Holland, I grew up in a small rural town and eventually moved to the most nearby-est larger city called Groningen, to Groningen University, in the north of Holland. And I guess like many 18 years old when you are faced with this question of what you want to do in life, we don’t… Most people are not lucky enough to have to have the right guidance in making these big decisions. So I guess looking back at it, however, I think I did the right thing and I was following my instinct, and my instinct was that I always felt a great connection with nature. I always have felt as a child and as a teenager greatly affected by the way we relate to our environment, more specifically the way we cause destruction in oceans, in ocean environments and coral reefs. I have always been close to various animals and had many pets and all of that.
0:17:00.8 MK: So when I made that choice I decided to study biology, marine biology more specifically, biology of the oceans. At the same time I always had a very strong interest in consciousness and more specifically in parapsychology, altered states of consciousness, experiences that are not really well covered in modern textbooks. And I felt fascinated and in particularly by a book by… A series of books by a guy called Robert Monroe, who had these spontaneous out-of-body experiences and learned how to master them and then travel through these, in his words, astral realms, and did all sorts of wacky and interesting experiments.
0:17:45.7 MK: And I just got so fascinated by these stories and I realized well, wait a minute, if there’s truth in this, this seems to be a really unexplored frontier in consciousness or in neuroscience or in any modality that is concerned with understanding the human mind. And that applies to consciousness research and neuroscience research in general. It really feels to me as maybe next to quantum physics and these realms as well. One of the final frontiers that haven’t been well mapped out yet or good enough understood. We have mapped out almost the entire planet, and don’t get me wrong there’s many more things to discover in terms of biology and species and you name it, but we are just starting to understand some of the basics for how our human minds are, I may even prefer to use the words our beings come into existence.
0:18:46.6 MK: So that was always there, that interest and I was a little bit disappointed by marine biology and I decided to… And because in essence I was studying algae in these artificial tanks and the teachers were not really encouraging, they said, “Well, it’s very hard to do the research if you wanna do.” I wanted to work with sharks and coral reefs and so I needed to focus on algae and CO2 measures, and I found it a little bit boring. So I switched to neuroscience for that reason. That was before I even got into psychedelics, it was only after I started my bachelor degree in neuroscience, a few months in, this was in 2015, sorry, not 2015, 2005, I was still part of an online forum, a metal music forum more specifically.
0:19:38.3 MK: I’ve always had this quite deep connection with music, which we can explore as well in a bit more detail, maybe, but I play various instruments and very soon, especially when I got to 16 years old, got really into this habit of just continuously being curious about discovering new genres, new artists, new bands, new ways of listening to music, and music became a very important thing in my life. But I was a bit of a loner in that in high school, there was nobody else around me that appreciated the same kinds of music, but they had this musical forum online where I was just… I had these virtual friends where we discover new discoveries and discuss new discoveries and it was really fun.
0:20:22.2 MK: Anyway, I brought that into my university year and its second year and there was this topic which is quite a nice… There’s a lot of detail here but I’d like to illustrate the beauty of randomness, I guess. There was this topic and I posted… The whole topic was about your study choices. We were talking about what they were doing and I said, “I study marine biology and now I’m doing neuroscience. I’ve been thinking of maybe adding some psychology courses because I’d really like to understand the mind better.” And then there was this random character that answered and said, “If you want to understand the mind, maybe it’s better to take some acid rather than study psychology.” And I didn’t…
0:21:12.7 PA: Best advice ever, best advice ever.
0:21:14.7 MK: Well, I guess that’s a discussion, but for sure. [laughter] I guess both do well together, I would argue. This is again, a whole field in itself, but there’s so much to learn from Western psychotherapy traditions. If you look at my library, it’s not only neuroscience, it’s actually the large majority are, the giants of psychotherapy and philosophy, and…
0:21:36.2 PA: Sort of a Jung and Freud or even going back…
0:21:38.0 MK: Sort of a Jung…
0:21:40.6 PA: Carl Rogers.
0:21:41.6 MK: Jung, Freud, Carl Rogers, Erich Fromm, Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, Eric [unclear speech] and Erik Erikson…
0:21:51.3 PA: So many Erics.
0:21:51.2 MK: [unclear speech], sorry?
0:21:52.4 PA: There’s so many Erics.
0:21:55.0 MK: Yeah, yeah. Abraham Maslow on… Yeah, all the way from the classic psychodynamic traditions towards post-Freudian, humanistic, transpersonal. Stan Grof, of course. But yeah, to take a step back, that made me curious, I knew very little about drugs in general. I’d never touched Cannabis, never touched a cigarette. I never… I got drunk once when I was 15 and I didn’t like it, never touched alcohol since. I started to read about psychedelics and got absolutely fascinated by the history, the rich history in which these psychedelic plants and medicines are embedded. And what particularly fascinated me was their link with shamanism, their link with origins of various religions. And that made me really curious and it made a lot of sense to me that all of these spiritual traditions, many of these spiritual traditions have ways of altering their consciousness and that can be done with psychedelic plants and mushrooms and cacti, and it can be done with music, and in most cases being done in combination of those both.
0:23:01.5 MK: So I read everything I could. There was very little research back then, it makes me sound quite old. But it also is illustrative of how quick this field is changing, because the only research I could find back then was basically papers by Franz Vollenweider and a few others, [unclear speech], that basically indicated that these compounds are physiologically very safe and the main risks are in the psychological components, but you can prepare yourself to provide some protection against these potentially challenging and negative experiences. So long story short, I had my first experience with magic mushrooms and they were still legal back then in Holland as well, they were made illegal in 2010, ’08, I believe, ’07. And that experience, just without going into too many details, was life-changing in the real meaning of that word.
0:23:53.2 MK: People afterwards always asked me what has… What happened to me. They saw and experienced a different person. And when I reflect back on it, it’s very clear that I changed from someone that was becoming very much of a depressive, nihilist, I would even say, that didn’t really saw meaning in life or hope. I was reading Schopenhauer and related philosophers and became this atheist, not just an atheist, but an atheist that also didn’t saw any reason even to think about meaning-making because everything would be an illusion at the end anyway.
0:24:40.3 MK: So what changed in that psychedelic experience was, first of all, really clearly feeling that there was something inside of myself that was withholding me from connecting with beautiful opportunities in life, like connecting with new friends, connecting with my inner creativity. And I also felt that there was something in life that I could surrender to, and the moment that I opened myself up to that, it felt as if I was carried by life itself, the force in life itself, and I could trust that force itself. And it felt ecstatic, and I was just lying on the floor curled up in ecstasy, and there were a few people that were staying sober, in that it was a group context. And I remember this one guy that was getting a bit concerned and he made this drawing for me of like a beach and people on the beach being really happy and the sun was shining, and he was trying to cheer me up and “get me out of that.”
0:25:42.4 MK: And I saw that image and I immediately understood what he was trying to communicate and that he wasn’t understanding what I was actually going through. So I accepted the artwork, and I still have that artwork, actually, that’s still part of my library. Yeah, so that that really informed a lot of my further decisions. I continued to study neuroscience and in between a bachelor’s and my master’s degree, I lived in the Amazon jungle for six months. I lived with a shaman and went quite deeply into that Amazonian Ayahuasca world, went back and realized, back to Holland, realized I needed to take a year off to integrate this, this experience in the Amazon, because there was a lot of stuff there that happened.
0:26:25.3 MK: And in that year, I was feeling, I was on this fork in life and the fork in life was a decision I felt I needed to make between becoming a scientist, studying psychedelic therapy or becoming a sound artist, a musician, and giving into that creative spark that I was feeling fully. But I felt so drawn towards the potential of psychedelics that I realized that I needed to get my credentials. I needed to be part of studying this with the best tools and capacities we have in science at this moment. And that was the decision. I continued to make music and all of that, but music became more of a thing for myself rather than be concerned with releasing records and performances and installations, and all the stuff that I was doing back then.
0:27:11.0 MK: And paradoxically, at some point when I was at… When I landed in Imperial College London with David Nutt and Robin Carhart-Harris, in the first year is my PhD, certainly was this aha moment, and I remember sitting on the chair. I remember the light of the room. And right now I even remember the smell of the room, it was a very strong moment. I saw this image of a patient being treated with psychedelic therapy at Johns Hopkins University. I think it wasn’t even a patient, it was a healthy volunteer, but it doesn’t matter, it was a psychedelic session. And the person was lying on a sofa, there were two guides. And the person lying on the sofa was wearing an eye mask and headphones. And I suddenly realized that music plays most likely a huge role in this modality, and nobody is talking about it.
0:28:00.9 MK: Nobody is researching it. Nobody is trying to answer the questions that are important to make sure that this therapy can be developed and implemented by more and more therapists and experienced by more and more patients. So that was the beginning of my academic career where I started to publish many papers on the neuroscience of psychedelics and music, the way music is experienced by patients undergoing psychedelic therapy. And then that led to studying how the use of music can actually lead to enhanced therapy outcomes. And that eventually led me to move away from academia, eventually to start Wavepaths, yeah.
0:28:46.4 PA: In some ways then, that original path that you wanted to go on of becoming an artist, creating soundscapes, doing installations, it’s a beautiful story ’cause that’s now what you’re doing with Wavepaths, and you have these sort of fundamental credentials of the PhD in neuroscience, and so it’s just like that all came anyway. That’s just where your heart guided you.
0:29:15.0 MK: Yeah, and the scientific training gave me a lot of really important tools as well in terms of ways of thinking and asking the right questions. And now I’m building an organization, I’m building a company, and there are still the scientific elements to it, as you know as well yourself. In building an organization, there’s all these hypotheses that you need to test. But more importantly, we are as an organization committed to science, and we are actually building an internal scientific team right now. We’re working together with clinical trials and it’s just… I feel really blessed that I’m in this situation because it’s really allowing me to combine, like you say as well, this creative urge with the urge to really contribute something scientifically, creatively, impactful to this emerging psychedelic therapy community.
0:30:02.9 MK: And yeah, it’s fantastic. We work with a lot of artists. We work with a lot of artists, including musicians and designers and architects and engineers, and it’s in essence a very creative endeavor. I just realized I went way beyond undergrad, by the way.
0:30:20.8 PA: That’s what we wanted, that was perfect, Mendel. You’re such a good storyteller, it’s very thorough. Had the nice sort of… This is the mushroom trip, this is… And so just sort of reflecting on what you just shared with us, I think there are a couple of personal reflections that I have. One is that we’re both Dutch farm boys. I happened to grow up in Michigan, but my ancestors are from Groningen.
0:30:46.3 MK: Nice.
0:30:47.6 PA: And the surrounding area, and when I was in the Netherlands in 2014, I rode my bike… I was staying and couch surfing with someone in Groningen for a few nights and rented a bike and went to the two surrounding villages that I found my ancestors were from, so I think having…
0:31:06.6 MK: Awesome, you went to see the whole deal, returning to…
0:31:06.7 PA: That as a mirror and reflection is just really interesting in our…
0:31:10.2 MK: Your roots and your generations…
0:31:10.5 PA: Can you still hear me?
0:31:13.6 MK: I think I lost Paul for a second. Are we back?
0:31:22.5 PA: Are you back? You’re back?
0:31:23.6 MK: Test, test, test.
0:31:25.1 PA: I think we’re good.
0:31:26.5 MK: Yeah.
0:31:26.8 PA: We’re good, yep.
0:31:27.3 MK: We were talking about… Back to Groningen and you went to the surrounding villages.
0:31:32.5 PA: Yeah, and it was cool to see where my great grandfather was born and baptized, and my great-grandma lived, the village that she lived in, and just so having that and yeah. And now we’re both talking about going from Dutch farm boy, so to say, to being founders of companies that are extremely innovative and cutting edge about a topic that in many of these communities is very sort of stigmatized and misunderstood. And just like you, when I first was looking into psychedelic medicine, this was… I did, I had my first acid trip in 2010. But in 2015, I studied history in college in undergrad. In 2015, I started to, sort of it came back up and like you, I was like, the history and both the first wave of psychedelics with the shamanic use of these medicines, and also then the second wave and all the clinical use was something that was so rich and so difficult to ignore that it was almost like, from my perspective, how are these… Like so interesting that these things are illegal and yet so terrible because they’re clearly incredibly beneficial tools.
0:32:42.7 MK: Right, that’s such a good point. And that is actually something that is reminding me as well through my own thinking about that back then. And this is clearly one of the things I got really confused by, is how can something that has so much potential be so strongly misunderstood. And then you go into the history and into the ’60s and the ’70s, and you see how it just got confused by politics and all sorts of things that have blurred the message, there’s some really terrible research that was done as well, really funded by governmental institutions to really spread the…
0:33:20.2 PA: MK Ultra.
0:33:22.6 MK: Yeah, like LSD being able to harm chromosomes, and now you have this whole thing around MDMA, you have this whole video campaign about MDMA being able to burn holes in your brain or something, just completely ridiculous. And I would even say unethical stuff, needless to say. But you can see how those mainstream propaganda efforts have such strong ripple effects in the perception of people widely, and how it’s so important to be patient for that reason as well, when you speak with people that don’t maybe have the knowledge or experience that we have. I come from quite a religious background, for example, my parents were… My whole family is very Christian, religious. You too?
0:34:04.9 PA: Oh, yeah.
0:34:04.9 MK: So whenever I am at a wedding or whatever, you know, and you speak with family members and they they ask, “What are you doing?” I just… Very soon, to be honest, very soon when I was at the university, I found the courage and the ease to just tell what I’m interested in. And what I realized is if I focus on the therapeutic and the medical potential in the wake of so much human suffering, even the most strongest religious person that I’ve been speaking with then, seemed to be able to grasp this. This idea that if you have a physical surgery that you need to undergo, you will also get a drug, morphine, which is virtually heroin, and in that context is the drug that is really helpful in your healing journey. And so I in discussions sometimes even asked the people, would you say no to morphine then, if you had to go have heart surgery or whatever, and of course, people wouldn’t do that. There are probably some far out cases that do that, but very few. So it’s really about the way the story is being told, and keeping that perceiver in mind as well, which is quite important.
0:35:20.8 PA: It’s very important. One other thread that I want to guide into… Your next beautiful 10-minute to 15-minute monologue, ’cause I know it’s gonna be so, so good, is you had mentioned in your early 20s starting to read Schopenhauer, and I’m sure you read Nietzsche, and looking at nihilism and sort of that melancholic, depressive, angsty, early 20s trying to find our way. And then soon after that, you found these medicines, these psychedelic medicines, and that really opened you up to new possibility and new aliveness. And it feels like that sort of nihilistic, depressive, disconnected, I mean, Schopenhauer is brilliant, it’s not just that, Schopenhauer is so much more than that, so I don’t want to simplify Schopenhauer in any way like that. But there has been this sort of existential malaise that has plagued humanity in particular for the last hundred years, as we sort of transition our way out of industrialization and into something that’s beyond industrialization.
0:36:31.1 PA: And so I’d love if you could walk our listeners through a few things that I’m gonna tie together. A lot of people would say, especially who are familiar with psychedelic medicine, that this existential malaise is what’s responsible for the rise in addiction and the rise in alcoholism and the rise in depression and the rise in anxiety and the rise in mental health generally can be tied to this existential malaise, if you will, the sense of not… Where do we find meaning? We feel disconnected. What’s it worth living for anyway, etcetera, etcetera. And one thing you highlighted in this TEDx talk at Cambridge that you did three and a half years ago, which we’ll link to in the show notes, is that this experience, especially with Psilocybin and music, does something in the brain and in the self and in the consciousness that helps them, helps to create meaning, which brings people out of that depressive melancholic state and creates a new liveness for them.
0:37:25.7 PA: So I’d love if you could just, from a neuroscientific perspective, drill down into that a little bit, or from any… Or it could even be from a humanistic psychology perspective, it could be both of those, but like scientifically, why is the combination of psychedelic therapy with certain types of music so incredibly effective at healing this sort of existential malaise, and then as a result of that, helping with depression and addiction and these other symptoms?
0:38:00.0 MK: Right, so that is a big question indeed, but it really gets at the core of my intellectual interests, and one of the reasons why Wavepaths was founded is this consensus in the psychedelic therapy research field that the experience is very important. It’s not necessarily the only thing, there are pharmacological, neuropharmacological elements to these medicines as well, and they’re not mutually exclusive. But if you simply ask, and research in this has been shown in many different studies, if you ask patients, how intense was the experience and you ask through a well-established questionnaire, what kind of experiences patients have… When you simply ask around the intensity, you don’t find that strong relationship between intensity and positive therapy outcomes. And that is because in psychedelic experience there’s this wide repertoire of experiences that we can have, in the same way that we can have a wide repertoire of experiences in life.
0:39:11.3 MK: You can experience, I would say in principle, everything on a psychedelic, love, hate, fear, anxiety, beauty, but there are certain experiences in this psychedelic experience that are related to positive therapy outcomes. When you look at those experiences, peak experiences, autobiographical insight, the capacity to access certain feeling states that have been repressed or pent up for way too long, all of those experiences seem to have in common that they are personally meaningful, they are personally significance, they have to do with the worth and the safety and the thriving of your being, and when you look into the… And this is, of course, what many researchers found so fascinating about psychedelics, and indeed myself as well, when I first got into psychedelic therapy research is, wow, there is something here that you can offer to someone that suffers deeply, and then the person is changed by it. And it’s not dependent on this agent for change, there’s actually an independency that grows afterwards because it’s changing something much more fundamental.
0:40:24.0 MK: But when you look into that, there is actually not so much mysterious going on because our brains literally evolved to do these things. And this is… I already made some kind of breakdown of this idea in my TED Talk and that TED Talk was actually… Already I was playing with Wavepaths. Already, I was recognizing this as an important thing, and eventually, [unclear speech], I started to do it, but this idea that through our lives we are continuously acquiring new experiences, and these experiences are… And I’m actually realizing, I’m picking up a soundbit from my TED Talk three and a half years ago. These experiences are remembered, but more importantly, these experiences are not remembered in an explicit way only, they’re also remembered in an implicit way.
0:41:13.6 MK: And what that means is, just to unpack this, are two different learning systems we have in the brain, an explicit learning system and an implicit learning system. The explicit learning system is primarily concerned with recalling episodic memories of the past or things like semantic knowledge, symbolic knowledge. The implicit learning system is primarily concerned with… And it literally means learning through experiencing, and learning through experiencing was originally identified by Eric Kandel, who won the Nobel prize for identifying this mechanism and building forward on it. And it means that certain aspects, primarily aspects that are autonomous and… Or at least require autonomy in terms of information processing, require own experiencing, we can only learn how to ride a bicycle by riding a bicycle, we can only learn how to tie our shoelaces by tying our shoelaces.
0:42:11.9 MK: We can only learn how to feel safe in the arms of a loved one by being in the arms of a loved one. We can only feel, we can only learn that we are worthy of love by experiencing that. So when you look at psychedelic therapy research, these are… And some psychotherapists would prefer this, at least some of them are corrective experiences. Maybe you have not experienced that kind of love that is needed for your human development, and suddenly you can experience that. And maybe you haven’t felt the capacity to be hopeful for so long and suddenly you feel hopeful again. And then in doing that and experiencing that these pathways will be available again, it can be reinforced again and again afterwards.
0:43:01.8 MK: So the important aspect here, however, is the… What you allude to as well is this capacity of meaning-making, because many different meanings can be made from our experiences, and then this is also illustrating the importance of sometimes… In many cases, I would even say, especially when you’ve suffered deeply, having these experiences with some professional guidance, because you can create new constructed meanings that may be even more counter-therapeutic, and it may be even more harder to get rid of them because there’s many different ways of attributing meaning and interpreting your experiences.
0:43:44.3 MK: So, in essence, any kind of psychotherapy is concerned with this phenomena of acknowledging that we have acquired these internal models of giving meaning to our experiences continuously, ourselves and our lives, and then the capacity to update that, to upgrade that where needed and where possible. And psychedelics are a powerful tool to do that.
0:44:08.2 PA: And why is that? Why are psychedelics so powerful at updating those stories?
0:44:14.1 MK: Because psychedelics in essence break down the hierarchy of information processing within our brains that have been built up years over years over years. So the brain is a strongly interconnected hierarchical system with lots of nested hierarchies within it, and just learning how to do these things automatically over and over again. And that’s exactly what it’s programmed to do, because you can’t overthink everything explicitly, when you need to tie your shoelaces or when you want to feel like you belong to this loved one or your friends, or you name it, all of that stuff should come with a radical immediacy. There’s an evolutionary, economical argument to make there for the brain mechanism.
0:45:02.3 MK: So psychedelics, by activating the serotonin 2A receptors and creating these networks that are normally tightly connected in certain synchronies slowly to be loosened up a bit more and then in a psychological sense, have this mental flexibility, as some psychologists would call it. And within that mental flexibility, you have the capacity to have the previous way of giving meaning to yourself or whatever it is, or this aspect of yourself to your experience, being compared against another alternative meaning. So in our brains, we basically build up these different ways of interpreting events, any events, what we’re seeing right now, what we are hearing right now, what we’re thinking right now, and there’s always many different interpretations possible but there are statistical dependencies, and there’s always one or two that are the most strongly weighted statistically influenced by the context always.
0:46:12.3 MK: And that statistical map is flattening, and suddenly these very ingrained paths of information processing are loosened up, and you’re literally able to explore various aspects of your experience from a complete new perspective. And it can be to such a degree that you have a huge amount of… That that meaning is very significant, personally very significant. This is one of the points I wanna conclude with here maybe is the icing on the cake, sort of completion of this argument, is we are not remembering everything implicitly or explicitly. We also need to prune and get rid of information that is not signaled to be important for us. But therefore experiences that seem to be important for us are remembered even more strongly.
0:47:07.0 MK: Our emotional learning system is the strongest learning system that we have and it’s fully implicit, it’s fully subconscious, and therefore you have these two sides of the coin. If you have an experience where your life is threatened and you are out of control, that can be traumatic. You can be triggered by associations that make you remember that event from the past and you may have a traumatic reliving experience and you may disassociate and all these things that are very common for trauma. But the flip side of the coin is true as well. If you have an experience that is usually meaningful for your thriving or in your words, the flourishing of your identity, your authentic identity, that will have a significant weight attached to it as well.
0:47:53.1 MK: And that is what I believe is an elegant framework of looking at psychedelic therapy as nothing less or more than providing a favorable climate in which the clients, the patients can learn implicitly new things about themself. That can be the foundation for the changes afterwards.
0:48:12.4 PA: And then based on the condition they’re coming in with or based on the story that they’re coming in with or based on sort of the outcome that they’re looking for, you create an adapted or adjusted set and setting or container or music algorithm for what that might be. So if someone’s coming in with depression and it’s about sadness and it’s about not being able to be their full authentic self, that’s gonna be different from someone who might be coming in with PTSD and has an acute traumatic memory that basically doesn’t allow them to feel safe to some degree.
0:48:41.8 MK: Right. So are you ready to talk about music then?
0:48:46.7 PA: Let’s talk about it. Let’s bring in the music. Let’s bring in the music. Alright, we’re in. Playlists are all about it. Where does… Getting granular then into the, especially like weaving in what Wavepaths is doing, because I think that’s fascinating, then, the algorithm approach.
0:49:04.0 MK: I thought you mentioned music. I’m not hallucinating, you mentioned music?
0:49:07.6 PA: Oh, yeah. I think that was gonna be the final thing, because that’s what you know so well is what soundscapes, what environmental scapes can be created with music that then help to create that new imprint, that help to rewire in a certain way where people have that emotional tie to this feeling of safety, belonging, connection, nature. Where does that come in?
0:49:32.6 MK: So that’s really… These are really the questions that we are asking ourselves all the time. And we’re starting to find some really important answers to them. This is something that I can speak about for days and I sometimes do that in workshops, for example. So I’m trying to give a condensed version of this over the remaining, the coming few minutes or so. But when it comes to your question specifically about… I can’t remember exactly how you formatted this question about music, but what the role is of music, in this process and what music does and what kinds of music are helpful to support people in this journey. I came to believe more and more that any music can have some therapeutic value for someone in this world.
0:50:27.1 MK: So before we delve into the details, I’d like to maybe spend some time on defining music itself. And really our understanding together what we are talking about, ’cause music itself as a whole amazing world of research. And it’s so deeply embedded in what it means to be human. Music, it’s one of the most ancient inventions that we have, together with ancient artifacts around hunting. There are ancient artifacts about flutes, tens of thousands of years old very sophisticated flutes. So some of the arguments that I started to make here is that you have this one flute, for example, it is almost 50,000 years old, this super sophisticated instrument. Therefore, most likely, we have been making music from much longer than that, because we can sing, we can clap.
0:51:23.7 MK: There’s a fascinating book called “The Singing Neanderthaler” where the author is making an argument that before… Actually, he’s not making the argument for this point. This is a well-established hypothesis in evolutionary psychology that before we acquired linguistic language or verbal language, there was something like a proto language, the language that preceded the more sophisticated linguistics that we have right now. And his argument, “The Singing Neanderthaler“, Steven Mithen, I think this is the name of author, is that most likely that language, that proto language, was musical.
0:52:01.7 MK: So imagine going back in prehistoric times, early Homo Sapiens singing. Maybe not singing but at the very least having a way of communicating with each other that is more musical. And one of the many arguments for this is that have still remnants of musicality in the way we speak. Right now when you and me are speaking we use elements of music. We use right now pulse, intonation, rhythm, tone color, melody, all of those things are part of the way we communicated with each other. And we have still primal remnants of this as well. When we laugh, for example. When we are angry our sounds become more dissonant. I mean, like food, we say, “Mmm.” There’s all of these… There’s a whole library of sounds that we are still making that are very primal and most likely a remnant of the past of ourselves.
0:52:56.7 MK: So with that said and the recognizing and acknowledging this depth that music has in our society… And then we can go into how music is being used in our society. It starts with infants being born into this role, caregivers around the world, every single country that this has been studied, caregivers, mothers in most cultures, but not only mothers, caregivers in general, sing lullabies to babies. And they also speak in motherese, how psychologist Daniel Stern would call this, not Chinese but motherese. And what that means is, “Ooh, little baby, are you there? Are you sad? Are you hungry? Do you want to have some food?” We’re going to speak in a way, more exaggerated way because instinctively we understand that babies respond to that, these musical features and the way we communicate with each other.
0:53:53.9 MK: And this is fascinating because babies only really learn to speak when they’re two years old, I guess, I’m not sure if I’m making any radical statement here, I don’t have kids myself, but if I’m correct, that’s when kids start to speak, around the two-year hallmark of development, but before that they’re musical. And then we have music being part of almost every single spiritual tradition that you can think of, and music has come to play many different functions in our lives. And it’s… But according to Bruno Nettl, the founder… According to many people the founder of the ethnomusicology movement, in his first book on this topic, called “Music In Primitive Culture“, I think it was written in the ’50s, makes this point that when you study the history of music, the origins, and you look at traditional societies where most likely these traditions are well preserved for a very long period of time, you see that when it comes to the professions within a culture, being a priest, being a shaman and being a musician are the same thing in many cultures and many traditions around the world.
0:55:03.5 MK: And then when you look at psychedelic ceremonies traditionally, you have icaros, you have Peyote songs, you have the [unclear speech] in Brazil who have their own songs, and many others around the world have songs as part, as an integral part of the psychedelic experience. So just to get the historical context to mind, let’s move to the role of music and why we use music in psychedelic therapy. In our Western world in the ’50s and ’60s, when therapists were starting to work with psychedelics, very early on, researchers realized that, like we spoke about before, psychedelics can have this wide range of experiences, but they seem to be experiences… And the Americans were really much focusing on transcendental experiences and peak experiences, whereas Europeans were focusing more on psychoanalytic experiences of catharsis and autobiographical insight and understanding.
0:55:58.6 MK: But both in their own way discovered the role of music, and they realized out of the wide range of experiences that people have, music is a powerful way and a tool to actually increase the likelihood of these, for example, peak experiences to occur. And very early on you see many researchers and also philosophers, authors like Aldous Huxley, talking in reverence, really in reverence around the significance, the profoundness of music in a psychedelic experience. And then you have people like Helen Bonny, who worked together with Stan Grof and Bill Richards and others, who was really the first person, I would argue, that highlighted that we need to get a bit more thoughtfulness to the way we provide music to patients in psychedelic therapy.
0:56:51.9 MK: She wrote a paper in 1969 or 1971, I think, we can link this to your listeners afterwards, I can send you the article. But Helen Bonny was really focusing on understanding the role of music, she was the first that talked about these different phases in the experience, and how you can tailor music to these different phases. And then that’s just one paper, it’s an opinion paper, and then the field got shut down, in the late ’60s. So now we’re picking up this work again and we have thankfully the capacity to study psychedelics in music and there’s many insights that are emerging, and let me see if I can summarize our current understanding of the role of music in psychedelic therapy.
0:57:33.3 MK: Actually, let me just see if I can link this in with this idea of psychedelics allowing more flexibility and restoring this capacity to attribute new meaning to experiences. Music seems to be a form of direction towards certain experiences. Every single song, this is is sometimes something that I like to emphasize in workshops working with therapists, let’s not… Let’s remind ourselves what we’re speaking about when we play a song for people undergoing a psychedelic experience. This is not just a song that we give to people, this is an invitation to journey inside of a world where there are all sorts of different sensory experiences, feeling states, imagery, thought associations, all brought together by a synergy between the music, the psychedelic and the mind, the personal mind of the individual.
0:58:36.9 MK: And so every song has a capacity to catapult and invite a person onto this journey, which is in essence a journey inside of oneself. The beauty of working with music in the context of psychedelics is that music is, as long as you work with non-lyrical music, non-linguistic music, it’s abstract, it’s about contours and processes rather than about concrete things, and therefore you can have music that can convey a process of loss, a process of grief, a process of love, a process of belonging, a process of celebration. But it’s not to the music to decide on what the content is of the experience, that’s up to the mind of the listener that is projected into this musical event, this musical process.
0:59:22.8 MK: And this is the… One of the therapeutic values and significance of music in psychedelic therapy. So therefore, when it comes to the types of songs and music that you may play as a therapist in psychedelic therapy, you need to constantly ask yourselves, “What is the world? What is the atmosphere that is most supportive for this person in this moment?” And then we’re entering into all sorts of variables that have to do with adapting music to the person. Then that’s a whole conversation in itself, but really, in a nutshell, our model that we have developed, for example, looks at the medicine, the type of medicine, whether you work with Ketamine or MDMA or Psilocybin or DMT, that is already some factor that determines the music selection, the dosage that will inform these different phases in the experience, among other things.
1:00:15.4 MK: And then we have the traits of the person, who is this person in terms of personality traits? What kind of musical language did this person evolved over time to have, which is influenced by all the different sounds and music we have been exposed to for so many years of our development? Then this is… Maybe as a little footnote before I go back into these points, music, defining music as a language, defining music as a way of conveying certain symbols, the abstract symbols, but it’s a non-verbal language, it’s a form of communication. And this links with my points around musicality still being part of language, and most likely of us having some… Having had some form of proto language both in our evolutionary past as well as in our upbringing, that music is basically a technology that exploits those sensitivities that we have built up for tone, color, rhythm, melody and so forth and so on, and can then become this non-verbal language that can provide, like you mentioned as well, your words and narrative over time, structured in time.
1:01:23.4 MK: So we have the adaptation to the drug, we have the adaptation to the person, more specifically the traits of this person, what styles or compositional qualities will this person not only like, but respond to in various ways? And then thirdly, this is maybe one of the more complex ones, is, what is the state of this person? What’s the process that this person is going through, and how can that process be best supported by music? So these are all variables that we are working on studying. And some of the listeners may think, “Wow, that’s a lot of stuff to think about, and it’s very complex.” And yeah, you’re right, music is very complex, and people are very complex. And this is exactly why we started Wavepaths, to make something that is very complex, but very important, more accessible and more simple and more fun as well. So therapists can really continue to work within that field of intuition and empathic resonance with their patients, and not being concerned and worried about what playlist or song to play next. So that’s why we developed our platform, not as a piece of software, but really as if it’s a musical instrument that you can interact with in that same intuitive sense.
1:02:53.8 MK: And just maybe to add, while you breathe, [chuckle] one point to it is, the reason why I mentioned the term instrument is because this is what shamans are doing. Shamans are making… Are instruments. This point about the priest, the shaman and the artist and the healer being one profession is I think something that we can receive some inspiration from. And I really believe that this new generation of facilitators, of therapists will need to have a new toolkit to their disposal, a toolkit that is equipped to work in synergy with this psychedelic experience or maybe even be psychedelic itself, like music, I believe, is psychedelic itself. So we really need the modern equivalent of what you may call the shamanic… The archetypal shamanic instruments of the past, like the drums and the rattles, but their modern equivalent that does not have any of that historical link.
1:03:51.1 MK: Not that I wanna break that link, don’t get me wrong. I don’t wanna break that, a really important link, but it’s important for us in our modern times to think what music may be most reflective of the language, the cultural language, and the personal languages we have built up over time, and find the right support systems for that language. And there’s much more to say about that, but this is really the essence of what we aim to do, is building these instruments basically for therapists.
1:04:18.7 PA: And in many ways, it’s a key element of bringing in that more shamanic approach into a maybe modern psychotherapy clinic or a modern practitioner’s clinic. Like when you go on an Ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica or Peru, or you go do iboga, or you go do San Pedro or Peyote, like some of these plant medicine ceremonies with a “shaman” or a curandero or healer, that is obviously… The intuition of that comes from the shaman or the curandero or the healer. They’re in touch with the spirit. They’re channeling whatever they need to channel, and that’s coming out. And they’re moving with that vibrational energy, that vibrational frequency, and that’s where a lot of the healing can come from. And the fact is, a lot of people who are exposed and who work with psychedelics over the next 10 years will not do that in necessarily an indigenous or a retreat center. They’re going to be in clinics all across Europe and North America, and probably Australia, and maybe Russia, like all over the world, potentially.
1:05:21.7 PA: So what I’m hearing from you is what you’re creating with Wavepaths is a way to bring in that energetic frequency, that vibrational frequency, to do that within a container that is somewhat familiar and that the client responds to, and to ensure that then the healer, so to say, is fully freed up to be present with the client. Because we know that a huge part of feeling safe and surrendering in any psychedelic experience is feeling the loving presence of another human who is there with you during the experience.
1:05:53.6 MK: That’s totally right. We’re really, really committed to enhance the experience, not only of the patient, but also of the care provider, the therapists, the guides, the facilitators, whatever you call them, whatever model these facilitators and therapists are working in, in order for them to be indeed not concerned about music, but really able to work with music as an extension of their therapeutic worldviews. Just really one minor footnote around this discussion about shamanism, and needless to say, I’m very much influenced by many different shamanic experiences and rituals, and we are not aiming to cut away this link with shamanism, and it’s not vice versa, I think, should be the case either. I really came to believe that shamanism and let’s say modern Western psychotherapy actually have things to teach to each other. We should not romanticize shamanism, and shamanism shouldn’t romanticize or other traditions shouldn’t romanticize psychotherapy as well. They have both something unique to say about the human mind and a way to create ritual and guide people through altered states, and provide meaning to these experiences.
1:07:17.2 MK: There’s many stories of people wanting to seek a psychedelic experience and they end up in a shamanic retreat, and they have… And I’ve seen this, I’ve witnessed this first-hand, a person, a girl that had her first Ayahuasca experience and entered a state of… She was sitting next to me, so I could hear the whole thing developing. She was… And I’ve never experienced it so clearly, but she was becoming a baby. She was… Or like a toddler, may be better put. Not a baby, but a toddler. She was calling for mommy all the time in a small babyish, girlish voice. And she was confused and scared. She was saying, “Mommy, I’m scared.” And it was a loop. She was on repeat in that loop. And it didn’t stop. It went on for hours. And then the shaman came and started to blow smoke and did all sorts of rituals and music and perfumes, and she got super anxious and confused, and it got worse. And then one of the facilitators was trying to make her sit up straight and said, “Don’t be afraid. You are strong. You’re a strong woman.” And I could just… I was just so in shock because you could see this person being completely re-traumatized, not getting the support that she needed.
1:08:34.9 MK: If you look at this from a transpersonal, psychotherapeutic, psychodynamic view, most likely, this person was in some regressed state. And this is the… These are things that we’re still trying to understand in psychotherapy, are maybe even still controversial in some discussions or scientific circles, but they shouldn’t, because they’re super common, needless to say. But I’ve never seen this being set out so clearly. I was… I got some… People asked me if I could support her at some point, one of the facilitators, and eventually she was rolling around on the floor, and I was needing to hold her neck because her neck was so weeping and swinging all around and everything. And I realized her neck was just completely soft. There was no muscles in her neck.
1:09:20.0 MK: And then when I told that story to someone afterwards, he said, “Well, babies have that as well.” And I was just completely blown away by all of the similarities coming together. Now, this girl was brought outside. They threw cold water in her face. The whole thing was terrible. Eventually, she fell asleep. When she woke up, she was perfectly fine, and she doesn’t remember a single thing about this episode. But this is an example of someone having a particular experience that can be worked with when you have that therapeutic training at hand. But if you purely operate from this worldview of spirits and energy, it may not be the right intervention for this particular person. And there’s many examples like this. And the same thing around with different psychotherapies, I think the modern, many modern models of psychotherapy are also not well equipped for psychedelic therapy. So we’ll see over the coming period there’s a really interesting set of models and insights and understandings that will keep developing over the coming decades, and maybe even the centuries to come. Who knows?
1:10:23.9 PA: I think that’s where I’d love to sort of put the final note on this conversation. We have about 15 minutes left, and I’m gonna milk it, ’cause when I can go for 90 minutes. I am so, so ecstatic. That brings us into this final part of this, which is you’re now working on Wavepaths. This has been a project that you’ve been working on, from what I understand, for about three and a half years now. You’ve been… I think when we connected in late 2018, you had already raised some investment. You’re raising more investment now. You have a team that’s working on this algorithmic music platform for both practitioners and individuals who want to work with this. So just bring us… Let’s put the founder/CEO Mendel hat on, the visionary hat on. What is the vision of Wavepaths? And how does that vision intertwine with sort of the evolution of this third wave of psychedelics with the next sort of… The psychedelic renaissance, the next 10 years as it’ll sort of unfold from your perspective?
1:11:30.1 MK: Sure. Our vision is that we can, as a culture, reignite our innate capacities to heal ourselves. And we believe that providing experiences as medicine is a very important way to do that. And a very powerful way how to do that is by music, and more broadly speaking, design, architecture, light, really going beyond music as well. And it’s really built on this conviction that the future of psychiatry will be, I wouldn’t say only, but more experiential. The future therapists, psychiatrist, healers will need to learn how to provide experiences to people as [unclear speech] changes, whether that’s with a psychedelic drug or with another psychedelic technology or agent or another context or another modality. And this is really what we are founded on, this vision that’s possible.
1:12:36.6 MK: And our mission is to realize that by unifying advances in different fields, neuroscience, the science of human development, advances in psychotherapy research, psychedelic therapy research, biometrics, computational creativity, the knowledge and intuition of artists, what I refer to in I believe my TED Talk, as the masters of experience. All in one model that is concerned with nothing less or more than the intention and the knowledge to provide life-changing experiences to people.
1:13:14.7 PA: And how is that going so far? Where are you currently at with development? I’d love for you to talk a little bit about the artists that you are collaborating with, because these are artists that I’m sure some of our audience members recognize, and they’re incredible artists. So just… What is that… Where are you at with product development? Where are you at with launching this? Bring us into December 2020, where it’s currently at.
1:13:35.8 MK: Yeah, sure. So we started off with two pillars to this mission of ours that I just formulated, and the pillars is that there is an implementation of this mission into real venues and cities around the world, in the ways we can design these venues and these cities, in a new way. And the other pillar is software development and making instruments and tools available to both care providers and care seekers. Investors have always challenged me from the very beginning, saying, “Mendel, you are trying to build two companies. What are you doing?”
1:14:16.3 MK: And they’re right, there are two different companies in one respect, they have their own models and their own risk profiles and their own teams. But we started off that way, and we started in fact off with a pop-up space in London in the spring of 2019, where I worked together with two British musicians, Brian Eno and Jon Hopkins, and then with a group of therapists and designers, and our team in general, to build our prototype environment of providing these experiences as medicine. And there are many different hypotheses that we tested there from a research perspective, from a thesis perspective. We had a really tiny marketing campaign in London, and the whole thing, which is a 10-week experience, sold out in less than two weeks, and we have thousands of people in the wait list.
1:15:09.4 MK: So it was a huge success in entrepreneurial terms. It was a real indication that we are finding idea market fit, maybe not product market fit, but idea market fit. But then the experiences and the results afterwards really confirmed a lot of things even further. We actually have demonstrated… Of course, with the caveat, scientifically speaking, that we can, first of all, facilitate these really profound experiences without drugs. Not that there’s anything wrong with drugs, but that has always been a pillar of our vision of experiences as medicine, and you can facilitate these experiences in many different ways. People are having… Some people are having these peak experiences within our venue. And the people that have, they demonstrate improvements in well-being afterwards. That’s one thing.
1:16:00.0 MK: In 2020, our original plan was to build a permanent venue in London as the flagship space of Wavepaths’ mission and vision. And we went… We got quite far with architects and designers, and we identified a really good place in Hoxton, Central East London. And we were about to sign a deal with the venue, and then, you hear this coming, COVID-19 came to say hello. And I was starting to… I built a whole deck to raise funds, and we were planning to raise funds in March, and then I realized, okay, this is the worst timing to raise funds as a pre-revenue company for a business model that is dependent on physical locations. [chuckle] And so getting back to those early investor comments, I said, “This is… ” This is what I said to the team as well, “This is an invitation to be radically focused, and do one thing really well.”
1:17:02.2 MK: So we’re focusing right now nothing else than software development. And it’s allowing us to channel all of our creative resources, all of our financial resources, everything, into doing this one thing really well. And what has happened in the course of this year it’s actually quite nice to reflect on this, it’s December. Since March onwards, we’ve started to experiment with building… Prototyping this generative music systems that we have thankfully already developed before that, into real clinics and patient experiences. Let me maybe take one step back and unpack what I mean with a generative music system, because we haven’t really touched upon that. Without going into too much details, we are in essence concerned with providing a highly flexible adaptive musical environment. Either you as a therapist can use that to mold and shape the musical contours in any way you want, or you can allow the algorithm to do it, something based on the variables you put in, or put in during the session, before and during the session.
1:18:05.1 MK: Now, that is called a generative system. The system is generating music in the moment. What is really important to highlight, however, is that the music is not computer-generated. It’s all human-created musical building blocks. We have a few hundred of them so far, packages of building blocks, a few hundred packages of building blocks. Chords, melodies, tones, drums, percussion sections, you name it. And then we have basically a very delicate algorithmic DJ deck with up to 15 channels right now, based on the tagging system, it’s able to recombine these musical components into a real composition in real time, and maintaining both the aesthetic qualities of… The artistic vision of the artist that created it, as well as a smoothness and connectivity to continuously be able to change anything you want basically in that music.
1:19:00.1 MK: So that’s a system we have developed. We have prototyped it in many clinics over the last months. And actually right now speaking, last month, we reached 150 patient experiences we are supporting per month. These are primarily Ketamine clinics. And this week is actually very exciting because we have onboarded 150 more therapists from our 3000 large wait list, which is part of a larger wait list of 60,000, that we’re gradually opening up. And what’s happening right now is we are extending this beta testing platform, which includes an educational portal, with courses on the use of person-centered use of music and all those things, give that to our beta testers for free for eight months, and then ask them to subscribe on a monthly basis against a discount, these are all the perks you have as a beta-tester basically.
1:19:50.9 MK: And then next year in Q1, we are going to go to public with this, we have our first public release, it’s still be a web application, which it allows us to maintain a certain immediacy and smoothness for updating parts of the codes basically in music, but it will be a fully public release in the course of Q1. And that will then move into a native application and then much more sophisticated versions of that for, based on the needs of the clinic. We’re working on things like biometric data integration, patient data management, as well as things like using music for the preparation phase, as well as the acute phase, needless to say, and then also the integration phase. There’s a full circle within the same platform. And careseekers can have a careseeker version of the platform that allows them to use music for the betterment of their well-being and mental health, and they can also be referred if they’re interested to clinics locally or retreats locally that are using the Wavepaths system as well, so we aim to get both sides of the market, the puzzle.
1:21:00.5 PA: In every ecosystem, because there will be a [unclear speech] and process of that, the same thing, we think about that with Third Wave, you will have the people who have major depressive disorder or treatment-resistant depression or alcoholism, who are going into a psychiatric clinic or who are receiving this healing who have… At least in the United States, the insurance system is a little funky, who maybe have a little bit more of disposable income, but we also have a lot of people who just fucking grow their own mushrooms, they’re like, okay, I wanna at home. And so having a beautiful thing like Wavepaths that’s algorithmic, that’s music, is perfect.
1:21:34.0 PA: And that’s what’s so beautiful, I think, about what you are creating, what David Champion with Maya is creating, what we’re doing with Third Wave, even Dylan is doing with Mindbloom, is there’s really… There’s all this sort of hubbub about these companies going public and raising tens of million of dollars, and which is important, and infrastructure and drug development and clinical research, all that is great. But what I love about the sort of the companies that I mentioned and what we’re doing is we’re really looking at what’s available now, how do we create that ecosystem and how do we ensure that we build tools that are accessible to anyone and everyone regardless of socioeconomic status and regardless of… Even regardless of credentials or PhDs or whatever, we really want to make something, a product that’s so profoundly helpful that anyone can use it and find benefit from it.
1:22:31.3 MK: Yeah, you’re completely right. It’s important that this is available to anyone, independently of your economic status or your race, or at least the educational materials are available to everyone. Because not everyone may may benefit or should take psychedelics, let’s put it out there as well. But I think this is what’s really good about you guys are doing at Third Wave within this global third wave is really focusing on the educational content, which is absolutely foundational.
1:23:00.2 PA: It’s critical. Well, Mendel, I wanna be respectful of your time. We’re reaching the 10:30 mark, which I think is for 3:30 in Portugal, you’re five hours ahead. We’ve been meaning to do this for two years now, it was well worth the wait. I’m so glad that we had a chance to drop in for… This is a little bit longer then we go for these podcasts, but there’s just too much richness, there’s… We could probably keep talking about this for another three hours because there’s that sort of intricacy that we can both go into, and we’ll save those for private conversations when I come down to hang out with you and surf in Portugal.
1:23:35.4 PA: So I think as a final note, where people can find out more about Wavepaths, if you have sort of an early access sign-up, looking for a web app, what’s sort of a good step in terms of finding out more details about you, Wavepaths and what you’re looking at?
1:23:51.5 MK: So the best is to go to our website, there’s various sign-ups and wait lists for both our native application for the public, our therapist tool, the research that we are doing, but we’re also… We have a social media team internally we’re active on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. So if you just look at Wavepaths, you will find these different pages on these different platforms. I myself am only available on… Or I only use… I’m only active on Twitter. I deleted Facebook a few years ago.
1:24:29.5 PA: The right decision. You’re a pioneer even in that way. Great, so Wavepaths, and that’s wavepaths.net?
1:24:37.8 MK: Wavepaths.com.
1:24:41.3 PA: Wavepaths.com. And then you’re on social @wavepaths. Mendel can be found on Twitter.
1:24:44.6 MK: @MendelKaelen on Twitter, yeah.
1:24:47.2 PA: We’ll get you an Instagram one of these days, but…
1:24:50.2 MK: I am on Instagram, actually, but I’m not using it for Wavepaths or even socially. I did use it to edit photos and videos.
1:24:56.7 PA: Oh, cool.
1:24:57.9 MK: And people like it, I get followers. And people should feel free to follow me on Instagram, but it’s not Wavepaths-related.
1:25:05.4 PA: Good, good. Well, Mendel, again, thank you so much, and it was an honor to do this with you and I’m just so impressed with what you built and getting a PhD is awesome, and then spelunking that into an incredible startup, that is doing what you’re doing is phenomenal. So just thank you for all the work and everything that you’re creating.
1:25:28.5 MK: Thank you. Also humble to do the work and grateful for the invitation and I really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks, Paul.