Softly Into That Good Nitrous

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Nitrous is crazy like that. It rockets you to the heavens, then yanks you back to Earth just as quickly. The American philosopher William James wrote of this experience in his 1882 essay Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide:

"With me, as with every other person who I have heard, the keynote of the experience is the tremendously exciting sense of an intense metaphysical illumination. Truth lies open to the view in depth beneath depth of almost blinding evidence. The mind sees all logical relations of being with an apparent subtlety and instantaneity to which its normal consciousness offers no parallel.

"Only as sobriety returns, the feeling of insight fades, and one is left staring vacantly as a few disjointed phrases, as one stares at a cadaverous looking snow peak from which sunset has just fled."

As is true for most anesthetic agents, no one understands precisely how nitrous oxide works on the brain. We know it distorts synaptic responses in a way that dulls pain and disassociates mind from body, but we don't know exactly how, just as we don't know exactly how planets are made.

Astronomers suspect the first step in the formation of planets occurs inside the giant, gaseous clouds created, in theory, by the Big Bang. One such cloud is located near the constellation Sagittarius. Earlier this year, NASA scientists aimed a radio telescope in its direction to study the radio signature of the cloud's molecules.

Last month, NASA reported its findings: The cloud is nitrous oxide. It's also 25,000 light-years away, or one quick round trip, up, up and away, in a beautiful balloon.

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: [email protected]

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse