Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness.This is not quite hedonism, although it's surely close, but it is a form of nihilism. The possibility of meaning in life is simply ignored. If you see things this way then it seems you might as well just try to find the best drugs (or consciousness-altering alternatives) that you can. Which is not quite what Harris goes on to recommend, but drugs do come into it.
One thing this sentence reminds me of is playing rugby when I was a kid. I was never very good and rarely very into it, but I did play. I remember sometimes being in two minds about how to approach being on the field. One temptation was to wait for it all to end. With luck I wouldn't get too cold or muddy and would escape unhurt. But this is usually a good way to get bored, cold, and scolded or ridiculed for not joining in. The other option was to throw myself into the game, which turned out to be fun. Mostly I think I was so inept that the game tended to pass me by anyway, but I feel as though I learned something. And that was not to focus too much on your own consciousness but to throw yourself (fairly literally when it comes to making tackles in rugby) into something bigger than that. It could be argued, of course, that the ultimate goal is still very much related to one's own consciousness, but to make that argument is to retreat into the quasi-solipsistic position in which there is no meaning, and you get bored and lonely. I think we all move from self-consciousness (in the sense of focusing on one's own thoughts and feelings) to being caught up in the world and back again, but it seems like a bad idea to get stuck in the self. (I don't know whether getting stuck in the world, never reflecting or paying attention to yourself, would be a good thing. I'm pretty sure it would be impossible, though, at least for me.)
Harris recommends certain drugs partly as a way to escape the bounds of the self, which seems a little odd even though I think I see his point. He ends up saying that:
The power of psychedelics, however, is that they often reveal, in the span of a few hours, depths of awe and understanding that can otherwise elude us for a lifetime.The word 'understanding' seems out of place here. How can hallucinating and chemically manipulating your mind lead to understanding? What he seems to have in mind comes out in this paragraph:
I have visited both extremes on the psychedelic continuum. The positive experiences were more sublime than I could have ever imagined or than I can now faithfully recall. These chemicals disclose layers of beauty that art is powerless to capture and for which the beauty of Nature herself is a mere simulacrum. It is one thing to be awestruck by the sight of a giant redwood and to be amazed at the details of its history and underlying biology. It is quite another to spend an apparent eternity in egoless communion with it. Positive psychedelic experiences often reveal how wondrously at ease in the universe a human being can be—and for most of us, normal waking consciousness does not offer so much as a glimmer of these deeper possibilities.I can't really argue this, but I will say that I think most of this is bull. If you weep in Itchycoo Park because 'it's all too beautiful" have you actually discovered something that art cannot capture and that even nature cannot match? What could it mean to say that "Nature herself is a mere simulacrum" of something, unless you have in mind Heaven or the World of Forms, perhaps, which Harris clearly does not? It might seem that beautiful, but it isn't, and you haven't discovered that it is. You just feel as if you have. What might be true is Harris's last point here, that you can discover "how wondrously at ease in the universe a human being can be," although, as he admits, there are other ways to reach the same state or make the same discovery.
I'm not saying that everyone should Just Say No. But feeling enlightened and being enlightened are not the same thing. Harris might see that point, but he seems to obscure it at times. He's otherwise quite sensible about the pros and cons of taking drugs, although he might add that their being illegal is a good reason not to encourage your kids to take them. They might end up like David Gilmour's son (whose sentence for a "drink and drug-fuelled rampage" seems harsh to me, but I'm talking about what can happen, not what should happen). Anyway, I won't be encouraging my daughter to take LSD as Harris seems to intend to do.