Dear Future” is a monthly column that explores the rise of transformative entertainment and how it can be a foundational pillar, alongside psychedelics, in the field of mental health and wellness.
Raad Seraj is a technologist, angel investor, artist and advocate for emerging mental health therapies, including medical psychedelics. He spent a decade in impact technologies ranging from cancer research, climate tech, social entrepreneurship, and Software-As-A-Service (SAAS). To Seraj, technology is how we build systems, psychedelics is how we adapt to uncertainty, and art is how we connect to each other. His work aims to empower communities with both the tools and the wisdom to build a resilient future.
I met Seraj at a conference years ago and geeked out over impact projects, the future of exponential industries, and the importance of joy and laughter along the way. I love his newest project The Mission Club, an education platform that is democratizing angel investing and mobilizing new communities into the psychedelic ecosystem, and everything he pours his heart into.
In this interview, we discuss how technology can empower humanity, why network and community is the most powerful aspect of tech, and what the point of spiritual development is.
As an angel investor in psychedelic space and founder of Mission Club, you must know of many companies dealing with psychedelics and technology. As if being an entrepreneur isn’t hard enough, they need to create a new ecosystem to even start selling a product or service. It seems a bit overwhelming. What do you find is the key for success with these new companies focusing on such a new market?
The psychedelic space is just emerging from the underground. Fifty years of hibernation and forced globalization. It’s hard to predict where it’s going to go. Last year, what prompted the entire space to come overground has mostly been biotech, around classical psychedelics and their direct mechanism of action on the mind and human spirit.
As we mature and get beyond biotech and trying to claim space and patents, I think we’re going to see a whole other generation of technologies and business coming up as ancillary infrastructure around the substances. I think we haven’t fully explored what that means.
Technology generally makes things faster, cheaper, and better, whether in an incremental way or in a completely novel way. Neuroscience, neurotechnology, is where I think we’re going to see the most notable applications. Because mental health has been misunderstood, underfunded and under focused on, this is where technology can have a big part to play. Especially because we have much more immersive technologies. Understanding and creating immersive spaces is much better than it used to be.
What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs that are just coming into the mental health or psychedelic spaces, or both?
Try to understand who it is you’re serving. Who are your customers? What do they want? What do they need? And what exists already? Are you providing something incrementally better, or are you borrowing something that is completely novel?
What regulatory risk exists behind that? Is it a consumer product? Is it a product that will exist behind a paywall of some sort? A subscription-based product, or something like those services?
There’s this irrational exuberance that existed the last two years, understandably so. But as we mature as a community, as a space, it’s very important to understand what value you are actually providing. Are you in a crowded space or not? If you’re doing something completely novel, the risks are going to be very different.
Your new podcast, The Minority Trip Report, centers underrepresented views and lived experiences with mental health and the emerging psychedelic sector. Technology and software specifically has the ability to produce products that are much more accessible than most therapies. Where else do you see the ability to diversify and create more equitable solutions?
There’s a quote that says “Any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It really does open up new dimensions, new ways of seeing and experiencing things. But technology alone is not enough.
Technology is just an amplifier of intent. Without providing the cultural scaffolding around it, how do you discern a good experience from a bad one? How do you educate your customers and community? Obviously some technologies are better than others. But over all, culture does not evolve at the pace of technology. Sooner or later, people are going to use or abuse it. So how do you enable communities and people to use it as best as possible? Even the best neurotechnology in the world cannot help you understand the function of meditation if you don’t understand how to slow down and take space. You can’t make space for yourself if you don’t know how. No caliber of fancy tech will solve that.
How can psychedelic and tech companies address this problem?
You can define technologies as hardware or software, but the most powerful technology is our network layer on top of it. So how do you do that? How do you build critical mass and a virtuous cycle, where people can enable each other while using that service? You can empower the network with education, with enablement, or whatever other resource you want to use. The network layer is the most powerful aspect of any technology. Any device that’s going to have a tangible impact is going to have some level of network enablement built into it.
If there was a community gamifying the experience with leadership boards, meetups, or educational spaces, it would be very different. I don’t see that in the neurotech space.
That’s a good point. Most techies build technologies thinking that it’s enough, or that it’s about the technology itself. It’s an important aspect, but I think people don’t want more isolated experiences. People want to experience the world and life, and heal together with other people. Of course some experiences are very personal, but that doesn’t have to mean lonely. How do you build personalized experiences, while allowing the expense to be shared if people consent to it, and building that into the experience itself? Otherwise, to your point, it’s just more consumer tech that’ll become outdated and replaced quickly.
Your average person might consider positive technology to be solar panels or the DeExtinction project. But when they think about social apps or video games, or the substances they’re consuming, they rarely think about it having an impact and creating a more positive version of themselves. They tend to think of it as escapism or addiction. You and I connected around a newsletter I wrote regarding the need for new Sustainable Development Goals of benevolent technologies. The UN has 17 SDGs, but with the coming AI revolution, digital therapeutics, immersive tech and even BCI implants, it is more important now than ever.
What do you envision as tangible steps to get to a place where humanity recognizes the opportunity for consumer tech that can create a better future?
We connected around the need for a new group of goals that speak to the inner development of human beings, the cultural, intrapersonal, spiritual development of humanity. I think that art has been missing because for the last 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve forced upon the world this modern model of progress. I’m not a Luddite in the sense that all technology is evil. I think technology is ultimately agnostic. It’s about how we choose to use it. The choice to use it in a particular way is one that’s been monopolized.
I spent most of my career in climate tech and policy innovation, and I’ve spent a lot of time around the SDGs. I think we need Inner Development Goals, IDGs. It could stem as the 18th SDG, which would be mindfulness or spiritual development. I think every human being needs that. Without it, we’d remain passive consumers of life and experiences that are thrust upon us. There’s no sense of urgency. Ultimately, the point of spiritual development is agency. To feel that you have foresight about where each of your choices lead, and to make your own choice about which way you want to go, knowing the things you do and don’t know. That’s the whole point.
Technology will hopefully enable that part of human nature that chooses to do the right or wrong thing. What the technology is doesn’t matter – you can use a solar panel to power weapons. Ultimately, the intent is what we’re after. It requires discernment, spiritual nourishment, and inner development knowledge. I don’t think any of the systems around us truly enable the best nature of human beings.
So what technologies do we need that have yet to be invented? I think psychedelics are one part of that. They are not the end all be all silver bullet or the magical solution. But they do have the ability to help people stop, reevaluate, and reassess where their life is going and how they want to live it.
Your framing feels a bit like the chicken or the egg scenario. In order for people to understand how and why they should be using these technologies that enhance their inward journey, they have to have some sort of spiritual nourishment. And on the other side, the technology provides that spiritual nourishment.
When I hear chicken in the egg, I hear life and death. It’s an endless cycle. The way I look at it is you have to be on this continuous path of learning, like being born and dying. In Brian C. Muraresku’s “The Immortality Key,” he writes, “If you die before you die, you don’t die when you die.” I love that quote because it speaks to this endless cycle of life and death, and I think nobody really has the answer.
The ultimate point is, how do you set up the right container for yourself when the lessons do come, so you’re able to actually engage with them? My first profound psychedelic journeys wouldn’t have been so profound without the community and people around me supporting my growth. Instead of thinking about the chicken or the egg, think about “where can more chickens grow?”
What’s Happening in TransTech
Reality Center A good friend of mine recently started this location-based experience in Santa Monica and I had the opportunity to check it out. Utilizing state of the art light and vibration technology, this center makes neurohacking accessible for individuals and groups of up to 4. I love their focus on group work where you can drop into a resonant state with other people, or even go into a couples room to get vibed up with a loved one.
Mynd VR Digital Therapeutic When considering some of the main advantages of immersive technology, what stands front and center is accessibility. With disabled and elderly patients being at the top of the list, it’sno wonder a company like Mynd VR has gotten the attention and traction they deserve.
Creating a movement through game culture I found this talk eye opening and extremely relevant as technology continues to enable cult-like mentality at alarming rates. How can we leverage this global phenomena to create a positive impact? I believe this is one of the most important questions we can be asking as a society.
Featured image: Raad Seraj