Psychedelic Expansion of Consciousness: A Phenomenological Study in Terms of Attention

InCircolo 13:111-135 (2022)
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Abstract

Induced by intake of the psychedelic substances LSD, psilocybin, DMT and mescaline, psychedelic experiences have been extensively described by subjects as entailing a most unusual increase in the scope and quality of their consciousness. Accordingly, psychedelic experiences have been widely characterised as an “expansion of consciousness.” This article poses the following question, as yet unaddressed in contemporary philosophy and the tradition of phenomenology: to what exactly does “expansion of consciousness” refer as a general characterisation of psychedelic experiences, and what role might attention play therein? On the basis of Aron Gurwitsch’s phenomenology of attention, the following thesis is presented: (a) “expansion of consciousness” refers to a particular restructuration of consciousness in psychedelic experiences. (b) This occurs by means of certain extreme transformations in direction, scope, mode and degree of attention. In order to explicate this thesis, the characteristic features of psychedelic experiences that pertain to expansion of consciousness and attention are first systematically identified from a survey of subject reports. Second, it is demonstrated that the few previous attempts to understand expansion of consciousness in terms of attention as a filter/reducing-valve, spotlight or zoom-lens each fail to explain how consciousness is structured in psychedelic experiences. Third, it is argued that psychedelic expansion of consciousness is a general restructuration of consciousness by means of extreme attentional transformations. In conclusion, brief consideration is given to the question of whether psychedelic expansion of consciousness can have epistemic and ethical value for life.

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