Naturalizing psychedelic spirituality

Zygon 52 (3):623-642 (2017)
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A pressing philosophical problem is how to respond to the existential, anxiety and disenchantment resulting from a naturalistic worldview that eschews transcendent foundations for meaning and value. This problem is becoming more urgent as the popularization of neuroscientific findings renders a disenchanted conception of human beings ever more vivid, compelling, and widespread. I argue that the study of transformative experiences occasioned by classic psychedelic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide and psilocybin may reveal the nature of a viable practical solution to this problem. Despite the apparent centrality of nonnaturalistic metaphysical apprehensions to psychedelic transformation, findings from psychedelic research suggest that key elements of psychedelic or “entheogenic” spirituality are consistent with naturalism. These include disruption to neurocognitive mechanisms underpinning the sense of self, and consequent experiences of self-transcendence and of the decoupling of attention from personal concerns. This liberation of attention can result in the availability of broader perspectives and the development of wonder and appreciation for life.



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Chris Letheby
University of Western Australia

Citations of this work

Mysticism.Jerome Gellman - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Compassionate use of psychedelics.Martin Šurkala & Adam Greif - 2020 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 23 (3):485-496.

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The varieties of religious experience. A Study in human Nature.William James - 1902 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 54:516-527.

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