In recent years, the scientific study of meditation and psychedelic drugs has seen remarkable developments. The increased focus on meditation in cognitive neuroscience has led to a cross-cultural classification of standard meditation styles validated by functional and structural neuroanatomical data. Meanwhile, the renaissance of psychedelic research has shed light on the neurophysiology of altered states of consciousness induced by classical psychedelics, such as psilocybin and LSD, whose effects are mainly mediated by agonism of serotonin receptors. Few attempts have been (...) made at bridging these two domains of inquiry, despite intriguing evidence of overlap between the phenomenology and neurophysiology of meditation practice and psychedelic states. In particular, many contemplative traditions explicitly aim at dissolving the sense of self by eliciting altered states of consciousness through meditation, while classical psychedelics are known to produce significant disruptions of self-consciousness, a phenomenon known as drug-induced ego dissolution. In this article, we discuss available evidence regarding convergences and differences between phenomenological and neurophysiological data on meditation practice and psychedelic drug-induced states, with a particular emphasis on alterations of self-experience. While both meditation and psychedelics may disrupt self-consciousness and underlying neural processes, we emphasize that neither meditation nor psychedelic states can be conceived as simple, uniform categories. Moreover, we suggest that there are important phenomenological differences even between conscious states described as experiences of self-loss. As a result, we propose that self-consciousness may be best construed as a multidimensional construct, and that “self-loss,” far from being an unequivocal phenomenon, can take several forms. Indeed, various aspects of self-consciousness, including narrative aspects linked to autobiographical memory, self-related thoughts and mental time travel, and embodied aspects rooted in multisensory processes, may be differently affected by psychedelics and meditation practices. Finally, we consider long-term outcomes of experiences of self-loss induced by meditation and psychedelics on individual traits and prosocial behavior. We call for caution regarding the problematic conflation of temporary states of self-loss with “selflessness” as a behavioral or social trait, although there is preliminary evidence that correlations between short-term experiences of self-loss and long-term trait alterations may exist. (shrink)
The urgent need for solutions to critical environmental challenges is well attested, but often environmental problems are understood as fundamentally collective action problems. However, to solve to these problems, there is also a need to change individual behavior. Hence, there is a pressing need to inculcate in individuals the environmental virtues — virtues of character that relate to our environmental place in the world. We propose a way of meeting this need, by the judicious, safe, and controlled administration of “classic” (...) psychedelic drugs as a way to catalyze the development of environmental virtues – a form of moral bio-enhancement. Recent evidence shows that psychedelics can be given safely in controlled environments, and can induce vivid experiences of unity and connectedness. These experiences, in turn, can durably increase feelings of nature-relatedness and pro-environmental behaviors. Therefore, we argue that responsible psychedelic use can reliably catalyze the development of a key environmental virtue known as living in place. This is a “master environmental virtue” that subsumes the qualities of respect for nature, proper humility, and aesthetic wonder and awe. Our account advances the environmental virtues debate by introducing a relevant practical proposal, and advances the psychedelic moral enhancement debate by providing a much-needed conceptual framework. (shrink)
Psychedelic ingestion and meditative practice are both ancient methods for altering consciousness that became widely known in Western society in the second half of the 20th century. Do the similarities begin and end there, or do these methods – as many have claimed over the years – share some deeper common elements? In this chapter I take a neurophilosophical approach to this question and argue that there are, indeed, deeper commonalities. Recent empirical studies show that psychedelics and meditation modulate (...) overlapping brain networks involved in the sense of self, salience, and attention; moreover, psychedelics can occasion lasting increases in “mindfulness-related capacities” for taking a non-reactive stance on one’s inner experience (e.g. Sampedro et al. 2017). The self-binding theory of psychedelic ego dissolution (Letheby and Gerrans 2017) offers a plausible explanation of these findings: by disrupting self-related beliefs implemented in high-level cortical networks, both psychedelics and meditation can “unbind” mental contents from one’s self-model, moving these contents along the continuum from phenomenal transparency to opacity (cf. Metzinger 2003). In other words, both psychedelics and meditation can expose and weaken our foundational beliefs about our own identity, allowing us to disidentify with these beliefs and see them as “just thoughts”. There are connections between these ideas and recent arguments suggesting that psychedelic use may have epistemic benefits consistent with philosophical naturalism (Letheby 2015, 2016, 2019). I conclude with a proposal: these connections may help in thinking about the putative epistemic benefits of meditation practice from a naturalistic perspective. (shrink)
The moral enhancement debate seems stuck in a dilemma. On the one hand, the more radical proposals, while certainly novel and interesting, seem unlikely to be feasible in practice, or if technically feasible then most likely imprudent. But on the other hand, the more sensible proposals – sensible in the sense of being both practically achievable and more plausibly ethically justifiable – can be rather hard to distinguish from both traditional forms of moral enhancement, such as non-drug-mediated social or moral (...) education, and non-moral forms of bioenhancement, such as smart-drug style cognitive enhancement. In this essay, I argue that bioethicists have paid insufficient attention to an alternative form of moral bioenhancement – or at least a likely candidate – that falls somewhere between these two extremes, namely the use of certain psychedelic drugs. (shrink)
In this opinion piece we propose the investigation of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD is a psychiatric disorder characterised by appearance-based preoccupations and accompanying compulsions. While safe and effective treatments for BDD exist, non-response and relapse rates remain high. Therefore, there is a need to investigate promising new treatment options for this highly debilitating condition. Preliminary evidence suggests safety, feasibility, and potential efficacy of psychedelic treatments in disorders that share similar psychopathological mechanisms with BDD. (...) Drawing on this evidence, as well as on relevant qualitative reports and theoretical proposals, we argue that it would be worthwhile to conduct a phase 2a study aimed at assessing the safety and feasibility of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in BDD. We also offer some suggestions for how future research ought to proceed. (shrink)
hroughout medieval Christianity, religious works of art emerged to illustrate the teachings of the Bible for the largely illiterate population. What, then, is the significance of the psychoactive mushrooms hiding in plain sight in the artwork and icons of many European and Middle-Eastern churches? Does Christianity have a psychedelic history? -/- Providing stunning visual evidence from their anthropological journey throughout Europe and the Middle East, including visits to Roslyn Chapel and Chartres Cathedral, authors Julie and Jerry Brown document the role (...) of visionary plants in Christianity. They retrace the pioneering research of R. Gordon Wasson, the famous “sacred mushroom seeker,” on psychedelics in ancient Greece and India, and among the present-day reindeer herders of Siberia and the Mazatecs of Mexico. Challenging Wasson’s legacy, the authors reveal his secret relationship with the Vatican that led to Wasson’s refusal to pursue his hallucinogen theory into the hallowed halls of Christianity. -/- Examining the Bible and the Gnostic Gospels, the authors provide scriptural support to show that sacred mushrooms were the inspiration for Jesus’ revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven and that he was initiated into these mystical practices in Egypt during the Missing Years. They contend that the Trees of Knowledge and of Immortality in Eden were sacred mushrooms. -/- Uncovering the role played by visionary plants in the origins of Judeo-Christianity, the authors invite us to rethink what we know about the life of Jesus and to consider a controversial theory that challenges us to explore these sacred pathways to the divine. (shrink)
Recent clinical trials show that psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin can be given safely in controlled conditions, and can cause lasting psychological benefits with one or two administrations. Supervised psychedelic sessions can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and addiction, and improve well-being in healthy volunteers, for months or even years. But these benefits seem to be mediated by "mystical" experiences of cosmic consciousness, which prompts a philosophical concern: do psychedelics cause psychological benefits by inducing false or implausible (...) beliefs about the metaphysical nature of reality? This book is the first scholarly monograph in English devoted to the philosophical analysis of psychedelic drugs. Its central focus is the apparent conflict between the growing use of psychedelics in psychiatry and the philosophical worldview of naturalism. Within the book, Letheby integrates empirical evidence and philosophical considerations in the service of a simple conclusion: this "Comforting Delusion Objection" to psychedelic therapy fails. While exotic metaphysical ideas do sometimes come up, they are not, on closer inspection, the central driver of change in psychedelic therapy. Psychedelics lead to lasting benefits by altering the sense of self, and changing how people relate to their own minds and lives-not by changing their beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality. The upshot is that a traditional conception of psychedelics as agents of insight and spirituality can be reconciled with naturalism (the philosophical position that the natural world is all there is). Controlled psychedelic use can lead to genuine forms of knowledge gain and spiritual growth-even if no Cosmic Consciousness or transcendent divine Reality exists. Philosophy of Psychedelics is an indispensable guide to the literature for researchers already engaged in the field of psychedelic psychiatry, and for researchers-especially philosophers-who want to become acquainted with this increasingly topical field. (shrink)
It has been hypothesized that psychedelic experiences elicit lasting psychological benefits by altering narrative selfhood, which has yet to be explicitly studied. The present study investigates retrospective reports (n = 418) of changes to narrative self that participants believe resulted from, or were catalysed by, their psychedelic experience(s). Responses to open-ended questions were analysed using inductive and deductive thematic coding and interpreted within agent-centred approaches to development and well-being. Themes include decentred introspection, greater access to self-knowledge, positive shifts in self-evaluation (...) processes, greater psychological and behavioural autonomy, and enhanced connectedness with others and the world. While this explorative qualitative study offers some initial support for the explanation that changes to narrative self are a cornerstone of psychedelics' therapeutic and transformative potential, methodological and recruiting limitations preclude the ability to make objective claims and generalizations. Future scientific research is necessary to further elucidate this hypothesized mechanism. (shrink)
Psychedelic Harm Reduction and Integration is a transtheoretical and transdiagnostic clinical approach to working with patients who are using or considering using psychedelics in any context. The ongoing discussion of psychedelics in academic research and mainstream media, coupled with recent law enforcement deprioritization of psychedelics and compassionate use approvals for psychedelic-assisted therapy, make this model exceedingly timely. Given the prevalence of psychedelic use, the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, and the unique cultural and historical context in which (...)psychedelics are placed, it is important that mental health providers have an understanding of the unique motivations, experiences, and needs of people who use them. PHRI incorporates elements of harm reduction psychotherapy and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, and can be applied in both brief and ongoing psychotherapy interactions. PHRI represents a shift away from assessment limited to untoward outcomes of psychedelic use and abstinence-based addiction treatment paradigms and toward a stance of compassionate, destigmatizing acceptance of patients' choices. Considerations for assessment, preparation, and working with difficult experiences are presented. (shrink)
Chris Letheby argues in Philosophy of Psychedelics that psychedelics and knowledge are compatible. Psychedelics may cause new mental states, some of which can be states of knowledge. But the influence of psychedelics is largely psychological, and not all psychological processes are epistemic. So I want to build on the distinction between processes of discovery and processes of justification to criticise some aspects of Letheby’s epistemology of psychedelics. Unarguably, psychedelics can elicit processes of discovery. Yet, (...) I hold, they can hardly contribute either to the epistemic success of a mental state or to processes of justification. As these are central for a mental state to be a state of knowledge and are largely uninfluenced by psychedelics, the contributions of psychedelics to knowledge are rather indirect than direct: The heavy epistemic lifting—what turns a mental state into a state of knowledge—is, in its epistemic aspects, independent of any influence of psychedelics on our psyche. Positively, while the mechanisms that Letheby points to need not be associated with knowledge, they do provide crucial epistemic benefits if they are associated with understanding. Reading them as facilitating understanding covers also those cases where truth or justification is missing and thereby provides a broader picture of the epistemic contributions of psychedelics. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Recent neuroimaging studies of the psychedelic state, which have commanded great media attention, are reviewed. They show that psychedelic trances are consistently accompanied by broad reductions in brain activity, despite their experiential richness. This result is at least counterintuitive from the perspective of mainstream physicalism, according to which subjective experience is entirely constituted by brain activity. In this brief analysis, the generic implications of physicalism regarding the relationship between the richness of experience and brain activity levels are rigorously examined from (...) an informational perspective, and then made explicit and unambiguous. These implications are then found to be non-trivial to reconcile with the results of said neuroimaging studies, which highlights the significance of such studies for the mind-body problem and philosophy of mind in general. (shrink)
Beginning with a review of Michael Pollan's latest book about the renaissance of research into the use of psychedelics to treat addiction, depression, and end-of-life anxiety, this essay considers wisdom and insight that might be gained by examining the psychedelic practices of primitive people. Pollan finds that almost all who begin using psychedelics to treat the ill eventually come to the conclusion that they should be made available for the broader purpose of 'the betterment of well people'. By (...) considering both scientific and spiritual perspectives on these compounds, the book offers insight into the toxicity not only of our mental environment, but at the same time our relationship to fellow humanity and Mother Nature. However, Pollan does not consider what is perhaps the greatest source of wisdom regarding the pharmacological potential of psychedelics: primitive societies who have long incorporated these compounds into their ways of being. By casting anthropological accounts of primitive psychedelic practices against those of contemporary research, this essay seeks to deepen enquiry into the pathologies of modern personhood as they bear upon the ecological crisis, together with the potential value of entheogens for understanding and responding to these problems. (shrink)
Jane Arden’s debut feature film The Other Side of the Underneath is an adaptation of the radical feminist play A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches. In both the play and the later film, the all-female cast re-enact personal and archetypal situations using autobiographical material, which was collectively gathered from group therapy sessions led by the director. Psychedelic drugs were also consumed during the group therapy sessions. In this article, I will situate Arden’s distinct approach to performance in the (...) film within the framework of psychodrama, focusing specifically on the role that psychedelic drugs play in unleashing performers’ repressed feelings of trauma, rage, and desire; these emotions are harnessed into a dynamic mode of performance that amplifies the cathartic possibilities of women’s speech. The film’s heady brew of radical feminist politics, group therapy, and countercultural self-actualisation is both challenging and contentious. I argue that Arden’s pursuit of consciousness liberation through psychodrama and psychedelics—in other words, through ‘raising’ and ‘expanding’ consciousness—is best understood as a concerted attempt to align countercultural and radical feminist tactics for unravelling repressive forms of social conditioning. (shrink)
Can the use of psychedelic drugs induce lasting changes in metaphysical beliefs? While it is popularly believed that they can, this question has never been formally tested. Here we exploited a large sample derived from prospective online surveying to determine whether and how beliefs concerning the nature of reality, consciousness, and free‑will, change after psychedelic use. Results revealed significant shifts away from ‘physicalist’ or ‘materialist’ views, and towards panpsychism and fatalism, post use. With the exception of fatalism, these changes endured (...) for at least 6 months, and were positively correlated with the extent of past psychedelic‑use and improved mental‑health outcomes. Path modelling suggested that the belief‑shifts were moderated by impressionability at baseline and mediated by perceived emotional synchrony with others during the psychedelic experience. The observed belief‑shifts post‑psychedelic‑use were consolidated by data from an independent controlled clinical trial. Together, these findings imply that psychedelic‑use may causally influence metaphysical beliefs—shifting them away from ‘hard materialism’. We discuss whether these apparent effects are contextually independent. (shrink)
One recent development in epistemology, the philosophical study of knowledge, is the notion of ‘epistemic innocence’ introduced by Bortolotti and colleagues. This concept expresses the idea that certain suboptimal cognitive processes may nonetheless have epistemic (knowledge-related) benefits. The idea that delusion or confabulation may have psychological benefits is familiar enough. What is novel and interesting is the idea that such conditions may also yield significant and otherwise unavailable epistemic benefits. I apply the notion of epistemic innocence to research on the (...) transformative potential of psychedelic drugs. The popular epithet ‘hallucinogen’ exemplifies a view of these substances as fundamentally epistemically detrimental. I argue that the picture is more complicated and that some psychedelic states can be epistemically innocent. This conclusion is highly relevant to policy debates about psychedelic therapy. Moreover, analysing the case of psychedelics can shed further light on the concept of epistemic innocence itself. (shrink)
Letheby’s book is an engaging and crystal-clear exploration of the philosophical issues raised by the use of psychedelic drugs. In this paper, we focus on the epistemological issues Letheby examines in chapter 8 and argue that his analysis requires an agency-first approach to epistemic evaluation. On an agency-first approach, epistemic evaluation is about identifying the skills agents needs to acquire in order to pursue and fulfil their epistemic goals.
Serotonergic (or “classic”) psychedelics have struck many researchers as raising significant philosophical questions that, until recently, were largely unexplored by academic philosophers. This paper provides an overview of four emerging lines of research at the intersection of academic philosophy and psychedelic science that have gained considerable traction in the last decade: selfless consciousness, psychedelic epistemology, psychedelic ethics, and spiritual/religious naturalism. In this paper, we highlight philosophical questions concerning (i) psychedelics, self-consciousness, and phenomenal consciousness, (ii) the epistemic profile of (...) the psychedelic experience; (iii) ethical concerns about the appropriate use of psychedelics; and (iv) whether spiritual or religious dimensions of psychedelic use are compatible with a naturalistic worldview. (shrink)
Recent scientific research suggests that altered states of consciousness induced by classic psychedelic drugs can cause durable psychological benefits in both healthy and patient populations. The phenomenon of ‘psychedelic transformation’ has many philosophically provocative aspects, not least of which is the claim commonly made by psychedelic subjects that their transformation is centrally due to some kind of learning or knowledge gain. Can psychedelic experiences really be a source of knowledge? From the vantage point of philosophical materialism or naturalism, a negative (...) answer is tempting because psychedelic subjects often claim drug-facilitated knowledge of non-natural, transcendent realities. This fact, combined with common conceptions of these drugs as ‘hallucinogenic’ or ‘psychotomimetic’, invites the conclusion that claims of epistemic benefit from psychedelic experience are uniformly false. However, several recent proposals have been made in the literature about naturalistically acceptable epistemic benefits that might arise from psychedelic use. In this chapter I review these proposals, classifying them in accordance with standard epistemological categories, and discuss the arguments for and against them. I also offer some suggestions for future research. (shrink)
In the present paper, we discuss the ethics of compassionate psychedelic psychotherapy and argue that it can be morally permissible. When talking about psychedelics, we mean specifically two substances: psilocybin and MDMA. When administered under supportive conditions and in conjunction with psychotherapy, therapies assisted by these substances show promising results. However, given the publicly controversial nature of psychedelics, compassionate psychedelic psychotherapy calls for ethical justification. We thus review the safety and efficacy of psilocybin- and MDMA-assisted therapies and claim (...) that it can be rational for some patients to try psychedelic therapy. We think it can be rational despite the uncertainty of outcomes associated with compassionate use as an unproven treatment regime, as the expected value of psychedelic psychotherapy can be assessed and can outweigh the expected value of routine care, palliative care, or no care at all. Furthermore, we respond to the objection that psychedelic psychotherapy is morally impermissible because it is epistemically harmful. We argue that given the current level of understanding of psychedelics, this objection is unsubstantiated for a number of reasons, but mainly because there is no experimental evidence to suggest that epistemic harm actually takes place. (shrink)
A mildly chronological overview of the philosophers who may have been inspired by the use of psychoactive chemicals, inc. Plato, de Quincey, Davy, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, James, Bergson, Benjamin, Jünger, Paz, Marcuse, Sartre, Foucault; and a mention of the Outsight project. -/- This article was based on a talk given for the University of Exeter Philosophy Society and at the ICPR2016 conference.
Recent scientific research into the therapeutic potential and mechanisms of psychedelic drugs raises intriguing and hitherto largely unexplored philosophical questions. A brief overview of the relevant science is given before addressing these questions. It is argued that psychedelic transformation is a distinctive psycho- pharmacological intervention because its mechanism of action ineliminably involves conscious mental representations, and thus is more transparent to the subject than the mechanisms of other drug therapies. This argument connects with issues in the philosophy of (cognitive) scientific (...) explanation. It is also argued that transformative psychedelic experiences may well confer three distinct kinds of epistemic benefits: knowledge by acquaintance of the subject's psychological potential, knowledge by acquaintance of the meta-physical nature of the (sense of) self, and revitalized capacities for the acquisition of modal knowledge. Non-naturalistic metaphysical and epistemological claims abound in psychedelic circles; thus, it is important to realize that psychedelics may yield naturalistically acceptable epistemic benefits. (shrink)
Psychedelic compounds are regaining widespread interest due to emerging evidence surrounding their therapeutic effects. The controversial nature of these compounds highlights the need for extensive bioethical input to guide the process of medicalisation. To date there is no bioethics literature that consults the voices of psychedelic-using communities in order to help guide normative considerations of psychedelic medicalisation. In this paper I argue that psychedelic-using communities ought to be included in bioethical discussions that guide normative elements of psychedelic medicalisation. I argue (...) this by presenting two points. First, psychedelic-using communities hold a degree of epistemic expertise regarding psychedelics by virtue of their embodied experiences with these compounds. Therefore, these communities are able to identify normative considerations that communities without embodied experiences would overlook. Second, psychedelic-using communities are uniquely and heavily affected by psychedelic medicalisation. Therefore, the needs of these communities ought to be considered when evaluating and implementing normative changes that alter psychedelic usage in society. The counterargument that psychedelic-using communities should not guide normative considerations of psychedelic medicalisation is presented by highlighting empirical data that suggest groups of the public with embodied experiences regarding a topic are less able to engage in deliberative reasoning on the said topic than the lay public. However, I propose that even if this is the case, psychedelic-using communities are owed consultation by agents of psychedelic medicalisation in order to undo and cease perpetuating epistemic injustice against these communities. (shrink)
I highly recommend Philosophy of Psychedelics by Chris Letheby to both the public and academics who want to dig deeper into the modern therapeutic science of psychedelics. In this piece, I will draw attention to key topics covered in the book that I judge as particularly compelling and likely to influence psychedelic therapy and our understanding of it going forward. Clearly, the importance of philosophy in the modern psychedelic therapy renaissance will increase, and Letheby’s Philosophy of Psychedelics (...) will hold a place as a foundational work helping to shape this future. (shrink)
There is a growing interest among scientists and the lay public alike in using the South American psychedelic brew, ayahuasca, to treat psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety. Such a practice is controversial due to a style of reasoning within conventional psychiatry that sees psychedelic-induced modified states of consciousness as pathological. This article analyzes the academic literature on ayahuasca's psychological effects to determine how this style of reasoning is shaping formal scientific discourse on ayahuasca's therapeutic potential as a treatment for (...) depression and anxiety. Findings from these publications suggest that different kinds of experiments are differentially affected by this style of reasoning but can nonetheless indicate some potential therapeutic utility of the ayahuasca-induced modified state of consciousness. The article concludes by suggesting ways in which conventional psychiatry's dominant style of reasoning about psychedelic modified states of consciousness could be reconsidered. (shrink)
Psychedelic-assisted Psychotherapy combines the use of psychedelic compounds, such as psilocybin, with psychotherapy. PAP has shown some promise as a novel treatment for Major Depressive Disorder, and empirical research suggests that its efficacy turns on the altered states induced by psychedelic compounds. In this paper we draw on the literature of phenomenology to explain the therapeutic potential of psychedelic experiences. Svenaeus characterises mental illness as a form of suffering that entails three distinct but related experiences of alienation or “unhomelike being-in-the-world”: (...) illness suffering, which relates to embodiment; existential suffering, which relates to self-narratives, and political suffering, which relates to social relationships. Ratcliffe further characterises the experience of MDD in phenomenological terms as a loss of pre-intentional possibility that manifests as excessive noematic feeling in the experience of embodiment, restrictive narratives in the construction of self, and disconnectedness in experience of the social world. We contend that PAP ameliorates the suffering associated with MDD by inducing and consolidating a state of broadened pre-intentional possibility—one that entails sudden, profound and enduring changes in embodiment, self-narratives, and social experience. We argue further that this phenomenological account is consistent with a bio-psycho-social model of mental health and illness, and we frame it as an argument supporting the plausibility of recent claims about treatment success. This helps to justify ongoing future empirical research in this setting. (shrink)
Letheby’s "Philosophy of Psychedelics" relies on Predictive Processing to try and find unifying explanations relevant to understanding how serotonergic psychedelics work in psychiatric therapy, what subjective experiences are associated with their use and whether such experiences are epistemically defective. But if Predictive Processing lacks genuinely explanatory unifying power, Letheby’s account of psychedelic therapy risks being unwarranted. In this commentary, I motivate this worry and sketch an alternative interpretation of psychedelic therapy within the Reinforcement Learning framework.
Although existential suffering is amongst the most devastating forms of distress experienced by many patients nearing the end-of-life, it is often unsatisfactorily addressed due to a paucity of effective interventions. However, both historic and recent studies of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy have reported marked alleviation of this suffering. As such, this article seeks to advance the rationale for the use of psychedelic substances in the provision of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for patients nearing the end-of-life. It begins with an overview of the classic (...) class='Hi'>psychedelics and their application in psychotherapy, highlighting recent studies. This is followed with a conceptual overview of existential suffering at the end-of-life and the process of selftranscendence. These sections are then integrated in a theoretical rationale for psychedelic-assisted mystical states as a means of facilitating the development of self-transcendence and, through it, the remediation of existential suffering. The paper concludes with a discussion of practical and philosophical considerations germane to the safe and ethical application of psychedelics in healthcare. In particular, developmental considerations for assessing both therapist and patient applicability in utilizing this modality are proposed. (shrink)
An emerging body of research suggests that psychedelic experiences can change users’ religious or metaphysical beliefs. Here I explore issues concerning psychedelic-induced belief change via a critique of some recent arguments by Wayne Glausser. Two scientific studies seem to show that psychedelic experiences can convert atheists to belief in God, but Glausser holds that academic and popular discussions of these studies are misleading. I offer a different analysis of the relevant findings, attempting to preserve the insights of Glausser’s critique while (...) setting the record straight on some important points. For one thing, the studies provide stronger evidence for atheist deconversion than Glausser allows. For another, Glausser’s arguments against the “Metaphysical Belief Theory” of psychedelic therapy involve scientifically dubious claims and inferences. Finally, in evaluating this theory, we ought to focus on its strongest version, which posits belief shifts from metaphysical naturalism to non-naturalism, rather than from atheism to classical monotheism. (shrink)
What makes psychedelic psychotherapy work? Is it the induction of psychedelic experience, with its distinct patterns of hallucinations and insights, or is it the neural ‘shakeup’ that moves the brain out of its regular mode of functioning and into a more disordered state? We consider the role that attention-related phenomenological changes play in psychedelic transformation and psychotherapy. We review Letheby’s account of psychedelic psychotherapy, which appeals to increases in phenomenal opacity as the central mechanism of psychotherapeutic transformation. We argue that (...) there is an alternative vehicle of psychedelic transformation that this account overlooks, involving radically transparent experiences. We outline the common kinds of phenomenal transparency shifts typical of psychedelic experiences, and argue that in many cases, such shifts are responsible for the psychotherapeutic benefits. This argument motivates an alternative approach to possible mechanisms of psychedelic self-transformation, and opens up a new venue of empirical research into the role of attention and phenomenology in psychedelic psychotherapy. (shrink)
This book looks at the possible research and clinical applications of psychedelic substances. Instead of considering the experiences one can have with psychedelics or their uses in psychotherapy, this book views psychedelics' implications for a number of topics "coming over the psychedelic horizon," so to speak.
Users of psychedelic drugs often report that their sense of being a self or ‘I’ distinct from the rest of the world has diminished or altogether dissolved. Neuroscientific study of such ‘ego dissolution’ experiences offers a window onto the nature of self-awareness. We argue that ego dissolution is best explained by an account that explains self-awareness as resulting from the integrated functioning of hierarchical predictive models which posit the existence of a stable and unchanging entity to which representations are bound. (...) Combining recent work on the ‘integrative self' and the phenomenon of self-binding with predictive processing principles yields an explanation of ego dissolution according to which self-representation is a useful Cartesian fiction: an ultimately false representation of a simple and enduring substance to which attributes are bound which serves to integrate and unify cognitive processing across levels and domains. The self-model is not a mere narrative posit, as some have suggested; it has a more robust and ubiquitous cognitive function than that. But this does not mean, as others have claimed, that the self-model has the right attributes to qualify as a self. It performs some of the right kinds of functions, but it is not the right kind of entity. Ego dissolution experiences reveal that the self-model plays an important binding function in cognitive processing, but the self does not exist. (shrink)
This article places a spotlight on lysergic acid diethylamide and American mental health in the 1970s, an era in which psychedelic science was far from settled and researchers continued to push the limits of regulation, resist change and attempt to revolutionise the mental health market-place. The following pages reveal some of the connections between mental health, LSD and the wider setting, avoiding both ascension and declension narratives. We offer a renewed approach to a substance, LSD, which bridged the gap between (...) biomedical understandings of ‘health’ and ‘cure’ and the subjective needs of the individual. Garnering much attention, much like today, LSD created a cross-over point that brought together the humanities and arts, social sciences, health policy, medical education, patient experience and the public at large. It also divided opinion. This study draws on archival materials, medical literature and popular culture to understand the dynamics of psychedelic crossings as a means of engendering a fresh approach to cultural and countercultural-based healthcare during the 1970s. (shrink)
Resumen: El presente trabajo explora el estatuto del arte en la filosofía de Spinoza, en el marco de la inversión copernicana que da origen a la estética y del barroco holandés. Si bien el pensamiento spinozista se inscribe en la conversión antropológica, en donde lo bello resulta ser un efecto en el sujeto y no una cualidad de los objetos, su comprensión del arte es inasimilable a la “estética” como ámbito diferenciado y autónomo que se consolida en el siglo XVIII, (...) y más bien concibe el arte integrado a la vida y a la experiencia común -a la vez que, en cuanto praxis de origen corporal al alcance de cualquiera, presenta puntos de contacto con las vanguardias históricas del siglo XX-. Spinoza, según se propone en este texto, concibe la producción de “obras de arte” menos como un hecho estético que como una actividad corporal éticamente orientada a la vida buena.: The present work explores the status of art in the philosophy of Spinoza, within the framework of the Copernican revolution that gives rise to aesthetics and the Dutch Baroque. Although the Spinozist thought is inscribed in the anthropological conversion by virtue of which beauty turns out to be an effect on the subject and not a property of objects, its understanding of art is unassimilable to "aesthetics" as a differentiated and autonomous area that it was consolidated in the eighteenth century, and rather conceived art integrated to life and common experience -at the same time, as praxis of bodily origin within the reach of anyone, presents points of contact with the historical avant-gardes of the twentieth century-. Spinoza conceives the production of "artworks" less as an aesthetic fact than as a body activity ethically oriented to the good life. (shrink)
The descriptions in the literature of mystical experience and psychedelic experience, such as that induced by LSD, are usually written by persons who have actually experienced only one or perhaps neither of the two states. Because many of the most important effects can be understood by direct experience but only partially described in ordinary language, such lack of direct experience is a major drawback. Since there is disagreement over the question of whether mystical experience and LSD experience can be ‘the (...) same’, it would be helpful if an individual who has experienced aspects of both states would compare them. One of the authors describes his experience with both states. A particular form of mystical experience, cosmic consciousness , occurred spontaneously; no mind altering drugs were used. ALS later took LSD on 12-15 occasions. Both states of consciousness involved alterations in time sense, subject/object boundary, cognition, mood and perception. However, the changes with CC were qualitatively and quantitatively different from those of LSD. The authors conclude that CC and LSD can be quite different states of consciousness, although we cannot completely rule out the possibility that psychedelics might sometimes induce the same kinds of mystical experiences that occur for non-drug reasons. (shrink)
This special issue focuses on the Philosophy of Psychedelics by Chris Letheby in the form of a book symposium. Introduced by Matthew Johnson, Letheby presents the main claims of this book that explores the apparent conflict between psychedelic therapy and naturalism in a précis. Seven contributions criticize, expand or comment on Letheby's arguments, focusing either on his proposed mechanism for psychedelic therapy or on the epistemic implications. The symposium concludes with Letheby’s replies to these commentaries.
Philosopher Peter Sjöstedt-H’s Noumenautics traverses the mindscape of metaphysics, nihilism and psychedelic phenomenology. It navigates through subjects such as the sentience of cells, the constrictions of consciousness, the metaphysics of might, the magic of mushrooms, the narcotics of Nietzsche, and the neologism of neo-nihilism – the last of which may itself cause flashbacks. -/- Tracing the fall of western morality through Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, the book descends deeper still into a metaphysics further upheld by Henri Bergson and Alfred North (...) Whitehead. This collection of essays and notes provides a most idea-provoking, educational, and original piece of literature for the thoughtful lay-reader and specialist alike. -/- Contents: I. Philosophy and Psychedelic Phenomenology II. Myco-Metaphysics: a Philosopher on Magic Mushrooms III. Psychedelics and Empiricism IV. Bergson and Psychedelic Consciousness V. Vertexes of Sentience: Whitehead and Psychedelic Phenomenology VI. Antichrist Psychonaut: Nietzsche and Psychedelics VII. Neo-Nihilism: the Philosophy of Power VIII. The Teutonic Shift from Christian Morality: Kant – Schopenhauer – Nietzsche IX. Schopenhauer and the Mind X. The Will to Power. (shrink)