Psychedelics and philosophy make for a heady mix

Study provides an overview of emerging enquiries at the intersection of the two subjects that involve the human mind.

Does a psychedelic experience lead to genuine knowledge? anything bagel/Getty Images


One might say that diving into either psychedelics or philosophy leads to one thing.

Each or doing both at the same time can be a mind-blowing experience.

This is why a paper by two university philosophers may provide an interesting read for those who are quite keen on these subjects.

The study is titled “Philosophy and classic psychedelics: A review of some emerging themes”.

The paper was written by Chris Letheby of the University of Western Australia and University of Adelaide in Australia, and Jaipreet Mattu of Western University in Canada.

The tract was published online on January 21, 2022 by the Journal of Psychedelic Studies.

In it, Letheby and Mattu provide an overview of emerging lines of enquiry at the intersection of psychedelic science and academic philosophy, through a scan of available published material.

There are four themes: consciousness, knowledge, ethics, and spiritual.

“The first concerns the use of psychedelic evidence in philosophical theorizing about the mind,” the authors noted.

Is it possible for people to “attain totally selfless conscious states”?

Letheby and Mattu note that those who use psychedelics report “intense and unusual experiences which many volunteers rank among the most meaningful of their lives”.

“Of the many changes to consciousness that psychedelics induce, the one that has attracted most attention in recent philosophy is the profound alteration to self-consciousness known as ego dissolution,” the authors wrote.

Moreover, subjects “often report that the ordinary sense of self is radically altered or altogether absent”.

The second line concerns knowledge.

One question here is whether or not users are able to “gain genuine forms of knowledge from the psychedelic experience”.

Additionally, “Does psychedelic administration reliably facilitate the acquisition of certain kinds of knowledge?”

Some have claimed gaining “direct knowledge of the existence of a cosmic consciousness”.

Hence, “Might psychedelic administration facilitate genuine knowledge acquisition, even if the natural world described by science is all that exists?”

The third line of research at the intersection of philosophy and psychedelics is ethics.

“Is it morally problematic to administer psychedelics if they pose epistemic risks?” the authors asked, referring to the way the human mind acquires knowledge.

One of the ways they explored this area is by citing the specific example of psilocybin, the psychoactive substance in so-called magic mushrooms.

“As psilocybin transitions from controlled clinical settings to clinical practise, ethical challenges will emerge that change the nature of the intervention and require critical evaluation,” they wrote.

The authors noted that “future research should include understanding how psilocybin elicits personal transformation and developing standardized protocols for informed consent procedures across psychedelic studies”.

The fourth line is spirituality.

This is “predicated on the idea that there may be religious and spiritual practices or attitudes that do not require a commitment to supernaturalistic or non-naturalistic beliefs”.

Psychedelics “afford transformative experiences”, and usage therefore can “result in perspectival and existential changes” in a person.

Hence, psychedelics may “provide practical ways to overcome existential distress”.

Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter at @carlitopablo

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