Conference Organizers: Dr Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes, Prof. Christine Hauskeller, Dr Lenny Gibson, Elizabeth Gibson, Dr John Buchanan, Alice Dommert
Title, Abstract, Speaker Information
From the shadows into the light – psychedelics and institutional powers
Prof. Christine Hauskeller
Abstract: Psychedelics have been controlled internationally since the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic substances. Constituting the most heavily regulated category because of the perceived health and social risks, psychedelics were criminalized and conducting research on them made very difficult. Now the balancing of risk versus benefits is reassessed.
I draw on contemporary understandings of capitalism in Critical Theory and Foucault’s theories about the roles of governance to examine this medico-juridical re-alignment around psychedelics. The assumptions are that at least the following three phenomena contribute to this realignment: Firstly, we live in a phase of capitalism in which the relationship between the political and societal order and individuals is framed as more liberal; in that context, secondly, the risks of psychedelic states of consciousness and their effects on individual and social functioning are reassessed; and finally, global procedures of harmonizing medical research and treatments are being developed. Today, the power of psychedelics to alter states of mind and pacify individuals is at best a minor threat to the social order, as long as they can be tightly regulated – i.e. so long as they can be brought firmly under the control of medical institutions, and to the extent that pharmaceutical industries can benefit from their use.
Bio: Christine Hauskeller is professor of moral and political philosophy at the University of Exeter. Her theoretical background is in Critical Theory and her recent work on different themes in the philosophy of medicine. She has been a Principle Investigator on a phase III clinical trial for a specific stem cell therapy (€6 Million, EU FP7, Health, Grant No. 278967), studying the many ethical and governance aspects of clinical translation in practice. Christine is a member of several medical research ethics commissions and has developed the Matrix approach for studying the complex relationships between power, economics, individual and societal needs and ethics in medical innovation. Her other interests include feminist philosophy, humanitarian ethics, relationships between epistemology and moral judgment.
Arguments for the psychedelic cure of western philosophy
Dr Michel Weber
Abstract: Philosophy of mind has been crippled, since its very beginnings, by two main prejudices. First, the blind implementation of the traditional Western logical framework, that boils down to the Boolean version of Aristotelian logic (i.e. the togetherness of the principle of identity, the principle of contradiction, and the principle of excluded middle). Second, the perennial neglect of crucially relevant empirical data, in so far as, in most arguments, sense-perception is reduced to sight alone (Whitehead claimed this before Jonas but after Biran).
As a result, taking into account data coming not only from the other external senses (exteroception), but also from internal senses (interoception and proprioception), as well as what is gathered in altered states of mind, completely redefines the stakes, both from the systematical (hence logical) and the empirical points of view.
Doing so reopens the epistemological and metaphysical (lato sensu) puzzles and, unsurprisingly, brings us back to a different anthropology: the first humanism, that manifested itself in perhaps its most acute form with the Renaissance. Humans should not be considered as the centre from which all meaning should radiate (this being the second humanism of the Modernity or the Classical Age), but as an expression of the micro/macro-cosmic correlation.
Bio: Dr Weber is Director of the Centre for Philosophical Practice (Brussels) and Adjunct Professor at the Department of Educational Foundations of the University of Saskatchewan. He is the author of fifteen monographs (e.g. The Political Vindication of Radical Empiricism, 2016) and the (co-)editor of some fifty books (e.g. with Will Desmond, Handbook of Whiteheadian Process Thought, 2008). Over the years, he has studied and taught most of the therapeutic disciplines (in the broad sense of the term) that have made the history of Western thought. To mention only those that have been the subject of some of his publications, and sometimes of a practice: the Whiteheadian, Socratic and Pythagorean philosophies, hypnosis, brief and systemic therapies, psychoanalyses (Freud, Lacan, Jung), ethnopsychiatry, ethology, gnosis, alchemy, and Amerindian shamanism. His current research program mainly addresses the Ayurvedic understanding of the anchoring of the mind in the body and of the expression of the body in the mind. A sample of his works is available here: http://chromatika.academia.edu/MichelWeber.
A philosophical defence of psychedelic drugs
Dr Ole Martin Moen
Abstract: Psychedelic drugs have gained increasing attention in recent years. In spite of being found to be relatively safe, and in some areas beneficial, the use of psychedelics is nevertheless prohibited and subject to widespread disapproval. What might justify the opposition? In this paper I consider a philosophical objection that, although it is often implicitly assumed, has not been considered explicitly, namely that psychedelics are distorting: that they cut users off from reality, making them see things that do not exist and believe things that are false. I argue that although psychedelics can play a distorting role, the view that they are reliably and systematically distorting (which they would need to be for the objection to be forceful) depends on implausible premises about human cognition. Once we reject those premises, we should be open to the view that although the use of psychedelics might be epistemically risky, it could also be a means to gain new knowledge. I suggest a naturalistic model for psychedelic knowledge gains that I call the Imagination-Conceptualization Model. Finally, I explore some implications of this model for psychedelic research and for the legal regulation of psychedelic drugs.
Bio: I finished a PhD in Philosophy at University of Oslo in 2013, with a dissertation on intrinsic value. I have since shifted my main focus from theoretical to applied ethics. I’m Principal Investigator of “What should not be bought and sold?”, $1million project funded by the Research Council of Norway. I run a podcast, Moralistene, together with Aksel Braanen Sterri, and I regularly discuss ethical issues in both national and international media. In 2015 I co-founded Humanistskolen, a non-profit charter school in Oslo with sixty full-time students (age 13–16). This is the only secondary school in Norway that specializes in philosophy and critical thinking. I teach critical thinking and serve as chairman of the board. On the non-academic side, I’m a queer parent and an aspiring novelist.
Ayahuasca rituals as a field of ‘ontological experimentation’ in the light of our planetary crisis
Dr Pieter Lemmens
Abstract: In my presentation I will focus on the ontology as well as the epistemology of the ayahuasca experience from both a modern (naturalist) and an indigenous (animist) ontological perspective and explore how a respectful and receptive engagement with this Amazonian psychedelic – or rather ecodelic to use the expression by Richard Doyle – can be of help for ‘moderns’ in finding an entirely new, non-alienating and eco-conscious modus vivendi on a planet that is in deep crisis. If what is called for in the Anthropocene era is a new understanding of being that breaks with the modernist split between nature and culture, subject and object, and mind and matter, we cannot simply relapse into pre-modern, indigenous ontologies but if we do need to recover a sense of ‘indigenuity’ that overcomes our separation from nature and reconnects us with the living cosmos, as the German thinker Andreas Weber rightfully claims, we might do well to listen and to feel what indigenous ontologies might teach us about ecological coexistence.
In dialogue with the so-called ‘ontological turn’ in current anthropology – specifically with the work of Philippe Descola and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, which puts indigenous ontologies on a par with the dominant naturalist ontology of the West, as well as with Yuk Hui’s work on cosmotechnics, which argues for the technicity of ontological and cosmological frameworks – I will try to show how the ritualized ayahuasca experience might be an ideal field for moderns of ‘ontological experimenting’ (as well as ‘cosmological experimenting’) and an opportunity for engaging in the ‘permanent decolonization of thought’ (Viveiros de Castro) which is necessary for acquiring distance from the ontological cages of modernity and explore other ontological territory in the light of our planetary crisis. At the very least, it can support the cultivation of ontological openness or receptivity.
Bio: Pieter Lemmens teaches philosophy and ethics at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He has published on themes in the philosophy of technology and new media, on the work of Martin Heidegger, Peter Sloterdijk and Bernard Stiegler, on the Anthropocene as well as on post-operaist Marxism (Hardt, Negri, Berardi) and topics related to philosophical anthropology and phenomenology. Current interests include the philosophy of technology in the age of the Anthropocene and the philosophical and anthropological aspects of psychedelics, in particular ayahuasca.
Transpersonal gratitude and psychedelic experiences
Dr Taline Artinian
Abstract: The philosophy of gratitude has traditionally focused on a triadic concept of gratitude, examining the moral and phenomenological aspects of the relationship between giver, recipient and gift. Dyadic gratitude, i.e. thankfulness in the absence of a benefactor, has often been dismissed as a case of simple gladness that something is the case. In this talk, I discuss the ways in which accounts of psychedelic experiences inform our understanding and conceptualisation of a specific modality of dyadic thankfulness. I start with a brief discussion of the concept of transpersonal gratitude which I have developed to refer to cases of genuine thankfulness for a benefit without a benefactor.
I focus on the phenomenology of this unique modality of gratitude, in particular on the salience of the benefit and the feelings of connectedness, to compare them to psychedelic experiences of altered states of consciousness. The observation that both transpersonal gratitude and psychedelic experiences seem to go beyond the “reducing valve” of ordinary consciousness might, I suggest, give us further insight into the workings of a gratitude that transcends the personal on the one hand and on the other, help us describe some of the more ineffable elements of psychedelic experiences.
Bio: Taline Artinian is an associate lecturer in philosophy at the University of Exeter. She has recently completed a PhD in philosophy and has over a decade of professional experience as a clinical psychologist. Her interdisciplinary work has focused on questions of identity and the challenges of a meaningful engagement with the world after traumatic life experiences such as genocide and civil war. She has supported UNHCR projects in the Middle East, leading studies on the lives of migrant women and vulnerable persons. Her current philosophical research explores gratitude and its role in our understanding of the good life. She is also interested in environmental ethics, virtue ethics and character formation.
Psychedelic realism, or why modern rational consciousness is the hallucination
Dr Matthew T. Segall
Abstract: Rene Descartes’ famous meditations set the stage for the last few hundred years of modern thinking regarding the nature of human consciousness. His idea of a disembodied rational ego set over and above a dead Nature composed of nothing but extensional lumps of matter has left an enduring mark not only on contemporary philosophy of mind but on the common sense of modern rational adults. Many moderns are thus led to consider their psychedelic experiences of ecstatic dissolution of the mind/matter barrier as mere hallucinations. But what if Descartes’ experience of a deceitful demon, and the ontological alienation that resulted, was itself the paranoid hallucination?
This paper reinterprets Descartes’ Meditations as a bad trip, and in an effort to take the metaphysical implications of psychedelic experience seriously, turns instead to the anti-foundationalist philosophies of Friedrich Schelling, William James, and Alfred North Whitehead in search of a more adequate account of mind’s relationship to a now living Nature.
Bio: Matthew T. Segall, PhD, is assistant professor in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA where he teaches courses primarily on German Idealism and Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy. He is the author of Physics of the World-Soul: Whitehead’s Adventure in Cosmology (2018) and has published journal articles and book chapters on a wide range of topics including panpsychist metaphysics, media theory, the philosophy of biology, the evolution of religion, and psychedelics. He blogs regularly at footnotes2plato.com and tweets way more than he should as @ThouArtThat. His current obsessions include the panpsychist turn in contemporary philosophy of mind and its implications for the scientific study of the origins of life and consciousness.
The unconscious in zen and psychedelic experience
Prof. Steve Odin
Abstract: This presentation focuses on ‘the Unconscious’ in Zen and Psychedelic Experience. (I) First, I discuss D. T. Suzuki’s interpretation of Zen satori or enlightenment and its expression in the Zen arts as a function of the Unconscious. For Suzuki the Zen unconscious is not the personal unconscious of Freud or the collective unconscious of Jung, but what he calls the cosmic Unconscious, understood as the dharmakaya of emptiness, voidness or absolute nothingness. Next, I discuss Suzuki’s criticism of drug-induced satori as described in The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley and other sources. (II) Second, in response to Suzuki’s position I then discuss Stan Grof’s alternative view that psychedelics such as LSD are a superhighway to the multi-levelled holotropic Unconscious, the deepest transpersonal level of which he refers to as ‘the Void’ of silence, emptiness, and nothingness.
Bio: Steve Odin joined the University of Hawai’i in 1982 after completing his PhD degree in philosophy from State University of New York at Stony Brook. He has taught as a visiting professor at Boston University (1989), Tohoko University (1994-95) and the University of Tokyo (2003-04). His research and teaching areas include Japanese philosophy, East-West comparative philosophy, American philosophy, Whitehead’s process metaphysics, phenomenology, environmental ethics, and aesthetics. Among his publications are Process Metaphysics and Hua-Yen Buddhism (1982), The Social Self in Zen and American Pragmatism (1994), and Artistic Detachment in Japan and the West: Psychic Distance in Comparative Aesthetics (2001). Among his awards are one-year grants for teaching and research in Japan, including two Fulbright Awards (1994-95 and 2003-04), Japan Foundation Award (2001-92) and National Endowment for the Humanities (1987-88). Also, he has received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching at the University of Hawaii (1986). He is a member of the UH Center for Japanese Studies.
“Philosophy may not neglect the multifariousness of the world – the fairies dance, and Christ is nailed to the cross” (Whitehead, Process and Reality, 338)
Dr Michael Halewood
Abstract: Throughout his work, A. N. Whitehead makes it clear that neither the mind nor consciousness can be taken for granted. Rather, experience, in the broadest sense of the term, should comprise the starting-point for philosophical investigation. As opposed to traditional approaches to the Philosophy of Mind, such experiences do not emanate from or reside in the mind, brain or consciousness. Nor are they always clear and distinct, rational or logical. Instead, Whitehead attempts to outline the processes through which experiences arise, and which may or may not lead to consciousness, judgement and action. Importantly, no experience is ruled in or ruled out.
With regard to the burgeoning field of the Philosophy of Psychedelics, the term “psychedelic” has its etymological roots in the Greek words for “soul” and “manifest” or “make clear/apparent”. In this talk, I will suggest that Whitehead would ask us to take both these terms seriously. That is to say, Whitehead’s conception of the soul as an occasional element of experience, and which is certainly not an enduring entity, focuses on questions of intensity and novelty. The soulful and, I will argue, psychedelic aspect comes from the entertaining or enjoyment of possibilities and propositions unhindered by questions of truth, falsity or correspondence to reality. Questions of appearance and reality fade into the background to be replaced by questions of the breadth, narrowness and intensity of experience. This would suggest that the philosophy of psychedelics involves a making clear of the operations of an occasional soul.
Bio: Michael Halewood is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Essex. His latest book – Language and Process. Words, Whitehead and the World – is published by Edinburgh University Press in January 2020.
Beauty, truth and goodness: Are psychedelic ‘insights’ symptomatic of convergent cognitive bias?
Abstract: Psychonauts often speak of ‘the psychedelic experience’ as replete with profound, unifying insights of truth, beauty and goodness. Yet Aldous Huxley describes experience—any experience—as “not what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you”. Beautiful knowledge has legs—it goes places and draws crowds—but some (e.g. Sabine Hossenfelder) blame the post-1960s stagnation of physics on a cognitive bias towards simple, elegant theories. If this is the case, might psychedelics be culpable? The cosmologist Carl Sagan and the theoretical physicist Richard Feynman are among those who have cited psychedelics as influential on their contributions, or at least this is how their accounts have been interpreted. However, it makes equal sense that those with a cognitive bias towards the convergence of beauty and truth would find this value in taking psychedelics (and hence, extol the virtues of doing so). We can deduce that Sabine Hossenfelder is not in this category, nor perhaps Rosalind Franklin, who produced the X-rays of DNA in which Francis Crick saw the beautiful double helix.
One only has to spend time among the so-called psychedelic ‘community’ to surmise that there is nothing intrinsic to the phenomenology of the 5-HT2A receptor agonists that determines how one thinks about truth, morality, or beauty. What can be assumed is that would-be psychonauts have above-average tolerance of risk and openness to experience, and it follows that these personality traits, among others, will influence what they make of—and learn from—their experience. New data have shown that psychedelic therapy for treatment-resistant depression (TRD) leaves patients a little less neurotic and a little lessintroverted, but still decidedly on the neurotic and introverted side of the mean. Looking at the same data, it is no great surprise that TRD patients who volunteer for psychedelic therapy are a little more open to experience than average at baseline, and the therapy appears to reward and enhance that openness.
Hence, given what we know psychedelics can offer pathologies of the human condition (ie. not a radical transformation so much as a standardised nudge), what might they contribute to philosophy? If Daniel Dennett took 5-MeO-DMT, would he realise that consciousness is not an illusion? If John McDowell took LSD, would he appreciate that there is such a thing as unconceptualisable experience? Or would they interpret the experience in accordance with their existing values and preconceptions?
Through this paper, while conceding that psychedelics have the potential to stimulate greater interest in philosophical questions, I argue that they have limited potential to change the course of philosophy.
Bio: Lindsay Jordan is a full time senior lecturer at the University of the Arts London, where she leads a postgraduate programme in the philosophy and practice of higher education. She is also a doctoral candidate at Oxford Brookes and is shortly to defend her thesis, which explores ideas of the university and considers how higher education and research may flourish in a progressively disenchanted world. Lindsay is interested in altered states of consciousness and their contribution to human flourishing and fulfilment. Her autoethnography of psychedelic experience and doctoral study won the 2017 Breaking Convention student essay competition, and she has a chapter in the book Psychedelicacies on what it means for a psychedelic experience to be educational. Lindsay co-leads regular Psychedelic Philosophy seminars at the Psychedelic Society’s London headquarters with theologian Mark Schunemann.
Journeying in the realm of the unconscious: Jung’s Liber Novus and psychedelic experience
Abstract: Carl Jung’s influence on popular culture, psychology, and religious studies is without comparison. The 2009 publication of Jung’s magnum opus Liber Novus, ‘The Red Book’, has provided an opportunity for scholars to reinterpret his lasting legacy. The Red Book offers a new insight into Jung’s life and works, which may prove valuable for deciphering psychedelic experiences. Despite Jung’s decision to never experiment with psychoactive substances, I will argue that his work provides a useful framework for understanding altered states of consciousness. Instead of substances, Jung used dreams, visions and a practice called ‘active imagination’ to access transcendental states, which formed the foundation for his theories. Consequently, his contribution plays an important role for the ongoing psychedelic renaissance.
In this paper, I explore the psychedelic experience from a Jungian point of view. Focusing especially on The Red Book, I discuss the similarities in Jung’s writings to experiences which are frequently reported by psychedelic users. Drawing on anecdotal reports and relevant literature, I argue that Jung’s notions of the ego, the collective unconscious and the shadow have inherent value for creating meaningful narratives for various altered states of consciousness.
Bio: Johanna Hilla is an independent researcher in Psychology and Religious studies (past: University of Groningen). She wrote her Master’s dissertation with Dr Bernardo Nante on the Red Book during an internship at Fundacion Vocacion Humana, a Jungian center in Buenos Aires. Last summer, she taught a course on the interlink between Depth Psychology and the psychedelic experience, offered by ‘Psychedelics Today’ forum. Her other interest include Transpersonal Psychology, Ecopsychology, Holotropic breathwork, Process philosophy, and Western Esotericism. She is on the board of Dream Shadow – an institute focussed on Transpersonal Education and Holotropic breathwork.
Spinozism and the psychedelic amor Dei intellectualis: a God beyond good and evil
Dr Peter Sjöstedt Hughes
Abstract: Spinoza was branded both as a figure “God-intoxicated” and as the most monstrous of atheists. Such polarity was characteristic of a man who, without equal, equalized apparent contraries: theism-atheism, mind-matter, freedom-necessity, past-future, good-evil. He was thus above all a monist, the absolute monist whose general solution to Descartes’ dualism was final: mind and matter are not two substances that mysteriously interact but are rather two (of an infinity of) expressions of the same substance – a substance he names God or Nature. God is Nature.
Yet we humans do not see this deific Nature in its unified state. We bifurcate Nature into mind and matter, restrict mind to complex animal matter, and then puzzle over their relations. Errors human, all too human – results of our prosaic cognitive apparatus. Spinoza, however, culminates his masterwork, the Ethics, with a declaration that beyond this standard human form of knowledge gained through senses, and through reason, there exists a rare, third kind of knowledge – intuition – that becomes cognizant of fundamental essences sub specie æternitatis, under the aspect of eternity: from the perspective of timelessness. In these exceptional insights we feel ourselves eternal, and in this lies our immortality: not as a soul enduring beyond the corpse, but as a mind collapsing into eternity, even if such eternity is fleeting. The vertex of such intuitive experience Spinoza names ‘the intellectual love of God’, amor Dei intellectualis.
This eternal love is a bliss that sees God or Nature – reality – in its essential eternal perfection. It is an experience that seemingly divulges a rare cognizance of Spinozism in its general unitive, monistic framework, and is an experience that bears the authenticity stamps of the ‘mystical experience’: As well as touching upon immortality, it appears noetic, ineffable, passive, and transient (meeting William James’ criteria); it also encompasses experiences unitive, timeless, and beyond good and evil (meeting Bertrand Russell’s criteria). Even psychiatrist RM Bucke includes Spinoza’s peak experiences in his classic 1901 tome, Cosmic Consciousness, a consciousness that ‘destroys sin, shame, the sense of good and evil…’
‘That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil’ – Spinoza’s intellectual love of God is the paragon of this Nietzschean line. In the Ethics, Spinoza, like Nietzsche, argued against the reality of any objective morality. Thus the pure intuition of Nature as love will be nihilistic. This is a formerly emphatic element of mysticism that has been lost in the contemporary debate on psychedelic mysticism.
I shall explore the idea that a variant of amor Dei intellectualis may be catalysed through certain psychedelic substances – notably 5-MeO-DMT – a variant experience in the sense that for most travellers such experience cannot be integrated into a cosmology such as that which Spinozism provides, simply because such Spinozism is unknown. Thus the experience will remain, in retrospect, at a level of ineffability, wondrous yet alien, perhaps existentially alienating. But could such psychedelic states be understood and thus integrated through the lens of Spinozism; and furthermore, could Spinozism be achieved experientially through such psychedelic substances? The psychedelic-Spinozist symbiosis starts here.
Bio: Peter Sjöstedt Hughes, PhD, is a philosopher of mind and metaphysician, currently working as a research fellow and associate lecturer at the University of Exeter. Peter’s doctoral thesis was on ‘pansentient monism’, his variety of panpsychism that takes inspiration from the thought of AN Whitehead, amongst others, and applies it to analytic issues concerning mind-matter identity and mental causation. Peter is the author of the book Noumenautics, the TEDx Talker on ‘psychedelics and consciousness‘, and he is inspiration to the inhuman philosopher Marvel Superhero, Karnak. Peter is also part of the independent publisher, Psychedelic Press, and is on the team of the Breaking Convention conference. He is director of the Philosophy of Psychedelics conference at the University of Exeter. www.philosopher.eu