Brain, Psychiatric Research and Subjective Experience a Study
The following is adapted* by Beezone
*Beezone’s adaptions consist of (1) size and bolding of text (2) eliminating words and sentences and (3) making additions which are indicated by parentheses. and (4) adding hyperlinks to various terms and phrases.
Neuropsychedelia. The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain
Neuropsychedelia examines the revival of psychedelic science since the “Decade of the Brain.” After the breakdown of this previously prospering area of psychopharmacology, and in the wake of clashes between counterculture and establishment in the late 1960s, a new generation of hallucinogen researchers used the hype around the neurosciences in the 1990s to bring psychedelics back into the mainstream of science and society. This book is based on anthropological fieldwork and philosophical reflections on life and work in two laboratories that have played key roles in this development: a human lab in Switzerland and an animal lab in California. It sheds light on the central transnational axis of the resurgence connecting American psychedelic culture with the home country of LSD. In the borderland of science and religion, Neuropsychedelia explores the tensions between the use of hallucinogens to model psychoses and to evoke spiritual experiences in laboratory settings. Its protagonists, including the anthropologist himself, struggle to find a place for the mystical under conditions of late-modern materialism.
Magister (Free University of Berlin, 2004) Arzt (Free U
University of Berlin, 2004) Doktor (Free University of Berlin, 2004)
A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Joint Doctor of Philosophy with University of California, San Franscisco in Medical Anthropology in the Graduate Division of the University of California, Berkeley
- The Hallucinogen Experience in the Decade of the Brain*
*The Decade of the Brain, Murray Goldstein, Neurology, Feb 1990, 40 (2) 321; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.40.2.321
On July 25,1989, President Bush signed into law House Joint Resolution 174 declaring the 1990s as the “Decade of the Brain.” The declaration called upon all public officials and the people of the United States to observe the decade with appropriate programs and activities.
The Problem of Experience in the Age of Cognitive Neuroscience The 1990s were announced as the “Decade of the Brain.” They were also a period in which the neuroscientific exploration of the “neural correlates of consciousness” and other mental phenomena gained momentum.1
1 The term “neural correlates of consciousness” (NCC) was first used in print by Francis Crick and Christof Koch, “Towards a neurobiological theory of consciousness,” Seminars in the Neurosciences 2 (1990). Cf. Thomas Metzinger, “Introduction: Consciousness Research at the End of the Twentieth Century,” in Neural Correlates of Consciousness. Empirical and Conceptual Questions, ed. Thomas Metzinger (Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press, 2000), 4.
In this context, there has been a quiet and modest resurgence of research on and with supposedly consciousness-expanding hallucinogenic drugs—after work with substances such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin had broken down in the wake of scandals and scientific impasses in the late 1960s. The Swiss neuropsychopharmacologist Franz Vollenweider, for example, presents hallucinogens as “remarkable molecular probes” to be used in combination with functional brain imaging techniques and pharmacological methodologies to investigate the biological correlate of altered states of consciousness (ASC) and the mind at large.2
2 Franz Vollenweider, “Recent Advances and Concepts in the Search for Biological Correlates of Hallucinogen-induced Altered States of Consciousness,” The Heffter Review of Psychedelic Research 1 (1998): 21.
As the cognitive neurosciences are transforming our conception of the human hallucinogens are assigned a key role in refashioning ourselves as conscious beings—conceptually and practically. As Vollenweider’s American colleague David Nichols writes:
Very clearly, the substrates in the brain that are affected by hallucinogenic drugs play crucial roles for us as conscious beings in constructing our reality and in defining exactly who we are in relationship to the rest of the world. […] The philosopher in each of us yearns for greater understanding of who we are and why we are here. Irrational fear of inquiries into the nature of consciousness and conscious experience must be put aside, and hallucinogens should be recognized for what they are: tools that will ultimately help us to understand ourselves. The answers lie in further research for somewhere in the complexity of the brain exists the source of answers to all questions about ourselves.3
3 David Nichols, “Hallucinogens,” Pharmacology & Therapeutics, no. 101 (2004): 168.
A historical and social scientific critique of this philosophical anthropology implicit in contemporary hallucinogen research is the subject matter of this book.
The key to long-standing philosophical and anthropological questions such as the mind-body problem has been sought from neuroscience since the nineteenth century. Starting with Franz Joseph Gall’s phrenology, various attempts have been made to map features of our inner life on the central nervous system.4
4 Michael Hagner, Der Geist bei der Arbeit. Historische Untersuchungen zur Hirnforschung (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2006), 164-194. Michael Hagner, Homo cerebralis. Der Wandel vom Seelenorgan zum Gehirn (Frankfurt/M.: Insel, 2000).
In the 1990s, this naturalization of the human mind was rearticulated with functional neuroimaging technologies and neuropsychological tests and rating scales. The field of cognitive neuroscience has focused on the neural substrates of mental processes and their behavioral manifestations. But the scientific exploration of subjectivity as a biological phenomenon* has constituted a peculiar epistemic object at odds with the traditional perspective of the natural sciences. The German philosopher of mind Thomas Metzinger put it this way: “How can biosystems in an environment that objectively lacks perspective generate a representation of the world that is essentially perspectival? How can brains […] produce a centered consciousness—a consciousness which is constructed around a phenomenal focus?”5
5 Thomas Metzinger, Subjekt und Selbstmodell. Die Perspektivität phänomenalen Bewußtseins vor dem Hintergrund einer naturalistischen Theorie mentaler Repräsentationen (Paderborn: mentis Verlag, 1999), 25 (my translation—NL).
See: Front Psychol. 2019; 10: 1686, Published online 2019 Jul 31. doi:, 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01686, PMCID: PMC6685416, PMID: 31417451
Subjectivity “Demystified”: Neurobiology, Evolution, and the Explanatory Gap, Todd E. Feinberg, and Jon Mallatt
While life in general can be explained by the mechanisms of physics, chemistry, and biology, to many scientists and philosophers, it appears that when it comes to explaining consciousness, there is what the philosopher Joseph Levine called an “explanatory gap” between the physical brain and subjective experiences. Here, we deduce the living and neural features behind primary consciousness within a naturalistic biological framework, identify which animal taxa have these features (the vertebrates, arthropods, and cephalopod molluscs), then reconstruct when consciousness first evolved and consider its adaptive value. We theorize that consciousness is based on all the complex system features of life, plus even more complex features of elaborate brains. We argue that the main reason why the explanatory gap between the brain and experience has been so refractory to scientific explanation is that it arises from both life and from varied and diverse brains and brain regions, so bridging the gap requires a complex, multifactorial account that includes the great diversity of consciousness, its personal nature that stems from embodied life, and the special neural features that make consciousness unique in nature.
To study the neural mechanisms bringing these mental phenomena about the latter must be grasped in the first place. But the inner life of the subject is not accessible from the outside—neither with the naked eye nor by physical instruments. Therefore, knowledge about conscious experience gained by way of introspection and knowledge about the brain derived from dissection, neuroimaging technologies, measurement of electric currents, etc. seem incommensurable. In 1983, the American philosopher Joseph Levine argued that there was an “explanatory gap” (see above) between physiology and experience: Even if we knew everything about the biology of pain, for instance, we would not be able to explain why pain feels the way it does.6
This qualitative discrepancy between descriptions of conscious mental content and its neural basis is what has come to be known as “the hard problem of consciousness” (as opposed to the supposedly easy problems of finding mechanistic explanations for phenomena situated entirely in the physical realm).7
7 David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind. In Search of a Fundamental Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
It is still subject of debate among neuroscientists and philosophers of mind whether this conundrum can be solved by the means of customary brain research.
According to Francis Crick there were two major unsolved questions in twentieth century biology. Crick and James Watson’s discovery of the molecular structure of DNA in 1953 and the subsequent cracking of the genetic code were of enormous importance to find an answer to the first one: how molecules make the transition from the non-living to the living. The second major problem still pending is how the brain makes a conscious mind.8, 8a
8 Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit. A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (New York: Basic Books, 1990), 17.
8a Beezone note: Please note this ‘given’ assumption that allows the direction of “scientific” assumptions to “go by” without notice! “Consciousness is not a process in the brain but a kind of behavior that, of course, is controlled by the brain like any other behavior.” – Boris Kotchoubey – Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
However, what Crick perceived as the last frontier of scientific progress in the life sciences has been vigorously defended by others (sometimes dismissed as the “New Mysterians”) as the only remaining bulwark against the total disenchantment of human life. In this context, the neurosciences have recently sparked off a heated discussion about the status of experience. Their quest for the neural correlates of what is perceived as mental phenomena—from free will to love and from moral judgment to mystical revelations—has been understood as challenging the certainty and self-evidence of our inner life. The vehemence of the arguments over the neuroscientific disenchantment of the human mind indicates a growing disquiet about the possibly illusory character of subjective experience. In his preface to a collection of texts representative of the German debate about recent advances in brain research, a journalist from Germany’s most important conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung articulated this unease eloquently:
Our life is an illusion. This is the succinct conclusion with which neuroscientists clobber the scene. They say: You think that you’re thinking, but in fact, you only think that you’re thinking. In reality, nobody thinks, but the brain plays its neuronal game, in which the self doesn’t have a say. So much the worse, they say, that the self is even taken in by the illusions, which the play of neurons constantly produces. Among these illusions are the self and its whole way of experiencing the lifeworld.9
9 Christian Geyer, “Vorwort,” in Hirnforschung und Willensfreiheit. Zur Deutung der neuesten Experimente, ed. Christian Geyer (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 2004), 9 (my translation—NL).
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Listen to Nicolas David Langlitz – 2023
This statement is polemic. Its unfounded generalization is part of a trench war over territorial claims between representatives of the humanities and a small group of neuroscientists gone public intellectuals. In fact, there is neither a unified account of conscious experience or the self in contemporary neuroscience nor in its philosophical interpretations. And their scandalized depiction as mere illusions is certainly not restricted to brain research either: In the history of thought, variations of this conception have been put forward time and again, from ancient Buddhism to French postructuralism. The current controversy only points to the latest episode of an ongoing problematization of experience.
With respect to the pharmacology of hallucinogens, the gap between objectively measurable neurophysiological and neuropsychological effects and subjective experience is particularly wide. When under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs many people report, for example, that their sensory perceptions become richer and more acute, that they become more creative, and that the world appears deeply meaningful. Alan Hartman and Leo Hollister followed this cue in the early 1960s and studied the color experience of healthy test subjects under the influence of mescaline, LSD, hallucinogen users that the drugs enhanced their perceptual sensitivity. But these subjective accounts could not be validated through objective measurements: “All three psychotomimetic drugs increased color experiences elicited from a variety of stimuli. […] It is curious that a test which does not call for introspective reports, such as hue discrimination, showed some deterioration under the drugs.”10
10 Alan Hartman and Leo Hollister, “Effect of Mescaline, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide and Psilocybin on Color Perception,” Psychopharmacologia 4 (1963): 449. Julian Silverman, on the other hand, claimed that the intensification of sensory experience through hallucinogens could also be demonstrated through neurophysiological measurements. Julian Silverman, “Research with Psychedelics. Some Biopsychological Concepts and Clinical Applications,” Archives of General Psychiatry 25 (1971). See also Lester Grinspoon and James Bakalar, Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 124.
Analogously, when the Swiss psychiatrist Kaspar Weber administered psilocybin to musicians in 1966 he found that they experienced music as much more intense and faceted than usual. But when tested their discriminatory faculties as well as their perceptions of the gestalt of a whole piece of music turned out to be impaired.11
11 Claudio Vannini and Maurizio Venturini, Halluzinogene. Entwicklung der Forschung, 1938 bis in die Gegenwart. Schwerpunkt Schweiz (Berlin: VWB – Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 1999), 375-380.
Similarly, in an experiment I observed and participated in during my fieldwork at Franz Vollenweider’s laboratory in Zurich the effect of psilocybin on “meaningful perceptions” was examined. Even though many people experience the world as full of meaning when under the influence of hallucinogens it turned out that test subjects were significantly less perceptive of meaningful stimuli under the active agent than under placebo.
Do these experiments indicate that subjects’ drug experiences are illusory (as could be expected from a class of substances referred to as a “hallucinogens”)? Or does their lack of success to account for these experiences point to a shortcoming of the laboratory conditions and the methods and instruments of contemporary neuroscience failing to bridge the “explanatory gap” (after all, there must be some neural substance to these experiences)? Which truths—if any—lie hidden behind the drug-induced visions induced by hallucinogens?
Although these questions seem most interesting to me I refrain from answering them. From the perspective I chose they serve as a case in point of the current problematization of experience in cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychopharmacology. This is the subject matter of my thesis based on nine months of fieldwork in two laboratories in Zurich and San Diego studying hallucinogenic drugs. The work in hand is an “anthropology of the contemporary” in Paul Rabinow’s sense: It focuses on the “near future and the recent past,”12
12 Paul Rabinow, Anthropos Today. Reflections on Modern Equipment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 55.
or, closer to my subject matter, on the so-called revival of hallucinogen research (expected) since approximately 1990.
Emergence of the “Psychedelic Experience”
With respect to the problematization of experience, hallucinogens are a particularly interesting class of psychotropic drugs. Their effects on the human mind do not set in gradually and subtly like those of antidepressants, for example. Nor do they produce a strictly circumscribed, almost stereotypical set of sudden and pronounced psychic alterations as stimulants do.13
13 “In experiments, most drugs make all subjects feel more alike; LSD actually tends to accentuate any difference in mood that exist among subjects at the start,” wrote Grinspoon and Bakalar, Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered, 90.
Instead they can provoke a broad range of immediate and extremely powerful experiences. The psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon and his colleague James Bakalar from Harvard Medical School remarked:
The array of psychedelic experiences is vast almost beyond belief. Trying to describe and classify them is somewhat like trying to describe and classify all experience: it is hard for analysis to get a grasp. The street language of head trips, body trips, ego trips, heavy trips, bum trips, mystical trips, and so on suggests the variety in a crude way. [Aldous] Huxley called mescaline “a voyage to the mind’s Antipodes”; sometimes it is like the discovery of the New World, or a visit to the celestial spheres, and yet it can also be like sitting in an airport all day waiting for the plane to take off.14
14 Ibid., 89.
In the 1920s, the German psychiatrist Kurt Beringer tried to identify a stable core of symptoms induced by the hallucinogen mescaline. He regarded the recurrent perceptual disorders (illusions, hallucinations, synesthesias), changes in temporal perception (time rushing or standing still), and alterations in thought and mood as sufficiently resembling the clinical picture of schizophrenia to serve as a model of psychosis.15
15 Kurt Beringer, Der Meskalinrausch. Seine Geschichte und Erscheinungsweise (Berlin: Julius Springer, 1927).
The investigation of hallucinogen models of psychosis has been one of the central threads of hallucinogen research ever since and has also come to play an important role in the current revival of interest in this class of substances.
However, the view of hallucinogens as “psychotomimetics”—as drugs which mimic psychoses—was soon called into question. Addressing a meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1957, the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond who was working with LSD and mescaline at Weyburn Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada, argued that the hallucinogens’ capacity to mimic psychoses was “not their only, nor even, perhaps, their most important quality.” Although Osmond admitted that these drugs did impede the brain’s performance he insisted that the experiences they gave rise to had been of greatest value to him.
For myself, my experiences with these substances have been the most strange, most awesome, and among the most beautiful things in a varied and fortunate life. These are not escapes from but enlargements, burgeonings of reality. In so far as I can judge they occur in violation of Hughling Jackson’s principle [that neuronal disorders dissolve the complex interactions of nerve functions isolating the more primitive elements of brain function], because the brain, although its functioning is impaired, acts more subtly and complexly than when it is normal. Yet surely, when poisoned, the brain’s actions should be less complex, rather than more so? I cannot argue about this because one must undergo the experience himself. Those who have had these experiences know, and those who have not had them cannot know and, what is more, the latter are in no position to offer a useful explanation.16
16 Humphry Osmond, “A Review of the Clinical Effects of Psychotomimetic Agents,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 66, no. 3 (1957): 428.
To do justice to these drugs Osmond was looking for a more inclusive term than “hallucinogens” or “psychotomimetics,” a term which did not reduce their effects to mere pathology. The number of names that had already been proposed or used are evidence of the difficulties in pigeonholing this class of substances: phantastica, eidetics, delirients, schizogens, psychotica, psychotogens, psychodysleptics, elixirs, etc. Osmond added a few more suggestions eventually settling for the designation “psychedelics”:
I have tried to find an appropriate name for the agents under discussion: a name that will include the concepts of enriching the mind and enlarging the vision. Some possibilities are: psychephoric, mind-moving; psychehormic, mind-rousing; and psyche-plastic, mind-molding. Psychezymic, mind-fermenting, is indeed appropriate. Psycherhexic, mind bursting forth, though difficult, is memorable. Psychelytic, mind-releasing, is satisfactory. My choice, because it is clear, euphonious, and uncontaminated by other associations, is psychedelic, mind-manifesting.17
17 Ibid.: 429. As an anthropologist taking the natives’ point of view as my point of departure, I will mostly speak of “hallucinogens” as it is the most widely used term in contemporary neuropsychopharmacology.
Osmond’s break with the concept of psychotomimetics and the language of pathology was not just about a more inclusive terminology but implied a wholly different anthropology. The term “psychedelics” had been coined in the correspondence between Osmond and the California-based British writer Aldous Huxley.18
18 Aldous Huxley, Moksha. Writings on Psychedelics and the Visionary Experience 1931-1963 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1980).
Osmond had introduced Huxley to mescaline in 1953 supervising the author’s first self-experiment with the drug which Huxley reported in his essay The Doors of Perception. Even though Huxley knew that hallucinogens were supposed to provoke a psychosis-like state of mind he already expected that mescaline would grant him access to the inner world described by mystical poets such as William Blake. He followed the French philosopher Henri Bergson’s theory that the brain primarily served to eliminate sensory input “to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge” for the sake of our biological survival. Huxley believed that mescaline inhibited the production of enzymes providing the brain with the glucose it needed to function properly. Thereby disturbing the cerebral “reducing valve” the drug would make us aware of dimensions of reality not of immediate value in the fight for survival, but beneficial to our spiritual well-being. Under the influence of mescaline, a subject’s “perception is not limited to what is biologically or socially useful. A little of the knowledge belonging to Mind at Large oozes past the reducing valve of brain and ego, into his consciousness. It is a knowledge of the intrinsic significance of everything existent.”19
19 Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (London: Chatto & Windus, 1954).
According to Huxley, impeding the brain’s filter function was the common psychophysiological goal of spiritual practices of all religions, which enable human beings to see a higher reality beyond our creaturely needs. Hallucinogenic drugs could serve as a shortcut to such mystical experiences. This is what Osmond meant when telling his psychiatric colleagues that his drug experiences were “not escapes from but enlargements […] of reality.” But the image of man as a being whose biological makeup normally blinds him to the true nature of the universe which the concept of psychedelics implicated did not lead Osmond and Huxley to deny a nexus between hallucinogenic drug action and psychosis. “The schizophrenic is like a man permanently under the influence of mescaline, and therefore unable to shut off the experience of a reality which he is not holy enough to live with,” Huxley contended. On the other hand, most people taking the drug only experienced the “heavenly part of schizophrenia” catching a glimpse of the “Paradise of cleansed perception, of pure one-sided contemplation” for usually bearable eight to ten hours.20
This reconfiguration of anthropos as spiritual animal continues to subject human beings to the logic of the normal and the pathological.21
21 Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological (New York: Zone Books, 1989).
But in a deeply meaningful cosmos the experiences induced by hallucinogens and mental illness are simultaneously dysfunctional and revelatory disclosing the world as it really is: exhilarating and overwhelming, awe-inspiring and terrifying. As psychedelics these drugs are understood to uncloak “the burning brightness of unmitigated Reality.”22
22 Huxley, The Doors of Perception.
Interpreted against the background of this worldview the subjective effects of “psychedelic drugs” came to be conceptualized as “the psychedelic experience.” As more and more people came to try out hallucinogens from the late 1950s onwards, Huxley’s texts provided a vocabulary and an interpretive structure shaping the drug experiences of many of his readers in the decades to come. In turn, these experiences informed a whole subculture associated with hallucinogenic drugs, which came to be known as “psychedelia.” The so-called psychedelic era of the 1960s—characterized by the drug-saturated lifestyle of the counterculture, its political activism, and a certain aesthetics (“psychedelic art”)—coincided and blended with a period of spiritual reorientation in American life, a strengthening of unchurched or alternative forms of spirituality emphasizing the role of experience. Alongside Eastern religious practices the instant mysticism granted by psychedelic drugs came to play an important role in this movement.23
23 Robert Fuller, Stairways to Heaven. Drugs in American Religious History (Boulder (CO): Westview Press, 2000), 84-89.
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Demonized for decades, psychedelic exploration and research are experiencing a major resurgence. Non-medical consumption is on the rise, and a “paradigm shift” was diagnosed in the mental health field when the FDA declared psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” for depression. Now more than 600 start-up companies are competing in this emergent healthcare market. How can we understand the significance of this psychedelic renaissance beyond utopian hopes and moral panics? And are psychedelics the miracle drugs we desperately want them to be? On this panel, The New School brings together anthropologist and historian of science, Nicolas Langlitz, and alumnus Hamilton Morris, chemist and journalist, to discuss why history appears to repeat itself as we enter a new era of psychedelic enthusiasm. Panelists – Nicolas Langlitz, Assoc Prof, Anthropology at NSSR Anthropologist, Historian, Founder/director of the Psychedelic Humanities Lab – Hamilton Morris, BS in Liberal Arts, Chemist, Saint Joseph’s University.
It arose in opposition to the predominant Protestant faith in the Scriptures and corresponding disapproval of visionary experiences, but in accord with Protestantism’s appeal to lived experience as opposed to dead received doctrine most vividly expressed in born-again conversions. In the American “culture of experience,” many consumers of psychedelic drugs fashioned their first high after the model of evangelical radicalism as a decisive turning point in their lives.24
24 Cf. Martin Jay, Songs of Experience. Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 265-272. John McDermott, The Culture of Experience. Philosophical Essays in the American Grain (New York: New York University Press, 1976).
However, reaching such an epiphany required careful preparation. Texts such as Huxley’s Doors of Perception or Timothy Leary’s trip manual The Psychedelic Experience shaped their readers’ expectations and taught them how to attain the “expanded consciousness” they promised by guiding them through a series of stages of their drug experience as spiritual voyage. The purpose of such psychedelic travelogues was “to enable a person to understand the new realities of the expanded consciousness, to serve as road maps for new interior territories which modern science has made accessible.”25
25 Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert, The Psychedelic Experience. A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (New Hyde Park (NY): University Books, 1964), 11.
The normativity underlying such directions comes to the fore in a book like Robert Masters and Jean Houston’s The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience. They divide the hallucinogen experience into four hierarchically organized levels: the sensory (or merely aesthetic), the recollective-analytic (advancing self-exploration by intensifying emotions and unearthing long forgotten memories), the symbolic (situating the subject in evolutionary and historic processes, myths, or legends), and, finally, the integral stage, the deepest level of the psychedelic drug-state amounting to a religious and mystical experience.26
26 Robert Masters and Jean Houston, The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience. The Classic Guide to the Effects of LSD on the Human Psyche (2000 : Park Street Press, 2000 ). Similar hierarchical and teleological gradations of hallucinogen-induced experiences culminating in mystical states were articulated in: Stanislav Grof, Realms of the Human Unconscious. Observations from LSD Research (New York: Viking Press, 1975). Leary, Metzner, and Alpert, The Psychedelic Experience..
The goal is to transcend the transitional stages in order to reach a spiritual epiphany as the telos of the psychedelic experience. But getting there took more than drugs. The purpose of guidebooks like Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience (based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead) was “to provide ‘special training’ for the ‘special experience’ provided by psychedelic materials.” They served as tools in a process of preparation for the ultimate trip. Many experience reports written subsequently contain traces of these exemplary accounts. Here, we encounter what Ian Hacking called a “looping effect” on the level of ephemeral states of consciousness instead of individual traits: Descriptions of drug experiences changed future experiences, but the changed experiences would ultimately cause descriptions themselves to be amended.27
27 Ian Hacking, “The Looping Effects of Human Kinds,” in Causal Cognition: An Multidisciplinary Debate, ed. Dan Sperber, David Premack, and Ann Premack (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Despite the professed learnability of hallucinogen-induced mystical revelations, Huston Smith, a historian of religion who had been introduced to the world of psychedelia by Leary, cautioned in his 1964 essay Do Drugs Have Religious Import?:
Drugs appear to be able to induce religious experiences; it is less evident that they induce religious lives. It follows that religion is more than a string of experiences. This is hardly news, but it may be a useful reminder, especially to those who incline toward “the religion of religious experience.” […] The conclusion to which the evidence seems currently to point is that it is indeed possible for chemicals to enhance religious life, but only when they are set within the context of faith (conviction that what they disclose is true) and discipline (exercise of the will toward fulfilling what the disclosures ask of us).28
28 Huston Smith, “Do Drugs Have Religious Import?,” The Jounal of Philosophy 61, no. 18 (1964): 528-530.
In line with Smith’s qualification and contrary to the widespread rhetoric of conversion, Masters and Houston pointed out that actually few people taking hallucinogens underwent profound transformations. Psychedelic drugs could provide fruitful openings, but a lasting remodeling of the self presupposed a sustained effort: “Most subjects, however […], seem not to be significantly changed in any way that would alter the overt patterns of behavior. Positive behavioral changes may ensue in time; but this usually requires that the subject keep working with the data of his session.”29
29 Masters and Houston, The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience. The Classic Guide to the Effects of LSD on the Human Psyche, 34.
Despite these caveats the “psychedelic era” of the 1950s and the 1960s was a time of great optimism and messianic hopes. These utopian visions of the future assigning an important role to psychedelic drugs (often inspired by Huxley’s novel Island30)
30 Aldous Huxley, Island (New York: Harper & Row, 1962).
were shattered when hallucinogens were prohibited in the late 1960s. By the early 1970s, most research on this class of substances had come to an end. Henceforth, large parts of the psychedelic community maintained the image of a lost opportunity and much untapped potential. Masters and Houston concluded: “For we doubt that extensive work in this area can fail to result in pushing human consciousness beyond its present limitations and on towards capacities not yet realized and perhaps undreamed of.”31
31 Masters and Houston, The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience. The Classic Guide to the Effects of LSD on the Human Psyche, 316.
Leading researchers while share their perspectives on the future of psychedelic science. Documentarian and researcher Hamilton Morris (Hulu’s “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia”), pharmacology professor & Heffter Institute founder David Nichols, Psychiatry & Neuroscience professor Rachel Yehuda (Mt. Sinai) and Palo Santo’s Tim Schlidt explore the future of psychedelic science. Those with decades of experience have knowledge that is crucial to finding the right paths forward as psychedelics go mainstream. The psychedelic science torch is getting passed to the next generation, with fresh perspectives on both ancient and future medicines. Can we take the “trip” out of psychedelics and do we want to? Will “next gen” psychedelic compounds have an advantage over today’s medicines?
For the Spiritual aspect read
The Enlightenment of the Whole Body
A Rational and New Prophetic Revelation
of the Truth of Religion, Esoteric Spirituality, and the Divine Destiny of Man and Woman
by Bubba Free John (Adi Da Samraj)
The Ultimate Identity of the Brain Is the Current of the Whole Body
The verbal mind is to the brain what the external vital organs (mouth, anus, and genitals) and the lower vital functions are to the extended body. Aspects of the functioning of the verbal region of the brain correspond to the general processes of connection, reflection or duplication, reception, assimilation, discrimination of contents, distribution, healing, fortification, elimination, creative generation, native pleasure, and even regeneration.
When the language activity of the brain is reinforced to the point that it is more or less continuous, the whole body becomes possessed by the illusion that “I” is exclusively identical to the verbal and differentiated consciousness. Thus, thought becomes chronic, constant, out of control. There is fear of the loss of thought as well as anxiety about the inadequacy of thought – that is, the vulnerability of the self to experience, on account of the absence or weakness of knowledge. “I” and thought are felt to be identical. The self is believed to be exclusively within and above, in or at the brain.
This is the chronic state of the usual man. Observe it yourself. When you consider your foot, doesn’t it seem to be “down there”?
The verbal and brain identification of self is merely a sign of arrested organ adaptation, like neurotic fixation on the organs of the mouth, anus, or genitals. It is a sign of neurotic or problematic adaptation in the third stage of life. One must awaken as the whole body confession of self and become a total sacrifice, through radical intuition and love, into the All-Pervading Divine Radiance and the Unqualified Consciousness or Divine Ignorance that precedes all mentality, high or low.
Chronic thinking is chronic self-definition and lower brain fixation. It is self-possession, rooted in the thought “I.” But the thought “I,” and every other thought, is only a modification of the transcendental Current that is central to the entire body-mind, and that is not contained by the body-mind, but that pervades it and all other conditions of experience. Indeed, not only the thought “I,” but even the entire body, which is the unthought “I,” arises as a present modification of that Current.
The entire body-mind and all conditions in experience, high or low, are merely unnecessary modifications of the All-Pervading Current that is the Divine Reality and Condition and Source and Destiny of all beings, things, and worlds. The body-mind is always already identical to that Current. This Realization is Liberation, or prior Freedom, and it necessarily quickens a Process wherein the body-mind is Translated or Dissolved into the Absolute Radiance and Unqualified Consciousness that are the prior and Divine Nature of the Current of the body-mind.
To think and yet to be without this intuitive understanding is to be insane, like Narcissus. It is to suffer self-illusion, and the inability to love, or consistently to live as ecstatic self-release, in relationship-the inability to be a moment to moment sacrifice of all that may be felt as self or as a support to self and its loveless, independent survival.
To be obliged to think without ceasing is to meditate on the thought “I,” and all of its predicates are like a hedge about the brain and the independent self. Even the presumably Divine Attributes found in subtle form through yogic brain-contemplation are ultimately nothing more than predicates of the separate self – a means of independent survival of the brainlike “soul” rather than sacrifice of the self entirely.
The usual man thinks compulsively, and pursues verbal stimulation like an addict. Most of his thinking is a mediocre reflection or casual duplication of verbal forms (or “ideas”) that pass around and through him like TV and gossip. The purpose of his thinking is simply to continue the consoling procession of self-meditative predicates.
The process of active, creative, and intuitive consideration of experience ultimately penetrates the cycle of thought and of brain fixation, whether conventional or yogic. Such consideration ultimately transcends thought and all other bodily self-limits, through radical intuition, or surrender of self-contraction, in the Radiant Current and Divine Ignorance of the Real.
Until such intuitive transcendence is stabilized and intensified to the point of Translation, a profound discipline and process of personal, moral, and higher psycho-physical purification and regenerative adaptation must be awakened and maintained through “hearing” and “seeing” in the Company of the Spiritual Master. Then even thinking must be made a voluntarily generated and directed or concentrated process, leading beyond its chronic contents, and ultimately transcending all contents, including the thought “I. “
As long as thought is chronic, it is merely self-meditation, and a support for loveless, obsessive, fearful, and mechanical existence. The thoughts that surround and glamorize the brained self are common food, or an excretion to be released, or an orgasm like spasm that thrills and degenerates the “inner man” and his body. Only when intelligent consideration presses beyond the mechanical, verbal, and repetitive affair of self-meditation, beyond the realm of self-contraction and the self-preserving search for solutions to conceived dilemmas-only then does the mind become a regenerative sacrifice, opening the brain to radical intuition of the Current of Reality. When the whole and entire body-mind is so sacrificed through intuitive love, or unobstructed feeling, then the body-mind is Transfigured and Translated into the Blissful Current that is its Source, Support, Unqualified Self, and Destiny.
Therefore, the brain self, mind, or procession of thoughts must become ecstatic. This is the foundation of the entire Way of Truth. The consideration of the argument of the Spiritual Master must persist until there is true “hearing.” Such “hearing” is characterized by thoughtless intuition of the radical Condition of Ignorance. And devotional surrender to the Spiritual Master must be done in every moment to the point of “seeing.” Such “seeing” is characterized by responsive and whole bodily feeling-attention, or loving Communion with the Divine Radiance, the Current of Life, under all circumstances.
The intuition of Ignorance, therefore, awakens the confession of self or soul as the whole bodily being, rather than the inward soul or the subjective brain and nervous system. And such confession is itself manifest as self-transcending or ecstatic Communion with the Radiant Reality through the nonreactive force of love, which is the Power of Life. Such a Way of Life, or Love, intense and free, beyond thought or self-possession, ultimately becomes Translation of the body-mind into the Fullness of Divine Ignorance-Radiance itself.
Mind vs. Intelligence
The reason we are so confused, misdirected, and unspiritual is that our consciousness has been made to adapt to the views of men who have not been Enlightened by the Realization of God (Truth and Reality). We are a mind rather than intelligence. We do not openly Commune with what Is, and the One Who Is. Therefore, we must be liberated from false adaptation and self-defense, and we must be restored to the primal or ecstatic disposition of Divine Ignorance in the midst of all conditions. Then we do not resort to man and mind, but we are sensitive to conditions themselves, prior to speech and self. The brain and nervous system can then Commune, or Abide in unobstructed continuity, with the Current and Process of Existence, and the Great Secret will be revealed to consciousness.