Is western philosophy largely based around the psychedelic experience? Worthy area of inquiry for sure. More to the point, how many articles about psychedelics can you read that are saying essentially the same thing? This is different (from Quartz):
“In the 1960s, intellectuals such as Aldous Huxley were fascinated by the effects of LSD, but today most professors are far too worried about respectability and tenure to investigate psychedelics themselves. Which is somewhat ironic, given that the field of Western philosophy has a huge debt to psychedelics, according to Peter Sjöstedt-H, a philosophy doctoral candidate at University of Exeter who has written a book on the philosophical significance of drugs. In fact, one of Plato’s most-cited theories may have been a direct result of hallucinogenics.
In Plato’s Phaedo, the philosopher says he was inspired by the Eleusinian Mysteries, an ancient religious ceremony where participants took kykeon. It’s widely believed (thought cannot be definitively proven) that kykeon was a psychoactive substance, which would explain the visions that participants experienced during the ceremony. Sjöstedt-H notes that Plato references the Mysteries and “seeing that his body is but a shell, which one can escape through these experiences,” before he introduces his landmark notion of substance dualism: Namely, the idea that body and soul are distinct.
“Under psychedelic experience, you can completely lose the link between ‘you,’ yourself as a body; and ‘you,’ yourself as the person that you think you are, including your memories,” says Sjöstedt-H. “There’s this loss to the self, and the self is often associated with the body, so I can certainly see why a psychedelic experience would incline one towards a more dualistic view of the world.”
If the Mysteries did indeed involve psychedelics, Sjöstedt-H says we can credit them with inspiring some of the greatest and most influential thoughts in history.
“[Alfred North] Whitehead famously said, ‘Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.’ If Plato was inspired by psychedelics, then the whole of the Western canon is unwittingly inspired by these experiences,” Sjöstedt-H adds.
More than 2000 years later, Sjöstedt-H believes that it’s absolutely essential to understand psychedelic experiences in order to develop a thorough philosophy of how the mind functions. “You haven’t fully explained the mind until you’ve explained all facets of it,” he says.
Psychedelics create “a peak type of mind, a peak type of experience” and, as such, they’re a valuable consideration in certain philosophical mysteries, like understanding the relationship between the brain and the mind. Research has shown that parts of the brain are less active during psychedelic experiences, which is the inverse of what one might expect for a period of heightened consciousness. This finding highlights the complexities of explaining how the mind and brain relate, which is one of the great philosophical challenges, known as “the hard problem” of consciousness.
But even among non-philosophers, Sjöstedt-H believes that a lifetime without trying psychedelics is unnecessarily narrow. “Experientially, it would be a pity to live one’s life without having experienced the potentials of the human mind,” he says. “It’s a bit like living in the same country all one’s life and not going on holiday, not seeing the rest of the world. It’s a loss. By having this experience, one experiences more reality because the mind is part of reality.”
I think what’s a bit funny about this proposition is that in my experience, modern academic philosophy conveniently excluded Occult and shamanic concepts. I always got the impression it was dancing around these mystical ideas without going full on, on purpose. And that’s most likely where it came from in the first place. Same deal with religion. The concepts of heaven and hell? Angelick and daemonic entities? This stuff all comes from astral projection. It’s all metaphorical for the concept of higher and lower realms in the astral plane, which is something mystics such as myself have been experiencing and talking about ever since there have been people (hey support the site and buy my books). Yet, despite these states being quite easy to reproduce for the most part, for some reason we don’t. Finally we’re starting to tackle psychedelics with a bit more of a scientific focus, I can only push to make astral projection next.
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