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Toward a Philosophy of Psychedelic Technology: An Exploration of Fear, Otherness, and Control

Houot, A.M. (2019) Toward a Philosophy of Psychedelic Technology: An Exploration of Fear, Otherness, and Control.

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Abstract:The central question guiding this study is: In what ways can modern users conceptualize the psychedelic experience that counters the current fear-laden discourse on drugs? Misconceptions and falsehoods conflate current ways of considering drugs in general and psychedelics in particular. Fears of psychedelics serve as the framework to apply philosophies of mind and technology to the reexamination and amendment of psychedelic concepts and terms. Governmental and religious institutional actors fear psychedelic users will: harm one’s self and others because psychedelics are still falsely believed to have analogous properties to mental illness; the incommunicability of seemingly non-rational states cause disjunction between shared sociocultural knowledge; and psychedelics are arguably similar to mystical experiences, thus mainstream religion fears individuals’ direct access to divine realms, which could upend their hierarchical and spiritually monopolistic power structures. Next, modern researchers commonly advise users to “surrender” to psychedelic experiences, a term likely adopted from mysticism. Since surrender implies a master role is at play, a discussion on master-subject relations emerge when confronting the “psychedelic Other,” i.e. the spatial context, experiential content, and originating from within or without users’ minds. To better understand users’ fears, an analysis of known and unknown fears provide context to the ultimate psychedelic fear, that of a conscious and intelligent unknown presence. Against these fears of psychedelic Others, a new conception of (altered) states of self develops that considers the current debate in cognitive neuroscience and philosophy. Narrative and minimal selves are co-present during psychedelic experiences depending on dosage and intoxication levels, and a new qualitative framework is proffered to understand these implications. Finally, it is suggested that modern psychedelic users need not abandon the prototypical mystic to conceptualize their experiences, but instead might consider another prototypical figure, the shaman. Rather than dealing in surrender and fear like mystics and modern users, drug-taking shamans control and master their experiences through the joint use of symbolism, techniques, and technologies. A change in prototype also has epistemological significance, that is, from perennialist to constructivist approaches when considering psychedelically subjective knowledge. In view of built narratives regarding self and knowledge, i.e. narrative self and epistemological constructivism, analysis shows how shamans use symbols with technologies to control their experiences and the idea of symbolico-technological relations is proposed. The above philosophical insights have prescriptive consequences that provide new opportunities for modern society and users to conceptualize psychedelic experiences, to control them, and as a result, to reduce fear.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:02 science and culture in general, 08 philosophy, 77 psychology
Programme:Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society MSc (60024)
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