Nicolas Langlitz: Psychedelics and Philosophy | Who Shaves the Barber? #45

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Psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and ayahuasca, do much more than generate sensory hallucinations. Users often come away with a sense of having gained deep insight into the nature of reality – even if what that insight is, and what is so special about it, can be hard to communicate. Anthropologist Nicolas Langlitz associates it with the “perennial philosophy” – an old idea, popularized by Aldous Huxley, that all world religions communicate the same basic truth. Years after writing the book The Perennial Philosophy, Huxley tried mescaline and LSD and became convinced that psychedelics provide a shortcut to the kinds of mystical experiences that would put us in touch with that basic reality – what he called the “world mind”. Langlitz is skeptical that psychedelics really do communicate some kind of metaphysical truth. In this interview, we discuss what psychedelics do reveal, if anything, and what the relationship is between experience and knowledge.

Next week: Kit Fine: Metaphysical Ground



Topics discussed

0:20 – Intro to Nicolas Langlitz
1:05 – Anthropology and philosophy
10:06 – Nick’s research on psychedelics
22:23 – Perennial philosophy (Huxley)
29:20 – Indescribable?
33:09 – Materialism and mysticism
41:14 – Diversity v. unity of psychedelic experience
47:40 – Validity and expression of the psychedelic experience
59:50 – Place of psychedelics in society


Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain (Langlitz)
Is There a Place of Psychedelics in Philosophy?: Fieldwork in Neuro- and Perennial Philosophy” (Langlitz)
Heaven and Hell (Huxley)
The Doors of Perception (Huxley)…

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A Challenge to All Philosophers: Try Psychedelics

If you’re a philosopher, you have no excuse for not trying psychedelics.

You might be a great philosopher and make incredible contributions to the field. If you’ve never tried a hallucinogenic drug, there’s always something that you’re missing. I can have a conversation about metaphysics with you and be amazed by your arguments. Nonetheless, at the back of my mind will be the fact that you don’t have the psychedelic insight. As someone who has it, that’s something I can’t ignore. It’s relevant to all metaphysical and epistemological questions, and to all issues that depend on metaphysical and epistemological assumptions – in other words, to all philosophy.

The psychedelic experience is something like sight. It’s not one experience, but a medium for a specific kind of experience. Close your eyes for a moment. Can you remember what vision is like? Sort of. You can conjure images in the mind’s eye. But now open your eyes again. Is vision exactly what you pictured when you closed your eyes? Not even close. The psychedelic experience is like that – you can sort of remember what it’s like. But you don’t understand it unless you’re currently in it. For this reason, the psychedelic experience is impossible to explain. If you’ve never had it but have heard stories, you understand it as well as a blind man understands color from descriptions.

A quick glance through user testimonials will show you that everyone who trips gets something different from it. Even so, there’s something distinctive about the psychedelic experience.…

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