Towards a new materialism in the philosophy of psychedelics

by · Oct 2, 2016 · 2 591 views ·

Daan F. Oostveen (1985, Eindhoven) studied philosophy and comparative literature at the University of Ghent in Belgium. He focused on contemporary French philosophy (Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida), the ethics of Friedrich Nietzsche and Eastern philosophy (Daoism and Buddhism). He has studied and worked with Em. Prof Dr. Ulrich Libbrecht, scholar of comparative philosophy. Currently, he is working on his PhD thesis on multiple religious belonging at the Faculty of Theology at VU University in Amsterdam. In this project, he studies the hermeneutics of hybrid religiosity from theological, anthropological, sociological, philosophical, gender and post-colonial perspectives. The current paradigm in the research on psychedelics is still very much influenced by Cartesian dualism. Either psychedelics are researched from a reductionist neurobiological perspective, or from a idealist perspective in which the psychedelic consciousness constitutes a realm outside the physical world. Furthermore, the neurobiological approach often holds a Kantian perspective regarding the “psychedelic reality”. In philosophy, we have recently witnessed the rise of a new movement in metaphysics. This movement is often labeled New Materialism. New materialism both rejects the dualism of mind and body as it had been understood by Descartes, and the metaphysical skepticism to acquire knowledge of reality as it has been understood by Kant. Furthermore, New Materialism also attempts to move beyond the reductionist materialism of scientism. On the one side, New Materialism attempts to show how the phenomena we perceive as “mental” are in itself already “embodied” and “material”. On the other side, it shows how “matter” does not consist of lifeless atoms, but that in fact values, life, feeling and subjective sensations such as desire, fear and memory are inherently part of it. Since the research on psychedelics appears to be stuck in the dichotomy of scientific materialism and idealism, I argue that it could benefit from a New Materialist approach. In this approach, consciousness is no longer perceived as something that mysteriously arises from brain tissue and is studied by means of questionnaires. Instead this approach favors a Spinozist parallelism, in which any action of the mind is necessarily an action of the body as well, but without any primacy of one over the other. If anything, it is precisely the psychedelic experience that might open up an intimate understanding of the intertwined parallelism of mind and body in what Jane Bennett calls Vibrant Matter.

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