The phenomenology of psychedelic experiences

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Forde, Danny
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University College Cork
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Over the past couple of decades, empirical research into the clinical and therapeutic application of psychedelic drugs has shown great promise in treating a wide range of psychiatric conditions. While there is an ever-expanding literature concerning empirical questions about these drugs and the experiences which they engender, it is only in recent years that an in-depth philosophical analysis of the psychedelic experience has begun to flourish. The aim of this dissertation is to fill an important gap in this nascent philosophical literature by offering a thorough phenomenological analysis of psychedelic experiences under the specific conditions of psychedelic-assisted therapy. This entails taking into account the fundamental structure of conscious experience and seeing how the psychedelic experience modifies each individual aspect of this structure. I will argue that the basic structure of conscious experience is maintained during psychedelic experiences and that they provide the subject with a deeply felt sense of oneness with the cosmos (generally associated with the phenomenon of ‘ego-dissolution’) and the sense that this experience is as real, if not more real, than normal reality. My central claim is that these experiences feel real because they do in fact disclose mind-independent features of reality and offers the subject a direct apprehension of what the mystics call the Ground of Being. I call this position psychedelic realism. The dissertation defends a bundle of four interconnected claims. My first thesis is that a minimal sense of self is maintained even during the most turbulent experiences of ego-dissolution. This leads into my second thesis which argues that rather than being purely hallucinatory, the psychedelic experience can reveal aspects of reality which would not otherwise be disclosed, i.e., as the ego dissolves one gains a view of the world which I call ego-free seeing. My third thesis is that the psychedelic experience can open the subject to the essential nature of reality. Here I will claim that the mythopoetic archetypical phenomena encountered during the peak of the psychedelic experience are best comprehended in terms of essences. Lastly, I argue that the psychedelic experience is a bona fide transformative experience and offers a distinct way of apprehending the Ground of Being.
Philosophy , Phenomenology , Psychedelic experience , Ego-dissolution , Mysticism , Psychedelic-assisted therapy
Forde, D. 2022. The phenomenology of psychedelic experiences. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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