DR CHRIS LETHEBY

DR CHRIS LETHEBY

DR CHRIS LETHEBY

THE VARIETIES OF PSYCHEDELIC EPISTEMOLOGY

Recent scientific evidence suggests that experiences induced by classic psychedelic drugs can have lasting psychological benefits in both healthy and patient populations. This phenomenon of ‘psychedelic transformation’ is philosophically intriguing in many ways, one of which is that subjects often attribute their transformation to some kind of insight or knowledge gain. Moreover, such claims of epistemic benefit are often connected to mystical experiences as of a transcendent universal consciousness. Positions that have been taken on this include: (1) there’s no problem, because the universal consciousness is real; (2) there’s no problem, even though the universal consciousness is not real, because the epistemic dimensions of psychedelic transformation are not very important; and (3) there is a problem, because the universal consciousness is not real, and the epistemic dimensions are very important. My position is that (4) there’s no big problem, even though the universal consciousness is not real, because other (naturalistically acceptable) kinds of knowledge gain are involved in psychedelic transformation. Several proposals have been made recently along these lines. After reviewing scientific research into psychedelic transformation, I will critically survey these proposals, classifying them in accordance with traditional epistemological categories, and offer suggestions for future research.

CHRIS LETHEBY PhD is a philosopher working on issues related to the therapeutic and transformative potential of classic psychedelic drugs. His doctoral research, conducted at the University of Adelaide, presented the first systematic analysis of psychedelic experience within the framework of 21st century philosophy of cognitive science.  In his thesis Letheby argues that an ‘entheogenic conception’ of psychedelics as agents of epistemic and spiritual benefit is both consistent with philosophical naturalism and plausible in light of current scientific knowledge.  Having been awarded his PhD in early 2017, he is currently teaching philosophy at the University of Adelaide and logic at Eynesbury College, while continuing to conduct research on philosophical issues relating to psychedelics.