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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Big Questions: Philosophy and Psychedelics

Language: How do we express it?

The ineffability of psychedelic experiences, where profound insights and experiences are challenging to articulate, raises questions about the limitations of language. It emphasizes the need for a more comprehensive philosophical vocabulary that can encompass the full range of human experience. This prompts us to explore alternative means of understanding and communicating ideas, such as through art, music, and direct experiential approaches.

However, it also leads to inquiries about what happens when language fails. Is it because we’re encountering novel experiences beyond our linguistic grasp? Do psychedelics disrupt the conventional relationship between our words and the world? Or does it simply affect the areas of our brain responsible for language and communication?

Purpose: Why do we exist?

Apart from the aforementioned questions, psychedelics can lead us to reflect on the concept of purpose. Sometimes, these reflections occur on a grand scale, as we contemplate the reasons behind the existence of humanity, all life, or even the entire universe.

Often, these reflections are individualistic, focusing on questions like the purpose of one’s life, why they are here, and where they fit in. With the altered perspective that psychedelics can bring, individuals may undergo significant changes in their understanding of the purpose behind their actions, as their preconceived notions are temporarily stripped away.

Ethics: What should we do?

All the aforementioned categories have ethical implications, as they influence our values regarding right and wrong. This should come as no surprise, as ethical decisions are often informed by other underlying factors. For example, considering how we treat others presupposes their existence and the assumption that they have experiences similar to ours, encompassing both joy and suffering.

Whenever our views about the world, our knowledge, or our place in it change, our ideas about what we should or shouldn’t do may also undergo transformation.

Furthermore, there are ethical questions regarding deliberately inducing these transformative experiences in ourselves and others, particularly within the realm of psychedelic-assisted therapy. While psychedelics can facilitate profound changes in individuals, the question remains: should they?

What can psychedelic philosophers teach us?

You may be left wondering about the purpose of philosophically engaging with psychedelics, given the absence of easy answers and the complexity of the questions at hand. However, the essence of engaging in philosophical discourse is not to find definitive answers, but rather to approach these questions in better, more nuanced ways. Philosophers have been contemplating these matters for centuries and can shed light on what doesn’t work while also providing frameworks for exploring and embracing complexity and ambiguity. Sometimes, it isn’t about finding the right answer, but about avoiding the egregiously wrong ones that philosophers have already explored in the past.

If you’re eager to delve deeper into the intersection of psychedelics and philosophy, join me, Dr. Chris Letheby, and Dr. Traill Dowie as we discuss these questions and more at the Philosophy and Psychedelics: The Big Questions event on Wednesday, May 10th, at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. The event will also be livestreamed, and ticket-holders will have access to the recording. So, the only reason you might miss out is if you wait too long to secure your spot. Get your tickets now!


Q: How do psychedelics affect language?

A: Psychedelics can lead to ineffability, making it difficult or impossible to express profound experiences and insights in words.

Q: What is the purpose of philosophically engaging with psychedelics?

A: Engaging in philosophical discourse allows us to explore complex questions and approach them in better, more nuanced ways, without necessarily finding definitive answers.

Q: How do psychedelics impact our sense of purpose?

A: Psychedelics can prompt reflections on the purpose of life, individual purpose, and one’s place in the world, potentially leading to profound shifts in understanding.

Q: What ethical implications arise from psychedelic experiences?

A: Psychedelic experiences can raise ethical questions about our values, how we treat others, and the deliberate induction of transformative experiences.

Q: What can psychedelic philosophers teach us?

A: Psychedelic philosophers can provide insights into what doesn’t work, offer frameworks for embracing complexity and ambiguity, and help avoid previously explored erroneous paths.

Dr. Jen Chalmers
Dr. Jen Chalmers
Dr. Jen Chalmers is an accomplished writer and cannabis enthusiast. With a Ph.D. in Botany and years of experience as a researcher, she brings a scientific perspective to her captivating articles on cannabis news, recipes, and the fascinating world of psychedelics.

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