E23. Chris Letheby – The Philosophy of Psychedelics

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My guest today is Dr Chris Letheby, a philosopher working on issues related to psychedelic drugs, who is currently a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Western Australia and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Adelaide. Chris is also the author of the book Philosophy of Psychedelics, which was published in 2021 by Oxford University Press.

In this conversation we touch on the account given in Chris’ book of the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics, and then go deep into Chris’ account of the phenomenology of psychedelics. This conversation was a lot of fun, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I also want to explicitly recommend Chris’ book. I think it does an excellent job of drawing together a whole range of different types of research to provide a clear and sophisticated framework for understanding how psychedelics have their therapeutic and transformational effects, and the consequent philosophical implications.

Show Notes

2:45 – The question that Philosophy of Psychedelics is organised around: “Is psychedelic therapy simply foisting a comforting delusion on the sick and dying”?

6:15 – Chris’ theory about what is happening in the psychedelic experience, the hierarchical self-binding account.

16:20 – How the hierarchical self-binding theory accounts for the phenomenology of the mystical experience.

33:10 – How the hierarchical self-binding theory accounts for other remarkable aspects of the psychedelic/mystical experience – the sense that everything is conscious and the sense that the experience is True.

43:50 – How the hierarchical self-binding theory accounts for other remarkable aspects of the psychedelic/mystical experience – the sense of sacredness and the fundamentalness of love.

50:20 – What’s coming up for Chris and what he hopes to see in the next decade of psychedelic research.

Episode Links and References

Chris’ book – Philosophy of Psychedelics

Philip Gerrans – a frequent collaborator of Chris’.

Anil Seth – neuroscientist advocating the view that what we perceive as reality is a “controlled hallucination”.

Thomas Metzinger – a philosopher of mind exploring self-hood and subjective experience.

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