Psychedelic Humanities

Psychedelic Humanities Lab @ SXSW

The currently accelerating revival of psychedelic research has been driven by biomedical research, but the question of what role psychedelics are to play in our late modern societies cannot be answered by neuroscientific experiments and clinical trials alone. The world’s first Psychedelic Humanities Lab at The New School for Social Research provides a space to integrate philosophical reflection, social scientific inquiry, and psychopharmacological research on the mind-altering and behavioral effects of psychedelic drugs. 

We understand the psychedelic humanities as a field that observes, analyzes, and fosters intellectual diversity. Psychedelics currently inspire ideologically very different ethical and political projects ranging from different brands of mysticism, neoanimism, ecofeminism, radical humanism, anti-racism, and alt-right ideology. These competing normative frameworks shape the varieties of psychedelic experience today and might be amplified by the use of drugs that can increase suggestibility and induce a so-called noetic feeling of gaining direct knowledge of something grand or important about reality. Their unique psychopharmacological effects make psychedelics a double-edged sword that requires careful social scientific analysis and philosophical reflection, which our lab generates. 

The work of the Psychedelic Humanities Lab starts from the assumption that psychedelics pose socially inflected questions of meaning and value that are independent of their therapeutic value. While the clinical efficacy and marketability of psychedelic drugs will significantly affect their (re-)introduction into mainstream science and society, our lab has no stakes in their successful medicalization and seeks to inform the debate over both medical and nonmedical perspectives.

The Psychedelic Humanities Lab also serves as a space for experimentation with new crossover research designs that integrate humanities scholarship, social research, and psychopharmacology. These experiments in inter- and transdisciplinarity are informed by Science & Technology Studies (STS) observations of different knowledge cultures. Psychedelic experiences are situated at the intersection of neural, mental, social, and cultural processes that pose questions of meaning and value which cannot be comprehensively answered through the disciplinary division of epistemic labor first institutionalized by the 19th-century university (natural sciences vs. humanities). Therefore, we are not only seeking to contribute humanities scholarship and social research to the psychedelic renaissance but also to devise new forms of research beyond the traditional divisions of mind and brain or nature and culture.

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