Psychedelics & the Irrational Assumptions of Neurocentrism

Psychedelic research is on the rise, but unfortunately it is largely dominated by scientists working from an entirely unverified assumption.

Recently there have been numerous studies published regarding psychedelic substances whose ‘results’ are gaining increased public interest with eye-catching headlines.

Study Reveals the Similarity Between Psychedelic States and Dreaming

Scientists Studying Psychoactive Drugs Accidentally Proved the Self is an Illusion

LSD Produces a New Type of ‘Harmonic’ Order in the Brain, According to Neuroimaging Study

That all sounds pretty neat, right? That is until you realize that under each one of these studies lies a central assumption which has never been successfully resolved by science.

What is consciousness? How do we have unique personal experiences of things? These are questions posed by David Chalmers a few decades ago, called the Hard Problem of Consciousness, which have perplexed the science and philosophy communities ever since. The problem has never been sufficiently resolved with any empirical validity.

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In other words, we do not know with any certainty whatsoever that our minds (consciousness/awareness) are dependent on brains or what appears to happen in them. It would be unscientific and dishonest to suggest you knew that for sure. And yet almost all science starts from that very assumption. This problem is uniquely problematic with psychedelic studies for a couple of reasons.

The first and foremost reason is that one of the greatest benefits of the psychedelic experience is that it can help look outside of the dogmatic notion that mind is merely a state of matter. Studies of the psychedelic experience which begin with the unverified assumption that mind is merely a state of matter are like going to an art museum with a negative attitude about art. All you will see are the assumptions you walked in with, and nothing more.

The second problem is that, if scientific approval of psychedelics will advance their responsible usage, science based on unverified assumptions compromises that position. It is hard to imagine, but if tomorrow the Hard Problem of Consciousness were resolved scientifically on the side of mind over matter, all of those studies would essentially become pseudoscience overnight. Dishonesty often backfires, even when the dishonesty comes from pure naivete.

That which is explored via falsehoods will not lead ultimately to truth.

This is a general problem of neurocentrism and the rest of scientific materialism. The underlying assumptions and first premises have not been verified, yet upon this shaky foundation of belief they continue to try to brick and mortar over the problem one misguided study at a time. What would a collapse of that foundation mean to human knowledge?

That is a big question, and one I ask some version of in much of my writing here at The Dungherder. Yet while scientific materialism might be a working assumption that, for the time being, is too big to fail; psychedelic research is fresh enough that we have a chance not to imbue it with the dogmas the rest of science has slipped uneasily into. Instead of studying psychedelics like objects, it would be more parsimonious and beneficial if we studied them as experiences.

Update: It took only a few minutes to receive a response to this piece that asked – If brain chemistry is not primary, how do drugs even work. Here ya go…

Are All Drugs Actually Just Placebos?

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33 thoughts on “Psychedelics & the Irrational Assumptions of Neurocentrism

  1. Certainly the mind is altered by material interactions; food, drink, pharmaceuticals, street drugs, alcohol, nutrients, poisons, social circumstances, belief systems, disease or health, lifestyle,and the products of the bodies own metabolism.
    The assertion that consciousness is at the root of mental activity is a much more subtle and tenuous claim than is materialism. And neurocentrism is equally silly because a brain in a vat cannot have experiences unless it is connected to a body, so mind is a result of memory and experience.

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    1. You seem to be working up from assumptions and unverified claims. What may seem reasonable is not always what is actually known.

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      1. I drink a bottle vodka my consciousness is changed. It doesn’t matter what I believe because if I get caught driving they’ll throw me in jail. I’ll try telling the judge it’s a metaphysical disagreement and say you told me so!

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      2. Your consciousness doesn’t change. Your experience does. Consciousness/mind/awareness/ self never changes. Only the contents within consciousness change. Those changes are noted by the unchanging consciousness, the self awareness that had no modalities and is a continuous being.

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      3. So, you are saying that your consciousness does not depend on physical existence; no brain, no body….it’s irrelevant?
        From my perspective if I was just a brain in a vat then my consciousness would lack interaction with the world through the senses. My individual consciousness then depends on the feedback between brain and body, and without this physical existence there is no ego.
        The physical universe may have feedback loops but it certainly is not conscious the way I am.

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      4. Do you not dream?

        Every dream contains interactions with things that act as though real, yet we know they are only in mind.

        Dreams already provide clear evidence that minds can create experiences that contain interactions with things that seem external to our minds. If you fight a bull in the dream, does that make the bull real? If you experience pain in a dream, does that make the wound real?

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      5. Dreams prove that the mind is less constrained by material reality, but they never involve elements not borrowed from physical experience.

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      6. The reductionism of ‘elements’ is highly problematic. I am trying to figure out how to untangle that, but it is so open to loose interpretation that I cannot.

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      7. People can imagine a lot as long as this does not result in a fatality. Physical constraints are always there and it involves a very tight rule set. The rule set for dreams and imagination are not as restrictive.

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      8. One could just as easily say that nothing happens in the waking experience which does not contain elements of dreams. I don’t think further argumentation here will be helpful until you step back and honestly examine the circular logic happening here. I do not mean to defend or degrade you, but there are some major issues with your premises and starting assumptions.

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      9. Thanks, but it seems unclear to me what you are trying to say. What would be the point to the material universe then if it’s not constraints? What good would consciousness be unless you are governed by and living within a material rule set?
        If everything was pure consciousness then nothing would exist, not even consciousness. Because consciousness pushes through, and around constraints seeking what it wants to achieve.
        It seems that the creator itself needed to create reality as an act to test a rule set!

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      10. Why do those constraints need to be external? Why cannot they be the process of our awareness and its experiences unfolding into greater complexity?
        That is more parsimonious than dualism.

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      11. So we create the constraints ourselves and then we challenge ourselves by trying to reach beyond them? And by doing so we simultaneously create our own reality and consciousness?
        When did this all start?

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      12. No, time unfolds as an experience. Or one could say it unfolds as an experience of separate experiences within a single awareness.

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      13. The only way to have an interaction with any phenomena is through an experience. All experiences are subjective. So yes, or if it is not just a subjective experience, we could not verify that, so parsimony would dictate we stick to what can be said without making assumptions.

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      14. So I can’t assume the moon is there if I’m not looking. So what makes you think the moon is there when you are looking? And why should I take your word for it?

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      15. And is having an interaction with a cow, the experience of being a cow…or something else? Or can only a cow have an experience of being a cow?

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      16. How do you observe, measure or test if consciousness rises or lowers?

        What is the assumption that unanswerable questions are impossible come from? How are they even informed best guesses?

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  2. First off, I really enjoyed this piece, especially that ending, that all drugs could be placebo. I have a few ideas on this as well. I think that placebo can exist, possibly quite heavily, on top of the effects of the drugs while active. This may account for chasing the dragon, among heroin users, where the dragon is the optimism that the drug provides in its novel phase, the hope that your problems will finally resolve soon as you fix your life or problems with the drug. Then learning and realization set in and you develop tolerance as well. But you can never delude yourself back into the original dragon state.

    I’m actually researching endogenous DMT extensively at the moment. I’m finding very strange connections, deeper this rabbit hole goes.

    I’ve found connections to domestication that I’m currently obsessed with. Socialization of our species, and others, may involve DMT and MAO A hyperactivity.

    Another hypothesis I’m working on is that bipolar disorder may involve some sort of DMT hyperactivity.

    These two hypotheses actually conflict a bit. I’m not going to go into detail, but basically schizophrenia is assumed to be the hyper-domesticated state but there is more evidence that bipolar disorder has physiological signs of high DMT activity.

    I think there are more factors here though.

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    1. When one begins with the assumptions of realism and physicalism, one is sure to find them everywhere. We seem drawn towards literalism for some kinky reason I cannot pinpoint.

      Thank you, and glad you enjoyed!

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