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.
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.
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…