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Self unbound: ego dissolution in psychedelic experience.


Users of psychedelic drugs often report that their sense of being a self or ‘I’ distinct from the rest of the world has diminished or altogether dissolved. Neuroscientific study of such ‘ego dissolution’ experiences offers a window onto the nature of self-awareness. We argue that ego dissolution is best explained by an account that explains self-awareness as resulting from the integrated functioning of hierarchical predictive models which posit the existence of a stable and unchanging entity to which representations are bound. Combining recent work on the ‘integrative self’ and the phenomenon of self-binding with predictive processing principles yields an explanation of ego dissolution according to which self-representation is a useful Cartesian fiction: an ultimately false representation of a simple and enduring substance to which attributes are bound which serves to integrate and unify cognitive processing across levels and domains. The self-model is not a mere narrative posit, as some have suggested; it has a more robust and ubiquitous cognitive function than that. But this does not mean, as others have claimed, that the self-model has the right attributes to qualify as a self. It performs some of the right kinds of functions, but it is not the right kind of entity. Ego dissolution experiences reveal that the self-model plays an important binding function in cognitive processing, but the self does not exist.
Letheby, C., & Gerrans, P. (2017). Self unbound: ego dissolution in psychedelic experience. Neuroscience of consciousness2017(1), nix016., 10.1093/nc/nix016
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Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal

It’s no secret that psychedelic drugs have the ability to cast light on the miraculous reality hidden within our psyche. Almost immediately after the discovery of LSD less than a hundred years ago, psychedelics began to play a crucial role in the quest to understand the link between mind and matter. With an uncanny ability to reveal the mind’s remote frontiers and the unmapped areas of human consciousness, LSD and MDMA (better known as Ecstasy) have proven extraordinarily effective in treating anxiety disorders such as PTSD—yet the drugs remain illegal for millions of people who might benefit from them.

Anchoring Tom Shroder’s Acid Test are the stories of Rick Doblin, the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), who has been fighting government prohibition of psychedelics for more than thirty years; Michael Mithoefer, a former emergency room physician, now a psychiatrist at the forefront of psychedelic therapy research; and his patient Nicholas Blackston, a former Marine who has suffered unfathomable mental anguish from the effects of brutal combat experiences in Iraq. All three men are passionate, relatable people; each flawed, each resilient, and each eccentric, yet very familiar and very human.

Acid Test covers the first heady years of experimentation in the fifties and sixties, through the backlash of the seventies and eighties, when the drug subculture exploded and uncontrolled use of street psychedelics led to a PR nightmare that created the drug stereotypes of the present day. Meticulously researched and astoundingly informative, this is at once a personal story of intertwining lives against an epic backdrop, and a compelling argument for the unprecedented healing properties of drugs that have for decades been characterized as dangerous, illicit substances.

Tom Shroder has been an award-winning journalist, writer and editor for more than 30 years.

Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal, door Tom Shroder, Blue Rider Press, 448 pagina’s.

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The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca

This book presents a series of perspectives on the therapeutic potential of the ritual and clinical use of the Amazonian hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca in the treatment and management of various diseases and ailments, especially its role in psychological wellbeing and substance dependence. Biomedical and anthropological data on the use of ayahuasca for treating depression, PTSD, and substance dependence in different settings, such as indigenous contexts, neo-shamanic rituals, contemporary therapeutic circles, and in ayahuasca religions, in both South and North America, are presented and critiqued. Though multiple anecdotal reports on the therapeutic use of ayahuasca exist, there has been no systematic and dense reflection on the topic thus far. The book brings the therapeutic use of ayahuasca to a new level of public examination and academic debate. The texts in this volume stimulate discussion on methodological, ethical, and political aspects of research and will enhance the development of this emergent field of studies.

The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca, by Beatriz Caiuby Labate & Clancy Cavnar (Editors), Springer, 226 pages.

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Confrontation with the Unconscious: Jungian Depth Psychology and Psychedelic Experience

Carl Gustav Jung pioneered the transformative potential of the deep unconscious. Psychedelic substances provide direct and powerful access to this inner world. How, then, might Jungian psychology help us to better understand the nature of psychedelic experiences? And how might psychedelics assist the movement toward psychological transformation described by Jung?

Jungian depth psychology and psychedelic psychotherapy are both concerned with coming to terms with unconscious drives, complexes, and symbolic images. Unaware of significant evidence for the safe clinical use of psychedelic drugs, Jung himself remained wary of psychedelics and staunchly opposed their therapeutic use. His bias has prevented Jungians from objectively considering the benefits as well as the risks of using psychedelics for psychological healing and growth.

Confrontation with the Unconscious intertwines psychedelic research, personal accounts of psychedelic experiences, and C. G. Jung’s work on trauma, the shadow, psychosis, and psychospiritual transformation — including Jung’s own “confrontation with the unconscious” — to show the relevance of Jung’s penetrating insights to the work of Stanislav Grof, Ann Shulgin, Ronald Sandison, Margot Cutner, among other psychedelic and transpersonal researchers, and to demonstrate the great value of Jung’s penetrating insights for understanding difficult psychedelic experiences and promoting safe and effective psychedelic exploration and psychotherapy.

Scott J. Hill, Ph. D., lives in Sweden, where he conducts scholarly research on the intersection between psychedelic studies and Jungian psychology. He holds degrees in psychology from the University of Minnesota and in philosophy and religion from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Confrontation with the Unconscious: Jungian Depth Psychology and Psychedelic Experience, door Scott J. Hill, Muswell Hill Press, 252 pagina’s.

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Entheogens, Society & Law – Towards a Politics of Consciousness, Autonomy & Responsibility

Entheogens, Society & Law takes a major step towards a comprehensive understanding of the human condition, elucidating how empathy, meaning and purpose emerge from three intersecting areas of human life: biology, consciousness and culture.

The term “entheogen” designates a class of psychoactive plant and substance uses that have played, and continue to play, an important role as catalysts of experiences of the “divine,” “sacred” or “numinous,” as well as in divination, healing and, more recently, psychotherapy. The authors expand on these ideas, borrowing from a wide range of disciplines — pharmacology, neurology, consciousness research, psychology, semiotics, theology and mythology — and immersing the reader in a radical and empowering exegesis of influential cultural myths such as that of Original Sin. The resulting insights have practical and ethical implications in many areas of contemporary society, including education, mental health, human rights and law.

Much of the literature on psychedelics and altered states of consciousness remains firmly entrenched in the dualistic logic of prohibition discourse. Unfortunately, this detracts from its ability to engage with the broader existential, ethical and humanitarian questions that, the author’s argue, any bona fide religious or therapeutic tradition needs to address. With its focus on ethics, Entheogens, Society & Law pursues a pragmatic inquiry guided by one paramount question: how can individuals take responsibility for their own lives and wrest power and authority from institutions that deprive them of the very liberties, e.g. to explore consciousness and alter mental functioning, upon which the exercise of responsibility is premised? This question leads to a critical examination of contemporary discourses on emergent ‘technologies of the self,’ human rights, the ‘common good’ — and the extents of state interference with the self-defining choices of sovereign individuals.

The theoretical questions raised by the meta-analysis presented here propose the possibility, if not necessity, of addressing the crises of modernity, including problems surrounding drug use, as a series of contingencies generated by the competing interests of individual’s search for a meaningful existence and powerful institutions exercising hegemonic control over what we can and cannot do towards that ends. This ethical inquiry exposes the faulty premises of exercises of authority and power by demonstrating the central role of human consciousness in the generation of values that ultimately define us and determine what we become. This places discussion on the nature of ‘mind-altering substances’ at the heart of contemporary discourses on human rights, offering empowering and inspiring insights into the future of humanity.

Entheogens, Society & Law — Towards a Politics of Consciousness, Autonomy & Responsibility, door Daniel Waterman, Melrose Books, 496 pagina’s.

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Ayahuasca, Ritual and Religion in Brazil

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive drink used for healing and divination among religious groups in the Brazilian Amazon. ‘Ayahuasca, Ritual and Religion in Brazil’ is the first scholarly volume in English to examine the religious rituals and practices surrounding ayahuasca. The use of ayahuasca among religious groups is analysed, alongside Brazilian public policies regarding ayahuasca and the handling of substance dependence. ‘Ayahuasca, Ritual and Religion in Brazil’ will be of interest to scholars of anthropology and religion and all those interested in the role of stimulants in religious practice.

Ayahuasca, Ritual and Religion in Brazil, by Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Edward MacRae, Routledge, 256 pages.

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Opening the Portals of Heaven – Brazilian Ayahuasca Music

This pocket book highlights the theme of music in the ayahuasca religions of Santo Daime (both the Cefluris and Alto Santo groups) and the União do Vegetal (UDV). Although most studies of the ayahuasca religions recognize the centrality of music in their rituals, the study of the music itself has generally been secondary to other themes, rather than the central focus that it is here. A rich cultural manifestation, ayahuasca music reveals multiple connections with Brazilian religiosity and with the musical expression of the Northeast and Amazonia, and has been one of the principal elements highlighted by recent efforts to designate ayahuasca as immaterial cultural heritage of the Brazilian nation. The book explores the key role that music plays in the everyday life of these religions, in the production of religious meanings, and in the construction of the bodies and the subjectivity of adepts. Through a description of each group’s musicality and a comparison among them, the authors seek to understand these groups’ ethos. This book represents an important contribution to an area of study that is still little explored in Brazil: the use of music in ritual and religious contexts.

Opening the Portals of Heaven: Brazilian Ayahuasca Music, by Beatriz Caiuby Labate & Gustavo Pacheco, Estudos Brasileiros – Brazilian Studies series, LIT Verlag, 120 pages.

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The Psychedelic Journey of Marlene Dobkin de Rios: 45 Years with Shamans, Ayahuasqueros, and Ethnobotanists

riosA look inside almost half a century of pioneering research in the Amazon and Peru by a noted anthropologist studying hallucinogens, including ayahuasca – Reveals how ayahuasca successfully treats psychological and emotional disorders – Examines adolescent drug use from a cross-cultural perspective – Discusses the deleterious effects of drug tourism in the Amazon Ayahuasca is an alkaloid-rich psychoactive concoction indigenous to South America that has been employed by shamans for millennia as a spirit drug for divinatory and healing purposes. Although the late Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes was credited in the early 1950s as being the first to document the use of ayahuasca, other researchers, such as the distinguished anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios, were responsible for furthering his findings and uncovering the curative capabilities of this amazing compound. “The Psychedelic Journey of Marlene Dobkin de Rios” presents the accumulated experience of de Rios’s 45 years of pioneering field studies in the area of hallucinogens in Peru and the Amazon. Her investigation into ayahuasca–which she undertook in collaboration with more than a dozen traditional Mestizo folk curanderos, shamans, and fellow ethnobotanists–focuses on the use of this revolutionary plant in the treatment of recalcitrant psychological and emotional disorders. She also shares some of her theories that prove that the ancient Maya used psychedelic plants as part of their religious rituals, thereby demonstrating the impact of plant psychedelics on human prehistory. In addition, Dobkin de Rios examines altered states of consciousness derived from the use of biofeedback and hypnosis and discusses her current work on the deleterious effects of drug tourism in the Amazon.

The Psychedelic Journey of Marlene Dobkin de Rios: 45 Years with Shamans, Ayahuasqueros, and Ethnobotanists, door Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Park Street Press, 216 pagina’s.

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Santo Daime: betekenis en aantrekkingskracht van een ayahuasca-religie

WuytsEr is een nieuw boek verschenen over de Santo Daime van de hand van Jazmin Wuyts, afgestudeerd in culturele antropologie en ontwikkelingssociologie. Het boek, “Santo Daime; betekenis en aantrekkingskracht van een ayahuasca-religie”, is een geredigeerde versie van Wuyts’ afstudeerscriptie. De connectie tussen de Santo Daime in Brazilië en Nederland wordt onder de loep genomen, en wat het boek bijzonder maakt is dat het alleen gebaseerd is op literatuur en interviews – Wuyts heeft zelf niet deelgenomen aan de rituelen. De hoofdvraag die in het boek behandeld wordt is “Wat is de betekenis en aantrekkingskracht van de Santo Daime-religie voor de deelnemers en hoe kan men verklaren dat het in minder dan een eeuw over de hele wereld is verspreid?”

Santo Daime: betekenis en aantrekkingskracht van een ayahuasca-religie, Jazmin Wuyts, gepubliceerd door de auteur. ISBN 978-90-8759-058-1.

The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience

This is a pioneering cognitive psychological study of Ayahuasca, a plant-based Amazonian psychotropic brew. Benny Shanon presents a comprehensive charting of the various facets of the special state of mind induced by Ayahuasca, and analyses them from a cognitive psychological perspective. He also presents some philosophical reflections. Empirically, the research presented in this book is based on the systematic recording of the author’s extensive experiences with the brew and on the interviewing of a large number of informants: indigenous people, shamans, members of different religious sects using Ayahuasca, and travellers. In addition to its being the most thorough study of the Ayahuasca experience to date, the book lays the theoretical foundations for the psychological study of non-ordinary states of consciousness in general.

Benny Shanon is Professor at the Department of Psychology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and holder of the Mandel Chair in Cognition.

The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience, door Benny Shanon, Oxford University Press, 496 pagina’s.

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