OPEN Foundation

Joe Bicknell – Cognitive Phenomenology of the Psychedelic Experience

Psychedelic phenomenology deals with the phenomenal content of psychedelic tripping, thus phenomenology approaches psychedelics from the reverse direction of the scientific approach, because instead of looking at the structures of physical brain chemistry and drug chemistry as scientists do, phenomenologists instead examine the structures of consciousness itself. The main concern of my research is the cognitive mechanisms that underlie the process of psychedelic mental transformation; that is, the transition from one worldview to another during the course of psychedelic exploration. An important aspect of this research is a revival of the old conception of psychedelic drugs as ‘psychotomimetic’, the trip experience is essentially a kind of temporary psychosis (that is, a temporary disconnection or disengagement from ordinary intersubjective reality). The core concept behind an understanding of psychedelic phenomenology is that of cognitive ‘hyperreflexivity’ (or ‘dissociation’). During psychedelic experiencing, consciousness is disconnected from external reality to some degree, and is concomitantly focused inwards towards the cognitive mechanisms that underlie subjectivity. This intensely inward-pointing perspective that is opened up during the trip experience creates the possibility for drastic reorganisation of psychological structures (specifically, the matrices of cognitive associations that hold together the sense of stable self-identity in the ordinary state of consciousness) which results in profound re-conception of ideas about the self and its relationship to time and the world.