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The persistence of the subjective in neuropsychopharmacology: observations of contemporary hallucinogen research

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Abstract

The elimination of subjectivity through brain research and the replacement of so-called ‘folk psychology’ by a neuroscientifically enlightened worldview and self-conception has been both hoped for and feared. But this cultural revolution is still pending. Based on nine months of fieldwork on the revival of hallucinogen research since the ‘Decade of the Brain,’ this paper examines how subjective experience appears as epistemic object and practical problem in a psychopharmacological laboratory. In the quest for neural correlates of (drug-induced altered states of) consciousness, introspective accounts of test subjects play a crucial role in neuroimaging studies. Firsthand knowledge of the drugs’ flamboyant effects provides researchers with a personal knowledge not communicated in scientific publications, but key to the conduct of their experiments. In many cases, the ‘psychedelic experience’ draws scientists into the field and continues to inspire their self-image and way of life. By exploring these domains the paper points to a persistence of the subjective in contemporary neuropsychopharmacology.

Langlitz, N. (2010). The persistence of the subjective in neuropsychopharmacology: observations of contemporary hallucinogen research. History of Human Sciences, 23(1), 37-57. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0952695109352413
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