Mateo Sanchez, MRes
University of Amsterdam
Connecting People: Psychedelics, Phenomenology, Psychiatry, Posthumanism, Politics
I argue that a posthuman phenomenology focusing on embodied experience is key to understanding psychedelic experiences and their therapeutic value. To do so, it uses this approach to analyze two modes of experience: depression and the psychedelic experiences being used to treat it. This approach differs from neuroscientific and psychological interpretations of ‘experience’ which believe it happens somewhere ‘in’ our heads (either the brain or the mind), thereby reductively betraying the much discussed relevance of ‘set and setting’ on psychedelic experiences. By contrast, a posthuman phenomenology insists that all experience is relational and cannot be separated from its context – thus, challenging the deeply entrenched cartesian dualism in our thinking about subjectivity through an emphasis on embodied subjectivity. Hence, we may ask, where is the ‘mental’ health disorder, in the individual and their brain, or in our embodied relations with the world? By analyzing the two aforementioned modes of experience through the conceptual resources of philosophical and psychiatric phenomenology (with concepts such as incorporation, incorporeality and corporealization), it becomes possible to 1) constructively critique the set up and assumptions of current psychedelic therapy and 2) investigate the structures of experience rather than merely inventorizing ‘subjective effects’, as does much qualitative work under the rubric of ‘phenomenology’. What is at stake is not only applying the conjunction of phenomenology and posthumanism to mental health and psychedelics, but the reverse: to suggest that what we learn from psychiatric research with psychedelics can transcend the therapeutic context and be transformative at a greater level.
Mateo is coursing his Research Masters in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. He is currently writing his thesis on psychedelic experiences as seen through posthuman phenomenology. Building on the intersection of feminist scholars and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s notion of embodied experience, this approach informs his focus on the reinterpretation of the category of experience in search for its political implications. At stake are questions such as: what ‘reality’ do our experiences have? How are experiences constituted by a political field of power relations? What experiences trigger what political mobilization? His interest in psychedelics is thus twofold: to provide psychedelic therapy with a different and helpful concept of ‘experience’, and to understand the often-mentioned political potential of psychedelic experiences. As suggested by pioneering posthuman and phenomenological psychiatric approaches in the heyday of psychedelic use, therapy and mental health issues thus become sites for social critiques with implications beyond the therapeutic context.