David Nicolas Langlitz, PhD
The New School for Social Research
The Paradoxes of Psychedelic Humanities
The revival of hallucinogen research has been largely confined to the medical sciences. In recent years, however, psychedelics have also become the focus of a growing body of humanities scholarship. This talk departs from philosophically oriented fieldwork in two neuropsychopharmacology laboratories that played key roles in the psychedelic renaissance. The goal of this kind of humanist engagement with psychedelic drugs is to open up alternative and maybe even mutually exclusive ways of looking at the world. For example, the perennial philosophy’s focus on eternity conflicts with the historical consciousness that has been constitutive of the humanities; the use of psychedelics by nationalist psychonauts does not cohere with the widely adopted progressive framing of their psychotropic effects; attempts at modeling psychedelic studies on gender studies fashion and emancipate a psychedelic identity that seems at odds with the mystical quest for overcoming any sense of self. The polemic staging of such possibilities clashes with a conception of the psychedelic experience as inherently unitive. Does that make psychedelic humanities an oxymoron? Not if psychedelic mysticism is recognized as one contentious position among many and if the job of the humanities is to provide a pluralist society with unorthodox conceptualizations and evaluations.
Nicolas Langlitz is an anthropologist and historian of science studying epistemic cultures of mind and life sciences. He is the author of Chimpanzee Culture Wars: Rethinking Human Nature Alongside Japanese, European, and American Cultural Primatologists (in press), Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain (2012), and Die Zeit der Psychoanalyse: Lacan und das Problem der Sitzungsdauer (2005). He also studied the interdisciplinary exchange between brain researchers and philosophers of mind, especially in the context of neuroscientific dream research. New research on how behavioral scientists study morality is under way. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York.