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New paper on the role of meaning augmentation in psychedelic therapy, spirituality and creativity

March 22, 2018

Beyond running a couple of internet blogs dedicated to psychedelic culture, in my spare time I also do academic work in the field of psychedelics. This past year I’ve had a chance to bring psychedelics to Harvard, where I’m now a visiting postdoc (and if you’re around the Boston area, this Wednesday I will be organizing an event that will bring MAPS founder and executive director Rick Doblin to this Alma Mater, the Harvard Kennedy School, on the 28th of March, at 4PM).

Two weeks ago, a new paper of mine was published in a special issue of Frontiers of Neuroscience, edited by psychedelic research pioneer Rick Strassman, and dedicated to the subject of psychedelic medicine. My new paper, “The Meaning-Enhancing Properties of Psychedelics and Their Mediator Role in Psychedelic Therapy, Spirituality, and Creativity,” continues on the path laid out by my two earlier papers: “Constructing drug effects: A history of set and setting,” (2017) and “Set and setting, psychedelics and the placebo response: An extra-pharmacological perspective on psychopharmacology” (2016). Both those earlier papers explored the issue of set and setting – the contextual factors (such as personality, expectation, intention and physical, social or cultural environment) which shape psychedelic experiences. The first paper looked at the history and evolution of the concept of set and setting since the 19th century, while the second one examined the relationships and correlations between the concept of set and setting and that of placebo, and how considering these two concepts in conjunction might enrich our understanding of both set and setting and placebo.

My new paper discusses the importance of meaning enhancement in psychedelic experience. While the words set and setting are not in the title this time, this is nevertheless a further development of the two earlier papers. Set and setting is critical for psychedelic experimentation because meaning is augmented and intensified by psychedelics so that any minimal cue can be radically amplified —whether positive or negative— leading to the “heaven and hell” character of these substances, as Aldous Huxley put it. In my new paper I argue that this meaning-augmenting effect of psychedelics might be their most important one and look at the ways in which the meaning-augmenting aspects of psychedelic action facilitate psychedelic therapy, spirituality and creativity. The paper is open access so you can read it here in full.


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