Joe C
by on July 30, 2019
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"What psychedelic means is getting your mind out in front of you, by whatever means necessary, so that you can relate to it as a thing in the world and then work upon it." -Terence McKenna

The connotation of the word psychedelic is far vaster than its denotation. Certain aspects of the connotation are far too pervasive in psychedelic culture to be excluded from the denotation.

Psychedelic drugs, and also psychedelicness generally, are multi-disciplinary in nature. I say psychedelicness because there is an essence to psychedelics which has nothing to do with drugs, or perhaps more accurately, psychedelic drugs are just one example of psychedelicness. Psychedelic means "mind manifesting", and while psychedelic drugs certainly fall under this category, they are not the only thing that does. Furthermore, because psychedelic drugs have such multi-disciplinary implications, because they have so much potential to radically transform so many different fields of study and human endeavor, it is unclear where to draw the boundary between the drugs themselves and the vast and far-reaching repercussions of the drugs.

One of the most obvious areas of relevance for psychedelics is philosophy. Psychedelic experiences frequently make abstract philosophical concepts seem concrete and tangible. Learning about Descartes’s statement, "I think therefore I am" in high school seemed trivial and unexciting. The first time I experienced psilocybin, I fully understood this statement for the first time. I understood and appreciated it on a visceral level, not merely as an abstraction. Psychedelics can radically change the way we conceive of reality at a fundamental level. The idea of a university philosophy department not having several classes about psychedelics and their implications and relevance to philosophy is absurd. What is the nature of consciousness, and what is its role in reality? What is the nature of language? Why does anything exist? What happens when you die? These are all questions which psychedelics can help us answer, and any proposed answers must stand the psychedelic test. Psychedelic is not just a drug term, but a philosophical term. If psychedelics lead to advancement in philosophy, that philosophy will ultimately be accessible to everyone regardless of whether they use psychedelics. Psychedelic philosophy, under contemplation and debate by people who have never used psychedelics, is no less psychedelic.

As of yet I don't believe there is a reliable method for having full-strength psychedelic experiences without drugs. But it is silly to assume this will always be the case. We don't know the trajectory technology will follow, and maybe psychedelic experiences can be replicated without drugs. If this turns out to be the case, psychedelic is not just a drug term, but an experience term. A psychedelic experience achieved by meditation or sensory deprivation or some currently undiscovered technology is still a psychedelic experience.

Psychedelics have implications for art and music, and creative expression generally. If Alex Grey creates artwork inspired by psychedelics and some other artist creates artwork because they are inspired by Alex Grey's work, does this make the art less psychedelic because it was inspired indirectly, not directly by psychedelics? If someone has a psychedelic style, but has never personally used psychedelics, is their artwork therefore unpsychedelic?

Psychedelics give me a sense of perspective on my life, and a sense of greater understanding and meaning. I have struggled with social anxiety for many years of my life, and my first mescaline trip was the first time I questioned the beliefs upon which my social anxiety was predicated. While I have since experienced social anxiety, I have never fully identified with social anxiety since then. For me the term psychedelic means causing one to step out of established and habitual belief patterns, particularly negative ones. Anything that has this effect, to me, is psychedelic. Meditation, fasting, dancing, creative expression, these things are all psychedelic to me because they allow me to step outside of habituated thought patterns and get a sense of perspective. Psychedelic is not just a drug term, but a personal development term. It is a way of transcending the ego to overcome obstacles and optimize my lifestyle.

One of the fundamental themes of psychedelic experiences is transcending dualities. This is relevant to the current political gridlock, which is fundamentally based on a simplistic duality: liberalism vs. conservatism. Psychedelics and psychedelic thinking could help us transcend this duality. I would honestly like to see a Psychedelic Party because psychedelicness might be the only thing that can help us reconcile what people currently believe are irreconcilable political views. The state of American politics is like a toxic relationship. Whenever an issue is discussed, it is discussed in the context of this toxic relationship. Objectively speaking, both sides will make some valid arguments. But the relationship is so toxic that ultimately objectivity goes out the window and the discussion becomes more a referendum on the relationship than on the issue itself. Liberalism is a more feminine perspective, and conservatism is a more masculine perspective. Neither side is generally correct any more than femininity or masculinity is correct. It's not a matter of being correct. It is a matter of yin and yang, opposite energies that can work harmoniously or not. When there is a lack of harmony, it brings out the worst of both sides. Extremists on both sides have engaged in violence. It's not that violence is intrinsic to either side. It's that violence is intrinsic to toxic relationships, and that is what is playing out on a macro level. We don't need one side to dominate the other side. We need a psychedelic, transcendental perspective to achieve harmony instead of disharmony. Psychedelic is not just a drug term, but a political term.

While I could go on all day with areas of psychedelic relevance, the last example I want to cover is religion. Psychedelicness presents a third alternative to the usual dichotomy of atheist vs. theist. For me the psychedelic position is that yes, God exists, but no, the way that God is typically characterized by religion is not correct. The psychedelic perspective reconciles the skepticism and objectivity of atheism and agnosticism with the spirituality, morality and transcendentalism of religion. People who are scared away by religion's lack of objectivity and people who are scared away by atheism’s lack of meaning or significance can find common solace in psychedelicness, which is both objective and spiritual. In "DMT The Spirit Molecule" by Rick Strassman, Rick discusses how the idea of a spirit molecule symbolizes DMT being a bridge between spirituality and science, two things usually considered distinct or even contradictory. This is not just a property of DMT, but of all psychedelics, and of psychedelicness generally.

We need to expand our understanding of the word psychedelic, and discourage the belief that this is just about drugs. Drugs are just the tip of the iceberg.