It’s an old debate, but this reader makes the point for me:
At the risk of oversimplifying, what things like Psilocybin may bring home experientially, and therefore powerfully, for those that partake is that qualitative states matter. That the world as we know it is shot through and through by our qualitative experience of it; see Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” for a deeply rational account of what may come to be realized experientially for those who use psychotropics.
As Kant rightly showed us, there will always be a gulf between the noumena and us, and when someone is tripping balls they can easily experience that chasm, commonly resulting in a radically spiritual effect. Psychotropics allow for this because they allow one to experience how deeply brain states shape reality, that we will never have complete, direct, or as Kant would put it, “pure” access to “things in themselves.”
Another way to speak of spirituality is to speak of the qualitative frameworks we all have. It’s not something we can step out of. That said, any experience that brings to the foreground our qualitative framework, its contingent nature, and its immense implications for our lives and our reality, will inherently be a deeply spiritual affair.
The disenchantment of the world via scientism, is merely another approach to the world via a qualitative framework, it’s a spirituality as well, with all the moral, emotional, and psychological implications that come with it. I would encourage everyone, especially atheists and science-minded members of the audience to try and have more experiences that allow them to better understand the radical contingency of their own qualitative framework, drug-induced or otherwise. All of a sudden, science, poetry, narrative, life, and yes, maybe even God-talk may become far more interesting.
Indeed they do. Another echoes:
In regard to brain states and experiences of what Hitch calls “The Numinous”, the scientific materialists miss an important point.
All human experiences are mediated by the brain. It’s thus legitimate to point out that if transpersonal experience can be reductively explained as a brain state only, while disregarding the aesthetic, moral, and transformative aspects of such experiences, the same critique could be applied to anything. Enjoy reading Richard Dawkins? That’s the brain. Gazing at the night sky? Brain again. Good sex? “That’s the brain, honey.” Such a person would rightfully get a slap from his/her lover!
Dawkins et al. might claim they only use this criticism to attack empirical or epistemic and supernatural claims of divinity, but people like Rebecca Goldstein even use “it’s all the brain” to debunk mystics who are clearly speaking metaphorically and poetically.
I’m still working on my own response to the fascinating thread. Busy week. Still only one hand.
(Photo: by Cactu/Wiki here)