A large body of research in the field of psychology currently points to a variety of therapeutic outcomes derived from psychedelically occasioned mystical experience. Moreover, additional research suggests that such benefits to mental and emotional well-being depend directly upon the subjective mystical experience itself, rather than upon the medicines that triggered it; for instance, research at Johns Hopkins indicates that higher scores on the mystical experience surveys are key predictors of larger therapeutic outcomes. However, the ‘elephant in the room’ — so often overlooked or ignored in psychological studies — is this: What exactly is it about the content of the subjective experience that triggers such significant outcomes or, philosophically speaking, what might the mystical experience be an experience of? What is the referent or object of the experience — if it even has one — and what parameters might we suggest for assessing theories of such an object (including claims of “god” or “nature” or “soul”)? Methods of analysis will be drawn from the disciplines of religious studies, comparative mysticism and philosophy, and the ‘take home’ point will be that Aldous Huxley’s “minimum working hypothesis” of psychedelically occasioned mystical experience offers not only a philosophically plausible explanation of what is actually encountered but insight into why and how that encounter has such profound therapeutic value.
Where: Good Medicine Studio @ 231 York Street
Investment: $20-$40 Sliding Scale (email email@example.com if cost is prohibitive)
Dana Sawyer is professor emeritus of philosophy and world religions at the Maine College of Art and author of biographies of both Aldous Huxley and Huston Smith. His primary expertise is in Hinduism and Buddhism but for more than twenty years, his work has focused on comparative mysticism, theories of the “perennial philosophy,” and the value of psychedelic experiences in the study of mysticism. Most recently, he has published an assessment of Aldous Huxley’s theory of psychedelic mysticism for the Centre of Aldous Huxley Studies (2019) and an essay in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (2021) on four common errors in scholarly critiques of the perennial philosophy. Sawyer is currently working (2022) on a book-length revisioned description of the perennial philosophy. He lives in Blue Hill, Maine with his artist wife, Stephani, and has two daughters from a previous marriage, Sophie and Emma.