James Fadiman: Psychedelics and the Study of Perception

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Science moves forward by proposing new theories, but also by developing new instruments of measurement. Perception, often treated as if it were only physical, h needs better tools. The one thing we do know about any sensory information is that it undergoes a transformation from being something outside of ourselves to being experienced internally. Every sense impression undergoes a series of changes once it touches those parts of the body able to perceive it. What we receive is the final result of complex reorganizations of those incoming sensations.

Remarkable perceptions, which could be subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation, arise from the interaction of psychedelics, the sensory apparatus and the perceiving brain. What conventional science has missed is the possible use of these substances to more deeply understand the interface of brain and external sensation. Putting aside the spiritual, therapeutic, and recreational uses of psychedelics, we can see that the substances and the way they transform conventional sensory inputs makes them powerful tools in, as yet, barely used ways. The ability to repeatedly induce visual phantasmagoria, synesthesia, as well as shifting the locus of perception from inside the personality to other ways of perceiving should have already changed the scientific investigational methodologies for the understanding of perception.

Certainly, the changing scientific paradigm about these substances – from illegal and by definition, no uses – to an appreciation of the novel and multiple uses of each of the different substances, will lead to their acceptance for scientific exploration and elucidation, as valuable in its way as the electron microscope in deepening our understanding of basic processes. We will look at some of the available data, and its implication for the understanding not only of perception, but of the unbinding of perception from its usual companion, personal identity.

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