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Entheogens, mysticism, and neuroscience

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Abstract

Entheogens or psychedelic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin are associated with mystical states of experience. Drug laws currently limit research, but important new work is under way at major biomedical research facilities showing that entheogens reliably occasion mystical experiences and thereby allow research into brain states during these experiences. Are drug‐occasioned mystical experiences neurologically the same as more traditional mystical states? Are there phenomenological and theological differences? As this research goes forward and the public becomes more widely aware of its achievements, religious scholars and experts in science and religion will be called upon to interpret the philosophical and theological presuppositions that underpin this research and the significance of the findings that flow from it.

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... Chris Letheby's contribution "Naturalizing Psychedelic Spirituality" picks up on a different style of transformation, not so much via technology but via drugs. Earlier, those were introduced in Zygon: Jour- nal of Religion and Science as entheogens, substances that bring one "into God" (Cole-Turner 2014;Richards 2014;Barnard 2014;Hummel 2014). ...
... (2) A close relationship between this intuitive belief and altered states of consciousness (henceforth ASCs), because these phenomenological experiences give factuality to such beliefs. Note that ASCs occur in a large proportion of the population, usually through techniques of trance and/or possession, which are present in more than ninety percent of the world's cultures (Bourguignon 1980), or through using certain substances named "psychedelics" or "entheogens" (including ayahuasca), the effects of which in the nervous systems produce a wide variety of mystical experiences (Cole-Turner 2014). (3) Modern science's reaction against the particular "spiritual ontology" of the scholastic worldview, grounded on the Aristotelian "final causes." ...
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Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew from Amazonas, popularized in the last decades in part through transnational religious networks, but also due to interest in exploring spirituality through altered states of consciousness among academic schools and scientific researchers. In this article, the author analyzes the relation between science and religion proposing that the “demarcation problem” between the two arises from the relations among consciousness, intentionality, and spirituality. The analysis starts at the beginning of modern science, continues through the nineteenth century, and then examines the appearance of new schools in psychology and anthropology in the countercultural milieu of the 1960s. The author analyzes the case of ayahuasca against this historical background, first, in the general context of ayahuasca studies in the academic field. Second, he briefly describes three cases from Spain. Finally, he discusses the permeability of science to “spiritual ontologies” from an interdisciplinary perspective, using insights from social and cognitive sciences.
... Apud discusses extensively developments in Spain in the 1990s, and in consequence the complexities of migration and assimilation of cultural practices. This article further develops a topic considered in Zygon a few years ago in a thematic section on the religious relevance of entheogens ("God"-inducing substances; see Barnard 2014;Cole-Turner 2014;Hummel 2014;Richards 2014). ...
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p>Se presentan los enfoques y crítica del encuentro de la teología y las modernas neurociencias, y se insiste en la necesidad de un diálogo auténtico entre la revelación en teología y lo que las neurociencias revelan en su propio discurso. El trabajo aporta una clave de interpretación, la revelación se da en la autonomía del mundo y afecta lo constitutivo de la teología, hasta el punto de exigir un giro en la pregunta por la fuente de la revelación: pasar de un modelo de trascendenciainmanencia, a un modelo de monismo relativo, donde la red neural humana se hace fuente constitutiva de la Palabra de Dios.</p
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This essay first draws upon the work of William James and others to propose a nonphysicalistic understanding of the relationship between the brain and consciousness in order to articulate a philosophical perspective that can understand entheogenic visionary/mystical experiences as something other than hallucinations. It then focuses on the Santo Daime tradition, a religious movement that began in Brazil in the early part of the twentieth century, to provide an example of the personal and social ramifications of taking an entheogen (ayahuasca) within a disciplined religious context. The essay claims that the Santo Daime is one example of a contemporary mystery school; gives a brief history of the development of this religion; discusses the key theological assumptions of this movement; investigates the important role played by visionary/mystical experiences within this religion; underscores the centrality of healing and spiritual transformation for members of this tradition; and ends with an examination of the crucial significance of spiritual discipline within this entheogenically based religion.
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A new era has emerged in research on entheogens largely due to clinical trials conducted at Johns Hopkins University and similar studies sponsored by the Council for Spiritual Practices. In these notes and queries, I reflect on implications of these developments for psychological studies of religion and on what this research may mean for Christian churches in the United States. I conclude that the aims and methods of this research fit well within Jamesian efforts of contemporary psychology of religion to assess religious practices by their fruits for life. Furthermore, some communitarian religious concerns that religious experiences occasioned by entheogens pose risks to the integrity of religious community are shown to be largely unfounded. However, it is suggested that certain risks for religious life posed by all investigations/interventions by knowledge experts—in particular, the colonization of the religious life world and the commodification of its practices—also attend these developments for Christian churches. Additionally, risks of individual harm in the use of entheogens appear to be significant and, therefore, warrant earnest ethical study.
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Renewed research with entheogens (psychedelic sub- stances) has been able to facilitate the occurrence of mystical forms of consciousness in healthy volunteers with a high degree of reliability. This article explores the potential significance of this development for religious scholars, especially those interested in the study of mysticism. The definition of “mystical consciousness” employed in this research is presented and differentiated from visionary/archetypal and other types of alternative mental states. The ways in which entheogens may be employed with skill and maximum safety are discussed. Implica- tions for clarifying confusion in the study of mysticism are considered, along with suggestions for future religious research on this frontier of knowledge.
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Santo Daime, a Brazilian religion organized around a potent psychoactive beverage called ayahuasca, is now being practiced across Europe and North America. Deeming ayahuasca a dangerous "hallucinogen," most Western governments prosecute people who participate in Santo Daime. On the contrary, members of Santo Daime (called "daimistas") consider ayahuasca a medicinal sacrament (or "entheogen"). Empirical studies corroborate daimistas' claim that entheogens are benign and can be beneficial when employed in controlled contexts. Following from anthropology's goal of rendering different cultural logics as mutually explicable, this article intercedes in a misunderstanding between policies of prohibition and an emergent subculture of entheogenic therapy.
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Neural ensembles oscillate across a broad range of frequencies and are transiently coupled or "bound" together when people attend to a stimulus, perceive, think, and act. This is a dynamic, self-assembling process, with parts of the brain engaging and disengaging in time. But how is it done? The theory of Coordination Dynamics proposes a mechanism called metastability, a subtle blend of integration and segregation. Tendencies for brain regions to express their individual autonomy and specialized functions (segregation, modularity) coexist with tendencies to couple and coordinate globally for multiple functions (integration). Although metastability has garnered increasing attention, it has yet to be demonstrated and treated within a fully spatiotemporal perspective. Here, we illustrate metastability in continuous neural and behavioral recordings, and we discuss theory and experiments at multiple scales, suggesting that metastable dynamics underlie the real-time coordination necessary for the brain's dynamic cognitive, behavioral, and social functions.
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This article addresses the potential significance of archetypal and mystical experiences sometimes reported when entheogens are employed in supportive, legal research contexts. This area of research, which has been difficult to pursue in recent decades due to Federal legislation and concerns about drug-abuse, is presented as a frontier in the psychology of religious experience that could prove to have profound implications for advancing our understanding of spiritual dimensions of consciousness. Consideration is given to how the action of entheogens may be understood, the question of experiential validity, the apparent universality of both archetypal and mystical experiences, and initial theological reflections.
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