This presentation argues that a posthuman phenomenology that focuses on embodied experience is key to understanding psychedelic experiences and their therapeutic value. This approach offers an alternative to the frequent discussions between scientific and spiritual interpretations of experience which nevertheless agree that it happens somewhere in our heads – either in the brain or the mind. By reducing psychedelic experiences to a brain or a mind on drugs, these conceptions betray the much discussed relevance of ‘set and setting’ on psychedelic experiences. By contrast, a posthuman phenomenology insists that all experience is relational in nature and therefore cannot be separated from its context. It builds, on the one hand, from the philosophical tradition of phenomenology, and on the other, on posthumanist ontologies and ethical concerns. The former is a much needed addition to current research because it investigates the structures of experience rather than merely making an
inventory of ‘subjective effects’, as does much qualitative work under the rubric of ‘phenomenology’. For philosophical phenomenology, experience does not happen ‘inside’ our heads but out in the world – it is constituted through the relation of subject and object. Moreover, phenomenology has informed a whole branch of psychiatry, which can help reconceive mental health issues and therapy in these relational terms. In turn, relationality is the key focus of posthumanism, which is critical of humanism’s anthropocentrism and its ethical disregard and exclusion of anything non-human. Instead, posthumanism challenges the idea that our bodies end at the skin by elaborating on how we are dependent on the world around us. Phenomenology and posthumanism come together through this emphasis on embodiment. If the former argues that consciousness is embodied – rather than mental – and the latter that our bodies are always more-than-human, then we can experience the more-than-human relations that
constitute us. This is neither a metaphysical spiritual claim nor a reductive materialist one, nor a full-blown rejection of both, rather falling in line with so-called ‘new materialisms’. Applied to recent literature on the use of psychedelics to treat depression, it concludes that mental health is not ‘in’ individuals but in their relations with the world. The question guiding such an analysis would be: how does a posthuman phenomenology help us conceive of the therapeutic value of psychedelics as a function of the relationality of experience? By de-individualizing mental health conditions, this move has the power to recover psychedelic’s often mentioned, yet currently neglected, political potential.