Classic, serotonergic psychedelics show promise as rapid and effective treatments for a range of psychiatric conditions. There is evidence that the mechanism of action involves the induction of transcendent mystical-type experiences of “cosmic consciousness”. Such experiences predict clinical outcomes in several studies. Indeed, Huston Smith said that the basic message of psychedelics is that “there is another Reality that puts this one in the shade.”
From the standpoint of philosophical naturalism or materialism, this may seem troubling: it raises the worry that psychedelic therapy works by inducing false, implausible, or evidentially unsupported metaphysical beliefs. In this vein, Owen Flanagan has described psychedelic-induced mystical-type experiences as “metaphysical hallucinations”. Discussing the use of psychedelics in a palliative care context, Michael Pollan wonders: “Is psychedelic therapy simply foisting a comforting delusion on the sick and dying?” I call this the ‘Comforting Delusion Objection’ to psychedelic therapy.
In my forthcoming monograph ‘Philosophy of Psychedelics’ I respond to the Comforting Delusion Objection by arguing that psychedelic therapy can be reconciled with a naturalist or materialist worldview. In this presentation I will give a summary overview of these arguments. My reasons for thinking the Comforting Delusion Objection fails are threefold:
(1) psychedelic therapy is non-doxastic: it does not, in fact, work by changing metaphysical beliefs
(2) psychedelic therapy is epistemically innocent: even when it has epistemic costs, it offers significant and otherwise unavailable epistemic benefits
(3) psychedelic therapy offers a viable paradigm for a naturalistic spirituality: it represents a transformative form of self-transcendent experience that does not depend on non-naturalistic metaphysical beliefs.