Psychedelics and meditation

A neurophilosophical perspective

Authored by: Chris Letheby

Routledge Handbook on the Philosophy of Meditation

Print publication date:  May  2022
Online publication date:  May  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367647469
eBook ISBN: 9781003127253
Adobe ISBN:


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Psychedelic ingestion and meditative practice are both ancient methods for altering consciousness that became widely known in Western society in the second half of the 20th century. Do these methods share deeper commonalities? Taking a neurophilosophical approach, this chapter answers in the affirmative. Recent empirical studies indicate that psychedelics and meditation modulate overlapping brain networks involved in the sense of self, salience, and attention, and that psychedelics can occasion lasting increases in mindfulness-related capacities for taking a non-reactive stance on inner experience. The self-binding theory of psychedelic ego-dissolution offers a plausible explanation of these findings: By disrupting self-related beliefs implemented in high-level cortical networks, both psychedelics and meditation can “unbind” mental contents from one’s self-model, moving these contents along the continuum from phenomenal transparency to opacity – in other words, both can expose and weaken our foundational beliefs about our identity, allowing us to disidentify with these beliefs and see them as “just thoughts”. There are connections between these ideas and recent arguments suggesting that psychedelic use may have epistemic benefits consistent with philosophical naturalism. This chapter concludes with a proposal: These connections may help in thinking about the putative epistemic benefits of meditation practice from a naturalistic perspective.

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