Unselfing: Philosophy of Psychedelics

with Chris Letheby
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Guest Introduction.

In this episode, I’m joined by Dr. Chris Letheby: a philosopher of cognitive science who focuses on psychedelic experience & its implications for our understanding of consciousness.

Chris is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Western Australia and a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Adelaide. He has a soon-to-be-published book: Philosophy of Psychedelics.

Along with Philip Gerrans, Chris is behind one of the most interesting theories of what the self is, a theory that explains why the sensation of being a ‘self’ arises in consciousness, which they call the “predictive self-binding account”.

His work goes on to study how high-dose psychedelic experiences disrupt this model of self-consciousness, and weaves the implications into a broader project he calls Naturalizing Spirituality.

Our conversation follows three main topics:

  1. What is the predictive self-binding account of self consciousness?
  2. How do predictive processing and cognitive binding work together to produce the sensation of being a self?
  3. What are the different dimensions of self-consciousness?
  4. How do psychedelics disrupt self-consciousness?
  5. What is “unselfing”?
  6. How do psychedelics change the possibility space of our experience?
  7. What can these psychedelic experiences that alter our self-consciousness tell us about the prospects of a naturalized spirituality suited for the 21st century?

This was such a fun conversation, & I find Chris’ work absolutely brilliant. Cannot wait to see his work evolve.

Enjoy!

Time map

PART 1 - SELF-MODELS & THE PREDICTIVE SELF-BINDING THEORY OF SELF CONSCIOUSNESS

13:20 - What is a ‘self-model’? What is the ‘representationalist’ theory of consciousness?

22:00 - How do predictive processing & cognitive binding work together to create the experience of being a self?

27:50 - What do ‘transparency’ and ‘opacity’ mean in the context of self-models? What does it mean to make a transparent self-model opaque?

33:30 - The Default Mode Network is a network of brain regions that give rise to the ‘narrative self’, whereas the Salience Network gives rise to ‘minimal or embodied self-hood. Usually, we experience the ‘self’ as a single, homogenous experience, but we can find layers to it. How do these varieties of self-consciousness differ?

37:40 - PART TWO - PSYCHEDELICS & UNBINDING THE SELF-MODEL

37:40 - What’s going on in the brain, neurochemically, when someone takes psychedelics?

39:30 - What is “unselfing”, or the ‘unbinding of the self-model’ under psychedelics?

43:40 - How does your 'predictive self-binding' account of psychedelic experience relate to Robin Carhart-Harris’ ‘Relaxed Beliefs Under Psychedelics (REBUS)’ model?

52:20 - Can we apply your predictive self-binding account to Mark Fisher’s theory of capitalist realism to better understand the relationship between socioeconomic systems and our cognition, imagination, and the sorts of worlds we’re capable of envisioning?

61:40 - Applying Thomas Metzinger’s notion of ‘functional rigidity’ to the effect of economic insecurity on mental autonomy and consciousness

1:03:30 - PART 3: NATURALIZING SPIRITUALITY

1:17:30 - How do we move from the scientific, value-neutral practice of ‘unselfing’ to a more normative dimension of taking stances on Thomas Metzinger’s question: “What is a good state of consciousness?”

1:21:00 - How should we think about the ‘epistemic status’ of psychedelic experience? Are these experiences ‘real’?

1:30:50 - On the value of psychological flexibility

Links from the conversation
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