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Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain

Nicolas Langlitz
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Neuropsychedeliaexamines the revival of psychedelic science since the "Decade of the Brain." After the breakdown of this previously prospering area of psychopharmacology, and in the wake of clashes between counterculture and establishment in the late 1960s, a new generation of hallucinogen researchers used the hype around the neurosciences in the 1990s to bring psychedelics back into the mainstream of science and society. This book is based on anthropological fieldwork and philosophical reflections on life and work in two laboratories that have played key roles in this development: a human lab in Switzerland and an animal lab in California. It sheds light on the central transnational axis of the resurgence connecting American psychedelic culture with the home country of LSD. In the borderland of science and religion,Neuropsychedeliaexplores the tensions between the use of hallucinogens to model psychoses and to evoke spiritual experiences in laboratory settings. Its protagonists, including the anthropologist himself, struggle to find a place for the mystical under conditions of late-modern materialism.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95490-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Neuropsychopharmacology as Spiritual Technology
    (pp. 1-23)

    Neuropsychedeliais about the revival of psychedelic research since the “Decade of the Brain.” When US president George H. W. Bush (1990) dedicated the 1990s to neuroscience, he paid tribute to the unprecedented public valorization of this prospering branch of medicine and the life sciences. By contrast, the investigation of hallucinogenic drugs had enjoyed less government support in the preceding two decades. Most academic and corporate research projects had been closed down or run out of funding after the clash between the “counterculture” and the “Establishment” in the 1960s. Only in the underground had experimentation with this class of substances...

  5. 1 Psychedelic Revival
    (pp. 24-52)

    13 January 2006. Guided by security personnel, Albert Hofmann, the father of LSD, bent by a century to a height of barely five feet, took the stage on crutches. Almost two thousand people rose from their chairs in the Basel Convention Center. Thunderous applause. Dozens of photographers and cameramen—professional and hippie—were jostling in front of the centenarian birthday boy (see figure 1). The LSD Symposium took place in honor of Hofmann’s one-hundredth birthday. But it also served as a fair of the contemporary world of psychedelia, presenting itself in front of two hundred journalists who had come to...

  6. 2 Swiss Psilocybin and US Dollars
    (pp. 53-82)

    “LSD—killer drug! LSD—killer drug!” around 150 protesters chanted on the second day of the LSD Symposium in front of the Basel Convention Center. They belonged to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, Switzerland, an organization cofounded by the Church of Scientology, which was well-known for its antipsychiatric activism. They handed out flyers titledLSD: The Cruel Time Bomb,accusing psychiatrists—many of whom were said to have gathered in the conference building—of giving LSD to their patients to worsen their mental problems so they could maintain power over them.

    And, indeed, while the scientological human rights activists...

  7. 3 The Varieties of Psychedelic Lab Experience
    (pp. 83-131)

    Before all sixty-four electrodes had been fixed to my head to measure my brain waves, my circulation broke down and I fell through a dark tunnel into a void. The walls of the tunnel were covered with colorful spots and shapes. I felt terrified and absolutely helpless. At first I struggled, then I surrendered. Only when my seat was folded back did I come around again. A glass of water brought me back to the cramped, soundproof room in which the EEG measurement was to take place. Twenty minutes before, I had ingested eighteen capsules of psilocybin, which were now...

  8. Figure section
    (pp. None)
  9. 4 Enacting Experimental Psychoses
    (pp. 132-165)

    Anthropological fieldwork is an erratic process. It has often been described as a form of participant observation. But participation presupposes that the people one intends to study welcome it. And there needs to be enough interesting activity to merit such sustained observation. Thus, before a stroke of luck brought me to Switzerland, I had spent a few months fishing for an appropriate field site. I briefly explored the psychonaut scene in California, visiting psychedelic chemist Alexander Shulgin and his wife, Ann, on their farm in Lafayette, and I talked to the founders of the drug website at a Fungus...

  10. 5 Between Animality and Divinity
    (pp. 166-203)

    “We need to anthropologize the West: show how exotic its constitution of reality has been,” suggested Paul Rabinow (1986: 241) more than twenty-five years ago. Although today the deliberate construction of Euro-American exotica might appear dated, this chapter cannot help but live up to the demand for anthropological distancing effects: it is about Americans trying to understand schizophrenia by startling mice, rats, and guinea pigs. The experimental measure that researchers invented—prepulse inhibition, or PPI—became the most widespread gating paradigm that translated Aldous Huxley’s drug mysticism and a fairy tale by Hermann Hesse into model psychosis research.

    The concept...

  11. 6 Mystic Materialism
    (pp. 204-242)

    March 2006. The small conference “The Challenge to Freedom in the Twentieth Century: Psychoanalysis—Structuralism—Neuroscience” took place in the parsonage of Zurich’s Grossmünster. The church was one of the strongholds of the Swiss reformation in the sixteenth century. From here, Huldrych Zwingli challenged the freedom of the will four hundred years before a cerebral predestination of our actions was inferred from neuroscientist Benjamin Libet’s experiments (Libet et al. 1982; C. Geyer 2004). Two philosophers, a psychoanalyst, and Franz Vollenweider as representative of the neurosciences were invited to discuss what was perceived as a pressing problem: is our conscious experience...

  12. Conclusion: Fieldwork in Perennial Philosophy
    (pp. 243-266)

    Ethnographic narratives often end with the anthropologist coming back home. Having gone through the motions of a dialectic between self and other, he arrives at a deeper understanding of his own cultural identity. For my part, I did not return to where I come from, the predominantly Catholic Rhineland in Germany. Instead I found myself an anthropology professor in New York. After a hectic semester, teaching students who lift their spirits with Prozac and write their term papers while on Ritalin and Adderall, I have spent an oppressive Manhattan summer at my desk, intoxicated by the old and new drugs...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 267-274)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-306)
  15. Index
    (pp. 307-316)