Monday, June 30, 2014

Thomas Roberts - What Is Philosophy’s Greatest Opportunity? — An Essay on Multistate Philosophy

Thomas Roberts is the author of The Psychedelic Future of the Mind: How Entheogens Are Enhancing Cognition, Boosting Intelligence, and Raising Values (2013) and Psychedelic Horizons (2006), among other works.

The paper below is posted at - it looks at re-visioning our understanding of consciousness from a singlestate model to a multistate model. As one might guess from his book titles, he sees psychedelics as one best examples of a widely-known mindbody psychotechnology. In this article, he illustrates multistate theory with evidence from psychedelic research. 

What Is Philosophy’s Greatest Opportunity? — An Essay on Multistate Philosophy

by Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D.


Let’s start by asking a metaphilosophical question: What is philosophy’s biggest problem? Answer: Just as we can design and install digital apps in our electronic devices, we can design and install mindapps in our minds. For philosophy the big-problem is the hegemonic assumption that all good thinking takes place in our ordinary, default mindbody state—wakefulness. Because of this error, the vast extensions of our minds beyond our default state are neglected, and directions for future mind development are stunted, if not outright denied. Multistate theory releases that constriction. By reformulating our minds as variables for experimental philosophy, multistate theory re-asks philosophical questions, extends current issues, and engenders fun speculations. Because psychedelics are the most dramatic example of widely known mindbody psychotechnologies, we will illustrate multistate theory with psychedelics’ contributions. Personally for me, I’d feel respect for a contemporary philosopher who knows about mindbody states from personal experiences than one who doesn’t.
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A common standard for judging scientific generalizations is that the observations they are derived from should represent the topic—the broader the sample, the more valid the findings. Likewise, in the humanities the claims of a scholar with a broad and deep knowledge of the field are seen as more credible than those of someone with shallow knowledge. Unfortunately, most current philosophy falls in the shallow range. This restriction is what I call the Singlestate Fallacy. The Singlestate Fallacy is the erroneous assumption that our ordinary, default mindbody program (aka “state of consciousness) contains all (or almost all) useful thinking skills of use to philosophers. The “or almost all” represents the awareness that sleep and dreams are necessary too, but they are important because their lack interferes with the default state’s cognition.

The antidote for singlestate philosophy is multistate philosophy. A complete philosophy would recognize that significant thinking exists in other mindbody programs and, most importantly, multistate philosophy will use these states and their processes as professional research methods. Multistate philosophy considers mindbody states and the methods of producing them (“psychotechnologies”) not just as things to philosophize about, but primarily as scholarly methods to do philosophy. Selecting evidence from psychedelic studies, let’s take a look at how the singlestate fallacy leads to multistate philosophy and some implications for enhancing philosophy.

The idea that our minds can produce and use many mindbody states and that some of them have uses is not new. In 1902, William James expressed it in what is probably its best known iteration.

Some years ago I myself made some observations on this aspect of nitrous oxide intoxication, and reported them in print. One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.

We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question,—for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. (1902/1958, 298)
Although this quotation is well known, its first sentence is often omitted. I suppose that is because it is naughty of James to have used a psychoactive drug to generate this insight. But thanks to psychedelics and other ways—both naughty and nice—of parting our filmy screens, James’s idea has regained power and credibility.

James’s assumption that “definite types of mentality … probably somewhere have their field of application” is strongly supported by psychedelic evidence. The best known instances are in medicine (Winkelman and Roberts 2007, Griffiths and Grob 2010), creative problem solving (Fadiman 2011), religion (Smith 2001, Roberts 2012), art and design (Johnson 2011, Gordon 2008), music (Bromell 2000), and cognitive studies (Roberts 2013). Articles which recognize psychedelics’ “field of application” rather than their razzmatazzy past, have appeared in the professional and popular press from The Lancet, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Economist, The New York Times, and the Scientific American (Roberts 2013, p 8). “The July 2006 publication of the first John Hopkins/CSP psilocybin study drew media attention around the globe (“including some 300 print articles according to Google, plus magazine, radio, and TV coverage)” (Council on Spiritual Practices 2013).

As an article in Medscape Medical News (Brooks 2013) illustrates, the medical community is becoming updated too. “Among 130,152 representative US adults, including 21,967 reported psychedelic drugs users” Norwegian researchers Krebs and Johansen found, “no significant link between lifetime use of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, mescaline, or peyote and an increased rate of mental health problems. Rather, in several cases, psychedelic drug use was associated with a lower rate of mental health problems.” To what degree this applies to philosophers is unknown.

What is restraining philosophers from catching up with science and society?

Beyond the Singlestate Fallacy

The “singlestate fallacy” is the erroneous assumption that all worthwhile abilities reside in our normal, awake mindbody state. Undermining this assumption, is extensive evidence that psychedelics—if they are used skillfully—can raise ethical values, promote open-mindedness and altruism, solve professional problems, overcome psychopathologies, promote intellectual advances, enrich spiritual growth, enhance cognition, and stimulate the arts (e.g., Winkelman and Roberts 2007, Fadiman 2011, Roberts 2012, 2013). In addition to these practical benefits, philosophers might take a theoretical cue from psychology. In 1969, Charles Tart, then a professor at the University of California at Davis, challenged psychology to fulfill its scientific task by including all the data in its field. “The most important obligation of any science is that its descriptive and theoretical language embrace all the phenomena of its subject matter; the data from [altered states of consciousness] cannot be ignored if we are to have a comprehensive psychology” (Tart 1969, 5). Philosophy has the same obligation. If philosophy is the love of knowledge, it must love knowledge in all its manifestations. In this essay, psychedelics will guide us through James’s filmiest of screens to illustrate how philosophers may begin to regard the forms of knowledge and experience that reside there.

In contrast to the singlestate fallacy, multistate theory recognizes that the ability to produce and use a variety of mindbody states is a significant human trait. Far from discarding information about our ordinary default state, multistate theory encompasses our ordinary state and especially values it as the mindbody state that has been most thoroughly studied. Existing singlestate findings are not discarded but contribute to a whole multistate map of our minds. Additionally, research on our usual, awake state illustrates methods, questions, and topics that the nascent studies of other states might emulate.

The shift to multistate theory produces three basic concepts: mindbody state, psychotechnologies, and residence. 

Mindbody State—Toward a Complete View of the Human Mind

Mindbody states
are overall patterns of cognitive and bodily functioning at any one time. They are composed of body plus mind considered as one unified whole, not as different things interacting. The commonest states are wakefulness, sleeping, and dreaming. Most philosophy uses our default state to think about that state and everything else in the universe. Under a multistate paradigm, the current, fewer studies of sleep, dreaming, and other mindbody states move from the periphery of philosophical discourse to its center, and the questions they have already considered increase in importance and become reasked for all other states.

The problem with consciousness: The word mindbody also avoids the ambiguity of the word consciousness, which is used in different ways in different disciplines and in common language. Confusion arises when people think that they are talking about the same thing when they use the word consciousness. The primary uses of the word consciousness selected here, however, make it clear that the meanings are quite different, though at times overlapping. 

  • Common language 1Consciousness means awake and interacting normally with the environment: for example, “She is conscious now, but last night she was asleep,” and “After being in a coma for three days, he is conscious.”
  • Common language 2Consciousness refers to what one habitually thinks about, to what is typically “on one’s mind” such as, “She has good ecological consciousness,” or “His money occupies the center of his consciousness.”
  • Politics and the social sciencesConsciousness means the thoughts and feelings one has constructed due to one’s place in society, for example, proletarian consciousness or women’s consciousness.
  • PhilosophyConsciousness refers to a self-reflective sense of “I”: one thinks and can reflect on oneself and on one’s thinking. In this case, the word self-reflexiveness would be more precise and avoid ambiguity.
  • Religion and spiritual discussionsConsciousness means level of spiritual development as in, “His mystical experience raised John’s level of consciousness.”
  • Psychology 1Consciousness is the sequence of what one attends to second by second; what passes through one’s mind becomes the stream of consciousness.
  • Psychology 2—Here consciousness refers to different overall patterns of mind and body functioning at any one time, as in Tart’s “altered states of consciousness.”
For the purposes of multistate philosophy, the final meaning listed here is the one I suggest replacing with mindbody. This will help avoid ambiguity and provide a way of specifying particular patterns of mind+body functioning at any one time. 

Read the whole article.
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