I spoke about psychedelic Platonism to a bunch of academics!

The Philosophy of Psychedelics Exeter Research Group, based at the University of Exeter, is a hub providing conferences, workshops, degree modules, and more – headed by Dr Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes and Prof. Christine Hausdkeller. They have a very ambitious lecture series ongoing, much of which can be found on their youtube channel.

I came along and spoke on ancient Platonism. My main arguments were that:

  • We have little evidence for the use of psychedelic plants or fungi among peoples of the ancient Mediterranean, including the Greeks and Romans who hosted Platonism (but should such evidence show up, I will be very interested and not at all angry). And before anyone says it, yes, I am familiar with much of the literature appearing since the nineteen-sixties speculating on what was in the Eleusinian kykeion, how the incense-blends which we know were in common use in magico-religious contexts might have had psychotropic effects, the plant-knowledge evidenced by Galen, and so forth. This material, interesting as it is to think with, tends nevertheless, in my experience, to boil down to A: they MUST have been tripping because of x,y,z, thing that I saw when I was tripping (or, better but still inconclusive, that the experimental cohort in the study saw when they were tripping), B: okay, we admit that there is no positive evidence of, for example, people eating psilocybin mushrooms on purpose, but more research is needed on the synergistic psychotropic effects of x,y,z plants which we know to have interesting effects (henbane, datura, deadly nightshade (!), ergot  fungus, insert favourite plants here). This second point is maybe true, but doesn’t constitute an argument; it’s just a call for more research, and there has actually been a decent amount of this, with no one coming up with a clincher.
  • The philosophical framework established by Plato provided a thought-world and set of practices which allowed for some programmatic experiential investigation of realms of consciousness/being which, as the trip-reports of people like Philo of Alexandria, Plotinus, Iamblichus, and Proclus indicate, are very psychedelic (NB: in the actual talk I ran out of time and didn’t even get to cover the theurgic side of things, but regular listeners to the SHWEP will be able to fill in the gaps).
  • Q.e.d: Platonism was, among many other things, a tradition of psychedelic exploration wholly obviating the need for added extras in the form of plants and whatnot. Who needs psychedelic plants when you have the tools of consciousness as it is, and of ritual as it can direct consciousness?

You can listen to the talk here. There are some questions and answers at the end. The sound-quality is pretty awful, but for once I can disavow any responsibility for that. Many thanks for the colloquium for inviting me along!