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The Metaphysics of LSD

The expulsion of spirits from science, he argues,
led to the ‘purification’ of the entire universe
expelling all elements not capable of mechanistic
explanation, and this notion of a ‘purified’ universe
became built into the notion of the scientific enterprise. If we tie this in with Robert Y~ung’s arguments
about the ideological orientation of the scientific
paradigms which a society adopts [10], it is clear
that what is needed is that the conceptual structure
of science be reconstituted and a humanism established
within its very centre, for it is inadequate merely to
humanize science: there must be the creation of science
as a humanism. In the Third World where science
departments are not heavily encrusted by a tradition
and where sciences are often just being established,
such a vision has great and urgent relevance.

c~on~sti~ p~ilosophical presuppositions and reconstitut1ng ~t w1th1n a broad humanistic framework, (ii)
c:eat1ng science as a humanism, as a technology at one
w~th the whole spirit of Man [llJ, (iii) a reconsiderat10n of the whole phenomenon of Man and the
development of an anthropology of the Spirit [12],
any Th~rd World philosopher not participating in these
tasks 1S wasting his own and everybody else’s time.


op. cit.


Any Third World philosopher who does not participate in the tasks of (i) liberating the study of Third
World societies, economies and cultures from ana10

Skolimowski is aware that the essentially
impersonal and manipulative ethos of natural
science spills over into social relations, so
that as he wrote, “What we need is not an
objective science, but a compassionate one”,

R Young, “Anthropology of Science” – BBC talk.

An anthropology of the Spirit that would destroy
the tearing apart of man from himself, that has
epitomized both the West and its imitators in
the Third World, and restore to man his essential
unity, having as its purpose the increased awareness of what makes man fully human, and the
exploration of the nature of man’s fulfilment.

liearge lirettan
In the discussion of drug-effects there exists
a hiatus.: the heads/hippies/freaks, call them what
you will, haven’t as a rule had the benefit of an
education in philosophy, and conversely, the philOSOphers are ignorant of the drug-experience. The psychologists have discussed the subject from their point
of view, yet it is one that also cries out for
philosophical interpretation; the hippies are
constantly talking bad metaphysics in the attempt to
make sense of their experience. And the LSD
experience is certainly remarkable; feelings of
solipsism, or that the subject himself does not exist,
the sensation of stepping out of the usual continuums
of space and time, are relatively common under strong
doses of the drug. The acid experience used to be
called “LSD intoxication”, but this expression is seldom
used today because there is really very little
similarity with alcohol or hashish intoxication; the
acid experience immediately impresses itself as being
sui generis, at least under the aspect of being a drug.

The psychotomimetics – LSD, mescaline, psilocybin etc.

have less in common with other drugs than with madness
and mysticism. This is expressed in a vague way in
the proverb “acid isn’t a drug; people who have taken
it tend to feel that they have entered a reality that
is in some way ontologically prior to ordinary reality,
rather than simply a confused version of it. I myself
can confirm this, and in this article I hope to make
a few suggestions as to the lines along which these
phenomena can be interpreted. In particular it strikes
me that the work of Kant and, to a lesser extent, that
of Wittgenstein, provide valuable suggestions. Much
of the Critique. of Pure Reason can be seen as an
analysis of the structure of normal consciousness,
and in undertaking this analysis Kant throws out ideas
about what possible deviations from this norm would
be like. Kant, it should be said, would not have used
the word “possible” about such deviations. It has
often been noticed that his use of the words “possible”
and “necessary” does not strictly conform with the
usual acceptation. The LSD experience can be regarded
as empir:cal confirmation of at least one of these
deviant states of consciousness.

“Experience rests on the synthetic unity of
appearances, that is, on a synthesis according to
concepts of an object of appearances in general.

Apart from such synthesis it would not be knowledge,
but a rhapsody of perceptions that would not fit into
any context according to rules of a completely


interconnected (possible) consciousness, and so
would not conform to the transcendental and necessary
unity of apperception.” (C.P.R. -B195)
I cite this quotation at the beginning of my
discussion because of the remarkable phrase that occurs
in the middle of it – “a rhapsody of perceptions”
that is a disturbingly sharp hint at the LSD experience.

“Experience” will be a “rhapsody of perceptions”,
Kant tells us, if we take away “the synthetic unity
of appearances”. I do not wish to get bogged down
in Kantian terminology and the exegesis of it;
fortunately this is not necessary, for the burden of
Kant’s argument in the area with which I am concerned
is reasonably clear – this area being the relation
between our experience of space and time to the
categories of substance, causality and community, and
between the synthesis of appearances and the unity of

“Clock time has very little meaning when one is
under the influence of the drug”, wrote one experimenter, R.H.Ward (A Drug~Taker’s Notes, Gollancz, 1957),
and elsewhere he expresses himself more strongly,
speaking, for instance, of “the absence of time”.

This is not simply a question of time passing quickly
or slowly, as we feel, in the ordinary way, when we
are exited or bored. What is interesting (from a
philosophical angle) is a much more basic phenomenon
that sometimes takes place under large doses. It is
the sensation of being “out of time”. Ex.perimenters,
when they have returned to ordinary reality, seem
unable to describe this experience in terms which
make sense to the uninitiated, for they get caught
up in unintelligible metaphysics, giving the appearance of self-contradiction; thus they claim to have
been altogether “outside time”, and yet agree that
their experience did not cease to be successive in
nature. What are we to make of this? Having myself
been through this experience, it strikes me that it
can be cogently fitted into a Kantian (or neo-Kantian)
schema, and it is possible, through this schema, to
relate it to other phenomena of the LSD experience.

Kant sometimes refers to space and time as
“intuitions” and sometimes as “forms of intuition”.

This does not necessarily indicate a confusion. As
Ewing says (Short Commentary on Kant’s Critique of
Pure Reason):

“If space were merely our form of intuition, this
would ensure that all our representations should be
spatial; but it would not ensure that they should
all be in one space, and so would not of itself give
them any unity other than what is conferred by the
possession in common of a universal spatiality.”
The same applies, pari passu, to ti~e, and hence
one could say that under the conditions of acid
conSC10usness time is no longer intuited (i.e.

experienced as one representation into which other ‘.

representations are to be fitted), though as a form
of intuition it remains. Thus the time the disorganization of which is experienced under LSD is,
I suggest, not the “nondiscursive” time of the
Aesthetic, but the !’discursive” time of the Analogies.

(Both phrases from J. Hartnack,Kant’s Theory of
Knowledge.) “Discursive” time, that 1S to say, is
time considered under the different aspects of
succession, duration and simultaneity, the three
“modes” which, in the Analogies, schematize the
categories of causality, substance and community
respectively. In my own experience it seems to have
been the third of these that has suffered the most
disruption, and the first of them the least. Kant
argues for the validity of the category of community
in the Third Analogy, where he says that unless two
objects, neither of which is the cause of the other,
in some way mutually determine each other, there can
be no guarantee of their simultaneous coexistance:

“In so far as objects are to be represented as
coexisting with each other, they must mutually
determine their position in one time, and thereby
constitute a whole.” (C.P.R.-B26l)
The disruption of the category of community
under LSD allows a number of sorts of experiences;
e.g., not only will two different objects have
different histories, but these histories themselves
may be in different time-continuums; thus the
difficulty in correlating them is analogous to the
attempted correlation of the times of events in two
fictional stories, Tolkien and Hans Andersen for
instance. Thus for the LSD experimenter to try to
orientate himself by looking at his watch is rather
like Bilbo Baggins asking directions of the Snow
Queen. If all this sounds confused to the uninitiated
reader, it is equally confusing for the experimenter,
and if the former cannot imagine it, he can at least
apprehend it intellectually, just as a logician can
construct a multi-valued logic and yet have only a
vague idea of what a world would be like that was no
longer in conformity with the law of the excluded

The experience of the objects in the manifold as
temporally organized, and, furthermore, as organized
in a single, unitary time, 1S a condition for the
experience of them as subject to the categories.

Indeed, this is how Kant goes about proving the
validity of the categories. “Proof” is perhaps too
strong a word; what Kant has really succeeded in
showing is that the coherence of experience – which
is also to say, the coherence of consciousness – is
inseparable from these various factors and that they
are themselves interconnected. R.P. Wolff observes:

“Instead of beginning with the Table of Categories
and hunting for time determinations, what happens if
we begin with time as the form for inner sense, and
try to derive a Table of Categories by analyses of
time-consciousness? The answer …. is that we arrive
at precisely the derived categories of relation!

With this simple revision, the entire Analytic
suddenly falls into a perfectly logical form. Omit
the Metaphysical Deduction and how does Kant’s
argument run? First, a proof that the mere fact of
the unity of consciousness implies the applicability
to experience of certain a priori forms of synthesis
(the Deduction): then, the addition to the argument
of the fact that the consciousness has a temporal
form (the Schematism): lastly, the deduction of the

particular forms of synthesis by an examination of the
structure of the time-consciousness (the Analogies).

Starting with the unity of consciousness, we arrive
finally at the validity of the causal maxim” (Kant’ s
—–Theory of Mental Activity).

Thus it is fair to say that the deduction is not
wholly a priori. This should not upset the Kantian
too much, for it in fact enables us to endorse the
validity of the general Kantian.schema as an account
of normal consciousness and normal experience by
empirical evidence (the acid trip).

The organisation of the ani fold has an intimate
logical connection with the organization of consciousness. The disintegrative effects of LSD upon the
apprehension of external objects are designated
“derealization” by the psychologists, and similarly,
ego-loss is characterized as “depersonalization”.

These psychological terms do not have a precisely
defined sense, but in so far as they refer to
deviations from perceptual and introspective norms
I think that they can be given an adequate elucidation from a philosophical point of view: I have
already attempted this in the case of “derealization”,
and the phenomena of “depersonalization” follow as a
consequence. This article does not pretend, of
course, to attempt a comprehensive account of these
experiences. It may well be that, for psychological
reasons, neurotic subjects are more susceptible to
them; one psychiatrist, Janov (in The Primal Scream)
has gone so far as to claim that in the normal, nonneurotic, subject, LSD will produce -either r – ~t.

The LSD experience could be described as .• e
actualization of empiricist metaphysics. Just as
Hume failed to find adequate justification of our
behalf in substance and cause, so he failed to find
a self, and under LSD these logical difficulties
may be concretely lived through. Hume did not go
the whole hog – unlike Kant – and dare to point out
the most extreme consequence of his system. Roughtly,
one can characterize the situation thus: if one
says, of a spirit, that “esse est percipere”, then,
given the sort of perceptual atomism familiar to us
from the empiricist philosophers, it should fnllow
that I could not identify my experience as my
experience. As Kant points out, it is not clear
why I should not have “as man- coloured and diverse
a self as I have representations of which I am
conscious to muself”. (C.P.R.-B134) Something very
like this can be experienced under LSD. Identity
cannot survive categorial chaos.

This is an area in which Wittgenstein showed
great interest. In the Blue and Brown Books he
observed that there are logical difficulties for the
solipsist in attaching meaning to the word “my” which is similar to what Kant has to say in the
Transendental Deduction. Wittgenstein follows these
thoughts through when he wonders:

“1st eine Philosophie undenkbar, die das
diametrale Gegenteil desSolipsismus ist?” (Is a
philosophy possible that is the exact opposite of
solisism?) (Philosophical Review, vol. 77 “Notes for
lectures on ‘private experience’ and ‘sense data’,
ed. Rhees.) – a suggestion which he clarifies a few
pages later by saying:

“If the world is idea when it isn’t any person’s
idea. (Solipsism stops short of saying this and says
that it is my idea.)”
This is virtually the state under LSD when egoloss occurs. Sidney Cohen (Drugs of Hallucination)
describes it succinctly:

“Self-identity is completely lost, and the self
and that which is outside the self fuse”.

Peter Hacker has pointed out (American

Philosophical Quarterly, Vol.9, “Are Transendental
Arguments a Version of Verificationism?”) that the
crucial question to be answered, as both Kant and
Wittgenstein realized, is what are the necessary
conditions of criterionless or original (underived)
self-ascription of experience?” That this “selfasciption” must be underived was clearly seen by
both philosophers. Thus Kant in the Paralogisms shows
that any objective account of the self as subject
will be erroneous, since any aoherent description must
make use of the carogories, and “pure apperception”
is itself the ground of the categories. (How do I
know that my soul is my soul?) Kant’s refutation
of the Cartesian doctrine of the mind as a single
res cogitans is borne out by the LSD experience.

Thus R.H. Ward wrote that under acid he discovered
that “one’s mind – one’s feelings – one’s self – are
non-existent in any real sense.” In calling the LSD
experience a “model psychosis”, this is largely what
the psychologists are referring to – this collapse of
introspective norms. Ward was stable enough not to
descend too far into this chaos, but under LSD

schizophrenia can occur, when the unity of consciousness disappears. Thus schizophrenia – understood in
its literal sense of a divided mind – can philosophically be described as a failure properly to
synthesize the manifold. Because of the eclipse
of the categories, the subject is no longer able to
think of objects as outside him – not in the spatial
sense, but in the sense of objects being other than
oneself. This is a point that Kant implies in the
Refutation of Idealism. “Das Gegenteil des
Solipsismus” is now virtually achieved. The world is
no longer separate from the experiencing subject
(because such a division is dependent upon the
categories), and yet the subject is no longer able to
think of anything as “his”.

These are, as the title states, no more than
notes on a subject to which our ill-framed drug laws
have brought a pernicious silence. My chief intention
in writing is to bring the subject to the attention of
serious philosophers.

This article is for Penny.



Jeft mason
George Gretton’s short article on philosophy
and LSD at last brings out a kind of experience which
is rarely analyzed, and certainly not in philosophy.

Yet those who have tried the drug do, as Gretton says,
try to explain their experiences in mystical or quasimetaphysical language for it seems that no other sort
of language will do. The LSD experience is so far the
exception to our ordinary waking life, that it is-hard,
even for devotees, to find a way of expressing what the
experience is like. The links between this experience
and philosophy are not lacking, and I woUld like to add
some reflections on the subject in addition to what
Mr Gretton has had to say.

First of all, I would like to set out as I understand it the philosophical schema which Hr Gretton has
set out for us to understand the LSD experience. There
are two sides to this. On the one hand there is a
characterization of the state, and on the other, the
relevance of Kant and empiricism to this characterization. Secondly, I will make some objections, then add
a few comments on other approaches ..

The characterization of the LSD experience for Mr
Gretton is marked by feelings of solipsism, loss of
self, and sensations of being out of the normal continu
of time and space. As negative characterizations, I
believe these to serve well enough. The phenomena of
dissociation has long been noted as part of the peak of
the LSD experience. In this state people feel that
their egos die, that they are reborn, and that they have
been in touch (on a sensuous level) with something
eternal, which lies beyond or below the dust and dirt
of this world. This is all right as far as it goes,
but it does not go far enough. I will come back to the
characterization of the experience.

As a way of getting us to understand what this
experience might be like, Mr Gretton asks us in effect
to conceive of a Kantian universe in which the impossibl
has happened. That is, we have experience, but without
certain conditions which are necessary to our normal
consciousness, i.e. the categcries of substance,
causality, and community. If the categories no longer
apply under the effects of LSD, then the synthetic unity
of the manifold is not achieved, and we can then understand dissociation as the disintegration of the transcendental unity of apperception. Our experience becomes
a Humean “bundle of perceptions”, or per impossibile
an impersonal soli~sism.

The feeling of being ‘out of time and space’ is
to be accounted for as part of the disruption brought
about by the drug in our system of categories, or the
ways we have of making our experience understandable as
our experience.

The most interesting deviation, however, between
waking consc. and peak LSD experience is not the
difference it makes to spatial relations (they become
more topological), but to temporal ones. Mr Gretton
makes solid points about this. Clock time does cease
to make sense. Yet there is a succession of changes
which continues throughout the trip. There is the takeoff, the peak experience (which tends to be more
timeless than the other stages), and the re-entry.

Each of these is culminated by self-reflection; e.g.

the take off by the awareness sensori-overload, and then
the realization of coming off the peak, and finally the
awareness of the re-crystallisation of habits and
responses marking the return to a normal, though
perhaps altered, state. Time under the aspect of
succession remains constitutive of experience under
acid. Succession of exp&riences in time is as Mr
Gretton says, the least disturbed aspect of the LSD
experience as regards time. The difference is that
under peak experience the periods of ‘time’ between
changes are not recognized as such. It is as if all
times were now, and each successive state were coterminous with the present, in such a way that the actual
duration of successive states cannot be distinguished
as shorter or longer, but only as before and now.

To my mind the metaphysics most appropriate to this
aspect of the acid experience is Whitehead’s doctrine
of ‘actual occasions’, each of which, though successive
of one another, are complete in themselves, and all
begin the same way, i.e. by prehending (apprehension
without the ‘ap’) the totality of the antecedent
universe. Thus at peak experience time begins and ends
with each successive state, and there is no lead-in
from one to another as segments of a continuous and
uniform time sequence.

The second aspect of time, i.e. duration, is not
explicitly dealt with by Gretton, and is placed as
having only moderate distortion. The objects of
perception under LSD while less stable than with normal
perception, still endure. Even the stage of hallucination does not ordinarily introduce totally new objects
but merely recognizes changes in the perceptual qualities
of enduring objects.

So far I am in basic agreement with Gretton about
the way time distortion enters into the acid experience,
but turning to simultaneity, I’m not so sure. For
Gretton, simultaneity, or co-existence in time comes
under the most stress. In my experience simultaneity
is enhanced rather than distorted. This may be a disagreement over words. If by simultaneous co-existence
is meant a static collection of objects with identical
temporal subscripts, then such categorizatton does
indeed break down. But if what is simultaneous is
conceived as whatever is part of a present moment, then
the present moment expands to. fill time, and is part
of the heightened (non-reflexive) awareness brought
about by the drug. That is, the drug has the effect
of discovering the complexity of the present moment as
simultaneous and co-existing (levels of consciousness).

metaphysics again, for on the empiricist model the drug
only induces a kind of solipsism, or isolation. If,
as the empiricist doctri,ne goes, I am in immediate
contact merely with my own sensations, but that
normally we think we are in contact with an external
world and other people because of some habit of mind,
then acid would dissolve this illusion, and experience
would be seen to be completely self-contained. This
does in fact happen on acid given certain conditions,
and especially if the person is hung-up in himself in
one way or another. But the LSD experience can also
give the lie to this picture, for’it is possible under
… acid for. communication to take place far in advance
in subtlety and variation of levels of meaning than we
are ordinarily capable of achieving.

This is most apparent upon appreciation of the
vastly changed character of interpersonal relations in
the sharing of the LSD experience. It is not as if,
under normal circumstances a person takes acid alone,
or in the company of a psychologist (let alone a
philosopher). This is why I cannot accept the idea
that, as Gretton says “The. LSD experience could be
described as the actualization of empiricist metaphysics.”
If this were true then all uses of LSD would be pathological of a ‘model psychosis’. If we consider derealization and depersonalization, then I think the
empiricist metaphysics will do just fine. But there
are other possibilities than these in the LSD experience.

The empiricist metaphysics implies a dissociated
personality. For Hume there were, upon introspection,
to be found only a bundle of perceptions in one’s
experience, though there is, strictly speaking, no
one to whom the bundle of experiences can be ascribed,
therefore ego loss, Schizophrenia, etc. This is
because the individual in an empiricist metaphysics is
cut off and isolated from the world and other persons
by a wall of stimulation in the face of which he is
completely passive and absorbed. The personality, or
empirical ego, is crushed by the onslaught of sensorioverload, and there is often fear of death in these
moments, or of losing possession of oneself, which can
emerge as a ‘bum trip’, suicidal depression, or various
sorts of psychotic behavior. This is why acid is
dangerous and can cause serious freakouts.

The London Radical Philosophy Group
are planning to produce and circulate an
Ideas Sheet as a means for the informal
exchange of ideas, comment and information.

It will be published as often as there is
sufficient material to fill an issue.

There will be almost no editorial policy,
except that contributions much over 5
pages of foolscap will be serialized.

Contributions should be sent to Jeff
Mason, 1 Harvard Court, Honeybourne
Road, London N.W.6. If possible, they
should be typed on foolscap Gestetner
stencils; however, they will not
necessarily be refused if they are not
in that form. To subscribe to the Ideas
Sheet, send to the above address 6 stamped
and self-addressed envelopes.

At this point it is necessary to leave traditional
western empiricism, and use terminology and ideas from
the east. One reaction to the dissociation on acid is
fear of losing oneself, of losing one’s personal
identity. On the empiricist metaphysics, there is no
personal identity, so there is no identity at all.

But people do not always live with an empiricist
metaphysics, and can thus sometimes find impersonal
identity while peaking on acid (and without acid by
years of work and discipline). Using overtly mystical
language one can give varying conflicting reports on
what such an impersonal identity would be like. I am
not going to try to do this, but am instead going to
give a kind of phenomenology of the situation. Suppose
that one is an empiricist, and upon taking acid finds
it all coming true. But rather than resisting the drug
and freaking out, the empiricist lets go to the seeming
dissolution of the order which ordinarily makes his
life and experience intelligible to him. Lo and behold,
chaos does not result, and there remains an order of
experience even on acid, but the order is not possessed
by someone, it is rather found amidst the breakdown of
major categories and persists throughout. This is
what can make it possible not to have a bum trip, fall
into schizophrenia, psychosis etc. This is to say that
the lack of personal identity does not necessarily
render coherent experience random and chaotic. So one
alternative to personal identity is impersonal identity.

Another factor which is ignored by considering
the LSD experience as the actualization of empiricist
metaphysics, is the phenomena of expanded communication between people sharing the experience. There are
often reports of telepathy, or something approaching
telepathy occurring between participants in a trip.

This heightening of communication belies the empiricist

If, as I have been saying, order can remain even
under the full effects of LSD, and an identity is
maintained which is not possessed by anyone, then given
the possibilities of enhanced communication, somethi~g
like personality remains as well. For in relating to
others one’s own nature asserts itself even under acid,
though perhaps we can say that under ideal conditions,
the personality which remains is somehow essential to
the person having the experience, and not incidental,
or delusive as if often the case in waking life. I
will conclude by saying that these non-pathelogical
manifestations of the LSD experience are as fully
worthy of examination as are the more pathological ones.

Jonathan Ree (at Hendon Polytechnic) and
Parker (at 82 Felsham Road, London
SWlS IDQ) are trying to organise a
co-operative research project on the
History of Philosophy, in the belief that
it could have an important contribution
to make to Radical Philosophy as a whole.

We believe that the history of philosophy,
because it is an area of study that
contemporary British philosophy acknowledges
but does badly, is a unique point of attack
against present methods and teaching in
general. Anyone interested in joining
the project should contact one of us. We
also hope that the project will be a focal
point for a regular workshop on the subject.


It may be that people have papers and articles
which, for one reason or another, are not
suitable for publication in Radical Philosophy,
but which they would nevertheless like to
circulate in duplicated form. If you have
such an article, please let us know and we
will announce it here. Here is one for a
start: Richard Norman has a paper entitled
Hegel’s Conception of Philosophy in the
‘Phenomenology of Mind’, copies of which


are available free on request; write to
Richard Norman, Darwin College, University
of Kent, Canterbury

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