Ayahuasca Research



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Study 6.

Reality Polyphasia: A Thematic Analysis of the Representations of Psychotropic Substance Use and a Deconstructive and Integrative Investigation of the Formation of Knowledge and Reality

Nicolas Sampson. Dissertation defended at the Department of Social and Developmental Psychology, University of Cambridge.

This is a phenomenological study aimed at revealing the representations behind the use of Ayahuasca and other psychotropic substances with similar properties by non-indigenous people. It uses Social Representations Theory (SRT) to analyze the set and setting and to reveal the set of values, beliefs, and ideas that underscore the use of such substances. Interviews with the participants at an Ayahuasca workshop were taken and subjected to a thematic analysis, whereby the main themes were classified and categorized until the trunk themes, the representations, were revealed. This analysis was juxtaposed to an ethnographically-oriented participant observation in order to tap into the potential representations and their constituent elements more accurately and succinctly.

The revealed representations and their principles were applied to a non-mutually exclusive and non-exhaustive investigation of how knowledge and reality are formed. A historical trace was followed to establish both a sense of direction and a frame of anchoring to established events, thereby applying directly and indirectly some of the insights granted by the representations. SRT was approached once more and was subjected to the same scrutiny applied to the formation of knowledge and reality, thereby closing the loop; SRT weaknesses were criticized and addressed in an effort to employ the information of this study holistically and spherically. Rather than use linear argumentation, this study attempts to join several tangents in a circle while leaving the doors on each tangent open for further inquiry and investigation. The objective is not to provide an answer per se but to raise several key questions and address the question marks by identifying several limitations and currently sidelined factors that are crucial to the structure and process of knowledge and reality evolution.

The Multi-Aspect nature of interpretation is deemed of crucial importance in multiple sets of antithetical spheres that exist as sub-levels in the multi-level framework of Meaning (scientific/consensual, right/wrong, subjectivity/objectivity, biological/contextual, normal/abnormal…). The essence of reciprocal dynamics and dynamic reciprocity is addressed, as well as the power of the complement vs. the neutralizing antithet. Consciousness is recognized as the sine qua non of ‘reality as we know it’ since it employs Meaning and Interpretation. The paradox of contradictions is illuminated and the process of ‘superposition’ is introduced to the sphere of cognitive and societal actions and interactions. The direct or indirect relationship between multiple interrelated levels is referred to extensively, as is the need to keep the channels open between levels and allow a two-way flow across them in order to utilize the inherent continuity and contiguity of intertwined affairs in an intertwined globe.

Temporality is approached as a combination of both ‘time’ and world-related factors, which helps define aspects of progress and evolution as well as the formation of Normals (established and accepted sets of normality and reality) and Abnormals (dissident sets, unconventional sets, or differing Normal sets that bear contrast when compared to each other). The role of the Social as a representation of autonomous nature is intertwined with the effect of the individual agent and their relationship is explored ontologically, morphologically, structurally, and functionally.

The representations of ‘psychotropic substance use’ are linked with aspects of ‘knowledge and reality formation’ and seem to be immediately or indirectly related to representations and general principles regarding reality overall. Not limited to current times, these principles seem to operate across and around contextual parameters, influencing the development of context itself while simultaneously being influenced by it. These representations may be deemed as latent or inherent representations or principles that are involved in reality formation; psychotropic substance use was taken as a platform from which the study leaped into a more general framework. Due to paper length restrictions, the issue of psychotropic substances being a source of knowledge was not specifically investigated further in the analysis. If done so, it would have been argued that these substances are not an end in themselves but are tools that lead to altered states of consciousness (ASC’s). Various ASC’s would have been identified, as well as various ways of reaching them; the advent of innovation would have been related to states of consciousness that enabled diversified thinking and processing, thus instigating and facilitating progress and evolution.

For the historical and temporal role of psychotropic substances see “A brief history of drugs” by Antonio Escohotado. The unabridged three-volume version is available in a Spanish edition. For the role of ASC’s as a source of knowledge and information, one can refer to the psychology corpus, as well as a diverse body of text. Autobiographical accounts are excellent frames of reference and are very enlightening.

ASC is a controversial term that is not accepted in contemporary mainstream psychology though. Yet, aspects of cognitive capacity, personality, group dynamics, cognitive and physiological neuropsychology, sports psychology, motivation and achievement studies (these are but a few relevant fields and sub-fields) contain insights that pertain to the various states of mind that adorn human functioning. As the study reveals, terminology and the representations behind a term affect the interpretation of an issue; ASC’s is a term currently under rejection by the mainstream. But the essence of ‘states of consciousness’ is alive and present in the widely accepted academic literature; it is simply under different names and terminology.

The study has made a tangential proposition. Language needs to evolve with the pace of knowledge. Communication needs to reinvent itself, for language, as we know it, is too restrictive and cannot express accurately forms of knowledge that are beyond it. The biological aphorism that ‘humans only use 10 of their brain capacities’ has been relegated to a cliché. In order to tap into the huge uncultivated potential effectively, one needs to see beyond the normal and established forms of interaction. One has to dare to dream and conceive before applying and practicing. One must also observe the signs in order to set sail for the right direction and not get lost in a wild goose chase. Yet, even such an expedition would be worthwhile; the journey is sometimes more valuable than the destination itself.

It is proposed, as a separate afterword following the study and as an adjunct, that the first step is to at least address the limitations of current language and start deconstructing and reintegrating the semantics that separate all the fields in an effort to identify some fundamental principles that operate across the board and to recognize their valid essence regardless of one’s theoretical orientation and affiliation. Cross-field differentiation can then take effect based on new and fresh levels of specialization, not on anachronistic and politicized divisions that are laden with preconceptions and bias.

Perhaps knowledge cannot be unified. But it can be integrated. And to integrate something already entangled, one has to disentangle it and then reweave it into new form. And disentangling an established web of affairs is a wondrous task; it can paradoxically be daunting and exciting at the same time.