The Role of Poetic Language in Psychedelic Science Research
This presentation argues that experimental uses of language represent crucial data about the content of psychedelic experiences in the context of scientific research. Devenot calls for the need to develop psychedelic studies in the humanities, since the discourse of science is essential but insufficient for exploring these liminal realms of consciousness. Although the majority of recent work in psychedelic studies relies on quantitative, objectively verifiable measures, the process of exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness depends on the communication of unprecedented subjective experiences—a process that necessarily relies on metaphor and other creative uses of language. For this reason, literary theory and poetic interpretation are as critical as chemical analysis in generating data for psychedelic science and the scientific study of consciousness more generally, suggesting new directions for research on the relationships between psychedelics, neurochemistry, and language.
I am an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Puget Sound, where I teach classes on psychedelics and literature. I am also working on my book project, “Chemical Poetics: The Literary History of Psychedelic Science.” I am a 2015-16 Research Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Timothy Leary Papers and a Research Fellow with the New York University Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Study, where I participated in a qualitative study of patient experiences. I received my PhD in 2015 from the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied psychedelic philosophy, the literary history of chemical self-experimentation (“trip reports”), and radical poetics. I taught the class “Drug Wars: The Influence of Psychoactive Rhetoric” as a 2014-15 Critical Speaking Fellow, and I was also a 2014-15 Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Research Fellow with the Penn Humanities Forum, where I worked on the project “‘Innumerable Fine Shades’: Psychedelics and Synesthesia in the Literary Self-Experiments of Aldous Huxley.” I am a founder of the Psychedemia interdisciplinary psychedelics conference, and the former editor of “This Week in Psychedelics,” a Reality Sandwich column that reported on psychedelic news in the media between 2011 and 2013. I was a founding member of the MAPS Graduate Student Association, which I moderated during 2011-13, and I have presented on psychedelics at numerous conferences in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia.