Dissolving the psyche and revealing the pneuma: ‘psychelytic’ and… ‘pneumadelic’?
by Federico Soldani – 16th May 2021
Could a substance or a class of substances be both psyche ‘lytic’ – dissolving – and ‘delic’ – manifesting?
In his 1957 article for the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, entitled ‘A review of the clinical effects of psychotomimetic agents’, Dr. Humphry Osmond formally proposed the use of the word ‘psychedelic’ for hallucinogenic or psychotomimetic agents.
As previously discussed on PsyPolitics, such word was developed outside of the scientific community or literature in a rhyme exchange between Osmond and his friend Aldous Leonard Huxley.
There are multiple historical connections between different members of the Huxley family and the philosophy surrounding hallucinogenic, psychotomimetic substances.
Osmond in the NYAS paper made references not only to Aldous Huxley but also to his grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley, who in his time was also known as Charles Darwin’s “bulldog”. Of note, Charles Darwin’s grandfather Dr. Erasmus Darwin – see King-Hele’s papers and biography “Doctor of Revolution” – contributed coining ‘Cannabis’ official botanical name, and furthermore framing such term in rhymes.
Both sets of rhymes – Dr. Erasmus Darwin for ‘cannabis’ and Dr. Humphry Osmond for ‘psychedelic’ – involved the concepts and terms of Heaven and Hell.
We have also already mentioned on PsyPolitics how Francis Huxley – son of Julian and nephew of Aldous – worked on LSD with Osmond as well as in London with R.D. Laing.
Even in a recent 2020 article by the group at Imperial College London that is working on and promoting the substances they call – in line with Osmond – ‘psychedelic’, a reference was made to Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ dystopia: ‘Psychedelic Psychiatry’s Brave New World’ – PubMed (nih.gov).
About the relation between psychiatry and Huxley’s dystopia, in 2020 on PsyPolitics it was for the very first time noted how the most famous novel by Aldous Leonard Huxley – ‘Brave New World’ – is opened with an epigraph by Nikolai Berdyaev (or Nicolas Berdiaeff), the man who described how psychiatrist Bogdanov – founder of Bolshevism with Lenin – was treating, surreptitiously, philosophical ideas he disagreed with as a form of mental illness.
It might also be relevant to keep in mind that, in his dystopia, Huxley has the female character Lenina declare “Everyone says I’m awfully pneumatic.”
Aldous Huxley, explained in the essay ‘Downward Transcendence’ (1952), later included in a posthumous collection of writings on psychedelic substances (1977) entitled like one of the essays: Moksha (Sanskrit for “illumination” / “enlightenment” / “liberation”): “the shell of the ego has been cracked and there begins to be a consciousness of the subliminal and physiological othernesses underlying personality.” “There are probably moments in the course of intoxication by almost any drug, when awareness of a not-self superior to the disintegrating ego becomes briefly possible.”
And in an article about Aldous Huxley’s ‘Ultimate Revolution’, it was noted how the author in his work not only described a “Brave New World”, but also a “new man”.
Osmond wrote in 1957 in the very paper for the Annals of the NYAS in which he proposed the newly coined word ‘psychedelic’ that these substances “are of more than medical significance.” “Perhaps most important” – Osmond wrote – “there are social, philosophical, and religious implications in the discoveries made by means of these agents.”
So, the broader political meaning of these substances was stated by Osmond from the very birth of the word ‘psychedelic’.
“Our beliefs, what we assume, as the Ames demonstrations in perception show – ‘the principle that what we are aware of is not determined entirely by the nature of what is out there or by our sensory processes, but that the assumptions we bring from past experience, because they have generally proved reliable, are involved in every perception we have‘ – greatly influence the world in which we live. That world is in part, at least, what we make of it. Once our mold for world making is formed it most strongly resists change. The psychodelics (sic, ed.) allow us, for a little while, to divest ourselves of these acquired assumptions and to see the universe again with an innocent eye.”
“In T. H. Huxley‘s words” – Osmond continued – “we may, if we wish, “sit down in front of the facts like a child” or, as Thomas Traherne a 17th-century English mystic puts it, “to unlearn the dirty devices of the world and become as it were a little child again”. Also Francis Bacon, the father of modern scientific method, in Novum Organum, wrote: “The entrance into the Kingdom of man, founded on the sciences, being not much other than the entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, whereinto none may enter except as a little child.”
“Mystic and scientist have the same recipe for those who seek truth. Perhaps, if we can do this, we shall learn how to rebuild our world in another and better image, for our extraordinary technical virtuosity is forcing change on us whether we like it or not. Our old faults, however, persisting in our new edifice, are far more dangerous to us than they were in the old structure. The old world perishes and, unless we are to perish in its ruins, we must leave our old assumptions to die with it.”
In an article in 2020 on PsyPolitics about Eric Voegelin’s 1959 ‘Science, Politics, and Gnosticism’ it was noted how about “such resurgence of hallucinogens use, including in medicine, the same rhetoric that was used in psychiatry in the past for electro-convulsive treatment, better known as electro-shock, is now being used for the hallucinogen psilocybin / magic mushrooms: in the rhetoric of their proponents, these interventions would re-set the depressed brain.”
Voegelin wrote how in a Gnostic worldview the psyche belongs to the order of the world – perhaps what in psychoanalytic terms is called ego, the element of the psyche of the reality principle – while there is supposed to be a pneuma in need of being liberated. However, what might be liberated – in a Freudian view of the psyche – if the ego is dissolved, might indeed be the id or es, the element of the psyche of the pleasure principle, as postulated in the ‘CyPsy’ hypothesis.
Going back to Osmond’s two terms proposed in the 1957 NYAS paper for hallucinogens or psychotomimetics: ‘psychelytic’ would appear to be in line with a Gnostic worldview – as presented by Voegelin – requiring the dissolution or disintegration of the psyche. However, instead of psychedelic – or, perhaps more correctly, psychodelic – for the pneuma to be revealed or manifested a more appropriate term could be ‘pneumadelic’.
“Gnostic man must carry on the work of salvation himself…. Through his psyche (“soul”) he belongs to the order, the nomos, of the world; what impels him toward deliverance is the pneuma (“spirit”).
The labor of salvation, therefore, entails the dissolution of the worldly constitution of the psyche and at the same time the gathering and freeing of the powers of the pneuma.”
– Eric Voegelin, ‘Science, Politics and Gnosticism’ 1959
(1 – first of a series of articles)
Last Updated on June 17, 2021 by Federico Soldani
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here is the second article in this series: