Human Nature Review 3 (2003) 239-251.
16 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2015
Date Written: 2003
This is a review essay of Benny Shanon, The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience (Oxford University Press, 2002), which is a detailed phenomenological account of what happens when one takes ayahuasca, a psychoactive concoction from South America. Ayahuasca is traditionally taken in the company of others and accompanied by music, which paces the visions and affects their content. The effect is that of entering another world. I offer some speculation about underlying neural processes, much based on the work of Walter Freeman’s speculation that consciousness is organized as short discontinuous whole-hemisphere states. I also speculate on the similarity between the dynamics of ayahuasca experience, as Shanon has described it, and the dynamics of skilled jazz improvisation; and I point out that what Shanon reports as a second-order vision seems to be involved in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”.
Keywords: ayahuasca, religion, altered states of consciousness, psychedelics, entheogens, music,
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