A few months ago, I wrote a Reality Sandwich article about different psychedelic conferences happening around the world. Now, I'm helping to organize a psychedelic conference that will be unlike any other held before. This is an open invitation to join in the history-making.
"Psychedemia" is an interdisciplinary conference on psychedelic art, culture, and science that will take place in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania over the weekend of September 27-30, 2012. The name is a reflection of its mission: integrating psychedelics into academia. It's a conversation that's a long time overdue.
As most Reality Sandwich readers are aware, psychedelic science and culture are returning to the mainstream after a decades-long moratorium. In recent years, the locus of psychedelic research has been shifting from the peripheral laboratories of clandestine chemists to eminent research institutions like NYU, UCLA, Harvard and Johns Hopkins. In recent months, successful studies have been enthusiastically reported by the international new media, including the likes of the New York Times, the Guardian, NPR, The Economist, Fox News, Nature, and Time Magazine.
As the psychedelic renaissance exponentially increases momentum, it is vital to consider the impact of altered states of consciousness and the means by which they are produced from interdisciplinary perspectives. Psychedelics are not a threat to reasoned discourse and critical self-reflection. Nor are they incompatible with existing institutions and human productivity. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that people with intellectual interests in psychedelics exist in every rank of mainstream society, as Terence McKenna stated so many years ago: "We pay our taxes. We hold down top jobs in advertising, publishing, media, entertainment, science, software writing, so forth and so on, and we should have the same respect."
Psychedemia will coalesce decades of interdisciplinary research, millennia of human history, and the cutting edges of visionary arts and ideas to illuminate the place of psychedelics in human evolution and formal academic exploration. The organizers and supporters of this conference seek to promote a progressive and informed conversation about psychedelics and how they can be integrated into the human experience.
Despite recent scientific advances, psychedelics have historically had an uneasy relationship to higher education. Our work on the conference was recently featured in a front-page article in the Philadelphia Daily News, juxtaposed with a very different university crossover in the Philadelphia area. Colloquially referred to as "Drexel acid bust," some 9,500 tabs of LSD were discovered by authorities mere blocks away from where the Psychedemia conference will convene this fall. The bust was named after Drexel University, where several of the people involved attended school.
The "Drexel bust" and Psychedemia are in no way related, other than their ironic proximity, but I mention the former because of a statement released by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams shortly after the arrests took place in February: "It is sad that this was taking place on a campus of higher learning, but I hope that the actions of a few do not tarnish the image of educational excellence that we associate with Drexel University." As journalist Jason Nark wrote in his article, "Williams likely didn't know that institutions of higher learning across the country are delving into psychedelics." Psychedelics and educational excellence are not mutually exclusive.
The organizers of Psychedemia have no agenda regarding either the personal use of illegal substances or the reform of existing laws. Our mission is to promote the free exchange of information about psychedelics and contribute to the development of psychedelic studies as an academic field in its own right. It is the hope of the conference organizers that this meeting will promote the development of a community of psychedelic researchers.
This conference will be unique for a number of reasons. While many prior psychedelic conferences focused primarily or exclusively on psychedelic science, our conference will examine the role of scientific research within a larger sociohistorical context. Special guests include Charles Shaw (Exile Nation), Tea Faerie (Erowid), Julie Holland, Jennifer Ingram (Tribe13), Jonathan Talat Philips (Evolver Social Movement), Hamilton Morris (VICE), Jag Davies (Drug Policy Alliance), Neal Goldsmith, James Kent, Steve Beyer, George Quasha, Richard Doyle and visionary artists Android Jones, Amanda Sage, and Michael Divine.
Our panels will be interdisciplinary, featuring discussions between psychedelic scholars in the sciences, arts, and humanities. Presentations on visionary art and psychedelic culture will take place alongside discussions on the globalization of ayahuasca and psilocybin therapy for cancer patients. Psychedelics push us to interrogate and dissolve the constructed boundaries between disciplines.
Along these lines, we are diversifying the traditional lecture format of most academic conferences. Spoken lectures will be supplemented by workshops, performances, yoga classes, art galleries, and a poster session. Posters and exhibits will be included in an interactive session in which researchers and academics will be able to share their projects with their peers and other conference-goers. Exhibits will present research or artwork in a concise, elegant, and unique manner. While poster sessions are a staple feature of science conferences, there is nothing comparable in the humanities. Psychedemia, therefore, marks a significant development for the academic community and interdisciplinary studies more generally.
In addition to featuring many of the most prominent psychedelic scholars working in academia today, this conference will emphasize the work of younger scholars and graduate students. It is part of our mission to foster novel contributions to this burgeoning field, and to consider the data from new research with an open mind. Recently, there has been an unprecedented increase of graduate students studying psychedelics across the disciplines, which the organizers see as an optimistic sign of future development in this field.
Psychedemia is supported by the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, Reality Sandwich, Evolver, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), Breaking Convention, Entheogenesis Australis (EGA), Shroom with a View, Happy High Herbs, Hamsa Hosting, and Theorizing Psychedelics, among other organizations. The significance of this conference, as demonstrated by the range of groups listed here, extends beyond any single constituency.
This conference is fundamentally a grassroots collaboration. We recently passed the one-year mark since planning began with a small group of students, and since then we have grown to incorporate community members and professionals in Philadelphia and beyond. Psychedemia is a labor of love, and we encourage anyone who is excited by this movement to reach out and get involved. We have booths and sponsorship opportunities for businesses, organizations, and vendors. Artists, decorators, scholars, musicians, scientists and philosophers are invited to contribute their talents, creativity, and curiosity.
Join us in manifesting this important convergence.
About the name: "Psychedemia" is a mixture of "psychedelic" and "academia". "Psychedelic", coined by Humphry Osmond in 1957, itself derives from "psyche" (mind) and "delos" (manifest) to suggest the "mind manifesting" qualities of certain psychoactive plants and chemicals. "Academia" comes from the Akademeia in ancient Greece, a sacred space dedicated to the goddess of wisdom. By extension, "academia" has come to refer to the accumulation and transmission of knowledge across communities and generations. While the Akademeia was named after the Greek hero Academos, a "demos" itself functioned in Ancient Greece as a polis in miniature. Eleusis, famed for its psychedelically-implicated Mysteries, was one such demos. In contemporary parlance, "polis" refers to "a state or society especially when characterized by a sense of community". In total, Psychedemia is a sanctioned space for the academic and psychedelic communities to openly explore the science, art, and mysticism of psychedelic culture.
Image by Retinafunk, courtesy of Creative Commons license.