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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Tehseen Noorani

Noorani, Tehseen (2019). Sciencing the mystical: the trickery of the psychedelic trip report. New Writing 16(4): 440-443.

Author(s) from Durham


Science has caught wind of mysticism once again. Operationalising metrics from the writings of perennial philosophers, psychopharmacologists are using psychedelics in a laboratory context to reliably induce ‘mystical experiences’. These experiences are scored along such dimensions as unity, noesis, transcendence of space–time and ineffability. How are we to read this moment? I draw on data from an ethnography of psychedelic science and take cue from Walter Benjamin's treatment of the threshold in Convolute O of The Arcades Project, to identify apophatic narratives of trickery that contrast with the positive knowledge prominent in the sciencing of the mystical experience. Read as apophatic labour, psychedelic trip reports reveal how the significance of the mystical encounter lies not in its point-like efficacy in transforming the subject, but in precisely the doubts, contradictions and aporias involved in the writing out of their experiences.