Ayahuasca, Psychedelic Studies and Health Sciences: The Politics of Knowledge and Inquiry into an Amazonian Plant Brew
Kenneth W. Tupper,
Beatriz C. Labate.
This article offers critical sociological and philosophical
reflections on ayahuasca and other psychedelics as objects of
research in medicine, health and human sciences. It situates 21st
century scientific inquiry on ayahuasca in the broader context of
how early modern European social trends and intellectual pursuits
translated into new forms of empiricism and experimental
philosophy, but later evolved into a form of dogmatism that
convenienced the political suppression of academic inquiry into
psychedelics. Applying ideas from the field of science and
technology studies, we consider how ayahuasca’s myriad ontological
representations in the 21st century — for example, plant teacher, traditional medicine,
religious sacrament, material commodity, cognitive tool, illicit drug — influence our understanding of it as an object of
inquiry. We then explore epistemological issues related to ayahuasca studies, including how the indigenous and mestizo
concept of “plant teacher” or the more instrumental notion of psychedelics as “cognitive tools” may impact understanding
of knowledge. This leads to questions about whether scientists engaged in ayahuasca research should be expected to have
personal experiences with the brew, and how these may be perceived to help or hinder the objectivity of their pursuits. We
conclude with some brief reflections on the politics of psychedelic research and impediments to academic knowledge
production in the field of psychedelic studies.
Keywords: Ayahuasca, cognitive tool, epistemology, ontology, psychedelic, science and technology studies, selfexperimentation.
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