John Vervaeke

Talk Title:

Psychedelic Gnosis: Experimental Perspectival-Participatory Knowing to Overcome the Transformative Experience Paradox


 L.A. Paul has produced an influential argument that challenges traditional accounts of rational decision making. Paul’s point is that standard models of decision making depend on one’s ability to imagine how one’s life will be after making the decision.  However, some decisions are so transformative of one’s consciousness, cognition, and identity that one cannot imagine what one’s future life will be.  In an important sense the future is unimaginable and so standard forms of rational decision making cannot be applied. However, some of the most important decisions one faces are of this transformative kind. An important question to ask is why is the future state unimaginable. I will argue that the future is unimaginable in ways that are analogous to Frankfurt’s notion of why certain thoughts are “unthinkable” to us. Not that we cannot form the propositions for the thought, but because we cannot make them a live option for our behaviour: we cannot participate in the world to which the thought belongs. I will discuss the nature of such participatory knowing and argue that transforming it requires a much more fundamental transformation of the cognitive machinery that generates the self-world relationship.  Psychedelic experience has the potential to afford such a fundamental transformation and allow us to introduce a new flexibility in our imagination that will aid us to overcome the transformative paradox that Paul discusses.



John Vervaeke is an Assistant Professor, in the teaching stream. He
has been teaching at the University of Toronto since 1994. He
currently teaches courses in the Cognitive Science program including
Introduction to Cognitive Science, and the Cognitive Science of
Consciousness; courses in the Psychology department on thinking
and reasoning with an emphasis on insight problem solving,
cognitive development with an emphasis on the dynamical nature of
development, and higher cognitive processes with an emphasis on
intelligence, rationality, mindfulness, and the Psychology of wisdom.
He also teaches a course in the Buddhism, Psychology and Mental
Health program on Buddhism and Cognitive Science. He has won and
been nominated for several teaching awards including the 2001
Students' Administrative Council and Association of Part-time
Undergraduate Students Teaching Award for the Humanities, and the
2012 Ranjini Ghosh Excellence in Teaching Award. He has published
articles on relevance realization, general intelligence, mindfulness,
metaphor, and wisdom. His abiding passion is to address the
meaning crisis that besets western culture.