2002 – Ayahuasca Experience Is Unpacked in Pioneering Book, The Antipodes of the Mind
In 2002, Benny Shanon, an Israeli cognitive psychologist, published what is now widely known as one of the most detailed studies of ayahuasca. The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience is a fascinating psychological study of the ayahuasca experience.
Shanon spent a decade interviewing more than 100 experienced users and classifying and categorizing their descriptions while illustrating an astonishing coherence to people’s visions. Shanon compares the realm of ayahuasca visions to an unexplored continent at the antipodes of ordinary consciousness. In his view, the task at hand consists in “mapping” it by taking seriously what people report about it. Here, subjective experience, including the researcher’s own, is data.
According to Shanon, the intellectual stimulation one experiences in modified states of consciousness allows one to gain knowledge intuitively, in a similar way to what William James called the “noetic” quality of mystical experience. But the intuitive means of gaining knowledge contradicts basic tenets of science and the Western worldview and its commitment to Enlightenment rationality and reason. Ayahuasca phenomenology, in this sense, challenges core tenants of European philosophical thought.
For Shanon, the teaching imparted during ayahuasca experiences makes ayahuasca comparable to a school. The education is of course concerning the psychological terrain of human consciousness. The visions reflect the personality and life-history of the person having them. He says:
“Whatever one sees in the visions, whatever one feels, whatever ideas one entertains over the course of the inebriation, is determined by all that there is to one’s self and being”.
For Shanon, the puzzle presented by ayahuasca pertains first and foremost to the human psyche rather than to society or culture. For Shanon:
“ayahuasca is a tool to discover new, heretofore unknown territories of the human mind – be it the mind of an Indian or of a Western person. The subject matter at hand is not the other, but rather the self in general (hence also my own self).”
The Antipodes of the Mind is one of our all-time ayahuasca book favorites. We highly recommended it to anyone interested in the phenomenology of the ayahuasca experience.
One decade after Shanon’s book was published, neuroscientists in Brazil scanned the brains of people drinking ayahuasca and experiencing vivid mental imagery (or shamanic visions) and discovered that the brew activates the brain similar to normal vision. The ayahuasca drinkers had their eyes closed but were seeing colorful and clear imagery.
Shanon, B. (2002). The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience. Oxford University Press.