Neşe Devenot – The Role of Poetic Language in Psychedelic Science


December 8, 2017

This presentation argues that poetry (i.e. experimental uses of language) represents crucial data about the content of psychedelic experiences within the context of scientific research. Neşe calls for the need to develop psychedelic studies in the humanities since the discourse of science is essential but insufficient for exploring these liminal realms of consciousness.

Although the majority of recent work in psychedelic studies relies on quantitative, objectively verifiable measures, Neşe’s research demonstrates that psychedelic science is frequently characterised by a necessary reliance on both science and poetry. The process of exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness depends upon the communication of unprecedented subjective experiences—a process that necessarily relies on metaphor and other creative uses of language, since no ready-made vocabulary exists to describe these experiences.

For this reason, Neşe argues that literary theory and poetic interpretation are as crucial as chemical analysis for generating data in psychedelic science and the scientific study of consciousness more generally. Drawing on her recent scholarship as a Research Fellow with the New York Public Library’s Timothy Leary Papers, she demonstrates that psychedelic scientists have theorised about the experimental value of poetic language since the first wave of psychedelic research in the twentieth century.

Neşe connects this lineage to the psychedelic renaissance based on her experiences as a Research Fellow with the NYU School of Medicine, where she joined four other co-authors in collaboratively analysing patient transcripts for underlying themes. The presentation ends by proposing future directions for clinical research based on Neiloufar Family’s call at Breaking Convention 2015 for renewed scholarship on the relationships between psychedelics, neurochemistry, and language, and she argues that “trip reports” deserve further study as an established genre of literature.