Do You See What I See? Integrating Hallucinogenic Drug Effects with Haack’s Foundherentism
Abstract: In this paper, I argue that the organizational cognitive concepts that provide structure for visual perception can be systemized in a hierarchal model based on the invariance of these concepts when perception is altered by hallucinogenic psychoactive drugs. This thesis will be supported by first explaining the basics of the normal visual perception model in current neurobiology. This will be followed by a brief summary of the state of visual perception as altered by psychoactive hallucinogenic drugs. Following this discussion, I will present Susan Haack’s hierarchal model of credible truths contained in her theory of foundherentism. From foundherentism, I will utilize the ideas of invariance theory (delineated by Jim Woodward) to establish my thesis which states that the cognitive concepts that confer the most invariance will be higher on Haack’s established hierarchy. This paper works to integrate neuroscientific research with epistemic philosophy such that: 1) Haack’s hierarchal theory is supported by scientific data; 2) this data provides a tentative hypothesis of the specific ordering of her hierarchy; and 3) Haack’s hierarchy can be utilized to provide a potential explanation of the stability of certain cognitive concepts when the brain is influenced by hallucinogenic psychoactive drugs.
Section 1: Introduction
Relatively little work has been done to combine neurobiological findings with theories in epistemology. It is through the integration of scientific and philosophical disciplines that further progress can be made in attempting to understand how our brains and minds work. As such, in this paper I will attempt to cohere the scientific studies of the effects hallucinogenic drug use has upon the brain with philosophical models of justified knowledge. The differences in organizational cognitive concepts, or schemata, that provide structure for visual perception can be organized in a hierarchal model based on the invariance of these concepts when perception is altered by hallucinogenic psychoactive drugs. That is to say that the organizing schemata we use to orient ourselves in reality—like time, spatial dimensions, and distinctions between self and objects—can placed higher or lower on a hierarchy of knowledge based on how unchanging these schematas are when stressed by hallucinogens. This hierarchal model is based in Susan Haack’s theory of justification, foundherentism, lending neurobiological evidence to provide a new basis for her conclusions about credible truths. In this paper, I will work to integrate neurobiological research with epistemic philosophy to achieve 3 main goals: 1) Haack’s hierarchal theory is supported by scientific data; 2) this data provides a tentative hypothesis of the specific ordering of her hierarchy; and 3) Haack’s hierarchy can be utilized to provide a potential explanation of the stability of certain schemata when the brain is influenced by hallucinogenic psychoactive drugs.
I will support the thesis of this paper by first examining the regions of visual perception implicated by hallucinogens in current neurobiology. This will be followed by a specific look into the state of visual perception as altered by psychoactive hallucinogenic drugs. Following this discussion, I will move to present Susan Haack’s hierarchal model of credible truths contained in her idea of foundherentism. From foundherentism, I will utilize the ideas of invariance theory (delineated by Jim Woodward) to support my thesis that the cognitive concepts that confer the most amount of invariance will lead to a higher stature on Haack’s hierarchy.
Section 2: Basic Neurobiology of Visual Perception
Stephen Kosslyn and Oliver Koenig’s book, Wet Mind: The New Cognitive Neuroscience, defines visual perception as the cognitive process in which stored memories are brought to bear upon a current physical stimulus for the sake of answering a question about its nature. Visual perception is a higher level Function of the brain that is reliant upon smaller functions the brain carries out. These smaller level functions are organized into various subsystems that perform specialized tasks correlating with specific parts of the brain (Kosslyn and Koenig). Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to completely delineate the research of Kosslyn and Koening, for the purposes of this paper, we can state that two subsystems, the preprocessing and long-term memory subsystems, implicate the same brain structures that hallucinogenic drugs act upon. Through neuroimaging studies, it has been shown that the preprocessing systems are controlled by the temporal gyrus, inferior temporal gyrus, and fusiform gyrus of the prefrontal cortex (Sergent et al.). Long-term memory, in contrast, is stored in many different regions of the brain, a representation that is called multimodal. Even though this is so, researchers have been able to determine that much of long-term associative memory that has to do with the visual processing system relies on the function of the angular gyrus in the cortex (Kosslyn et al.). Hallucinogens, as I will prove in further detail in the next section, effect the same neurobiology (the gyrus) that is implicated in our mechanism of visual perception.
Section 3: Visual Perception as Altered by Psychoactive Hallucinogenic Drugs
Section 3.1: Defining Hallucinogens
Hallucinogenic drugs have been used throughout time to provide humans with an altered state of consciousness, from simplistic plant forms to their in vogue existence as capsules. Researchers clearly define a psychoactive hallucinogenic drug as “any agent that causes alterations in perception, cognition, and mood as its primary psychobiological actions in the presence of an otherwise clear sensorium” (H.D. Abraham et al. 277). Hallucinogens are different than other psychoactive drugs (e.g. stimulants, opioids) because their effects are primarily characteristic of visual alterations. Hallucinogens are broken up into 3 major categories: Psychedelics, Dissociatives, and Deliriants. Although these classifications join the general features of these drugs, several hallucinogens confer varying effects because they commonly act upon more than one neurobiological receptor (“Hallucinogens”). However, this tri-tiered classification system is the primary mode of taxonomical organization in pharmacore and medicinal chemistry.
Section 3.2: Neurobiological Mechanism of Psychedelic Hallucinogens
Many hallucinogens have chemical structures similar to those of neurotransmitters found naturally in humans and are temporarily able to modify the action of those neurotransmitters and/or receptor sites (Stafford). It is, again, beyond the scope of this paper to delineate the precise mechanisms of every hallucinogenic drug, but I will describe the basic affected regions of several critical hallucinogens. For instance, the effects of serotonergic psychedelics— including LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline—are most directly related to the neurobiological systems of visual processing. Serotonin is a naturally occurring monoamine neurotransmitter that is tied to positive mood, appetite, sleep, memory, learning, and a vast repertoire of other functions. Serotonergic psychedelics have strong structural similarities to serotonin, which explains their substitution for serotonin in certain receptors (Nichols). Although research into how these actions produce the psychedelic experience is yet unclear, it is known that much of their prominent action occurs in the prefrontal cortex (Carhart-Harris et. al). The prefrontal cortex contains the superior, middle, and inferior frontal gyrus which were implicated in the preprocessing subsystem as well as the long-term memory subsystems previously discussed in the neurobiology of visual perception. Thus, it follows that our visual perception is altered when under the influence of hallucinogens. Since this is so, we will be able to use the differences observed in visual perception when stressed by hallucinogens to constitute the hierarchy of schematas central to the thesis of this paper.
Section 3.3. Hallucinogenic Alteration of Visual Perception
When the brain is introduced to hallucinogenic drugs, neurobiologically, visual perception is altered through the methods described previously. When translated into less scientific and more generic terms, hallucinogenic drug use is characterized by its general modification of several typical organizational cognitive conceptions/schemata like the progression of time, spatial orientation/relationships, and sense of self/egoism, among others. A study of psilocybin showed that its influence over cognitive processes led to these effects, among others (Studerus et al.). Although hallucinogens can create hallucinations, and this kind of effect is stereotypical of hallucinogens, another study argued that hallucinations are not typically the case unless drug use is especially frequent (H.D. Abraham et al.). For the most part, the world remains the same under the influence, but we are changed. Aldous Huxley, the mastermind behind Brave New World, was especially fascinated by hallucinogens, and actually offered to experiment with mescaline so that a psychologist could observe him. He also wrote a short paper on his experience, entitled “Doors of Perception,” explaining that, “The other world to which mescalin admitted me was not the world of visions; it existed out there, in what I could see with my eyes open” (4). From this, we can conclude that under the influence of hallucinogens, the schemata that we interpret reality with in a sober way of mind are altered in a way that our mind is unaccustomed to. However, there is no new introduction of schemata; pre-existing schemata are simply changed.
Section 4: Establishing Foundherentism
In her book, Evidence and Inquiry: Towards Reconstruction in Epistemology, Susan Haack presents her idea of foundherentism. Stemming from a criticism of her foundationalist and coherentist predecessors, Haack attempts to create a system of justification that melds together elements of both of these theories in order to yield a more accurate picture of what a justified belief truly is. She is especially interested in creating epistemic hierarchies of schemata, giving a nice relationship between the neurobiology we discussed, as it detects differences in schemata via visual perception changes.
Her idea works as follows: She states that it is possible to include the relevance of experience in the weighting of the justification of empirical beliefs (an element of foundationalism) with a system of mutually supportive statements (an element of coherentism). For instance, if statement A is supported by experiential claim B and C and then claim B is supported in turn by A and D, then an interdependent system is formed that still makes room for experiential evidence to support claims. She thinks of her theory like a crossword puzzle. A crossword puzzle confers mutual support among crossword entries (like coherentism), but still rests on some basis of hints that let one determine what the word is to be. These clues are analogous to a person’s experiential evidence (like foundationalism) and the intersecting entries that have been previously completed are analogous to the substantiated reasons for a belief (Haack).
Within this system of interdependent beliefs, a hierarchy is created that grants certain beliefs more credibility than others. If certain beliefs are supported by more beliefs than others (in number and source material), then they are likely to be more credible than others (Haack). For instance, the theory of gravity is more credible than the theory of the Higgs-Boson God particle. The theory of gravity has much more experiential, interlocking evidentiary support that increases its degree of credibility in comparison to the newer, latter theory of physics. Haack, if she used this example, would argue that the Higgs-Boson theory has fewer supporting claims that lend to its credibility. This leads it to be lower on a hierarchy of principles governing the physics of the world. Thus, Haack creates a hierarchy of epistemically justified beliefs resting upon her idea of foundherentism.
Section 5: Invariance Theory Relates Hallucinogenic Drug Effects to Haack’s Hierarchy
Section 5.1: Woodward’s Invariance Theory
In his paper, “Explanation, Invariance, and Intervention,” Jim Woodward explicates the notion of invariance. Though this is commonly held as a mathematical principle, Woodward applies the theory to the philosophy of science as a method to confer epistemic justification for certain truth claims. He states,
A generalization that continues to hold or is stable…under some class of interventions that change the conditions described in its antecedent and that tells us how the conditions described in its consequent would change in response to these interventions is invariant under such interventions. Invariance thus requires stability under interventions although invariant generalizations will virtually always be invariant under changes that are not interventions as well. (31-32)
Thus, invariance is the ability for a concept or notion to remain consistent when under normal conditions and under certain types of stress. Invariant concepts do not change. Although the invariance of an idea exists when the idea is not under stress, invariance can be determined when a concept is put through stress. Stress tests an idea’s invariance, and determines whether or not it is a truly invariant concept.
Section 5.2: Hallucinogenic Invariance and Haack’s Hierarchy
In Haack’s hierarchy, some truths confer higher credibility than others based upon the degree of mutual support garnered from other truths. The more truths one can utilize to support another truth, the more credible the latter truth becomes. Thus, a hierarchy is created which places truths with more mutual support stemming from other truths at the top and truths with little support from other truths at the bottom (Haack). In this manner, the hierarchy correlates with the theory of invariance. The higher up on the hierarchy a truth-claim is, the less likely it is to be refuted because of its vast network of supporting truth claims. The ability for a truth-claim to withstand stresses from other truth-claims is more likely if the tested truth-claim is more stable to begin with, as are the truth claims at the top of the hierarchy. It can thus be stated that the truths at the peak of Haack’s hierarchy possess a greater degree of invariance than other truths lower on the pyramid. Thus, the credible claims in Haack’s model can be said to possess a high degree of invariance.
Section 5.3. Invariance Theory and the Effects of Hallucinogenic Drugs
Varying degrees of invariance also present when analyzing cognitive concepts under the neurological stress of hallucinogenic drugs. As has been discussed, schematas such as the progression of time, spatial orientation/relationships, and sense of self/egoism are vastly altered under the influence of hallucinogens. Time appears to slow down and speed up, objects seem nearer and farther away, and the self can be either vastly depersonalized or brought into jarring focus (Studerus et al.). When relating these alterations to the theory of invariance, because alterations of these specific schemata occur given neurological stress, these schemata are not invariants.
Although these specific schemata are altered, others remain the same. For example, objects in front of a person remain identifiable as that object. Modulations do occur in terms of certain characteristics that the object in question contains, but the object is still visually identified as the same object in both sober and hallucinogenic thought. You can still differentiate between a cat and a piano and identify each as such. The larger relation between mind and the world order also remains relatively invariant. Though certain features about reality around a person are accentuated and distorted, the essential existence of reality and surrounding objects remains consistent. This is especially clear through a study of psilocybin which stated that “reality testing remained intact, and most subjects sustained critical distance using statements like (‘it is as if’) to their own subjective experience” (Studerus et al. 13). The basic relationship between placement in reality and the resultant confirmation of the existence of this reality remains invariant even though it is modulated through certain organizational structures like time, space, and ego that help one orient themselves within this larger context of reality.
It has thus been established that certain cognitive concepts (object identification and the relation between the mind and reality) remain relatively invariant under the impact of hallucinogens while other schematas (like the progression of time, spatial relations, and the ego) are not invariant. Invariance has also proven to correlate with a higher placement on Haack’s hierarchy of credible truths. As such, we can now conclude that the invariant conceptions under hallucinogenic drug stress should be conceptions that are viewed as more credible truths than those that are not invariant. This would yield a model that would place our relationship between mind and the world order as well as our primary sense of object identification as stronger truth claims than our concepts of time, self, and spatial relations. As these former concepts retain invariance even under stress, it follows that they are more stable, more secure, and thus, more credible.
By applying the theory of invariance with Haack’s hierarchy to hallucinogenic drug use, we have accomplished three tasks. First, we have used preexisting scientific data on hallucinogenic drug effects to support Haack’s hierarchal theory. Secondly, we have used this data to create a tentative hypothesis of the ordering of Haack’s hierarchy. Although the ordering based on the implications of hallucinogens is by no means complete, it still offers some evidentiary basis for placing one’s relationship between mind and world order and general object identification above concepts of time, self, and spatial relations. Third, and perhaps most importantly, we have utilized Haack’s hierarchy to provide a potential explanation for the stability of certain cognitive concepts over others when the brain is impacted by hallucinogens. Several scientific studies exist that aim to explore what different parts of the brain control and how they act to alter brain function (Stafford) (Studerus et. al) (Carhart-Harris et. al), but, application of epistemological theories to explain scientific phenomenon is not common. A scientist alone would likely never think to delve into epistemology to find a potential explanation for why certain cognitive concepts are more affected by drugs than others. However, by taking such an approach, we are able to not only delve into new avenues of exploration into the sciences, but we can also create a richer field of epistemology that has applications and impacts across disciplines.
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 Further explanation of her critiques against foundationalism (specifically posited against the formulation of C.I. Lewis) and coherentism can be found in her book.
//////the handout from the conference:
Do You See What I See? Integrating Hallucinogenic Drug Effects with Haack’s Foundherentism Supplemental Handout
Thesis: The differences in organization cognitive concepts (referred to as schemata) that provide structure for visual perception can be organized in a hierarchal model based on the invariance of these schemata when perception is altered by hallucinogenic psychoactive drugs.
Section 1. Introduction
- Thesis (above)
- 3 Main Goals of Paper:
1. Haack’s hierarchal theory is supported by scientific data
2. This data provides a tentative hypothesis of the specific ordering of her hierarchy
3. Haack’s hierarchy can be utilized to provide a potential explanation of the stability of certain schemata when the brain is influenced by hallucinogenic psychoactive drugs
Section 2. Basic Neurobiology of Visual Perception
- Visual perception: the cognitive process in which stored memories are brought to bear upon a current physical stimulus for the sake of answering a question about its nature (Stephen Kosslyn and Oliver Koenig, Wet Mind: The New Cognitive Neuroscience)
- Organized into 6 different subsystems (the visual buffer, the attention window, the preprocessing subsystem, associative memory, information lookup, and attention shifting), which work largely independently of one another to perform specialized tasks critical to visual perception
- Subsystems implicated by hallucinogens: preprocessing and associative memory (largely controlled by the gyrus (temporal, inferior, fusiform))
Section 3. Visual Perception as Altered by Psychoactive Hallucinogenic Drugs
3.1 Defining Hallucinogens
- “Any agent that causes alterations in perception, cognition, and mood as its primary psychobiological actions in the presence of an otherwise clear sensorium” (H.D. Abraham et al. 277)
3.2 Neurobiological Mechanism of Psychedelic Hallucinogens
- Serotonergic psychedelics: LSD, psilocybin, mescaline
- Psychedelic hallucinogens substitute for serotonin in certain receptors
- Serotonin is active in the cerebral cortex, which contains all gyri implicated by preprocessing and associative memory subsystems
§ Much of prominent action occurs in the prefrontal cortex, which contains the inferior gyrus most specifically
3.3 Hallucinogenic Alteration of Visual Perception
- The world around us remains the same, we are changed
- Schemata used to interpret reality within a sober way of mind are altered
4 Establishing Foundherentism
- Haack specifically argues against the formulation posited by C.I. Lewis, stating that certain foundational beliefs (stemming from the Given element of experience) are self-supporting truth-claims which provide a basis for other non-foundational truth claims
- 3 main critiques:
§ Foundational knowledge based on the Given is not certain; can be called into question
§ Justification for beliefs cannot be a one-way avenue; no linear progression of justification + presuppositions of memory and present resembling past
§ Probability does not presuppose certainty; foundational knowledge not necessary
- Haack doesn’t argue against a specific author, but the general theory, stating that truth-claims are justified through their mutual support of one another, creating a structure of interdependent truth-claims which all cohere with one another
- Main critique: unrealistic, a coherentist approach to epistemic justification is not necessarily tied to accurately representing reality (coherency could trump reality)
- Can include the relevance of empirical beliefs (foundationalism) as well as the system of mutually supportive statements (coherentism) in one epistemic model
- Creates a hierarchy where some beliefs are more/less credible than others (based on number and source material)
§ Big Bang theory is more credible than the Steady-State Universe model in a hierarchy of truth claims in the field of physics
5 Invariance Theory Relates Hallucinogenic Drug Effects to Haack’s Hierarchy
5.1 Woodward’s Invariance Theory
- Invariance: the ability for a concept to remain consistent when under normal conditions and under stress; property of unchanging
- Stress tests an idea’s invariance
5.2 Hallucinogenic Invariance and Haack’s Hierarchy
- Haack’s hierarchy ranks truth-claims as more/less credible than others
- The higher up on the hierarchy, the less likely it will be refuted b/c of vast network of supporting truth claims
- Truth-claims higher on the hierarchy are able to withstand more stresses than truth-claims lower on the hierarchy (as truth-claims at the top of the hierarchy are more stable to begin with)
- Invariance is thus a property that can be applied to truth-claims at the top of Haack’s hierarchy; more credible claims confer a high degree of invariance
5.3 Invariance Theory and the Effects of Hallucinogenic Drugs
- Hallucinogens alter schemata like time, spatial orientation, and sense of self; since these schemata are altered given the neurological stress of hallucinogens, these schemata are not invariant
- Schemata like object identification and the relation between mind and reality are not altered under the influence of hallucinogens; therefore, these schemata possesses a higher degree of invariance than other schemata that are altered
5.4 Invariant Schemata Under Hallucinogens Confer Higher Credibility in Haack’s Hierarchy
- Invariance = high degree of credibility in Haack’s hierarchy
- Object identification and relation between mind and reality are invariant schemata under stress in comparison to schemata like time, spatial orientation, and sense of self
- Thus, object identification and the relation between mind and reality are more credible truth-claims under Haack’s model in comparison to other schemata (time, spatial orientation, sense of self)