Communicating the Unspeakable: Linguistic Phenomena in the Psychedelic Sphere

Diana Slattery


Abstract: Psychedelics can enable a broad and paradoxical spectrum of linguistic phenomena, from the unspeakability of mystical experience to the eloquence of the songs of the shaman or curandera. Interior dialogues with the Other, whether framed as the voice of the Logos, an alien communication, or communion with ancestors and spirits, are relatively common. This research constructs a theoretical model of linguistic phenomena encountered in the psychedelic sphere for the interdisciplinary field of altered states of consciousness research (ASCR). The model is developed from a neurophenomenological perspective, which relates the physical and functional organization of the brain to the subjective reports of lived experience in altered states as mutually informative, without reducing consciousness to one or the other. The research presents case studies of individuals who have explored these linguistic phenomena in depth, examining the types of language formation, the uses to the individual of such symbolic systems, and their ideas as to the meaning of the phenomena. This work supports the idea that language and consciousness are co-evolutionary processes.

Diana Reed Slattery, PhD, is a novelist, scholar, psychonaut, and video performance artist. She completed her Ph.D. work in psychedelics and language in 2010 at the University of Plymouth, UK.


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