Episode 6

F-ing the Ineffable: William James, Mysticism, and the Psychedelic Experience


January 17th, 2024

1 hr 33 mins 37 secs

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About this Episode

In this episode, the Altered Mates explore the slippery concept of Mysticism.

Our conversation centres around a classic work by pioneering American psychologist and philosopher William James (January 11, 1842–August 26, 1910), and specifically, the 1902 masterwork based on his Gifford Lectures: The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (public library | free ebook).

The discussion begins with Alejandro describing what he considers to be his first mystical experience at Machu Picchu in 2011, after a four day hike along the Inca Trail, and importantly, a few days after the first two ayahuasca ceremonies of his life.

The remainder of the episode is structured around William James’ four markers of mystical states:

1. Ineffability, 2. Noetic quality, 3. Transiency, 4. Passivity.

And while these so-called “mystical” experiences may be almost impossible to convey to one another, we disregard them at our peril... for, in the words of William James:

“Our normal waking consciousness… is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different… No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.”


William James — The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (1902) (public library | free ebook).

Quentin Tarantino — Pulp Fiction

The Wachowskis — The Matrix

David Foster Wallace — This is Water.

Maya Newell — In My Blood It Runs

Robert Anton Wilson — Acceleration of Knowledge (Note: use chrome. The section around 38 mins is related to what we were talking about).

Albert Camus — The Myth of Sisyphus.

The Alex Grey Poster (Net of Being) featured in Alejandro’s house.

Tool — [Rosetta Stoned](https://open.spotify.com/track/0D8l86LXxKcgKAO17DfQsl?autoplay=true) — 10,000 Days

To find out more about the time Alejandro pissed himself during an ayahuasca ceremony, jump online and order a copy of his novel: A Glimpse of Eternity.


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Music for the show by Si Mulumby.