Studying the Study of the Mind: Nick Langlitz Examines Psychedelic Neurology

Professor Nicolas Langlitz

Professor Nicolas Langlitz

Turn on, tune in, drop out,, Bad trip,, Shrooming., The phrases associated with psychedelic experiences are as unscientific as they are outdated. But in the past 20 years, neurological research into hallucinogens has grown, and so have the number of people who study it.

Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nicolas Langlitz, who joined The New School for Social Research’s Department of Anthropology in January 2010, studies those who study drugs. Langlitz’s work reveals that these researchers often find themselves navigating a difficult space between scientific standards and personal interests.

In their research practice, they must adhere to objectivity,, Langlitz says, but scientists who focus in this area tend to be invested in drug mysticism.,

According to Langlitz, the field has long been troubled by a popular perception of unethical or unacademic behavior. After Timothy Leary famously turned on his Harvard colleagues and graduate students to LSD in the early ’60s, hallucinogenic research, formerly a thriving discipline, ground to a halt in the U.S. in-depth inquiry into the brain’s response to psychedelic drugs was not revived for 30 years, when President George H. W. Bush declared the nineties to be the Decade of the Brain.,

In contrast to their countercultural ancestors, this new generation of hallucinogen researchers aims to reintroduce psychedelic drugs into mainstream science and society,, Langlitz says. The current hype around the neurosciences has helped them to re-legitimate their research interest in psychedelics, not as symbols of social dissent or as magic drugs but as tools to study the brain. But the mystical tradition of the sixties lives on, for example, psychedelics are used to alleviate existential anxiety in advanced-stage cancer patients.,

Langlitz brings to his research a background in both social and biological sciences. He holds an MD from Charit√© Universit√§tsmedizin Berlin, a PhD in the History of Medicine from Humboldt Universit√§t/Freie Universit√§t Berlin, and a PhD in Medical Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. Langlitz has served as a postdoctoral fellow at Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

The widely published Langlitz is currently adapting his Berkeley dissertation, Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain, for publication. This year he is also teaching three New School for Social Research courses, Sites of Contention in Contemporary Ethnography, Drug Cultures, and Anthropology of Science.