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Re-Teaching New Tools: Critical Pedagogy and Psychedelics as Plant Teachers
Tehseen Noorani, Ph.D.
Sunday, April 23, 2017 • 12:00 PM - 12:30 PM • Jr. Ballroom


Tehseen Noorani

Traditionally understood as “plant teachers,” psychedelics have been characterized as “cognitive tools” for a secular, Western milieu. In this presentation, Tehseen will consider what gets lost in the translation from plant teacher to cognitive tool. What might it mean to take seriously the idea of psychedelics as plant teachers within contexts such as underground experimentation and clinical trial research? The term “plant teachers” evokes many interesting questions that run parallel to issues concerning the medicalization of psychedelic substances: Do different psychedelics have varying teaching styles? Does one psychedelic teach differently under varying sets and settings? Can educators themselves learn to emulate how psychedelics teach? Drawing on a comparative ethnography of university-based clinical research and underground experimentation with psychedelic substances, this presentation offers one formulation of psychedelic teaching, in terms of a “trickster pedagogy,” constructed out of key concepts from the field of critical pedagogy. Tehseen proposes three themes for understanding how psychedelics teach: a) through an agency that inculcates mystery, b) with an authority that demands attention, and c) by forcing the rearticulation, rather than solving, of problems. Claiming that psychedelics are cognitive tools inspires a techno-utopian pursuit of individual optimization. Moreover, cognitive psychology studies that seek to categorize aspects of the psychedelic experience tend to imply that there is an automaticity to how psychedelics affect us. By contrast, considering them as plant teachers offering trickster pedagogies shifts the focus from ends to means, enabling us to harness a more radical set of capacities oriented towards egalitarian forms of participatory living.

Tehseen Noorani, a research scientist and adjunct professor in science and technology studies at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. He lectures on the sociology and anthropology of psychedelic and psychotropic drugs. His research investigates knowledge and authority gained through experiences at the limits of intelligibility. Since 2014, he has been conducting a comparative ethnography of psychedelic use across authorized clinical research, the underground research of psychonauts in the US, and the Western encounter with non-Western traditional healing practices. From 2013–2015, Tehseen was a National Institute for Drug Abuse-funded postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins University, where he led a qualitative research project into psilocybin-assisted tobacco smoking cessation. From 2007 to 2011, his doctoral research documented the cultivation of expertise-by-experience in the field of mental health, using Spinoza’s Ethics to rethink processes of well-being and political capacitation in self-help and peer support groups.

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