Being for no-one: Psychedelic experience and minimal subjectivity

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Can there be phenomenal consciousness without self-consciousness? Strong intuitions and promi-nent theories of consciousness say “no”: experience requires minimal self-awareness, or “subjectivity”. This “subjectivity principle” (SP) faces apparent counterexamples in the form of anomalous mental states claimed to lack self-consciousness entirely, such as “inserted thoughts” in schizophre-nia and certain mental states in depersonalization disorder (DPD). However, Billon & Kriegel ( 2015) have defended SP by arguing (inter alia) that while some of these mental states may be totally self-less, those states are not phenomenally conscious and thus do not constitute genuine counterex-amples to SP. I argue that this defence cannot work in relation to certain experiences of ego dissolution induced by potent fast-acting serotonergic psychedelics. These mental states jointly instantiate the two features whose co-instantiation by a single mental state SP prohibits: (a) phenomenal consciousness and (b) total lack of self-consciousness. One possible objection is that these mental states may lack “me-ness” and “mineness” but cannot lack “for-me-ness”, a special inner awareness of mental states by the self. In response I propose a dilemma. For-me-ness can be defined either as containing a genuinely experiential component or as not. On the first horn, for-me-ness is clearly absent (I argue) from my coun- terexamples. On the second horn, for-me-ness has been defined in a way that conflicts with the claims and methods of its proponents, and the claim that phenomenally conscious mental states can totally lack self-consciousness has been conceded. I conclude with some reflections on the intuitive plausibility of SP in light of evidence from altered states.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophy and the Mind Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2020


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