Frontiers in Psychology 01 frontiersin.org
Psychedelic unselfing:
self-transcendence and change of
values in psychedelic experiences
JuusoKähönen *
Department of Philosophy, History, and Art, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Psychedelic experiences have been shown to both facilitate (re)connection to
one’s values and change values, including enhancing aesthetic appreciation,
promoting pro-environmental attitudes, and encouraging prosocial behavior.
This article presents an empirically informed framework of philosophical
psychology to understand how self-transcendence relates to psychedelic value
changes. Most of the observed psychedelic value changes are toward the self-
transcendent values of Schwartz’s value theory. As psychedelics also reliably
cause various self-transcendent experiences (STEs), a parsimonious hypothesis
is that STEs change values toward self-transcendent values. I argue that STEs
indeed can lead to value changes, and discuss the morally relevant process of self-
transcendence through Iris Murdoch’s concept of “unselfing”. I argue that overt
egocentric concerns easily bias one’s valuations. Unselfing reduces egocentric
attributions of salience and enhances non-egocentric attention to the world,
widening one’s perspective and shifting evaluation toward self-transcendent
modes. Values are inherently tied to various evaluative contexts, and unselfing
can attune the individual to evaluative contexts and accompanying values beyond
the self. Understood this way, psychedelics can provide temporarily enhanced
access to self-transcendent values and function as sources of aspiration and
value change. However, contextual factors can complicate whether STEs lead
to long-term changes in values. The framework is supported by various research
strands establishing empirical and conceptual connections between long-term
dierences in egocentricity, STEs, and self-transcendent values. Furthermore, the
link between unselfing and value changes is supported by phenomenological and
theoretical analysis of psychedelic experiences, as well as empirical findings on
their long-term eects. This article furthers understanding of psychedelic value
changes and contributes to discussions on whether value changes are justified,
whether they result from cultural context, and whether psychedelics could
function as tools of moral neuroenhancement.
KEYWORDS
values, self-transcendence, psychedelics, unselfing, egocentricity, moral epistemology,
salience, self
OPEN ACCESS
EDITED BY
Nicolas Langlitz,
The New School, UnitedStates
REVIEWED BY
Kevin St. Arnaud,
Concordia University of Edmonton, Canada
David Pittaway,
University of the Free State, SouthAfrica
*CORRESPONDENCE
Juuso Kähönen
juuso.kahonen@helsinki.fi
RECEIVED 21 November 2022
ACCEPTED 31 March 2023
PUBLISHED 14 June 2023
CITATION
Kähönen J (2023) Psychedelic unselfing:
self-transcendence and change of values in
psychedelic experiences.
Front. Psychol. 14:1104627.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1104627
COPYRIGHT
© 2023 Kähönen. This is an open-access
article distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY).
The use, distribution or reproduction in other
forums is permitted, provided the original
author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are
credited and that the original publication in this
journal is cited, in accordance with accepted
academic practice. No use, distribution or
reproduction is permitted which does not
comply with these terms.
TYPE Hypothesis and Theory
PUBLISHED 14 June 2023
DOI 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1104627
Our states of consciousness dier in quality, our fantasies and reveries are not trivial and
unimportant, they are profoundly connected with our energies and our ability to choose
and act. If quality of consciousness matters, then anything which alters our consciousness
in the direction of unselshness, objectivity and realism is to beconnected with virtue.
(Murdoch, 2001, 84)
Kähönen 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1104627
Frontiers in Psychology 02 frontiersin.org
1. Introduction
is article aims to enrich our understanding of the value changes
to which psychedelic experiences can lead. Iargue that a signicant
reason for psychedelic value changes is self-transcendence—the
reduction of egocentric ways of attributing salience and attention to
the world around us—and the downstream eects. For example, in his
autobiography, Albert Hofmann mentions meeting a
young businessman:
He thanked me for the creation of LSD, which had given his life
another direction. Hehad been 100 percent a businessman, with
a purely materialistic world view. LSD had opened his eyes to the
spiritual aspect of life. Now hepossessed a sense for art, literature,
and philosophy and was deeply concerned with religious and
metaphysical questions. (Hofmann, 1980, 93)
is provides prima facie evidence that psychedelic experiences
sometimes radically change ones values. Not all value changes are
radical: more commonly reported are moderate changes in various
valuations and attitudes, or the ability to better (re)connect with
pre-existing values (see Tables 1, 2).
No research has explicitly attempted to theoretically integrate and
explain the value changes to which psychedelics can lead. To embark
toward such integration, I review in Section 2, the literature on
psychedelic value changes and argue that many such changes are
changes toward self-transcendent values and are associated with
various self-transcendent experiences (STEs).
In Section 3, I combine philosophical argumentation and
empirical evidence to develop an explanatory framework for value
changes in relation to a form of self-transcendence Icall “unselng”
(Murdoch, 1997, 369). is framework gives a plausible explanation
for why STEs might lead to self-transcendent values. My key
philosophical claim is that selood and salience attributed to self are
one central factor modulating how individuals intuit and grasp
values. e central hypothesis is that overt egocentricity can easily
bias valuations, reducing the importance of self-transcendent values.
I claim that freeing of attention and salience from egocentric
concerns enables an opportunity for perspectival and evaluative
changes—opening our attention and concern to wider contexts,
values, and frames of reference. eorists in various disciplines
converge on similar ideas, ranging from the philosophical psychology
of Iris Murdoch, through the late developmental theories of Maslow
and Kohlberg, to recent psychological work on “the quiet ego” and
“hypo-egoic phenomena” (Leary and Guadagno, 2011; Wayment and
Bauer, 2017).
In Section 4, Idiscuss psychedelic value changes in light of this
framework and link them to psychological research and theoretical
understanding of psychedelic experiences. Arguably, by reducing
egocentric evaluative biases and increasing the attribution of attention
and value outside the self, unselng psychedelic experiences can
connect and align us to the world and provide better epistemic access
to self-transcendent viewpoints and values.
In Section 5, I discuss the implication of the framework. e
proposed framework contributes to moral and epistemological
discussions of psychedelics. Positing unselng as a source of value
change gives initial moral-epistemic justication for self-transcendent
value changes (Lavazza, 2017; Langlitz et al., 2021), potentially
legitimizing psychedelics as a societally valuable source of moral
enhancement—a pharmacological means to improve humans’ moral
state (Earp etal., 2017; Earp, 2018).
An important caveat of this article is that self-transcendent value
changes occur only in a subset of psychedelic experiences, presumably
more likely in certain contexts or use patterns and conditioned by the
pivotal inuence of set and setting (i.e., personal and contextual
factors), discussed further in Sections 3.9 and 4.4. Furthermore, self-
transcendence is not the only factor contributing to psychedelic value
changes (Pace and Devenot, 2021). Charting all factors and
TABLE1 Definitions of central concepts.
Personal values (psychology) Personal values refer to internalized cognitive structures that guide priorities and choices in life (Higgins, 2015; Oyserman, 2015)
Value (philosophy) In philosophy, values are used to denote not only personal values, but also goods associated with various states of aairs, objects
and contexts (i.e., beauty is a good associated with art, and justice as a good of the society). Philosophy is concerned with
normative, epistemic and metaethical question concerning value, i.e., whether objects or state of aairs really are valuable, how this
can beknown and what values ontologically are (Tappolet and Rossi, 2015)
Salience Salience refers to the importance (oen automatically or subconsciously) attributed to various objects and aspects of experience,
which makes certain objects or features stand out and beselected for attention (cf. Archer, 2022a,b)
Unselng Iris Murdoch coined concept ‘unselng’ to refer to processes and experiences where salience attributed to self is reduced, and
attention opens to the world and others (Murdoch, 2001)
Self-transcendence e term ‘self-transcendence’ is used to refer both experiences and developmental processes of moving beyond ones immediate
self-boundaries and egocentric perspective, as well as developmental stages, motivation, personality traits, worldview and value
orientations which emerges as a result of this process (Garcia-Romeu, 2010, Kitson, 2020)
Self-transcendent experiences Self-transcendent experiences (STEs) refer to experiences where salience attributed to self is reduced and felt connection to the
world and others is enhanced (Yaden etal., 2017). Self-transcendent experiences encompass experiences ranging from states of ow,
to peak-experiences, awe and mystical experiences
Self-transcendent values In Schwartz etal. (2012) value theory, self-transcendent values are a class of culturally universal values, in orthogonal relation to
self-enhancement values. ey consist of the subcategories of benevolence (valuations concerning strivings toward benet of
members of ones ingroup) and universalism (strivings to benet humanity, nature and other sentient beings in general).
Egocentricity (evaluative) e degree to which salience and value are attributed to self, and the self is selected as the prominent context of evaluation, in
contrast with other possible objects or evaluative contexts.
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Frontiers in Psychology 03 frontiersin.org
TABLE2 Review of recent studies of values changes related to psychedelic use.
Value change Is the change
toward self-
transcendent
values?
Is the change
conceptually
associated
with
unselfing?
Studies Type of study Do authors link the
changes to self-
transcendent
experiences?
How sustained changes
were (i.e., when were
last measurements
conducted)?
Increased nature
relatedness and/or
increased appreciation
of nature
Ye s Ye s Studerus etal.
(2011)
Analysis of pooled
data from eight
double-blind studies
in healthy volunteers
N/A N/A
Lyons and
Carhart-Harris
(2018)
Experimental study In discussion connectedness is
suggested as a possible mediating
factor
Nature relatedness remained
signicantly increased 12 months
post-dosing
Kettner etal.
(2019)
Prospective online
survey
Changes were mediated by awe and
ego-dissolutions
Nature relatedness was signicantly
increased 2 years aer psychedelic
experience
Nour etal. (2017) Survey Ego-dissolutions mediated observed
changes
N/A. Survey explored lifetime
psychedelic use
Forstmann and
Sagioglou (2017)
Survey Participants self-identication with
nature predicted observed
correlations, and authors suggest
mediating eect of STEs
N/A. Survey explored lifetime
psychedelic use
Increased pro-
environmental
behavior
Ye s Ye s Forstmann and
Sagioglou (2017)
Survey Participants self-identication with
nature predicted observed
correlations, and authors suggest
mediating eect of STEs
N/A. Survey explored lifetime
psychedelic use
Increased aesthetic
appreciation of art and
music
N/A (does not map
to Schwartz theory)
Ye s Studerus etal.
(2011)
Analysis of pooled
data from eight
double-blind studies
in healthy volunteers
N/A N/A
Noorani etal.
(2018)
Qualitative,
interviews of therapy
patients
Phenomenological reports suggest
inuence of STEs such as experiences
of awe and interconnectedness
Interviews conducted 30 months aer
psychedelic experiences
Masters and
Houston (1966)
Qualitative, informal
interviews and
observational data
from therapeutic
practice
Phenomenological reports suggest
inuence of STEs
N/A
Shanon (2002) Qualitative,
interviews of
ayahuasca users and
observational data
Phenomenological reports suggest
inuence of STEs
N/A
Increased altruism,
prosocial behavior
and/or concern for
others
Ye s Ye s Griths etal.
(2006)
Experimental study Changes were mediated by mystical-
type experiences
Changes were sustained 2 months
aer the experience
Griths etal.
(2008)
Experimental study Changes were mediated by mystical-
type experiences
Changes were sustained 14 months
aer the experience
Griths etal.
(2011)
Experimental study Changes were mediated by mystical-
type experiences
Changes were sustained 14 months
aer the experience
Griths etal.
(2018)
Experimental study Changes were mediated by mystical-
type experiences
Changes were sustained 6 months
aer the experience
Noorani etal.
(2018)
Qualitative,
interviews of therapy
patients
Phenomenological reports suggest
inuence of STEs such as experiences
of awe and interconnectedness
Interviews conducted 30 months aer
psychedelic experiences
Schmid and
Liechti (2018)
Experimental study Changes were correlated with
mystical-type experiences
Altruistic/positive social eects and
positive behavioral changes were
signicantly increased 12 months
aer the experience
(Continued)
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Frontiers in Psychology 04 frontiersin.org
mechanisms causing and modulating these changes, as well as the
various types of value changes and their relation to self-transcendence,
is an important future task. It should also benoted that this article uses
mechanism” in the general sense of “a natural or established process
by which something takes place or is brought about” (Oxford English
Dictionary), rather than as a strictly biological or neural concept (cf.
van Elk and Yaden, 2022).
2. Review of psychedelic value
changes and self-transcendent values
e concept of self-transcendent values is from Schwartz etal.s
(2012) value theory,
1
which classies certain culturally universal
values as self-transcendent. In this article, Iloosely follow this usage,
although self-transcendent values could bemore broadly dened as
personal values oriented beyond individual’s gains and losses,
implying an attribution of value outside the self for non-egocentric
1 Schwartz et al.’s (2012) value theory is an empirically based theory of
culturally universal values. According to its various formulations, culturally
universal values are grouped into either 10 or 19 core values forming a
circumplex structure, where values are in orthogonal relation or inversely
correlated to each other (i.e., scoring high on “A” values implies scoring low
on “B” values). Self-transcendent and self-enhancement values are orthogonal
categories in Schwartz’s theory.
reasons. is broader denition of self-transcendent values includes
the valuations associated with esthetics and spirituality.
As detailed in Table2, recent empirical literature links psychedelics
to long-term increases in:
(a) Appreciation of nature (Studerus et al., 2011), non-human
animals (Pöllänen etal., 2022), nature relatedness (Nour etal.,
2017; Lyons and Carhart-Harris, 2018; Kettner etal., 2019), and
pro-environmental behavior (Forstmann and Sagioglou, 2017);
(b) Esthetic appreciation (Studerus et al., 2011; Noorani
etal., 2018);
(c) Altruism and prosociality (Griths etal., 2006, 2008, 2018;
Schmid and Liechti, 2018);
(d) Appreciation of spirituality (Griths etal., 2018);
(e) Reduced valuation of nancial success (Lerner and
Lyvers, 2006);
(f) More liberal and less authoritarian political views (Nour etal.,
2017; Lyons and Carhart-Harris, 2018).
e link between self-transcendent values and psychedelics has
not been proposed in the research literature, although it is suggested
in Pecks (2020) recent popular article.
2
Overall, the above body of
research supports the claim that psychedelic experiences can change
values, valuations, and life priorities toward self-transcendent values:
2 https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/oureconomy/psychedelics-systems-
change-could-drugs-help-us-save-planet/ (Accessed 16.3.2023).
TABLE2 (Continued)
Value change Is the change
toward self-
transcendent
values?
Is the change
conceptually
associated
with
unselfing?
Studies Type of study Do authors link the
changes to self-
transcendent
experiences?
How sustained changes
were (i.e., when were
last measurements
conducted)?
Increased appreciation
of spirituality
N/A (does not map
to Schwartz theory)
Ye s Lerner and Lyvers
(2006)
Survey N/A N/A. Survey explored lifetime
psychedelic use
Griths etal.
(2018)
Experimental study Changes were mediated by mystical-
type experiences
Changes were sustained 6 months
aer the experience
Reduced valuation of
nancial success
Yes (by reducing
self-enhancement
value)
Ye s Lerner and Lyvers
(2006)
Survey N/A N/A. Survey explored lifetime
psychedelic use
More liberal and less
authoritarian political
views
No No Nour etal. (2017) Survey Ego-dissolutions mediated observed
changes
N/A. Survey explored lifetime
psychedelic use
Less authoritarian
political views
No No Lyons and
Carhart-Harris
(2018)
Experimental study In discussion connectedness is
suggested as possible mediating factor
Authoritarianism remained decreased
at trend level 12 month post-dosing
Reconnection to
values
In some cases In some cases Belser etal. (2017) Qualitative,
interviews of therapy
patients
Phenomenological reports suggest
inuence of STEs
N/A
Decreased specisism
and increased animal
solidarity
Ye s Ye s Pöllänen etal.
(2022)
Survey Ego-dissolutions were associated with
decreased specisism, increased animal
solidarity and increased desire to help
animals
N/A. Survey explored lifetime
psychedelic use
e table above reviews recent studies of value changes related to psychedelic use the author has been able to nd (note that the same study can be listed in multiple categories). e table maps
whether the value changes reported in the studies are changes toward (a) self-transcendent values (according to
Schwartz et al., 2012
, classication) and (b) conceptually associated with
unselng (dened as reduced salience attributed to self and increased attention and concern to the world and others). e table above also documents (1) the type of the studies, (2) whether
STEs correlated with or mediated the value changes or if they were discussed by authors as potential causes, and (3) information regarding how sustained changes were.
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Frontiers in Psychology 05 frontiersin.org
all of these studies except those concerning political orientation
evidence change toward self-transcendent values.
Notably, these psychedelic changes of values oen occur via the
mediation of STEs. e connection between a particular value change and
STEs (such as ego-dissolution, awe, or mystical experiences) is noted in
many of these studies. Still, theoretical integration is lacking. To ll this
research gap, Imake the hypothesis that STEs and the long-term changes
they induce provide a more general explanation for psychedelic value
changes. Already, the same self-reducing mechanisms are considered
central to the therapeutic and existential eects of psychedelics (Letheby,
2021, 197, 202; Letheby, 2022; van Elk and Yaden, 2022). Furthermore,
there are plausible links among STEs, changes in many psychological
variables induced by psychedelics, and self-transcendent values, explored
in Section 4. e next section aims to philosophically articulate a way to
understand this connection between self-transcendence and values.
3. Self, unselfing, and value change
3.1. Values and salience
ere are various views on and approaches to values (e.g., Rokeach,
1973; Brosch and Sander, 2015; Oyserman, 2015; Hobbs, 2021). From a
psychological viewpoint, values are abstract beliefs or cognitive
structures that govern priorities and aective reactions and guide goals
and choices (Oyserman, 2015; Schwartz, 2015). Values are part of the
overall process of how a person situates and orients himself in the world,
together with higher-order aspects of cognition such as worldview
(Koltko-Rivera, 2004) and lower-level evaluations such as experiential
valence, salience, and aective processes (Archer, 2022a,b; Varela
etal., 1993).
In contrast to values, salience can bedened as what is experienced
as important in the present moment (Watzl, 2022; Whiteley, 2022;
Archer, 2022a,b). In our immediate experience, wend certain things
or properties important while ignoring others. What is salient is a
complex result of various contextual factors, unconscious processes,
and the deliberate use of attention; it also changes spontaneously and
uidly between dierent moments and framings.
ere are multiple connections between values and salience.
Attribution of value occurs to a large extent as non-inferential and
automatic attribution of salience guiding action and perception. Also,
what is salient at any given moment modulates which values are activated.
Conversely, our abstract values modulate how weattribute salience and
attention. For example, Archer (2022a,b) argues that salience should
beconceived in a complex dynamic relation to our evaluative worldview—
various abstract “standing judgments” and values that aect salience
through their context-dependent application and realization in
particular situations.
3.2. The evaluative self
e notion of “self” is notoriously complex to dene, causing
much conceptual and theoretical confusion (Leary and Tangney,
2012). Here, Ifocus on an ordinary, basic sense of self: identication
with and/or sense of ownership of a body and personhood, leading to
perceiving oneself as a distinct and enduring entity separate from
other entities in the world (Albahari, 2006).
A crucial evaluative function the self enables is the ltering of
sensory data according to its importance. e machinery of
selood in many ways constricts and dictates what is tagged as
salient and worthy of attention (Letheby and Gerrans, 2017, 4).
Cognitively and neurally, self-relevance inuences many disparate
processes: wepay more attention to stimuli that are self-related
(Millière, 2017, 10–13; Sui and Humphreys, 2015). e world is a
complex, chaotic place, and humans must narrow their perception
to patterns relevant to survival. Constructing a self, or selng, is
intimately related to these utilitarian, evolutionary pressures to seek
and avoid various things in the world (Huxley, 1954; Letheby and
Gerrans, 2017).
I use egocentric salience to describe salience ltered through
egocentric evaluative biases, resulting from identication and
investment in personal self and its goals (Albahari, 2006, 60). is
whole machinery of selood and associated egocentric salience
creates an egocentric frame of reference into our experience, guiding
the direction of attention and what features are considered salient
(Letheby and Gerrans, 2017, 4).
Egocentric salience is related to both narrative and embodied
aspects of self, and functions as a bridge between these aspects of
selood (Letheby and Gerrans, 2017, 3; Millière et al., 2018).
Narrative self adds whole layers of identity on top of the embodied
self, aording the ability via thought and imagination to x
attention to past or future events relevant to the self and
symbolically extend self (for example, by identifying with ones
possessions and opinions).
Noting the possibility to conate various meanings of egocentric
used in the literature, Irefer here exclusively to attributions of salience.
3
Similarly, egocentricity and egocentric salience in the present context
should not be conated with egoism: egocentric salience does not
imply that one is egoistic in morally problematic ways. Ireserve the
term egoistic for extreme, morally problematic forms of egocentricity
such as narcissism and the inability to care for others, assuming that
most of our everyday experiences are egocentric to a morally acceptable
degree. Another potential confusion is that, in some sense, all personal
goals are egocentric as they are tied to self: for example, Wiese (2019)
explores the idea that selood is constructed through the integration
of salience attributed to various goals. Ego-structures can, adaptively
and functionally, assimilate and serve self-transcendent goals and
values—ego optimally facilitates our connection to the world. Imostly
use egocentric in a narrower sense: denoting concerns serving and
related to oneself, associated with mundane concerns with oneself, and
the self-enhancement values (Schwartz, 2012).
3 Egocentricity and selflessness can have various connotations (Millière, 2020).
Egocentricity is often contrasted with the capacity for taking on others’
perspectives (e.g., Bukowski etal., 2022). The egocentric attributions of salience
do not concern solely the capacity for perspective-taking. A person with high
perspective-taking ability might still be egocentric, for example, when
narcissistically taking another’s perspective to manipulate them. Sometimes
egocentricity is used to describe certain perceptual modes, as distinction
between egocentric versus allocentric modes of visual perception (Fiehler
etal., 2014; Letheby and Gerrans, 2017, footnote 3). This phenomenon is related
to salience attribution in perceptual processes. However, I use a broader
meaning of egocentricity.
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3.3. Overt egocentricity as a falsifying veil
e capacity for egocentric attribution of salience is hugely
adaptive—egocentric pursuits are a necessary part of human life. Still,
for both existential and moral reasons, the degree of egocentricity
matters. Humans are prone to situations where the salience attributed
to self grows disproportionately strong, occluding wider concerns and
values from our perspective. e philosopher Iris Murdoch beautifully
thematizes how egocentric tendencies can limit our perspective:
By opening our eyes wedo not necessarily see what confronts us.
Weare anxiety-ridden animals. Our minds are continually active,
fabricating an anxious, usually self-preoccupied, oen falsifying
veil which partially conceals our world. (Murdoch, 2001, 84)
I interpret that this “falsifying veil” denotes a cognition in which
excessive value and focus are placed on egocentric ways of perceiving.
Instead of enabling our connection to the world, the self sometimes
works like an over-active lter, blocking from our vision everything
other than egocentric pursuits. Murdoch referred to strongly
egocentric forms of cognition as “fantasy,” entailing “the proliferation
of blinding self-centered aims and images” that reduce everything to
the false unity of self (Murdoch, 1997, 354). Murdoch regarded this
tendency to value only things connected to our concerns and with
utility for the self as a central obstacle to directing our attention and
imagination to the world (Denham, 2001, 624). In this sense, Murdoch
claimed that the self is a place of illusion (2001, 93), entailing a
possibility of a vicious self-reinforcing feedback loop between
egocentric salience and sense of reied selood.
Murdoch is not alone in contending that egocentric motivations
are oen so strong as to limit our interests, scope of caring, and
motivations for non-egocentric pursuits (Murdoch, 2001, 99). For
example, Maslow (1971, 249–255), Fromm (1976), Schopenhauer
(1818; see Denham, 2001, 623–624), and Buddhist traditions
(Albahari, 2006, 24–27, 164; Burbea, 2014) all recognize this link
between overt egocentricity and certain existentially and morally
limiting modes of orienting, acting, and being in the world.
ere are many common situations in which overt egocentricity
occurs. States of suering and stress tend to make people egocentric,
while overt egocentricity can itself cause suering, creating a feedback
loop reinforcing disconnection to non-egocentric values (Leary and
Guadagno, 2011, 139–40; Vervaeke etal., 2017). Karen Horney (1999
[1950]) suggested that neuroses always make one egocentric. For
example, extreme rumination and associated inertia can make one
self-centered to a dysfunctional degree. Similarly, addictive desires
might divert extensive motivation away from other aims of greater
importance (Vervaeke and Ferraro, 2013). Even highly functioning
individuals can be drawn into the overtly egocentric pursuit of
pleasure, fame, wealth, and power; extremely so in personality features
dubbed “the dark triad” (Furnham etal., 2011).
3.4. Unselfing
Given these relatively strong forms of egocentric tendencies, it is
easy to understand why unraveling the overt attribution of self-
saliency is benecial. Iadopt Murdochs term “unselng” to stress both
the existential and moral importance of reducing egocentric salience.
Unselng points to moments and processes where our attention opens
and webreak our psychological isolation from the world around us
(Murdoch, 1992, 17; Driver, 2020, 169–170). Considering previous
sections, we can interpret unselng as a reduction in egocentric
salience and a concomitant increase in our capacity and willingness to
become concerned with what is non-self. For example:
e most obvious thing in our surroundings which is an occasion
for ‘unselng’ is what is popularly called beauty […] Iamlooking
out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind,
oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage
done to my prestige. en suddenly Iobserve a hovering kestrel.
In a moment everything is altered. e brooding self with its hurt
vanity has disappeared. ere is nothing now but kestrel. And
when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less
important. (Murdoch, 2001, 84)
e beauty of the kestrel is a value perceived in the outside world
and occasions a shi to a less egocentric mode of attention. Unselng
can occur in various ways, encompassing appreciation of nature, art,
contemplative practices, and intellectual disciplines—basically
anything that involves non-egocentric attention to reality and
recognition of value(s) lying outside the self (Murdoch, 2001, 84–86,
90–91; Denham, 2001, 624).
For Murdoch, at the core of unselng is loving attention, a term
she borrows from Simone Weil and describes as “a just and loving gaze
directed upon an individual reality” (1997, 327). She elaborates thus:
It is in the capacity to love, that is to see, that the liberation of the
soul from fantasy consists. […] What Ihave called fantasy […] is
itself a powerful system of energy […] What counteracts the
system is attention to reality inspired by, consisting of, love.
(Murdoch, 1997, 354)
Murdoch regards loving attention (and associated non-egocentric
imagination) as a movement outward from the self, enabling progress
toward a more accurate perception of the world (Panizza, 2019, 3–4,
15; Chappell, 2018; Driver, 2020). Loving attention—especially when
combined with honest self-criticism—counteracts our egocentric
fantasies and allows for overcoming our biased perspectives and those
convincingly coherent but false pictures of the world” that weso
easily build (Murdoch, 1997, 329; see also Driver, 2020, 174–175).
For Murdoch, progress and virtue necessarily require the ability
to see through egocentric structures of valuation, as this is the only
way to truly understand what goodness is (Murdoch, 2001, 103; Mole,
2022). Loving (i.e., disinterested and non-egocentric) attention leads
to moral progress by changing our perspective, which is the root of
our reasoning and actions (Olsson, 2018, 168–169; Driver, 2020,
173–174). Only by opening our attention to the surrounding world,
can wetranscend our limited views, conceptions, and sensibilities, and
learn to appreciate and respect that which is not ourselves, for
example, by understanding an artistic work or another person more
deeply. rough self-correction and learning enabled by the use of
loving (or non-egocentric), one can rene ones evaluations and moral
concepts and conceptions, which largely dictate how one concretely
understands good and other abstract values (Murdoch, 1992, 325;
Murdoch, 1997, 307, 313, 317–323). Wright (2005) denotes this
process as “sensibility transcendence.” us, transcending the
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falsifying veil of self-absorbed fantasy is valuable for both moral and
epistemic reasons (Denham, 2001; Murdoch, 2001, 84, 93, 97;
Panizza, 2019).
3.5. Converging constructs
In psychological research, phenomena similar to unselng have been
approached through various constructs such as “hypo-egoic states” (Leary
and Guadagno, 2011), “self-transcendent experiences” (Yaden et al.,
2017), and “peak-experiences” (Maslow, 1970, 1971). All these are
umbrella concepts denoting a variety of experiences that share a common
core of (1) reduced self-awareness (or reection about oneself), (2)
reduced ego-involvement and egocentric salience, and (3) altered self-
boundaries and sense of increased connection or interconnectedness to
the world. Isuggest that the phenomena discussed under these concepts
almost always involve unselng, i.e., directing attention and evaluation
away from the self and egocentric concerns.
ese constructs converge on the idea that our states vary
according to the level of egocentricity, and that loosening egocentricity
leads to shis in our perspective on or position in relation to the
world. In these experiences, the center of evaluation called “self
dissolves to various degrees, and the way weevaluate and pay attention
alters. Becoming less entangled in and xated by our egocentric biases,
concerns, and wants, wecan see the world from a wider perspective
and our attention is more available and disinterested (Maslow, 1970,
78; Albahari, 2006, 51–74). In these kinds of states, the self might
be conceived as more interconnected and relational and bemore
permeable to the world and others (Pi etal., 2015; Hanley etal., 2017;
Yaden etal., 2017).
3.6. Unselfing and value change
I claim that these perspectival changes associated with unselng
can lead to changes in values. In general, values are perspectival.
Which of our values are “active”—i.e., guiding our behavior and goal-
framing—in any given moment is context-dependent, inuenced by
various conditions and factors (Schwartz, 2012; Schwartz etal., 2012;
Oyserman, 2015). One key factor is what appears salient in the
individuals conscious experience at any given moment. In turn, what
is salient depends largely on the given context of evaluation. For
example, an evaluation centered on ones economic prosperity will
arouse dierent values compared to one focused on the survival of
humanity. Conversely, possessing certain values tends to make certain
contexts of evaluation more salient: for instance, if Ivalue nature,
Itend to ponder economic activities and my personal choices from
the viewpoint of their impacts on nature.
In this sense, our personal values emphasize and make salient
certain contexts of evaluation and associated goods. e given
evaluative context and values one grasps can beconceived as mutually
arising aspects of the same evaluative activity. In this sense, values are
tendencies to evaluate from particular perspectives—seeing certain
evaluative contexts as salient enough to trump consideration of
other contexts.
I propose that attributions of egocentric salience foreground the
self as an evaluative context. When egocentric concerns are
suciently salient, the associated egocentric framings and attributions
of salience lter which values or goods are intuited or grasped,
nudging evaluation toward self-enhancement. e salience biases
created by egocentric fantasies and goals thus instigate a structure of
values that easily disconnects us from non-egocentric values. is line
of thinking is also supported by and could beused to explain a central
tenet of Schwartz et al.s (2012) theory: the orthogonal relation
between self-transcendent and self-enhancement values. Specically,
egocentric biases are either on or o, modulating whether our values
center around the self or self-transcendent evaluative contexts.
I hypothesize that reducing egocentric salience and attention can
lead to both momentary shis and long-term changes in personal
values by allowing a transition to a wider perspective, opening a
person to values (or goods) beyond egocentric goals and
considerations. Unselng can be pictured as a continuum of
progressively less egocentric ways of framing the relation between
ourselves and our environment. Deconstruction of egocentric
attributions of salience and attention allows contextualizing of the self
to wider frames of reference and associated expansion in evaluative
perspective and values. ese perspectival changes are reected in
various modalities such as the cognitive processes of thinking and
imagination, in our perceptual or experiential salience, and in
our behavior.
I argue that this perspectival widening through unselng drives a
shi toward relatively more intrinsic and self-transcendent modes of
attributing value, thus helping one to grasp non-egocentric values.
Unselng can allow for value-instigating experiences and perspectives,
or activate existing self-transcendent values. Consequently,
experiential salience might become more tuned with the values
connected to goods of wider spatial, temporal, or social contexts,
thereby expanding our scope of care and concern.
Perspective can open to the immediate present-moment context
surrounding us and to its non-instrumental value(s). When one is
more present, the narrative structures of selood required for
instrumental goals operate less strongly. When less entangled in our
plans and past and future, and less anxious about our gains and losses,
wecan more readily perceive the intrinsic value of particulars, such as
the value of objects of nature and art. Unselng might thus lead to
non-egocentric respect for the particular” (Nagel, 1986, 222–223).
Furthermore, perspective can open to allocentric contexts—
interpersonal and relational contexts spanning from consideration of
loved ones and an ingroup to universal concern for other persons and
humankind. Benevolence values in Schwartz et al.s (2012)
classication and prosocial values, in general, are associated with the
recognition of these contexts as salient.
Finally, perspective can open to vast contexts setting the self as
part of still wider frames of reference, such as nature or the cosmos at
large. ese could be termed cosmocentric contexts (cf. Maslow,
1970, 96). e idea that universal values are maximally accessible from
a minimally egocentric perspective is already found in philosophy of
Platos (2008). Murdoch (2001, 101–103)—who was heavily inuenced
by Plato—claimed that goodness is connected with an attempt to see
the unself, i.e., the movement toward a non-egocentric perspective.
She elaborated thus:
Goodness is connected with the acceptance of real death and real
chance and real transience and only against the background of
this acceptance, which is psychologically so dicult, can
weunderstand the full extent of what virtue is like. e acceptance
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of death is an acceptance of our own nothingness which is an
automatic spur to our concern with what is not ourselves.
(Murdoch, 2001, 103)
Seeing clearly the vastness of the world and the ephemerality of
our self very understandably alters valuations. e same thrust to
acknowledge our mortality, see through our self-centered perspective,
and marshal a shi in values and ways of living has arguably long
motivated religious and spiritual traditions (Hadot, 1995, 2004; Leary
and Guadagno, 2011, 143; Albahari, 2014; Pelser and Roberts, 2015;
ompson, 2020).
In Murdochs thinking, unselng is associated with the capacity to
put things in the right perspective by recognizing various values in the
world (Driver, 2020, 171). In this line of thinking, self-transcendence
and unselng could be understood as processes of honing our
conceptions of what should and should not matter. Opening attention
to various evaluative contexts and associated goods is a necessary
antecedent for putting things in the right perspective and rening
ones values. As Murdoch claimed, letting go of egocentrism occurs
naturally when we grasp non-egocentric values (Driver, 2020).
Unselng might thus reduce the discrepancy between what wesee as
important given our egocentric biases and what is more important in
a wider context, and enable one to form more encompassing values
than self-enhancement values.
3.7. Support for the framework
Both empirical research and theoretical models support the
notions that (1) there are substantial long-term and trait dierences
in egocentricity, (2) self-transcendent developmental stages are
associated with self-transcendent values, and (3) momentary
experiences of reduced egocentricity can contribute to self-
transcendent values.
3.7.1. Trait dierences in egocentricity
Various psychological constructs describe trait-level dierences
in egocentricity. Wayment and Bauer (2017) use “quiet ego
(contrasted with “noisy ego”) to describe traits associated with
compassionate self-identity and the ability to transcend egoistic
concerns and adaptively balance the needs of others and self.
Dambrun and Ricard (2011) draw a similar trait-level distinction
between selessness and self-centeredness. Maslow (1971, 241–255)
associates self-transcendence with non-egocentric “being-cognition
and its corollary “being-motivation,” and contrasted these with
deciency-cognition” and “deciency-motivation,” involving
orienting oneself to the world through unfullled egocentric needs.
Fromm (1976) contrasts two fundamental evaluative orientations or
existential modes: the non-egocentric “being mode” and the
egocentric, goal-oriented, and alienated “having mode.
Many theories converge on the notion that expanding ones
perspective to universal concerns is essential for achieving mature
development of human cognition and morals (Loevinger and Blasi,
1976; Kegan, 1982; Gibbs, 2003), or explicitly link self-transcendence
to these higher developmental stages (Maslow, 1971; Kohlberg and
Ryncarz, 1990; Levenson etal., 2001). Similarly, the expansion of self–
other boundaries is theoretically central to many notions of
developmental self-transcendence (St. Arnaud, 2019). Researchers
have linked wisdom with the ability to transcend ones narrow
perspectives and self-interests and with the development of a
non-egocentric perspective on life (Le and Levenson, 2005; Ardelt,
2008; Vervaeke and Ferraro, 2013; Aldwin etal., 2019).
3.7.2. Trait or developmental self-transcendence
and self-transcendent values
Multiple authors explicitly connect trait dierences in
egocentricity to self-transcendent values. Wayment and Bauer (2017,
83) identied strong empirical correlations between quiet ego and (a)
prosocial concerns, (b) compassionate goals, and (c) self-transcendent
values of Schwartz’s classication. Researchers have also developed
measurements for Fromms existential modes and observed a
conceptual similarity between these and the value orientations of
Schwartzs value theory (Cohen etal., 2005).
Furthermore, there are theoretical frameworks linking
developmental self-transcendence to both STEs and value change.
Maslow suggested that peak-experiences can lead to temporary states
of “being-cognition,” in which the world is perceived through a set of
values and qualities hecalled “being-values” or “intrinsic values of
Being” (B-values), such as the Platonic triad of goodness, beauty, and
truth (Maslow, 1970, 64–65, 96; Maslow, 1971, 186, 286–328). For
Maslow, B-values were biologically rooted, transculturally shared, and
cosmocentric”—not based on social or egoic concerns. A shi in
perception to these B-values forms another kind of gestalt to organize
the perceived world, “a change in attitude, valuing reality in a dierent
way, seeing things from a new perspective, from a dierent centering
point” (Maslow, 1970, 78). B-values describe reality and imply a
normative aspect, giving direction on what should bepursued; their
introjection into ones value structure results in non-egocentric
metamotivation” (Maslow, 1971, 286–328).
Similarly, in later formulations of moral development theory,
Kohlberg and Ryncarz (1990) speculated about a (metaphorical) seventh
cosmic” stage of moral development, beyond the sixth stage of
universalizable ethical thinking (Gibbs, 2003, 70–72). ey saw that the
existential crisis from confronting the “nitude of our individual self
could cause a gestalt shi in self-understanding, leading one to identify
“with the cosmic or innite perspective and value life from its standpoint
(Kohlberg and Ryncarz, 1990, 192–196). Kohlberg and Ryncarz (1990,
200–201) speculated that this shi occurs through a radical transcendence
or decentering of the egocentric viewpoint, with signicant normative
implications such as nding harmony with and love of the cosmic order,
and understanding that power and pleasure are not intrinsic ends of
human life (Gibbs, 2003, 70–72). Converging with Maslow, Kohlberg, and
Ryncarz (1990, 192, 206) saw that mystical experiences or “experience of
nonegoistic or nondual variety” might berequired for this kind of gestalt
shi in moral understanding and valuations.
3.7.3. Self-transcendent experiences and
self-transcendent values
Evidence from non-psychedelic research supports the association
of STEs with self-transcendent values. Awe has been observed to cause
increases in prosocial behavior and generosity (Pi etal., 2015). Near-
death experiences, which oen involve ego-dissolution, have been
observed to result in less materialistic values and increased connection
to nature (Greyson, 1983; Gandy, 2017; Barberia et al, 2018; Martial
et al., 2021; Sweeney et al., 2022). Nature immersion has been
observed to lead to not only pro-environmental behavior but also
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generosity, prosocial values, and more intrinsic values in general
(Weinstein etal., 2009; Zhang etal., 2014; Lumber etal., 2017; Kettner
et al., 2019). Isham et al. (2022) argue that STEs can promote
ecological wellbeing, a notion intrinsically associated with considering
non-egocentric matters such as other beings and nature, and review
evidence for STEs possessing a general tendency to enhance
pro-environmental and self-transcendent values.
3.8. Normative issues
e argument above might evoke normative questions on what
degree of egocentricity an individual should have. According to this
argument, value changes associated with unselng are normatively
desirable: personal values should beinformed by evaluative contexts
surpassing the good of the individual ego. Various thinkers and
traditions converge on the view that developing a wider or more
encompassing perspective beyond narrow self-interest and aligning
and connecting with goods beyond the self is both a moral
requirement and integral to human development (Maslow, 1970, 1971;
Nagel, 1986; Kohlberg and Ryncarz, 1990; Murdoch, 2001). If
weadmit that genuine improvement in ones evaluations results from
self-transcendence, self-transcendence has to benormatively desirable.
Admittedly, the question of how much self-transcendence is required
for human ourishing or morality is complex. e exact standards for the
normatively required level of egocentricity depend on many substantial
value-and worldview-laden questions such as metaethical stances, which
cannot befully explored in this article.
4
I certainly do not argue that
weshould always be in states of utter self-transcendence—egocentric
values have a place in human life. Too much self-transcendence or
exclusive “view from nowhere” might even bemorally problematic as it
completely abstracts away particular subjective viewpoints and concerns
(Nagel, 1986). Relatively uncontroversially, Iadvocate unselng to the
extent required for balancing our egocentric interests with consideration
of wider goods: this is normatively desirable and helps to rene ones values
and conceptions of the good (Murdoch, 1992, 325; Murdoch, 1997, 307,
313, 317–323; Wright 2005; cf. Leary and Guadagno, 2011, 143–144).
3.9. Contextual factors and issues of
long-term changes
e framework presented above supports the notion that unselng
can plausibly change individuals’ values. Since the pioneering work of
William James, the occurrence of rapid and sustained change in ones
outlook, worldview, beliefs, and values from momentary experiences
is well attested and discussed under various terms such as “quantum
change” and “pivotal mental experiences” (Miller and C’de Baca, 2001;
4 Value realism is one possible metaethical stance to ground this article’s
arguments. Values as human universals (i.e., existing not in the fabric of cosmos
but in our shared make-up) and cultural relativism are also congruent
metaethical positions. However, nihilism, subjectivism, error-theory, and similar
stances that deflate or deny the existence of objective or intersubjective values
are probably not coherent with present framework (Kähönen, 2020, 72–76,
96–106).
Koltko-Rivera, 2004; James, 2008; Brouwer and Carhart-Harris, 2021;
Timmermann etal., 2021; Yaden and Newberg, 2022).
Notably, STEs do not always lead to value changes. ere are three
stages in the process of value change that Ihave described above: (1)
reduction of egocentricity; (2) tuning into non-egocentric goods and
contexts of evaluation, and (3) long-term changes as these perceived
goods are introjected into ones motivational structure. It is likely that
each of these steps creates a window of opportunity for the next one
to take place, but does not necessarily lead to the next stage.
ere are currently many unresolved questions concerning how
and when momentary experiences lead to long-lasting changes, and
which overall conditions and determinants are required. Multiple
factors possibly aect the translation of STEs into self-transcendent
values. Examples include:
(1) Psychological conditions and actions of the individual, such as
intention and desire for self-transcendence, a sucient
developmental stage, personality factors, and eorts to prepare,
integrate, and reect on experiences (St. Arnaud and
Sharpe, 2022);
(2) Prior predisposing values and worldview, enabling one to see
self-transcendence and self-transcendent values as meaningful
goals or aspirations, thus fostering the ability to interpret
experiences in ways that support value change (Koltko-Rivera,
2004, 17; St. Arnaud, 2019);
(3) Availability of viable cultural frameworks for interpreting these
experiences (cf. Koltko-Rivera, 2004, 14). Value transmission is
heavily inuenced by culture (Boer and Boehnke, 2015), and
the eects of singular experiences cannot bedisentangled from
the wider cultural matrix of values in which the individual is
embedded. How experiences and their implications are
interpreted depends on a persons cultural surroundings and
worldview, particularly because experiences are plausibly
aected or even constructed in interaction with the cultural
context and meaning-making systems (Katz, 1978; Hartogsohn,
2020; Dupuis, 2021; Dupuis and Veissiere, 2022);
(4) Engagement in practices and social contexts that support long-
term cultivation of self-transcendent values aer singular
pivotal experiences. Historically, STEs have oen been
embedded in wider cultural traditions providing a matrix of
supporting social conditions and an ecology of practices to
facilitate change (Hadot, 1995; Hunt, 2013; Yaden etal., 2020).
In summary, deconstruction of evaluative machinery around the
self, or even temporary tuning into wider evaluative contexts might
not always be enough for sustained change in values. As many
developmental theories recognize, value formation is a complex
process. A full theoretical account of value change through STEs
should consider relevant contextual factors such as the individual’s
developmental stage, the role of cultural context, and engagement in
the long-term cultivation of self-transcendence.
4. Psychedelic unselfing and change
of values
Letheby (2017, 2021, 196–204) claims that psychedelics’ ability to
induce unselng is core to psychedelic therapy and spirituality.
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Unselng for Letheby denotes the deconstruction of the self-model
(constructed sense of self) and the consequent liberation of attention
from its constraints—breaking down the narrow walls of ego. As
Letheby (2021, 220) explains:
When phenomenal reality is ltered and structured less strongly
through the goals and preferences of a reied, essentialised self,
wecan experience wonder, awe, broader perspectives, and feelings
of profound kinship with the entirety of manifest existence.
Similarly, Isuggest that psychedelics’ ability to transform values
and sensibilities is closely tied to reducing egocentricity and
occasioning self-transcendent perspectives. I propose that by
deconstructing egocentric salience psychedelic experiences can open
our attention to the world and widen our evaluative context to
encompass the immediate environment, the whole context of our
personal life, our ingroup, and even broader social, ecological, and
cosmological contexts (cf. Whiteld, 2021). By tuning into these
non-egocentric contexts and evaluative modes, one gains better
epistemic access to various self-transcendent values, which sometimes
leave lasting imprints on personal values.
Next, I chart the changes toward self-transcendent values
associated with psychedelic experiences, using categories from
Schwartz et al.s (2012, 669) value theory, supplemented by
reconnection to values, esthetic and spiritual values, and then explore
related theoretical issues.
4.1. Self-transcendent psychedelic value
changes
4.1.1. Reconnection to values
In Belser etal.s (2017) study, all 13 cancer patients who suered
from anxiety described “revised life priorities” as a major eect of
psilocybin therapy:
ese participants came to “remember” during their psilocybin
session what to them was most important about life. […] “We
forget whats really important; weget carried away with work and
making our money and paying our bills, and this is just not what
life is about.” Participants were compelled to reorient their lives
aerward in a way that continued to connect them to a similar
place. (p.374, emphasis added)
ese participants described shis in their life priorities away
from instrumental pursuits toward more fundamental objects of
valuation, similar to the observation of reduced valuation of
economic success by Lerner and Lyvers (2006). Swi etal. (2017, 24)
observe that these same participants were pulled away from habitual
patterns and overwhelm caused by cancer and “given an expanded
perspective on what was felt to bemost important and meaningful
in life, which endured beyond the session,” allowing patients to
reconnect to life, their authentic selves, and the wider world beyond
their sickness. As argued in Section 3.3, suering tends to narrow
the evaluative perspective—a sense of disconnection is associated
with mental health issues (Carhart-Harris et al., 2018a)—but
psychedelic experiences can reverse this trend, as illustrated by the
case of a terminal cancer patient:
It was less about my illness. Iwas able to put it into perspective.
[…] Not to see oneself with ones sickness as center. ere are
more important things in life. […] e evolution of human kind
for example. […] Your Inner Ego gets diminished, Ibelieve, and
youare looking at the whole. (Gasser etal., 2015, 62)
ese changes might plausibly beexplained by a widening of the
evaluative context to the full context of ones life and beyond as a result
of reduced egocentric salience. As egocentric pursuits and worries
likely become relatively less important, there is space for attunement
with pre-existing core values from which one was disconnected—
which oen are self-transcendent values.
4.1.2. Esthetic values
Beauty is perhaps the most commonly grasped intrinsic value in
psychedelic experiences. Examples abound of profound esthetic
psychedelic experiences (Huxley, 1954, 4–6; Masters and Houston, 1966,
156–165; Shanon, 2002, 176). Such experiences sometimes lead to a
sustained appreciation for art and the beauty of nature (Vaughan, 1983;
Shanon, 2002, 176; Studerus etal., 2011; Noorani etal., 2018). Exploring
the phenomenology of ayahuasca experiences, Shanon (2002, 176)
claims that these experiences heighten the esthetic perception to the
extent that “the ayahuasca experience is cardinally aesthetic.” is ts
with the above framework, as unselng frees up attention and salience,
allowing deeper attunement to the present sensory environment.
4.1.3. Benevolence values
Psychedelic unselng can foster allocentric perspectival widening,
opening our concern and care to interpersonal relations and social
contexts in which weare embedded and leading to a better grasp of
relational values and the intrinsic value of other persons. Experiences of
relational embeddedness, social connectedness, identity fusion, and other
relational processes are common in psychedelic experiences (Belser etal.,
2017; Kettner etal., 2021; Newson etal., 2021; Roseman etal., 2021; Weiss
etal., 2021). Moreover, experimental studies have observed increased
prosociality and altruism (Griths etal., 2008, 2011, 2018; Noorani etal.,
2018; Schmid and Liechti, 2018). ese prosocial changes are likely
associated with feelings of empathy and sentiments of love and
compassion, all common self-transcendent emotions in psychedelic
experiences (Shanon, 2002, 157, 164, 339; Pokorny etal., 2017; Watts etal.,
2017, 535; Blatchford etal., 2020; Mulukom etal., 2020; Letheby, 2021,
202). ese changes t the category of “benevolence” in Schwartzs self-
transcendent values, dened as devotion to ingroup members’ welfare
(although many of these changes overlap with more universal concerns).
4.1.4. Nature values
Psychedelic experiences can foster nature relatedness, appreciation
of nature and non-human animals, and environment-friendly values
(Studerus etal., 2011; Forstmann and Sagioglou, 2017; Nour etal.,
2017; Watts et al., 2017; Kettner et al., 2019; Gandy et al., 2020;
Pöllänen et al., 2022). ese changes t Schwartz et al. (2012)
universalism–nature” value category, dened as the preservation of
the natural environment.
4.1.5. Universal concern
Schwartz et al. (2012) value category “universalism–concern”—
encompassing commitment to equality, justice, and protection for all
people—is probably enhanced by the increased prosocial attitudes
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explored above. Moreover, psychedelic experiences oen involve
reection on and imagination about moral and ethical issues and values.
Watts et al. (2017, 534–535) report cases of moral deliberation in
psilocybin experiences: one-third of 12 participants had insights into the
ongoing refugee crisis, and some pondered climate change, and reported
becoming concerned about global issues aerward. ese processes of
ethical reection and imagination suggest reduced egocentric biases and
a shi to more self-transcendent evaluative modes. As epitomized by one
patient, “I got a wider perspective […] It helped me appreciate that the
world is a big place, that theres a lot more going on than just the minor
things […] in my head” (Watts etal., 2017, 534). Masters and Houston
(1966, 255) cite an early study in which one-third of the 194 participants
reported increased interest in ethics 10 months aer an LSD session.
Shanon (2002) observes that ayahuasca intoxication tends to aect values
and is oen experienced as a lesson in morals:
Reection about certain values and a sense of commitment
towards them seems to beespecially salient. ose reported by
many individuals include personal responsibility, justice, and love.
Also common is the appreciation of the signicance of faith and
hope, patience, and humility. Common is the appreciation that
values—in particular, love and justice—are not conned to the
province of human life but they also apply to existence at large and
to the forces or beings that govern the universe. (p.174)
Similarly, morally relevant themes can feature in psychedelic
visions (Shanon, 2002, 173–175).
4.1.6. Humility
In Schwartz etal. (2012), humility is a universal self-transcendent
value related to recognizing ones insignicance in the larger scheme
of things. Notably, quiet ego and hypo-egoism are associated with the
character trait of humility and putting the self in perspective (Leary
and Guadagno, 2011; Wayment and Bauer, 2017), and Murdoch
(1997, 99, 104) used humility as a prime example of non-egocentric
virtue. Humility as both value and trait is integrally connected with
reduced egocentricity and widened perspectives.
Shanon explicitly mentions humility as an important lesson of
psychedelic experiences (2002, 159, 174). Many other features of
psychedelic experiences—including awe (and associated “small self ”),
acceptance, gratitude, sense of connectedness and interconnectedness,
spirituality, and relational embeddedness—are conceptually associated
with humility (Shanon, 2002, 205; Hendricks etal., 2015; Belser etal., 2017,
16–17; Watts etal., 2017; Carhart-Harris et al., 2018b; Letheby, 2021,
197–204).
4.1.7. Spirituality and sacredness
Letheby (2021, 197–204) argues that psychedelic experiences
foster spirituality by enhancing the ability to recognize ones place in
the larger scheme of things, through developing broader perspectives
and expanding attention beyond self-related concerns. Empirically,
psychedelics are associated with an increased appreciation of
spirituality (Lerner and Lyvers, 2006; Griths etal., 2018). A sense of
sacredness and encounters with the sacred are common features of
psychedelic experiences (Shanon, 2002, 156, 262; Griths etal., 2019;
James etal., 2020). Furthermore, visionary and mystical experiences
sometimes bring insights into values. ese states are associated with
noesis, a sense of gaining knowledge not mediated by reective
thought or sense perception. For example, Shanon (2002) reports an
encounter with Supreme Good and a subsequent noetic insight into
the unity of values, highly reminiscent of Platonic philosophy: “A
major impression these visions had on me is the (Platonic) conclusion
that ultimately, the ethical and the aesthetical as well as the true are
the same” (p.174). e similarity to Maslow’s B-values should also
be noted. Mystical experiences, God encounter experiences, and
similar psychedelic states can plausibly acquaintance one with deep
intrinsic values of existence such as transcendent values postulated by
many religious traditions (Pelser and Roberts, 2015; Griths etal.,
2019), signaling a shi to self-transcendent modes of valuation.
4.2. Factors aecting values during the
psychedelic experiences
4.2.1. Self-transcendent experiences
Psychedelic experiences are a signicant source of STEs (Yaden
etal., 2017; Letheby, 2017, 2021; St. Arnaud, 2019; Isham etal., 2022).
Psychedelics oen induce various changes in the sense of self, ranging
from experiences of connection to union experienced in mystical
experiences (Millière, 2017; Millière etal., 2018; Letheby, 2021, 46–53;
Nour and Carhart-Harris, 2017). e sensed boundary between self
and the world might weaken, and one can experience empathy,
anity, blending, identication, and even unication with what is
ordinarily other (Shanon, 2002, 205; Belser etal., 2017, 16–17; Yaden
et al., 2017). Also commonly experienced are perceived
interconnectedness; an increased sense of connectedness to oneself,
nature, and the world; and states of communitas and social
connectedness (Belser etal., 2017; Watts etal., 2017; Carhart-Harris
etal., 2018a; Kettner etal., 2019; Blatchford etal., 2020; Forstmann
etal., 2020; Kettner etal., 2021). Similarly, psychedelic experiences can
bring enhanced meaningfulness of ordinarily uninteresting aspects of
the world and enhanced present-centered attention, suggesting the
release of salience from constraints of egocentricity (Huxley, 1954;
Shanon, 2002, 61; Letheby, 2017; Letheby and Gerrans, 2017;
Hartogsohn, 2018). Sense of awe, wonder, and the so-called overview
eect are commonly reported expanded perspectives in psychedelic
experiences (Shanon, 2002, 61–62; Yaden etal., 2016; Flanagan and
Graham, 2017; Letheby, 2017, 637; Hendricks, 2018, 302–307).
4.2.2. Role of STEs in value changes
Various STEs are associated with psychedelic value changes in all
but two of the studies outlined in Table2. In seven of the 15 studies,
STEs were either statistically mediated or were statistically associated
with observed changes in values. A connection is also suggested in the
phenomenological reports of four studies and the discussions of
ndings in two studies. is evidence indicates that the self-
transcendent perspectives and expanded self–other boundaries
associated with STEs are likely to mediate long-term changes in values
and life priorities. Congruently, STEs also mediate many other long-
term benets of psychedelics. In a meta-analysis of 15 therapeutic
studies, Kałużna etal. (2022) found that experiences of unity and
connectedness in psychedelic experiences strongly predicted long-
lasting therapeutic outcomes. While ego-dissolution was a weaker
predictor of therapeutic gains, many studies described it as a tool for
gaining a wider perspective, reinforcing the hypothesis that
perspectival widening results from reduced egocentric salience.
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Mystical experiences have been observed to mediate changes
toward increased prosociality and spirituality (Griths etal., 2008,
2018; Orlowski et al., 2022). Similarly, the literature suggests a
connection between ego-dissolution and change toward more
environment and animal-friendly values (Pöllänen et al., 2022).
Forstmann and Sagioglou (2017, 1) suggest that people might become
more environmentally friendly “by changing their self-construal in
terms of an incorporation of the natural world.” In the longitudinal
study aptly titled “From Egoism to Ecoism,Kettner etal. (2019) found
that ego-dissolutions mediated increases in nature-relatedness,
suggesting a causal connection. If construed and experienced as less
separate from nature, the self becomes embedded in the wider context
of the natural world, and the intrinsic value of nature might
beperceived as higher than under egocentric modes.
One prominent reason why mystical experiences and
ego-dissolution might lead to changed values is that they bring an
acute awareness of the transient nature of self, as this center of
valuation temporarily ceases to exist. In an embodied and felt way,
radical deconstruction of self might give recognition of the
nothingness of ourselves—“the existential shock that attends the
vivid apprehension of ones own mortality” (Letheby, 2021, 187; see
also Baillie, 2013, 187; Baillie, 2020). In mystical experiences and
ego-dissolution, the sense of self and boundaries between oneself
and the world can dissolve altogether, temporarily collapsing the
ordinary frames of reference for egocentric pursuits (Swanson, 2016;
Millière, 2017; James etal., 2020; Laukkonen and Slagter, 2021).
Although everyone intellectually understands their mortality and
embeddedness in a vast cosmos, psychedelic experiences can
animate these facts by presenting them in a visceral, emotionally
deep fashion (Grob, 2007, 213; Letheby, 2021, 184–191). Psychedelics
can foster facing ones mortality and radically resituating oneself as
part of a wider whole with long-lasting eects (Gandy, 2017; Malone
etal., 2018, 4; Schmid and Liechti, 2018; St. Arnaud, 2019; Sweeney
etal., 2022).
Literature on awe suggests similar although lesser gestalt shis in
our perspective on self. Awe can situate the self as part of our wider
world, causing a perspective of reduced self-importance termed “small
self ” in reaction to the vast stimuli transcending ones current frames
of reference, thus broadening our attention and perspective beyond
egocentric and instrumental concerns (Vervaeke and Ferraro, 2013;
Pi etal., 2015; Hendricks, 2018; Perlin and Li, 2020). Awe and the
related perception of “small self ” are likely to mediate many value
changes, as these experiences allow for tuning into wider contexts of
evaluation. Mulukom etal. (2020) observed that psychedelic-induced
awe and sense of connection toward nature and humanity (but not the
universe) led to increased aective empathy and reduced narcissistic
tendencies. Moreover, St. Arnaud and Sharpe (2022) found that
awe-proneness mediated positive adult development associated with
psychedelics. Signicantly, awe is also an important psychological
mediator of psychedelics’ therapeutic eects (Hendricks etal., 2015).
4.2.3. Increased motivational salience of values
As another possible mechanism of value change, psychedelic
experiences might enhance the felt importance and motivating force
(i.e., salience) of our values. rough enhanced meaning and
meaningfulness and increased suggestibility, psychointegration eects,
and visceral representation of knowledge, psychedelics can make our
abstract convictions and conceptions experientially alive (Shanon,
2002, 242–255; Carhart-Harris etal., 2015; Hartogsohn, 2018; Letheby,
2021; Timmermann et al., 2022, 184–191). Transposing Letheby’s
(2021), 188–190) notion of gaining a deeper knowledge of old facts,
psychedelic experiences can acquaint us with our values in a deeper,
more vivid, and embodied manner than is usually possible, enabling
deeper and more meaningful experience of these convictions.
erefore, psychedelic experiences might better align our motivation
and experiential salience with our values, perhaps leading to more
committed action according to these values, as values gain more
“incentive or motivational salience” (Ratclie and Broome, 2022, 51).
eoretically, activation of the 5HT2a serotonin system—the primary
neurobiological mechanism activated by psychedelics—has been
linked to active coping and enhanced capacity for change (Carhart-
Harris and Nutt, 2017; Brouwer and Carhart-Harris, 2021), and might
mediate the increased motivational salience of values and increases in
value-laden striving.
is supposed increase of “volume” in value–salience connections
might signicantly contribute to (re)connecting to self-transcendent
values and play role in other kinds of value changes as well, as it is
conceptually independent of self-transcendence (see Section 4.4).
Increases in the motivational salience of values are morally signicant,
as values should mandate us to experience certain things as strongly
salient and solicit a response (cf. Siegel, 2014; Cavedon-Taylor, 2022,
15). It is morally problematic if a persons values do not inform an
embodied, experiential sense of salience and meaningfulness, nor
motivate action (although not all values can be active” at every
moment; see Oyserman, 2015).
4.3. Connections between values and other
long-term changes
Psychedelics can bring other signicant long-term changes, such
as increases in the traits of self-transcendence, mindfulness capacities,
psychological exibility, openness to experience, and alterations in
neural networks. Together these ndings support the notion that
changes in values are associated with self-transcendence and reduced
egocentricity and oer further theoretical possibilities to account for
value changes.
4.3.1. Trait self-transcendence
As discussed in Section 3.7, developmental self-transcendence is
associated with self-transcendent values. Psychedelic use is associated
with increased trait-level self-transcendence and correlated neural
changes (Bouso etal., 2012, 2015; Révész etal., 2021). St. Arnaud
(2019) explores the idea that the psychedelic mystical experiences
might help to treat existential anxiety by fostering traits of self-
transcendence. Expanded self–other boundaries are theoretically
central to many notions of developmental self-transcendence,
supporting the hypothesis that psychedelic changes in sense of self
could lead to similar long-term changes (St. Arnaud, 2019).
Signicantly, St. Arnaud and Sharpe (2022) found an association
between psychedelic use and positive adult development (a construct
similar to developmental self-transcendence). Psychedelics further
enhance many tendencies associated with the trait of self-
transcendence, such as a sense of connection, gratitude, death
transcendence, and meaning in life (Belser etal., 2017, 16–17; Watts
etal., 2017; Griths etal., 2018; Schmid and Liechti, 2018).
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4.3.2. Mindfulness capacities
Both short-and long-lasting increases in mindfulness capacities
support the idea that psychedelic experiences can induce changes in
attentional capacities (Bouso etal., 2012; Soler etal., 2016; Radakovic
etal., 2022). Smigielski etal. (2019a,b) conducted a double-blind
intervention combining psychedelics and mindfulness training; they
found that neurobiological changes in areas associated with self-
relevant processing [such as the default mode network (DMN) and
posterior cingulate cortex (PCC)] and ego-dissolution during
psychedelic experiences mediated increases in mindfulness capacities
for up to 4 months aer the intervention. Sampedro etal. (2017)
found that similar structural changes in the brain correlated with
enhanced mindfulness capacities 2 months aer ayahuasca intake. As
mindfulness capacities involve decentered and present-moment-
oriented modes of attention, these empirical ndings strongly
support the hypothesis that psychedelics can lead to long-lasting
unselng (i.e., reduced egocentric attention and salience). e
development of mindfulness capacities is also empirically associated
with both value-oriented life (Franquesa et al., 2017) and self-
transcendence (Vago and David, 2012).
4.3.3. Psychological flexibility
Psychological flexibility processes are one avenue to account
for (re)connection to values and possibly other value changes.
Psychedelics have been observed to increase psychological
flexibility, a central construct of acceptance and commitment
therapy (ACT), which involves a) connection and commitment
to values and value-driven action, and b) a decentered sense of
self (Davis etal., 2020). Studies exploring psychedelics’ impact on
psychological flexibility processes suggest that psychedelics
might help to shift flexibility-fostering modes of selfhood (i.e.,
perspective-taking self or self-as-context in ACT terminology;
Hayes etal., 2019; Watts and Luoma, 2020; Whitfield, 2021).
Converging with the framework presented here, ACT posits that
these flexible modes of selfhood imply reduced identification
with our self-conceptions and personhood (self-as-content) and
foster living according to ones values.
4.3.4. Openness to experience
Some value changes might beexplained by changes in personality
factors, such as openness to experience. Multiple studies observe that
the trait of openness to experience is increased by psychedelics
(MacLean etal., 2011; Carhart-Harris etal., 2016; Nour etal., 2017;
Erritzoe etal., 2018, 2019). Aspects of openness to experience might
berelated to changes in values. For instance, appreciation of art and
nature is plausibly connected to “openness to aesthetics” (partly
explained by reduced latent inhibition—the tendency to lter
habituated sensory content from perception; St. Arnaud, 2021, 99).
Openness to experience is also related to absorption, a tendency to pay
total attention (McCrae, 2004), consonant with the unselfed mode of
attention. Erritzoe et al. (2019) found that psychedelics have an
especially strong eect on “openness to actions” and “openness to
values,” the latter encompassing tolerance toward other peoples
lifestyles and willingness to redene ones own values. ese ndings
support both the notion of a general tendency for value change and
specic change toward the universalist value of tolerance (i.e.,
acceptance and understanding of those dierent from oneself;
Schwartz etal., 2012).
4.3.5. Neurocognitive changes
eoretically, many of the changes associated with unselng can
beexplained by psychedelics’ ability to deconstruct the self-model—
our ordinary phenomenal experience of being a separate self and the
underlying neural and cognitive processes (Letheby, 2021). It is
theorized that psychedelics weaken the power of models built by prior
experience and that the self is a high-level prior central to our overall
modeling of the world (Swanson, 2016, 2018; Letheby and Gerrans,
2017; Carhart-Harris and Friston, 2019). Huxley (1954) framed the
ego as a “reducing valve” that lters our perception of the world into
a utilitarian form useful for instrumental pursuits and proposed that
psychedelics might temporarily relax this valve. His ideas have since
been corroborated by neuroscientic research. In predictive
processing terminology, self-related priors constrict evaluative
processes and values; therefore, temporary radical destabilization and
subsequent relaxation of (overweighted) self-related priors might do
much of the work associated with self-transcendent value changes.
Proposed outcomes of destabilizing high-level priors include increased
context sensitivity and a more uid ability to tune into various
perspectives (Carhart-Harris et al., 2018b; Carhart-Harris and
Friston, 2019).
From a neurodynamic viewpoint, reduction in egocentric
attributions of salience and evaluations likely occurs through altered
brain areas and networks associated with selood, such as the default
mode network, posterior cingulate cortex, and salience network;
changes in these correlates acutely and in the long-term with
psychedelic STEs (Bouso etal., 2015; Letheby and Gerrans, 2017;
Millière etal., 2018; Smigielski etal., 2019a). Similar neural changes
are observed in meditation practices (Vago and David, 2012; Brewer
etal., 2013; Letheby, 2022).
4.4. The role of contextual factors
4.4.1. Psychedelic pluripotency
It is clear from various anecdotal accounts that there are mechanisms
of psychedelic value change other than self-transcendence, and that self-
transcendent values are not the only possible outcome. Psychedelics have
been used by cults such as the Manson Family and Aum Shinrikyo, by
neo-Nazis and the right-wing intelligentsia, and among bellicose
Amazonian and Mesoamerican societies, with no apparent challenge to
respective values or causing further enculturation towards these
worldviews and values (Rios, 1996; Piper, 2015; Pace and Devenot, 2021,
6).
5
ese counter-examples disprove the claim that psychedelics
inevitably lead to the unidirectional change of values.
To account for this “pluripotency” of psychedelic
transformations, many explanations cite contextual factors—the
immediate context of and the cultural matrix surrounding the use
of psychedelics (Dupuis, 2021; Pace and Devenot, 2021).
Psychedelics increase suggestibility and psychedelic experiences are
highly sensitive to inuences from contextual factors (Carhart-
Harris etal., 2015; Hartogsohn, 2017, 2018, 2020; Carhart-Harris
etal., 2018b; Eisner, 1997). Dupuis and Veissiere (2022) and Dupuis
5 See also Langlitz’s (2020) ‘Rightist Psychedelia’: https://culanth.org/
fieldsights/rightist-psychedelia (Accessed 16.3.2023).
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(2021) suggest that psychedelics might act as “super-placebos” and
as “tools for cultural transmission” of beliefs and values, utilizing
temporary cognitive openings created during experiences (see also
Katz, 1978; Pace and Devenot, 2021, 6; Dupuis, 2022a). us,
psychedelics could make one to adapt or emphasize various values,
beliefs and political orientations provided by the social and cultural
context of psychedelic use.
No existing research has conclusively determined the relative
strength of directionality toward self-transcendent values and the
amplication of specic cultural values (Langlitz etal., 2021). In general,
to what extent does the observed directionality in psychedelic belief
(Griths etal., 2019; Timmermann etal., 2021; Nayak and Griths,
2022) and value change (see Table2) stem from social and cultural
factors, personal background and intrinsic features of psychedelic
experiences is an open question requiring further exploration.
Still, it is doubtful that a purely contextual or cultural account can
explain all the observed patterns in the change of values. First, changes
contravening (sub)cultural values are also possible (Wallace, 1956;
Roseman and Karkabi, 2021). Second, if psychedelics reliably
deconstruct the self-model, deconstruction of egocentric valuation
modes and values and movement toward self-transcendent values is
plausibly one higher-order constant across value changes occurring in
dierent social and cultural settings.
Importantly, even if changes toward self-transcendent values are
a higher-order constant of value change, they are still plausibly
mediated by ones worldview and epistemology and negotiated with
ones other values. Culturally mediated conceptions, beliefs, and
models of the world aect how weesh out what abstract values and
good mean and what values imply for action (Murdoch, 1992,
323–325). For example, seen through the biasing lens of a particular
ideology and worldview, even activities such as pursuing societal
collapse or sacricing humans to prevent apocalypse might
beconceived as non-egocentric (on Aztecs and mushrooms, see Rios,
1996; on accelerationism, see Pace and Devenot, 2021); similarly,
nature relatedness could bechanneled to ecofascism, and allocentric
widening to loyalty to a xenophobic ingroup (Pace and Devenot, 2021).
4.4.2. Optimal conditions for value change
e argument presented here has claried ways to understand cases
where psychedelic STEs translate to long-term changes in values. As
discussed in Section 3.9, the translation of momentary experiences into
lasting values is far from automatic, many contextual factors likely mediate
the relation between momentary experiences and long-term changes, and
might hinder or amplify the change toward self-transcendent values.
Notably, St. Arnaud and Sharpe (2022) found that prior intentions
and integration or post-experience reection mediated whether
psychedelic experiences led to positive adult development. Lasting
value change is highly likely to bemediated by similar factors, as well
as by the individual’s prior developmental stage (St. Arnaud, 2019).
Relatedly, the importance of a “rich context” for moral
neuroenhancement is stressed by Earp etal. (2017) and Earp (2018).
Value changes might be most likely where psychedelic use is
embedded in rich cultural contexts with a mature understanding of
the good life and self-transcendence, and with ecologies of practice
that can support a positive long-term change of values.
To maximize the wise and benecial use of psychedelics, the
contextual factors supporting self-transcendent value changes should
be more closely explored. For example, the synergistic eects of
psychedelic and meditative practices should befurther investigated
(Griths et al., 2018; Smigielski et al., 2019a,b; Heuschkel and
Kuypers, 2020; Payne etal., 2021; Simonsson and Goldberg, 2022).
5. Discussion
5.1. Implications of the framework
To conclude, one plausible psychological or personal-level
mechanism for psychedelic value change is better access to
non-egocentric intrinsic and self-transcendent values via reduced
egocentric biases in attention and salience. Both long-term changes in
values and momentary STEs and perspectival shis in psychedelic
experiences can beplausibly explained through the same unselng
mechanisms. e idea that many value changes are toward self-
transcendent values, resulting from processes and experiences of self-
transcendence, is a parsimonious way to explain various value changes
in a unied fashion, given that STEs are already a central proposed
mechanism for psychedelics (Liester and Prickett, 2012; Letheby, 2021,
197, 202; Letheby, 2022; van Elk and Yaden, 2022) and self-
transcendence in general (Maslow, 1971; St. Arnaud, 2019).
Furthermore, this articles theoretical integration supports the claim
that temporary reductions in self-saliency and seless experiences
might sometimes translate into long-term self-transcendent changes in
values and traits (cf. Millière etal., 2018; St. Arnaud and Sharpe, 2022).
Although STEs do not automatically bring long-term changes in values
and behavior, as many contextual factors mediate such changes.
Unselng and changes toward self-transcendent values are
existentially and morally signicant phenomena. e proposed
framework explains self-transcendent value changes as part of wider
self-transcendent changes, seen by many theories as a desirable part
of optimal human development (cf. St. Arnaud, 2019). Self-
transcendent values are important or even central for good life and
morality (if one does not subscribe to extreme forms of moral egoism
or nihilism). Similarly, states of self-transcendence and reduced
egocentricity have been empirically linked to increased wellbeing
(Leary and Guadagno, 2011, 139; Wong, 2016; Yaden et al., 2017; St.
Arnaud, 2019; Isham et al., 2022).
Psychedelics and other techniques for achieving self-transcendence
might thus be important for living good lives, especially where a person
lacks access to non-egocentric perspectives. It is notoriously dicult
to rationally argue why certain intrinsic values (such as nature or art)
should be adopted for non-instrumental reasons; these values must be
personally and experientially recognized and understood. Psychedelics
might be especially helpful for generating such axiological insights and
expanded salience perspectives.6
My argument supports the interpretation that psychedelic
experiences sometimes expand ones view into fundamental values of
our lives. With the relaxation of egocentric attributions of salience,
evaluative context may widen enabling one to better grasp self-
transcendent values and to connect to ones core values. Visiting
6 Cf. Whiteley (2022) and her concept of “harmful salience perspectives.”
STEs might generate the opposite: existentially and morally uplifting salience
perspectives.
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psychedelic states might allow for existentially and morally important
direction-giving glimpses and the activation of self-transcendent
values, even if more is needed for inner transformation. us,
psychedelics might sometimes provide a potent source of proleptic
rationality, giving reasons to aspire toward valuable directions in life
(Callard, 2018; Letheby, 2021; 198). Psychedelic experiences might
enhance moral agency by reducing overt attribution of egocentric
salience impeding ones moral agency, by increasing epistemic access
to non-egocentric values and by aligning ones salience and motivation
with them. In this way psychedelic experiences might straighten
egocentric misconceptions and biases about the good.
5.1.1. Justification of value changes
e proposed framework provides prima facie philosophical
justication for psychedelic value changes toward self-transcendent
values. According to this framework, self-transcendent value changes
occur through personal-level processes that are epistemically and
normatively justied, and respect individual autonomy, as enhanced
access to self-transcendent perspectives and values gives reasons for
value changes (cf. Earp et al., 2017; Lavazza, 2017; Langlitz et al.,
2021). However, the matter of psychedelic pluripotency warrants some
concern. If value changes sometimes stem from being exposed to
values and value-laden cultural beliefs and worldviews from the
sociocultural setting of psychedelic use, the ethical issues whether
psychedelic value changes respect autonomy and are desirable become
more complex. It is possible that some contexts of use could lead to
coercive or semi-coercive value changes that do not respect individual
autonomy (cf. Earp etal., 2017; Lavazza, 2017; Dupuis, 2021, 2022a,b;
Dupuis and Veissiere, 2022). us, how social and cultural inuences
aect psychedelic value changes should befurther explored.
e risks associated with the possibility of suggestive inuences
involved in the change of values highlight the need for epistemic
responsibility, enhanced informed consent, and further inquiry into
the wider epistemic and moral context for psychedelic use, as Smith
and Sisti (2021), Langlitz et al. (2021), and Letheby (2021) have
already advocated. Moreover, Timmermann etal. (2022) proposed
psychedelic apprenticeship, entailing practices of intersubjective
guidance, validation, and inquiry into the sometimes-controversial
knowledge gained during psychedelic. is is also highly relevant for
value changes. Psychedelics should beoptimally embedded in wise
cultural, epistemic, and therapeutic contexts giving room for moral
reection and inquiry into possible value changes.
5.1.2. Societal implications and moral
neuroenhancement
Given the challenges of climate change and other existential
questions facing humanity, the potential of psychedelics to enhance
self-transcendence and self-transcendent values should befurther
explored from a societal viewpoint. For example, increased nature-
relatedness is among the strongest predictors of environment-friendly
behavior (Kettner etal., 2019). e possibility of self-transcendent
value changes is a prominent reason why psychedelics might be useful
as a pharmacological means to enhance humans’ moral state (Earp
etal., 2017; Earp, 2018). e proposed framework could unify and
enrich many proposals in the psychedelic moral enhancement
literature (Tennison, 2012; Ahlskog, 2017; Earp, 2018, 18–19;
Ballesteros, 2019; Germann, 2019; Lange and Marie, 2021; Kirkham
and Letheby, 2022).
5.2. Future directions and limitations
5.2.1. Toward a theory of psychedelic value
change
To build a comprehensive theory of psychedelic value change,
future work must identify the various types of value changes and
mechanisms and explore their interactions. For example,
increased suggestibility (Carhart-Harris et al., 2015), the
influence of sociocultural factors (Hartogsohn, 2020; Dupuis,
2021; Dupuis, 2022b), alterations in meaning processing, and
fluidity of cognition (Shanon, 2002, 143, 243, 340; Hartogsohn,
2018; Vervaeke etal., 2018) might all play a role irrespective of
unselfing. Similarly, reduced discrepancy between ones values
and salience, increased positive affect and vitality, personality
factors such as openness and optimism, and changes in emotional
processing and motivation might also play a part (Winkelman,
2001, 2017; MacLean etal., 2011; Carhart-Harris etal., 2016;
Vollenweider and Smallridge, 2022). There are likely other
mechanisms to bediscovered.
This article focused on the possible psychological mechanisms
of value change associated with unselfing. An in-depth
exploration of how the psychological or experiential levels of
value change fit with other levels of explanation (e.g.,
neuroscientific) is a worthwhile future research task. The possible
mechanisms on psychological, socio-cultural, and neurobiological
levels, and the relations between various levels of explanation,
should beexplored (cf. van Elk and Yaden, 2022). Integrating an
existing neuroscientific understanding of values (e.g., Moll etal.,
2015) with theoretical and neuroscientific models of psychedelics,
such as the models based on the predictive processing paradigm
(Letheby and Gerrans, 2017; Carhart-Harris and Friston, 2019),
could yield many insights.
Another important theoretical question is whether psychedelic
value changes t value dimensions or polarities other than those
explored here (i.e., self-enhancement versus self-transcendence). For
example, psychedelic value changes in political attitudes and openness
to values might map to the dimension “openness to change” versus
conservation” in Schwartz etal.s (2012) value theory (Nour etal.,
2017; Lyons and Carhart-Harris, 2018; Erritzoe etal., 2019).
5.2.2. Empirical inquiry into value change
Another important research avenue is to operationalize and
empirically test the hypotheses presented in this article. It is
especially important to explore the connections among various
psychological constructs associated with unselng and value
change. Direct psychometric measurement of various constructs
related to unselng (such as quiet ego and ego development) and
measurements of value changes (for instance, using Schwartz’s
scales and ACT value subscales) would provide further evidence for
the questions posed herein.
5.2.3. Philosophical issues
Similarly, there are many pressing philosophical questions
concerning value change. Future research should investigate the
justication of psychedelic value changes, their relevance for moral
enhancement literature, and the normative and metaethical questions
raised (such as which conceptions of values and of the good life are
congruent with the proposed framework).
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5.2.4. Limitations
This article is based on a broad-stroke review of multiple
bodies of literature, suggesting hypotheses on the psychological
mechanisms of psychedelic value change. To test these ideas
against solid evidence, a more rigorous empirical inquiry into
psychedelic value changes is required. As this article is based on
a selective reading of philosophy and broad bodies of empirical
and theoretical literature, efforts to explore alternative theoretical
and philosophical hypotheses to explain the findings of various
studies should beconducted. It should also benoted that most
prior studies into psychedelic value changes are either
correlational or relatively small scale and that there are many
open empirical questions concerning the change of values
patterns (for example, regarding the relative influence of cultural
context; see Langlitz etal., 2021). Moreover, many studies suffer
from self-selection bias and draw individual participants from
relatively narrow socio-economic backgrounds, who share a
cultural worldview and hold a certain set of values.
6. Conclusion
is article establishes a plausible connection between psychedelic
experiences and value changes toward self-transcendent values. According
to the proposed framework, these value changes stem from unselng—a
reduction in egocentric attributions of salience, enabling (re)connection
to self-transcendent values. Iargue that this increases our capacity to pay
attention to reality outside the self and can widen our evaluative context.
e central idea is that self-transcendent values are inherently tied to the
goods of these various self-transcendent evaluative contexts. us, by
opening to these wider contexts, an individual gains enhanced epistemic
access to self-transcendent values.
The framework fits with the reviewed insights from statistical,
theoretical, and qualitative research on psychedelic value
changes. Psychedelics can enhance reconnection to values,
esthetic values, benevolence/prosocial values, universalism values
associated with the good of mankind and the natural world,
humility, and spirituality. Empirical and theoretical accounts of
psychedelics support the connection between these self-
transcendent changes and various STEs (such as awe and mystical
experiences), alterations in self-construal, and other
psychological and neural changes typically induced by
psychedelics. Furthermore, independently of psychedelic
research, STEs are linked to reduced trait-level egocentricity and
self-transcendent values. Convergence between various
theoretical constructs suggests that morally and existentially
relevant long-term changes can occur through reducing
egocentricity and that STEs can contribute to these processes. If
the proposed framework is correct, psychedelic value changes
have potential ethical significance and are justified, although
these philosophical issues warrant further investigation.
Although the presented evidence indicates robust theoretical
and empirical associations between reduced egocentricity and
change in values, there are many cases where STEs do not lead to
value change. Thus, the personal and contextual factors mediating
the link between experiences and long-term value changes need
further exploration. Psychedelic value change is supposedly
optimal in well-planned, rich moral contexts and in combination
with other supporting practices. Future research should
empirically explore the hypotheses presented in this article and
chart the relation between self-transcendence and other possible
mechanisms of value change.
Data availability statement
e original contributions presented in the study are included in
the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can bedirected
to the corresponding author.
Author contributions
e author conrms being the sole contributor of this work and
has approved it for publication.
Funding
Signe & Ane Gyllenberg Foundation funded writing this article in
fall 2022 by funding the author’s doctoral research (grant number
5848). University of Helsinki funded the open access publication fees.
Acknowledgments
The thinking behind this article has been shaped by countless
dialogues on these topics. Dear friend Anssi Pitkänen and my
supervisors Jussi Jylkkä and Antti Kauppinen, as well as Sanna
Tirkkonen, who supervised my Master Thesis, deserve their
credit, as well as the supportive environment of Finnish
Psychedelic Research Association. Chris Letheby kindly advised
and encouraged me in the early phases of the research. The work
of John Verveake has been a significant source of inspiration and
an important guide to relevant research. I am grateful for the
Signe & Ane Gyllenberg Foundation for funding my work, and
the editors of this special issue for the invitation to contribute.
Conflict of interest
e author declares that the research was conducted in the
absence of any commercial or nancial relationships that could
beconstrued as a potential conict of interest.
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