Richard Doyle on Ayahuasca

Richard Doyle – you can check out his website and his curriculum vitae – is currently Associate Professor of Rhetoric in the Department of English at Penn State University. He received his PhD from the University of California–Berkeley in 1993, and is the author of two books of interdisciplinary scholarship on science and technology.

His first book, On Beyond Living: Rhetorical Transformations of the Life Sciences (Stanford, 1997), analyzed the complex interplay between language and scientific innovation, arguing that creative transformations of scientific language have been crucial to the rise, success, and impact of molecular biology in the 20th century. His second book, Wetwares: Experiments in Postvital Living (Minnesota, 2003), looked at the effects of contemporary biotechnology on our practices of pleasure, identity, and embodiment, emerging scientific paradigms in which life is primarily a matter of information -- as he puts it, wetware. Doyle also recently completed a novel on the work of science fiction author Philip K. Dick, to be entitled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, itself the name of an imaginary book in a phildickian story.

Okay, he's an interesting guy. What does all this have to do with ayahuasca?

Doyle has written a lengthy essay on his own ayahuasca experience. And he is now working on a new book on the history of archaic and contemporary ecstatic practices and their role in the biological and technological evolution of human beings. The book is to be called, according to different sources, either Mitochondriac! or Ecodelic!, with the subtitle Plants, Rhetoric and the Evolution of The Noösphere – or perhaps, instead, Darwin's Pharmacy: Rhetoric, Ecodelics and the Evolution of Mind. Whatever the title, Doyle is interested, he says, in the role archaic information technologies – including ayahuasca – have played in the evolution of mind. “Compounds that systematically and consistently alter human consciousness abound in the terrestrial ecology,” he writes, “and have been frequent adjuncts to the rhetorical toolkit of orators, shamans, oracles and psychiatrists.” There is thus a link between rhetoric and psychoactive substances: they are both part of a “huge archive of techniques for altering consciousness.” Hence he seeks to understand consciousness pragmatically – in terms of its capacities to be altered through a wide variety of media. The book will “link these techniques of ecstasy to a new evaluation of the role of inebriants in human evolution.”

So. Here is a half-hour video of a talk Doyle gave at the Beyond Biopolitics symposium at the Center for the Study of Women and Society, CUNY Graduate Center of New York, March 2006, entitled Biometrics and the Human/Plant Interface:

And the following is a talk entitled Ayahuasca Montage that Doyle gave to the Society for Literature, Science and Art in Amsterdam in June 2006. The talk discusses the role of what he calls montage and discontinuity in representing the experience of drinking ayahuasca.

As I said, an interesting guy.

1 comment:

  1. Steve!

    I found this page while looking up information for a scholarly talk about ayahuasca today at the University of Pennsylvania. Synch! "Interesting Guy" right back at you. Haven't I seen you wearing a Cognitive Liberty T-Shirt? And I found your biogreionalist animist site too - Synch! with Ecodelic. I want to share further, please. Yo can go to my wiki at

    or email me at

    towards furthering meshing, and singing unto the plants,
    aka Richard Doyle