David Yaden on The Science of Self-Transcendent Experiences

April 14, 2020

Today it’s great to have David Yaden on the podcast. Dr. Yaden is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins Medicine. His research focus is on the psychology, neuroscience, and pharmacology of transformative and self-transcendent experiences. He is currently focusing on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. His scientific and scholarly work has been covered by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, and NPR.

In this episode we discuss:

  • The applicability of self-transcendent experiences to the current moment
  • The definition of self-transcendent experiences
  • Andrew Newberg’s pioneering work on the neuroscience of self-transcendent experiences
  • Abraham Maslow’s role in the history of the scientific investigation of self-transcendent experiences
  • The “everyperson’s spiritual experience”
  • The two main components of awe
  • The main characteristics of awe
  • Awe vs. flow
  • The role of technology in triggering self-transcendent experiences
  • The triggers of self-transcendent experiences
  • The limitations of interventions to induce self-transcendent experiences
  • How we can seek out little moments of awe, gratitude, and mindfulness
  • How psilocybin can induce very intense self-transcendent experiences
  • The potential for psychedelic therapy sessions
  • The neuroscience underlying the therapeutic benefit of psychedelics
  • How psychedelic experiences can impact our connection with close others
  • David’s personal self-transendent experience
  • Davis’ interest in studying intense interventions
  • David’s study of the philosophy of psychology

7 Responses to “David Yaden on The Science of Self-Transcendent Experiences”

  1. Listening to the two of you talk about measures of transcendence, awe, how psychedelic research can contribute to well-being was really a moment of intellectual happiness for me. Going past the headlines into how a new awe measure was created, the years that have gone into thinking about how to induce awe, and David’s humility about not knowing how this can be used in the coronavirus pandemic period struck me as the sign of someone who knows what they know and what they don’t know. You don’t see that very often. Thanks for another great and relevant interview.

  2. Dawn Addleson says:

    Here is a link to the paper that David co-authored, “review paper on self transcending experiences” that is spoken of at the beginning:

  3. Pam Kennett says:

    You mentioned an AWE experience scale. Is there anyway to access this? I’m thinking of distributing this to some friends during lockdown and get them to talk it through during our weekly zoom drinks. Done a quick search but can’t locate. Many thanks.

  4. Alan Cook says:

    I enjoyed this discussion. I thought that your guest David Yaden displayed a lot of humility, honesty and academic integrity in a topic that is often over-sensationalized or exaggerated. He was careful not to go beyond research findings, and I think that sometimes people are seeing psychedelics as some type of panacea/cure all, or on the opposite end demonizing and ignoring any positive results.

  5. Steve says:

    I can’t tell how much tiptoeing is being done here, but it was a great conversation nonetheless.

  6. Laura says:

    What a joy to listen to you two! I’m so thrilled that altered states – whether drugs induced or not – are gradualy acknowledged as serious research subjects. I think transcendent experiences can really contribute to self development and overall well being.

    I have a question to David: while studying subjects under the influence of psilocybin, do you study them during one or mutiple psychedelic experiences? I am asking this because it is my experience that most psychedelics have a ‘learning curve’. I have been using psilocybin for over 20 years occasionally. In the beginning it was mainly about the aesthetics of visuals, enjoying more activity in the default network and feeling more connected with friends and loved ones. Over the years, the trips became more and more self-transcending and mind quieting. The enhanced sense of connection with loved ones developed into a sense of interconnectedness with all people, nature, the whole world. This stayed with me after the experience, to some extend. I’m convinced that my long time experiences with psychedelics contributed for a great deal to the person I am today, with much more equanimity and hardly any anxiety anymore.

    I don’t take psilocybin anymore these days, because my default state of mind now seems to be somewhat similar to the psychedelic experience, with a lot of small awe-moment everyday. If I take psilocybin now, it just gives me enhanced sense perception. Is there any research on psychedelics and the effects of long term use? I would love to read abouth this, and find out if my transformational experiences are indeed correlated to the use of psychedlics.

    Thank you so much for this podcast!

  7. Artemis says:

    My name is Artemis and I just got finished listening to your show on CBC radio today about transcendent experiences and about your work at John Hopkins University. Thank you for the incredible work and research that you’re doing and for having the openness to explore the mysteries that many people find so difficult to accept that exist.

    I would love to speak with you about my own experience and my spiritual path. I had an incredible spiritual awakening last year that I am still moving through as we speak. It has changed my life and the course of my focus of work which has been in the spiritual realms of yoga, yoga therapy and the like but is now expanding into supporting and guiding people through spiritual awakenings and all that arises because of them. Often mental health addiction and sexuality play a large role in the shadow aspects of self that can be a catalyst to transformation. I also know that you work with psychedelics which is also something I’ve worked a little bit And I am considering Microdosing psilocybin to harmonize parts of myself that I’ve been fragmented. Some might call this mental illness or bipolar 2 disorder but I know that the answer is through nature and plants.

    Much love to you!

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