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June 10, 2002

Cognitive Liberty in the Classroom

A unique course recently offered in the Philosophy Department of the University of British Columbia explored the historical precedent and current applications of cognitive liberty. UBC student Mark Bryan was prompted to design this course after years of working within an academic system that ignored any connection between freedom of thought and altered states of consciousness, particularly those engendered by psychedelics. “It always seemed odd to me that the university, a place where freedom of thought is championed, will deal with an immense range of subjects, yet will pretend that psychedelics do not exist. Academic freedom was being hindered by the belief that a certain portion of human thought and activity could be swept under the carpet,” stated Bryan.

Taking advantage of a program allowing for student-directed seminars, Bryan designed and led this innovative course, saying he “wanted to design the ‘Cognitive Liberty: Psychedelic Perspectives’ course in such a way that it would be the most challenging, interesting, and unusual course that I (and hopefully my classmates) participated in at university.”

Despite admonitions that getting approval for this course from the UBC board might meet apathy or even hostility, Bryan’s enthusiasm and academically-sound course outline sparked the curiosity of the oversight committee. After the fact, Bryan confirmed “the success of the class can partially be measured by the amount of interest I received from people who heard about the course after it started.” A class poll elicited responses such as “excellent,” “dynamic,” “rare” and “invaluable.”

The structure and the subject of the course were unique for the university because the course was learner-centered not teacher-centered. Classes were formatted as discussion groups relating to the reading outlined for the week. The reading list ranged from John Stuart Mill to Richard Glen Boire to Thomas Roberts. Guest speakers were also invited to share with the seminar participants. During the “psychedelic cultures” week Scotto Moore, the editor of TRIP magazine, introduced the use of Internet groups as a form of psychedelic community. Additionally, Ken Tupper of Simon Fraser University spoke about his recently defended MA thesis on the use of entheogens as educational tools.

Participants in the course praised its unique focus and overall success. “I really feel that I have been part of a ground-breaking and radical new form of education (related not only to the unique course content, but also to its format as a student-directed course),” raved Stacey Sobell. “I feel more informed, aware and inspired about both psychedelic and cognitive liberty issues that I ever have before. Let’s hope that more and more of these classes start popping up all over, and perhaps our society’s negative relationship with psychedelic substances might begin to change for the better.”


If you would like more information about developing a “Cognitive Liberty” course at your university, please email

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