“Laughing to Enlightenment”: an experiential symposium

“Laughing to Enlightenment”: an experiential symposium

Cabinet Magazine

Courtesy Library of Congress.

February 27, 2014

“Laughing to Enlightenment”
an experiential symposium

Saturday, 8 March 2014, 9pm

Meeting point: Hegel monument,
University of Jena

Free but pre-registration mandatory;
limited to 30 participants
Email sublation [​at​] cabinetmagazine.org
to make a reservation


Cabinet magazine is pleased to present “Laughing to Enlightenment,” an experiential symposium on Williams James’s investigation of Hegelian philosophy under the influence of laughing gas.

What’s mistake but a kind of take?
What’s nausea but a kind of -usea?
Sober, drunk, -unk, astonishment.
Everything can become the subject of criticism—how criticise without something to criticise?
By God, how that hurts! By God, how it doesn’t hurt! Reconciliation of two extremes.
By George, nothing but othing!
That sounds like nonsense, but it’s pure onsense!
Thought much deeper than speech…!
Medical school; divinity school, school! SCHOOL! Oh my God, oh God; oh God!

These peculiar observations, the product of “a perfect delirium of theoretic rapture” as the philosopher William James called it in his 1882 essay “The Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide,” resulted from his experiments with laughing gas in the early 1880s. A longtime critic of Hegel, whose growing influence in American philosophy he lamented, James found that inhaling the gas made him  “understand better than ever before both the strength and the weakness of Hegel’s philosophy. … Its first result was to make peal through me with unutterable power the conviction that Hegelism was true after all, and that the deepest convictions of my intellect hitherto were wrong. Whatever idea or representation occurred to the mind was seized by the same logical forceps, and served to illustrate the same truth; and that truth was that every opposition, among whatsoever things, vanishes in a higher unity in which it is based; that all contradictions, so called, are but differences; that all differences are of degree; that all degrees are of a common kind; that unbroken continuity is of the essence of being; and that we are literally in the midst of an infinite, to perceive the existence of which is the utmost we can attain.”

Although James’s experiment did not convert him to Hegelianism—”the ground for it was nothing but the world-old principle that things are the same only so far and no farther than they are the same, or partake of a common nature,” he wrote—he returned to the experiment in Varieties of Religious Experience, explaining how it had impressed upon him that “rational consciousness, as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.” In his 1882 essay, James “strongly urge[d] others to repeat the experiment.” Please join us.

Cabinet magazine is a periodical based in Brooklyn, New York. See www.cabinetmagazine.org for more information.


"Laughing to Enlightenment": an experiential symposium
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Cabinet Magazine
February 27, 2014

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