“These are what I call a ‘mind state-dependent art form,” says Ido Hartogsohn, curator of the Psychedelic Video Museum. “What I mean by that is you have to be in a certain mindstate to appreciate it.”
Don’t just watch these videos on your phone, he advises; they won’t penetrate your mind in the same way. Rather, he says, cultivate your set and setting, and then watch the videos. Indeed, as an assistant professor in the graduate program for science and technology studies at Bar Ilan University and having studied psychedelics for some 15 years, Hartogsohn is an expert in set and setting. He even published the first book written in Hebrew dedicated to the subject, as well as a book released this summer called American Trip: Set, Setting, and the Psychedelic Experience in the 20th Century.
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“This is immersive art; it’s meant to be something that surrounds your body in sound and visuals, so it’s important to watch these videos on an impressive screen and to have good sound,” Hartogsohn recommends. “What always struck me is how much it changes the experience when you allow just a bit of ceremony: Sometimes we share a joint before the screening, and the fact that people are sitting together, watching together leads to a different kind of experience.”
“Leary went as far as to claim that 99 percent of the specific response to LSD is determined by set-and-setting.”
The idea, he summarizes, it to put some intention into the experience. You don’t need to take a psychedelic to have a psychedelic experience or to put some thought into your set and setting. In truth, the principle of set and setting can apply to any kind of experience.
But it’s central to harm reduction in the context of psychedelics. The concept of harm reduction is simple: reduce the chance of negative consequences. Set and setting, on the other hand, is a bit more layered: “The concept, which was first proposed by Timothy Leary and his group at Harvard, claimed that the character of a psychedelic experience is determined first and foremost by the user’s character, expectations, and intentions (Set), as well as by the social and physical surrounding in which the drug experience takes place (Setting),” Hartogsohn wrote in a MAPS bulletin about his new book. “Leary went as far as to claim that 99 percent of the specific response to LSD is determined by set-and-setting.”
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So whether you’re stone sober, or you’re looking to enhance your psychedelic experience with some “mind state-dependent” art, the Psychedelic Video Museum may be an apt container to explore the effects of a carefully curated set and setting. “Some people are able to enter into these meditative, contemplative, or receptive states,” says Hartogsohn. “If I may muse, just an hour or two after the peak of a mushroom trip, taking those few puffs [of cannabis], and I guarantee that this will probably be the most amazing aesthetic experience of that person’s life. It has been for me.”
Madison Margolin is DoubleBlind’s co-founder and managing editor.