I'm an anthropologist, historian of science, and recovering moralist. The questions that preoccupy me are primarily philosophical, but I like to take them out of the armchair to the field. My field are the behavioral sciences where I look for interlocutors who share my sense of wonder about Homo sapiens as an animal that has changed beyond recognition and, for better and worse, shows no signs of settling down. At present, I’m especially interested in our predicament as a species of moralistic apes and I look to an amalgamation of mysticism and materialism for an escape from the all too human penchant for self-righteousness.  

    But I’ve come a long way. During my training as a physician at Freie Universität Berlin, I contributed to research in biological psychiatry, followed the local anti-psychiatric movement, and wrote a book about an obscure practice in French psychoanalysis (Die Zeit der Psychoanalyse: Lacan und das Problem der Sitzungsdauer, Suhrkamp, 2005). By the time, I graduated from medical school, I was sufficiently alienated from Lacanian analysts, anti-psychiatric activists, and biological psychiatrists alike to continue pursuing such endeavors from a scholarly distance. Lacking the patience necessary for archival research, I became an anthropologist.   

    From cultural anthropology and the history of science and medicine, I learned to attend to competing and changing conceptual schemes, knowledge practices, material cultures, and institutional organizations that inform diverse and often incongruent conceptions of who we are. I work from the assumption that the possibility of multiple perspectives on human life does not just reflect back on the people who study it but often tells us something important about human life itself. As my focus shifted from psychoanalytic to neuroscientific and evolutionary frameworks, my research followed the historical transition from understanding and acting upon the mind in psychological terms to the current predominance of biological approaches. As anthropologist of science, I have written two more books, Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain (University of California Press, 2012) and Chimpanzee Culture Wars: Rethinking Human Nature alongside Japanese, European, and American Cultural Primatologists (Princeton University Press, forthcoming). Regionally, my inquiries trail the cosmopolitan geographies of the scientific fields I study and have taken me from Germany to Switzerland, the United States, Japan, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. Behind this fieldwork in philosophy lurks the question of whether we can face up to the totality of our not always pretty primate existence and still say yes to it.

    I also conduct participant observation of Homo academicus as Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York.

What’s new?

Here are some texts I have recently published:

  1. “Psychedelic science as cosmic play, psychedelic humanities as perennial polemics? Or why we are still fighting over Max Weber’s Science as a Vocation.” Journal of Classical Sociology (2019; online first), 1-15. [Full text]

  2. “Organized Polemics” (a conversation with Des Fitzgerald). BioSocieties, online first, 15 March 2019. [Full text]

  3. “Salvage and Self-loathing: Cultural Primatology and the Spiritual Malaise of the Anthropocene.” Anthropology Today 34:6 (2018), 16-20. [Full text]

For further updates, follow me on Twitter @NicolasLanglitz.

Nicolas Langlitz