Four students have established the Yale Undergraduate Think Tank, an organization that purports to make students aware of infrequently-discussed ideas that have “the potential to greatly affect the human experience” — starting with psychedelic drugs.
The four-person organization began with the realization that there are a wide range of topics being researched but not under discussion by Yale undergraduates, according to president John Koch ’19.
“Weirdly enough, it all fell into our laps this past semester,” said J. Joseph ’19, creative director for the organization. “We took courses on Buddhism and American counterculture, so thoughts on psychedelics and the potential for spiritual healing and ideas for spiritual growth very much came to us.”
While Yale students have previously established thought incubators, they have focused on debate rather than providing information to inform policy decisions, Koch added.
“There are a couple of key issues that we want to raise awareness for undergraduates, the first one being psychedelics,” said Koch. “There was promising research in the mid-to-late ’90s about using psychedelics to treat addiction, PTSD and end-of-life anxiety, so this semester the theme is psychedelics.”
Koch added that future semesters will focus on themes such as artificial intelligence and Eastern philosophy.
For the group, the think tank represents a rare opportunity for members of the Yale community to engage with topics often considered taboo or fringe.
“The think tank is all about facilitating a conversation, to have an honest conversation about benefits and risks,” said Joseph. He also added that another goal of the organization is to form the next generation of leaders who are informed about these topics.
However, Joseph added that not all of the YUTT’s topics will be stigmatized.
“With a topic like artificial intelligence, it’s not so much an issue about stigma than it is about misconception,” said Joseph. “We want to inform people about the rest of artificial intelligence, and how it could be used negatively but also positively, and conveying both sides.”
According to a media release, the group’s main activity is to host speakers at events designed to engage undergraduates. Yesterday, the group hosted its first speaker: Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase understanding of psychedelic substances.
According to the release, future speakers include Alex Grey, a visionary artist, as well as members from a New York University research group studying psilocybin, the active ingredient in a type of mushroom that can reportedly induce mystical or spiritual states of consciousness.
“There have been logistical planning challenges, but not much pushback,” said Koch of the organization. “I think most students respect the idea of engaging in an open dialogue. People have been receptive — and there for conversation even if they don’t disagree.”
Koch added that he hopes students will change their mindsets and attitudes toward the topics at hand.
“We want to provide students with the correct information right now and hope their mindsets will shift given the information,” said Yonatan Araia ’19, the organization’s treasurer. “Our primary goal is not to have students leaving the talks thinking psychedelics are good. It’s for students to leave with information and research indicating objectively what we know about these things now.”
The next event will be a talk with Tony Bossis, an NYU psilocybin researcher, on Jan. 27.