Ego Death and Merleau-Ponty’s Body Schema

Kai M
6 min readMay 28, 2020
Illustration by me

Body schema is a somewhat uncommon, but not exactly rare, psychedelic experience. It is generally described as a temporary and total loss of personal identity. It is a deeply intense and all-consuming type of dissociation, but unlike other forms of dissociation such as depersonalisation or dissociative amnesia, it is desired by many. Ego death is the holy grail of the psychedelic experience. Most people who are interested in psychedelics have at least heard about ego death before, and a handful of them have salient knowledge of it. People I know who have undergone ego death before either talk about it with a great sense of joy or a great sense of fear. It is a complex occurrence that affects everybody a little differently… but no matter what, ego death will shake your understanding of self.

It is hard to give details about what exactly ego death is. I have only experienced it once and I always struggle to put it to words. While it was temporary, I believe it permanently changed my relationship with the outside world. Determining what is happening during ego death is tough, largely because we do not understand the inner workings of psychedelics, or the inner workings of personal identity and perception.

So, in an attempt to explore what is actually happening during an ego death, I will be looking at the work of Merleau-Ponty, one of the great philosophers and phenomenologists of the 20th century.

Intro to phenomenology

Phenomenology is a specific type of philosophical inquiry which focuses on understanding the world from a subjective perspective. It is sometimes also explained as an attempt at understanding consciousness or the lived-experience. It can be viewed as a reaction to the rationalist period of philosophy, a movement led by Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, which argued that the world can be fully comprehended by our reasoning skills.

Phenomenology, on the other hand, looked at this idea with great scepticism, and instead argued that our comprehension of the world is always affected by a heavy lens of subjectivity; a lens that can never fully be removed. Phenomenologists believe we can never experience the world unfiltered. We come to know the world through our own perceptive tools (eyes, ears, touch), but these tools cannot…

Kai M

Studying psychedelia at /// Blockchain Ethicist (