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  The Man Who Turned on the World

    Michael Hollingshead

        2.   The Harvard Happenings


    At Harvard University in the early sixties, students had not yet discovered pot; the great majority were into booze, and there was considerable emphasis on physical prowess and middle-class, American WASP values. They had not escaped from the prison of their conditioning and the grand diagonal of crisis in student sensibilities was between those who went to football games and those who didn't. There was also a snob element, the Ivy League ethos, which pervaded the campus. Harvard was a sort of club designated by the imprimatur of the establishment. Yet 1961 was to herald a change of consciousness that was to have a seismic effect not only on the sensibilities of many Harvard students but on all sections of American culture. I refer of course to the advent of psychedelic drugs.
    Leary had returned from a holiday in Mexico where he had first taken the Sacred Mushroom called teonancatl or 'flesh of the gods' which had been used as a kind of sacrament in Aztec religious rites, with a history going back more than 2000 years. The botanical name for this narcotic mushroom is Psilocybe mexicana, which has autonomic side-effects similar to those of LSD, though milder. According to the Harvard ethnobotanist, Dr. Richard Schultes,
' . . . psychedelic plants act on the central nervous system to bring about a dream-like state marked by extreme alterations in consciousness of self, in the understanding of reality, in the sphere of experience, and usually marked changes in perception of time and space; they almost invariably induce a series of visual hallucinations, often in kaleidoscopic movement, usually in rather indescribably brilliant and rich and unearthly colour, frequently accompanied by auditory and other hallucinations and varieties of synesthesias.'

    The Psilocybe mexicana mushroom was synthesised by Dr. Albert Hofmann in 1958 at the Sandoz Laboratories and given the trade name Psilocybin. It was one of a range of psychedelic (mind-manifesting, mind-opening) plants which dramatically alter psychological functions such as mood, sensation, perception, consciousness, and cognitive function, which are described as 'mystico-revelatory' by various investigators, but statements about the subjective effects and clinical differences among these substances are, at this stage of our knowledge, in the realm of folklore.
    There is considerable disagreement in the literature as to the interpretation of the effects of psychedelics, but there is substantial, one might say unanimous, accord on one major point: they do drastically alter human consciousness. They apparently knock out inhibitory processes in the nervous system (which select, discriminate, censor, evaluate) and they thus release an enormous flow of previously screened-out awareness.
    The words which one uses to describe the psychedelic experience depend upon the investigator's cultural background, his language repertoire, his literary breadth. If you usually label 'psychotic' anything which lies outside the middle-class cultural ego of your tribe, you will call these psychedelic experiences pathological. If you define 'maturity' in terms of those modes of perception popular in urban America of 1961, then you may call any experience outside these limits as 'regressive'. It was Leary's thesis that the psychedelic effect is a transcendental experience, accompanied by intense positive or negative psychological reactions. There is transcendence of space-time categories, of the ego, of subject-object worlds of experience, of words. There is usually a sense of unity or 'oneness' with internal and external process which can be ecstatic and exalting, but which can also be frightening to the unprepared person in a strange or non-supportive physical setting. Whilst most psychologists tend to emphasise the pathological reactions; most subjects, who do not think in pathological categories, stress the positive aspects of the drug experience.
    This would suggest that specificity of reaction to a psychedelic drug is primarily a function of set and setting. If the mental set of the subject and the physical setting or environment are positive, supportive, anxiety-free, then the reaction of the subject will be ecstatic, insightful, and educational. If the set and setting are clinical, experimental, non-supportive, and impersonal, then the reactions will be frightening and confusing. Take the case of the American Indians who still use peyote in connection with their religion. The peyote rite is one of prayer and quiet contemplation. Their doctrine consists of belief in God, brotherly love, care of family and other worthy beliefs. Peyote is conceived of as a sacrament, a holy god-given food and an available means of communion with the Spirit of the Almighty. When ingested, it causes the worshipper to experience a vivid revelation in which he 'sees' or 'hears' the spirit of a departed loved one, or experiences other religious phenomena; or he may be shown the way to solve some daily problem, and experience a deep reverential attitude to the divine; sometimes he may be reproved for some evil thought or deed. For the Indian, there is nothing debasing or morally reprehensible about using a psychedelic substance to establish contact with the gods, for he believes the peyote cactus to be of divine origin.
    For the modern-day Westerner, the psychedelic experience can be very unexpected, seeing how personality is the product of conscious and unconscious imprinting as it may also be seen as the subjective expression of the society in which we happen to be brought up. We like to believe in the general regularity of our mental life, in the constancy of our views or opinions, and like to think how much we are alike, our so-called normality. But in the psychedelic state, our mind seems to obey no rules and, except in trivial ways, seems to exist outside the scope of ordinary rational consciousness.
    It was not surprising, therefore, that psychedelic drugs like LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and peyote were considered by the American psychological establishment as psychotomimetic agents, and in the literature we note that researchers use the language of psychopathology to describe mystical and ecstatic experiences, in what Leary calls 'catalogues of anguish and conflict'.
    The psychiatric researcher is trained to see the world through negative, pathological lenses. He is myopic and cannot see the wood for the trees. When he observes mystical or transcendental or ecstatic reactions the psychiatrist falls back on the concepts to which he is committed. He uses the language of pathology. Psychedelic drugs produce reactions which are not conventional. Somebody else's ecstasy always looks rather bizarre or foolish or insane to such an observer. Since ecstatic behaviours are not conventional and 'normal' it follows that they must be abnormal. Psychotic. Crazy.
    A typical psychiatric interpretation reads like this:
'This paper describes our initial pilot study of clinical effects of psilocybin. The volunteers selected were told only that they might receive a substance which would produce temporary changes in perception and bodily feelings or an inert substances A baseline EEG, mental status and checklist of symptoms was completed before the drug was administered.

    (Notice the suggestive use of a 'list of symptoms'; a researcher not oriented towards pathology could have checked the subject out on a list of ecstasies and illuminating experiences.)
'The experiment was conducted in a dark room. A nurse or doctor or both were constantly in attendance. Every fifteen minutes the psychiatrist rated the subject's responses on the checklist and conducted a mental status examination. Volunteers were told that they might be required to remain in the hospital for twenty-four hours, but only in two instances (out of fourteen) was this necessary. Results visual hallucinations, illusions, a form of hyperacusis, body image distortions, euphoria, anxiety, depression, blocking, disorganised thinking, distractibility, flight of ideas, clang associations, inability to abstract. A subject in response to the proverb "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones'' said before the drug, "You shouldn't point out faults in others that might exist in yourself". After the drug he said, 'At who? That depends on a lot of things." Autonomic responses, pupillary dilation, nausea, dizziness, flushing, abdominal complaints, blood pressure and pulse.... Usage of these drugs especially in an out-patient setting is fraught with the danger and should be undertaken only with the greatest caution. Psilocybin, LSD and mescaline are extremely potent agents capable of producing acute psychotic behaviour in many individuals. Depression with the ever-present risk of suicide may develop during or after their administration. Additional post-drug effects also occur. Once a patient has been entrusted with a hallucinogen even when instructed to take the drug in small doses, below the hallucinogenic threshold, we have no control over the number of pills he may take. The use of hallucinogens should be restricted to research in a hospital setting.'

    The genius of Leary was that he avoided the behaviourist approach to the study and use of psychedelics. Avoid labelling, depersonalising the subject. Don't impose your own scientific jargon or your own experimental game models. Do not set out to validate the redundant implications of your own premises. Do not limit yourself to the pathological hypotheses. Do not interpret ecstasy as mania; calm serenity as catatonia; we must not diagnose Buddha as a detached schizoid; nor Christ as an exhibitionist and/or masochist; nor the mystic experience as a symptom; nor the visionary state as a model psychosis.
    Right from the start the Harvard Psychedelic Project was surrounded by a charged field of excitement, glamour, adventure, enthusiasm, mystery, hyperbole, passion, controversy. Those who were running the show were charismatic, distinguished, articulate and colourful. Whilst the majority of the Harvard faculty was content to observe the world, our message was revolutionary: if things are not right, then let's change them. LSD et as was the New Heresy that gave birth to momentous social change in the form of a New Radicalism, which had as its core the experience of transcendence. Man could take a 'third eye' view of himself. He could escape from the prison of his conditioning, his robot-self, and move towards wholeness, completeness, place-in-the-world. We could all be conscious agents in the evolutionary process. This was to be our brave Golden Age of Anarchy when man would free himself from the dehumanisation of self-perpetuating, oligarchical bureaucracies and build a new, socialised, humanized super-society. We wanted to make 'turning-on' a natural part of modern man's existence, for the experience of liberation from the tyranny of the ego is an experience so extraordinary, so unique, that it is never forgotten by the individual—indeed, the vision is the impetus to behaviour change.
    Our offices at that time were located in an old, remodelled Cambridge house—Five Divinity Avenue. About nine faculty members and seventy graduate students in psychology used the building as their place of research and study, and it was a division of the Social Relations Department.
    As fate or chance would have it, the building was called Morton Prince House after one of the first American psychologists to recognise alterations in consciousness as a critical area for research. Morton Prince would still be considered 'far out' today with his curious and bold interests in multiple personality, hypnosis, trance states and visionary experience.
    It seemed somehow most natural and proper that we should be initiating a research into altered states of consciousness in this building.
    Although Morton Prince was the founder of the Center he was not the first Harvard scholar to adventure boldly into the uncharted realms of inner space. The lineage of this research can be traced to the turn of the century, to that most venerable and greatest of American psychologists, William James, who saw that if the riddle of consciousness was to be solved then the researcher must use psychophysical means on himself. James tried the peyotl cactus, the sacramental food of the Indians—only to be daunted by the stumbling block of nausea. He also tried nitrous oxide (laughing gas) as an available means of enlarging consciousness, and refers to his experiences in his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience:
'Some years ago I myself made some observations on this aspect of nitrous oxide intoxication, and reported them in print. One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, 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. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question—for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality. Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge towards a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance. The keynote of it is invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the world whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do they as contrasted species, belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species the nobler and better one, is itself the genus and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself. This is a dark saying, I know, when thus expressed in terms of common logic, but I cannot wholly escape from its authority. I feel as if it must mean something, something like what the Hegelian philosophy means, if one could only lay hold of it more clearly. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear; to me the living sense of its reality only comes in the artificial mystic state of mind.'

    So the genealogical line of research in altered consciousness at Harvard starts with William James and from him to Morton Prince. And after Prince came another giant of psychology: Henry A. Murray, who was the director of the Center.
    Professor Murray used fantasy, dream legend, folklore, mystic vision, poetry and esoteric writings as the raw material of his work on human personality. It was perhaps inevitable that he would request a psychedelic session, and in the spring of 1961 he took the drug for the first time. As he said of his decision afterwards, 'Curiosity and the envisaged possibility that I might revel in a little efficacious lunacy spurred me on to it. Why not?' It was a bold decision for a modern behavioural scientist at a time when the behaviourists were the tough-minded guys who wanted to apply impeccable scientific methodology to the study of the human organism, hiding their mediocrity and lack of imagination behind 'scientific' models, techniques, and mechanical 'designs' of the mind which are by definition mediocre and unimaginative, generating triviality and error.
    Professor Murray realised that modern man is sitting on top of a simmering volcano. The psychedelic experience is one possible solution to avoid the deepening chaos; but thinkers, philosophers, psychologists and scholars have been singularly reticent about the possibility of expanding man's awareness and as a group are disinclined to face up to the existence of this new range of mind-changing chemicals by modern synthetic chemistry. If the minds of men are blind, then surely we should utilise whatever available means we have to restore true vision.
    The psychedelic experience and the insights it provides entail the obligation to communicate and to listen. Revelation and response are not a man's private affair; for the revelation comes to one man for all men, and in his response he is representative of mankind. And since the response is representative it endows the recipient of revelation, in relation to his fellow men, with the authority of the prophet.
    But here we come to the central problem. Spiritual fervour is not necessarily accompanied by tact; and men at large do not willingly recognise a new voice of authority when they hear it. (Vide Leary, Aldous Huxley, Herald Hear, Alan Watts, Robert Graves, Henry Murray). The difficulties are infinitely aggravated in our present-day world of easy mass communication which encourages a multiplicity of successive and often parallel authorities whose rival claims extend all over the place by virtue of the large followership which they have found. I think if a Jesus or a Buddha were to appear in our midst today he would be hard pressed to convince anyone of the relevance to mankind of his teachings. We find ourselves in a situation that Aldous Huxley, the patron saint of the psychedelic movement, touches on in his essay 'Art and the Obvious', where he talks of the incompetence and vulgarity with which the great obvious truths have been trivialised by hacks, and goes on to say that 'on some of the most sensitive and self-conscious artists of our age, this state of affairs has had a curious and unprecedented effect. They have become afraid of the obviousness of things, the great as well as the little.'
    But perhaps the communication of an old obvious truth—that the fullest kind of maturity has its core in the experience of personal transcendence—consists not so much in looking for new things to do as in finding new and relevant ways of doing the obvious things.
    It is evident that every scientific, ethical, aesthetic and spiritual advance has been made by individuals who, to some extent, broke out of the prison of their linguistic and social conditioning. And when we consider the present situation of the world, we see that advancing technology has rendered our prevailing nationalistic and militaristic culture completely obsolete, inappropriate and appallingly dangerous. Populations, civilisations and their rulers are everywhere the prisoners of this obsolete culture. They can't escape. Indeed, they have been so thoroughly conditioned that, although on the intellectual level they are aware of their danger, they do not, on the subconscious levels really want to escape.
    What can be done to help individuals to become the beneficiaries of language and culture without, at the same time, becoming their prisoners and passive victims, or running amok under the intoxicating influence of misused words? There are several 'obvious' things that might be done. We can give young people (and adults) instruction in the nature, limitations and capabilities for evil as well as for good, of language. We can drum into their heads (as every wise man from Buddha and Saint Paul down to those of the present has always done) that words are not the same as things, that concepts are not experiences, that pigeon-holes do not exist in nature, that it is both stupid and unjust to hang a dog because somebody has given him a bad name (Hitler massacred six million Jews who were regarded not as human beings, but as the embodiment of a bad name). We must teach our youth to take their ease with words, naively, by reflex.
    These thoughts are pretty 'obvious' to those who use psychedelics.
(Huxley: Private correspondence.) 'The accelerating rate of technological advance, of preparation for war, and of population increase leaves the human race very little time in which to get out of the prevailing mess. Perhaps within a decade the difficulties created by increasing pressure of numbers upon resources and by the disruptive impact of technology upon established behaviour patterns, may easily involve the whole world in a deepening chaos, to which the only antidote will be the iron dictatorship of generals or commissars. Those of us who worked with psychedelic drugs believed that within this short period we must try to train up a sufficient and effective minority of individuals, capable of profiting by language and culture without being stultified or made mad by them, capable of changing obsolete behaviour patterns in such a way that mankind may find it possible to live in conformity, not with disastrous slogans and dogmas inherited from the past, but with the life process, the essential Suchness of the world.'

    My own view is that LSD may be nothing more than the extreme lengths to which a handful of individuals were prepared to go in order to ensure the continuity of their necessary freedoms.
    This slight digression over, let us return to the activities at Five Divinity Avenue, to that tiny group led by Leary and sustained by Murray, who were to fiddle with irrelevancies while the giant powers multiplied their infernal weapons, threats, and provocations. As soon as it became known that a research project involving the use of these new psychedelic drugs was to be organised, large numbers of graduate students came round to join the project. There were many planning sessions, and an air of excitement pervaded Morton Prince House. We also examined the available literature on the subject, including the works of Aldous Huxley—Heaven and Hell and The Doors of Perception which detailed his experiences with mescaline, as well as his novel Island about a 'positive Utopia' in which psychedelic drugs are used by a community to help expand awareness and bring its members closer to God. It was Huxley's solution to the problems and horrors he described so dramatically in Brave New World and Ape and Essence. There were also Leary's papers on the subject as well as monographs by Frank Barron, a leading American authority of creativity, Richard Alpert, a member of the Harvard Faculty, and William Burroughs. It was not much, but it was enough to start planning sessions based on non-clinical methodologies.
    My job at this time was as an assistant to Leary. I was living in his house and we would drive to the office each morning from Boston, just across the river from Cambridge. I was also given a course to teach, two hours a week, when I would meet with perhaps a dozen graduate students in psychology to plan and discuss LSD sessions. We would sit around discussing how best to run group sessions, the function of the 'guide' or administrator, and the ethical and interpersonal principles involved. The atmosphere of the Center hadn't been this stirred since Harry Murray was trying to solve the Lindberg kidnapping, since Morton Prince tried to get in touch with the co-conscious 'spirit world', since William James started a rage of nitrous oxide parties in Boston's Back Bay.
    What we wanted to achieve was an 'open', collaborative and humanistic response to our research in order to produce optimally positive reactions to the drug experience. And by 'positive reaction' we meant a pleasant, ecstatic, non-anxious experience leading to a broadening of awareness and an increase in individual insight. The following principles were laid down by the team:
    1. Participants whenever possible will alternate roles of observer and subject.
    2. Participants will be given all available information about the drug and its effects before the experiment. We will attempt to avoid an atmosphere of mystery and secret experimentation.
    3. The participants will be given control of their own dosage. A maximum dosage will be determined by the principal investigators. This maximum number of tablets will be given the subject and he will be told to dose himself at the rate and amount he desires.
    4. The sessions will take place in pleasant, spacious aesthetic surroundings. Music, art reproductions, sympathetic observers will be available.
    5. The subject will be allowed to bring a relative or friend to be his observer.
    6. No subject should take the drug in a group where he is a stranger.
    7. An attempt will be made to have one observer for each two subjects. The subjects will be given complete freedom of the house but cannot leave the premises. Observers will be available at all times for discussion.
    8. Observers will be present at the end of the session for follow-up discussions.

It is interesting to look back at some of the original members of the Harvard Psychedelic Project, who were first introduced to LSD via the contents of the magic mayonnaise jar, and to note their successive and deepening involvement in the psychedelic movement, which was to spread from Harvard to all sections of our Western culture as well as introduce a new vocabulary for a turned-on youth movement ('psychedelic', 'acid', 'trip', 'stoned'); new slogans ('turn on, tune in, drop out'); new artistic forms (psychedelic art, acid rock, psychedelic discotheques, a Beatle album openly celebrating the psychedelic experience); new drug-associated organizations (The International Federation for Internal Freedom [IFIF] in Cambridge, The Agora Scientific Trust in New York, The World Psychedelic Centre in London, The Castalia Foundation at Millbrook); new religions (The Neo-American Church, The League for Spiritual Discovery, The Free High Church of Cumbrae [Scotland], The Church of the Awakening, San Francisco); new life-styles (head shops, ashrams, communes, The Brotherhood of Eternal Love); an underground newspaper service; new literary forms and themes (High Priest, Time Psychedelic Review, The Ecstatic Adventure, The Psychedelic Experience, Psychedelic Prayers, The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience) and so on and so forth.
    Along the crowded corridors of the Center walked Aldous and Laura Huxley, Arthur Koestler, William Burroughs, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, famous musicians and painters, ministers, cured dope addicts, New York hipsters, oriental religious leaders, rabbis and even a couple of Jesuits. 'There is some possibility that my friends and I have illuminated more people than anyone else in history.'
    It was not long before the Harvard Research Project had grown to include some forty professors and graduate students, who had sensed in the psychedelic experience a new tool with which to shape and extend their awareness of the world and the other people in it. And their claims on behalf of LSD et al were highly articulate, and perhaps tinged with a fervour usually associated with religious belief. Naturally, this had a disturbing effect on their colleagues, who were doing real psychology—Delay of Gratification Experiments; Need for Achievement; Personality Studies of Lower-Class Irish in South Boston; The Rorschach Test; Need for Approval; Perception and Motivation Studies. Psychology was the science of rats and tests and statistics. Exploring and mapping new realms of internal experience didn't belong here. Or did it ? Who could now really say ? The hermetic vase had been opened, and the avis Hermetis had flown the nest. The dynamic life-giving adventure of exploring inner space was to become the new romance.
    It was inevitable that, as our drug programme expanded, criticism and rumour began to flourish about our activities. One of the most vocal of the critics was Professor David McClelland, a professor of psychology, a protestant-ethic man, highly intelligent, an expert in the psychological basis of 'fantasy', a prominent Quaker, dedicated to external achievement.
    McClelland had decided to bring matters to a head by calling a meeting of the staff of the Center in which he revealed in no uncertain terms his growing concern over the Psychedelic Project. To judge by the behaviour of Mexican curanderas and Indian mystics, he said, one would expect the chief effects of psychedelic substances to be to encourage withdrawal from contact with social reality and to increase satisfaction with one's own inner thought life. Research reports from the current Harvard project, he said, 'are not inconsistent with these expectations'. And went on to note that 'initiates begin to show a certain blandness, or superiority, or feeling of being above and beyond the normal worlds of social reality'. He was concerned about a developing interpersonal insensitivity, about the 'inability to predict in advance what the social reaction of a "psilocybin party" would be'. And religious and philosophical naiveté: 'Many reports are given of deep mystical experiences, but their chief characteristic is the wonder at one's own profundity rather than a genuine concern to probe deeper into the experience of the human race in these matters', and impulsivity: 'One of the most difficult parts of the research has been to introduce any order into who takes the drug under what conditions. Any controls have either been rejected as interfering with the warmth necessary to have a valuable experience or accepted as desirable but then not applied because somehow an occasion arises when it seems "right" to have a psychedelic session'. He concluded his statements with this warning: 'It is probably no accident that the society which most consistently encouraged the use of these substances India, produced one of the sickest social orders ever created by mankind in which thinking men spent their time lost in the Buddha position under the influence of drugs exploring consciousness, while poverty, disease, social discrimination, and superstition reached their highest and most organised form in all history.'
    Another critic, Dr. Herbert Kelman, lecturer in Social Psychology, said at a later meeting that he had observed that graduate students in the project had formed clannish 'insider groups'. 'I also question whether this project is carried out primarily as an intellectual endeavour or whether it is being pursued as a new kind of experience to offer an answer to man's ills,' he said.
    The problem was one of communication, or rather the lack of any, for we had let the rumours go unchecked. From the point of view of those of us working on the project, psychedelic drugs had an amazing potential, not only as aids to psychotherapy but in such areas as prisoner rehabilitation, personal growth and individual freedom, interpersonal community structures, improved human relations, creativity, art and entertainment, education, religion and philosophy, politics and sociology, experimental behavioural science, to mention just a few of the practical applications we had pursued. We came to believe, as a result of our own experiences and those reported to us by others using psychedelics, that they had the potential to facilitate for the individual the experience of major insights and problem solutions of an intellectual-emotional nature. The realm of these insights or problem solutions is in any area which is meaningful to that individual be it social or personal, intellectual, religious, philosophical, things like that.
    It was also our conviction that these insights, enlightenment or solutions provided a firm educational foundation for (a) change in the social or intellectual behaviour of the individual, (b) the development of new models regarding the nature of man along with suitable research designs to test such models, (c) the development of more subtle methods of communication between individuals and (d) the conceptualization and formulation of modified social systems.
    We tried to counter the criticisms by gathering together some of the students who had used psychedelics, at which time phenomenological reports were made. We also had two graduate students in the Harvard Divinity School and one student from M.I.T. Philosophy Department attending who were considering Ph.D. dissertations in this area.
    We also brought out a Newsletter in which we tried to illustrate the impact of the psychedelic experience by quotes from subjects' reports:

'The atmosphere could hardly have been made more pleasant and congenial. The freedom, spontaneity, and personal warmth within the group and between members of the group became very meaningful. In these moments the psychology vs. theology business dropped off, the faculty-student barrier just did not matter, even the friend-stranger game was minimised. For these few moments we interacted not as role players or status seekers but as human beings—men who share common sorrows and common joys, some of which we discussed.
'Things going on inside me took all my attention. Early in my session I fastened upon the question of the distinction between knower and known, recalling Allport's and Hall and Lindzey's discussion of whether the self should be conceptualized in terms of the processes of knowing (self-as-subject, James' pure Ego) or in terms of the structures, patterns, abstractions by which one defines himself (self-as-object, proprium). It seemed to me that these were being dissociated in me, and I as knower was unable to confirm my knowing or to sustain my sense of identity by referring to any stable elements of myself. I recall looking at a Buddhist symbol, a circle divided into two S-shaped parts, one black and one white, with a centre in each of the semi-circles which formed the S. I struggled to bring the two centres together, as if "the 1" had to do so to survive. I can remember twisting and straining with all my might, saying I-I-I-I-I and somehow being aware that the batter of my universe was to maintain the "I" while all else was stripped away.
'Two related feelings were present. One was a tremendous freedom to experience, to be I. It became very important to distinguish between I and Me, the latter being an object defined by patterns and structures and responsibilities—all of which had vanished—and the former being the subject experiencing and feeling.
'What it all means: First, for psychological theory. One striking aspect of the experience was the lack of sexual feelings or thoughts. We all commented upon this. Another was the lack of aggression—moments of irritability produced only a desire to move away from the irritating one. Moreover, I experienced no developmental regression. While this does not in any way disprove Freudian theory, it makes it utterly irrelevant to this experience....
'To begin with, the usual: the experience is so fantastic in both its novelty and its power as to beggar all possibility of adequate depiction through words. The most that can be hoped for by way of description is an approximation, and only those who have had the drug can know how far removed from actuality the approximation must be.
'The things that can be said easily and unequivocally are: (I) My physical symptoms were a pronounced quaking which centred in my lower limbs, climaxing (I would judge) about one and a half hours after taking the drug but continuing off and on for about five hours; a slight stomach cramp for about ten hours; the feeling of physical depletion—having been wrung through a wringer—on coming out of the spell; and inability to sleep (bright flashes of light) until 3.00 a.m. (2) No disorientation—at no point did I lose awareness of who I was, where I was, or the group experience that was underway. (3) Considerable apprehension, but no real terror or paranoia.
'Now to the difficult part. The best way I can describe the experience as a whole is to liken it to an emotional-reflective-visual kaleidoscope, with the words listed in order of decreasing importance—mood and emotion most important, thought next, visual (internal, of the sort you can get with your eyes closed) least. Experience involving these three components kept dissolving continuously from one pattern into another.
'Emotionally the patterns ranged from serene contentment and mild euphoria to apprehension which bordered on, but never slipped into, alarm, but overwhelmingly they involved (a) astonishment at the absolutely incredible immensity, complexity, intensity and extravagance of being, existence, the cosmos, call it what you will. Ontological shock, I suppose. (b) The most acute sense of the poignancy, fragility, preciousness, and significance of all life and history. The latter was accompanied by a powerful sense of the responsibility of all for all—all this, it must be pointed out, while lying comfortably and privately flat on one's back.
'Intellectually, the dominant impression was that of entering into the very marrow of existence. Instead of looking at a painting, I was climbing into it, almost through it, as if to view it from behind. So too with being in general. It was as if each of the billion atoms of experience which under normal circumstances are summarised and averaged into crude, indiscriminate wholesale impressions was now being seen and savoured for itself. The other clear sense was that of cosmic relativity. Perhaps all experience never gets summarised in any inclusive over-view. Perhaps all there is is this everlasting congerie of an infinite number of discrete points of view, each summarising the whole from its perspective with the sum of all perspectives running the entire gamut from terror to absolute assurance and ecstasy.
'During the supper, after the two groups had gathered together I found myself disinclined to speak much. And the reason seemed clear—and still does. Several times a thought began to take shape. But immediately one saw three or four feasible (and very different) ways any overt expression of it could be taken: straightforward, platitudinous, farcical, too personally revelatory to be publicly broadcast, etc. As language seemed too gross and clumsy to screen out the senses 1 did not intend, it seemed, not so much more prudent as more truthful in the sense of not-multiplying-misunderstanding, to remain for the most part quiet.
'Felt clean—cleansed, actually—clear and happy the next day; the reverse to about equal degree the day following: normal, thereafter.'

    We also tried to scotch the rumours by 'coming out front' and including mention of them in the Newsletter:
'During the fall of 1961 reports circulated in Manhattan literary, artistic and intellectual circles about the availability of black market hallucinogenic drugs, allegedly psilocybin. These substances were sold in liquid form. Because of our interest in the anthropology of consciousness-altering substances we investigated these reports. Conversations with a physician who analysed this liquid revealed it to be a form of LSD mixed with another substance, probably amphetamine.
'In December we were informed about the case of a well-known model who had been wandering for several weeks in lower Manhattan in a delirious state which was attributed to liquid "mushrooms". A New York businessman who is producing a movie on the Mexican mushroom heard of this case—his wife being a former friend of the model. The girl was located and a physician called. The girl made an apparent recovery. After a week, at the suggestion of the physician, and at our invitation the girl came to Boston for a rest. We had anticipated that we could assist her in integrating her experience into her life. However, she was immediately seen to be suffering from a severer psychosis. A psychiatrist was called and hospitalization arranged in a local hospital. Subsequent investigations have determined that the girl had probably been functionally psychotic for several months.
'On Saturday, morning 7 October, we were asked for help by an undergraduate who knew of our work and was concerned about his girl. It seemed that he had obtained (from New York) and taken a hallucinogen the previous evening and had spent this evening with his girl, who was, apparently, already quite emotionally disturbed as the result of a series of recent traumatic experiences. During the night, although the girl did not take any drugs herself, she was affected by the situation, so much so that she lost contact with reality a number of times during the course of the evening. After a review of the situation, we arranged for the girl to see a Cambridge psychiatrist whom she reported having visited previously. We have continued to see the boy up to the present time in order to help him integrate and make use of his experience.
'A recent rumour suggested that the punch at a University function had been "spiked" with hallucinogens by a student who obtained the material from us. In fact, our materials are carefully safeguarded and are signed out only to the members of our staff (who sign a requisition for all material) for specified research purposes. We were unable to ascertain the source of the rumour.
'In the fall of 1961 members of our research group were approached by and met twice with several young men who have been informally experimenting with conscious-altering substances. All of these young men were or had been Harvard undergraduates. They wanted to talk with us about their experiences, and particularly about their plans for a model free community in Mexico. Two of these young men did go to Mexico to look for a location, but they returned to Cambridge. To our knowledge no community has been established. In our discussions with these men we found them to be imaginative, decent, and full of youthful exuberance. We did nothing to encourage their use of conscious-altering substances. Rather, we expressed concern about the clandestine atmosphere in which they used these substances and talked very frankly with them about the frightening experiences that stem from secretiveness, suspicion, and fear.'

    The Newsletter ended with a paragraph about 'Group leaders':
'There is, at present, a group of psychologists who, during the past year have become very familiar with psilocybin and its effects. They have each participated in a number of sessions both as member and leader. We start with this group as a nucleus of administrators. The group includes: Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Michael Kahn, George Litwin, Ralph Metzner, Gunther Weil, Ralph Schwitzgebel, Michael Hollingshead.

    But the paranoia was not restricted to Harvard. The Press were having a field-day, and reports of our activities began to appear in such mass-circulation magazines as The Reporter ('The Hallucinogenic Drug Cult'); Look ('Weird Story of Harvard's Drug Scandal'), and even an article entitled 'Psycho Chemicals as Weapons' which appeared in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which prompted us to reply in an article duly published in their next issue; our article was headed 'The Politics of the Nervous System'.

(Published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Pub: Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, Inc., 935 E. 60 St. Chicago 37, III.)
'The article by Dr. E. James Lieberman entitled "Psycho Chemicals as Weapons" (January, 1962) could lead to serious confusion in the minds of a credulous public and of a credulous military. The author seems to be moved by admirable democratic sentiments, but he has mixed together an astonishing combination of psychiatric folklore and chemical warfare fantasy. The results are misleading.
    'The so-called "psychotropic weapons" emphasised in this article are Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), Mescaline (the synthetic of the "divine peyote cactus"), and Psilocybin (the synthetic of the Sacred Mushroom of Mexico). The author, a psychiatrist, warns that "catastrophic damage that would be neither reversible nor humane" might follow the ingestion of these drugs.
    'Dr. Lieberman has presented one of the many sharply divergent viewpoints about the interpretation and application of these drugs. Many psychiatrists believe that LSD, Mescaline and Psilocybin produce psychiatric symptoms—anxiety, depression, detachment, confusion, suspicion, psychosis. Many other investigators have come to the conclusion that these symptoms exist mainly in the mind and eye of the psychiatrist, and that consciousness-expanding chemicals, far from being dangerous weapons, may produce dramatic changes in personality leading to unprecedented peace, sanity and happiness.
    'Perhaps it depends on what you are trained to look for. Most psychiatrists who have experimented with such consciousness-affecting drugs report danger. Most non-psychiatrists see these drugs as great benefactors of mankind. Included in the latter group are Albert Hofmann, the brilliant bio-chemist, who first synthesised LSD and Psilocybin; Alan Watts, author and philosopher; Robert S. de Ropp, bio-chemist; Aldous Huxley, novelist and philosopher; and the great American psychologist and philosopher, William James. Also included among those who hail the humanistic promise of consciousness-expanding drugs are a few psychiatrists who have seen beyond psychopathology to the adaptive potentials of the human brain.
    'So much for the controversial. Research and not words will resolve these issues. But let us look next at the secure knowledge which exists concerning Mescaline, LSD, and Psilocybin. What are these substances? Sacramental foods? Devilish weapons? Wonder medicines?
    'It is easier to say what they are not. They are not addictive, nor sedative, nor intoxicating. There is no evidence for any lasting and very few transient physical effects. Everyone agrees on one factor—they dramatically alter consciousness and expand awareness.
    'There is a second generally shared conclusion. Set and suggestibility, expectation and emotional atmosphere account for almost all of the specificity of reaction. If the drug-giver is supportive, open, relaxed, then the results will usually be positive, educational, dramatically insightful. If, on the other hand, the drug-giver is secretive, depersonalised, himself fearful of the drug, then the reactions will probably be anxious and unpleasant.
    'As members of a research project studying the effects and application of consciousness-expanding drugs, we have had the opportunity during the last eighteen months of observing the behavioural and phenomenological reactions of over 300 subjects. A glance at some of our results suggests that the military applications of consciousness-expanding drugs may be limited. Ninety-one per cent of the Americans who have participated in our research report pleasant, inspirational experiences. Even with no attempt to be therapeutic, and with only one ingestion, over sixty per cent of our subjects report subsequent life changes for the better.
    'During the past twelve months we have used these drugs for rehabilitation purposes in a maximum security prison. During more than 100 individual ingestions with-hardened criminals we have witnessed dramatic insight and behaviour change reactions.
    'Like any product of our advanced technology, the consciousness-expanding drugs can be used to manipulate; to dominate, to frighten or to benefit mankind. A hypodermic syringe of LSD or Salk vaccine in the hands of an enemy can become a frightening weapon. However, the greatest enemies of mankind are ignorance and fear. In the hands of the unfriendly, these weapons—ignorance and fear—can paralyse and destroy.
    'What are the protections? Accurate information, openly shared, calm, courageous response to the evidence. Psychiatrists and physicians (on whom Dr. Lieberman calls for rescue from danger, perhaps imaginary) can help to the extent they are collaborative, open, fearless with their fellow men. If the American people are frightened by psychopathological obsessions and psychiatric superstitions and ill-kept chemical warfare secrets, they can be hurt. We are least vulnerable and strongest when we are well-informed. Facts are the defence against any weapon, and particularly the psychological weapons of fear and helplessness.
    'The facts about consciousness-expanding substances are not all in yet, but some things are clear. Physiologically these substances act mainly on the brain stem, disinhibiting certain regulating, selecting, screening and controlling mechanisms that constantly guide our perception and thinking. The higher, conscious centres are free temporarily from these artificial restrictions. Behaviourally the main effect of these substances is relaxation. Most of our subjects are very happy just to sit and enjoy the world. There is much less talking, much less superficial movement or conversation. Let us be clear, almost all of our subjects could function very adequately if called on. They choose to relax. Psychologically these amazing substances expand your awareness, they open your mind. The kaleidoscopic and complex world that has always been there, the powerful sensations from every part of your body and the unusual connections of thoughts and feelings that are normally ignored come dramatically into consciousness.
    'Of course these experiences can be frightening. If you are not prepared, if you do not know what is happening to you and your brain, if you are struggling to maintain complete verbal control over your senses and your awareness, you will certainly be frightened and angry. But if you are prepared, if you know what kind of a chemical you have taken and what to expect (which most subjects participating in psychiatric research with these substances do not), if you do relax, then the experience can be wonderful, enlightening, and life-changing. If an enemy does drop LSD in the water supply and if you are accurately informed and prepared, then you have two choices. If you have the time and inclination you should sit back and enjoy the most exciting education experience of your life (you might be forever grateful to the saboteur). If you don't have the time or the inclination for this pleasant and insightful experience, then swallow a tranquilliser (which is a good antidote) and you'll be back to the prosaic reality. Tomorrow the drugs and the counter-drugs may be different, but the prescription is the same.
    'If an enemy introduced a consciousness-expanding drug into a military command centre, our leaders (if they are accurately informed and experienced about the potentials of expanded awareness) might find that men in certain key positions could function better. In fact, we must assume that these substances are now being used by our space agency for the preparation of cosmonauts, who will certainly undergo altered states of consciousness in space exploration.
    'Your brain is your own. Intelligent, open collaboration can expand your mind—with words and with drugs. Only ignorance and misinformation can allow someone else to control it—with their own words or with their drugs or with their imaginary fears.'
Timothy Leary
George Litwin
Michael Hollingshead
Gunther Weil
Richard Alpert
Harvard University

Chapter 3

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