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  The Center of the Universe

    William S. Moxley

        2.   Models and Theories

LATER ON THAT YEAR. We have slowly been building up a stock of seeds of the "Heavenly Blue" morning glory, Ipomoea violacea, which grows widely in this area of Mexico. A short drive out of the city in any direction leads to the discovery of some extensive stand of the plant, and we look for groups of boys playing and gather them 'round for a short lesson on economic realities. It seems that we offer hard pesos for anyone who will gather these funny little black seeds for us, and be here on this spot in exactly one week. Returning after a week we usually find only one or two of the boys has taken us seriously and actually collected even a coffee-can full. But when the scales come out of the back of the pickup, and hard cash changes hands for what would seem to all excepting gringos a worthless commodity, eyes widen with dreams of transistor radios. Mexico is a tragically poor nation, and our harvest of seeds has, upon last inventory, attained rather amazing levels with very little expense.
    Our peyote experiments have been a resounding success. We have sent capsules of our extract to several aficionados of psychedelic preparations, and received very positive reports comparing the natural alkaloidal blend favorably with both synthesized mescaline and other psychedelics. Institutional researchers would of course immediately dismiss our results as anecdotal and subjective, and we certainly have not troubled ourselves to do "double-blind" experiments as would be expected for "scientifically" legitimate results. The legitimacy of our results is, for better or for worse, not dependent on institutional acceptance, but upon the opinions of those whose wisdom we have come to respect. A peyote shaman, asked to perform a double-blind ceremony using our preparation, would be as correct to ridicule our idea as the institutional scientist for criticizing the lack of such protocol. We quite enjoy the eclecticism of the middle ground we have staked out for our research paradigm.
    The modern institutional requirements for acceptance of research have been sometimes accused by even notable scientists as not only too strict and exclusive, but also as being ignorant of the methods of a great deal of exceptional and ground-breaking science before the present period. (See for example the reference in footnote 5, below, for a criticism of the requirement of "blind" and "double-blind" techniques.) Single-case studies, subjective reports, experiments which are not, in principle, repeatable, and other (according to modern dogma) "non-scientific" methods we are free to use and interpret with our own guidelines. When an unrepeatable, subjective experiment leads us to an heuristic or empirical model and thus provides a component for a theory which then accurately predicts and points the way for further research, criticism based upon the nature of the original experiment sends the distinct message that the critic has "his eyes in his pocket and his nose on the ground". And in the field of psychedelic research, more than any other we know, trying to achieve the "hardness" of results that academics insist is so important is often like "trying to catch the wind". (I will presently have more to say about our concepts of models and theories and how they relate to both "hard" science and to the "softer" disciplines such as our own. And in the next chapter I will deal with the multitude of purported "effects" of the psychedelic drugs and why experimentation has so often led to confusion when the presumption of classical cause and effect relationships is the guiding paradigm of experiments.)
    The one significant disappointment of the peyote extract is that it is unstable. Within even one week, a 500 milligram dose is just perceptibly less potent, and within a month the potency of the dose is significantly reduced. Since the stability of the dried cactus tops or "buds" has been reported to be exceptional, a noted authority on the subject calling the buds "practically indestructible", it is obvious that the "impurities" we have removed in our process are essential to preserving psychedelic activity of the raw alkaloidal mixture. This result, combined with the necessity of processing large volumes of material to produce enough extract for even twenty or thirty doses, make any practical use of the product prohibitive. It is expensive to produce and ephemeral. In addition, we feel that any attempts to produce a stable preparation by further processing would probably nullify the advantages of the broad-spectrum alkaloidal extract principle that we have tested. We have therefore turned our attention to preparing and experimenting with extracts of the morning glory.
    At least two species of morning-glory seed have been used since antiquity as divinatory agents by the Amerindian shamans of Mexico. The Ipomoea violacea we have collected seems to grow just about everywhere, and is, in fact, the exact same plant that horticulturists have introduced in Europe and the U.S., the ornamental "Heavenly Blue" morning-glory vine. The second psychedelic species, Rivea corymbosa, we have found only further south, but in the scientific literature its reported habitat is the entire coastal area of the Gulf of Mexico. We obtained about a kilo of seeds from a local source, but did not seek out larger quantities since our supply of Ipomoea violacea was quite sufficient, and of the two species, was also the most potent. (1)
    An interesting page in the history of the biochemical study of alkaloids was recorded the day in 1960 when Albert Hofmann presented his findings about the identity of the alkaloids of the morning-glory to a symposium in Melbourne, Australia. Until that day, it was believed that the only natural source of the lysergic acid alkaloids was the parasitic fungus of grasses, ergot. In the plant kingdom there are extremely diverse plants, from primitive fungi to the highest species of flowering plants, that produce the biochemical substances known to chemists as alkaloids. These natural plant substances are widespread, and so diverse in their nature that no simple or unique reason for their evolution can be postulated. And their diversity and complexity is such that it is rare to find the same alkaloid in two different plants even if they are close evolutionary neighbors. When Dr. Hofmann announced that the alkaloids of the morning-glory vine (a plant far removed on the evolutionary tree from the primitive ergot fungus) were also derivatives of lysergic acid, many in the audience of scientists were plainly incredulous. Despite the impeccable reputation of Dr. Hofmann and the Sandoz Laboratories of which he was a director, more than one group of scientists attempted to disprove the findings. One group thought that the seeds used must have been contaminated with some species of ergot-like fungus and published a paper to the effect. Painstaking further work in which seeds were carefully dissected and shown not to be infected with any type of fungal spore or growth finally proved the location of the alkaloids to be concentrated in the embryonic material of the seeds.
    We had obtained reprints of all the relevant scientific papers in New York and were now ready to prepare a large sample of the morning-glory alkaloids for further experimentation. As with our peyote extraction, we wished to obtain a total alkaloidal extract of the seeds even though it had been postulated by some that only one alkaloid of the group was the active psychedelic component. Hofmann had shown that probably four or five lysergic acid derivatives were active: lysergic acid amide, isolysergic acid amide, lysergol, elymoclavine and perhaps ergometrine. We thought it of great significance that the first two of these compounds, and the last as well, have a structure practically identical to LSD. The fact that the use of LSD-like psychedelic agents had been as significant as of the peyote cactus or the psilocybin mushrooms, at least in this area of the world, made claims that LSD was a modern, synthesized, and therefore "unnatural" psychedelic drug seem rather ill-conceived. (2)
    Hofmann and his co-workers had made several tests of the psychedelic activity of their own extracts, both as broad spectrum mixtures and also of the separated alkaloids, but their self-administered dosages had not reliably produced much more than minor effects. Our first goal would therefore be to obtain an extract which, when taken in a dose roughly equivalent to that used in native ceremonies, produced some effects of significance. We based our extraction procedures both on published analytical work, on generally accepted routines for chemical extraction of alkaloids, and gave some consideration as well to the methods used by the shamans in preparing seeds for their ceremonies. In tribal use, the seeds are first ground to a fine flour, then soaked in cold water. After a short time, the liquid is filtered off and drunk. This would indicate firstly that the active components were readily soluble in water, and secondly that other components of the seed, not so readily soluble, might possibly interfere with the psychedelic effects or produce diverse effects of their own. Such a hypothesis might explain the inconsistent results of some workers who had experimented with Ipomoea or Rivea seeds and found them lacking in activity.
    A second goal for our work would be to try to obtain pure lysergic acid from the seed extracts by chemical hydrolysis. A rather large industry had evolved since the turn of the century which produced the alkaloid ergotamine from a laborious process of growing the ergot fungus on rye grass. Ergotamine had been a widely used lysergic acid alkaloid for decades, but recently other derivatives of lysergic acid had been found to be more useful, and to produce them, the ergotamine yield from ergot was first hydrolyzed to lysergic acid, then appropriately reacted with various amines or other compounds. It was work of this type that had led Hofmann to synthesize LSD by reacting pure lysergic acid, via an intermediate, with diethylamine. We intended to evaluate the possibility that morning glory seeds might someday provide an alternate, or even better source for lysergic acid than the ergot/rye process. (3) We would at the same time be determining if it were possible for an underground chemist, using morning glory seeds instead of ergotamine (which was tightly controlled and difficult to obtain), might produce small amounts of LSD with very little risk. I say small amounts, because the alkaloid content of morning glory seeds had been assessed at barely 0.06%, and assuming normal losses and other factors it would therefore be necessary to process perhaps a hundred kilos of seeds or more to produce even a gram of LSD. Still, due to the vanishingly small effective dose of LSD, such a process was far more a practical possibility than that necessitated by the required minimum dose of peyote extract, more than two thousand fold that of LSD.

    With a view to obviating any objections that publishers, general readers, or various drug control authorities might have concerning the description of processes used to produce forbidden substances, I will not further discuss here our experiments along these lines. Any competent underground chemist will certainly, in any case, already know quite enough to formulate his plans for the future. And it should already be evident to the reader what my evaluation of the prohibition of psychedelics signaled about my own intentions. To me, it was one of the greatest absurdities ever perpetrated that persons of reasonable attitude and situation, and with proper guidance, might not have access to substances which had proved not only valuable, but essential to so many societies of man down through the ages. If societies that we ignorantly called primitive could use these medicines to advantage, where was the logic in the belief that suddenly these same substances presented some kind of grave threat to man in the Twentieth Century? One of the top prohibitionist agitators of the time had made the preposterous statement that LSD was "the greatest threat facing the country today...more dangerous than the Vietnam War."(4) If certain excesses and unwise use of the psychedelics were appearing in American society it was not very difficult to see that if one single thing could be designated a cause of the problem, it was the prohibition itself. And how could a society purportedly so grounded in the logic, rationality, and intellectuality illustrated by its great scientific achievements come to be so hoodwinked, so deprived of its rationality, so easily led into absurdity, when it came to the subject of "drugs"?
    One clue came from the observation that it seemed necessary to have had some personal experience with the substances. This very same problem had been observed in the early days of psychedelic research, before Prohibition. Almost without exception, the researchers who had themselves taken psychedelic drugs produced much more intelligible and significant work than those who had abstained, for one reason or another. But soon the abstainers were publishing accusations that personal exposure to the substances had caused researchers to be biased, even that they had suffered permanent deformations of personality, were delusional and no longer competent to judge the results of their own experiments. Two researchers, Cole and Katz, went so far as to flatly state in a paper that "only claims made by therapists who have not themselves taken LSD are valid"(5). As Osmond wryly observed, the same critics who were accusing enthusiastic researchers of having suffered permanent personality changes due to their use of psychedelics, were at the same time denying that such personality changes could be brought about in experimental subjects or patients!
    It seemed to us that if such irrational battles were raging in the halls of academia, the only hope for the common man to see behind the curtain obscuring the wisdom of the ages was to be persuaded by a friend to find out for himself. The knowledge of psychedelics was then something that would have to pass from hand to hand among friends of mutual trust and respect; that same knowledge would be met publicly only with outright rejection, or worse: a situation of superb medievalism right here in modern America. Despite the apparent confidence of Modern Civilization that it was the very epitome of rationality, the issue of the prohibition of psychedelics had to be diagnosed as indicative of grave underlying contradictions in the paradigms and beliefs of that civilization. And the nature of these contradictions could only be understood by viewing them as a collective psychological phenomenon, a view which took on a certain forcefulness and poignancy from within the psychedelic experience itself. What a privilege to be party to such knowledge! And it was more than mere knowledge, it was Wisdom for it made you weep to see it thus, and to realize the odds against counteracting or curing the situation, even on the simplest of levels. To correct one's own metaphysical outlook in the midst of such confuision was already an unlikely achievement for most, even with psychedelic assistance.

    I should now briefly discuss the meanings of certain terms I have been using. Models, theories, paradigms, hypotheses, even data, knowledge and wisdom can be thrown about rather loosely in today's writing, their meaning more dependent on the intended audience of a book than on precise definitions. If the definitions I will now give are not acceptable to all, then at least I will be saying what I, personally, take these terms to mean, and what they should be considered to mean when I use them here.
    At the beginning, in those early days in Mexico, I certainly had no idea of searching for a theory of psychedelic experience. In retrospect, after the passage of many years, I see that the work that I did and the experiences I gained, combined with further study that has occupied a large part of my time ever since, fit into a pattern the structure of which now seems to constitute a rather interesting and multi-faceted theory about the psychedelic experience, its place in anthropology and evolution, the mechanisms of its functioning, etc. Thus a theory is a broad and explanatory view of a panorama of topics united by a central fact or aspect of reality. A theory is a theory of something, although it may deal with the most diverse subjects in the explaining of that central something. But it falls short of being a paradigm in the Kuhnian sense, (6) because it is an expressed, conscious and explicit structure, continually in the state of further refinement and development. The paradigm is rather a theory or set of theories that has become transparent to the community or society that employs it in their world view. It is a set of implicit principles and views that are so taken for granted that individual components of the paradigm are often quite difficult to discover, so enmeshed are they in the view they represent. A paradigm is also static, or nearly so, it is not normally developing with the addition of new experimental evidence. This is why it is found that a paradigm becomes obsolete, and is replaced by a new paradigm. A theory in development, on the other hand, may evolve in such complex ways that it arrives at a point which may be radically changed from its original form. Thus I do not claim that my theory is in any way a paradigm, or a revolution in the underlying assumptions and world-view now reigning in Western Civilization. But the theory may, in combination with other theories, eventually contribute to such a revolution, as I hope it will.
    The elements which make up a theory are models, and may take many forms. A model may be logical, deductive, mathematical, and completely abstract as in the description of a certain process or phenomenon by an equation or set of equations. Einstein's mathematical description of curved space is a good example: no exercise of the imagination can produce a concrete vision of how empty space might be curved, curvature is always in our experience a curvature of something, and if empty space is anything, it is nothing, not something, according to the common sense way our minds work. The mathematical model of curvature of space makes up a part of the general relativistic theory of the structure of the universe.
    Other models may be practically photographic in their imaginability. The planetary model of the atom with its discrete orbiting electrons around a hard little nucleus of another flavor of "stuff" is still a quite useful way of picturing matter at this level. Notice in this example, that the model may be useful, at the very minimum as a teaching aid, even when the "reality" the model describes has been shown to be something quite more complex and nebulous. In "reality", the quantum-mechanical model of atomic structure indicates that electrons are far more like probability clouds or waves than little hard individual particles. Thus a model such as the planetary one may be strictly analogical, metaphorical, perhaps even an outright "lie", and still retain some usefulness in representing aspects of a theory. The theory of chemical combination of atoms into compounds, as in the reaction of sodium and chlorine to form common salt, for instance, can still profit from the planetary model of the atom.
    And when we get to the study of life sciences, where "hard" data is often difficult to come by, a model may even fall short of the imaginable metaphor; it may simply be the result of a process of curve-fitting and extrapolation of seemingly random points on a graph, the extrapolation and predictions of the model executed with little more than sheer intuition. Thus a model may range from the logical and deductive hardness of a precise mathematical equation, to something as fleeting and a-logical as a sudden inspiration or intuition about the object of study and how it might behave under various conditions.
    Here we might note that a model, no matter how precise it may appear, is never a complete or "true" picture of reality, it is merely a temporary device used to form hypotheses about what kind of experiments to perform. Thus a model can be something as simple as an assumed viewpoint taken just to see what that viewpoint might lead to; it functions as an heuristic aid toward the formation of testable ideas, ideas which have a high probability of being relevant, either positively or negatively, for the formation of a theory.
    A model is thus a device helping to form hypotheses which are then tested experimentally. The results of experiments then can be used to form an improved model, or an alternative model, and this circular process may proceed at great length until a summation process has suggested the outline of a full-fledged theory. But the theory that results is more than just another model, or collection of models, for it is more than just a device: it is something complex, an intricate pattern of relations which in a very significant way is more than just the sum of its parts, because a good theory will have many implications and ramifications beyond those which are immediately evident, or those which took part in its formation. A good theory provides a framework around which further modeling and experimentation falls into place almost spontaneously, rather like the growth of a crystal around a small seed particle immersed in a supersaturated solution. It is perhaps like a nearly-completed jigsaw puzzle, which although was fitted together from pieces which at times only seemed to fit approximately, the overall intelligibility of the emerging scene lends great weight to its probable accuracy and applicability, and further pieces of the puzzle seem to fall into place almost effortlessly. A bad theory, by contrast, tends to accumulate ever-increasing anomaly and counter-argument against it, and it winds up being defended by its last remaining protagonists using the most spectacular of intellectual gymnastics, to no avail.
    Thus a good theory may contain among the many models used to construct and support it models which, considered alone, are difficult to accept, or even completely unbelievable in light of previously accepted theory and paradigms. Many of the models or pieces of the theory I will now describe will certainly fall into this category for some readers, particularly those with established professional viewpoints to defend. In the next chapter, for example, I am going to attack the currently accepted model that psychedelic drugs cause a wide range of unpredictable and multi-faceted effects. Most people would not even call this a model, they would call it simple observation! The alternative model I will propose is deceptively simple, if somewhat tricky to explain, and to support it I have had to create new models of psychological functioning replacing some current models which themselves are so generally transparent and accepted that their status as models would be questioned. Here is the process described above where anomaly leads to an alternate model of some phenomenon, which leads to experiments, further models, further experiments, and so on until an entire theory begins to take shape. If in those early days in Mexico I hadn't the least inkling that I was working on a theory, I was consciously searching for models which made my experiences and experiments begin to conform to a tentative pattern. And at that stage of creative work, it is of advantage to dream up even the wildest and most unlikely models along with the more obvious ones; only once a theory is consciously in the making is more rigorous selection warranted. (This process of the evolution of a theory parallels what we see in biological evolution: in the early stages, the wildest and most bizarre life forms are tried. Later on, after disastrous extinctions have wiped out entire phyla, the course of evolution is found to be much more conservative).
    Once the outline of an emerging theory is in place, research may begin to scan widely in many areas. Research may at times consist largely of reading about and re-interpreting results of experiments performed by others, from the new viewpoint represented by the maturing theory. New ways of organizing and explaining data in areas as yet unexamined by the theory begin to show that the theory either has wide implications, or is not as comprehensive as previously thought. This process of testing the theory against many new areas of understanding is what finally yields the most interesting results. For example, just recently I began reading about the new research on brain function now made possible by the latest methods of brain-scanning techniques such as PET and MRI. Interpreting much of the data collected in terms of the psychological and cognitive models I had invented for the psychedelic theory was not only possible, but led to a further refinement of those models and a strengthening of the theory as well. It was especially interesting to note that some of the brain-scan results which had so far only been interpreted in very tentative ways, could be explained rather well using the psychedelic models of brain function versus cognitive process proposed by my theory.

Now that the background has been constructed, it is with pleasure and relief that I launch my theory of psychedelic experience into certainly turbulent waters. If it be based on delusion and self-deception the sinking will be so rapid as to be unnoticed, saving me intense embarrassment; if there is a glimmer of truth therein, the violence of the storm in which it must survive might sink it as quickly. I can only grease the ways well and hope I have not left any gaping holes in its structure!


(1). For further information on the two species of morning-glory and their use by Mexican Amerindian tribes including a few isolated groups still today, the reader is referred to the Botanical Museum Leaflets of Harvard University, November 22, 1963, Volume 20, No. 6. This issue contains an important article by R. Gordon Wasson, a luminary and one of the originators of the science of ethnobotany, and another article by Albert Hofmann, inventor of LSD, and discoverer of the active principles both of the morning-glory and the Psilocybe mushrooms of Mexico. (back)

(2). As further work by Wasson and Hofmann was later to show, there is a strong probability that an LSD-type psychedelic preparation was also, over a period of two millennia, an important and integral part of religious and intellectual life in an area of the world much closer to our Western Civilization, ancient Greece. See The Road to Eleusis, Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries, by Wasson, Ruck, and Hofmann, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. (back)

(3). We were unaware at that time that two pharmaceutical companies, Sandoz and Farmitalia, were perfecting a method to grow the mycelium of ergot fungus in stirred vats filled with nutrients. This process was able to produce high yields of an alkaloid much easier to use for further synthesis than ergotamine, paspalic acid. With the introduction of this method, other processes depending on production and harvest of either ergot or morning glories would be of little comparative utility. (back)

(4). A statement by C.W. Sandman, Jr., chairman of the New Jersey Narcotic Drug Study Commission. (back)

(5). see "Criticisms of LSD Therapy and Rebuttal" in The Hallucinogens, Hoffer and Osmond, Academic Press, 1967, pp197-205. Humphrey Osmond is one of those rare scientists who is equally at home in the research institute as in an Amerindian peyote ceremony, and his research is illustrative of the open-mindedness yet scientific rigor which go hand in hand to produce great scientific advance. Dr. Osmond was the one to introduce Aldous Huxley to psychedelics. (back)

(6). See Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Second Edition, 1970, The University of Chicago Press, for the introduction of this term into the modern vocabulary concerned with the history and philosophy of science. (back)

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