Our interest [in psychotomimetic drugs], so far, has been psychiatric and pathological, with
only a hint that any other viewpoint is possible; yet our predecessors
were interested in these things from quite different points of
view. In the perspective of history, our psychiatric and pathological
bias is the unusual one. By means of a variety of techniques,
from dervish dancing to prayerful contemplation, from solitary
confinement in darkness to sniffing the carbonated air at the
Delphic oracle, from chewing peyote to prolonged starvation, men
have pursued, down the centuries, certain experiences that they
considered valuable above all others.
The great William James endured much uncalled-for criticism for
suggesting that in some people inhalations of nitrous oxide allowed
a psychic disposition that is always potentially present to manifest
itself briefly. Has our comparative neglect of these experiences,
recognized by James and Bergson as being of great value, rendered
psychology stale and savorless? Our preoccupation with behavior,
because it is measurable, has led us to assume that what can be
measured must be valuable and vice versa. During the twentieth
century we have seen, except for a few notables such as Carl Jung,
an abandoning of the psyche by psychologists and psychiatrists.
Recently they have been joined by certain philosophers. Pavlov,
Binet, Freud, and a host of distinguished followers legitimately
limited the field to fit their requirements, but later expanded
their formulations from a limited inquiry to embrace the whole
of existence. An emphasis on the measurable and the reductive
has resulted in the limitation of interest by psychiatrists and
psychologists to aspects of experience that fit in with this concept.
There was and is another stream of psychological thought in Europe
and in the United States that is more suitable for the work that
I shall discuss next. James, in the United States, Sedgwick, Myers,
and Gurney in Britain, and Carl Jung in Switzerland are among
its great figures. Bergson is its philosopher and Harrison its
prophet. These and many others have said that in this work, as
in any other, science is applicable if one defines it in Dingle's
term, "the rational ordering of the facts of experience."
We must not fall into the pitfall of supposing that any explanation,
however, ingenious, can be a substitute for observation and experiment.
The experience must be there before the rational ordering.
Work on the potentialities of mescaline and the rest of these
agents fell on the stony ground of behaviorism and doctrinaire
psychoanalysis. Over the years we have been deluged with explanations,
while observation has become less sharp. This will doubtless continue
to be the case as long as the observer and the observed do not
realize that splendor, terror, wonder, and beauty, far from being
the epiphenomena of "objective" happenings, may be of
Accounts of the effect of these agents, ranging in time from that
of Havelock Ellis in 1897 to the more recent reports of Aldous
Huxley are many, and they emphasize the unique quality of the
experience. One or more sensory modalities combined with mood,
thinking and, often to a marked degree, empathy, usually change.
Most subjects find the experience valuable, some find it frightening,
and many say that it is uniquely lovely. All, from Slotkin's unsophisticated
Indians to men of great learning, agree that much of it is beyond
verbal description. Our subjects, who include many who have drunk
deep of life, including authors, artists, a junior cabinet minister,
scientists, a hero, philosophers, and businessmen, are nearly
all in agreement in this respect. For myself, my experiences with
these substances have been the most strange, most awesome, and
among the most beautiful things in a varied and fortunate life.
These are not escapes from but enlargements, burgeonings of reality.
Insofar as I can judge they occur in violation of Hughlings Jackson's
principle, because the brain, although its functioning is impaired,
acts more subtly and complexly than when it is normal. Yet surely,
when poisoned, the brain's actions should be less complex, rather
than more so! I cannot argue about this because one must undergo
the experience himself. Those who have had these experiences know,
and those who have not had them cannot know and, what is more,
the latter are in no position to offer a useful explanation.
Is this phenomenon of chemically induced mental aberration something
wholly new? It is not, as I have suggested earlier. It has been
sought and studied since the earliest times and has played a notable
part in the development of religion, art, philosophy, and even
science. Systems such as yoga have sprung from it. Enormous effort
has been expended to induce these states easily so as to put them
to use. Although occasionally trivial and sometimes frightening,
their like seems to have been at least part of the experience
of visionaries and mystics the world over. These states deserve
thought and pondering because until we understand them no account
of the mind can be accurate. It is foolish to expect a single
exploration to bring back as much information as twenty of them.
It is equally foolish to expect an untrained, inept, or sick person
to play the combined part of observer, experienced and recorder
as well as a trained and skilled individual. Those who have no
taste for this work can help by freely admitting their shortcomings
rather than disguising them by some imposing ascription.
This may seem mere nonsense but, before closing his mind, the
reader should reflect that something unusual ought to seem irrational
because it transcends those fashionable ruts of thinking that
we dignify by calling them logic and reason. We prefer such rationalized
explanations because they provide an illusory sense of predictability.
Little harm is done so long as we do not let our sybaritism blind
us to the primacy of experience. especially in psychology.
Psychoanalysts claim that their ideas cannot be fully understood
without a personal analysis. Not everyone accepts this claim,
but can one ever understand something one has never done? A eunuch
could write an authoritative book on sexual behavior, but a book
on sexual experience by the same author would inspire less confidence.
Working with these substances, as in psychoanalysis, we must often
be our own instruments.
Psychoanalysis resembles Galileo's telescope, which lets one see
a somewhat magnified image of an object the wrong way round and
upside down. The telescope changed our whole idea of the solar
system and revolutionized navigation. Psychotomimetic agents,
whose collective name is still undecided, are more like the radar
telescopes now being built to scan the deeps of outer, invisible
space. They are not convenient. One cannot go bird watching with
them. They explore a tiny portion of an enormous void. They raise
more questions than answers, and to understand those answers we
must invent new languages. What we learn is not reassuring or
even always comprehensible. Like astronomers, however, we must
change our thinking to use the potentialities of our new instruments.
Freud has told us much about many important matters. However,
I believe that he and his pupils tried illegitimately to extrapolate
from his data far beyond their proper limits in an attempt to
account for the whole of human endeavor and, beyond this, into
the nature of man and God. This was magnificent bravado. It is
not science, for it is as vain to use Freud's system for these
greatest questions as it is to search for the galaxies with Galileo's
hand telescope. Jung, using what I consider the very inadequate
tools of dream and myth, has shown such skill and dexterity that
he has penetrated as deep into these mysteries as his equipment
allows. Our newer instruments, employed with skill and reverence,
allow us to explore a greater range of experience more intensively.
There have always been risks in discovery. Splendid rashness such
as John Hunter's should be avoided, yet we must be prepared for
calculated risks such as those that Walter Reed and his colleagues
took in their conquest of yellow fever. The mind cannot be explored
by proxy. To deepen our understanding, not simply to great madnesses
but of the nature of mind itself, we must use our instruments
as coolly and boldly as those who force their aircraft through
other invisible barriers. Disaster may overtake the most skilled.
Today and in the past, for much lesser prizes, men have taken
much greater risks.
How Should We Name Them?
If mimicking mental illness were the main characteristic of these
agents, "psychotomimetics" would indeed be a suitable
generic term. It is true that they do so, but they do much more.
Why are we always preoccupied with the pathological, the negative?
Is health only the lack of sickness? Is good merely the absence
of evil? Is pathology the only yardstick? Must we ape Freud's
gloomier moods that persuaded him that a happy man is a self-deceiver
evading the heartache for which there is no anodyne? Is not a
child infinitely potential rather than polymorphously perverse?
I have tried to find an appropriate name for the agents under
discussion: a name that will include the concepts of enriching
the mind and enlarging the vision. Some possibilities are: psychephoric,
mind moving; psychehormic, mind rousing; and psycheplastic, mind
molding. Psychezynic, mind fermenting, is indeed appropriate.
Psycherhexic, mind bursting forth, though difficult, is memorable.
Psychelytic, mind releasing, is satisfactory. My choice, because
it is clear, euphonious, and uncontaminated by other associations,
is psychedelic, mind manifesting. One of these terms should serve.
This, then is how one clinician sees these psychedelics. I believe
that these agents have a part to play in our survival as a species,
for that survival depends as much on our opinion of our fellows
and ourselves as on any other single thing. The psychedelics help
us to explore and fathom our own nature.
We can perceive ourselves as the stampings of an automatic socioeconomic
process, as highly plastic and conditionable animals, as congeries
of instinctive strivings ending in loss of sexual drive and death,
as cybernetic gadgets, or even as semantic conundrums. All of
these concepts have their supporters and they all have some degree
of truth in them. We may also be something more, "a part
of the main," a striving sliver of a creative process, a
manifestation of Brahma in Atman, an aspect of an infinite God
imminent and transcendent within and without us. These very
different valuings of the self and of other people's selves have
all been held sincerely by men and women. I expect that even what
seem the most extreme notions are held by some contributors to
these pages. Can one doubt that the views of the world derived
from such differing concepts are likely to differ greatly, and
that the courses of action determined by those views will differ?
Our briefs, what we assume, as the Ames demonstrations in perception*
show, greatly influence the world in which we live. That world
is in part, at least, what we make of it. Once our mold for world
making is formed it most strongly resists change. The psychedelics
allow us, for a little while, to divest ourselves of these acquired
assumptions and to see the universe again with an innocent eye.
In T. H. Huxley's words, we may, if we wish, "sit down
in front of the facts like a child" or as Thomas Traherne,
a seventeenth-century English mystic, puts it, "to unlearn
the dirty devices of the world and become as it were a little
Mystic and scientist have the same recipe for those who seek truth.
Perhaps, if we can do this, we shall learn how to rebuild our
world in another and better image, for the breakneck advance of
science is forcing change on us whether we like it or not. Our
old faults, however, persisting in our new edifice, are far more
dangerous to us than they were in the old structure. The old world
perishes and, unless we are to perish in its ruins, we must leave
our old assumptions to die with it. "Let the dead bury their
dead" tells us what we must do.
While we are learning, we may hope that dogmatic religion and
authoritarian science will keep away from each other's throats.
We need not put out the visionary's eyes because we do not share
his vision. We need not shout down the voice of the mystic because
we cannot hear it, or force our rationalizations on him for our
own reassurance. Few of us can accept or understand the mind that
emerges from these studies. Kant once said of Swedenborg, "Philosophy
is often much embarrassed when she encounters certain facts she
dare not doubt yet will not believe for fear of ridicule."
Sixty years ago orthodox physicists knew that the atom was incompressible
and indivisible. Only a few cranks doubted this. Yet who believes
in the billiard-ball atom now?
In a few years, I expect, the psychedelics that I have mentioned
will seem as crude as our ways of using them. Yet even though
many of them are gleanings from Stone Age peoples they can enlarge
our experience greatly. Whether we employ these substances for
good or ill, whether we use them with skill and deftness or with
blundering ineptitude depends not a little on the courage, intelligence,
and humanity of many of us who are working in the field today.
Recently I was asked by a senior colleague if this area of investigation
lies within the scope of science and, if it does not, should not
religion, philosophy, or politics take the responsibility for
it? But politics, philosophy, religion, and even art are dancing
more and more to the tune of science, and, as scientists, it is
our responsibility to see that our tune does not become a death
march, either physical or spiritual. We cannot evade our responsibilities.
So far as I can judge, spontaneous experience of the kind we are
discussing has always been infrequent, and the techniques for
developing it are often faulty, uncertain, clumsy, objectionable,
and even dangerous. Our increasingly excellent physical health,
with the steady elimination of both acute and chronic infections,
the tranquilizers that enable us to neutralize unusual chemoelectrical
brain activity, our diet, rich in protein and, especially, B-complex
vitamins whose antagonism to LSD I have already discussed-all
of these, combined with a society whose whole emphasis is on material
possession in a brightly lit and brilliantly colored synthetic
world, will make spontaneous experiences of the sort I have mentioned
ever fewer. As we grow healthier and healthier, every millimeter
that we budge from an allotted norm will be checked.
I believe that the psychedelics provide a chance, perhaps only
a slender one, for homo faber, the cunning, ruthless, foolhardy,
pleasure-greedy toolmaker to merge into that other creature whose
presence we have so rashly presumed, homo sapiens, the wise, the
understanding, the compassionate, in whose fourfold vision art,
politics science, and religion are one. Surely we must seize that
*". . . the principle that what we
are aware of is not determined entirely by the nature of what
is out there or by our sensory processes, but that the assumptions
we bring from past experience, because they have generally proved
reliable, are involved in every perception we have." (back)
** Also Francis Bacon, the father of modern
scientific method, in Novum Organum, wrote, "The entrance
into the Kingdom of man, founded on the sciences, being not much
other than the entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, whereinto
none may enter except as a little child." (back)