LSD The Problem-Solving Psychedelic
P.G. Stafford and B.H. Golightly
Chapter III. Creative Problem Solving
OF ALL the strange permutations which occur with LSD use, two of signal importance for researchers have been found to be heightened sensitivity and vulnerability. Unlike the hypnotic trance, this "defenselessness" is coupled with consciousness and will power. Therefore, the subject, if he has a problem to solve, can put his altered responses to this task. Solutions can emerge if proper attention has been paid to the "set" (the user's expectations, his emotional make-up and motivations) and "setting" (the surroundings and circumstances under which the drug is taken).
Among the endless variety of problems which LSD can help solve, the most clear-cut and spectacularfor which there is unequivocal proofare creative and technical problems. Hopefully, as more and more technical and creative problem solving is done with LSD and word of it comes to light, valid non-medical uses of the drug will be publicly recognized and understood. If and when this happens, unrealistic and fantastic claims about LSD's powers and dangers will be recognized for what they are.
Before citing cases of LSD problem solving, it is necessary to consider some aspects of the creative process, as it is the means by which solutions are reached. Carl Rogers, in Creativity and Its Cultivation, defines it this way: "the emergence in action of a novel relational product, growing out of the uniqueness of the individual on the one hand, and the materials, events, people or circumstances of his life on the other... I am assuming that there is no fundamental difference in the creative process as it is evidenced in painting a picture, composing a symphony, devising new instruments of killing, developing a scientific theory, discovering new procedures in human relationships, or creating new formings of one's own personality as in psychotherapy."
But what is known of this extraordinary process that can produce the ingenious invention, the earth-shaking discovery which revolutionizes human thought and life? How does the suddenly "lighted mind" become illuminated? Are we all actually capable of being innovators?
Herbert Read, speaking of artists in the large sense, has said that all children are artists, as are some adults. As people grow older, they are thought to lose their creative ability, and such loss is widely accepted with unquestioning resignation. The readiness with which we accept this deprivation is puzzling, but the apathy, inhibitions, diminished faith and hope, weariness, and a "lack of time" that disfigure lifeall these are certainly prominent culprits. Yet the significance of creativity to human beings is of untold depth and magnitude. The world as we know it is the result of the creative thoughts and discoveries of relatively few men; usually we recognize this by recognizing them.
Considering the number of people who have inhabited the earth, and do so now, the small body of invention and discovery is amazing. Why do we so easily fall victim to the forces which destroy creativity? Perhaps it is because the creative impulse is lodged in such a remote and inaccessible place:
It is a highly significant, though generally neglected fact that those creations of the human mind which have borne pre-eminently the stamp of originality and greatness, have not come from within the region of consciousness. They have come from beyond consciousness, knocking at its door for admittance: they have flowed into it, sometimes slowly as if by seepage, but often with a burst of overwhelming power.
How can the gap between creative potential and its realization be narrowed? And what drives the relatively few to try to narrow it? Rogers states: "The individual creates primarily because it is satisfying to him, because this behavior is felt to be self-actualizing, and we get nowhere by trying to differentiate 'good' and 'bad' purposes in the creative process... It has been found that when the individual is 'open' to all of his experience... then his behavior will be creative, and his creativity may be trusted to be essentially constructive... To the extent that the individual is denying to awareness (or repressing, if you prefer that term) large areas of his experience, then his creative formings may be pathological or socially evil, or both." (Italics added.)
In examining the creative drive, Rogers lists some factors that are hospitable to it:
Inner Conditions:a) Low degree of psychological defensiveness; lack of rigidity and permeability of boundaries in concepts, beliefs, perceptions and hypotheses; tolerance for ambiguity where it exists, ability to receive and integrate apparently conflicting information; sensitive awareness of feelings and openness to all phases of experience.
b) Evaluative judgment based primarily, not on outside standards or prejudices, but on one's own feelings, intuition, aesthetic sensibility, sense of satisfaction in self-expression, etc.
c) The ability to "toy" with ideas, colors, shapes, hypotheses; to translate from one form to another; to think in terms of analogues and metaphors.
External Conditions:a) An atmosphere of psychological safety, in which the individual feels accepted as of unconditional worth; in which he feels he can be spontaneous without fear that his actions or creations will be prematurely evaluated by rigid external standards; in which he feels empathetic understanding.
b) An atmosphere of psychological freedom; of permissiveness to think, to feel, to be whatever is discovered within oneself.
Other commentators on the creative process have stressed a few additional characteristics which they feel appear to a pronounced degree: Poetic economy (getting the most out of the complex in a direct, singular manner, what the mathematician would know as "elegance"); seeing things in a larger or more meaningful context; a powerful feeling of commitment and an enduring desire to leave behind a testament, and if possible a proof of the validity of the conviction; finally, a fluid sense of humor, one which enables the creative individual to view his work lightly as well as seriously.
A comparison of the above states of mind, which are conducive to creative work, with those states of mind induced by LSD shows that there are remarkable resemblances. This would suggest that if some of the above factors could be maximized, directed use of LSD might result in a tremendous impetus to creative thoughtboth for the artist and the ordinary individual who gets very few "flashes of insight" in his lifetime. Such has proved to be the case, as indeed has the obverse. The crucial difference is now believed to be in the object of the session, the setting and the guide.
Early studies have clearly established that LSD does not enhance the ability of most subjects for answering psychological test questions while under the influence of the drug. Frequently, to the subject, the questions or demands of the investigators seem irrelevant to what is going on in the subject's experience, so he will often respond to a request on the part of the investigator with, "That's silly as hell," or something similar. When asked the "Fire in the Theater" question on the Wechsler-Bellevue test, one LSD subject said she wished the observer would not talk about it. Others have found it difficult to repeat nonsense syllables, given in order to find out how LSD affected their memory span, and very few are able to perform adequately with a simple numerical subtraction test, such as repeatedly subtracting seven from a hundred. Here is how one of Dr. Sidney Cohen's subjects reacted to the Rorschach test:
When I took the Rorschach there-was just nothing there. I tried very hard to find something to say, but there was just very little there to be said. Only Card VIII was definitely something. I wanted to say "Squirrels," and I tried a long time but I couldn't get the word out. Finally, I gave up and decided to try "Animals." Before I had worked on that word very long, I figured out vaguely that "Animals" wouldn't do because then the psychologist would ask me what kind, and I would have to say "Squirrels," and I just couldn't. So I said "Bears." They didn't look like bears but it was better to say "Bears" than not say "Squirrels."
Some researchers have used such evidence to dismiss the possibility that LSD might facilitate creativity. But this is to misunderstand the importance of the way in which the experience can be controlled, for a great many counter-examples have cropped up regularly in the psychiatric literature. Thus, Dr. Harold A. Abramson, another early LSD researcher, cites two instances in which marked improvement in performance occurred, somewhat to his surprise:
One of our engineers, who was a subject, could get 100 per cent under LSD in certain of the tests we used, which he never did without LSD... There was another subject, a young woman, who was a technician working at Columbia, who was determined to get all her mathematics examples correct, and practiced at home. Although she was very disturbed [over other matters]... under 100 mcg. of LSD, she got 100 per cent on her mathematics test.
When under LSD the universe seems to be exploding, when one has suddenly made the first intuitive breakthrough in years, when the world seems sublimely pure and cleansed of the corruption of the ages, it is no time to be repeating a long run of numbers, as called for in the Stanford-Binet I.Q. test. As Dr. Hoffer observed in this regard, "I would suspect that learning in tasks which are trivial for the subject would be impaired, e.g., psychological learning tests, whereas matters of great importance to the subject might be learned even more quickly. Memory after the event is usually extremely good and insights learned are never forgotten even if they are not always used."
But before going deeper into the way LSD can be used to harness creativity and put it to use in problem-solving, it is appropriate to note that numerous instances have indicated that a "flash of insight" has been the thunderbolt that cracked open major discoveries. Darwin, while riding one day in his surrey, suddenly saw the whole scheme of evolution; Newton, doing something equally prosaic (daydreaming under an apple tree), had an apple drop on his head and at the same moment understood what came to be known as the law of gravity; Archimedes, soaking in his bath, suddenly realized that a body displaces its weight in water. Shouting, "Eureka!" he jumped out of the tub and soon thereafter shared his insight with the world.
Repeatedly major discoveries have come from the fall of "the apple on the head." But how many apples have fallen when the head beneath was not receptive?
Some geniuses seemed to have their reception faculties turned up full volume for most of their lifetimes, ready to catch and make use of any wave-lengths that came their way. Mozart, at the age of twenty-nine, had hundreds of compositions to his credit, and in the space of less than three months composed his last three symphonies. (These are held to be among his masterpieces, despite the short time he spent on them.) It is well known that Shakespeare wrote at fever pitch and did little or no revision of his dramas. The research material for his historical plays seems skimpy to a modern researcher with the libraries of the world to work with, but he was so successful in deriving what he wanted from Holinshed's Chronicles, Plutarch's Lives and a few other sources at hand that it seemed impossible for early students of Shakespeare's work to believe that he had not had a wide number of occupations, traveled broadly and been a man of deep, worldly experience and scholarly learning. Others too, have shown great versatility. Freud, for example, started his career with interests which led him to write a paper on "The Recondite Testes of the Eel"a rather far cry from his subsequent amazing insights into dreams.
All of this simply shows that we know relatively little about the creative spark, only slightly more than we do about the unconscious from whence it springs. We know that it is there and that it sometimes catches fire, and that under certain conditions it can be stimulated to emerge.
A glance at the preceding chapter will indicate that LSD provides excellent fuel once the fire is lit, and may even provide the flint. Properly administered, LSD lowers the subject's psychological blocks and fences without making him feel deprived of their protection; it frees and encourages him to let his emotions and imagination range; it even provides (or seems to) "ideas, colors, shapes, hypotheses" with which to become engaged. The drug creates the proper atmosphere in which the subject can appreciate his own worth; and his sense of harmony with others and his sensitive awareness often mimic, if they do not produce, extrasensory perception. Even the sobersides subject usually finds he has a great inclination to laugh at life's absurditiesdrolleries which may have once seemed threatening and ugly. Everything seems "so simple." Therefore, it is not inaccurate to say that creativity and a positive reaction to the drug can be in complete rapport and reinforce each other.
To this end some researchers of LSD, interested in various fields of problem solving, have directed their attention. Since the solution of technical and artistic problems lies mainly in keeping channels of thought free and letting ideas flow, LSD has been found to be of incalculable assistance if problem solving is the point of the-session and if a few fundamental directive techniques are used.
There a number of factors, though, which tend to hinder creativity in the LSD experience, and these should be borne in mind. Again, in most instances the subject, left on his own, is so overwhelmed with perceptual changes or with personal preoccupations that he may have little interest in directing his thoughts toward a specific problem, even though that may have been his intent Influenced by the drug, he may feel incapacitated for taking any initiative, although by doing so he will probably be astonished at his own capabilities. All too frequently the inexperienced guide will feel as helpless to lead his subject into the proper channels for creative and/or technical problem solving as the subject himself. One way to avoid this bemusing mishap is to plan in advance to take up the "programmed" problem at a particular point in the session, after the subject has had a chance to experience some of the typical beginning reactions and to do a little "sight-seeing."
In order to take advantage of those factors in the psychedelic experience which support creativity, it is important to reassure the subject that he will not be greatly distracted by any psychic disturbances and that, in fact, it will be easy for him to concentrate on the problem he has brought to the session. (Such suggestions may be similar to hypnotic method in that their effectiveness is the result of the profound suggestibility of the LSD experience, but the subject is not held helpless under an externally imposed control.) The subject should also be told that even though his thought processes may not be logical during his LSD session, he will be searching for some sort of insight, some immediate, intuitive feeling and solution for his specific problem, and that these may come with surprising ease. Once this happens, if it does, he will be able to "fix" the solution and record it either immediately or shortly after the drug effects have worn off. Given a genuine problemone which has been thoroughly considered beforehandand this minimal preparation, the results of an LSD experience may prove highly different than those test studies cited earlier.
For any problem solving session, the guide should have mapped out a course of procedure, along with his subject, although it is not necessary for the guide to know precisely what the problem is, or even what it is about Large drawing tablets, writing paper and a tape recorder should be on hand, and the setting should be relaxing, pleasant, private and conducive to concentration. The subject should bring with him any materials he feels will be usefuli.e., manuscript, notes, drawings, books, recordings, etc. but the most important equipment the subject can have is a salient problem and high incentive for its solution.
As mentioned elsewhere, one of the most provocative studies of creative problem solving via the use of LSD was conducted by The Institute for Psychedelic Research at San Francisco State College. Believing that "through carefully structured regimen, a learning experience with lingering creative increases could result," this group called together twenty-two participants who were asked to bring with them professional or technical problems which they had been unable to solve. By the time the report of this investigation was issued, November, 1965, at least six of those who had participated had seen concrete results in their professional or industrial work.
Comments made by some of the subjects on this project indicate the manner in which LSD affected their creative thinking:
Looking at the same problem with (psychedelic) materials, I was able to consider it in a much more basic way, because I could form and keep in mind a much broader picture.
I had great visual (mental) perceptibility; I could imagine what was wanted, needed, or not possible with almost no effort.
Ideas came up with a speed that was breathtaking.
I dismissed the original idea entirely, and started to approach the graphic problem in a radically different way. That was when things began to happen. All kinds of different possibilities came to mind.
Diminished fear of making mistakes or being embarrassed.
I was impressed with the intensity of concentration, the forcefulness and exuberance with which I could proceed toward the problem.
In what seemed like 10 minutes, I had completed the problem, having what I considered (and still consider) a classic solution.
... brought about almost total recall of a course that I had had in thermodynamics; something that I had never given any thought about in years.
Such impressions are predictable when LSD is used in creative/technical problem solving. But how does the basic, on-the-spot action happen? Here are a few examples which illustrate the wide range of applications:
Technical Problems: For over five years one man engaged
in Naval Research, worked with a team under his direction on the
design of an anti-submarine detection device, without success.
Hearing about a small research foundation investigating LSD, this
man got in touch with its directors and mentioned that he had
been told that the drug had been used successfully in problem
solving Subsequently he was given the drug under their supervision.
He had informed them in advance that he could not divulge the
nature of the problem because it was classified information. Nevertheless,
the LSD session bore fruit. After a few exercises to allow him
to control the fluidity of the LSD statehow to stop it, how
to start it, how to turn it aroundhe directed his attention
to the problem, and within ten minutes he had the solution he
had been searching for during all of those years. Since then,
the device has been patented by the U.S. Navy and Naval personnel
working in this area have been trained in its use.
I had two specific problems, both in furniture design. The primary problem was to find a method for making an integral drawer pull design which complemented an existing group of furniture that I had designed a few years ago. This group was successful both in design and in sales. I needed a solution that combined the same kind of good looks with economy in production.The most useful idea for this designer came to him while he was listening to music by Wagner and indulging in fantasies which the music evoked. He felt there was "a classic quality" in some of the shapes which he saw, and so put down the line that seemed to embody its characteristic. This evolved in a series of rapid sketches and became a completed drawer pull, which had "exactly the quality that I've been looking for." He then went on to tackle a headboard problem for another manufacturer, which was also quickly solved. And after that he turned his attention to the design of a chair:
I then decided to do something that always takes a lot of time. Doing a good dining chair that is both elegant and inexpensive is very difficult. Chairs are always seen as sculpture and seldom in pure profile. Chairs also require a discipline in shape and structure unnecessary in other furniture. Discipline in shape because of the human anatomy, and structure because of the hard usage it gets. I had not been able to do an original design for some time. I very rapidly ascertained what the basic structure should be and the basic details also quickly followed. I did no refining, because this kind of thing is best done in three dimensions though I could visualize the finished product. I decided that I had the chair and then went on to think of a type that I'd never done before. This one too seemed to present no difficulty. Even when I look at this today it all seems so obvious.
One of the chair designs was modeled satisfactorily on the second try, with no radical changes from the original concept. Previously chair designs had required on the order of two months and ten trial modelings for completion.
That such results are by no means exceptional is shown by what happened to one architect's powers of "visualization" when he took LSD while faced with the problem of designing an arts-and-crafts shopping center for a resort-university community:
I looked at the paper I was to draw on. I was completely blank. I knew that I would work with a property 300' square. I drew the property lines (at a scale of 1" = 40') and I looked at the outlines. I was blank.While making drawings two weeks later, the architect found that his image of the shopping center remained sharp and that he was able to complete his drawings without referring to his original sketches. He also discovered he could view the project from different directions and examine minute construction details. His design was accepted, and since then he has been able to design other projects in the same way. He hopes that his faster, sharper and clearer procedures for "imaging" projects still remain with him.
"Dynamiting" Creative "Log Jams": At the
Josiah Macy LSD Conference in 1959, which brought together twenty-six
prominent psychiatrists and researchers who had worked with LSD,
one of the most exciting matters to arise was the evidence that
a number of patients in psychotherapy could begin to paint after
having been given the drug. Most of them had not previously done
any painting at all, and yet the quality of the work was far above
average for the ordinary beginning art student.
I felt I could really die, not just as an illusion, not just in the drama of other people, but my own life would have a very normal end. I know now I never wanted to face this but realize there is such a thing as really living....From this experience, the subject entered into a re-experiencing of his past, which led to an extreme emotional and intellectual involvement:
My mind was suddenly dragged into the situation and I think the cure, from someone who did not write successfully, to someone who does write successfully, came this very moment when I felt that this mind of mine was part of me. It has become harmonized with the rest of my feelings....After his LSD sessions (which are recounted in detail in Drs. Ling and Buckman's Lysergic Acid (LSD25) and Ritalin in the Treatment of Neurosis), this would-be writer has gone on to become one of the leading authors writing in German today. Here, in a brief statement, he summarizes some of the changes which occurred within him as a result of his insights under LSD:
I seem capable of expressing what many people would love to express but for which they cannot find the words. I did not find the words before because I tried to avoid saying the essential things.
These accounts may seem like isolated instances. It is true at the present time that the bulk of LSD literature is only sprinkled with them, but it has become increasingly apparent that these breakthroughs are by no means uncommon. They have come about both in planned sessions and by happy accident. There is abundant word-of-mouth testimony which eventually will appear in print with proper documentation. Even though investigation into this aspect of LSD's effects has so far been rather timid, this does not mean that such responses are not strong and validand on the increase as sophisticated use of the drug becomes more and more prevalent.
Because such reactions do occur, and undeniably so, there are many advocates who are anxious to tell the world what LSD has done for them, so that meetings and seminars on the subject often sound like an evening with Alcoholics Anonymous or the Salvation Army.
Especially is this true when an audience airs its views at the close of a lecture on LSD. As an instance of this, consider what happened when Dr. John Beresford, an early researcher on the effects of LSD, turned such a session over to questions and statements from the audience.
At the time of this particular lecture, the agitation and legislation against LSD was well under way, and there seemed to be little promise for continued study of the drugcertainly private use and experimentation was legally out of the question. Most of those who came to this lecture were dedicated to the future of the drug for serious, scientific reasons, and ABC-TV was on hand to record the proceedings. The lecture was a little like a televised wake, with the audience as depressed yet keyed-up as survivors of a shipwreck.
Dr. Beresford that night spoke very briefly, candidly admitting that although there was well-founded reason to believe in LSD's efficacy in creative and technical problem solving, so far only scattered evidence had appeared in scientific journals. He then threw the discussion open to the floor.
The audience reaction was electric. Everyone wanted to talk at once, to testify as to how LSD had helped solve individual problems. It was difficult to sort it all out.
A designer who specialized in Orientalia said that under the drug, without any prior knowledge, he had worked out Einstein's theory of relativity. A friend of his, an M.I.T. faculty member, had pointed out this remarkable "discovery" to the designer, upon being told of the latter's LSD adventure. The designer has since given up his former field and gone into scientific work. Similarly, a former architect told of how he had gone into the field of drama as a result of new insight gained about his true interests and abilities while under LSD. Another audience member averred that because of LSD therapy, his eyesight, I.Q. and imaginative abilitiesall essential to his careerhad increased in keenness, his I.Q. by a measured and recorded twenty per cent.
A woman who described herself as a former "impassioned, constantly angry warmonger" said that she had learned tolerance and "love for my fellow man" and had become an active pacifist. A student told of how he had taught himself French in the week that followed his having taken LSD. There was even a palmist who explained remarkable predictions he had made under the influence of the drug, all of which he said subsequently proved accurate.
Although few of these "revelations" could be divined as formal problem solving, problems unquestionably had been solved. From the comments, it is evident that while not many had taken the drug with the specific intention of achieving a creative breakthrough, by fortunate coincidence this had happened. If they had been aware of their problems previously and had deliberately planned their LSD sessions to maximize problem solving, it is possible that the results would have been even more impressive.
A session structured for problem solving usually results in the subject's emotional identification with and understanding of his problem, and gives him a deep and lasting commitment to it. Physicists and mathematicians report that after using LSD they have developed "a feeling" for such concepts as the photon, the hypercube or imaginary numbers. Similarly, philosophers have reported they have "understood" the meaning of existentialism, and theologians report having "experienced" that which they had been preaching for years.
A final point about the creative process: it does not seem to have too much to do with conventional I.Q., as measured by existing tests for the purpose. Dr. Frank Barron, Research Psychologist at the University of California Institute of Personality Assessment, has compared more than 5,000 productive and creative individuals with others in their field of similar I.Q. but of limited productivity, and says:
The thing that was important was something that might be called a cosmological commitment. It was a powerful motive to create meaning and to leave a testament of the meaning which that individual found in the world, and in himself in relation to the world. This motive emerged in many ways, but we came across it over and over again when we compared highly creative individuals with those of equal intellectual ability as measured by the IQ tests but of less actual creative ability. The intense motivation having to do with this making of meaningor finding meaning and communicating it in one form or anotherwas the most important difference between our criterion and control groups...
Footnotes1. G. N. M. Tyrrell. (back)
2. Taken from "Use of Psychedelic Agents to Facilitate Creative Problem Solving," published by The Institute for Psychedelic Research of San Francisco State College. This group, headed by James Fadiman, Willis W. Harman, Robert H. McKim, Robert P Mogar, and Myron J. Stolaroff, was outstanding in this particular area of LSD research, but was recently disbanded at the request of the Federal authorities. (back)
3. Arthur Kleps, a psychologist and Chief of the Neo-American Church, Cranberry Lake, N.Y., appearing before the Special senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Narcotics, Wednesday, May 25 1966: "If I were to give you an l.Q. test and during the administration one of the wails of the room opened up giving you a vision of the blazing glories of the central galactic suns, and at the same time your childhood began to unreel before your inner eye like a three-dimensional color movie, you would not do well on the test." (back)
4. Architect Eric Clough has since been interviewed about his work OD this project, which is near the University of California campus at Santa Cruz, in the August, 1966, issue of Progressive Architecture. His hope that his LSD experience would carry over and aid him with future work has been realized. He believes that LSD can "facilitate focusing on anything" and that "All architects ought to have this experience." (back)
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