LSD The Problem-Solving Psychedelic
P.G. Stafford and B.H. Golightly
Chapter VI. Religion, Mysticism and ESP
There is a central human experience which alters all other experiences. It has been called satori in Japanese Zen, moksha in Hinduism, religious enlightenment or cosmic consciousness in the West. .. [It] is not just an experience among others, but rather the very heart of human experience. It is the center that gives understanding to the whole... Once found, life is altered because the very root of human identity has been deepened... The drug LSD appears to facilitate the discovery of this apparently ancient and universal experience.
AN ISSUE of Time magazine, published during the Lenten season in 1966 had no face on its coveronly the question "IS GOD DEAD?" against a background of black. A church in Florida has given out "green stamps" for attendance. Honest to God, a volume of popular atheism expressed in a theistic vocabulary, has sold over a million copiesthus far outselling any other "religious" book except the Bible. And a recent study at Harvard indicated that four out of five students today do not consider the church significant for their own lives.
In 1944, the German theologian Dietrick Bonhoeffer propounded the "heretical" view that modern science and business leave no room for God in most daily livesand that He has been driven into an exile, wherein He is virtually of no importance to anyone. Since then nearly every leading theological figurefrom Bultman to Tillich to Niebuhrhas espoused this "heresy," proclaiming that for the average man there no longer exists anything of ultimate meaning and value. "Operationally, God is beginning to resemble not a ruler but the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire cat," Julian Huxley has remarked.
What society witnesses today is an unprecedented religious crisis, for which traditional religion apparently has no satisfying answer. Some of the clergy have presented jazz in the courtyard or poetry readings in the sanctuary to make the church seem more contemporary. Others build sermons around the Death of God or some other gimmicky theme, hoping to renew the interest of their parishioners. None of these attention-getters, however original and "modern," seems to have served its purpose. Churchmen point with pride to the figures for church membership: from 112,000,000 in 1961 to almost 121,000,000 in 1965but what does this increase really represent? The population explosion? Huckster know-how? Or religious starvation?
Man's need for religion is as old as history itself. And today, as his personal world becomes more fragmented and his outside world more chaotic, his longings deepenbut at the same time the answers become more elusive and untenable. Aldous Huxley describes the crisis in Christianity in no uncertain terms:
Countless persons desire self-transcendence and would be glad to find it in church. But, alas, "the hungry sheep look up and are not fed." They take part in rites, they listen to sermons, they repeat prayers-but the thirst remains unassuaged. The sole religious experience is that state of uninhibited and belligerent euphoria which follows the ingestion of the third cocktail.
The psychedelics cannot produce "Instant God," or universally explain the cosmos. But thousands have testified that LSD does seem to make skepticism "dissolve," or cease to be a problem. Under LSD the universe is perceived m its entirety as eternal, natural and perfect, and those seeing it in this way have no wish to question it or probe the ineluctable godhead at its core. After the first moments of wonder and awe, they seem to take the verities for grantedfrequently for the first time in their lives. This acceptance is often mentioned in case histories dealing with various disorders and problems, particularly in those of the alcoholics.
On the other hand, alcoholics traditionally have changed their behavior patterns after "seeing the light." They needed no additional drugs; it was "the spirit" that "moved" them. Yet the "spirit" quite clearly could not be relied upon in most cases. Spontaneous and natural conversion is rare.
So, too, for all religious revelation, regardless of the use made of it. Throughout time, only select men have "seen God." A Zen master is considered fortunate if he can find within his life-span a student or two who achieves satori. Among the multitudes who enter monasteries and convents, only a few are beatified.
But with LSD, this appears no longer to be the situation. Businessmen, alcoholics, salesmen, schoolteachers, philosophers, atheists, scientists, artists, prieststhousands have recounted religious or mystical LSD experiences. Here is how Dr. Huston Smith, Professor of Philosophy at MIT, explains these particular powers of the drug:
... given the right set and setting, the drugs can induce religious experiences indistinguishable from ones that occur spontaneously. Nor need set and setting be exceptional. The way the statistics are currently running, it looks as if from one-fourth to one-third of the general population will have religious experiences if they take the drugs under naturalistic conditions, meaning by this conditions in which the researcher supports the subject but doesn't try to influence the direction his experience will take. Among subjects who have strong religious inclinations to begin with, the proportion of those having religious experiences jumps to three-quarters. If they take them in settings which are religious, too, the ratio soars to nine out of ten.
For most orthodox Christians, the wisdom of using a drug to elicit deep religious insight may seem blasphemous. There is perhaps some comfort in hearing that atheists under LSD frequently report meaningful religious experiences. (In one LSD group, for example, of which less than 10 per cent of its members were "believers," terms such as God, the Divine, deep religious experience and a meeting with the infinite were used in over half the follow-up reports.) But on the other hand it is rather disconcerting to hear religious professionals report they have had their only profound revelations after using psychedelics. (An experiment conducted with 69 theologically trained individuals in religious locations indicated that over 75 per cent had what they considered moving spiritual insights under LSD, and over halffully aware of the implications of what they were sayingdeclared that through the intercession of the drugs they had "the most important religious experience of their lives.")
The hard-core evidence for the efficacy of LSD and the other mind-changing drugs in the realm of religion is considered well established by qualified researchers. One may question what a true religious experience is, but theologians deeply concerned with these matters have repeatedly attested that the drug-induced experience is genuine. Dr. Abraham Maslow, Professor of Psychology at Brandeis, best known for his investigations of "peak experiences," has written, "In the last few years it has become quite clear that certain drugs... especially LSD and psilocybin... often produce peak-experiences in the right people under the right circumstances." Dr. W. T. Stace, Professor Emeritus at Princeton and a leading philosophical authority on mysticism, said, when asked about the resemblance of artificially induced mystical experience (via the psychedelics) to the natural one, "It is not a matter of its being similar to mystical experience; it is mystical experience."
By way of further confirmation, a double-blind experiment was conducted on Good Friday in 1962 to check out Dr. Stace's affirmation, using nine check-points he had listed as fundamental characteristics of mystical experiencecharacteristics "which are universal and not restricted to any particular religion or culture": unity; transcendence of time and space; deeply felt positive mood; sense of sacredness; objectivity and reality; paradoxicality; alleged ineffability; transiency; persisting positive changes in attitude and/or behavior.
In a private chapel, twenty Christian theological students took part in this experiment after having been tested and screened exhaustively; ten were given 30 mg. psilocybin and the others (as nearly as possible, a duplicate group ) received 200 mg. of nicotinic acid, a vitamin that causes tingling of the skin and other physical sensations simulating certain psychedelic effects. Neither the subjects nor their guides knew which drug had been given to whom.
During the experiment (which came to be known as "The Miracle of Marsh Chapel" ) and in the following six months, extensive data were collected. These included tape-recordings, group discussion, follow-up interviews and the answering of a 147-item questionnaire used to quantify the characteristics of mystical phenomena. The reaction level in each of Dr. Stace's nine categories was significantly higher for the psilocybin group than for the controls. Nine out of the ten who had the psychedelic reported having religious experiences they considered authentic, while only one from the control group claimed to have had spiritual cognition. More important in terms of classical aftermath of mystical experience, there was a lasting effect upon behavior and attitudes. Dr. Walter Pahnke, the chief investigator (who wrote up this experiment as his doctoral thesis at Harvard), summarized these results:
After an admittedly short follow-up period of only six months, life-enhancing and life-enriching effects, similar to some of those claimed by mystics, were shown by the higher scores of the experimental subjects when compared to the controls. In addition, after four hours of follow-up interviews with each subject, the experimenter was left with the impression that the experience had made a profound impact (especially in terms of religious feeling and thinking) on the lives of eight out of ten of the subjects who had been given psilocybin.... the direction of change was toward more integrated, self-actualizing attitudes and behavior in life.
To date, the most significant effort to discredit the use of psychedelics for religious purposes was written by R. C. Zaehner, Professor o£ Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford, in his Mysticism, Sacred and Profane (1957). In this work Professor Zaehner examines his own mescaline experience and that of Huxley, compares them to classical accounts of religious and mystical experience, and concludes that the psychedelics can do no more than create a minor kind of "preternatural experience."
As Masters and Houston indicate, "... Zaehner's position is clearly open to criticism." They fault him on his logic and his argument that drugs can induce pantheistic and monistic mystical experiences, but not theistic ones. Here is Professor Huston Smith's comment:
With respect to the new drugs, Professor R. C. Zaehner has drawn the line emphatically. "The importance of Huxley's Doors of Perception," he writes, "is that in it the author clearly makes the claim that what he experienced under the influence of mescaline is closely comparable to a genuine mystical experience. If he is right... the conclusions... are alarming." Zaehner thinks that Huxley is not right, but Zaehner is mistaken.
It is probable that as more people take LSD, organized religion as it is known today will be seriously weakened, for there will be less interest in worn-out and irrelevant dogma. As religious insights become embodied in more levels of our culture, perhaps many will come to feel that the true way to worship God is to do so alone.
Some religieuses, predicting this pending crisis for Christianity, have established "psychedelic churches," loosely modeled on the American Indians' Native American Church. Having been recently formed, these groups are at present small and obscure, but the movement in the direction they have chosen is unquestionably growing. These churches have a framework similar to that of the Quakers, Unitarians, Christian Scientists and others, in that they put little emphasis on orthodox doctrine or ritual and are a loosely gathered fellowship whose common bond is the search for spiritual fulfillment. They differ, however, in that they offer "communion," with a psychedelic drug as the "host." Like the Indians, the members of these "churches" hold that the church is "a place to talk to God" and not just talk about Him.
It should be pointed out that organized religion has not been totally oblivious to the psychedelics. The Quakers and a large number of clergymen in England and Canada have taken serious notice. In fact, LSD has become a rather popular topic for Sunday service, and the positive response of congregations has been observed by many ministers. As an example, one minister, after delivering a sermon about his LSD session entitled "The Most Astounding Experience of My Life," reported that "in 48 years of preaching he had never seen people more interested and full of questions about a sermon."
But this is not to suggest that organized religion will not oppose the use of LSD for sacramental purposes. The lines are already forming, with many churchmen aligning themselves not only against the psychedelics, but also (and in consequence) against the value of personal religious experience. In the past, "divine visitation" has been considered an acceptable, or at least tolerated, element of religious life because it could be absorbed by the immense structure which is Christianity. Saints and other holy men are usually disturbing to any religious organization. They are inclined to follow their own "inner direction" rather than that of temporal authority. But until recently "visions" have been few, and therefore manageable. Now, however, with growing numbers of people experiencing "mystical" or "visionary" states, the uneasy relationship between a structured religion based on the historical Christ and a spontaneous one which depends upon each man finding his own "inner light" will require re-examination.
If a significant portion of society turns to the psychedelics for the discoveryor re-discoveryof God, non-drug-using Christians may react by putting increased emphasis upon a strict interpretation of Christianity, a sort of Barthian theology with primary attention paid to the "historical Christ." Karl Barth is the logical authority for this stand since he exempts personal revelation and "natural theology" from his Church Dogmatics and regards theologians such as Tillich as worse than heretical as not even being religious. On the other hand, there may be some who will be satisfied simply with the position that the use of drugs for "instant mysticism" is wrong and immoral. Still others may quote favorite spiritual masters who advise against the use of psychedelics for spiritual advancement. Already there are those, for the most part uninterested in Sufism, who have quoted with approval Avatar Meher Baba's comment that "The experiences which drugs induce are as far removed from Reality as is a mirage from water. No matter how much you pursue the mirage, you will never quench your thirst, and the search for Truth through drugs must end in disillusionment."
Meanwhile, as the psychedelics become better known, much initial dismay at the thought of drug-induced "religious experience" is changing into a realization that LSD may be indeed a "tremendous theological breakthrough" and that it may bring about a religious resurgence previously unknown. Some who have sought to discredit the drug are discovering that their initial fears are not justified and that their questions are sometimes incongruous. Edward Dalton, a writer on the semantics of mysticism, indicates how the present debate is being upleveled when he takes on the questions, "Is the experience valid?" and, "Is it fair that just anybody could have it, whether they deserve it or not?":
When we write [such questions] just like that, it is hard not to see how [they] reflect the values and fears of our particular culture, age, and situation... let me ask them again in a less obvious way...Some traditional church-goers are finding it quite possible to accept the psychedelic "religious experience" as valid, once they have seen the evidence. In their framework the experience "corresponds almost exactly [in Alan Watts' words] to the theological concept of a sacrament or means of gracean unmerited gift of spiritual power whose lasting effects depend upon the use made of it in subsequent action." In elaborating this concept, Watts gives the explanation which is being accepted as organized religion's apologia for interest in the psychedelics:
Catholic theology also recognizes those so-called "extraordinary" graces, often of mystical insight, which descend spontaneously outside the ordinary or regular means that the Church provides through the sacraments and the disciplines of prayer. It seems to me that only special pleading can maintain that the graces mediated through mushrooms, cactus plants, and scientists are artificial and spurious in contrast with those which come through religious discipline.
Such a statement is bound to be repeated from the pulpits because of the immense curiosity the psychedelic experience engenders in Christians. Further, experience has shown that church members who have taken LSD tend to become more ardent and involved members of their congregation. Trial records resulting from various attempts to outlaw the Indians' use of peyote in their religious ceremonies are filled with testimony indicating that Peyotists are quiet, sober and upright church members, not the stupefied, orgiastic savages that have sometimes been painted by white missionaries. Professor J.S. Slotkin, an anthropologist who intensively studied the Menomonee Indians of Wisconsin, wrote of the Peyotist congregation, "I have never been in any white man's house of worship where there is either as much religious feeling or decorum." Similar testimony is plentiful regarding the effects of LSD upon a Christian's church life. And the same seems to hold true for those who have used this drug without religious intent.
In the book Utopiates, an extensive study of 92 LSD users who were attracted to the drug for non-religious reasons, religious effects are clearly indicated. When questioned, 40 per cent of these subjects "indicated their understanding of the teachings of their own church had changed, largely toward an increased understanding of doctrine." Thirty per cent "expressed a deeper understanding of their previous religious feelings and felt closer to their church." Thirty per cent "believed their moral standards had changed toward increased personal responsibility," and 40 per cent "expressed lessened anxiety regarding death." Many commented that Biblical passages and obscure religious terms suddenly acquired vivid meaning and that they were better able "to accept the truth of such abstract concepts as God, the majesty of God, the evolving life force, the reality of life after death, the universality of religion and so on." Here, from another source, [Ling and Buckman] is comment on one man's life and his religious outlook following LSD treatment (for sexual problems), as related by his wife:
I have always said that my husband was gay and full of humour, and that is exactly what he is now. I used to be afraid when I first heard about his having LSD that he would emerge from it (if he ever did at all) a totally different personality, but instead of that his true personality has been able to break through the shell that imprisoned it. I also thought it might destroy his religious faith, but there is no need for me to say anything about that... he has expressed far better than I can how greatly his faith has been strengthened and deepened.
Unreligious people who take LSD for the first time are often quite indignant when told that they may find the most important part of their session will be spiritual. If their agnosticism, or atheism, is not the result of rebellion against early Christian training, however, they may find themselves attracted to Buddhism or another of the Eastern religions.
This occurs because the LSD mystical experience leans toward pantheism unless there are religious images already established. While there are numerous instances of people taking the drug and reenacting the crucifixion, identifying with Christ or God, and having Biblical-scene hallucinations, a good percentage have other forms of mystical adventures. As one pastor put it, "The drug seems to make an end-run around Christ and go directly to the Holy Spirit." Similarly, a Hassidic rabbi after using a psychedelic danced in ecstasy with his tallith, declaring that his "experience was truly religious, but wasn't 'quite Jewish enough.' " The group most often expressing the feeling that psychedelic mysticism is perfectly appropriate to their religion is the Buddhists. Their comment frequently is, "Just what I expected."
In the last quarter-century Eastern theology has made inroads on Western thought as a result of new translations of basic Eastern religious works. Also, the writings of such intellectuals as Heard, Isherwood, Eliot, Huxley and Watts have gathered a wide audience. Now, as evidence grows of the psychedelics' ability to give first-hand experience of "the clear, white light" and other typically Eastern mystical states, we are likely to see an acceleration of interest in the Tao Te Ching, the Tibetan and Egyptian Book of the Dead, the I Ching and the Upanishads. One of the most remarkable characteristics of "psychedelic people," is that many who have considered themselves "hard-headed realists" before use of the drugs have subsequently developed an affinity for such writings. At any gathering of those involved in the "psychedelic movement," it often happens that before long one or another of these books is mentioned favorablyeven by those who formerly disparaged them.
The religious awakenings brought forth by the psychedelic drugs do not always assume forms we might expect, nor are they necessarily lasting in their acute impact. The chances are, for instance, that former atheists will not be transformed into church-goers (on the other hand, they will probably never again be militant atheists). But after the initial reaction fades, the value of the experience is nonetheless secure; the awakening to deeper spiritual values remains.
Now that the phenomena of "psychedelia" (religious experience via drugs) is known and increasing numbers of people are interested, it seems reasonable to assume that LSD will one day take a respectable place in religion. The following three statements concur in this prediction:
Whether the current chapter of man's religiousness is being written more in the church or on the college campus, more in the halls of ecumenical councils or in the amorphous groupings of the Youth Revolution is a question whose answer is blowing in the wind.
It is just possible that God, in His inscrutable Grace, may wish to shatter all our Pharisaic pretensions, and through these remarkable chemical substances gracefully provide glimpses of the realm of the Spirit precisely to those whose path would otherwise never have come near it....
Undoubtedly it would be the supreme irony of the history of religion should it be proved that the ordinary person could by the swallowing of a pill attain to those states of exalted consciousness a lifetime of spiritual exercises rarely brings to the most ardent and adept seeker of mystical enlightenment. Considering the present rapid assimilation on a mass cultural level of new discoveries, therapies, and ideologies, it then might not be long before the vested religious interests would finally have to close up shop.
It would seem that there will always be a need for organized religion, which through the ages has been a mainstay of human enrichment. But when religion is pinched and thin, or is primarily a booming commercial enterprise, its purpose i5 negated. The psychedelics employed thus far for religious purposes in an organized way have been included in the church ceremony in a rather loose, arbitrary manner, vaguely in the style of the Native American Church. While there have been some attempts to use Eastern concepts and writings in the services of these new "psychedelic churches," these are not very satisfactory for the average American, and involves enormous "mind-bending"as bodhisattvas, mantras, mandalas and sangsara do not "resonate" familiarly in the Western unconscious as they do for the natives of Tibet, China, Japan, etc.
There are new translations, however, of early Christian writings (such as the first-century "Hymn of Jesus") and the introduction of new methods for conducting services, which some of the psychedelic theological groups are using. Another innovation which has been privately tried with some success, and which may prove useful in seminaries, is the taping of a philosophical-theological discussion held prior to a session and its playback after the drug is ingested. Ministers and theological students who have experimented with this system often claim to have been mortified at hearing their own excessive verbiage and the irrelevance of much they have had to say. Instead of consternation, however, they have generally expressed gratitude at having their misapprehensions so clearly revealed. Under the drug's stimulus they receive an intensification of the goals they held when they entered the ministry, thus sparking more direct and creative preaching.
One of the most rewarding by-products of these religious-oriented psychedelic sessions has been the emergence of a strong spiritual bond which developed between participants. The empathy resulting from the shared experience is such that many have declared that only a long and intensive retreat together could provide a similar feeling of brotherhood. Under the drug, they claim to feel the glory of God and the spiritual glory of each otherand of all mankind.
This spiritual-brotherhood reaction is not peculiar to the theologians who experience psychedelia, but also extends to laymen. Regardless of difference in background, age, interests or problems, there is among LSD users an almost uncanny recognition of and sympathy for those who have gone through the experience, whether they have taken the drug together or not. This may account to some extent for the protectiveness users feel toward each other and their almost immediate discard of defenses. The fact that each has known the naked vulnerability of being adrift in the cosmos, with none of the everyday trappings and props for support, provides a common bond and lays a cornerstone of trust.
Further, the reverence and understanding they have for each other would seem to emanate from a tacit but strongly felt "universality," a concept known to Bergsonians (with their mind-at-large theory), to Jungians (who believe in a collective unconscious) and to the truly devout of all faiths. So pervasive are spiritual realities among those who have used the psychedelic drugs that many are unaware of the depth of their involvement. Mention the words "Universe," "God," "Energy" or "Eternity" to any serious LSD enthusiast and he will instantly accede to the meaning without bewilderment or reference to "empty" phrases.
That the godhead is inescapable to the psychedelic "elect," consciously accepted or not, is often detected by the shrewd observer and by "insiders" who have "been there." Frequently it is reflected in their manner, style, conversation, thought and even in their dress. The transcendental "mark" is on them in one way or another and has a way of announcing its presence, whether the bearer knows it or not.
If the foregoing views on "spiritual brotherhood" and acceptance of "universal" and "eternal" truths seem somewhat overstated, there are a multitude of well-authenticated tests which bear them out, as does the following report by Willis Harman in Main Currents in Modern Thought:
Through the psychedelic experience persons tend to accept beliefs which are at variance with the usual conception of the "scientific world view." In a current study [by C. Savage, W. Harman, J. Fadiman, and E. Savage] the subjects were given, prior to and immediately after the LSD session, a collection of 100 belief and value statements to rank according to the extent they felt the statements expressed their views. Subsequent personality and behavior-pattern changes were evaluated by standard clinical instruments and independent interviews. It was found that therapeutic consequences of the LSD session were predictable on the basis of the extent to which subjects indicated increased belief in statements such as the following:
Psi Phenomena:The supernatural world was both real and awesome to early man, as it still is in primitive societies, and heavy dependency was put upon it in worshipping and propitiating the gods. It is more than likely that the degree to which our ancestral homo sapiens relied upon telepathic communication instead of articulate speech would today fill us with both amazement and disbelief. Certainly human beings who populated the earth prior to the fourteenth century are well documented as having had a keen interest in the spirit world, thought transference, witches, premonitions and so forth.
In order to conjure departed spirits, make predictions, or go into trance, a variety of drugs existing since antiquity (many of which are now being put in the hallucinogen classifications by modern biochemists) were used by witch doctors, alchemists, shamen and cultist tribesmen throughout the world, and seemed to buttress natural powers. Yagé, a drug related to LSD and known under several different names (including "telepathine"), is from a vine native to the Amazon Basin and is identical with harmine, an alkaloid from the seeds of wild rue. Both are reputed for their alleged ability to aid in locating missing objects, to transport users to distant lands and times and to give direct communication with the dead. Greatly favored in Europe at witches' sabbaths was bufotenin (related to serotonin and first obtained from toad skins), scopolamine and henbane.
However, by Savonarola's time the church itself had declared magic and witchcraft evil. After the witch-hunts and witch burnings that continued for three centuries, the supernatural world with its ghosts, demons and human emissaries was in a state of subjugation. It was not until the nineteenth century that there was any open revival of interest in "seers" and "spooks" or acceptance of their possible validity.
Those who pioneered the re-exploration of what is now called "psi phenomena," or all things pertaining to the psychic world, were considered crazy, pathetic, eccentric and ridiculous. They were roundly sneered at for their sacrilegious superstition and made to feel uncomfortable among their fellow men. Sir Oliver Lodge and a handful of others did succeed, however, in establishing the Society for Psychical Research in London in 1882, and gradually interest in spiritualism, clairvoyance and mental telepathy seeped out of its small confines and spread elsewhere. The American Society for Psychic Research was founded in 1906; however, the psi subject did not gain much public ground until the 1930s and it is still far from respected. This, despite the efforts of such men in the field as Drs. J. B. Rhine, and Gardner Murphy, who have approached it scientifically and have been steadily working at it in conjunction with their European colleagues.
The reasons for the snail's-pace progress toward heuristic restoration of the psychic element into man's customs and life are manifold. To begin with, the curtain has been lifted for only a comparatively small number of years, and religious prejudice, especially in formal church doctrine, still rules such matters out. Also, in spite of the huge but sprawling body of evidence for the reality of psi factors, adequate methods for presenting concrete, scientific proof have yet to be devised. At present, no matter how precise and painstaking the investigation, or how well attested, at the end the question remains: All right, so it happened, but why? While the majority of people still consider "ghosts," "extrasensory perception" and "mediums" explainable in terms of coincidence, chance or hoax, there is a growing curiosity about psychic phenomena, whether much headway is being made toward discovering its source and veridical status or not.
This growing interest was quietly spearheaded by important men such as Einstein and Edison, to name but two. Psychic phenomena have long attracted followers among artists, literary people and liberal theologians, but until very recently there has not been much "speaking out," for obvious reasons: If proof cannot be offered, the belief is not scientifically valid and must be taken on faith, a province still considered the exclusive territory of organized religion.
But in the last year or two, ESP "buffs" throughout the Western world have taken encouragement because of scientific breakthroughs in other areas which may be connected with psi. The subject has become sufficiently popular and gained enough pseudo-serious approval to move a number of television networks to present special programs designed to enlighten the public on the progress of this odd research. These programs, dealing with the subject in an intelligent and thorough fashion, have been well enough received to warrant reruns.
As the general public becomes more exposed to the idea of ESP as something more than a possibility, it is being joined by a specialized minority which needs no convincing, however much it too may need proof of validity for its deep-felt claims. This group is the growing number of persons who have taken psychedelic drugs. A large percentage seem to have vivid ESP experiences during the drug sessions, and almost all users have noticed at least minimal ESP effects, if nothing more strange than acute empathy.
To date, two international conferences have been held by parapsychologists to investigate the use of LSD in connection with ESP, and while the conferences have resulted in almost no conclusive material, or even realistic formulas for testing, those involved expressed optimism and said they thought the time was close when the psi world would be wide open for exhibition and examination.
These researchers have concluded, for instance, that many of their "hunches" and speculations over the years seem to point in the right direction; they have affirmed many parapsychology theories about which there had been some doubt; and they have postulated a number of previously uninvestigated questions which they hope may eventually serve to give the answers to why psi occurs, why certain people are apparently psychically gifted and others not.
Modern investigators have thought for some time that telepathy, clairvoyance and the appearance of other psychic manifestations do have more rhyme and reason than had once been assumed. Psychic abilities, it is now believed, tend to ebb and flow and are in no way constant to the individual or locale, but are as seemingly capricious as "moods" and emotionsyesterday's clairvoyant can be powerless tomorrow. But, as with emotional response, there has to be an underlying cause. It is now generally accepted in parapsychology circles that the psychic factor in individuals has no correlation with I.Q., that ESP is strongest around adolescence and early youth (there has rarely been a poltergeist case reported in the absence of children or young people), and it has been suggested that hormonal function may be an important influence, as may metabolism and other physical characteristics.
It is thought, too, that the psychic person performs best when he is in a particular kind of relaxed physical state, unencumbered by the effects on his system of such drugs as caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. Being slightly tired, relaxed, and in a "mind-wandering" frame of mind appears to enhance receptivity.
Because LSD chemically produces many of these physical and mental side effectsparticularly the depersonalization of the subject who, like the best mediums, has no sense of himselfand because spontaneous psychic reactions have occurred unsought in countless sessions, those working in parapsychology expectantly set up LSD experiments. The results of these initial studies, however, were gravely disheartening to researchers.
But as it was observed that unelicited psi experiences seemed to persist among LSD users, the experimenters concluded that their testing methods may have been at fault. The Zehner card test, for example, which has been given for years, is now generally considered to be too exacting and rigid to allow any subject under psychedelic drugs to perform at normal, much less optimum, advantage. The LSD subject is undergoing too many lightning-fast and distracting ideas to be able to concentrate on scoring well at one of the most repetitive tests ever devised.
But researchers find it difficult to replace the antiquated testing machinery with something better. Cavanna and Servadio, a research biochemist and a parapsychologist-psychoanalyst respectively, undertook a project working with LSD and psychics a few years ago in Italy. They published their findings, which were exceedingly thin, in their book, ESP Experiments with LSD and Psilocybin. The "stage" for the sessions could not have been more cautiously scientific nor the preparations more exhaustive. Yet their techniques were probably too formal and their screening of the subjects, inadequate. (Perhaps they should have given subjects an LSD test run to familiarize them with the drug's peculiarities.) As it was, they used stimulating photographs for "send-offs," and the "picture-match" method (having the subject try to describe the picture inside a sealed envelope) after the medium felt the drug working. The results were not scientifically validated.
Masters and Houston, on the other hand, fared quite remarkably in their tests using the same "picture-match" method in slight variation, and "out of 62 subjects tested, 48 approximated the... image two or more times out of ten. Five subjects approximated ... seven and eight times out of ten." "Thought transference" may be a more likely explanation here, since the Masters-Houston subjects felt more at ease with their researchers than was the case with the Italian investigators.
Both in hearsay LSD reports and published ones, thought transference is frequently mentionedoften to the eerie extreme of "switching" or "intermingling" of souls. Particularly is this the situation when people are close to each other and have known each other for a long timehusband and wife, parent and child, twins, etc. Richard Alpert, who has had wide experience with psychedelics, accidentally projected himself into the "heads" of two persons whom he was guiding. One, a "psychopathic young fellow," gave Alpert the feeling that being inside this person's mind "was like a tropical jungle [overhung with] flowering vines, waterfalls, deep dark moist caves... I was quietly in the midst of this imagery [when the subject]... said, 'Are you inside my head?' " The other "head" that Alpert "visited," a more dignified one, also detected his "presence" and asked the same question.
Amusinglyand sometimes amazinglyLSD-induced thought transference, telepathy and/or psychokinesis seem to have made their way into the gambling world, too, both amateur and professional branches, and reportedly a great deal of money has been won via the psychedelics. Halfway through one amateur gambler's session, for example, he felt a strong urge to play blackjack, and several friends accommodated him. Much to his surprise, he became aware of "all kinds of subliminal signals" he was unconsciously giving to others and realized that the other players, too, were telegraphing their cards. Upon correcting his own defect, he found it extraordinarily easy to win.
Although it is clear that as yet no trustworthy system has been worked out for testing ESP with LSD, the drug's congeniality with ESP crops up on a striking number of 0ccasions. Because controlled test situations have not as yet produced adequate acceptable criteria, there is a paucity of material in the professional literature on the drug's arousal of ESP ability. But there is a large body of first-person accounts of such, mostly unpublished although adequately witnessed and attested. The following appear in print for the first time:
J.L.C. is a man of average intelligence, has a moderate amount of formal education but only a passing interest in cultural matters, history or contemporary problems. He is in his late thirties and is of an easygoing, pleasant disposition. J.L.C. took LSD merely because it was suggested that he might like what it would do for him. His two companions, who acted as guides, had extensive and responsible experience in giving the drug and had had it several times themselves. Both were college graduates and were professionally involved in the liberal arts.The chance that J.L.C. was familiar with this piece of history, even in schooldays, is remote. On the-other hand, the various explanations that come to mind, if indeed the "hallucination" did not arise from shelved knowledge, are unmistakably psi m content. Was J.L.C. possibly King Philip in a former life? Might he have been reading his guides' minds? Was he delving into Jung's collective unconscious? What else might explain it?
Another occurrence (but of a slightly different sort) which points very persuasively at ESP came about when a young man, R.H., with strong mediumistic abilities, took mescaline. During his session, he decided to visit a friend who lived in another part of town and telephoned to announce that he and his guide were on their way. Before their arrival, however, his hostess received an unexpected visit from a guest she knew very slightly, a person completely unknown to R.H.The third example comes from a painter who described, when taking LSD for the first time, a beautiful painting which he was "seeing":
The painting, in very intense, sparkling color, was of an unusual fishing vessel, rather like those which might be found in the South Seas, yet different. The waters on which the boat drifted were "of marvelous luminosity" and the nets "glistened with jewel-like drops." The side oars were of an odd shape, such as the painter (S.R.) had never seen before, and the sun pictured was of a color which he "longed to duplicate" as soon as he could get to his paints. After the drug wore off, S.R. still thought the painting "very remarkable," making a preliminary sketch of it some days later.The next episode might suggest "coincidental hallucination" or reincarnation. It occurred early in an LSD experience and is told by H.S., a young businesswoman:
"All of a sudden I had a great intuitive flash of familiarity and a scene created itself, a l9th century European court, only for some reason it was assembled around a flight of steps in endless, fountained, formal gardens. I, myself, was off at some distance from the group of key figures and was kneeling among a group of petty officers of the military. As I stared toward the people in the foreground (the royal family), I experienced feelings of devotion, patriotism and of secret longing. This was all directed toward the woman in the tableau, and I instinctively knew she was very far above me, was indeed my queen.
Other Dimensions:Current scientific research seems to be as varied and complex as are the countless forms of living organisms. The breakthroughs now being made strike awe in their observers, however different the areas of scientific inquiry may be. Today's exciting achievements no longer come mainly from the mechanistic, simplistic concepts of classical mathematics and physics, but are being made-in biology and genetics, and in the study of the mind. In Washington and the Virgin Islands scientists are trying to communicate with dolphins. In California dozens of laboratories are working with electrical brain implantations, with "sensory deprivation" and with experiments to change genes. Throughout the country researchers are studying RNA, DNA, Cylert, acetamido-benzoate and a host of other chemicals with which they hope to probe the mysterious labyrinths of human mentality.
In all of these simultaneously conducted studies, we seem to stand on the threshold of discovering how to revolutionize life as it is now known. A revision in man's total concepts, so drastic as to have no parallel in history, seems to be in the offing. Much of this has been stimulated by the knowledge turned up through LSD, and more seems probable. This is because the simple ingestion of the chemical clearly demonstrates that other realities do indeed exist with their own boundaries, logic and laws. As Dr. John Beresford believes, the discovery of LSD may be "the most critical event in human history." "Take it once," he says, "and you know that all you've known about consciousness is wrong."
In the past, virtually everyone has shared the same idea of ordinary consciousness, the major differences lying in individual interpretation of experience. Should the use of LSD become widespread, the present concept of consciousness may seem absurd and constrained. Like other writers on psychedelics, Mary Barnard poses interesting questions in her article, "The God in the Flowerpot" (originally published in The American Scholar):
When we consider the origin of the mythologies and cults related to drug plants, we should surely ask ourselves which, after all, was more likely to happen first: the spontaneously generated idea of an afterlife in which the disembodied soul, liberated from the restrictions of time and space, experiences eternal bliss, or the accidental discovery of hallucinogenic plants that give a sense of euphoria, dislocate the center of consciousness, and distort time and space, making them balloon outward in greatly expanded vistas?
As yet, no verification of the historical influence plants have exerted upon man's theological systems has been made, though many scholars, such as Robert Graves and the Wassons, believe that psychedelic mushrooms and other plants were used in Eleusis and other holy centers, where they were the basis for many "miracles" and initiation into "the mysteries."
In this regard, Mary Barnard goes on to say:
Perhaps the old theories are right, but we have to remember that the drug plants were there, waiting to give men a new idea based on a new experience. The experience might have had, I should think, an almost explosive effect on the largely dormant minds of men, causing them to think of things they had never thought of before. This, if you like, is divine revelation...All these speculations are open to debate. Because they are so unusual to the accepted order of things, we approach them with caution and mistrust. Dr. Humphry Osmond, speaking of an LSD experiment involving "a major, witnessed thought transference," tells of a reaction which, typically, brings such experimentation to an end: "Unluckily we had no recording equipment and our observer became acutely panicky because he said it was uncanny."
Some investigators, however, do follow through and contribute invaluable evidence. Christopher Mayhew, a Member of Parliament and a former journalist, offered to take a psychedelic drug at his home with BBC television cameras on hand to record his experience. He wrote a full account of his "Excursion Out of Time" for the London Observer, which begins as follows:
What happened to me between 12:30 and 4 o'clock on Friday, December 2, 1955? After brooding about it for several months, I still think my first, astonishing conviction was rightthat on many occasions that afternoon I existed outside time.The television camera could not photograph Mayhew's mind, of course, so he felt it necessary to explain at length what he thought had occurred to him. His experience, which began with color hallucinations, soon gave way to a preoccupation with the very strange "behavior" of time: it kept slipping out of sequencei.e., he would see a cup at his lips before he actually removed it from the tableand he could never tell how far along he was in the experience. His watch did not help either, for, although his eyes registered various clock times, the hours were not in proper sequence and he would see two-thirty after he had already seen three o'clock. It was only the increasing recurrence of certain objects which had arrived late in the experience that enabled him to realize that the session was coming to an end.
Time played another even more extravagant bit of seeming magic when it sent him into another dimension where "I would be aware of a pervasive bright pure light, like a kind of invisible sunlit snow...." for an extended period of time:
I would become unaware of my surroundings, and enjoy an existence conscious of myself, in a state of breathless wonderment and complete bliss, for a period of time whichfor mesimply did not end at all. It did not last for minutes or hours, but apparently for years....These "time phenomena," unheard of as they are in normal everyday consciousness, seemed totally convincingnot "hallucinations" but another part of reality. Mayhew, like others who have used psychedelics, is definite on this:
The common-sense explanation is that since events in our drawing-room actually happened in a normal time sequence (with plenty of witnesses, including the camera, to prove it), I just couldn't have experienced them in some other order, so I must have merely thought I didI was deluded.Mayhew's account is of particular significance because it has been so well documented and comes from such an estimable source. The drug was administered by a foremost authority, Dr. Humphry Osmond, given to a distinguished man, and witnessed by reliable observers. There are countless persons who claim to have had equally memorable experiences under the drug, but since these did not occur within the framework of scientific experiment, they cannot be recorded "officially." As they did not have acceptable documentation which could be demonstrated, they have remained in private, hearsay circulation, or at best they have been published in apologetic, confessional tones. Authoritative accounts by people of recognized integrity (Mayhew, Watts, Huxley, Smith and Pahnke), but outside the field of psychotherapists, lend credence to the claims which the ordinary enthusiasts make. Taken together, they tend to remove some of the ill-repute surrounding the "drug experience." Thus the limits of the framework of acceptability are being expanded.
In the past the average layman has had little more than intimations of mystical reality. He was frightened of it and turned away. Now, however, the prospect is different since the inexplicable experience seems to be controllable. With familiarity, the frightening contours will diminish Religious psychologist Walter Clark, a professor at Andover Newton Theological School, says, "These drugs present us with a means of studying religious experience ... No psychologist of religion can afford to be ignorant of them." Huxley goes even further:
For an aspiring mystic to revert, in the present state of knowledge, to prolonged fasting and violent self-flagellation would be as senseless as it would be for an aspiring cook to behave like Charles Lamb's Chinaman, who burned down the house in order to roast a pig.
Sixty-five years ago, William James, commenting on his experiments with nitrous oxide, pointed out that normal, waking consciousness is only one special type of consciousness and that "parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different." James's unshakable conviction was that, by the application of "the requisite stimulus," these forms of consciousness "are there in all their completeness... At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality."
With LSD and the other psychedelics it now appears that we may have a potent form of "the requisite stimulus." However, our situation with these drugs and consciousness can be likened to man's back-door approach to a workable digit systemwe are still using the clumsy Roman numerals, serviceable but inefficient. It may be that as the benefits of LSD become better recognized and more people become adept at translating themselves into new systems, we will wonder how we ever made do with our lives as we know them today. Alan Watts says in this regard, "The end of this century may find us, at last, thoroughly at home in our own world, swimming in the ocean of relativity as joyously as dolphins in the water."
Footnotes1. Professor Smith gives a useful definition: "By a religious experience I mean one which elicits from the experiencer a centered response, a response from the core of his being. As his being includes thoughts, feelings, and will ... a religious experience triggers in the experiencer a triple movement: of the mind in belief, of the emotions in awe, and of the will in obedience. A religious experience is awesome, convinces the experiencer that its noetic disclosures are true, and lays upon him obligations he acknowledges as binding." (back)
2. Time magazine, in its September 23, 1966, issue, devoted half of its "Religion" section to "WORSHIPMysticism in the Lab," and commented favorably on this particular experiment: "Most experiences of mystical consciousness have come only after hard workSpartan prayers, meditation, fasting, mortification of the flesh. Now it is possible, through the use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs, to induce something like mystical consciousness in a controlled laboratory environment...." (back)
3. Alan Harrington's reaction in this respect is typical: 'to one who has practically never thought in terms of lotuses, reincarnation, stages of existence, etc., and who through the years has been irritated by the enthusiasts of Eastern philosophy, the LSD journey brought evidence of recurring personal death and rebirth. It made possible a vision of eternity not unlike those of slake and Swedenborg." (back)
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