The Ecstatic Adventure
Reports of Chemical Explorations of the Inner World
Chapter 18 Toward the City of the Future
by ERIC CLOUGH
THE SELECTIVE, SYSTEMATIC use of psychedelics in creative problem-solving situations may turn out to be one of the most significant applications of these chemicals. An article in Progressive Architecture (August 1966), entitled "LSD: A Design Tool?", stated that "a number of architects have added to the extensive evidence for the drugs' use as an instrument for enhancing perception, for 'training in visualization.' They report that, under the psychedelic effect of the drugs, visual and auditory acuity are 'revolutionized.'... The consensus among the architects interviewed... seems to be that LSD, when administered under carefully controlled conditions, does enhance creativity to the extent that it vastly speeds up problem-solving, aids in visualizing three-dimensionally, and generally heightens perceptivity."
The question of whether the drug actually increases creativity," or merely makes a talent "more accessible," can be best resolved if one distinguishes carefully between creative experience and creative performance. The former, being primarily a question of perception, can and is profoundly affected by LSD. Performance, which is a function of native talent plus training, cannot per se be enhanced by LSD: the pianist cannot expect to rattle off pieces he has not studied, the architect cannot expect to become a master designer in a few hours.
However, insofar as performance has lagged because of inability to perceive the solutions to specific problems, LSD can actually increase creative activity. In the study from which Eric Clough's and the other accounts of this section are taken, other, more objective data than reports and selfratings confirmed the facilitation of problem-solving. The conclusions from psychological tests of creativity were "that scores on a stable test can shift dramatically upward under the drug conditions, and this shift is in the direction of enhanced ability to recognize patterns, to isolate and minimize visual distraction, and to maintain visual memory in spite of confusing color and spatial forms."
The practical value of obtained solutions is a check against subjective reports of accomplishment which might be attributable to temporary drug-induced euphoria. "The overall tally, obtained by questionnaire, showed out Of 34 problems attempted: I on which there had been no further activity for a month or more after the date of the problem-solving session, 20 on which new avenues for further investigation had been opened, I on which a developmental model to test the solution had been authorized, 2 on which a working model had been completed, 6 for which the solution had been accepted for construction or production, 10 for which the partial solution obtained was being developed further or being applied in practice, and 4 for which no solution had been obtained."
Eric Clough's report shows how the highly trained mind and eye of the architect can effectively and purposefully utilize the heightened focusing of LSD. "I learned that whatever I was able to do that day was not because of the drug, but because the drug allowed me to function in a way that I was capable all along of functioning, without the usual frictions we encounter."
WHILE THE PRIMARY purpose of this piece is to report on my psychedelic experience connected with a creativity study by the International Foundation for Advanced Study in Menlo Park, California, it seems appropriate to include some historical information that has a direct bearing on that specific experience. In June of 1963, I took part in prior studies that the Foundation was conducting and will make a brief report of that experience before I discuss the creativity session.
It was a bright sunny morning in early summer, and I was about to embark on an experience that would prove to be a major factor in the internal changes I was journeying through. My guide and I had spent much of the prior two weeks together preparing for this day. We talked a lot. He gave me myriads of psychological tests and, most importantly, developed a rapport with me such as I have had with very few people. Now the day was here.
We sat in the session room and talked quietly for a while before an assistant brought a silver goblet and without words banded it to me. I looked at it for a moment and then drank it. I felt completely calm, knowing I was embarking on a journey to realms I had never visited before and from which I would likely return as a different person.
We talked some more; not about the journey but of trifles I cannot remember. In a short time, I began to feel light and pleasantly euphoric, so at the suggestion of my guide I lay on the couch. I was uncomfortable, so I slid to the floor, removed my shoes, and stretched out and closed my eyes. My guide started some preselected music and I attempted to flow with it, clearing my mind of the facts and fancies of the world outside the draped windows.
Within moments I began to melt. I saw and felt myself as protoplasmic jelly infusing the immediate environment and becoming one with it. I was the colors of the rainbow, and it and I and they rippled and flowed in harmony.
I was suddenly (and uncomfortably) aware of my body again. My chest was constricted, and I recognized that anxiety had come as a cold cloud upon me. I looked at it and saw a vision of the flowing protoplasm with a head poked up out of it as though in an attempt to keep from drowning. I recognized me. I saw my ego struggling to stay out of submersion in Being. I laughed... a roaring laughter (or so it seemed). The bead, that is, 1, went plop! and it began.
I could bear and feel the heartbeat of my guide and it was me and I was it. The room breathed and it was 1. My eyes opened and we shimmered in shining spectrum.
We (the tree of life and I, as one) grew and grew and formed a canopy of the universe. I saw (or was) the cosmos and it came together into a pinpoint of all the light and energy there is and burst and flooded the universe with twinkling stars again.
I saw a pile of shit mounded high and steaming. A fly walked through the steam. A piece of shit clung to his leg and I saw (and felt) that I was that little piece of dung. We exploded into particles of shining dust and merged with the cosmos.
I withdrew for a moment and thought about this rare phenomenon. Again laughter tumbled from the depths of my being. I was trying to do the impossible, to stand back and intellectualize about the most integral thought I had ever experienced... Being transcending the sum of its parts.
Then I was a Zen master on the top of the highest mountain, roaring cosmic laughter at the structures and riddles and problems man poses for himself and knowing that they were necessary until they lost their valueall of them (the religions, the ethics, the rituals) high in a jumble of colorful jigsaws of historical absurdity.
I was Professor Irwin Corey, the world's foremost authority, wearing a tuxedo with a rope for a belt and worn tennis shoes, speaking with Shakespearean eloquence about all and nothing and laughing louder than when I listened to the master professor himself.
In an eternity and an instant the session was over, and I went into the still sunny afternoon a few hours before sunset. I craved a beer and my "babysitter" brought some for me. I sat on his porch and really tasted it. I watched a swarm of moths flying about an ancient oak, and I was with the world. I felt I had never seen it before and truly I had not, but now (and ever since) I looked and was never the same again.
Two and one half years later I received a call from the Foundation. I was invited to take part in a specific experiment: the study of creativity while under the influence of a psychedelic agent. While I had taken LSD for the prior experience at the Foundation, this time mescaline would be used. My field, architecture, was one they wanted to include in the study as well as other arts and sciences. Most of the participants were to be from various areas of scientific endeavor and research.
I accepted and three days later met with a group for preliminary instructions, a meeting with the staff psychiatrist and visual and written testing of psychological makeup and perception ability.
We were instructed to choose a particular project and one or two alternates that we were currently working on, to give it some general thought prior to the day, but not to get too involved in it, so that we would have it on our minds but not arrive at the session with preconceived solutions. Preferably this would be a problem that we had not been able to find a solution for or that had some complexity and would require a considerable amount of our professional skill.
The plan was to have four participants in each full-day session. Each participant was from a different field of endeavor and would work on his own project, even though all would be in the same room. Interaction and discussion was permissible but not required.
The day came, and we four assembled in the session room and with little further preliminaries ingested mescaline. Our guides arranged us comfortably on the floor with our own sleeping bags, placed eyeshades over our eyes and stereophonic earphones over our ears, and started a tape of beautifully selected classical music.
I relaxed and found that a kind of euphoric feeling was pervading my body and mind. I felt that I was floating.
Suddenly, I was no longer aware of my surroundings... my body, the music, the room... all of it ceased to exist. I was swinging through the trees of a verdant tropical jungle. I was not alone. I had the impression that there were at least twenty of us, swinging through the trees, chattering at each other and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I did not understand the chattering as words; I was happy and so were my companions. We were smaller than human size but not too much smaller (now I would guess about 100 to 120 lbs.), and we were naked but quite hairy, a kind of soft, light fur quite unlike what we are accustomed to seeing on animals.
Like a technicolor movie, I was suddenly in a different scene with different sets and different actors. Now it was a cave and my impression was that it was deep into the side of a sheer cliff. I knew that it was located near a forest of pines, that a river ran below and that we had to ascend a narrow path to reach the cave entrance. Meat was cooking on an open fire. The meat was lying on the coals.
I was naked and I was eating, though the others seemed not to be. I was holding a whole leg of an animal that must have been about the size of a lamb or goat. The meat was nearly raw and very delicious, even though it still had some singed fur on it.
I was very aware of the surroundings. I was not Eric of the twentieth century observing the environment, but I was who I was there (maybe Erk), and was looking intently at the drawings on the walls of the cave, the other people (I was aware that a small percentage of the people, three or four women, were wearing animal skins as clothing and all the others were naked; neither seemed unusual) and smelling the spicy, meat-cooking air. The largest drawing on the wall was a huge stag in black and white. I could see every detail and still can today.
Again I was transported to another time and place. I was walking through the market place of a large Incan (I think) city. I was clad in white robes and had the feeling that I was of the ruling class. I stopped at a fruit stand and selected a red fruit like an apple. I strolled on without paying for it and relished its musky, tropical flavor. There were many people and many beasts of burden. Again, I was very observant but not as a stranger. It seemed that I was very much at home, but just at "attention" to my environment. I remember that it was a very hot, sunny day. There was a large stone temple on my right, and I knew that the tall and beautiful woman standing at the entrance was a priestess of some kind and that I knew her personally. I began to walk toward the temple steps, but not in baste or as though I had specifically planned to go there. There were many other buildings in view, all built with very fine craftsmanship of the same stone. Most of the people in the square were wearing white robes as I was, but a few wore other colors. Some were a deep blue and I remember an orange robe or two. Many of the people wore golden ornaments. The priestess, particularly, wore many ornaments, many necklaces and bracelets, and all were obviously made of gold.
Now I was in a large ballroom and I was aware that it was in the era of early America. The ballroom was very big and the architecture was formal, geometric and not very ornate. The ceiling was high and heavily beamed, rather rough-hewn but well fit. The large, small-paned windows were arched at the top. I remember that the floor was of polished oak plank but was rather dark, as though it had been oiled, if not stained. I felt very formal, very polite, quite rigid and rather uncomfortable.
Once more the scene changed. An ice cream parlor was the setting (perhaps it was a restaurant or barI was there a very short time). The architecture was very ornate inside and very colorful. I was wearing a striped blazer and felt that at any moment I would shout, "Twenty-three skidoo." Everyone was laughing but I didn't feel right being there. It seemed frivolous and superficial.
I was walking down a street of what could best be described as a city of the future. It was beautifully articulated and designed. It seemed majestic and at the same time serene and smooth. I thought, "But there are no trees."
The music coming through the stereophonic earphones was invading my internal privacy. The soprano's voice was a screech. I took them off and slowly removed my eyeshades. A moment or two later one of our guides knelt at my side. I smiled at him and reached out to take his hand. We looked at each other (deep eye contact) for an eternal moment, and I closed my eyes again.
I saw that the personality of man is like layer upon layer of glass. The specific vision was of irregular but cleanly geometric pieces, each behind the other into infinity. Each piece of glass was attached on pivots at the top and bottom. At any place, if any piece were turned slightly it would reflect an external picture and, like a mirror, block any further vision inside. I knew, with deep regret, that most of us have many pieces turned askew.
For some time more I saw other mental images of similar kinds, all having to do with man's inability to mesh cleanly at all levels of functioning.
I sat up. It was 11 A.M. We had been instructed that we would be aroused at noon. I sat quietly and waited until the other subjects were brought back for lunch.
We ate lightly: fruit, cheese, a small glass of wine and some coffee. We talked about our morning. Our experiences were not the same but we felt that we had shared something rather important. For that time we were close friends.
I picked up my sketch pad and some colored felt-tip pens and made myself comfortable on the floor in one corner of the room. I opened the pad, picked up a felt-tip pen and was ready to work ... but I was a complete blank. Usually when I'm considering a problem, my head is full of pictures that I look at and discard or look at closer and elaborate on. I rarely draw anything until I have a pretty complete concept in my mental image. I had had a number of schemes for the project and had been looking at the mental picture of one on the way to the Foundation earlier that morning. Now there was nothing.
(I had better digress for a moment and describe the project in question: A client had retained me to make studies for an arts and cultural center near one of the San Francisco Bay area universities. The site had been tentatively selecteda flat, Square, three-acre parcel. This was to provide artists and craftsmen with workshops and retail sales areas in an environment that would be conducive to sales and a wide cultural influence on the community. It would have a coffee house, a theater for plays, open lectures and forums, and galleries for artists who did not have their shops in the complex. It would probably house a hip book store, too.)
I still knew the dimensions of the site and slowly drew the approximate borders on the blank page. Still there was nothing in my head. The morning had somehow erased everything having to do with the purpose of the creativity session.
I closed my eyes. I did not try to think. I waited, but not in anticipation of anythingmuch as I had in the later part of the morning.
Within minutes it flashed to complete life. I could see the completed center. The trees were grown, cars were parked in the parking area, fountains played and people walked through the building and the gardens. I could walk through, too.
I did, slowly. I looked at the details of the structure; I studied the construction; I looked at the types of plants growing there, and I watched the craftsmen at work. The colors were rich but subdued, in harmony with the paintings displayed in the shops and along the boardwalks.
I began to draw. In a few minutes the basic plot and building arrangement was sketched on the pad. I laid out the car parking and checked the number of spaces with the estimated need. It worked. I quickly calculated the probable cost of the project and checked it with the projected leasehold income. The economics were feasible, too.
During the next hour and a half I drew as rapidly as I could. The drawings were sketchy but captured the essence of the vision I had in my bead, and many specific details were recorded on paper.
I stopped working. It was not yet three in the afternoon. We still had two hours allowed for work. I designed a couple of houses in my head and sketched a little. I played with a garden pavilion and some fountain design and at three-thirty I stopped for the day. I had done the equivalent of from one to two weeks work. (I'll qualify this last statement: in a week I could have had many more sketches completed and some scale drawings, too, but the feeling I had was that I actually wouldn't have accomplished any more than I had that afternoon.)
Later we drank a little more wine, and each of the participants spoke of his feelings about the day. Each felt it had been very rewarding, both as a personal experience and in relation to the value of the problem-solving involved.
I showed the sketches to the client a few days later, and they were approved, complete. Three weeks later I began to prepare working drawings of the project. Property plan first. I put my sketch pad (closed) on the desk beside me and began the scale layout. A few hours later the first dimensioned sheet was done and then I compared it with the originals. It was almost exactly the same. I had, without scaling the original sketches, laid out three acres of buildings, parking, outdoor theater, walks, patios and so on in their exact dimensions and had kept it in my head as clearly as it had been when I walked through it.
Many conclusions have occurred to me in relation to this experience. However, they must be considered subjective. I have tried here to describe exactly what happened and no more. Much is being learned.
1. Willis W. Harman et al., "Psychedelic Agents in Creative Problem-Solving: A Pilot Study," Psychological Reports, 1966, 19, 221-227. (back to text)
2. Ibid.(back to text)
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