Scientists, Theologians, Mystics Swept Up in a Psychic Revolution
by BARRY FARRELL
Religious Psychologist Walter Clark, a professor at Andover Newton Theological School, had a vision after taking a psychedelic drug, "like Moses' experience of the burning bush These drugs present us with a means of studying religious experience in the laboratory," he says. "No psychologist of religion can afford to be ignorant of them."
Millionaire investment banker William Hitchcock, 26, a financial backer of Leary and Alpert's work, rents out a mansion (background) on his Millbrook, N.Y. estate to a foundation which does psychedelic research. He has used LSD, feels that it helped him reach a more positive attitude toward his family and job.
Psychologist Richard Alpert pioneered in LSD experiments with Timothy Leary at Harvard, now lectures on psychedelics on the West Coast. He advocates government-run centers where responsible adults could take LSD in a safe, pleasant environment.
Dr. Sidney Cohen, whose The Beyond Within is the best popular book on LSD, is alarmed at possible brain damage among indiscriminate users. "Many people are doing to themselves what we would never consider doing experimentally. Some day their brains may wind up in the laboratory and give us the answers."
Retired Navy Captain John Busby, 44, used LSD just once and solved an elusive problem in pattern recognition while developing intelligence equipment for a Navy research project. "With LSD, the normal limiting mechanisms of the brain are released," he says, "and entirely new patterns of perception emerge."
"I'm a hard-headed, conservative, Midwestern, Republican businessman. Under no circumstances would I consider myself a person who goes around taking strange drugs.
"But my wife took LSD at a friend's house, and in order to get her to agree to come home, I took the stuff myself.
"We got in the car, and I had only driven about three blocks, when suddenly the pavement in front of me opened up. It was as though the pavement was flowing over Niagara Falls. The street lights expanded into fantastic globes of light that filled my entire vision. I didn't dare stop.
"It was a nightmare. I came to traffic lights, but I couldn't tell what color they were. There were all sorts of colors around me anyway. I could detect other cars around me, so I stopped when they stopped, and went when they went.
"At home I flopped in a chair., I wasn't afraid. My conscious mind was sort of sitting on my shoulder-watching everything I was doing. I found I could make the room expandoh, maybe a thousand milesor I could make it contract right in front of me. All over the ceiling there were geometric patterns of light. To say they were beautiful is too shallow a word.
"My wife put on a violin concerto. I could make the music come out of the speaker like taffy, or a tube of toothpaste, surrounded by dancing lights of colors beyond description.
"A friend showed up. He was talking to me, and I was answering, all in a perfectly normal way. Then, I saw his face change. He became an Arab, a Chinese, a Negro. I found I could take my finger and wipe away his face and then paint it back again.
"I made a chocolate sundae and gave it to him for a head. A great truth appeared to me. The reason he had all those faces was this: he was a reflection of all mankind. So was I.
"I asked myself, 'What is God?' Then I knew that I was God. That really sounds ridiculous as I say it. But I knew that all life is one, and since God is Life, and I am Life, we are the same being.
"Then I decided to examine my own fears, because I wasn't really afraid of anything. I went down into my stomach and it was like Dante's inferno--all steaming and bubbling and ghastly. I saw some hideous shapes in the distance. My mind floated to each one, and they were horrible, hideous.
"They all got together in a mob and started to come up after me--a flood of bogeymen. But I knew I was stronger than all of them, and I took my hand and wiped them out.
"Now, I think there lies the real danger with LSD. Anyone who motioned with his hand and couldn't wipe out those creatures. He has to stay down there with them, forever."
"The game is about to be changed, ladies and gentlemen. Man is about to make use of that fabulous electrical network he carries around in his skull. Present social establishments had better be prepared for the change. Our favorite concepts are standing in the way of a floodtide, two billion years building up. The verbal dam is collapsing. Head for the hills, or prepare your intellectual craft to flow with the current "
o ran the manifesto with which Drs. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert embarked three years ago on what both continue to believe is the psychic revolution of man. Waves of odium have since washed over both of them, and Leary is now headed for jail with a sentence that suggests the government considers him a very dangerous man. But the revolution, if that is what it is, has long since slipped out of Leary's or anyone else's control. People are taking LSD for as many reasons as there are minds to imagine what lies in the universe behind the surface of the eye.
Leary and Alpert consider LSD "a sacred biochemical" that clears the path to mystic understanding. Normal consciousness, they say, is a dim and stunted thing, and LSD and the half-dozen other psychedelic drugs are the' magic means of piercing through centuries of cultural conditioning to free, full psychic life. An all-fronts movement has sprung up around this view on big city campuses and in young intellectual circles all over the Western world, and it comes complete with quarterlies, lecture courses, a barrage of guide books to the cosmos and even two or three psychedelic churches.
There are many others whose interest in the drug has nothing to do with psychic revolution. Mathematicians have used it as a lens through which they sometimes glimpse the physical reality of concepts that the mind can only imagine--advanced number theory, for example. Theologians and divinity students have taken it as a Host, and most experience what they take to be direct evidence of their faith. There are psychedelic corporation presidents, military officers, doctors, teachers--each with a reason to risk a voyage on the unpredictable terrain of the deep brain dreamscape. And there are those, of course, who are taking LSD merely because it is the latest excitement around.
Official supplies of LSD are limited in the U.S. to 72 tightly controlled research projects. Anyone who sets out to experiment privately may do so with ease, however, by dealing in a vast and growing black market. As contraband, LSD cannot be improved upon: it is odorless, colorless and tasteless, and there are 300,000 doses in an ounce. Starting with ingredients freely available to anyone who knows where to shop--there are sources in Mexico, Canada and Czechoslovakia--a chemist can cook up pure LSD using nothing more complex than a vacuum pump. Single doses are absorbed and preserved almost indefinitely in a sugar cube or a sheet of blotting paper, and without leaving the slightest visible trace. One dealer had a six-gram bottle break inside his suitcase just after clearing customs with it, and for months thereafter he and his friends launched themselves into inner space simply by sucking on his suits.
LSD salesmen often have the air of men engaged in holy work, and they operate with a messianic conviction that is completely unknown in the rest of the drug world. Most LSD is sold or given away among friends, and it usually comes with a cautionary lecture--"Now you be cool with this." In New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, though, a girl just off the bus from Boise can find it quicker than the YWCA merely by asking around for "a trip." There is nothing furtive about the "acid scene," as it is called, and in some places the cognoscenti even wear lapel buttons: LSD--SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL TRAVEL AGENT. A trip, which sells for 35 cents wholesale, brings $3 to $5 in major cities, and in other places as much as $10. The biggest black market dealer in the country sells a steady 50,000 doses a month, perhaps half the total market--for the moment.
ot many people take more than three or four trips a year. Some fast a little beforehand, or read Huxley or dwell on Zen koan to limber up the brain; others say they concentrate mainly on their own psychological "hang-ups." All but the real psychic desperados who try to stay high most of the time are careful to find someone they can trust to stay with them for the 10 or so hours of the trip--a "groundman" to keep trouble and distraction at bay. They wait for a long weekend, find a congenial spot, and ... pull anchor.
A good experience is bizarre, extreme, profound. Thirty minutes after the exploding ticket is swallowed, life is dramatically changed. Objects are luminescent. vibrating, "more real." Colors shift and split into the spectrum of charged, electric color and light. Perceptions come as killing insights--true! true! who couldn't have seen it before! There is an oceanic sense of involvement in the mortal drama in a deeply emotional new way. Colors are heard as notes of music, ideas have substance and fire. A crystal vision comes: how full is the cosmos, how sweet the flowers!
The illusions beckoned to the surface by the drug are greatly influenced by expectation, atmosphere and the traveler's mental balance. Knots in the nervous system project out upon the universe, and a wife's face can be a blood tulip, a Greek coin, a glob of lazy ill-humor--all depending on how one feels about her. Forgotten secrets are found still glowing with pain behind the dissolved rock of Ego, and the discovery can be too much to bear. The voyager must be strong enough to drift through all manner of terrifying moments like a curtain blowing in the wind, and not everyone can manage it. There can be screaming and tears, trembling-misery throughout.
No matter how thrilling and illuminating a trip may be, only a good mind can return from it without some serious re-entry problems. Many perceive their past life as the pathetic, surrendering performance of an absurd cosmic clown, and they change it accordingly: get divorced, quit work, read aloud from The Book of the Dead. They discover that life is only a game, then begin playing it with less and less skill. Their vision becomes a beguiling scrim drawn over a life of deepening failure.
Others break bad habits or learn German in a week--really accomplish something of value in their lives. Yet nearly everyone who has taken LSD to whatever effect is left with a sense of mystic freemasonry about it. "Have you taken a trip?" is a question asked with unnerving frequency these days, and usually it suggests that if you haven't the conversation is about to end. LSD has become the cornerstone of a great many lives already, even among people who use it infrequently and with care. It can change their attitudes toward everything, transforming them into mumblers about Reality, sometimes with the merest terrestrial hook. "You may be making Buddhas out of everyone," Leary and Alpert were told when they were fired from Harvard, "but that's not what we're trying to do."
The highly circumspect research now being done on LSD touches very few of the questions raised by the arrival of the drug in the streets. There have been no studies on the effect of long-term use, and nothing at all is known of the subtle personality changes that are being witnessed inside the LSD culture. Does seeing with the Third Eye alter one's vision with two? Do easy, frequent visits with Reality genuinely heighten awareness or do they put odd new kinks in it? And what about the children? What becomes of visionary kids?
With so much LSD around, it becomes urgently important to learn how to aim it toward doing some good. There is no reason to suppose that doctors are the only men serious enough to approach the drug with official encouragement. Yet present restrictions have shut off a critical amount of study from everyone else--behavioral scientists, for example. Already it is evident that clinical research alone is insufficient, partly because it is so seldom concerned with social questions, partly because it is inimical to the psychedelic state of mind: a white-coated researcher seems the prince of fools to someone living inside a sugar cube.
The government has now arrived at the stage of declaring LSD "a problem worse than the narcotics evil," and there is reason to fear that it may soon become just that.
After all, what are the police going to do? Odorless, colorless, tasteless, every scrap of paper suspect--what are the police going to do? Even the most active enforcement of the law as it stands may well have the effect of worsening the problem by driving away people with prudence and intelligence while scarcely inconveniencing the really reckless, dangerous ones.
It is frightening to think what will happen if this awesome drug becomes available only to those willing to risk jail for it. For it brings out the very worst in some people. LSD is being dropped in girls' drinks. Terrifying parties are being given with a surprise in the punch. The Humane Society is picking up disoriented dogs. People are even having "beautiful experiences" with their baffled children. "When my husband and I want to take a trip together," says the psychedelic mother of four, "I just put a little acid in the kids' orange juice in the morning and let them spend the day freaking out in the woods."