“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”—William Blake

I have as friends in Stockholm two people, physicians, who are educated in psychopharmacology and other neurosciences—father and daughter, Vasil and Jeanette. They are reading this currently best-selling book, which they will lend to me when they finish reading it: “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence,” by Michael Pollan.
[Note: I am not recommending that the reader, or anyone, take the drugs described here. I am not proselytizing as did Timothy Leary. This is merely a factual presentation.]

The book’s subject is about the clinical use of the psychedelics LSD (Lysergic acid Diethylamide) and psilocybin, found in 200 species of “magic mushrooms.”

“Pollan sifts the historical record to separate the truth about these mysterious drugs from the myths that have surrounded them since the 1960s, when a handful of psychedelic evangelists inadvertently catalyzed a powerful backlash against what was then a promising field of research.” (Source)

One of the “evangelists” referred to above was Timothy Leary:

As a clinical psychologist at Harvard University, Leary conducted experiments under the Harvard Psilocybin Project in 1960–62 (LSD and psilocybin were still legal in the United States at the time) … The scientific legitimacy and ethics of his research were questioned by other Harvard faculty because he took psychedelics together with research subjects and pressured students in his class to take psychedelics in the research studies. Leary and his colleague, Richard Alpert (who later became known as Ram Dass), were fired from Harvard University in May 1963…

Leary believed that LSD showed potential for therapeutic use in psychiatry. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD. After leaving Harvard, he continued to publicly promote the use of psychedelic drugs and became a well-known figure of the counterculture of the 1960s. He popularized catchphrases that promoted his philosophy, such as “turn on, tune in, drop out”, “set and setting”, and “think for yourself and question authority”.

Leary also wrote and spoke frequently about transhumanist concepts involving space migration, intelligence increase, and life extension (SMI²LE) … He gave lectures, occasionally billing himself as a “performing philosopher.” During the 1960s and 1970s, he was arrested often enough to see the inside of 36 prisons worldwide. President Richard Nixon once described Leary as “the most dangerous man in America”.[Source]

LSD was introduced as a commercial medication under the trade-name Delysid for various psychiatric uses in 1947. It was brought to the attention of the United States in 1949 by Sandoz Laboratories. Throughout the 1950s, mainstream media reported on research into LSD and its growing use in psychiatry, and undergraduate psychology students taking LSD as part of their education described the effects of the drug. Time magazine published six positive reports on LSD between 1954 and 1959.

By the mid-1950s, LSD research was being conducted in major American medical centers, where researchers used LSD as a means of temporarily replicating the effects of mental illness. One of the leading authorities on LSD during the 1950s in the United States was the psychoanalyst Sidney Cohen. Cohen first took the drug on October 12, 1955 and expected to have an unpleasant trip, but was surprised when he experienced “no confused, disoriented delirium.” He reported that the “problems and strivings, the worries and frustrations of everyday life vanished; in their place was a majestic, sunlit, heavenly inner quietude.”

Cohen immediately began his own experiments with LSD with the help of Aldous Huxley whom he had met in 1955. In 1957, with the help of psychologist Betty Eisner, Cohen began experimenting on whether or not LSD might have a helpful effect in facilitating psychotherapy, curing alcoholism, and enhancing creativity. Between 1957 and 1958, they treated 22 patients who suffered from minor personality disorders. LSD was also given to artists in order to track their mental deterioration, but Huxley believed LSD might enhance their creativity. Between 1958 and 1962, psychiatrist Oscar Janiger tested LSD on more than 100 painters, writers, and composers.

HERE IS A RARE FILM: Dr. Cohen interviews a subject who has volunteered to take LSD.

Sandoz halted LSD production in August 1965 after growing governmental protests at its proliferation among the general populace. The National Institute of Mental Health in the United States distributed LSD on a limited basis for scientific research. Scientific study of LSD largely ceased by about 1980 as research funding declined, and governments became wary of permitting such research, fearing that the results of the research might encourage illicit LSD use. By the end of the 20th century, there were few authorized researchers left, and their efforts were mostly directed towards establishing approved protocols for further work with LSD in easing the suffering of the dying and with drug addicts and alcoholics. (Source)

The Doors of Perception is a book by Aldous Huxley. Published in 1954, it elaborates on his psychedelic experience under the influence of mescaline in May 1953. Huxley recalls the insights he experienced, ranging from the “purely aesthetic” to “sacramental vision”,[1] and reflects on their philosophical and psychological implications. In 1956, he published Heaven and Hell, another essay which elaborates these reflections further. The two works have since often been published together as one book; the title of both comes from William Blake‘s 1793 book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

The Doors of Perception provoked strong reactions for its evaluation of psychedelic drugs as facilitators of mystical insight with great potential benefits for science, art, and religion. While many found the argument compelling, others including writer Thomas Mann, Vedantic monk Swami Prabhavananda, philosopher Martin Buber and scholar Robert Charles Zaehner countered that the effects of mescaline are subjective and should not be conflated with objective religious mysticism. Huxley himself continued to take psychedelics until his death and adjusted his understanding, which also impacted his 1962 final novel Island. (Source)

The Doors, musical group

Jim Morrison, 1969

The Doors were an American rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1965, with vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore. They were among the most controversial and influential rock acts of the 1960s, mostly because of Morrison’s lyrics and his erratic stage persona, and the group was widely regarded as representative of the era’s counterculture. The band took its name from the title of Aldous Huxley‘s book The Doors of Perception, itself a reference to a quote by William Blake. “If the doors of perception were cleansed,” he once wrote, “everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate American living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles, memoirs, and creative writing.
This entry was posted in Consciousness, psychedelic drugs, Science & the Sciences, The Mind and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”—William Blake

  1. Well, I may not be a proselityzer, but I am an experimentalist. It’s my general attitude toward life. This has included my own fair share of psychedelic use, although it also applies to every other area of life, from dietary experiments to linguistic experiments, not to mention all the meditative/spiritual practices.

    Sure, experimentation comes with risks. Then again, not experimenting also comes with risks. If not for psychedelics, I might have killed myself when I was younger. It lifted me out of depression and showed me a different way of seeing the world. Of course, results will vary, depending on individual and situation. Each person must choose for and be responsible to themselves, as we don’t live in a society that supports such activities.

    You’ve might have noticed my mentioning psychedelics in relation to addictive substances. I’ve observed that, following the Bicameral/Bronze Age collapse, there was an increase of of addictive drugs and foods. It was during the Axial Age that opium and sugar cane was first cultivated and also when grains were first systematically farmed as controlled agricultural fields, all of which I group under the addictive, especially the high-carb anti-ketogenic agricultural diet. This coincided with the rise of individualism, what I sometimes refer to as the agricultural mind.

    Bruce K. Alexander did the rat park research that showed that addiction was a result of isolation. And Johann Hari, based on this research and other evidence, came to the conclusion that the addict was the ultimate individual. From another perspective, William S. Burroughs wrote about power, rigid hierarchies, and addiction, which he also combined with an understanding of the power of language (‘word virus’). All of this works together to create and maintain this social order.

    So, what is it about psychedelics and addiction? The thing about psychedelics is that they are non-addictive, but there is an indication that at least some of them are actively anti-addictive. A single psychedelic experience of Ayahuasca has entirely made addiction disappear in a number of cases. It is no accident, I’d argue, that modern governments so heavily restrict psychedelics. It’s not only the rigid ego structure that is dependent on addiction but the entire rigid power structure of our society.

    It’s not only addictive substances themselves that are involved. It’s an entire addictive mentality and worldview, an entire addictive way of being and relating. It’s become built into our culture and language, into our economic and political systems. And it relates to the epidemic of isolation, dissociation, depression, and anxiety; the constant distraction, preoccupation, and busyness. The demiurgic ego (or, to use David Loy’s language, the collective ‘wego’-self) tries to hold it together, but fails and this creates a continuous sense of panic and crisis. Addictive substances are increasingly necessary to fortify the walls of the ego-mind.

    That is to say, in discussions such as these, much is at stake. We are arguing over the future of civilization, maybe it being a question of whether we survive or not. Otherwise, as with the Bronze Age, it might all come crashing down when conditions change and the stresses become overwhelming. The rigidity of the addictive mind has built an impressive society, but it might not serve us well as it has made us less open to the world and less adaptable to new ways of being. We have forced ourselves to the edge and have nowhere else to go.

    As an alternative view, not about addiction per se, I’ve been reading Peter Kingsley’s most recent book. He is a scholar on the Presocratics, but in this book he wrote about Carl Jung and individuation. As with Buddhism and many shamanic practices, it’s about undoing the rigid egoic-self and the author makes clear that it is a fearsome process. It is the ending of a world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Pavellas says:

      I felt it necessary to warn the vulnerable or uncritically impressionable that I am not proselytizing. My experience and the extensive reading and listening I have done tells me there is important value in these drugs if administered (to those who will probably benefit) carefully and thoughtfully, just as with any psychoactive substance. I am glad I had the experience, but I don’t hanker for more. As Don Juan Matus pointed out to Carlos Castaneda in the latter’s third (fictional?) book, no more drugs; now that you (Carlos) know what can be gained through what the drugs revealed, it is time to reach this place through non-medicated discipline. This notion doesn’t address the potentially therapeutic value of the drugs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • But that is the nice thing about psychedelics. They aren’t addictive. One doesn’t tend to want to do them endlessly. I reached a point where I no longer desired them. And it’s been many years since my last trip. I spoke to a psychotherapist about this. She said that this is typical. Most people who do psychedelics simply stop on their own at some point. This is the complete opposite of the addictive drugs, of course.

        I must admit that my psychedelic experimentation wasn’t always administered carefully and thoughtfully. The expectancy effect is powerful. I never had a negative expectation about psychedelics and so never had a negative experience. My first trip was, in fact, totally without expectation. I had no idea what a psychedelic was, though LSD I was offered came from a trusted friend. It was in a safe space and it was a joyous experience, to say the least.

        That said, they are substances deserving of great respect. Set and setting is extremely important. One should fully understand what one is dealing with. After my first trip, I became intensely curious and I learned everything I could, although this was back in the 1990s when it was harder to find useful info. It would be better if society helped people with such experiences, in the way indigenous societies have shamans.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ron Pavellas says:

        I am merely concerned about the ‘bad trip’ a youngster or other vulnerable person might have.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I understand. And the concern is valid. It definitely can and occasionally does happen. But I suspect it’s less common than some think. Still, if and when it does happen, it could quite the doozy for some people, especially if they have any mental health issues. Psychedelics are to be taken seriously.

        Liked by 1 person

      • For the uninitiated, it might be good to explain some possible causes of bad trips, however rare. There have been some changes over time. Interestingly, as marijuana has become more potent, LSD has become less so.

        When it first came out, people were using laboratory-grade LSD and so they were often taking high doses. LSD is less pure these days, which means less potent and so less likely to cause bad trips but problematic for other reasons as it can be cut with other things.

        That is the risk with street drugs. The same thing happened during Prohibition when alcohol was mixed with other liquids and poisoning increased as a side effect.

        This is one of the many ways war on restricted substances always fail, as it ends up being the government warring on its own citizens with the citizens as the casualties. Johann Hari, in Chasing the Scream, discusses other failures.

        Liked by 1 person

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