Albert Hofmann, the Swiss scientist who invented LSD, died last week. Edward Rothstein has an excellent piece in the Arts section of the New York Times discussing the phenomena of LSD and how Hofmanm related to it. Rothstein writes:
Dr. Hofmann, you recall, was the discoverer of LSD when he was a brilliant young Swiss chemist working for Sandoz Laboratories; he was identifying and refining the medicinal properties of various plants. In 1943, after synthesizing a chemical derived from the ergot fungus found on rye kernels, he noticed some unusual sensations. He entered a dreamlike state, as he described it; when he closed his eyes he saw an “uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures.”
Rothstein goes on to describe the “first bad acid trip” which Hofmann has the next day when he dropped a little more. The author gets a little cynical when he states that although he never tried LSD he was fully emerged in the culture of LSD. When discussing the spiritual side of LSD he writes:
That Clear Light sounded nice. So did “the All Good” and “the All Peaceful.” But these chants also warned on the subject of the “Source Energy,” “Do not try to intellectualize it.” And that still seems wrong: ideas of trying to “merge with the world” and “enjoy the dance of the puppets” seem relatively banal compared with really seeing the interconnectedness of things. How did Eastern mysticism, 20th-century pharmacology, messianic politics and 19th-century Romanticism become so intertwined?
This really was a remarkable form of cultural intoxication. And there were important precedents. It was no accident that when Aldous Huxley wrote about his experience taking mescaline in “The Doors of Perception” in 1954, his title was drawn from William Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
Through out the piece the author ties together the mysticism, romance, and science that surround the mood and mind altering drug. At the end Rothstein points out that although LSD had an anti-materialism, anti-industry, anti-technology, and anti-science culture many of the techno computer loving citizens of today are products of the LSD culture.
I am not sure I agree with all of Rothstein’s points, but I find the death of the inventor of this entire psychedelic movement to be something of significance.