LSD — My Problem Child

    Albert Hofmann

        8. Meeting with Aldous Huxley

    In the mid-1950s, two books by Aldous Huxley appeared, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, dealing with inebriated states produced by hallucinogenic drugs. The alterations of sensory perceptions and consciousness, which the author experienced in a self-experiment with mescaline, are skillfully described in these books. The mescaline experiment was a visionary experience for Huxley. He saw objects in a new light; they disclosed their inherent, deep, timeless existence, which remains hidden from everyday sight.

    These two books contained fundamental observations on the essence of visionary experience and about the significance of this manner of comprehending the world—in cultural history, in the creation of myths, in the origin of religions, and in the creative process out of which works of art arise. Huxley saw the value of hallucinogenic drugs in that they give people who lack the gift of spontaneous visionary perception belonging to mystics, saints, and great artists, the potential to experience this extraordinary state of consciousness, and thereby to attain insight into the spiritual world of these great creators. Hallucinogens could lead to a deepened understanding of religious and mystical content, and to a new and fresh experience of the great works of art. For Huxley these drugs were keys capable of opening new doors of perception; chemical keys, in addition to other proven but laborious " door openers" to the visionary world like meditation, isolation, and fasting, or like certain yoga practices.

    At the time I already knew the earlier work of this great writer and thinker, books that meant much to me, like Point Counter Point, Brave New World, After Many a Summer, Eyeless in Gaza, and a few others. In The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, Huxley's newly-published works, I found a meaningful exposition of the experience induced by hallucinogenic drugs, and I thereby gained a deepened insight into my own LSD experiments.

    I was therefore delighted when I received a telephone call from Aldous Huxley in the laboratory one morning in August 1961. He was passing through Zurich with his wife. He invited me and my wife to lunch in the Hotel Sonnenberg.

    A gentleman with a yellow freesia in his buttonhole, a tall and noble appearance, who exuded kindness—this is the image I retained from this first meeting with Aldous Huxley. The table conversation revolved mainly around the problem of magic drugs. Both Huxley and his wife, Laura Archera Huxley, had also experimented with LSD and psilocybin. Huxley would have preferred not to designate these two substances and mescaline as "drugs," because in English usage, as also by the way with Droge in German, that word has a pejorative connotation, and because it was important to differentiate the hallucinogens from the other drugs, even linguistically. He believed in the great importance of agents producing visionary experience in the modern phase of human evolution.

    He considered experiments under laboratory conditions to be insignificant, since in the extraordinarily intensified susceptibility and sensitivity to external impressions, the surroundings are of decisive importance. He recommended to my wife, when we spoke of her native place in the mountains, that she take LSD in an alpine meadow and then look into the blue cup of a gentian flower, to behold the wonder of creation.

    As we parted, Aldous Huxley gave me, as a remembrance of this meeting, a tape recording of his lecture "Visionary Experience," which he had delivered the week before at an international congress on applied psychology in Copenhagen. In this lecture, Aldous Huxley spoke about the meaning and essence of visionary experience and compared this type of world view to the verbal and intellectual comprehension of reality as its essential complement.

    In the following year, the newest and last book by Aldous Huxley appeared, the novel Island. This story, set on the utopian island Pala, is an attempt to blend the achievements of natural science and technical civilization with the wisdom of Eastern thought, to achieve a new culture in which rationalism and mysticism are fruitfully united. The moksha medicine, a magical drug prepared from a mushroom, plays a significant role in the life of the population of Pala (moksha is Sanskrit for "release," "liberation"). The drug could be used only in critical periods of life. The young men on Pala received it in initiation rites, it is dispensed to the protagonist of the novel during a life crisis, in the scope of a psychotherapeutic dialogue with a spiritual friend, and it helps the dying to relinquish the mortal body, in the transition to another existence.

    In our conversation in Zurich, I had already learned from Aldous Huxley that he would again treat the problem of psychedelic drugs in his forthcoming novel. Now he sent me a copy of Island, inscribed "To Dr. Albert Hofmann, the original discoverer of the moksha medicine, from Aldous Huxley."

    The hopes that Aldous Huxley placed in psychedelic drugs as a means of evoking visionary experience, and the uses of these substances in everyday life, are subjects of a letter of 29 February 1962, in which he wrote me:
. . . I have good hopes that this and similar work will result in the development of a real Natural History of visionary experience, in all its variations, determined by differences of physique, temperament and profession, and at the same time of a technique of Applied Mysticism—a technique for helping individuals to get the most out of their transcendental experience and to make use of the insights from the "Other World" in the affairs of "This World." Meister Eckhart wrote that "what is taken in by contemplation must be given out in love." Essentially this is what must be developed—the art of giving out in love and intelligence what is taken in from vision and the experience of self-transcendence and solidarity with the Universe....
    Aldous Huxley and I were together often at the annual convention of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences (WAAS) in Stockholm during late summer 1963. His suggestions and contributions to discussions at the sessions of the academy, through their form and importance, had a great influence on the proceedings.

    WAAS had been established in order to allow the most competent specialists to consider world problems in a forum free of ideological and religious restrictions and from an international viewpoint encompassing the whole world. The results: proposals, and thoughts in the form of appropriate publications, were to be placed at the disposal of the responsible governments and executive organizations.

    The 1963 meeting of WAAS had dealt with the population explosion and the raw material reserves and food resources of the earth. The corresponding studies and proposals were collected in Volume II of WAAS under the title The Population Crisis and the Use of World Resources. A decade before birth control, environmental protection, and the energy crisis became catchwords, these world problems were examined there from the most serious point of view, and proposals for their solution were made to governments and responsible organizations. The catastrophic events since that time in the aforementioned fields makes evident the tragic discrepancy between recognition, desire, and feasibility.

    Aldous Huxley made the proposal, as a continuation and complement of the theme "World Resources" at the Stockholm convention, to address the problem "Human Resources," the exploration and application of capabilities hidden in humans yet unused. A human race with more highly developed spiritual capacities, with expanded consciousness of the depth and the incomprehensible wonder of being, would also have greater understanding of and better consideration for the biological and material foundations of life on this earth. Above all, for Western people with their hypertrophied rationality, the development and expansion of a direct, emotional experience of reality, unobstructed by words and concepts, would be of evolutionary significance. Huxley considered psychedelic drugs to be one means to achieve education in this direction. The psychiatrist Dr. Humphry Osmond, likewise participating in the congress, who had created the term psychedelic (mind-expanding), assisted him with a report about significant possibilities of the use of hallucinogens.

    The convention in Stockholm in 1963 was my last meeting with Aldous Huxley. His physical appearance was already marked by a severe illness; his intellectual personage, however, still bore the undiminished signs of a comprehensive knowledge of the heights and depths of the inner and outer world of man, which he had displayed with so much genius, love, goodness, and humor in his literary work.

    Aldous Huxley died on 22 November of the same year, on the same day President Kennedy was assassinated. From Laura Huxley I obtained a copy of her letter to Julian and Juliette Huxley, in which she reported to her brother- and sister-in-law about her husband's last day. The doctors had prepared her for a dramatic end, because the terminal phase of cancer of the throat, from which Aldous Huxley suffered, is usually accompanied by convulsions and choking fits. He died serenely and peacefully, however.

    In the morning, when he was already so weak that he could no longer speak, he had written on a sheet of paper: "LSD—try it—intramuscular—100 mmg." Mrs. Huxley understood what was meant by this, and ignoring the misgivings of the attending physician, she gave him, with her own hand, the desired injection-she let him have the moksha medicine.

Chapter 9

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