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article imageOp-Ed: Albert Hofmann, inventor of LSD, dies aged 102

By Paul Wallis     Apr 30, 2008 in Science
Hofmann was the first person to take an acid trip. He took the trip, then cycled home. According to legend he was cycling during the most intense part of the experience. That was in 1943, 25 years before his invention fueled the Summer of Love.
Hofmann was considerably ahead of his time. Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception and Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan books were decades later.
Hallucinogens were part of a wider public debate about stimulants and the human mind over the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.
(Before mundane mediocrity became so popular/compulsory, it was widely believed there was such a thing as a human mind, and that it was worth developing and talking about as a serious subject.)
The broad base of the debate was that hallucinogens opened up the mind to new thoughts, new ways of putting information together.
As Huxley pointed out, there was no real mystery about how the drugs worked, but the experience was impressive.
A widely held theory was that the drugs could only bring out what was already inside a person. That’ll give you some idea of the nature of the time and the thinking. Insofar as a debate like that can “rage”, it raged for the entire life of the psychedelic era. The sheer range of reported experiences more or less crashed that part of the debate. Millions of people took the drug.
Timothy Leary took up the cause with "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out", and a public issue, based mainly on acid freaks being ancient sages and moralistic middle class morons panicking about something they didn't understand, was born.
As a public issue it remains unique as one of the few clashes of viewpoints in which absolutely nobody had any idea what anyone else was talking about.
Not that it mattered. As usual with drugs, the publicity fueled production and sales and law enforcement budgets, so everybody was pretty happy with the way it turned out.
It was originally intended, according to myth, for psychotherapy.
One very common story is that the “CIA wanted to produce mass killer soldiers, so they gave them LSD. But all they did was look at the flowers and threaten anyone who tried to give them orders.” That particular tale is pretty much accepted as true.
The other story is that LSD distribution was shut down when the main American producer was arrested in the 1970s, and never started up again. Conspiracy theories of the time was that the government wanted to suppress intellectual freedom, etc.
All sounds pretty innocent now, when intellectual freedom has been suppressed by pure greed, ignorance and stupidity and a culture of mindless materialism.
But at the time it was considered important.
For those under 35, imagine human life being believed to have some meaning. It wasn’t some sort of cultural aberration, or drug fueled idealism. It followed on from the academic and literary traditions of the earlier part of the century, including the humanist/modernist writings of HG Wells, and the Golden Age of science fiction.
The hallucinogens were considered a natural scientific development by educated people, and a reason for moral outrage by everybody else. In that sense it was a forerunner of modern “debates”.
Hofmann, meanwhile, didn’t like the fact that his researches had been hijacked, and there’s no clear indication of how that happened, although rumors aren’t hard to find. He was a scientist, not a messiah, and he also worked on other derivatives of hallucinogens.
(I didn’t know anything about the guy until I researched this article. I knew LSD was invented in Switzerland, but I didn’t know it was that long ago, or who invented it.)
Hofmann also set up a website, and the Albert Hofmann Foundation, which includes on what seems to be a slightly dated set of pages perhaps the only museum dedicated to a mental phenomenon The World Wide Web Psychedelic Bibliography.
The links don’t work too well, but this is one of them: The Psychedelic Library, a fairly exhaustive collection of materials about the research and history of the hallucinogens.
It includes a picture of a head of wheat, with the dark Ergot fungus, one of Nature’s most powerful, and dangerous, hallucinogens, sprouting from it.
As a modern version of a lost civilization, the hallucinogens and their ideas are like the Lost Ark. Myths are many, and Hofmann’s legacy will be something he never intended.
The Daily Telegraph article is the synoptic bare bones of a guy the world knew very little about. His work was obscured by the hysteria about LSD on both sides, and it still hasn’t been developed beyond “hallucinogen”.
The most fitting obituary would be “Explorer of the unknown mind”.
Sort of a mental Magellan.
More about Hofman, Lsd, Psychedelic drugs
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