LSD The Problem-Solving Psychedelic
P.G. Stafford and B.H. Golightly
Chapter V. Education and the Psychedelics
[Albert Hofmann's] experience marked the most significant finding ever made in the social sciences, for science at last produced a method of instilling motivation which was not based upon fear or manipulation... Man has found the key but he remains frightened to open the door and enter the courts of increased insight, extended awareness and induced positive self-motivation.
WILLIAM JAMES, American psychologist-philosopher-educator-theologian, who died in 1910 at the age of sixty-eight, took peyote once at the suggestion of doctor-novelist Weir Mitchell in the hope of attaining a mystical experience. Instead, he developed a stomach ache, became violently sick and explained, in a letter to his famous brother Henry, "I will take the visions on trust."
Were James to visit the contemporary world, he would find available several non-nauseous psychedelic drugs, and he could safely experiment at first hand. There can be little doubt that, with his wide interests, he would find the new developments on the "drug front" of great significance, possibly of vast importance, for the future of mankind.
James' world was not seething with the rapid developments in science with which mankind is confronted today. In fact, it is estimated that 90 per cent of all the scientists known from the dawn of civilization are alive today!
Among the few familiar landmarks remaining from James' time, however, are a number of virtually unchanged public schools, particularly in New York City where some are not far from his residence on Washington Square. Children today troop into the very same buildings and learn their ABC's under teaching methods not very different from those used in William James' time. It is an arresting thought that two of the least altered routines of life in this country since the turn of the century are those of our education system and smoking.
Education, one of the great concerns of James and his contemporaries, has not lived up to expectations. It was hoped and believed that universal education, once realized, would provide the key to progress and man's understanding of himself. Compulsory secondary education and the population boom, combined with the G.I. Bill and job competition, have superficially made James' dream of universal literacy come true. But the quality of present-day education lays bare the fact that mere literacy in itself is not enough.
Focal points in American education since the 1900s are "progressive education" (1920s to 1940s), a battery of aptitude-personality-achievement-intelligence tests (1920s to 1960s), and small areas of innovation such as the "new math," "TV in the classroom" and teaching machines (1960s). These attempts toward educational progress have done little to enrich and mature American thought and learning. They have served instead to put a premium on information rather than knowledge. In our time, as the New Yorker put it, "We are all Infomaniacs, and our only god is Info."
When the "look-see" reading and spelling technique came into educational vogue, it was met with high hopes by both parents and teachers. Then "speed-reading" and high-fidelity "Living Language" came along, and each was embraced with wide enthusiasm. In actual practice, however, it seemed that instead of gaining understanding, students simply acquired more information, much of which they did not know how to use effectively.
At the present, educators are not optimistic. Instead, they foresee greater demands, larger enrollments and less satisfying rewards. Moreover, the space-race has drained off much of education's creative personnel and promising liberal arts students are taking better-paying jobs in government and industry. Predicting college and university needs to the end of the decade, John W. Gardner, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has explained that by 1970 the colleges should be gaining 37,500 new professors annually, "but by this year's projections only about 20,000 Ph.D.s will be produced in 1969 and fewer than half of them will be available for teaching."
In the United States at the present time, there are about 125,000 schools of which 2,135 are colleges and universities. Approximately fifty-five million people are involved in education, including about two million teachers. At college level, student enrollment now runs over five million. In an effort to avoid an impending crisis, billions of dollars in endowments have been poured into education. Yet money alone does not produce talent or intelligence, for despite the immense ingenuity, concern and good will involved, the static state of education persists.
But what has all this to do with LSD?
There are many observers who have noted that LSD is fundamentally a "learning tool." Dr. Hoffer has already been quoted to this effect. "I would suspect that learning in tasks which are trivial for the subject would be impaired, e.g., psychological learning tests, whereas matters of great importance to the subject might be learned even more quickly... A large number of alcoholic subjects learned concepts and ideas in a few moments that they had not grasped for years." Hoffer mentions alcoholics because those are the patients with whom he has conducted most of his studies, but of course this does not exclude similar learning potentials for others.
Dr. Donald D. Jackson, speaking at an LSD seminar at Napa State Hospital, Imola, California, called attention to the drug's ability to give a patient a "new beginning," explaining that it may bring about "a sudden liberation from ignorance." Drs. J. R. MacLean, D. C. MacDonald and F. Ogden and E. Wilby of Hollywood Hospital in British Columbia, have put the case more strongly. Reporting on their work with 307 subjects, they commented:
We have long held that the experience is one of accelerated un-learning and re-learning: it is essentially an educational process.... It is our constant goal to maintain a high level of "teaching" ability; to explore new teaching procedures; and to create maximum receptivity among those entrusted to us.
These statements seem to occur almost casually in the literature, but their significance should not go unnoted, nor their reliability of source. The ability of LSD to act as an educational implement, which is barely suggested in clinical writings, is attested to today on the nation s campuses. Those familiar with college life are increasingly aware that untold numbers of students of high scholastic standing claim that LSD is one of the greatest aids to learning they have known.
The fact that the drug is being used illicitly on the campus does not negate the convictions held by student users. The strength of these beliefs is just now becoming evident to college administrators, professors and observers of the college scene. In an article about "Drugs on Campus," for example, Merwin B. Freedman (Chairman of the Psychology Department at San Francisco State College) and Harvey Powelson (Director of the Department of Psychiatry at Cowell Memorial Hospital University of California) express concern over the large numbers of students who are using psychedelic drugs, but they also feel obliged to explain why "several hundreds of the brightest and most aware of American youth" are attracted to LSD:
The interest of many students in drug experience may not be dismissed simply as a sign of delinquency, rebelliousness or psychological pathology. It represents a search for a new way of life. It indicates needs and desires that American society and education do not now meet or fill....Many students have always learned on their own, of course, but with LSD it is entirely possible that self-teaching may take higher precedence than ever before This is not because the drug provides a greater ability to absorb facts, but because it seems to provide a "guts reaction" to the facts, giving them a vivid immediacy and evaporating the inertia that blocks true intellectual curiosity. LSD enhances all learning responses if the frame of reference is already in the mind, and it lowers the threshold at which "understanding" occurs. The student who takes LSD for a purposeful experience is likely to gain a broader awareness of the adult world and its problems, which heretofore he may have thought were of no concern to him. Consequently, his sense of responsibility deepens.
Throughout history, education has been an "elitist" activity, since only a small proportion of any population has ever had the opportunity, the leisure or the innate curiosity to become involved in the arts, philosophy, science, etc. But those using LSD seem to discover fascination in such matters, if only superficially, and become speculative toward the "outside world." In such a state, curiosity (the doorway to the learning process) abounds. The frequency of this LSD phenomenon is evidenced by a series of brief reports gathered by Murray Korngold in a study undertaken with "normal," unfanciful persons and published in the Psychoanalytic Review:
One subject, a psychologist, Dr. P., writes, "Having always had difficulty with myopia as well as limited color vision, I now found myself describing color and form in a most unusual detail. I was able to look into the heart of a blossom and see the most minute changes and alterations in structure and movement... . I observed in another, a Breughel painting in which the colors and shapes astounded me by their clarity.... I felt a great surge of perceptual power and said, 'I Breughel them and now I unBreughel them.' "
Another subject, Miss Z., a young graduate student at U.C.L.A, writes, "Everywhere I looked, the objects and people settled themselves into the symmetry, color and unity of a painting. I looked at the bark of a tree and saw a lovely desert canyon with layers of striated rock formations.... I was very pleased with myself because I had considered myself devoid of imagination and artistic sensitivity.... My thinking seemed much clearer and I was free of the frustrations I usually feel in trying to solve a problem."
Mrs. M., a middle-aged woman who was a nurse, and like the previous subjects, a rather prosy and unfanciful person, not inclined to any great interest in the arts, writes, "I had a strange desire to touch and see and feel and hear all at once, all at the same time in some kind of harmony of sensory stimuli, as if I were each instrument in a quartet all playing together, the fiddle, the cello, the viola, the bass fiddle, all playing at the same time, and I, hearing myself play in unison."
A young woman, Miss L., employed as a TV production assistant says, "That evening I went to the ballet and for the first time in my life enjoyed classical dancing which usually bored me. However, the whole production took on a color and sparkle which I can only compare to the feelings a child would have when taken to her first theatre performance. It was like a magic world of make-believe."
Most of the preceding reports have to do with visual responses, but all indicate that the LSD experience heightened intellectual appreciation and curiosity. It is probable that because the sessions noted were undirected, visual reactions came to the fore: or the subjects observed what was at hand and embellished upon it. As indicated in the technical-creative, problem-solving section, it is possible to "mold" the LSD "sitting," thereby stimulating predetermined interests. By guiding the receptive subject into specific materials, unexpected strides in learning may be taken.
One of the most interesting examples of experimental work undertaken to test this principle occurred two years ago at a small college in the Midwest. This school, an experiment in education, drew its faculty from highly respected sources: Chicago, Stanford, Berkeley, Oxford, Harvard, etc. Each member of the teaching staff worked on a volunteer basis and devoted his time without salary, staying for a quarter or more. The student body (many of whom left other schools to enroll here) fell into two general classifications: creative artists and those interested in the behavioral sciencespsychology, anthropology, history and sociology.
Classes at this college were small and informal, with a student-teacher ratio of about five to one. No grades were given, for one of the precepts of the school's founders was that any student who attended would do so because he wished to take full advantage of the courses offered and could judge for himself how well he was learning. The curriculum itself was flexible and depended upon the interests of the students and the teachers. Given sufficient interest a wanted course that had not been scheduled could be created.
Intellectually alive, these students were prone to range over a variety of subjects, and as the promising results of the mind-expanding drugs were increasingly examined in technical journals and prestige magazines, quite naturally the topic came up for discussion. One of the persistent questions was whether or not these drugs could actually alter an individual's motivations and attitudes toward new experience without the usual accompanying fear and anxiety. Eventually one of the faculty members set up an organized study of the psychedelic drugs for those who were interested.
The drug course had fifteen students in attendance, about evenly divided into two groupsthe artists and the intellectuals. As there were no legal restrictions against psychedelic drugs at the time, it was decided that experimentation was m order. All but two members of the class agreed to participate.
It was observed when the class first met that most of the school body had never taken full advantage of the school's facilities. The college had a small foundry, a printing press, a kiln and a full stockroom of artist's suppliesyet those involved in intellectual pursuits had rarely availed themselves of these. On the other hand, the artists were clearly on unfamiliar ground when they enrolled for some of the courses in history, sociology, etc.
An experiment was therefore undertaken to see if the psychedelics could facilitate introduction to new material, i.e., if members of one group could become open to the activities of the other. Since LSD removes many self-imposed restrictions and diminishes the unpleasant aspects of change, it was decided that the materials to work on and the support of an expert would provide the fundamental background for the experiment. The guide in this instance was to serve as a kindly master initiating a novice into the mysteries of another discipline. To the gratification of nearly all the participants, this technique was highly rewarding.
The most obvious success was with the intellectually orientated students. Under LSD, they immediately took notice of such art supplies as clay, paints, canvas, and collage materials which had purposely been brought to the session. Because of the heightened rapport they felt, which extended to their guide, they had no difficulty in understanding composition concepts and they "Breughled" freely. No one was reluctant to experiment, and they set about with the same lack of creative inhibition as kindergarten children, working with clay and paint to express themselves. In the weeks following the last session these new-found "handicraft" pursuits continued to engage their attention.
The sessions with the artists, however, were less easy to assess. For them the guide played another role. The object of their sessions, too, was to enlarge their fields of interest and involve them in intellectual activities. But instead of providing visual and tactile stimuli, this group was given pre-drug session reading assignments. They were instructed to "browse through" a selection of books on subjects they felt drawn to and to mark a half-dozen passages which seemed to hold something "special" for them.
These chosen passages were then put on tape to be played back during the actual session. There were also recordings made of relevant materialexcerpts from broadcasts, phonograph records, plays and so forthfor the subject to listen to and reflect upon under the drug.
One of the recorded sessions proceeded as follows:
Three subjects; 100 mcg. each of LSD. Recordings: Gielgud & Anderson's Medea; records from Corfu (native folksongs) taped selections from Mary Renault's The King Must Die; Golden Bough; Bullfinch; Gayley; Graves and Hamilton. Two facsimile vases decorated with Perseus myth illus. (Medusa); one black and white Laocoon illus.; volume of excavations at Mycenae.
First reactions 9:45 A.M., during field recordings. John informs music not authentic, native to Persia. Says he can see tigers roaming lilac jungle. Asks for "something really Greek." Cynthia hands him a handkerchief and asks that music be turned off altogether. Music turned off. Guide turns on Frazier selection, passage from Persephone and Demeter (previously chosen by Cynthia). John asks Guide if Pluto is a Disney invention.
Rachel very quiet. Takes no notice of J. and C. Begins to draw on sketchpadsheaf of wheat, each grain has grotesque dog's head. Scratches it out and exclaims: "Oh no, she is not frightened! Look at my sandals!" All look. Guide says, "Are we there with you?" Cynthia breaks in: "I see a rock and a very handsome man. His skin is dark. He loves you. His muscles ripple. The gold bracelet." John stares at C. Says: "Snake." (Not dear whether he means this as personal remark to C., or is embroidering.)
10:30: All three looked at Laocoon illus., little interest. J. asks for drink of water. Guide puts on Edith Hamilton tape, which excites R. She seems to be "traveling again," with J. empathizing. The two seem in deep communication.
11:30: Several tapes played, R. & J. particularly interested. Rachel says she forgot to break her hairdressing appointment, and then asks if Greek is hard to learn. Guide puts on field recording and asks if she understands the words. She says "very beautiful," but does not answer question. Guide does not press it.
11:50: Guide leads subjects into discussion of Greek War, and Cynthia suddenly remarks she took prize in high school for Latin. Begins to quote from the Aeneid. Breaks into tears. Guide quotes few Latin phrases he remembers, and C. looks pleased. Becomes quiet, seems reflective.
12:15: John wanders into adjoining library, and is followed by Stewart. Guide asks S. to leave, but John objects. Says he wants to get pack of Tarot cards in library. Guide and Rachel insist J. stay in session room, and S. leaves to find Tarot pack. Returns and says can't find it. John at this point no longer interested, as absorbed in Mycenae photographs.
12:40: Cynthia announces that she would like to illustrate mythology volume. Wants to go on with Latin next quarter...
The actual session notes continue until 4: 30 in the afternoon, when effects of the drug had become minimal and the group went out for a meal.
This portion quoted indicates that although there were distractions and strong emotional responses, the subjects were successfully directed to explore a field of interest they had chosen. Rachel, who had "hallucinated" and identified with various mythological figures, later took up acting and also discovered an unsuspected talent for stage design. John was the least affected, but in his sculpture it was clear that his disparagement of classic forms was moderated. Cynthia did not return to her high-school enthusiasm for Latin, but she said at the last interview that she felt her experience had been important, but indecisive, and that she would like to take the drug again.
In the other "artist" groups, similar techniques were used. Thus, for five people who had expressed interest in the civil-rights movement, the taped recordings were excerpts from speeches by Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin and Louis Lomax. Four others who knew little about geography and have never closely studied maps, were shown the Rand McNally atlas and heard explanations about the historical development of cities, given by a professor who had for years been interested in demography. Another group listened to Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell" while looking at John Held, Jr., cartoons and photographs from "The Roaring Twenties." Colette's Claudine novels were excerpted in another instance at the suggestion of several students who felt an affinity for French literature and Parisian Left-Bank society; they also listened to recordings from Proust, Mistinguette and Piaf.
In each of these sessions, held primarily for educational purposes, emphasis was on the development of total emotional participation with the material at hand. During the following week, this involvement was to be compounded by looking in detail at related writings, at which time intellectual and factual material could be assimilated. With this method it was discovered that students who ordinarily would have delved little into subjects about which they were only somewhat curious became extremely interested instead and followed out the leads they had been given in class and in session. In this course, incidentally, the guide-teacher abstained entirely from psychedelics during the student sessions. However, he had taken LSD when the plans for the project were in progress and it was realized that the course would be offered.
Further implications for psychedelic learning techniques are evident in a subsidiary study made at the same college with a group of four students who were having difficulties with mathematics. They were not in the "creative artist" category, but were liberal arts majors who were frustrated because their abstract thinking processes seemed impeded. When they heard about the drugs course, one of them consulted the professor about the possibility of breaking a "mathematics block" through the use of LSD. A session was arranged for all four students, together with the guide and their mathematics teacher, who restated for them the fundamental concepts of calculus, which they had been unable to grasp in class. Under LSD each student found himself able to understand calculus, the reasoning behind it, why it was developed the way it was, and why it worked. They were elated about this breakthrough and had no difficulty with the thinking behind Taylor's theorem, integration, partial derivatives and analytical geometry. In the weeks following, although they were not transformed into brilliant mathematics students, it was clear that the "block" had been broken and that they were learning.
Similar results have been reported in other areas, such as philosophy. In one instance a student taped several striking selections from Kant, whom he had "never understood," and listened to them during the third and fourth hour of his LSD session. He played this tape over repeatedly and felt that "Kant was getting through." Afterwards he declared that "Kant was the most brilliant philosopher of them all." Another student steeped himself in the writings of Sartre, Heidegger and Jaspers previous to taking LSD. In the early part of his session he announced that he suddenly knew what existentialism "was All about." During the following weeks he devoted himself to further readings in the field and eventually chose philosophy as his career. Asked what he thought about the importance of LSD, he said that he did not "really think it possible to study and understand modern philosophy without at least having tried a psychedelic."
Probably the earliest reference in the psychedelic literature to the possibility that psychedelic drugs can deepen the grasp of philosophical systems occurs in Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception (1954), in which he notes that "at least one professional philosopher has taken mescalin for the light it may throw on such ancient, unsolved riddles as the place of mind in nature and the relationship between brain and consciousness." In the same book Huxley explains that the drug enhanced his understanding of other "philosophic truths":
The Beatific Vision, Sat Chit Ananda, Being-Awareness-Blissfor the first time I understood, not on the verbal level, not by inchoate hints or at a distance, but precisely and completely what those prodigious syllables referred to. And then I remembered a passage I had read in one of Suzuki's essays. "What is the Dharma-Body of the Buddha?" ("The Dharma-Body of the Buddha" is another way of saying Mind, Suchness, the Void, the Godhead.) The question is asked in a Zen monastery by an earnest and bewildered novice. And with the prompt irrelevance of one of the Marx Brothers, the Master answers, "The hedge at the bottom of the garden." "And the man who realizes this truth," the novice dubiously inquires, "what, may I ask, is he?" Groucho gives him a whack over the shoulders with his staff and answers, "A golden-haired lion."Alan Watts is another writer-philosopher who has confirmed the educational value of psychedelics when used intelligently:
LSD... is an instrument which a person in any field of inquiry can use. Just as a microscope can help a biologist, LSD can remove the inhibitions to perception which prevent us from seeing the central relationships of the world...
All heroes bring souvenirs back from a journey and people who make the LSD journey had better bring something back. One of the most fascinating discussions I have ever heard was when a group of art historians in New York sat around the first cubist painting and discussed that work while under LSD. People can think and talk while they are under LSD. That discussion made sense. It should have been recorded.
The above examples of "psychedelic education" are generally positive, and the people involved have benefited from their experiences. However, as indicated in the extract from the mythology session, the resulting alterations in outlook and interest can be impressive, and may lead to alterations in values.
Wilson Van Dusen, a psychologist at Mendocino State Hospital in California, said in this connection,
I spent my first three LSD sessions discovering my 1ife was arranged in layers. The outermost and most superficial was my position and concerns as a psychologist. These seemed unimportant. The papers on my desk were nonsense. Status-striving was no more meaningful than walking up hill.
Such discoveries are often reported as the outcome of LSD sessions because the drug is known to radically change personal values and to ferret out overlooked or undervalued interests.
Skills:The foregoing represents perhaps the major advantage of the psychedelics as applied to education, but in more pragmatic matters, such as learning languages and acquiring skills (typing, dancing, piano playing, faster reading), the drugs are also of practical aid. Outlandish claims, however, are sometimes madeclaims that are unsubstantiated or based on rare cases. On a CBS television program in "The Defenders" series, the protagonist, on trial for giving LSD to a youth who subsequently killed himself, performed an extraordinary memory feat. He said that he was able to put himself in an "LSD state" at will as a result of total familiarity with the drug, and he astounded the drama's courtroom (and undoubtedly the viewing audience) with an extensive example of total recall.
There are few, if any, LSD researchers who would give credence to this demonstration, but nonetheless there are instances of less extravagant LSD accomplishments which came about through memory enhancement. The most notable and the one most often used as illustration is language learning. The process is similar to that of technical and creative problem solving. A student, who learned enough German in a week to enroll for a second-year college course in the subject, describes the technique:
It was a week before registration and it depressed me tremendously that I had not spent the summer learning German, as I had planned. I had intended to give myself a crash course so I could take second-year German, which I needed for my study in physics. I had heard of a woman who had learned enough Spanish in a few days, via LSD, to speak it fluently when she had to go to Mexico on business. I had taken LSD before, and while I couldn't see how she did this, I decided it was worth a try.After "Falling in love with German," on the basis of this one LSD session this student then went on the following day to read Mann's Dr. Faustus. He had both the original text and an English translation. By the time he had finished the novel, he found that he was scarcely referring to the English version. He also discovered that in having read that much German, he had developed a feeling for grammar structure and word endings that was almost intuitive. When his friend questioned him, he said he could not readily explain what the third-person singular past-tense ending was, but he demonstrated that he could use it. In this sense, he had learned the language as a child learns it, not as it is taught in formal instruction. When he registered for German 210, an intensive reading course, the following week, the instructor expressed skepticism when he heard the student was self-taught. Upon testing him, however, it was soon evident that his German reading comprehension was well above average.
Others who claim to have learned skills through using LSD express surprise at the ease and scope of their gains, particularly since they were made in a relatively brief period of time. One man, who had always been afraid of water, realized that not only were his fears groundless, but he could comfortably swim around after using LSD. Following two subsequent-lessons, he was fairly proficient at the Australian crawl. One woman claims to have learned two years of piano instruction in one session. While at the piano, she felt a "direct connection between her hands and her brain, so that she only had to think of the music and it was played."
The explanation generally given for these stepped-up learning capacities is that LSD makes possible total absorption and at the same time "inhibits the inhibitors" in the psyche. The drug brings about a state of surrender, but far from the surrender of resignation; rather, it is the surrendering up of the psyche's forces to the channels of discovery, change and acquisition of skills. LSD encapsulates one in an emotionally charged receptivity, in which it seems silly and pointless not to "give in," and sometimes this results in practical or profitable attachments.
Bernard Roseman, for example in LSD the Age of Mind, found it behooved him to become involved with the practical endeavor of typing. In detailing his system for becoming an accomplished typist through psychedelics, he emphasized the necessity for knowing the basics of the touch-system. Once this was acquired, with a fair rhythm, he offered the following advice for "drumming in" a conditioned response:
Take [the drug] while typing and continue right through the transition period (where one's consciousness changes).
Footnote1. From Hoffer: Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics 6:183, 1965, The C. V. Mosby Company, St. Louis. (back)
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