The Psychedelic Library Homepage

History of the Psychedelic Rediscovery

Own your ow legal marijuana business
Your guide to making money in the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry
Special Collections of Documents
The Rufus King Collection

  The Door in the Wall

    Jay Stevens

        Psychedelics in the 1950s. An excerpt from
        Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream by Jay Stevens.
        Harper & Row Publishers, ©1987 by Jay Stevens. ISBN 0-06-097172-X

    There is no way of determining who was the first American to take LSD. But one of the earliest was a Boston doctor named Robert Hyde, who practiced at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. One of Hyde's colleagues, a psychiatrist named Max Rinkel, had obtained some LSD and was curious whether it really did make a normal person crazy for a few hours. Rinkel didn't phrase it quite that way, of course. What he was interested in was model psychoses, test-tube schizophrenias that might shed a little light on the etiology of madness.
    Hyde was Rinkel's first guinea pig. With the others gathered around, he emptied the brown ampule of Delysid into a glass of water and sat down to wait. And wait. Growing impatient, Hyde announced he was going to do his evening rounds; the others could tag along if they wished, but it certainly didn't feel like anything much was going to happen. What followed was fascinating. Right before their eyes, Hyde, the even-keeled Vermonter, turned into a paranoiac, as a swarm of little suspicions—Why are those people smiling? Was that a door closing?—began eating away at his composure.
    Rinkel reported on his LSD work at the 1951 APA Convention in Cincinnati. He had found, he said, remarkable congruence between LSD-inspired model psychoses and schizophrenia:
We noticed, predominantly, changes similar to those seen in schizophrenic patients. The subjects exhibited preeminently difficulties in thinking, which became retarded, blocked, autistic, and disconnected.... Feelings of indifference and unreality with suspiciousness, hostility, and resentment also approximated schizophrenic phenomena. Hallucinations and delusional disturbances were much less prominent...

    But these were relative conclusions, Rinkel was quick to stress. For every person who became autistic, another turned manic, making jokes and puns that were completely out of character; for every bout of hostility, there was a corresponding moment of deep ecstasy. About the only generality that could be made was that normal people did not remain normal after taking LSD: they changed, and in that sense what happened could be classed as abnormal.
    But were they crazy? Were these true model psychoses? Or were the researchers projecting their own desires onto what they were seeing? These weren't easy questions to answer, but as time went on, and as more and more researchers began studying LSD, they discovered that they were creating a lot of the negative reaction. LSD made one remarkably sensitive to nuance. If the examining psychologist was cold or abrupt, then the patient often responded with hostility or hurt. Conversely a warm, gentle doctor could provoke assertions of love and well-being that went far beyond the bounds of respectability.
    The tests were a particular sore spot. Just as the LSD state reached full throttle, out came the personality tests, the Rorschach, the TAT, the Bellevue Blocks, and Draw-A-Person Test. Frequently the research subjects became angry and intractable at this point, claiming, just the way schizophrenics did, that the questions were boring, stupid, irrelevant. "In the LSD test situation," warned Rinkel, "subjects appeared more interested in their own feelings and inner experiences than in interacting with the examiner, confirming behaviorally the test results, which indicated increasing self-centeredness." Many years later, a former school psychologist named Arthur Kleps, appearing before a Congressional hearing, offered one of the better explanations for why people taking LSD found tests irritating: "If I were to give you an IQ test and during the administration one of the walls of the room opened up, giving you a vision of the blazing glories of the central galactic suns, and at the same time your childhood began to unreel before your inner eye like a three-dimension color movie, you would not do well on the intelligence test."
    But a science has to use the tools available to it; besides, the tests bore out what everyone hoped, that LSD really was creating model psychoses. Researchers began referring to it not as a hallucinogen, which was its proper medical classification, but as a psychotomimetic, a mimicker of madness.
    By the early Fifties there were a dozen pockets of LSD research around the country. Most followed Rinkel's work with model psychoses, although a few confined themselves to animal toxicology studies, and at least one was pursuing Sandoz's other suggestion and using LSD in a therapeutic setting. But all were impressed by the drug's sheer power and the astonishing effects it produced, not just in normal folks, but in crazy people as well. Startling things happened when you gave LSD to mental patients. One catatonic took the drug and three and a half hours later began bouncing around the ward, laughing uproariously. In the afternoon she played basketball. That night she danced. But the next morning she was her old catatonic self again. Or there was the case of the hebrephenic schizophrenic that usually spent her days giggling and chattering inanities about the birds and the flowers. Thirty minutes after receiving 100 micrograms of LSD she became dead serious, all the laughter gone from her voice. "This is serious business," she told her ward doctor. "We are pathetic people. Don't play with us." Later she assaulted the hospital aides and made sexual overtures to the chief nurse.
    It was fascinating stuff. But what did it all mean? What happened after LSD or mescaline passed through the blood/brain barrier? Did it interfere in some fundamental way with the normal neurochemistry? And if it did, might not the brain produce its own LSD-like metabolites? This, anyway, was what a lot of researchers were asking themselves. Was there an organic basis for madness, and if there was, who was going to find it?
    A number of theories were ventured, but the one that concerns us here is the adrenochrome theory of two English psychiatrists, Humphrey Osmond and John Smythies.

    The first schizophrenic Humphrey Osmond ever treated was a girl who told him that whenever she looked in the mirror, what she saw was an elephant. As soon as she left, Osmond trotted off to find his superior and tell him of this very odd delusion. "Well you know she has schizophrenia," his boss had said. "What's that?" Osmond had asked. He'd heard of it, of course. What he wanted were the answers to the usual first questions—symptoms, treatment, etiology. But what he discovered was that nobody could tell him anything substantive. There were lots of theories, but no hard data that did for schizophrenia what Freud and his followers had done for the mechanism of repression, for the dynamics of neuroses. Tired of his questions, Osmond's boss finally suggested that he look up a Jungian analyst named Anthony Hampton, who in turn suggested that he read a book by Thomas Hennell called The Witnesses.
    Alongside Clifford Beers's The Mind That Found Itself, Hennell's book was one of the more evocative descriptions of what it was like to suffer and recover from extreme psychosis. Hennell captured perfectly the gradual inflation of his own disease. The nocturnal noises. The odd subjectivity of objects. The contradictory feeling of great personal destiny coupled with a growing certainty that one's ego was shredding away. The symptoms were a bit like an orchestra tuning up, first the strings, then the woodwinds, last the brass. As anyone who has attended a concert knows, the tuning up is nothing compared to the full orchestral blast. For Hennell the crescendo came on a day when he decided to walk into Oxford. He noticed that the other pedestrians were giving him meaningful looks, as though they knew something he didn't. As dusk arrived, Hennell saw that the fields beyond the hedgerow were beginning to boil, a bit like a Van Gogh painting, while up in the sky the stars were wheeling about, again a bit like a Van Gogh painting. Hennell only had a second to savor these weird perceptions before a squad car of secret police roared up, clapped him into a van filled with meat, and drove him off to a secret prison.
    Although Osmond reread The Witnesses many times, its net effect was to leave him more perplexed than ever about the nature of schizophrenia.
    After his apprenticeship ended, Osmond took a job at St. George's, one of London's famous teaching hospitals. There he met a rather exotic—exotic in terms of Osmond's Scotch upbringing in the Surrey downs—junior resident named John Smythies. Smythies had grown up in India during the twilight of the Raj, where his father had been chief forestor. It was Osmond's impression that young Smythies had had numerous exotic adventures before being dispatched to Rugby and Cambridge, for the intellectual tempering all proper English gentlemen underwent. Smythies's passion was the nature of mind, and he was not at all reticent about the fact that he considered psychiatry merely a handy way to investigate what was really a philosophical problem. This, plus his habit of speaking in brisk declaratives prefaced by the phrase "it's obvious," did not endear Smythies to his superiors, most of whom were old-time clinicians with a deep distrust of theory. But Osmond thought Smythies "not much less bright than he thought he was," and they got on famously.
    Smythies had a number of eccentric enthusiasms—parapsychology was one—and one day he showed up at St. George's with a book by Alexandre Rouhier, a contemporary of Beringer's, who had written a book on peyote called Le Peyotl. On one of its pages was a molecular formula for mescaline.
    The formula reminded Smythies of something, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was. Osmond also had a feeling of vague recognition. Then they showed the picture to a former biochemist who said it looked sort of like thyroid and sort of like adrenaline, with the nod probably going to the latter. This similarity between adrenaline and mescaline suggested an intriguing hypothesis: what if, in stressful situations, adrenaline got transformed into something chemically akin to mescaline. Wouldn't that account for Hennell's boiling fields and whirling skies, for the elephant in the mirror? It was known that certain plants were capable of such a metabolic transformation, known as transmethylation, but there was no evidence that animals were capable of transmethylation.
    Obtaining some mescaline from Lights Chemical, Osmond and Smythies began testing their hypothesis. Osmond took 400 milligrams of mescaline one afternoon in Smythies's rooms, which were down a back alley off Wimpole Street. A tape recorder had been borrowed to record his thoughts. Osmond found it menacing. First it glowed a deep purple, then a cherry red. Putting his hand close to it, it felt as though someone had thrown open the door to a blast furnace. For the first time Hennell made sense. Schizophrenics weren't talking in similes and metaphors—there was no as if involved in the mad state—they were talking about reality, and it was scientific arrogance to dismiss it as delusion.
    Once his astonishment had cooled, Osmond turned to the philosophical ramifications. If what we took to be objective reality was so fragile that it could be swept away by 400 milligrams of mescaline, then perhaps the vitalists who had argued that the brain was merely a mechanism to stabilize an anarchic world were correct. Perhaps the notion of objective reality was a paradox.
    Smythies and Osmond published a small essay on these matters in 1952 called "A New Approach to Schizophrenia." In it they theorized that the body, confronted with an anxious state, might react by producing an endogamous hallucinogen, in this case one derived from adrenaline. The hallucinogen would cause the perceptual world to change, leading to more stress, more adrenaline, more of the natural hallucinogen, and ever deeper levels of psychosis. The only way to break this cycle would be for the sufferer to literally turn off reality: to retreat into another world. This, paradoxically, was the body's only way, short of death, of preserving its own sanity.
    What was particularly elegant about this theory, which they called the M factor theory, was the way it combined both a neurological and a psychological dynamic, thus marrying what were usually two mutually exclusive bodies of research.
    Having imagined this hypothetical chemical, the M factor, the next step was either to isolate it in its natural state or to make some up in the lab. It was a dilemma not unlike that faced by the American astronomer W. H. Pickering, when he had deduced in 1919 that the solar system had to contain another planet, as yet undiscovered, which Pickering confidently named Pluto. Eleven years later Pluto was found exactly where Pickering had predicted it would be. But the tools of astronomy, as Osmond and Smythies quickly learned, were far more sophisticated than the tools of neuropharmacology. The mysteries of outer space were child's play compared to the complexities of inner space. They approached some chemists at Imperial Chemical—"the chaps who had done the original work on synthesizing penicillin"—and asked them to work on a series of compounds intermediate between adrenaline and mescaline. The chemists tried, but soon gave up: however slight the differences were on paper, they were insurmountable in the lab.
    So they decided to concentrate on the amenochromes, which were formed when adrenaline decomposes naturally. One of these amenochromes, adrenochrome, seemed a likely candidate, as it had a molecular structure surprisingly similar to mescaline.
    Osmond swallowed his first adrenochrome in 1952. After ten minutes the ceiling changed color, and whenever he closed his eyes he was overwhelmed by a swarm of dots, which merged and fled with the kind of shifting pointillism one finds in schools of fish. Someone pulled out a pack of Rorschach cards, and Osmond astounded himself with the inventive shapes he was able to discover. Walking back down the corridors of the hospital, Osmond was amazed at how sinister they seemed: what did all the cracks on the floor mean? And why were there so many of them? His colleagues were delighted with his behavior—this certainly was a model psychosis—and Osmond watched them celebrating as though from behind a thick glass wall.
    Osmond was no longer in England when he had his adventure with adrenochrome. In mid-1952 he had accepted a job in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, as Clinical Director of Saskatchewan Hospital. The place was touted as the finest mental hospital on the prairies, although this was something of a joke since it was the only mental hospital on the prairies. Actually the place was so rank, so depressingly nineteenth-century-madhouse, that when Osmond and his colleagues received the APA's Silver Plaque award for most improved mental hospital, American customs declared the "before" pictures to be obscene and special dispensation had to be obtained before they were allowed into the country.
    It was Osmond's job to clean up this mess without unduly rattling the Old Director, who was supposed to remain on as a patriarchal figurehead until retirement. But the Old Director resented this new crop of bright boys, with their talk of insulin treatments and electroshock and the search for the mysterious M factor. Whenever possible he countermanded Osmond's innovations.
    Work on the M factor was proceeding slowly. In the absence of Smythies, who was scheduled to arrive in Saskatchewan in a few months, Osmond had begun working with a psychiatrist affiliated with Saskatchewan University named Abram Hoffer. Hoffer had a passing acquaintance with Heinrich Kluver, who had suggested that sometime he might want to look into mescaline as "quite the most interesting thing around." When Smythies finally arrived he brought along some notes for an essay, which, after some input from Osmond, was published under both their names in the Hibbert Journal. Smythies had been reading up on eighteenth-century medicine, a period of fanciful theories and bitter polemics, with little regard for the facts. It was, Smythies thought, a period with remarkable similarity to twentieth-century psychology. What was needed was a new model of scientific progress, one along the lines that Karl Popper had suggested, which saw science proceeding from Orthodoxy (the accepted theory of the known facts) to Heresy (a new ordering of the facts, often of greater inclusiveness) and thence to a New Orthodoxy, and so on through further heresies and better orthodoxies.
    Mescaline was mentioned exactly twice. The first instance came in the context of an analysis of the psychobiological explanation of schizophrenia. "No one is really competent to treat schizophrenia unless he has experienced the schizophrenic world himself," they wrote. "This is possible to do quite simply by taking mescaline." The second mention was in the context of a new theory of mind, which henceforth would have to account for three new sets of facts:

A) The recent development in the study of the design and behaviour of electronic computing machines, and the study of analogous brain mechanisms.
B) The recent advances in parapsychology. We refer to the establishment of Extra-sensory perception as scientific fact.
C) The nature of the phenomena witnessed under the influence of mescaline. One would have thought that anyone, concerned in devising systems of psychology based on the concept of the unconscious mind, would have utilized such a prolific source of material as mescaline offers, but no one has yet done so, although Rouhier made this suggestion as long ago as 1922.

    One day, out of the blue, a note arrived from Aldous Huxley congratulating them on their sound reasoning and inviting them to drop by and see him should they be in Los Angeles in the near future. Huxley also expressed a willingness to try mescaline.
    Although Osmond and Smythies were flattered by praise from such an illustrious intellectual, the probability that either would be passing through Los Angeles in the near future was almost nil, however willing they might have been to escape the bitter Canadian winter. But then fate intervened. Tensions at the hospital had reached such a level that the politicians in charge of the Saskatchewan mental health program felt it was time to have it out with the Old Director. For practical reasons, it was felt that Osmond should be absent during this confrontation and arrangements were made for him to attend the upcoming APA convention in Los Angeles. Which was why, in early May 1953, Osmond found himself flying south, carrying not only a rare invitation to stay at the house of Aldous Huxley, but a small vial of mescaline as well.

    Aldous Huxley was fifty-eight when he dashed off that characteristically enthusiastic note to Osmond and Smythies. He had been a featured player on the literary stage for thirty-two years, his reputation secured by a quartet of satirical novels begun when both he and the century were in their twenties—exercises of such brilliance that André Maurois, the French belle lettrist, lauded Huxley as "the most intelligent writer of our generation," by which he meant Huxley's mind held more information in perfect equilibrium than anyone else around.
    He was supposed to have read, while still in short pants, the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, which was certainly conceivable from the volumes of essays that flowed from his pen, and paid his rent for most of his life. He seemed to know something about everything, which might lead one to think he was either a bore or a dilettante, but he was neither. His opinions, whether the subject was molecular biology or the Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca, were so precociously sharp that art critic Kenneth Clark once groused that after a lifetime studying Piero, in the end he seemed to know "far less than Aldous had learnt in a few weeks, by some miraculous combination of intellect and intuition."
    Once, vacationing in Italy, Huxley happened to stumble across the filming of Helen of Troy, one of those excessive Hollywood costume dramas of the 1950s. Now this production, on this particular day, had a particularly pressing problem: the script called for a bacchanale. But neither the director, a midwesterner, nor the assistant director, a New Yorker, were exactly sure what a bacchanale was. Enter Aldous Huxley. Who, as the assistant director later told the story, "went on for hours relating what he knew about bacchanales. As a result our bacchanale was so successful that the crowd people could not stop when the director cried 'cut.'"
    That was the quintessential Huxley: amusing, full of exotic lore made even more exotic by his own exotic physique: six four and so thin it was as though a flagpole had animated itself. When Aldous was young most of his friends thought he looked like a grasshopper, but as he matured he was usually compared to a waterbird, a heron or egret. He had a long, wide face that was always a decade younger than his calendar age, topped first by brown, then silver hair. But his most compelling features were his blue eyes, one sightless, the other nearly so, and his conversation, which flowed with such grace it was easily the most athletic aspect of a decidedly unathletic man. Huxley would lean back in his chair, fix his myopic blue eyes above and beyond one's head and then let his thoughts unwind "without interruption until he had turned over every stone to discover the strange facts hidden beneath them, or had followed the labyrinth... and had unraveled the truth at the end of it." Unlike a lot of champion talkers, he was also an avid listener, with an insatiable appetite for information, for gossip, stories, books, politics, science, scandal, and facts, the more exotic the better, murmuring "most extraordinary" whenever a choice tidbit presented itself.
    Had Aldous Huxley died at thirty-five, shortly after the publication of his fifth novel, Brave New World, his place in English literature would have been secure. Somerset Maugham might have placed him alongside himself, in the first seats of the second row; Scott Fitzgerald could have lamented the premature closing, after a rousing first act, of another promising career. But Huxley didn't die—he changed, which is sometimes worse. From the mid-Thirties on he immersed himself in mysticism and oriental philosophy. His novels, when he stirred himself to produce one (which he did at regular intervals for the simple reason that novels earned more than essays), were really philosophical essays dolled up in fictional garb, like something Voltaire or one of the other philosophes might have written. "Nobody since Chesterton has so squandered his gifts," wrote the critic Cyril Connolly in Enemies of Promise, which was ironically, an inquiry into why he, Connolly, had squandered his own gifts.
    But the feeling that something alarming had happened to Aldous was widespread. To André Maurois, the new incarnation was "an astonishing reversal of his thought, and disturbing to anyone as close to the earlier Aldous Huxley as I had been." Few of his early admirers dared or cared to follow him down the paths that led first to The Perennial Philosophy, his compilation of the mystical components underlying all religion, and thence to his suggestion to Osmond and Smythies that he was not adverse, indeed he was most eager, to try mescaline, a drug that presumably made one crazy.
    The consternation over this transformation dogged Huxley until the day he died, which was the same day John Kennedy died, November 22,1963. When the obituary writers came to summarize his life in the twenty or thirty column inches reserved for the passing of Great Men, their inability to rationalize the whole was obvious. What they didn't realize was that Huxley's life was less a career than a quest for... what? The perfect synthesis of science, religion, and art? The uniting of the inner man and the outer man? "My primary occupation," Huxley once wrote in one of his approximately ten thousand letters, "is the achievement of some kind of over-all understanding of the world... that accounts for the facts."

    He was born Aldous Leonard Huxley on July 26, 1894, in the county of Surrey, England, the third son of Dr. Leonard Huxley, educator, editor, and minor literary figure, and the grandson of T. H. Huxley, eminent biologist and one of the most famous men in Victorian England. Known as "Darwin's Bulldog," T. H. was the man who had demolished Bishop Wilberforce in the famous Oxford debates over Darwin's theory of evolution. He personified the scientific rationalist, and he eloquently argued its case in newspapers and magazines, and from lecterns throughout the English-speaking world. His collected essays, filling nine volumes, began appearing in the year of his third grandson's birth, and just a few months before his own death at age seventy.
    "Clear, cold logic engines," were what T. H. demanded from his son and grandsons. As Aldous's older brother, Julian, once defined it, the Huxley tradition was one of "hard but high thinking, plain but fiery living, wide intellectual interest and constant intellectual achievement."
    Huxley's mother, Julia, came from equally impressive stock. She was the niece of poet Matthew Arnold and granddaughter of the moralist and educator Dr. Thomas Arnold, one of the eminent Victorians later eviscerated by Lytton Strachey in the book of that name. Julia Huxley was an educator who founded Prior's Field, a girls' school just a few meadows away from Hillside School, where young Aldous received his first education.
    He was, by all accounts, a brilliant, unathletic, aloof student, whose capacity for detachment unnerved his peers. "Aldous possessed the key to an inviolable inner fortress," said his cousin Gervas, who also attended Hillside. "Never can I remember him losing his control or giving way to violent emotion as most of us did." He "possessed some innate superiority and moved on a different level from us other children," according to his older brother, Julian. He was always thinking, measuring, comparing, assessing. Once his godmother, after observing him staring fixedly out a window, asked what on earth he was thinking about and received the single word skin in reply.
    So he was an odd child, even a little scary. Some years later the English science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon published a book called Odd John, which was an attempt to imagine what an intellectual superman, a true Übermensch to use Nietzsche's much debated term, would really be like. The resulting portrait bears a striking resemblance to the adolescent Aldous Huxley, with the profound qualification that Odd John was never tested by personal tragedy the way Huxley was. Beginning with his entrance to Eton, Huxley's detachment was shattered by three tragedies. When he was fourteen his mother died. When he was sixteen he contracted a streptococcus infection that destroyed the cornea in his right eye and left the other clouded to the point of blindness The condition was so serious that Huxley was forced to learn Braille which he shrugged off with the wry joke that now he could read with impunity after lights out. He was also forced to give up his dream of studying biology, in preparation for a medical career. Adapting a typewriter with Braille keys, he began tapping out poems and stories.
    Finally, two years after his blindness lifted and a year after matriculating at Balliol College, Oxford, in the same August that saw the beginning of World War One, Huxley's middle brother, Trev, committed suicide.
    "There is, apart from the sheer grief of the loss, an added pain in the cynicism of the situation," Aldous wrote to cousin Gervas. "It is just the highest and best in Trev, his ideals, which have driven him to his death, while there are thousands who shelter their weakness from the same fate by a cynical, unidealistic outlook on life. Trev was not strong but he had the courage to face life with ideals—and his ideals were too much for him."
    This was not a mistake Aldous intended to make. At Oxford he buried his idealism under a cloak of aesthetic dandyism, affecting yellow ties and white socks, and instead of the usual classical reproduction above the fireplace, installing a poster of bare-breasted bathing beauties—French of course. He moved a piano into his room and began banging out American jazz. And he started spending weekends at Garsington, a manor house some six miles from Oxford that Phillip and Ottoline Morrell maintained as a country retreat for the Bloomsbury crowd. A typical Garsington houseparty mingled the likes of Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, Bertrand Russell, the Woolfs—Leonard and Virginia—with assorted other aristocrats of the artistic and intellectual beau monde. Young Huxley held his own amid this galaxy of wits, and was considered by them an intellectual comer and promising poet. When he published a chapbook of poems entitled The Defeat of Youth in 1918, tout Garsington joined in his praise.
    Garsington was also where Huxley met his future wife, Maria Nys, a waifish Belgian war refugee who was one of Lady Ottoline's charges. Besides being more than a foot shorter than her future husband, Maria's temperament—intuitive, magical, sensuous—was the exact opposite of Aldous's clear cold logic engine. Igor Stravinsky once said of Maria: "knowing nothing, she understands everything." And one of the things she understood was people. Maria had great psychological acuity, something her husband was almost totally without. Aldous called her his "personal relationship interpreter," and he used to quiz her thoroughly about the people they met at Garsington.
    Their partnership—they began living together in 1919 and were married a few months later—produced one child, a boy, Matthew, and at least eight novels. The first of these, Chrome Yellow, was published in 1921, and was followed at two-year intervals by Antic Hay, Those Barren Leaves, and Point, Counterpoint. Opening the boards of that first book, none of Huxley's friends could have been prepared for what they found inside. The gentle, abstracted poet of lines like

No dip and dart of swallows wakes the blank
Slumber of the canal:—a mirror dead
for lack of loveliness remembered

turned into an assassin when he wrote fiction. ("I have done an admirable short story," Huxley once wrote to his brother Julian's future wife. "So heartless and cruel that you would probably scream if you heard it: the concentrated venom of it is quite delicious.") Sure the writing sparkled and the plot unfolded with professional ease, but there was something acid and unsettling about the way the stories portrayed the emptiness, the artistic and moral pretences of the very friends who were now reading the book. The only thing that saved Huxley from the anger that later greeted Evelyn Waugh's similar lampoons was the fact that Huxley dissected his own pretensions with equal ferocity. He never stinted on himself.
    Huxley's fiction had a liberating quality that the poet Stephen Spender once described as "a kind of freedom which might be described as freedom from: freedom from all sorts of things such as conventional orthodoxies, officious humbug, sexual taboos, respect for establishments." But there was also an undercurrent of yearning beneath Huxley's mocking detachment, a yearning for a new and more fulfilling orthodoxy, and this too caught the spirit of the times. It was a thirst many quenched with Marxism or fascism or extreme aestheticism, while others turned to science and the religion of progress. But these apparently weren't options for Huxley. It would be too strong to say that he was an unhappy man, here at the height of his literary success, but he was a deeply dissatisfied one. He had become "a kind of amphibious creature, rejecting emotional contacts with skillful evasions, using his intellectual equipment as a shield."
    Huxley dealt with this angst by moving frequently, living in Belgium, France, Spain, and Tunisia, and Italy, where Maria and he became friends with D. H. Lawrence. As the Twenties drew to a close they semipermanently established themselves at a villa in Sanary, France, among the mix of artists and idle rich lucky enough to live on the Côte in the years immediately preceding the Crash of '29. From Marseilles to Antibes, the Midi was an expanded version of a Garsington weekend. It was familiar fauna, and one might have expected a continuation of what the London Times described as "the many-toned wit... the learning, the thought, the richness of character."
    But Huxley gave his readers instead the anti-utopian Brave New World. Brave New World was Huxley's first stab at themes that would occupy him for the rest of his life: the gap between technology and human wisdom; the misapplication of evolution; the failure of education to create a whole man; the increasing centralization of power, with its elevation of ends over means. It was also his most savage book, consigning the human species to the trash heap, albeit a comfortable, pleasureful trash heap. In a world in which science allows you to customize the ultimate in bread and circuses, argued Huxley, the concept of coercion becomes meaningless. One of the brilliant elements of Brave New World, indeed the one that made the whole vision of state-controlled euphoria plausible, was the drug soma. In terms of pharmacological reality, soma was a combination of three different kinds of mind drugs: on one level it was a pleasant and entertaining hallucinogen, on another a tranquilizer like Librium or Valium, on a third a sleeping pill. There was nothing coercive about soma use: diehard individualists had the option of relocating to several offshore islands.
    But soma was only a symptom of Huxley's larger theme, which was the machining of human nature. The genius that had allowed the smart monkey to tame the natural world was beginning to focus on itself. And unless something was done to alter the monkey's fundamental psyche, the consequence was going to be a scientific hell that called itself paradise.
    Huxley's intellectual companion during these years, and perhaps his mentor, certainly one of the fulcrums upon which his interests were shifting, was a London literary boulevardier named Henry Fitz Gerald Heard—Gerald to his friends. Five years older than Huxley, Heard was the son of an honorary canon of the Church of England. Educated at Cambridge, with a degree in history, he had spent the First World War in Ireland, helping Sir Horace Plunkett in his attempt to organize the Irish farmers into agricultural cooperatives, a scheme that foundered when a bomb placed by Irish freedom fighters destroyed Sir Horace's residence and very nearly destroyed Gerald, who had been working in the house alone. Concluding that a civil service career was uncongenial to his health and his nature, Heard decided to concentrate on writing, and in the mid-Twenties published an eccentric but erudite little tome called Narcissus: An Anatomy of Clothes, which traced the historical relationship between architecture and clothing.
    Anyone wishing to dip into the yellowing pages of Narcissus will discover the donnish Gerald, the one who could stun everyone to silence with his ability to remember everything he had ever read about everything and his willingness to explain it all to you in great detail. It was a recipe for a boorish windbag, and that might have been Heard's fate had he not also been one of those classically racy English eccentrics who pen mysteries in which Anglican clerics use Arabian spells (authentic, of course) to destroy their rivals. To one segment of the reading public he was Gerald Heard, mystic and philosopher, the author of Pain, Sex and Time, Is God Evident, A Preface to Prayer; while to another, less exalted group of readers he was H. F. Heard, creator of such macabre entertainments as The Black Fox, the Great Fog, and Doppelgangers, a book which the Saturday Review described as "strange and terrible... as repellently fascinating as the discovery of a cobra in one's bed."
    Perhaps it was the actor in Gerald who made the intellectual such a compelling presence, but an astonishing number of people considered Heard to be the most brilliant man they had ever met, outshining even Huxley, who himself gave Heard the compliment of "knowing more than any one I know." A typical Heard soliloquy rambled "like a river over a vast area of knowledge... past the shores of pre-history, anthropology, astronomy, physics, parapsychology, mythology and much else." Christopher Isherwood, who knew him slightly in London and became better acquainted after both emigrated to Los Angeles in the late Thirties, once described Gerald's life as "an artistic performance expressed in a language of metaphors and analogies."
    Unfortunately, the brilliant Heard, the voluble Heard, was missing from the written Heard. His writing tended to be pedantic, "practically unreadable" according to Huxley.
    Heard met Huxley in 1928, when he was working as editor of the Realist, a literary magazine whose contributors included H. G. Wells, Rebecca West, Arnold Bennett, and the two Huxleys, Julian and Aldous. Heard began accompanying the successful young novelist on nocturnal strolls across London, from which he deduced that his young friend was suffering from a routine literary affliction:
The style is formed, the specific frame of reference and interpretation of life is clear, and a public has gathered to buy the wares this craftsman knows how to produce in steady supply. And then suddenly the formula seems false, the angle hopelessly inaccurate, the analyses contemptibly shallow. Huxley's family mores and his ancestral genii were challenging his own personal genius. Satire could entertain; it could not assure. The sardonic, to keep its edge, must sharpen on the whetstone of the full truth of man—man, the one unfinished animal; man the incomparably teachable; untaught, less than a beast; ill-taught, worse than a beast; well-taught, the one creature of infinite promise, of superhuman potential.

    Those last sentences are classic Heard, and they point us toward the real significance of Huxley's affection for this potentially rival polymath. Because what was about to happen between the two men was a form of intellectual seduction, and an ironic one at that, as T. H. Huxley's grandson was seduced by a deviant form of the evolutionary argument.
    Without bogging down in a lengthy discussion of scientific politics in the late nineteenth century, it is important to understand that there were two interpretations of evolution. The first, following Darwin, believed that natural selection was directionless, the product of random mutations; man was a biological fluke. The second interpretation, deriving from Lamarck and championed by the French philosopher Henri Bergson, smuggled teleology back into the evolutionary drama. Bergson called his philosophy vitalism, and argued that evolution was not directionless but was controlled by a creative life-force, an elan vital which sought ever higher expressions of complexity and competence. In the insect world, for example, this elan vital achieved its highest state with ants and bees, while among mammals it was that ever-curious, ever-experimenting species Homo sapiens who best expressed this upward drive.
    Of course once it had been decided that there was a pot of gold at the end of the evolutionary rainbow, it was hard not to speculate about the nature of this treasure. Friedrich Nietzsche meditated on the elan vital and came up with the Übermensch, the overman, a race of supermen who, depending on the luck of the variables, would either be mystic-saints or tyrant-creators. For Bergson only the first was a possibility: the universe was "a machine for the production of gods," he wrote.
    But how was man going to become like unto gods? Further physical transformation was doubtful and pretty much beside the point, but what about further mental development? The growth of psychology in the late nineteenth century, with its emphasis on the unconscious, prompted a number of intellectuals to theorize that consciousness was the probable area of emergent evolution. Just as man had gone from simple consciousness to self-consciousness, perhaps at some point he would jump from self-consciousness to... cosmic consciousness? At least that's what a Canadian psychologist named Richard Bucke proposed in 1901. From a state of "mere vitality without perception," Homo sapiens had evolved to simple consciousness, which was characterized by perception, and thence to self-consciousness, whose distinguishing feature was the ability to image thoughts using language, and that refinement of language, mathematics. Bucke believed that Homo sapiens, having attained self-consciousness some three hundred thousand years ago, was now at a point where his ability to process concepts was such that he was about to push through to a new level, to the cosmic level.
    Speculating that certain members of the species would probably make the jump to each level of consciousness before the rest, Bucke compiled a list of those whom he felt exhibited cosmic consciousness: the Buddha, Jesus, Plotinus, William Blake, Honore Balzac, Walt Whitman. Using eleven criteria, Bucke attempted to prove that each of these forerunners had undergone a comparable mental experience: that each, usually in their thirties, had experienced an intense white light followed by a massive intellectual and moral illumination.
    Bucke's own brush with cosmic consciousness happened late one night after an evening of philosophical debate with his friends. He was returning to his lodgings in a hansom cab when he found himself "wrapped in a flame-coloured cloud":
For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close in that great city; the next, I knew the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to belie re, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life.

    Bucke's book, Cosmic Consciousness, made a deep impression on William James, America's foremost psychologist. While the average individual was under no compulsion to accept these extraordinary mental states as superior, wrote James, a blanket denial of their existence was equally ridiculous. "No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question—for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality."
    James also noted, in passing, that in India the pursuit of cosmic consciousness, of mystic moments such as Bucke's, was a well-established science.
    Although it was Darwin's interpretation of evolution that triumphed in the laboratories and the classrooms of the twentieth century, the heresy of Bergson and Bucke kept resurfacing in odd configurations. After the First World War it turned up in Europe in the guise of gurus from the East, men like Krishnamurti and Georges Gurdjieff, who advertised practical techniques for tapping into the mind's higher powers. For a few years London and Paris, Berlin and Vienna, were virtual supermarkets of the esoteric, boasting dozens of semisecret schools—theosophists, Buddhists, Vedantists, dark occultists in the Alistair Crowley mold. In Germany the mysterious Thule Society gave birth to the National Socialist Party and Adolph Hitler, who had his own special interpretation of the evolutionary curve Homo Aryan should follow.
    In England, among the Oxbridge demimonde that Heard and Huxley were part of, this evolutionary romance generally took the form of believing a way had to be found to heal the gap between Homo faber, man the wielder of increasingly ingenious and dangerous tools, and Homo sapiens, man the conceptualized man the smart monkey who had mastered the planet but not his own inner flaws—flaws that were now threatening to bring the whole evolutionary game to a precipitous close. It was one thing for the smart monkey to pick up clubs and spears and go about bashing craniums over questions of power, territory, and sexual prerogative. But to exhibit the same behavior when the clubs had turned to machine guns and Big Berthas was the maddest kind of folly.
    Whether by accident or design, there was no shortage of gurus who seemed to speak directly to this desire. When Ouspensky, the chief disciple of the mysterious Armenian teacher Georges Gurdjieff, arrived in London, he advertised himself with a series of lectures called The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution. Man is not a completed being, Ouspensky told his audience. "Nature develops him up to a certain point and then leaves him, to develop further, by his own efforts and devices... evolution of man in this case will mean the development of certain inner qualities and features which usually remain undeveloped, and cannot develop by themselves."
    So this was the riddle Heard placed before Aldous Huxley: was there a mechanism that could be tripped, a sense that could be awakened, a door that could be found that led to these higher states?
    Starting in the late Twenties (and ending only with their deaths) the two polymaths embarked on a grand tour of the esoteric. They chanted and meditated, they counted breaths and tried to shed their old conditioning; they studied hypnosis and the Gurdjieff technique—"too much nirvana and strawberry jam" was Aldous's airy opinion of Ouspensky, indeed of most of the gurus they met. Of course, as Robert de Ropp, a follower of Ouspensky observed, neither Heard nor Huxley were ideal students, both being rather "too fond of their own opinions to work under the direction of someone else."
    They began formulating their own philosophy in the late Thirties, beginning with Heard's Third Morality, followed by Huxley's Ends and Means and The Perennial Philosophy. Their system, greatly compressed, went something like this: detachment is the essence of wisdom. The wise man participates passionately in the game of life, but at the same time remains aloof, free of entangling emotional or material ties. This science of detachment forms the basis of all religion, and it reaches its culmination in those moments of brilliant illumination that the mystics speak of.
    Like Bucke, Huxley was impressed with the similarities between widely divergent mystical experiences: if you filtered out the particular religious dogma, what you had left was a physiological occurrence that appeared to be universal, that appeared to be wired into the very structure of the mind itself, waiting for a moment of deep meditation, fever or death, perhaps a blow to the head, perhaps the reflection of a cloud in a stream... there was no rhyme nor reason to what could trigger these astonishing events.
    Following Bergson, Huxley also believed that the brain and the central nervous system operated as a vast filter that reduced the flood of sensory data to a manageable trickle. This was not a difficult or even a debatable concept. We have all experienced moments, pausing in the midst of reading the newspaper or tying our shoelaces, when we become aware that a bird is singing nearby. Then, turning back to our task, the bird again disappears. The soundwaves of birdsong still enter the ear, but the brain edits them out, thus allowing us to concentrate on the task at hand. No doubt such an editing process had been vitally necessary for us to survive on a hostile planet. But by the twentieth century (felt men like Huxley and Heard) it had become a detriment to further evolution. A way had to be found to bypass the reducing valve and tap the unlimited potentials of the brain's 20 billion neurons. This was where the saints and mystics became important. Somehow, along with the occasional artist and scientist, they had chanced upon a way of circumventing the brain's central program.
    Whether the answer turned out to be a form of physical therapy like that of the Indian yogis, or something entirely different, Huxley believed that a way could be found to standardize the mystical experience. As Heard described it, "His biological background made him believe it must be physiological; his metaphysical aspiration let him hope it would transform the psyche."
    That the answer might come from the field of psychopharmacology was a possibility that Huxley did not rule out In an essay written at Sanary around the time he read Lewin's Phantastica. Huxley had mused that should he ever become a millionaire he would "endow a band of research workers to look for the ideal intoxicant."
If we could sniff or swallow something that would, for five or six hours each day, abolish our solitude as individuals, attune us with our fellows in a glowing exaltation of affection and make life in all its aspects seem not only worth living, but divinely beautiful and significant... then, it seems to me, all our problems would be wholly solved and earth would become a paradise.

    This was grand, heady stuff. But unfortunately it was only theory. At no time, despite their exertions, did Heard or Huxley find the key that unlocked the overmind. As Huxley later confided to Humphrey Osmond, "It seems the great Huxley brain is exceptionally stable."
    Huxley and Heard left England for America in 1937, eventually settling in Los Angeles, where they became familiar presences on the local spiritual scene, studying Vedantic Hinduism at an ashram in Hollywood. The ashram was under the supervision of a canny, charismatic teacher, Swami Prabhavananda, who some years earlier had been ordered to Los Angeles by his teacher to fulfill the larger karma of introducing the inner disciplines of the East to the materialistic West. To leave not only his native land, but the contemplative solitude of the ashram, for Hollywood, California—it was not a task Prabhavananda had welcomed. But he had come and prospered, confirming the shrewdness of his teacher's foresight.
    The ashram, in classic Southern California fashion, was shaped like a miniature Taj Mahal, and was surrounded by lemon trees and young girls meditating in saris. Prabhavananda was fond of tea parties, during which he would debate Huxley and Heard, and later Alan Watts, on various doctrinal points. The swami counseled asceticism in all things, including sex. And Gerald agreed wholeheartedly. Los Angeles represented a sea change for him, a chance to re-create himself in a more appropriate image. He grew a goatee and discarded his suits and flannels in favor of dungarees and work shirts. He became obsessed with meditation, hastily terminating conversation so he could prepare for his twelve o'clock contemplation, or his six o'clock contemplation, or whatever contemplation was impending. He was ridding himself of the three main obstacles to enlightenment, he told Huxley: addictions, possessions, and pretensions. But for his lack of personal humility, Gerald would have been an excellent monk. Indeed the one quibble he regularly had with Huxley was over the latter's sociability: Gerald felt that time was too precious to waste on those who were not on the same path, a fundamentalist perspective that was very impractical for a novelist with a limited gift for characterization to begin with. "I am some kind of essayist sufficiently ingenious to get away with writing a very limited kind of fiction," Huxley ruefully admitted in one of his letters.
    Actually, writing was the one constant in both their lives. With the exception of several film scripts, Huxley kept to his routine of a novel every two years, with a book of essays in between. And H. F. Heard scored his greatest literary success in 1946, when he won the three-thousand-dollar Ellery Queen Prize for a futuristic whodunit called The President of the United States, Detective.
    They wrote and they waited; and then in early 1953 Huxley happened to read an article by Humphrey Osmond and John Smythies in the Hibbert Journal...

    "But Aldous, what if we don't like him? What if he wears a beard?" was Maria's comment when Huxley announced that he had invited an unknown chap named Osmond, a psychiatrist no less, for a visit. The offer of room and board chez Huxley was a rare ticket; even Julian, when he was in town, stayed at a local hotel.
    The possibility that Osmond might be a tedious bore hadn't occurred to Huxley, and after a few moments' thought he arrived at a simple solution. "We can always be out," he said.
    Osmond, some three thousand miles away, was having similar fears. What if he couldn't play in Huxley's intellectual league? What if he came off as a tedious bore? "You can always arrange to stay late at the APA," his wife said.
    He need not have worried. The one thing Huxley prized most in a fellow conversationalist was intellectual breadth, and Osmond had plenty of that. Like Heard, he could turn on a conversational dime and launch into a disquisition on, say, scurvy, that was so vivid one would almost swear he had shipped with Da Gama when half of that gentleman's crew perished. Maria, watching Aldous warm to the younger man, confided to Osmond: "I knew you'd get along. You're both Englishmen."
    Huxley accompanied Osmond to several APA sessions, which he found deadly dull, and amused himself by genuflecting whenever Freud's name was mentioned. The subject of mescaline didn't arise until two days before Osmond was to leave, and then it was Maria who broached the subject, having decided that the famous British reticence was going to prevent the two men from discussing what was certainly uppermost in Aldous's mind. Osmond admitted that he had brought some mescaline with him; while Huxley conceded that he had borrowed a tape recorder to preserve a record of the experiment.
    The next day, May 4, 1953, Osmond dissolved some mescaline crystals in a glass of water and nervously handed it to Huxley. Outside it was one of those perfect LA mornings, blue and warm, with just a trace of smog hanging over the San Bernardino valley. What if the drug worked too well, Osmond thought to himself. Although Smythies and he had begun to appreciate that there was more to the mescaline experience than simple psychosis, that didn't diminish the possibility that the next six hours might be absolutely hellish. And Osmond didn't relish the possibility that he might become infamous as the man who drove Aldous Huxley crazy.
    On the other hand, what if nothing happened? It was beginning to dawn on Humphrey that Huxley had some rather idiosyncratic notions about what he hoped to achieve in the mescaline state. Nowhere was this more explicit than in the letter Osmond had received confirming his invitation to stay with the Huxleys while at the APA. After the usual pleasantries, Aldous had launched into a critique of what he called the Sears & Roebuck culture:

Under the current dispensation the vast majority of individuals lose, in the course of education, all the openness to inspiration, all the capacity to be aware of other things than those enumerated in the Sears-Roebuck catalogue; is it too much to hope that a system of education may someday be devised which shall give results, in terms of human development, commensurate with the time, money, energy and action expended? In such a system of education it may be that mescaline or some other chemical substance may play a part by making it possible for young people to "taste and see" what they have learned at second hand, or directly but at a lower level of intensity, in the writings of the religious, or the works of poets, painters and musicians.

    Osmond was using mescaline as a mimicker of madness; Huxley wanted to incorporate it into the curriculum.
    The minutes passed slowly—too slowly for Huxley, who told Osmond he expected to enter what he called the Blakeian world of heroic perception. What actually happened was much more mundane. The lights danced. The insides of his eyelids dissolved into a complex of gray squares that occasionally gave birth to a blue sphere.
    Then, ninety minutes into the experience, Huxley felt himself pass through a screen, at least that's what it seemed like, and suddenly he was seeing "what Adam had seen on the morning of creation." It was as though, born myopic, he had just put on his first pair of glasses. The colors, the shapes, the sensuous mysteriousness of his flannel trousers. Later Aldous would pun that he had seen "eternity in a flower, infinity in four chair legs, and the Absolute in the folds of a pair of flannel trousers."
    He kept murmuring, "This is how one ought to see."
    Mescaline, Huxley decided, intensified the visual at the expense of the temporal and spatial. There was a pronounced loss of will, which gradually expanded into a loss of ego. And as the ego relinquished its grip, all sorts of useless data, biologically speaking, began to seep into the mind.
    From the house, with its suddenly cubist furniture, they wandered into the garden. For the first time Huxley felt the presence of paranoia, and beyond that, madness. "If you started the wrong way," he told Osmond, "everything that happened would be proof of the conspiracy against you. It would all be self-validating. You couldn't draw a breath without knowing it was part of the plot."
    "So you think you know where madness lies?" Osmond asked.
    "And you couldn't control it?"
    "No, I couldn't control it," Huxley said. "If one began with fear and hate as the major premise, one would have to go on to the conclusion."
    But then the shadow passed. From the garden they moved to the street, where a large blue automobile touched off gales of laughter. Fat and self-satisfied, it seemed to Huxley that the car was a self-portrait of twentieth-century man; for the rest of the day he giggled whenever he saw one. Aldous was having a wonderful time. After years of theorizing that each of us carries a reservoir of untapped vision and inspiration, he had suddenly stumbled across it at the advanced age of fifty-eight.
    It was a little like that classic moment in children's literature when the hero walks outside one morning and discovers a door, where yesterday there was only blank wall. And beyond that door, a garden of infinite dimension, infinite adventure.

Part II

The Psychedelic Library Homepage

History of the Psychedelic Rediscovery

Library Highlights

Drug Information Articles

Drug Rehab