Top Ten Modern Explorers of Altered States of Consciousness
by Alan Steinfeld
*This article does not in any way condone the use of psycho active substances, but it has been used by some as a tool to open the doors of perception. Alternate percetpions, however they may emerge, are the creation of new realities. You can see below that it was also something that lead the way from the 1960s to the present spiritual awakenings.
Baseball and Rock and Roll have a “Hall of Fame” honoring their great ones. Hollywood has its “Walk of Fame”, so why shouldn’t other cultural institutions give tribute to their all-stars. The following people have been pioneers of the final frontier; consciousness. These men have not only been heroes to generations of counterculture psycho-nauts, but they have had a powerful influence on the mainstream as well.
#1 Albert Hofman, the inventor of LSD, must be given foremost honors. First as the creator of LSD which came about while researching the chemical components of ergot, a fungus that infects grains of rye and related grasses. Second, for trusting his own faculties of mind enough to know that the accidental ingestion of the alkaloid was not some strange psychotic episode. In his autobiographical book, LSD: My Problem Child Hofman writes: “Last Friday, April 16,1943,in a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors….After a few hours, the not unpleasant inebriation, which had been experienced whilst I was fully consciousness disappeared. What had caused this condition?”
Three days later he intentionally dissolved 250 micrograms of LSD-25 in a glass of water then, feeling intensely strange, he decided to ride home on his bicycle. To many around the world April 19, 1943, has become known as "Bicycle Day"
"The existence of LSD was even regarded by the drug enthusiasts as a predestined coincidence. It had to be discovered precisely at this time in order to bring help to people suffering under the modern conditions.” Albert Hofman (LSD-My Problem Child, page 58)."
#2 Timothy Leary was once called ”the most dangerous man in America” for leading the youth of the ‘60s to “tune in, turn on and drop out”. In 1962 as a well-respected psychology professor at Harvard, he was introduced to LSD and described it as "the most shattering experience of his life". In 1963, he and follow psychology professor Richard Alpert were fired from Harvard for their psychedelic experiments on colleges and students. Leary later proclaimed the reason for expulsion and the illegality of substances like LSD was due to “the thought police” that did not like anyone thinking differently from the socially approved view of reality. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s he continued to be a cultural hero prescribing: “think for yourself and question authority.”
#3. Terrance Mckenna: The eloquence and brilliance of Terrance has not found an equal match since his passing. In Wired magazine Erik Davis wrote: “The ‘altered statesman’ emerged from Leary's long shadow to push a magical blend of psychedelics, technology, and revelatory rap.” Here Terrance speaks for himself: (from website http://deoxy.org)
“Years ago before the term 'psychedelic' was settled on there was just a phenomenological description, these things were called 'consciousness expanding drugs'. Think about our dilemma on this planet. If the expansion of consciousness does not loom large in the human future, what kind of future is it going to be? To my mind the psychedelic position is most fundamentally threatening when fully logically thought out because it is an anti-drug position - and make no mistake about it, the issue is drugged. How drugged shall you be? Or, to put it another way, consciousness, how conscious shall you be?…The consequences of the acceptance of this situation of brainwashing is further acceleration toward catastrophe.”
#4. Richard Alpert (a.k.a. Ram Dass) After 5 years of psychedelic experiments with Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert said "I had plenty of LSD, but why take it. I knew what it was going to do, what it was going to tell me. It was going to show me that garden again and then I was going to be cast out and that was it. And I never could quite stay." He went to India with a bottle of LSD in order to meet holy men and find out what the psychedelic experience was really about.
On the outskirts of Bombay Alpert was lead to a magical little holy man who could see right through his arrogant neurotic ways. When Neem Kroli Baba remained unaffected after a massive amount of LSD that was given him, Alpert realized that there was a consciousness that could live permanently in that greater space of awareness. Upon his arrival in the United States, he wrote the counter-culture classic Be Here Now, which helped introduce the psychedelic world of hippie America to the ancient spiritual ways of India.
#5. John C. Lilly: Throughout is life John Lilly was fascinated with brain size and how we perceive reality. After inventing the sensory depravation tank in the early ‘50s, Lilly wanted to see what other intelligent creatures floated around all day. He became known as the father of dolphin communication research. The Day of the Dolphin was a movie made of his work. His studies of the mind eventually lead him to a core psychedelic experience he describes in his book The Center of the Cyclone. This profound revelation about the human connection to our primal past was made into the movie Altered States. Some people felt he went too far when he gave his dolphins LSD, but he claimed they loved it.
#6. Ken Kesey: While Timothy Leary was enlightening the east coast to mind expansion, Ken Kesey was on the left cost doing it California style. The writer of One Flew over the Cukoo’s Nest began throwing Acid test parties in San Francisco that helped kick off the cultural revolution of the 60s and make San Francisco a Mecca for those looking for an alternative life-style. His adventures with the Merry Pranksters, such as Wavy Gravy is immortalized in the Tom Wolfe classic, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It was Kesey who gave the young Jerry Garcia and his band The Warlocks their first musical venue to create a bombardment of sound and light to enhance the psychedelic experience. http://www.key-z.com/
#7. John Lennon: Some say he was the genius behind the Beatles. Their transcendental homage to psychedelics reveal the surreal and mind expanding nature of the inner experience. Lennon captured the quintessential LSD moment when he sang:
“Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
and she's gone.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
Lennon, with a smirk, always insisted that the song was prompted by his son Julian’s childish drawing. But the key give away here is the use of the word “kaleidoscope” that reference’s Hofman on his first trip.
#8. Carlos Castaneda
In 1960 this anthropology student from UCLA went to the Arizona desert to research the use of psychoactive plants by the Native Americans. The mysterious medicine man that he met there named Don Juan Matus was no ordinary Indian. Like Ram Dass Castaneda’s teacher was an enlightened miraculous being that changed the course of his life.
His first two book became best selling psychedelic manuals of the 1960s, where he describes his experiences with the hallucinogenic plants peyote and datura. In his third book, Journey to Ixtlan, Don Juan reveals the dangers of psycho active substances, saying Castaneda needed them only because he was too stuck in his old ways to see the world that is truly full of mystery. The six books that followed are a whole system of knowledge that details the spiritual wisdom of the ancient Toltecs.
#9. Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception was a breakthrough study into altered states of consciousness. The title comes from the writing of the mystic poet William Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite-“
Albert Hofman writes about Huxley’s text in LSD, my problem Child: “The book contained fundamental observations on the essence of visionary experience… Hallucinogens could lead to a deepened understanding of religious and mystical content, and to a new and fresh experience of the great works of art. For Huxley these drugs were keys capable of opening new doors of perception; chemical keys, in addition to other proven but laborious ‘door openers’ to the visionary world like meditation, isolation, and fasting, or like certain yoga practices.”
Huxley felt it was important to differentiate linguistically between hallucinogens and other drugs. His last book, The Island is dedicated: "To Dr. Albert Hofmann, the original discoverer of the moksha medicine, from Aldous Huxley."
#10. William James
Although Harvard has become the bastion of established thought, revolutionaries of consciousness have always been about. Before Timothy Leary and recently John Mack (its psychiatry professor investigating alien abductions), there was William James. Brother to novelist Henry James, he is called the father of American psychology and started the investigations in to the subject/object relationship of perception. In a series of talks entitled, The Variety of Religious Experiences, he called upon a nitrous oxide (laughing gas) experience to explain the subtleties of consciousness. “ It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness, as we call it, is but in a special type of consciousness whilst all about it parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the right stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness.”
James concludes “no account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.”
Comment on what you think baout these controversail people and their ideas.