Don Lattin (donlattin) Fri 16 Apr 10 06:16
Steve, I have not explored the new psychedelics you mentioned -- journalistically or personally -- but I am heading down to the big psychedelic conference in San Jose today, so I'll check back with you later. The last psychedelic I got seriously involved with was MDA and MDMA back in the mid to late 1970s. I loved that drug. Oh, the love, the empathy, the joy. I made a great circle of friends from those days. Some of them remain my best and most beloved friends, and we haven't down drugs for many years. I just visited one of them on her deathbed, and we still feel the love. We used to have amazing MDA parties at their little house on the beach at Stinson. Blessed memories. I stopped taking recreational drugs some years ago (including alcohol) so all I have are the memories, but what memories...
Steve Silberman (digaman) Fri 16 Apr 10 08:43
The owner of 710 Ashbury is a former student of Ram Dass? That's far out, as they used to say. (The house is not quite on that corner, but a block and a quarter up the hill. Still a pilgrimage spot for shaggy kids from all over.) Don, one of the things I found fascinating about your book was how you traced the paths of each of the principals after Harvard and related their fates to their characters. Leary ended up at the center of a whirlwind of hype about his impending death; Ram Dass, while being painfully challenged by his stroke, still seems like a figure of compassion and wisdom; Weil became an alt-med millionaire, etc. (Weil was working with HotWired, where I was the senior editor, right at that moment that he switched agents and "blew up," as they say in the recording industry. It was quite something to watch him go from being a semi-popular columnist on our website to becoming the public face of alternative medicine and healing in a relatively short time. Another hugely successful HotWired alumnus from that era, for better and worse, was Matt Drudge.) With that in mind, what do you think the original psychedelic promoters that you wrote about should have or could have done differently? Can you imagine an alternate future in which Leary *didn't* give that Playboy interview advertising LSD as a drug that can give women millions of orgasms and cure Allen Ginsberg's homosexuality (which was, shall we say, an exaggeration) and serious psychedelic research continued after that as a subset of research into promising therapeutic agents for alcoholism etc.? Though I suppose Kesey would have exploded onto the scene in his own way after the CIA-funded Stanford experiments and aroused the ire of the constabulary...
Earl Crabb (esoft) Fri 16 Apr 10 09:49
(I'll get the book when I get a chance, but meanwhile, a question: was the Weil "expose" the Feb 14, 1963, article in the Crimson, or did this expose come after that?)
Steve Silberman (digaman) Fri 16 Apr 10 10:52
Don, I have a question via Twitter: @CaitlinPodiak: I would love to know if Don Lattin has any thoughts/comments/advice for psychonauts of the Millennial generation.
We're carrot people. (unkljohn) Fri 16 Apr 10 13:04
Set and setting, as they used to say.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Fri 16 Apr 10 14:59
from offsite reader John Vore (who apologizes for his length of post) As a student of Timothy Leary's, I have to take exception to the binary treatment showing up in the talk of him and Richard Alpert. I think we should at least take the two men at their words in The Psychedelic Experience, and not be so caught up in our own egos when shelling out kudos or bardos. If Leary played out "the ego trip" in one way, and Alpert another--are they not both equals in being teachers? One makes us aware of IT, the other passes stealthily through IT. Not sure who is trickier, and I cannot wait to read Don Lattin's book. Though I'm an Asergian, on whom talk of egos might be a moot point, I don't find any less ego in those who comment on ego from a so-called humble stand- point: they're still focused on ego, and oftentimes, they do more harm (Steve Silberman has pointed out the worst example of this, the Catholic Church, so no more need be said on this point). Thanks, also, for posting this dialogue for free, when Well.com requires a subscription! Now if you'll allow me, may I cite a few examples of personal exchanges with Dr. Leary? They show him to be quite different from what has comes so far in this exchange. Leary, when I hosted him at Notre Dame in 1985, was a spectacular guest for three days who gave students and faculty a discussion of the history of information, still relevant 25 years later; after a long lecture, he answered every single students' questions, fending off quite a few conservatives with grace and humor. He met with students on-campus and off, and I had the pleasure of introducing him to Theodore Hesburgh, then President of the University. Off-campus I could barely pull him out of conversations with undergraduates at one bar--and in another, he happily posed for photographs for a celebrating couple and their wedding party. Seeing I was shy and didn't have many friends (my Asperger's diagnosis occurred in 2006), during the reception after his main lecture at Notre Dame, Dr. Leary climbed up on a table (!) and thanked me by name in front of all the assembled students. He was trying to make me friends! Before he left, Leary invited me and my girlfriend to visit him--and we did, in Spring, 1986--at his Beverly Hills home. There he showed off "Mind Mirror" on his own PC, pressing me until I was uncomfortable to critique it ("Mind Mirror" is still an inspiration to me in my quest to create life changing psychology software). I met Leary again in the 90s, when he was one of the first "mentors" to whom I came out; "that's great," he said--an unusual source of positive support in Indiana (it would be the last exchange we shared). I had caught up with him after an Indianapolis tour date and drove him back to his motel, but drove the wrong way; he ranted against the Hoosier war memorials to unnecessary death, which we kept passing, but never minded my being lost, late into a long day. I never saw, face-to-face the "egotist" many like to write about: a saw a (to play the game) humble, intelligent man who was concerned about how he came across, cared about the interests of his audience--and the life of the student host I once was. Indeed, the only heated exchange we ever had was when I kept asking about editor David Solomon: "why do you keep asking about the past," Leary reprimanded: "I care about the future!" A man full of egotism would seek out ways to remind us of his contributions in the past, now, wouldn't he? Leary's essay in Solomon's book, "How To Change Behavior" became the basis for the analytic tools I would use in my first book, when I thought about the Catholic Church, power and Notre Dame-- and how it could allow a sexually abusive priest (and my spiritual advisor) to advance at the University during a 20-year career of abuse. So, the egotist, in my life, was the Catholic Fr. Hesburgh had promoted time and time again--not the one he had shadow-boxed in the 70s as Nixon's "favorite college president," the former Harvard professor he welcomed to Notre Dame, in 1985--and a man who became one of my heros, Dr. Timothy Leary.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Fri 16 Apr 10 15:04
That sounds like a wonderful set of experiences. Thanks for sharing them John.
bill braasch (bbraasch) Fri 16 Apr 10 20:18
Tim Leary came to Wavy Gravy's Pignic concert in Laytonville during his last year alive. He was on top of the Furthur bus, wearing a purple robe. The speakers were playing "they're coming to take me away, uh huh, they're coming to take me away". Kesey and the crew had a booth at the concert.
Don Lattin (donlattin) Sat 17 Apr 10 07:57
Lisa, thanks for presenting "the other side" of Timothy Leary. Many people have/had a love/hate relationship with Tim. Was he a self-promoting megalomanic and a brilliant prophet of the New Age? Leary was asked late in this life about all that. "Who is the real Timothy Leary?" he was asked. His reply: "You get the Timothy Leary you deserve." Perfect reply from a "Trickster."
Don Lattin (donlattin) Sat 17 Apr 10 08:08
Steve, you asked what the original psychedelic promoters should have done differently. What would have happened if Leary and Alpert hadn't taken it to the streets in such as crusading fashion? I spent the whole day yesterday at a huge "Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century" conference in San Jose, sponsored by MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The subtext to the whole recent explosion in serious, hopeful, above-ground, government-approved and socially beneficial research into these substances is (in a way) about not making the same mistakes that Leary and Alpert made in the early 1960s. This line of research was shut down around the world in the late 1960s, and the backlash against "turn on, tune in, drop out" was one of the major reasons for that. People at the conference talk about the 40-year "protracted lull" in this research. So I urge people to check out the work of Rick Doblin and others in the next generation of psychedelic research at maps.org.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Sat 17 Apr 10 09:11
Looking back, what do you think the most lasting contributions to American culture were of the '60s psychedelic movement? I know you talk about this in the book, but thought it might be interesting for readers here.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Sat 17 Apr 10 09:11
Also, if you could have followed up anything in the book more deeply, what would it have been?
Searchlight Casting (jstrahl) Sat 17 Apr 10 21:45
Regarding early comments relating attitudes about the experiences not being truly spiritual because they supposedly came out of a "drug" (social attitudes, not those of the people posting:-)), i haven't seen anyone raise the point that spiritual practices of indigenous peoples all over the world (e.g., ayahuasca in the Amazon, peyote amongst the Huichols,ibogaine in Africa, often involve such substances, a subject addressed by quite a few books, including Plants of the Gods by Richard Evans Schultes and Albert Hoffman (yea, *that* Albert Hoffman:-)) and The Long Trip by Paul Deveraux. Comments? Don, i remember reading you back from Daily Cal days:-) Hi.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Sat 17 Apr 10 22:05
When I studied anthropology at the University of Michigan I knew Napoleon Chagnon who did fieldwork with the Yanamamo Indians in the Venezulan Amazon. Their religion was based around shooting hallucinagens up their noses. It was hard to tell from him because he was such a macho who embroidered his tales. It was also "Forget it Jake, it's the 60's." But the ethnobotonists knew all about the sources of getting high.
Gas station attendent on the Nile (jonsson) Sun 18 Apr 10 01:18
In the anthropology realm Jeremy Narby has written some interesting books on the subject. His book with Frances Huxley also touches on the subject. Shamans Through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge. I always think for some reason of Antonin Artaud when looking at the history of all this, and also an example of what can work in one culture or setting not really working in another. Particularly a civilization that seems eager to comidify even a state of mind.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sun 18 Apr 10 07:37
Yes, one thing the book reminded me of is that the history of psychedelics in the right countries of the West is merely one peculiar episode in a history of psychedelic use dating back thousands of years. Or perhaps since little or nothing was written down, a pre-history.
We're carrot people. (unkljohn) Sun 18 Apr 10 09:18
"Food of the Gods" by Terence McKenna has an interesting take on some of this stuff.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sun 18 Apr 10 09:20
Rich countries of the West, I meant to say. Although we certainly have gone a long way to the right.
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 18 Apr 10 09:48
I really enjoyed the book, and learned a lot from it. For instance, it had never occurred to me that Ralph Metzner, whom I met at an epic '60s party dressed in a suit and tie and grousing that "people are taking LSD to have fun, and that's *not what it's for*" was actually young enough to be an undergraduate during the early days of acid at Harvard. That party was at the home of my then-girlfriend's best friend, whose mother was working on alcoholic recovery via psylocibin at the New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute with Humphrey Osmond, who was taking calligraphy lessons from my girlfriend's father. I was scared to talk to him about acid, although I was fascinated by him, but of course the dinnertable conversation didn't touch on it too often. I've often felt he was an underrated figure in the whole story, and then I pick up this book and find Huston Smith, whom I'd never even heard referred to even obliquely, and who turns out to be a fascinating and important figure. In fact, it occurred to me as I read that one reason you may have written the book was to bring him into a narrative that was in danger of calcifying around Leary and Alpert. Are there other figures from this early era of psychedelic experimentation who might not have fit into the story in this book, but whose stories might be worthy of further exploration?
okay it's (kayo) Sun 18 Apr 10 09:51
Jeez, I'm having flashbacks. Er, remembering stuff I had completely forgotten about. Never mind.
We're carrot people. (unkljohn) Sun 18 Apr 10 10:30
I want my money back......I've never had a flashback.
Don Lattin (donlattin) Sun 18 Apr 10 10:38
Ya'll are making some great observations and asking great questions. Flashbacks indeed. Even someone who remembers me from the Daily Cal back in the 70s, when I really was having flashbacks! I'm a bit overwhelmed. I'll try to get to some of the other questions next week as this is a crazy weekend, in part because I'm spending so much time at the "Psychedelic Sciences in the 21th Century" conference in San Jose. I was on a wonderful panel last night with Ralph Metzner, John Perry Barlow and Ram Dass (via video feed from Maui) More on that later.
Don Lattin (donlattin) Sun 18 Apr 10 10:47
Steve, you asked about the lasting contributions to the culture from the psychedelic movement. The two areas I focus on in the book (mainly because of the four lives I choose to follow in the narrative) are the ways that LSD and other drugs changed the way we practice religion and medicine, the very way we look at body and soul (not to mention the entire nature of reality.) Huston Smith and Ram Dass (following the lead of Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard) took their insights and helped us understand the common mystical core in all major world religions. I spent more than 20 years covering the religion beat at the SF Examiner and Chronicle and noted that every year more and more people would call themselves "spiritual but no religious." Lots of reasons for that but the intense spiritual experiences that an estimated 20 million people had on psychedelics have a lot to do with that.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sun 18 Apr 10 10:50
Don, I know you've got a crazy weekend going, but when you get back, do you think that people under 40 still regard psychedelics as gateways to spiritual experience, or are they just another "party drug?"
Don Lattin (donlattin) Sun 18 Apr 10 10:56
The other area we see the impact is in the ever-expanding interest in holistic health and well-being. Indicators there include doctors prescribing meditation, organic produce in Safeway, and yoga studios popping up everywhere. Again, lots of reasons for this, not the least of them Andy Weil, who is the villain in the early chapters of my book, but who (in my mind, at least) himself in the end. Weil, who graduated from Harvard Medical School after becoming the whistle-blower who got Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) fired from the Harvard faculty, says his psychedelic experiences changed the way he sees the whole connection between mind, body and spirit. Weil spoke at the SJ conference on Friday and told a funny story about how one LSD trip at age 28 cured his lifelong allergies to cats.
Members: Enter the conference to participate