Exploring Inner Space by Jane Dunlap (Adelle Davis)
Originally published in 1961 by Hardcourt, Brace & World ‘Exploring Inner Space: Personal experiences under LSD-25’ by Jane Dunlap is one of the earliest examples of both entheogenic literature and of a woman writing on the psychedelic experience. This beautifully crafted text explores her experiences over the course of 5 LSD sessions under Dr. Oscar Janiger’s research project on hallucinogens and creativity. Her notes from these sessions make up the content of the book.
‘Jane Dunlap’ is a pen name for the author Adelle Davis (1904-1974). During the mid-twentieth century Davis was one of the earliest proponents of the field of nutrition, who between 1947 – 1964 wrote numerous, widely read, books on the topic. Exploring Inner Space is somewhat of an oddity in her bibliography, not least because it makes use of a pen name unlike her other works but also because it tackles such a different subject matter; for it is not physical but spiritual well-being that she explores. Immediately this begs the question; why did she use a pen name as opposed to her own?
Without specifically reasoning why a pen name was chosen by Davis, Thomas Riedlinger, in his essay ‘Two Classic Trips’ does briefly look at how the book has been largely ignored in favour of her nutritionist work since the time of her death, aged 70, on May 31st, 1974. Her “good reputation is still a lucrative commodity” – her books have sold by the millions, and – “her name is still used in promotional tie-ins”; the implication of which is that it’s not good business for her to be associated with psychedelics. In a personal communication with Michael Horowitz, Riedlinger was told that when the editor asked permission to include an extract from. Exploring Inner Space in the anthology ‘Shaman Woman, Mainland Lady: Woman’s Writings on Drugs’ that “their request had been summarily denied”.
It is not clear why Dunlap herself chose the pseudonym. Speculatively, she may have seen it as damaging to her career as a nutritionist author: In which case the social in which she wrote may not have been perceived as receptive to the topic. This would indicate a prohibitive social atmosphere that prefigured the outlawing of LSD. Then again, it may simply have been a device by which to give the text a more literary flavour. As yet I have not found any definitive evidence for her reasons.
Dunlap – as I shall refer to her in the context of this review – writes that she was a long-time reader of Life magazine and says “of all the excellent articles the magazine carried, the one which fascinated me most was by Robert Gordon Wasson on the magic mushrooms of Mexico.” She read that Wasson and his wife had had “visions and mystical experiences and for these reasons [psychedelics had] been used in religious ceremonies for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.” She was “overcome by envy” at reading the article. Subsequently, when she got wind of experiments with its tryptamine cousin, LSD-25, she began the process of having herself accepted as a test subject. This clearly demonstrates the impact Wasson’s article had on the emerging psychedelic culture.
“When it came to spiritual attainment, however, my development was so pitifully inadequate that I sometimes felt consumed with an empty yearning.” Dunlap writes about her personal struggles, from an early age, in pondering the existence of God and the organised dogma that is associated with it. So it was with this in mind that she went into her first LSD session. Ultimately, her “set” was of someone for whom spiritual questions were part of her identity and with the knowledge, garnered from Wasson’s article, that this class of hallucinogen – tryptamines – had the power of spiritual revelation. Dunlap hopes “to get chemical Christianity.”
During her first session she was administered 110 micrograms of LSD intramuscularly. During the session she experiences a rapid identity shift that centres around the evolution of life on Earth. The beginning of her session puts Dunlap in a state of fearful confusion, as the focus of her attention switches between the exterior of her environment and circumstance and her own interior experience. In a single paragraph she goes from being “an angel floating”, then “a choking terror gripped me” to looking outwards and reflecting on Dr. Snow that “although I asked him to pray and he is a deeply religious man, he was now wholly a psychiatrist and remained silent.”
The fear she feels becomes magnified through a lens of empathy and she thinks “loneliness is universal… every person who has ever lived or is alive has suffered loneliness” and “for a fleeting moment I was every individual.” Through an emotional window, empathy, her Self becomes increasingly dissolved into a rapid shifting of identity. This dissolution is only tempered by brief interludes based in the exteriority of her experience. This narrative model of switching between the interior and exterior is utilized throughout the five accounts of her LSD sessions.
Eventually, at the peak of her hellish experience wherein her changing empathetic identity has locked onto negative emotion, she describes going through “ego death”.
“When “I” recovered from “death”, the ocean was lapping the shore near me, bringing tiny shells and single-celled and few-celled animals. I was a one-celled ameba, throbbing like a heartbeat. With a feeling as if I were bursting, my single cell multiplied into millions until I became not only all near-microscopic ocean life which learned to live on land but also small lichen clinging to bare rocks.”
“Ego death” as a concept has become synonymous with the psychedelic experience. It refers to a moment in which an individual is forced to let go of their ego. In this case, Dunlap’s identity is freed to explore, through empathetic emotion, the evolutionary history of earth. A guide book developed by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert called ‘The Psychedelic Experience’ centres around this occasion and there is an intertextuality in the idea of “white light”, which one perceives at the moment of “ego death”. For Dunlap, however, the light shines through all the identities that she takes on and in fact becomes the one major consistency throughout the shifting.
She sees the light’s consistency as being representative of God: “…the possibility of reaching God seemed a little nearer each time. I now know beyond all doubting that this urge was responsible for evolution.” The result of this realisation, throughout the chaos of her identity shifts, is to give the chaos a grounding; something that connects it all i.e. God. This also grounds the text in an entheogenic discourse.
By her final trip, which took place on February 23rd, 1960 with 150 micrograms, she had herself come to understand the psychological paradigm of set and setting; she applied it to herself: “It had become obvious that the content of LSD visions could be influenced by my thoughts and feelings immediately preceding the experience; hence I prepared for my fifth session like a theological student cramming for an examination.” Ultimately she is rewarded by having a ‘mystical experience’ and the whole book rolls out the process ‘generating God within’.
It is a shame that this book has never been reprinted. It equals, indeed on occasion surpasses, Huxley’s descriptions of the psychedelic state and is such an acute evaluation of the entheogenic reading that it deserves to be held up as one of the finest examples of the sub-genre. Even for those who do not take an entheogenic reading from the psychedelic experience, even for those for whom a Christian reading might be abhorrent, as a literary work it is exemplary. There are not too many copies of this book in the world but if you manage to track one down it is a delight to read; as both a work of literature and as a pointer to the development of psychedelic culture.