LSD and the Divine Scientist by Albert Hofmann
Originally published in 2011 under the title ‘Tun und Lassen: Essays, Gedaken und Gedichte,’ this Park Street Press edition of Albert Hofmann’s ‘LSD and the Divine Scientist: The Final Thoughts and Reflections of Albert Hofmann’ was released in 2013. Hofmann was a world-renowned scientist who first synthesized and discovered the psychedelic properties of LSD. The book includes a foreword by Christian Rätsch and an afterword by the visionary artist Alex Grey.
The story of Albert Hofmann’s discovery of d-Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is the most oft-repeated tale in the history and discourse of psychedelic culture. Having first synthesized the chemical from ergot in 1938 it was initially shelved after animal testing revealed very little efficacy in the drug. However, five years later, acting on a strange presentiment, Hofmann resynthesized the chemical and accidently consumed a small amount, discovering its psychoactive properties. The drug quickly underwent testing and was marketed by the pharmaceutical company Sandoz, whom Hofmann worked for, as a psychotomimetic and possible aid to psychotherapy. The resulting flurry of research during the 1950s, and the countercultural love affair with LSD during the 1960s, cemented Hofmann’s place in psychedelic history.
Along with LSD, Hofmann was also the first to synthesize psilocybin and psilocin, the psychoactive chemicals found in ‘magic mushrooms.’ No simple atheistic-reductionist scientist, Hofmann experienced a number of mystical nature experiences as a child, and these helped inform both his philosophy and his research over the course of his life. As an accident of research paths, and thanks to R. Gordon Wasson’s discovery of a sacred mushroom cult still existing in Mexico, all paths converged on a spiritually-embodied chemistry. LSD and the Divine Scientist: The Final Thought and Reflections of Albert Hofmann is a collection of essays, originally talks, by Hofmann that take into account many of these threads. A very articulate, concise and thought-provoking schema is brought to the fore and they paint a picture of a man who was at once a very dedicated, very spiritual and very peaceful individual. Indeed, the overall impression is that the sort of mystical materialism that pervades large elements of psychedelic culture generally is to be found in the particular of Hofmann’s beliefs and understandings.
The first essay, entitled Planning and Chance in Pharmaceutical Research, not only gives a very lucid description of the chemist role but also how their investigations can be driven by unexpected results and emerging research avenues. Ostensibly, while the role is strictly scientific in its methodology, Hofmann aims at describing how even the seemingly rigid scientific approach is also open to the unpredictable and thus new discovery: “during the clinical tests of substituted arylsulfonyl-alkyl ureas in the tolbutamide class of drugs, which have blood-sugar-lowering activity, researchers noticed that they also have chemotherapeutic qualities” (Hofmann 13). Indeed, this reflects Hofmann’s own discovery of LSD, which was not originally synthesized with psychoactive therapeutic properties in mind. In this sense the path of science is one of puzzling discoveries with aims. The second essay asks whether the truths and insights of natural science have therapeutic properties in themselves?
“Chemical and physical research has further established that the senders—the universe, the sun and the planets, the creations of this Earth, as well as our bodies—are built from the selfsame primordial material. Mystics also experience this scientific truth when they feel themselves to be physically unified with the universe” (Hofmann 53)
Pulling from both his own experiences, a sender-receiver model of information transference, and the basic truths of natural science, Hofmann essentially answers his question in the affirmative. Moreover, by checking the correspondence with nature mysticism he is developing the mystical materialism idea—an idea, in some respects, that he developed from his friend Aldous Huxley who was also very interested in universal mystical approaches and their therapeutic effects. Indeed, this is, arguably, the core of psychedelic therapy. The final two essays, in their own ways, begin to take this therapeutic observation to the next step. In Meditation and Perception: The Search for Happiness and Meaning, Hofmann explores some practicalities of elucidating the aims of such philosophic therapy and, in The Use of Psychedelics for the Great Transition, he looks at the role of psychedelics in easing the lives of terminally-ill patients—the practical social application of the therapeutic goals within the medico-arena.
The movement of the book from looking at scientific method, and its chance encounters, to the personable-social application of the method’s serendipitous results is neatly worked. It gives the whole book a full and touching theme that gives the reader a comfortable ride through some quite heady subjects. Translated from German by Annabel Moynihan, if the text tells us anything about the author, it tells us that he was able to take complicated ideas and communicate them simply and lucidly—ideas and thoughts that still resonate with great authority and insight.