The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bicycle Day

Psychedelic Prelude to 420

On April 19, 1943 a fundamental breakthrough in human consciousness occurred when Dr. Albert Hoffman, doing research on bread molds, accidentally dosed himself with the then unknown drug LSD. Frightened and confused, Hoffman jumped on his bicycle and rode home from his laboratory, immensely enjoying the ride, although the trip would turn terrifying once he arrived home. However, the fact that the first human psychedelic experiences were had while riding a bike has caused this date to be forever known and celebrated in underground circles as "Bicycle Day" and honored as the official beginning of the psychedelic movement which would ultimately transform society culturally, artistically and philosphically. Dr. Hoffman's account of his experiment is among the most fascinating and entertaining testimonials in all of scientific literature:

Like a favorite Christmas story you should read it in its entirety every year:

Here the notes in my laboratory journal cease. I was able to write the last words only with great effort. By now it was already clear to me that LSD had been the cause of the remarkable experience of the previous Friday, for the altered perceptions were of the same type as before, only much more intense. I had to struggle to speak intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant, who was informed of the self-experiment, to escort me home. We went by bicycle, no automobile available because of wartime restrictions on their use. On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had traveled very rapidly. Finally, we arrived at home safe and sound, and I was just barely capable of asking my companion to summon our family doctor and request milk from the neighbors.

The dizziness and sensation of fainting became so strong at times that I could no longer hold myself erect, and had to lie down on a sofa. My surroundings had now transformed themselves in more terrifying ways. Everything in the room spun around, and the familiar objects and pieces of furniture assumed grotesque, threatening forms. They were in continuous motion, animated, as if driven by an inner restlessness. The lady next door, whom I scarcely recognized, brought me milk -- in the course of the evening I drank more than two liters. She was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask.

Even worse than these demonic transformations of the outer world, were the alterations that I perceived in myself, in my inner being. Every exertion of my will, every attempt to put an end to the disintegration of the outer world and the dissolution of my ego, seemed to be a wasted effort. A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul. I jumped up and screamed, trying to free myself from him, but then sank down again and lay helpless on the sofa. The substance, with which I wanted to experiment, had vanquished me. It was the demon that scornfully triumphed over my will. I was seized by the dreadful fear of going insane. I was taken to another world, another place, another time. My body seemed to be without sensation, lifeless, strange. Was I dying? Was this the transition? At times I believed myself to be outside my body, and then perceived clearly, as an outside observer, the complete tragedy of my situation. I had not even taken leave of my family (my wife, with our three children had traveled that day to visit her parents, in Lucerne). Would they ever understand that I had not experimented thoughtlessly, irresponsibly, but rather with the utmost caution, and that such a result was in no way foreseeable? My fear and despair intensified, not only because a young family should lose its father, but also because I dreaded leaving my chemical research work, which meant so much to me, unfinished in the midst of fruitful, promising development. Another reflection took shape, an idea full of bitter irony: if I was now forced to leave this world prematurely, it was because of this lysergic acid diethylamide that I myself had brought forth into the world.

By the time the doctor arrived, the climax of my despondent condition had already passed. My laboratory assistant informed him about my self- experiment, as I myself was not yet able to formulate a coherent sentence. He shook his head in perplexity, after my attempts to describe the mortal danger that threatened my body. He could detect no abnormal symptoms other than extremely dilated pupils. Pulse, blood pressure, breathing were all normal. He saw no reason to prescribe any medication. Instead he conveyed me to my bed and stood watch over me. Slowly I came back from a weird, unfamiliar world to reassuring everyday reality. The horror softened and gave way to a feeling of good fortune and gratitude, the more normal perceptions and thoughts returned, and I became more confident that the danger of insanity was conclusively past.

Now, little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux. It was particularly remarkable how every acoustic perception, such as the sound of a door handle or a passing automobile, became transformed into optical perceptions. Every sound generated a vividly changing image, with its own consistent form and color.

Late in the evening my wife returned from Lucerne. Someone had informed her by telephone that I was suffering a mysterious breakdown. She had returned home at once, leaving the children behind with her parents. By now, I had recovered myself sufficiently to tell her what had happened.

Exhausted, I then slept, to awake next morning refreshed, with a clear head, though still somewhat tired physically. A sensation of well- being and renewed life flowed through me. Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure. When I later walked into the garden, in which the sun shone now after a spring rain, everything glistened and sparkled in fresh light. The world was as if newly created. All my senses vibrated in a condition of highest sensitivity, which persisted for the entire day."

Bicycle Day is not as well known as the international day of High Pride, which is celebrated the day after on April 20th. Indeed in general the importance of Dr. Hoffman's discovery was slow to be appreciated, as it would take twenty years after Dr. Hoffman's discovery for LSD to emerge in the larger society. Ironically, it was U.S. government researchers who introduced it to the public in the form of the testing of LSD to see if it had any military uses. It was hoped by the government that acid could be put into the water supply of enemy nations to incapacitate the population.

The tests were abandoned after it was determined that LSD was too unreliable to be used as a weapon - in fact many of the subjects seemed to love it! Among those who participated in the tests was a young writer named Ken Kesey, who would later write One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and use the money he made from the book to take a bus across the country spreading LSD wherever he went, and a young musician and songwriter named Robert Hunter, who composed most of the songs of the Grateful Dead.

Ken Kesey

Dr. Hoffman died just last year, at the ripe old age of 102. He attributed his longevity not to anything to do with drugs, but with the unusual practice of spending some part of everyday hanging upside down. He claimed that a lot of the negative effects of aging could be attributed to the effects of gravity on the body over decades of time, and that turning yourself upside down on regular basis would reverse some of those negative effects.

Who knows? But it certainly seemed to work for him!

Nice Night

Springfield may be the hometown of Dr. Seuss, but it was in downtown Northampton that I saw this Lorax stenciled on the sidewalk.

The warm weather saw the windows of the Hamp restaurants opening for the first time this year.

Pictures of Luke

Downstairs at the Haymarket.


This morning I went to the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College but arrived too early and it wasn't open yet. However, I saw these chairs someone had left out overnight.

I sat and contemplated the beauty of the morning until I reached such a state of tranquility that I forgot the time and sat past the hour when the library opened. Finally a squirrel disturbed me by chattering nearby - perhaps there was something it wanted to eat near my chair - and so I got up and went.

Happy Bicycle Day.


Don Schneier said...

The bike came by, and I got on--for one day, at least.

Mary E.Carey said...

I love the photos of the chairs on the Amherst College lawn.

Yana said...

Hey Tom, found your blog while searing bicycle day, added your link to my blog, thought id tell you

Yana said...

btw the link is

Tom said...

Thanks Yaxie, I added yours as well.