In mid-'60s LSD research study, dosed scientists achieved creative breakthroughs

Illustration: Jonathan Castro, for The Heretic

A wonderful long-read at The Morning News by Tim Doody, on 1966 LSD studies that took place as the US government's position on acid research shifted from "sure, go ahead, scientists" to "nope, this is now banned." The series of tests described in the article took place at the International Foundation for Advanced Study (IFAS) in Menlo Park, CA. Scientists from Stanford, Hewlett-Packard, and elsewhere participated. The volunteers each brought "three highly technical problems from their respective fields that they’d been unable to solve for at least several months." They took "a relatively low dose of acid," 100 micrograms, to enhance their creativity.


Over the course of the preceding year, IFAS researchers had dosed a total of 22 other men for the creativity study, including a theoretical mathematician, an electronics engineer, a furniture designer, and a commercial artist. By including only those whose jobs involved the hard sciences (the lack of a single female participant says much about mid-century career options for women), they sought to examine the effects of LSD on both visionary and analytical thinking. Such a group offered an additional bonus: Anything they produced during the study would be subsequently scrutinized by departmental chairs, zoning boards, review panels, corporate clients, and the like, thus providing a real-world, unbiased yardstick for their results.

In surveys administered shortly after their LSD-enhanced creativity sessions, the study volunteers, some of the best and brightest in their fields, sounded like tripped-out neopagans at a backwoods gathering. Their minds, they said, had blossomed and contracted with the universe. They’d beheld irregular but clean geometrical patterns glistening into infinity, felt a rightness before solutions manifested, and even shapeshifted into relevant formulas, concepts, and raw materials.

[The volunteers] remained firm: LSD absolutely had helped them solve their complex, seemingly intractable problems. But here’s the clincher. After their 5HT2A neural receptors simmered down, they remained firm: LSD absolutely had helped them solve their complex, seemingly intractable problems. And the establishment agreed. The 26 men unleashed a slew of widely embraced innovations shortly after their LSD experiences, including a mathematical theorem for NOR gate circuits, a conceptual model of a photon, a linear electron accelerator beam-steering device, a new design for the vibratory microtome, a technical improvement of the magnetic tape recorder, blueprints for a private residency and an arts-and-crafts shopping plaza, and a space probe experiment designed to measure solar properties. Fadiman and his colleagues published these jaw-dropping results and closed shop.

Do read the rest. (thanks, Miles O'Brien!)