James Fadiman, psychedelic heretic
Several weeks ago I talked on the phone for an hour and a half with Dr. James Fadiman, one of the central figures in the history of psychedelic research and a co-founder of the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology. I’ll be publishing the conversation as a Teeming Brain interview in the near future, but for now be advised that this feature article from The Morning News is one of the best, most detailed, most thorough, and most thoroughly fascinating journalistic accounts you’re likely to find about the deep history and current global renaissance of serious research into psychedelics, and of Jim’s important place in the history of the field.
N.B. the piece includes information that can come as a revelation to those who aren’t already turned on (sorry, couldn’t resist) to the subject, including the central fact that many of the most prominent and world-defining changes in technology and culture that have occurred over the past 40 and 50 years have come from people who were directly involved as research subjects in the early days of psychedelic studies, and who, as today’s titans of business and tech culture, keep mostly quiet about this fact, although many of them privately attribute their achievements to the enhanced creativity and mental/emotional acuity they received from psychedelics. For more on this, you can see Jim’s The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide (2010), which has occasioned the new burst of interest in and awareness of his work and person.
For decades, the U.S. government banned medical studies of the effects of LSD. But for one longtime, elite researcher, the promise of mind-blowing revelations was just too tempting … That research centers once were permitted to explore the further frontiers of consciousness seems surprising to those of us who came of age when a strongly enforced psychedelic prohibition was the norm … When the FDA’s edict arrived [in the summer of1966 to ban all research on psychedelics], James Fadiman was 27 years old, IFAS’s youngest researcher. He’d been a true believer in the gospel of psychedelics since 1961, when his old Harvard professor Richard Alpert (now Ram Dass) dosed him with psilocybin, the magic in the mushroom, at a Paris café. That day, his narrow, self-absorbed thinking had fallen away like old skin. People would live more harmoniously, he’d thought, if they could access this cosmic consciousness.
… The 26 men [who served as subjects for the Institute for Advanced Study’s research into the effect of psychedelics on creativity] 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.
… [Fadiman went on to become] Co-founder of the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology. Course instructor at San Francisco State, Brandeis, and Stanford. Writer. Member of various corporate boards … [His] influence transcends counterculture … It might even stretch through the very medium through which you’re reading these words. In What the Dormouse Said, John Markoff reports that Fadiman had dosed and counseled numerous “heads” as they were attempting to amplify consciousness through silicon chips and virtual reality. The personal computer revolution, Markoff argues, flourished on the Left Coast precisely because of a peculiar confluence of scientists, dreamers, and drop-outs.
— Tim Doody, “The Heretic,” The Morning News, July 26, 2012