When I was in school I read a great story about a man who took opium, felt that he had a great philosophical insight, wrote it down, and then found, after sobering up, that what he had written was “I perceive a distinct smell of kerosene”, Jag känner en distinkt doft av fotogen.

Mucking around on the blessed web, I now find that the man was Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American 19th century physician and author. But it was ether, not opium, and turpentine, not kerosene. Here’s what OWH writes in his essay “Mechanism in thought and morals : an address delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University, June 29, 1870″.

I once inhaled a pretty full dose of ether, with the determination to put on record, at the earliest moment of regaining consciousness, the thought I should find uppermost in my mind. The mighty music of the triumphal march into nothingness reverberated through my brain, and filled me with a sense of infinite possibilities, which made me an archangel for the moment. The veil of eternity was lifted. The one great truth which underlies all human experience, and is the key to all the mysteries that philosophy has sought in vain to solve, flashed upon me in a sudden revelation. Henceforth all was clear: a few words had lifted my intelligence to the level of the knowledge of the cherubim. As my natural condition returned, I remembered my resolution; and, staggering to my desk, I wrote, in ill-shaped straggling letters, the all-embracing truth still glimmering in my consciousness. The words were these (children may smile; the wise will ponder): “A strong smell of turpentine prevails throughout.

This reminds me of a time at a party when one of my buddies was drunkenly talking about how great other drugs than the beer bottle in his hand are, and described some deeply meaningful and intense insights he had attained while tripping on acid. Sadly, as I was sober as always, I failed to see their import. Like my friend the philosopher once said, “When you have that eureka feeling of really having made an intellectual breakthough, you’re generally wrong”.

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Comments

  1. #1 Thinker
    March 31, 2010

    “The lot of the philosopher in the world: to sit sober at the feast of the drunk.

    – Olle Holmberg (My transalation)

    Lack of sleep can do the same thing as drink or drugs. During a long trip I made way back, I kept a diary and made it a point to write a few lines of what had happened during the day before going to bed and some reflections on that. In some cases, it is evident I was falling asleep while writing. It is an open issue whether those lines are profound general wisdom, a window into my soul, or just pure gobbeldygook…

  2. #2 bob koepp
    March 31, 2010

    Back in the day… a friend (who happened to be a philosophy student) was halfway across the galaxy on LSD when he beckoned for pen and paper. He wrote feverishly, and then smilingly offered us his profound production:
    “Can’t there be a loose banana somewhere?”

  3. #3 uqbar
    March 31, 2010

    A friend of mine once told me about an experience he had:

    He was asleep and dreaming, in that strange way when you know that you are dreaming. In the dream, he suddenly realized a way to achieve universal peace on earth. He then woke up, and knowing that he would fall back asleep and likely forget what he had dreamed, he grabbed a pen and paper on his bedside table, wrote himself a note, and went back to sleep.

    When he woke in the morning, he remembered having the dream, but sure enough, he could not remember the details. Luckily, he had the note, so the solution to universal peace was not lost!

    He quickly grabbed the note, and read what he had written: The single word “chocolate.”

    P.S.

    As I think about this, I think my friend may have actually stumbled on the answer. Now we just have to figure out what to do with the chocolate.

  4. #4 Mike Olson
    March 31, 2010

    I remember listening to all those stories of hallucenogenics and wondered how it would feel to have those weird perceptions…colors having sound, music having taste, all of that…sounded kind of cool. But, the best reason not to do it, was in an episode of the 70’s TV show “Taxi,” in which Reverend Jim describes sharing the last psilocybin mushroom with a friend as they sat on the edge of a mesa and he was glad to do so…he then added………”and not just because he suddenly thought he was a bird and jumped off the cliff.”

  5. #5 inverse_agonist
    March 31, 2010

    The “LSD makes you jump off of things, thinking you can fly” myth comes from two places, as far as I can tell.

    The first is the story of Frank Olson, a biowarfare researcher in the 1950s. He was said to have been given LSD unwittingly, which caused him to jump to his death out of a hotel window. The LSD was given to him days before his death, and there is reason to suspect that he was murdered by the CIA after deciding he wanted to quit his job. His body was exhumed and showed signs that he was hit over the head and subsequently thrown from the window.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Olson

    There is also evidence of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covering this up long after the fact, in the 1970s.

    http://www.frankolsonproject.org/Articles/Steinberg-Cheney.pdf

    Second, Diane Linkletter’s suicide was blamed on LSD by her father, but this allegation is not credible.

    http://www.snopes.com/horrors/drugs/linkletter.asp

    There is an entertaining video of Timothy Leary arguing with Art Linkletter about it on television.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN2Dw94VIkE

  6. #6 Mike Olson
    March 31, 2010

    Okay, I admit to being a little snarky. I’ve even heard that Watson tried psychodelics. But, frankly, although I’ve been no innocent in such matters, there are some things that seem kind of stupid to try. Frequently their advocates will label such things as myths…which might be true…but, the thing is crack, meth, coke and heroin all seem like very bad things to try regardless of what myths might or might not describe. There have been a lot of myths about smoking dope, it is pretty harmless but, it seems as if most folks who smoke it everyday have some serious issues…whether those are due to smoking dope or pre existing might be arguable…but generally, smoking a lot of dope is probably not a good idea. By the same token I just don’t think that habitually imbibing hallucenogenics is a positive experience for most people. Yes, I understand that in great quantities anything is bad….but there is a cost benefit analysis and if something directly stimulates the pleasure center of your mind, or creates a strong desire for ongoing habitual use…it is probably best avoided…cigarettes and tobacco come to mind here…

  7. #7 JBo
    September 7, 2011

    Wish I could remember who said this (with regards to hallucinogens granting the ability to fly):

    “If you think this is true, watch ducks: they take off from the ground/water, they don’t line up on high buildings and jump off to fly.”

    {Paraphrased) makes sense to me

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