Pop Quiz: Answered
June 10, 2008, 8:58 pm
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The gentlemen pictured in our last post are Gerald Heard (on the right) and Aldous Huxley (on the left).

Gerald Heard was a prolific author who published works of history, philosophy, fiction and theology. He is perhaps best known for his final work, The Five Ages of Man, which describes his views of the evolution of consciousness. You can read an outline of Five Ages by clicking the following link, where you’ll also find a familiar picture. (link)

This page has a few good clips of Mr. Heard, including one of him saying some good things about prayer: (link)

Aldous Huxley was a renowned author of fiction and, later in his career, of philosophy. He is most famous for his novel Brave New World, which presents a dystopian future society. In the New World, an all powerful government maintains social stability by keeping everyone fully dosed with a mood-altering drug.

There is plenty on the web about Huxley. You can see him speaking to a young Mike Wallace here: (link)

The significance of these two men to AA history is that they introduced Bill Wilson to LSD and shared Bill’s first “trip” with him on Aug 29, 1956.

Bill’s LSD experiments are well described in a number of sources, including the “conference approved” biography Pass It On and Ernie Kurtz’s book Not God.

Bill was not alone in taking LSD. He was joined by several AA’s and longtime AA supporters, including Nell Wing, Marty Mann, Helen W., Tom Powers, Sam Shoemaker, and Lois Wilson. The experiments were done under the care of physicians, who took notes and made recordings of their sessions.

At the time, no one participating thought that the use of LSD was a “relapse.” LSD was a new drug at the time, and one that showed real promise as an aid to psychotherapeutic breakthroughs. Bill and his friends were interested in this new chemical for its spiritual potential. LSD seemed to offer a type of spiritual experience, and so Bill thought it might be useful to struggling alcoholics.

Early AA reported a success rate of 75% or better. To Bill, this meant that 25% of alcoholics coming into AA would never catch hold of the program, and it became his mission to find a way to reach that 25%. LSD, with is psychotherapeutic breakthroughs and spiritual experiences, seemed like it might offer a real answer for drunks who couldn’t or wouldn’t find God any other way.

To say that Bill had good intentions for his LSD use is not the same as saying that taking LSD is a good idea. And Bill eventually recognized the abuse potential in this new drug. A 1968 letter from Bill to a concerned AA-member discussed a new addition to AA: “hippies who have LSD or marijuana troubles.” (link)

Heard, Huxley, and Wilson attempted to discover something about human spirituality by taking LSD. Many of us have tried to repeat their experiment with disastrous results. Hang out in NA for a while and sooner or later you’ll hear someone talk about the problems that came as a result of this drug.

At the same time, it is a mistake to write off Bill’s experiments with LSD as a simple “relapse,” for this does not take the full historical picture into account and does not reflect Bill’s motives. Bill was a man steeped in the reality of spiritual experiences, a man whose deepest desire was to share those experiences with people in need. Though this desire occasionally led Bill to experiment with practices that were less than traditional, it is this same desire—and the same willingness to experiment outside the bounds of tradition—that led Bill to the spiritual practices he codified in the Twelve Steps.

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Insistence on abstinence has been the hallmark of the religious response to drug taking. However, it is little known but well documented that Bill Wilson, one of the founders of AA experimented with LSD starting in 1956 and continuing into the 60’s under the supervision of Dr. Sidney Cohen (White,1998).
However, due to the emphasis placed on total abstinence by AA, Wilson never publicly pursued this alternative therapy. Could it be said that Wilson remained “clean & sober” during his period of LSD use?

In fact Bill Wilson’s epiphany of “surrendering to a higher power” occurred due to an interpretation of a drug experience as a religious experience by his physician. When Bill W. was “drying out” at Towns Hospital in Manhattan in 1934, his physician Dr. William Silkworth interpreted Bills Belladonna induced hallucination– Bill’s “hot flash”—as a religious conversion experience. The interpretation of these unique drug sensations later led Bill to claim that had he simply been told his experience was an hallucination, AA may never have come into existence. Such is the power of interpretation.

Comment by RICHARD

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