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In the wake of his first LSD experience, Huxley wrote to Osmond suggesting that “who, having once come to the realization of the primordial fact of unity in love, would ever want to return to experimentation on the psychic level? . . . My point is that the opening of the door by mescalin[e] or LSD is too precious an opportunity, too high a privilege to be neglected for the sake of experimentation.” Or to be limited to sick people. Osmond was actually sympathetic to this viewpoint—after all, he had administered mescaline to Huxley, hardly a controlled experiment—and he participated in many of Hubbard’s sessions turning on the Best and Brightest. But Osmond wasn’t prepared to abandon science or medicine for whatever Huxley and Hubbard imagined might lay beyond it.

In 1955, Al Hubbard sought to escape the scientific straitjacket and formalize his network of psychedelic researchers by establishing something he called the Commission for the Study of Creative Imagination. The name reflected his own desire to take his work with psychedelics beyond the limits of medicine and its focus on the ill. To serve on the commission’s board, Hubbard recruited Osmond, Hoffer, Huxley, and Cohen, as well as half a dozen other psychedelic researchers, a philosopher (Gerald Heard), and a UN official; he named himself “scientific director.”

(What did these people think of Hubbard and his grandiose title, not to mention his phony academic credentials? They were at once indulgent and full of admiration. After Betty Eisner wrote a letter to Osmond expressing discomfort with some of Hubbard’s representations, he suggested she think of him as a kind of Christopher Columbus: “Explorers have not always been the most scientific, excellent or wholly detached people.”)

It isn’t clear how much more there was to the Commission for the Study of Creative Imagination than a fancy letterhead, but its very existence signaled a deepening fissure between the medical and the spiritual approach to psychedelics. (Sidney Cohen, ever ambivalent on questions of science versus mysticism, abruptly resigned in 1957, only a year after joining the board.) His title as “scientific director” notwithstanding, Hubbard himself said during this period, “My regard for science, as an end within itself, is diminishing as time goes on . . . when the thing I want with all of my being, is something that lives far outside and out of reach of empirical manipulation.” Long before Leary, the shift in the objective of psychedelic research from psychotherapy to cultural revolution was well under way.

• • • ONE LAST NODE worth visiting in Al Hubbard’s far-flung psychedelic network is Silicon Valley, where the potential for LSD to foster “creative imagination” and thereby change the culture received its most thorough test to date. Indeed, the seeds that Hubbard planted in Silicon Valley continue to yield interesting fruit, in the form of the valley’s ongoing interest in psychedelics as a tool for creativity and innovation. (As I write, the practice of microdosing—taking a tiny, “subperceptual” regular dose of LSD as a kind of mental tonic—is all the rage in the tech community.) Steve Jobs often told people that his experiments with LSD had been one of his two or three most important life experiences. He liked to taunt Bill Gates by suggesting, “He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.” (Gates has said he did in fact try LSD.) It might not be a straight one, but it is possible to draw a line connecting Al Hubbard’s arrival in Silicon Valley with his satchelful of LSD to the tech boom that Steve Jobs helped set off a quarter century later.

The key figure in the marriage of Al Hubbard and Silicon Valley was Myron Stolaroff. Stolaroff was a gifted electrical engineer who, by the mid-1950s, had become assistant to the president for strategic planning at Ampex, one of the first technology companies to set up shop in what at the time was a sleepy valley of farms and orchards. (It wouldn’t be called Silicon Valley until 1971.) Ampex, which at its peak had thirteen thousand employees, was a pioneer in the development of reel-to-reel magnetic tape for both audio and data recording. Born in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1920, Stolaroff studied engineering at Stanford and was one of Ampex’s very first employees, a fact that would make him a wealthy man. Nominally Jewish, he was by his thirties a spiritual seeker whose path eventually led him to Gerald Heard, the English philosopher and friend of Aldous Huxley’s. Stolaroff was so moved by Heard’s description of his LSD experience with Al Hubbard that in March 1956 he traveled to Vancouver for a session with the Captain in his apartment.

Sixty-six micrograms of Sandoz LSD launched Stolaroff on a journey by turns terrifying and ecstatic. Over the course of several hours, he witnessed the entire history of the planet from its formation through the development of life on earth and the appearance of humankind, culminating in the trauma of his own birth. (This seems to have been a common trajectory of Hubbard-guided trips.) “That was a remarkable opening for me,” he told an interviewer years later, “a tremendous opening. I relived a very painful birth experience that had determined almost all my personality features. But I also experienced the oneness of mankind, and the reality of God. I knew that from then on . . . I would be totally committed to this work.

“After that first LSD experience, I said, ‘this is the greatest discovery man has ever made.’”

Stolaroff shared the news with a small number of his friends and colleagues at Ampex. They began meeting every month or so to discuss spiritual questions and the potential of LSD to help individuals—healthy individuals—realize their full potential. Don Allen, a young Ampex engineer, and Willis Harman, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, joined the group, and Al Hubbard began coming down to Menlo Park to guide the members on psychedelic journeys and then train them to guide others. “As a therapist,” Stolaroff recalled, “he was one of the best.”

Convinced of the power of LSD to help people transcend their limitations, Stolaroff tried for a time, with Hubbard’s help, to reshape Ampex as the world’s first “psychedelic corporation.” Hubbard conducted a series of weekly workshops at headquarters and administered LSD to company executives at a site in the Sierra. But the project foundered when the company’s general manager, who was Jewish, objected to the images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Last Supper that Hubbard insisted on bringing into his office. Around the same time, Willis Harman shifted the focus of his teaching at Stanford, offering a new class on “the human potential” that ended with a unit on psychedelics. The engineers were getting religion. (And have it still: I know of one Bay Area tech company today that uses psychedelics in its management training. A handful of others have instituted “microdosing Fridays.”)

In 1961, Stolaroff left Ampex to dedicate himself full-time to psychedelic research. With Willis Harman, he established the orotundly titled International Foundation for Advanced Study (IFAS) to explore the potential of LSD to enhance human personality and creativity. Stolaroff hired a psychiatrist named Charles Savage as medical director and, as staff psychologist, a first-year graduate student by the name of James Fadiman. (Fadiman, who graduated from Harvard in 1960, was introduced to psilocybin by Richard Alpert, though not until after his graduation. “The greatest thing in the world has happened to me,” Alpert told his former student, “and I want to share it with you.”) Don Allen also left his engineering post at Ampex to join IFAS as a screener and guide. The foundation secured a drug research permit from the FDA and a supply of LSD and mescaline from Al Hubbard and began—to use an Al Hubbard term—“processing clients.” Over the next six years, the foundation would process some 350 people.

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