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Intrigued, Schwartz asked Harman about this mystery man and, piece by piece, began to put together much of the tale of Hubbard’s life. The young futurist soon realized that “most of the people I was meeting who had interesting ideas had tripped with Hubbard: professors at Stanford, Berkeley, the staff at SRI, computer engineers, scientists, writers. And all of them had been transformed by the experience.” Schwartz said that several of the early computer engineers relied on LSD in designing circuit chips, especially in the years before they could be designed on computers. “You had to be able to visualize a staggering complexity in three dimensions, hold it all in your head. They found that LSD could help.”

Schwartz eventually realized that “everyone in that community”—referring to the Bay Area tech crowd in the 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the people in and around Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Network—“had taken Hubbard LSD.”

Why were engineers in particular so taken with psychedelics? Schwartz, himself trained as an aerospace engineer, thinks it has to do with the fact that unlike the work of scientists, who can simplify the problems they work on, “problem solving in engineering always involves irreducible complexity. You’re always balancing complex variables you can never get perfect, so you’re desperately searching to find patterns. LSD shows you patterns.

“I have no doubt that all that Hubbard LSD all of us had taken had a big effect on the birth of Silicon Valley.”

Stewart Brand received his own baptism in Hubbard LSD at IFAS in 1962, with James Fadiman presiding as his guide. His first experience with LSD “was kind of a bum trip,” he recalls, but it led to a series of other journeys that reshaped his worldview and, indirectly, all of ours. The Whole Earth Network Brand would subsequently gather together (which included Peter Schwartz, Esther Dyson, Kevin Kelly, Howard Rheingold, and John Perry Barlow) and play a key role in redefining what computers meant and did, helping to transform them from a top-down tool of the military-industrial complex—with the computer punch card a handy symbol of Organization Man—into a tool of personal liberation and virtual community, with a distinctly countercultural vibe. How much does the idea of cyberspace, an immaterial realm where one can construct a new identity and merge with a community of virtual others, owe to an imagination shaped by the experience of psychedelics? Or for that matter virtual reality?* The whole notion of cybernetics, the idea that material reality can be translated into bits of information, may also owe something to the experience of LSD, with its power to collapse matter into spirit.

Brand thinks LSD’s value to his community was as an instigator of creativity, one that first helped bring the power of networked computers to people (via SRI computer visionaries such as Doug Engelbart and the early hacker community), but then was superseded by the computers themselves. (“At a certain point, the drugs weren’t getting any better,” Brand said, “but the computers were.”) After his experience at IFAS, Brand got involved with Ken Kesey and his notorious Acid Tests, which he describes as “a participatory art form that led directly to Burning Man,” the annual gathering of the arts, technology, and psychedelic communities in the Nevada desert. In his view, LSD was a critical ingredient in nourishing the spirit of collaborative experiment, and tolerance of failure, that distinguish the computer culture of the West Coast. “It gave us permission to try weird shit in cahoots with other people.”

On occasion, the LSD produced genuine insight, as it did for Brand himself one chilly afternoon in the spring of 1966. Bored, he went up onto the roof of his building in North Beach and took a hundred micrograms of acid—Fadiman’s creativity dose. As he looked toward downtown while wrapped in a blanket, it appeared that the streets lined with buildings were not quite parallel. This must be due to the curvature of Earth, Brand decided. It occurred to him that when we think of Earth as flat, as we usually do, we assume it is infinite, and we treat its resources that way. “The relationship to infinity is to use it up,” he thought, “but a round earth was a finite spaceship you had to manage carefully.” At least that’s how it appeared to him that afternoon, “from three stories and one hundred mikes up.”

It would change everything if he could convey this to people! But how? He flashed on the space program and wondered, “Why haven’t we seen a picture of the earth from space? I become fixed on this, on how to get this photo that would revolutionize our understanding of our place in the universe. I know, I’ll make a button! But what should it say? ‘Let’s have a photo of the earth from space.’ No, it needs to be a question, and maybe a little paranoid—draw on that American resource. ‘Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole earth yet?’”

Brand came down from his roof and launched a campaign that eventually reached the halls of Congress and NASA. Who knows if it was the direct result of Brand’s campaign, but two years later, in 1968, the Apollo astronauts turned their cameras around and gave us the first photograph of Earth from the moon, and Stewart Brand gave us the first edition of the Whole Earth Catalog. Did everything change? The case could be made that it had.

Part II: The Crack-Up Timothy Leary came late to psychedelics. By the time he launched the Harvard Psilocybin Project in 1960, there had already been a full decade of psychedelic research in North America, with hundreds of academic papers and several international conferences to show for it. Leary himself seldom made reference to this body of work, preferring to give the impression that his own psychedelic research represented a radical new chapter in the annals of psychology. In 1960, the future of psychedelic research looked bright. Yet within the brief span of five years, the political and cultural weather completely shifted, a moral panic about LSD engulfed America, and virtually all psychedelic research and therapy were either halted or driven underground. What happened?

“Timothy Leary” is the too-obvious answer to that question. Just about everyone I’ve interviewed on the subject—dozens of people—has prefaced his or her answer by saying, “It’s far too easy to blame Leary,” before proceeding to do precisely that. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the flamboyant psychology professor with a tropism bending him toward the sun of publicity, good or bad, did grave damage to the cause of psychedelic research. He did. And yet the social forces unleashed by the drugs themselves once they moved from the laboratory out into the culture were bigger and stronger than any individual could withstand—or take credit for. With or without the heedless, joyful, and amply publicized antics of Timothy Leary, the sheer Dionysian power of LSD was itself bound to shake things up and incite a reaction.

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