INDEX - SPIRIT ID# 0511-05



POSTED: 13 NOVEMBER 2005 - 9:30pm HST

The Father of LSD - Albert Hofmann

This portrait of Albert Hofmann © 1997 by Dean Chamberlain all rights reserved

A Conversation with Albert Hofmannn
By Hans Plomp

Hofmann, 99, discovered LSD in 1943 and tested it on himself. In so doing he traversed the border between physics and mysticism, factual research and existential experience. Hofmann stands today as one of the last universal researchers who stress an all-embracing phenomenological view. He warns against the restricted approach of natural sciences, which takes its limited experience for the whole truth. Characteristically one of his books is called In Praise of Vision (Lob des Schauens).

Hofmann, born in 1906, lives in retirement with his 94 year old wife Anita in Burg, Switzerland. A few years ago he journeyed to the stone-age caves of Lascaux with the then centenarian author Ernst Juenger, a very close friend and fellow psychonaut. He will be one hundred years old on January 11th 2006.

Question: Albert, how does it feel to be 99?

Albert Hofmann: Somehow I feel much lighter and more receptive, yes, definitely more open. I am no longer productive, but every day I feel more open to the miracle of existence, to simply being here. I think, on average, I am happier than before, more stable, more open. Yes, I would say I am now a happier, more grateful person. I still hear well, see well, learn new poems by heart (recites a poem by Rilke perfectly). I often feel enormously privileged, to be allowed to live here in Burg, in a natural paradise. When I walk in the forest, I recite poetry. Its still the same forest that I knew as a child.

Q: Doesnt it hurt to know youll have to leave some day?

AH: I dont think about that. When its my time to go, I will go. I feel safe, both here and in the next world. Of course sometimes I think: this might be the last time I encounter this situation or this person.

Q: Schubert, one of your favourite composers, in his Winterreise mentions the place from which no one returns. Is he right? Or did you get any indication during your LSD experiences that well return some way or another? Will you meet Anita again in heaven?

AH: Well, I think that absolutely anything is possible. My friend Ernst Juenger was once asked if he believed in life after death. He answered: I dont believe it, I know it!

I at least feel certain that we are safe and simply cannot be lost. I already had this overwhelming experience of the wholeness of life and death as a 10 year old boy. With LSD I only went through those childhood experiences again. So I never found anything completely new, it just made me more sure of what I also know as a scientist: nothing arises from nothing, and there is nothing that will turn into nothing - there is only change, everything is already there. I'm in the middle of this change and I feel safe and secure in it. Yes, natural science has only given me concrete confirmation of what I already felt as a child.

Q: Youve had wonderful friends and companions like Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Rolf Hochhuth and most of all Ernst Juenger, whom you were with just before his 103rd birthday.

AH: Yes, Ernst was a very close friend for over 50 years. His books, especially The Adventurous Heart have accompanied me all my life. I made the first real psychedelic journeys with him, apart from the medical and clinical laboratory experiments. Ernst Juenger, who was actually a completely visual person, was sure he only became musical from LSD: Thanks to LSD I now know what music is.

Juenger and Hochhuth met here in Burg. It was a most interesting conversation, between two highly intelligent gentlemen. I could only listen in total amazement. I met Huxley for the last time in Stockholm. He was such an amazing British gentleman, radiating benevolence. During his last hours in this life, being too weak to talk, he wrote a note for his wife, to give him an injection of LSD. He then died quietly and peacefully.

Q: Did you ever have a bad trip?

AH: Yes, once. I found myself in a subterranean Mexican city, completely devoid of people. And then, of course, my first experience, when I had no idea what kind of substance I was dealing with. I had the feeling I was on the other side. But when I came back I experienced a wonderful rebirth, just as it is described in the ancient Mysteries. To die and be born again. This aspect of LSD later put me in touch with Kerenyi, the great mythologist, who has researched these matters profoundly.

Q: Your most famous book is called LSD- My Problem Child. Would it have been better if it was never born?

AH: No! Our time is in need of LSD! For the first 15 years it was used world-wide as a pharmacological aid to psycho-analyze people who could not communicate in any other way. Then all research was blocked completely, as the American authorities enacted draconian measures against it.

Manufacturing, use and possession were made totally illegal. They really wanted to destroy the new youth movement, but as a result all research came to a halt. Since then theres been a total ban on LSD. And this I find most regrettable. It should be properly researched, officially and not just in the underground, like it is now.

Q: What important insights would you like to pass on to new generations after such a long and eventful life? Which mistakes would you like to spare them?

AH: I believe mistakes are absolutely necessary and everyone has to make them all over again. My advice to those who come after me is in my little book Insights, Outlooks (Einsichten, Ausblicke), which I originally wrote for myself. These are the thoughts and notions of a physicist and mystic who, like Einstein, is always aware of the mystery behind the outward appearance.

Q: What are your feelings on the current developments in science?

AH: At the moment there is too much specialization, too much technology and not enough universal insight. The respect for, and wonder at the mystery are lost forever. Recently I gave a talk in Zurich. I felt like a dinosaur among all those specialized scientists with their instruments for measuring brainwaves. Scientists used to be pious people, dedicating their work to the Creation. Today the evil side of this double face dominates so strongly that it scares me.

I foresee a huge catastrophe, a terrible time is coming, I feel it deep inside of me. We have strayed so far from the right path, from nature, from what we are. We cannot survive on technological progress, only on the green pastures of this planet. What kind of people live in the big cities, who dont know anything about all this? They live in man-made objects, and they are completely ignorant of that which is given to us in abundance for free.

Politics are created in those cities, by sick people. And what politics! Bush is a sick person, a madman. He tells the world lies and makes war based on those lies, and still he is elected. Of course there have been tyrants before, but at least they had some stature.

I am actually very pessimistic. Things are going very fast now. We urgently need a new awareness. But awareness can only come from what is put in. What is the input nowadays?

Q Do you use a computer?

AH: The last new invention I used is the fax. That was enough for me. The telephone is a wonderful thing. What else do I need but to hear a living human voice? I dont know if all these new developments like internet and e-mail have taken us one step further. Yes, everything is super-functional, but it probably distracts us from the essence. Enormous amounts of information. I recently cancelled my subscription to a newspaper. I do not want to be part of the destruction of our resources and environment any longer.

Q: What role has intuition played in your research? Many scientists claim they have made their major discoveries intuitively, or even in a dream.

AH: I once had an astonishing experience. I fell asleep on a train from Zurich to Basel, and when I awoke I knew the difference between property and ownership. Later I included this in my Insights, Outlooks. My chemical research was often mostly intuitively. I love this form, this structure appeals to me. Yes, a matter of feeling.

Q: How do you spend your days at the moment?

A.H: I write letters, take a nap after each meal. Now and then I get wonderful visitors. I read, walk in nature and learn poems by heart. I keep a lovely book from the Baroque beside my bed, a real little gem for me: Songs of Daphnis the Shepherd. Everything is in there: nature, worldly wisdom, eroticism and humour. Listen to how beautiful it is (recites by heart):

Oh, that the heavens are not always snowing roses,
that all which arises decays like a haze.
Therefore listen to what my dust is telling you:
Ophir possesses no more gold
than the volatile seconds in your mouth.

Somehow I have such a baroque attitude to life: the tragic interwoven with the joy of living. My god, life is so thrilling and mysterious. It still is; it always is.

"Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from,
everything we deny, denigrate, or despise, serves to defeat us in the
end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty,
joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden
one for him who has the vision to recognize it."
-Henry Miller

A photo of Albert Hofmann in 2001 with friends



The Discovery of LSD

Graduates from the University of Zurich in 1927, joins Sandoz Pharmaceuticals as a research chemist. Begins to study ergot, a particular type of rye fungus, Claviceps Purpurea thought to be responsible for the extreme ecstasies and agonies of St. Vitus Dance and St. Anthony's Fire or "dry gangrene". In 1938 synthesizes the 25th derivative of lysergic acid. Tested on mice to no noticeable effect.

April 16, 1943 Hofmann repeats synthesis. Accidentally doses himself, in an historic event now celebrated as Bicycle Day. Describes this "an uninterrupted stream of fantastic images of extraordinary plasticity and vividness and accompanied by an intense kaleidoscopic play of colors."

April 19, at 4:20pm, Hofmann dissolves 250 micrograms of LSD-25 in a glass of water. A little after 5:00pm, feeling intensely strange, he decides to go home, and makes one of the most famous bicycle rides in history. The world begins to restructure.