Kary Mullis, Doc Ellis, and A Meditation on LSD

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It’s been a long time since we did up a We Salute You—and I’ve gotten a ton of outstanding suggestions for who to feature next.  I have a list in my notebook of over 50 people we’ll cover by 2008, all of whom are truly incredible specimens...intellectual giants, humanitarian saints, revolutionary daredevils, occult masterminds, superhuman atheletes, and forgotten geniuses.

Instead of all that, I decided to go with a relatively unknown acidhead surfer named Kary Mullis.  He also happened to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, so this article will only partially be a profile of Mr. Mullis.  I also want to explore the immense benefits of psychedelics, the current state of acid science and hallucinogenic research, and the semi-secret history of LSD and it’s use by scientists, artists and creative types from all walks of life.  I think is a path worth exploring, but then again, I’m something of an acidhead myself.

Kary Mullis: Highly Unique Chemistry

“I wouldn’t try to publish a scientific paper about these things, because I can’t do any experiments. I can’t make glowing raccoons appear. I can’t buy them from a scientific supply house to study. I can’t cause myself to be lost again for several hours. But I don’t deny what happened. It’s what science calls anecdotal, because it only happened in a way that you can’t reproduce. But it happened.”

--Kary Mullis, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field

No, I wasn’t kidding—Kary Mullis won a Nobel Prize in 1993.  Dancing Naked in the Mind Field is the title of his autobiography, which generated a lot of controversy with his cheerful announcement that many of his breakthrough moments in science happened courtesy of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.  (His autobiography on the Nobel Prize website is much more toned-down.)

Jeff Wells has a very fascinating article about Mullins and his Glowing Racoon Experience, which yields this creepy gem:

“And it’s not only Mullis who has experienced strange phenomena at his cabin. Some time later, and before having told anyone of his encounter and missing time, his daughter Louise lost three hours wandering down the same hill, reappearing in the same spot just as her distraught boyfriend was about to call the police. And to Bill Chalker, author of the recently published, and fascinating, Hair of the Alien (which recounts the first forensic DNA analysis of a purportedly alien artifact), Mullis said that a guest at a party to celebrate his Nobel win in 1993, unfamiliar with his account of the “raccoon,” encountered a “small glowing man” on a hill leading to the cabin. The figure suddenly expanded to full size and said “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He left the party with a friend for their hotel rooms in a nearby town. Very early the next morning he found himself outside in the hotel parking lot, “terrified by the impression that he had somehow been back” to the cabin.”

Re-Assessing That Nobel Prize

Nearly every Nobel Prize that’s ever been awarded since 1901 has been disputed, and the one Kary Mullis recieved is no exception.  He was nominated for inventing Polymerase Chain Reaction, a technique for getting DNA sequences to replicate themselves—with no living organism involved.  This is called “amplifying” DNA.  PCR is a stable technology for genetic research today, and you can find a good quick visual guide right here and grok it in 10 seconds.

“Beginning with a single molecule of the genetic material DNA, the PCR can generate 100 billion similar molecules in an afternoon. The reaction is easy to execute. It requires no more than a test tube, a few simple reagents, and a source of heat.”
--Kary Mullis, from Scientific American

It’s a curious and apparently inevitable trend—multiple researchers, working separately and often distributed randomly all around the planet, will fall upon the same concept at around the same time.  (I’ve been collecting incidents of this weird “resonance” and there will probably be an article on that eventually.) In 1971, a Norwegian by the memorable name of Kjell Kleppe published a research paper on the PCR concept—and curiously again, his co-author was MIT professor Gobind Khorana, who won a Nobel Prize in 1968 for his contributions to Medicine. 

So what gives?  Wikipedia—of all sources—provides a very eloquent closing thought:

The Kleppe story may best illustrate the claim that an invention, even if has been conceptualized earlier, does not really exist until it can be developed and realized. It could similarily be viewed as a good example that research scientists often ignore or reject the notion of their inventions belonging to anyone rather than being available to everyone.

LSD and Human Creativity

The long history of Great Achievements on Acid is probably familiar to most Brainsturbator readers.  Cary Grant and Jack Nicholson both loved it.  Artists from Salvador Dali to Alex Grey have used it to great effect in their creative process.  Hundreds of notable authors have benefitted from LSD: William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey and Allan Ginsburg, St. Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Robbins and Steward Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog.  It was a formative experience in the lives of both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  Two of the best american comedians, Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks, both used acid when they were in their prime.  Kareem Abdul Jabbar was chewing blotter around the same time he studied martial arts under Bruce Lee.  Timothy Leary may or may not have tried it during the 1960s.  And of course, infamous tweaker Oliver North was under the influence of LSD during most of his testimony at the Iran-Contra hearings in 1986.

Acid runs through the veins of the past 50 years of American music in measurable quantites even today.  Coltrane, Hendrix, Santana, Allman, Zappa, right on up to Trent Renzor and Maynard James Keenan.  Kieth Richards ate acid and now he’s immortal and totally immune to the effects of any Earth drugs. Hell, there are even rumors that The Beatles might have tried it.

My all time favorite is MLB pitcher Doc Ellis, who pitched a perfect game in 1970 while he was tripping, and by his account, tripping his balls off.  Doc Ellis was a rare breed in many respects.  Later, in 1974, he came to the conclusion—probably not while tripping—that his teamates has gotten soft and needed a lesson in keeping it real.  At a press conference before a game with the Cincinatti Reds, he announced:

“We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherfuckers.”

The man was definitely not kidding:

Ellis opened the contest by drilling leadoff hitter Pete Rose in the ribs; hitting the next batter, Joe Morgan, in the side; and then plunking Dan Driessen in the back to load the bases. Although clean-up hitter Tony Perez managed to dodge Ellis’ pitches long enough to draw a walk before being hit, Dock aimed his next two offerings at Cincinnati catcher Johnny Bench’s head, whereupon he was unceremoniously yanked from the game by Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh.

--from this article

Of course, this isn’t all a fun, happy parade of beautiful success stories and baseball love.  LSD has destroyed plenty of people as well: Phillip K. Dick probably could have used a bit less acid in his life.  Syd Barrett disappeared, and Matisyahu used acid back in the 90s and....well, just look at him now.

Before I abandon the topic of “LSD and Human Creativity”, first take a look at the White House’s official list of nicknames for acid: probably the biggest laugh you’ll get all day. Highlights include Animal, Brown bombers, Comic book, Grape parfait, Pink robots, Potato, Russian sickles, and The Hawk.  Who wrote that list, Richard Nixon?

Where Did All The Acid Go?

The War on Drugs has been the worst mistake the United States has made in 100 years—considering that’s a century that includes the Vietnam War, Operation Paperclip, and George W. Bush becoming president, any thinking person probably disagrees with me. 

Consider my case, though: in the USA, someone gets arrested on drug charges every 20 seconds—and they wonder why stoners are paranoid, right?  As of 2005, 42.6 percent of all those arrests are for marijuana offenses, a drug which has medical benefits and harms nobody—a “drug” which is a f***ing plant, if you actually think about it.  It’s hard to feel good about living in a country where the vegetation isn’t even free.

(For anyone who feels compelled to tell me that “if I don’t like it here, I can leave”—I’m several steps ahead of you, and actively looking for donations.  You can make a PayPal contribution to get me to Ireland by clicking the link to the left.)

...but back to the war on drugs: the United States actually has the highest rates of incarceration on the planet.  Russia and China are both behind us, and China has 1.3 billion people. Our total prison population has been rising every single year for 33 years now, which is strange because the crime rates have been steadily dropping since 1991

When you talk about prison statistics, sadly, most people picture huge, violent men who want to rape and kill them.  Let’s put these numbers in perspective: over 200,000 of these prisoners are women. 29% of them are in prison for non-violent drug charges. 

It’s an open secret in this country that just for being black, you’re six times more likely to wind up in prison as a white human being.  I live in Vermont—around here you’re over 12 times more likely to wind up in prison.  We also have a population that’s 98% white, but these two statistics are obviously unrelated.

You’re Not Answering the Question

I mentioned all that because the War on Drugs, to be fair, does have one major victory: they pretty much shut down the entire market for acid back in 2000. The man you see on the left is Leonard Pickard, currently serving two life sentences for the manufacture and distribution of LSD.  (It is unclear at this time how the Feds expect him to serve both sentences.)

The San Francisco Chronicle elegantly sums up Pickard as a “nonsmoking, marathon-running vegetarian, a Harvard graduate and deputy director of a University of California program that tracked illegal drugs.”

He was also the reason most acidheads even got the chance to try LSD in the first place.  Although it’s impossible to quantify actual numbers out of a black market substance, I think anyone who was paying attention from 1999 through 2001 probably noticed that $20 tenstrips went extinct across the United States.  So clearly Pickard’s bust had quite an effect.  (It’s worth considering that perhaps Pickard supplied much less LSD than the DEA gives him credit for—and perhaps his bust just served as a clear signal to everyone else involved to make a career change.)

LSD Resources

Some documents we keep handy at the Brainsturbator Library:

LSD: My Problem Child—Albert Hoffman

Moire Patterns and Visual Hallucenations

Synthesis of LSD—Barnes—1974 Vintage Recipe.  (Manufacturing LSD is totally illegal and you should not do it. Also, you probably have no idea what you’re doing even with a recipe, so chillax.)

Stanislav Grof Interviews Albert Hoffman

LSD Psychotherapy—Stanislav Grof Beautiful copy, high-res scan, large file, great book.

Handbook of LSD Therapy

Organizations still carrying the torch for genuine scientific research into LSD include MAPS, Heffter Research Institute, and the Beckley Foundation, all of whom maintain very educational and information-packed websites for those looking to learn more.

And as always, check out the two most venerable and valuable drug websites online: the Lycaeum and the Vaults of Erowid.

Kary Gets the Last Word

From his official website:

“Science, like nothing else among the institutions of mankind, grows like a weed every year. Art is subject to arbitrary fashion, religion is inwardly focused and driven only to sustain itself, law shuttles between freeing us and enslaving us.

“Science consistently produces a new crop of miraculous truths and dazzling devices every year, truths and devices that enrich our lives and grow up out of the graciously willing puzzles of the unknown in an orderly but unpredictable way, out of a process of observation, hypothesis, experiment, conclusion; a process that as far as we know, was first proposed and adopted, only a few hundred years ago by a number of Europeans faced with a new world to explore and some worn out scholastic tools passed down from the ancient Greeks to explore it with.

“The Galileos and the Newtons and the Hookes, and the Boyles invented new sharper tools of inquiry and the age of science was born. Now we each of us have things and thoughts and descriptions of an amazing universe in our possession that kings in the Seventeenth Century would have gone to war to possess. We are the recipients of scientific method. We not only can luxuriate in its weed-like growth, but we can each of us be a creative and active part of it if we so desire. And we will. There is no stopping it, nor can there be any end to it.”

Apparently, Kary Mullis is currently working for DARPA, helping the military learn how to survive their own bioweapons and “super-pathogens”—hope the money’s good.

12 responses to "Kary Mullis, Doc Ellis, and A Meditation on LSD"

  • avatar

    Jan 22, 2007 at 9:28 PM

    what I want to know is where you got the information that salvador dali ever used lsd.  As far as I know, when he was offered some in the 60’s he said he didn’t need it- “Take me!  I am a hallucinogenic drug!”

    Let me know what you know…

  • avatar

    Jan 22, 2007 at 9:42 PM
    Rza nut hugger

    John Coltrane, the acknowledged master of the tenor saxophone, took LSD and reported upon returning from his inner voyage that he “perceived the inter-relationship of all life forms.”

  • avatar

    Jan 22, 2007 at 10:47 PM

    “...Timothy Leary may or may not have tried it during the 1960s” LOL!

    You’re moving to Ireland then?
    Any reason in particular?

  • avatar

    Jan 23, 2007 at 12:04 AM

    this guy beat me to it.  so i’ll just say my thanks to leonard pickard.

  • avatar

    Jan 23, 2007 at 3:10 AM

    Thank you for putting all this information together.  The relationship between LSD and DNA is undeniable.

  • avatar

    Jan 23, 2007 at 8:15 AM

    What about Zappa? He was known to despise drugs of any sort.  As for Dali I think he got acid at a point (look at paintings of his partner)

  • avatar

    Jan 23, 2007 at 3:23 PM

    “between 1962 and 1968, on maybe 10 occasions, I experienced the ‘joys’ of socially circulated marijuana. It gave me a sore throat and made me sleepy. I couln’t understand why people liked it so much.”
    --Frank Zappa
    I’ll do a revision once everyone’s picked apart every single name on the list.  I’m very confident on Dali, much less so on Zappa, Leary is pretty iffy, and if anyone wants to seriously question Oliver North did LSD, they’re outta their minds.

  • avatar

    Jan 23, 2007 at 4:34 PM
    Soltron the Rza nut hugger

    Are you saying Dali did LSD or drugs period?

    ...classic passage when Timothy Leary once described Salvador Dali as “the only person who can paint LSD without having taken LSD.”

  • avatar

    Jan 23, 2007 at 11:44 PM

    My hero for today: Doc Ellis

  • avatar

    Jan 24, 2007 at 10:51 AM
    pussycat dues

    Jazz genius Charles Mingus was also a repeated visitor to Tim Leary’s Millbrook estate. Shortly thereafter he started staging light shows in his apartment. Draw your own conclusions....

  • avatar

    Jan 25, 2007 at 2:37 PM

    Don’t forget NB Prize winner Francais Crick was revealed (after his death) to have enjoyed LSD as a mental stimulant and visualized the double-helix structure of DNA while on LSD too ...
    so that makes TWO LSD Influenced Nobel Prizes in Genetics!!!  Interesting ...

    PS. HA! The Keith Richards part on there made me spit cornbread out my nose, TWICE!! LOL .. that’s fuckin-a funny

  • avatar

    Feb 01, 2007 at 11:36 PM

    Since you asked for it, I may as well input my knowledge:

    Trent Reznor has not taken acid, to the best of my knowledge (although I must admit, I don’t have all that much knowledge of him. Heroin yes, LSD no.

    Philip K. Dick didn’t do THAT much acid.
    The schizophrenia/religious experience in March ‘74 was fueled by amphetamine abuse, not hallucinogens.

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