par Shaun Mullen
27 octobre 2009
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to
man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees
all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.
Alfred "Captain Al" Hubbard led a life that didn't just border on the
surreal, it was surreal. He was a onetime shyster inventor and
brilliant if uneducated scientist. He was considered a demigod by
some and a lunatic by others, and had innumerable brushes with the
law. He was virtually unknown in his lifetime and remains so today
although he was one of the most influential individuals in
determining the course of American culture and innovation in the
second half of the 20th century.
This is because it was Hubbard and not author Ken Kesey and
psychologist Timothy Leary who first introduced LSD to America.
The up-and-coming hackers in the computer world of the late 1950s
believed that computers had enormous potential beyond processing bank
checks and other mundane tasks, but they were divided into two camps.
The mechanists were engineers interested in artificial intelligence ;
that is, building computers that could mimic the human mind, while
the holy grail of the engineers who were humanists was developing
small computers that would expand the mind. Among Hubbard's adherents
were key members of the latter group, and they succeeded in their
goal through the sheer force of their personalities, brilliance and
ingenuity, as well as the insights they gleaned from using LSD.
In fact, these men, numbering about 30 in all, were to invent
virtually all of the key components of the personal computer or
laptop on which you are reading this post, from microswitches to
microprocessors to multimedia, as well as the mouse you probably are
using, and even ARPAnet, the precursor to the World Wide Web that has
brought you and I together for these few minutes.
Ironically, the humanists who rode the first wave of the psychedelic
movement received much of their funding from the Pentagon and NASA,
branches of a federal government that in a few short years would
attempt to crush that movement.
It also is ironic that most of the innovations in computing that we
take for granted today came not from the then dominant players like
IBM, Burroughs, Electronic Data and Texas Instruments, where
engineers were discouraged from thinking big about going small, but
from start-ups in what would become known as Silicon Valley. These
included Adobe, Cisco, Intel, and of course Apple, fledgling
companies where engineers believed that not even the sky was the limit.
* * * * *
The story of Al Hubbard's life is full of holes, contradictions and
cul de sacs, as well as unverifiable claims that he worked with the
Manhattan Project as a black-market uranium supplier and in a CIA
mind-control program called MK-ULTRA as a psychotherapist. This
short, stocky man with buzz-cut hair, a warm smile and twinkling eyes
lived much of his life in the shadows by choice, and one would never
guess from what is known about his early years that he would become
known as the "Johnny Appleseed of LSD."
Hubbard was born in 1901 in Kentucky, but little is known about his
childhood. Although he had no scientific training, at age 18 he
invented the Hubbard Energy Transformer. This radioactive
battery-powered device could not be explained by the technology of
the day. This is because it was not the perpetual motion machine that
he claimed it to be and hadn't actually propelled a ship around
Portico Bay in Seattle nonstop for three days, as press accounts claimed.
A Pittsburgh company bought 50 percent rights to the patent for
$75,000, but nothing more was heard of the device.
Hubbard's next job was as a taxi driver in Seattle during
Prohibition. The pay was lousy, but he made a bundle off of an
ingenious sideline a sophisticated ship-to-shore communications
system hidden in the trunk of his cab that he used to steer rum
runners past the U.S. and Canadian coast guards. He was eventually
arrested by the FBI and went to prison for 18 months.
What Hubbard did during the 1930s remains a mystery, but during World
War II scouts for Allen Dulles, director of the Office of Strategic
Services, the forerunner of the CIA, were attracted to him because of
his knowledge of electronic communications. As an OSS captain,
Hubbard became involved in a scheme to ship heavy armaments from San
Diego to Canada for transhipment to England, but when the possibly
illegal operation became the subject of a Congressional
investigation, he moved to Vancouver in British Columbia and became a
Canadian citizen to escape indictment.
It was there that Hubbard founded a charter boat company, later
became scientific director of a uranium mining company and later
still owner of several uranium businesses. By age 50, he had realized
his dream of becoming a millionaire, owned a fleet of aircraft, a
100-foot yacht and an island off of Vancouver. But he was miserable.
"Al was desperately searching for meaning in his life," according to
a friend quoted by Todd Brendan Fahey in an essay on Hubbard. The
friend claimed that an angel appeared to Hubbard during a hike and
"told Al that something tremendously important to the future of
mankind would be coming soon, and that he could play a role in it if
he wanted to.
"But he hadn't the faintest clue what he was supposed to be looking for."
That important something became evident in 1951 when Hubbard stumbled
across an article in a scientific quarterly about the behavior of
rats who were given LSD. Hubbard tracked down the person who had done
the experiment, obtained some LSD from him and became a true believer
after his first trip.
* * * * *
It is claimed that Hubbard gave LSD to 6,000 people beginning in the
early 1950s until it was outlawed in 1967.
That is unverifiable, but it is known that among the people who
tripped on his acid were Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics
Anonymous, who experimented with the drug as a way to cure
alcoholism, Aldous Huxley, the celebrated writer, parapsychologist
and advocate of psychedelics, and actors Cary Grant, James Coburn and
Jack Nicholson, novelist Anaïs Nin and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick,
among other celebrities who were turned on by Beverly Hills
psychiatrists supplied by Hubbard.
But it is Hubbard's connection to those Silicon Valley whiz kids that
we are focusing on here, and that brings us to Myron Stolaroff.
Stolaroff was an assistant to the president for long-range planning
at Ampex Corporation, which was a leading maker of magnetic
reel-to-reel tape recorders and an incubator for pioneering
engineers. Like Hubbard a few years earlier, Stolaroff felt that
there was no spiritual center to his life.
It was through an acquaintance that Stolaroff learned of a new drug
called LSD and an unusual man from Canada who was administering the
substance to Huxley and others. Stolaroff was skeptical, but then one
day in 1956 he looked up from his desk at Ampex to see Hubbard
standing in the doorway.
Several weeks later, Stolaroff took 66 micrograms (a moderately heavy
dose) of LSD-25 in Hubbard's Vancouver apartment that had been
manufactured by Sandoz, the Swiss firm where Albert Hoffman had
stumbled upon the drug's psychoactive properties in 1943.
Stolaroff found his first trip to be a deeply religious event that
took him far into his own unconscious mind and he returned to
California an LSD zealot. Among the first people he turned on were
engineers from Ampex and Hewlitt-Packard, and in the next few years
the circle widened to include those 30 or so engineers, who included
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Jobs has been circumspect about his use of LSD. But John Markoff,
author of the fascinating What the Dormouse Said : How the Sixties
Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, recalls
interviewing the notoriously prickly engineer-executive back in 2001
on the day that Apple had introduced its now ubiquitous iTunes media player.
Jobs was in an especially bad mood, Markoff writes, but at the end of
the interview he turned to a Mac and brought up onto the screen what
is now known as the Classic iTunes view, a visualization feature that
conjures up dancing color patterns that pulse in concert with the
beats of the music.
"It reminds me of my youth," Jobs said with a slight smile.
* * * * *
Hubbard left behind his uranium empire and for the next decade
traveled the world as a sort of psychedelic missionary.
"Al's dream was to open up a worldwide chain of clinics as training
grounds for other LSD researchers," recalls Stolaroff. His first stop
was at Sandoz where he purchased a gram (roughly 10,000 doses) of
Delysid, the company's brand name for LSD-25, and began shipping it
around the world.
In 1957, Captain Hubbard became Doctor Hubbard after he procured a
PhD in biopsychology from a diploma mill. He set up a wing at
Hollywood Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia for the study
of psychedelic therapy for alcoholics, and obtained the first
Investigational New Drug permit from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Hubbard left Hollywood after a dispute with the hospital director but
landed on his feet when he was hired by the Stanford Research
Institute of Stanford University, where has was assigned to the
Alternative Futures Project, and later with the International
Foundation for Advanced Study, Stolaroff's project for research into
the uses of LSD.
Beginning in 1961, four years or so before LSD would percolate up the
peninsula to San Francisco, the foundation supervised about 350
trips. Among the travelers were Stewart Brand, the author and founder
of the influential countercultural Whole Earth Catalog.
Some of Hubbard's ideas were far out, and included the grandiose idea
that if he could provide a psychedelic experience to the executives
of Fortune 500 companies, he would change the whole of society.
But recognizing the potential psychic dangers of LSD as well as its
benefits, he believed that acid should be administered and monitored
by trained professionals.
Despite the amazing story of the Silicon Valley whiz kids, there is
some question about whether LSD indeed enhances creativity. That was
the case even before its widespread use and one reason that Hubbard
was seen as a charlatan by some of the people he encountered. Indeed,
the debate continues today over whether any chemical substances can do that.
John Markoff writes in What the Dormouse Said that Kary Mullis,
winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the polymerase chain
reaction, which he said came to him on one of his numerous LSD trips,
is one of the few scientists to have explored the effect of
psychedelic drug use.
"Possibly the question is so cloudy because the psychic costs are
potentially high," writes Markoff. "Despite intriguing evidence of
positive effects in the first years of LSD experimentation, there
were also incidents of psychotic outcomes as well."
Hubbard refused the temptation to become a psychedelic philosopher
king like Timothy Leary, who along with the possibly LSD-related
suicide of Diane Linkletter, the daughter of media celebrity Art
Linkletter, probably did more to prompt the feds to outlaw LSD than
A Drug Control Amendment signed by President Johnson in 1967 declared
LSD a Schedule I substance and even possession was a felony
punishable by 15 years in prison.
The FDA ordered the confiscation of all psychedelic stocks at
laboratories and institutions, including Stolaroff's foundation, and
legend has it that Hubbard buried most of his own stash in Death
Valley, California. Only five researchers eventually were permitted
to continue their research, none of them associated with Hubbard and
none using human subjects.
In 1968, his finances in ruin, Hubbard was forced to sell his island
for a pittance and in 1974 the Stanford Research Institute canceled
Hubbard's later efforts to get another Investigational New Drug
Contract from the FDA failed although he had two decades of clinical
documentation. His own health failing because of an enlarged heart,
he went into semiretirement.
"He knew his work was done," said a friend.
On August 31, 1982, Al Hubbard took his last trip, departing this
mortal coil from the trailer park where he lived in Casa Grande, Arizona.