It was a convergence that may have been responsible for the rise of psychedelic drugs, yoga, vegetarianism, and the new age spiritual movement in the western world. And it happened at Harvard University? Don Lattin’s talk on his book The Harvard Psychedelic Club (Harper Collins) next week (Thur/18) narrates one of history’s most momentous groups of college buddies and how their scientific studies on the effects of tripping balls changed American culture in the 1960s.
Sure, we all expanded horizons in college -- but these guys set the gold standard. LSD and psilocybin had yet to be codified by the man in 1960, when Timothy O’Leary and Richard Alpert began the Harvard Psilocybin Project, in between trips to Mexico where they dabbled in the indigenous folks' teonanácatl. The project tested, among other things, the effects of psilocybin on the anti-social behavior of prisoners and facilitation of religious ecstasy in divinity students. They also administered LSD to over 300 students and faculty members. It was during these studies that Leary and Alpert fell in with Andrew Weil and Huston Smith. A quartet of intellects was formed and the rest, as the hippies would say, is history.
Basically, they all got fired from traditional academia, the drugs got banned for use by law abiding citizens, and each “club” member became a leader in a different aspect of counter culture- Smith in world religions, Alpert in guruism, Weil in promoting integrative medicine within traditional psychology and Leary to… well we all know what Leary got up to.
But first they kicked it at Harvard, and their ensuing escapades are also the subject of Lattin’s lecture- which apparently included some total buzzkill “backstabbing, jealousy, and outright betrayal,” according to the event’s press release. E tu, Ram Dass? The lecture is but one mind expanding night brought to us by the California Institute of Integral Studies, who is also sponsoring a talk on “The Way of the Shaman (Fri/12 through Sat/13) and a performance by the Soweto Gospel Choir (March 27) this spring.
“The Harvard Psychedelic Club” with Don Lattin
Thur/18 7 p.m., $15
CIIS Main Building
1453 Mission, SF