Is there more to these hippies than meets the eye? Who made this happen?

Progression, Stubbornness and Prevalence of Psychedelic Culture in the Hippie Sixties

Ben Brunelle
May 5, 2017 · 5 min read

Mindfulness, music, and Mary Jane: the three crown jewels of the Sixties’ hippie movement. Those are what come to mind, at least. Overlooked is the rapid expansion of mental expedition and the dissolve of social constructionism. There is much more to the hippie-sixties than free love. People questioned the system, the world, and thinking itself. Where would the answers to these questions come from? Psst: Drugs. There was a science to the sixties and it had everything to do with intoxicants. Certain people pushed the boundaries when it came to cerebral exploration and popularization while a full-blown crusade of sensory celebration occurred. As drugs became popularized, people began enjoying the spoils of their perception of the world around them. Nevertheless, the drugs were essential. Art and expression from the period had direct and expansive relationships with LSD, among other psychedelics. And these drugs had to have people behind them, folks that popularized and familiarized them to the hippie counterculture.

Dr. Timothy Leary was born on October 22, 1920 into an Irish-Catholic household. He grew up in the East before earning a psychology doctorate in 1950 from the University of California, Berkeley. Afterwards, his wife committed suicide and Leary went on in the late 1950’s to take on a position as a lecturer at Harvard. Leary, at Harvard, did his most important research with a man named Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert). After traveling to Cuernavaca, Mexico, Leary experimented with psychedelic mushrooms. His trips motivated him to study Psilocybin, the active ingredient in the mushrooms that was cleared for scientific research. The ‘shrooms were just the beginning, Leary truly wanted to delve into the deepest functions of human perception. Both Dass and Leary devoted intensive research to Psilocybin, LSD-25 and other chemicals. Leary started to use and study LSD in the early 1960’s. He wasn’t the first person to discover the drug itself (that credit can be given to Dr. Albert Hofmann when he first synthesized it in 1938), but nobody had approached it quite the way Leary did until now.

Dr. Timothy Leary in his element

Scientifically speaking, we are able to get a read on unfamiliar behavioral shifts and mental repercussions by studying synthetic drugs. Leary attempted to tackle brain functions beyond what the ordinary human body learns to be habitual. He used the chemicals of LSD to break apart the barriers of normality. Leary notes, “I don’t care if I come back or not. It is my duty as a philosopher to go to these strange frontiers and then shout backward, shout back what I’ve learned.” Obviously, the idea of philosophizing and researching human perception through hard drugs is highly controversial. Thus, Leary and Dass weren’t able to fully integrate their studies to a common culture and are now remembered more for their outspokenness rather than their findings. Since LSD hadn’t been outlawed at this point, usage was fair-game. Not only were the two scientists using their products, students were too. Plus, throughout the next decade, psychedelic drug distribution would continue to increase steadily. By the time Woodstock came around, psychedelics ruled the scene from the backseat. Unfortunately, Dr. Leary and Dr. Alpert (Ram Dass) were discharged from Harvard in 1963 due to the university discovering that their students were also using the LSD. Leary, through his college lecturing, gained namesake through his phrase, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” This phrase wasn’t too popular with more ‘traditional’ people. The words themselves imply a direct resistance of modern society. The implications were focused both on resistance to social tranquility and clarity as well as rejection of physical employment and education, thus the ‘drop out’. After all, Nixon dubbed him as “the most dangerous man in America,” which implies the heavy disapproval of the neural experimentation he was doing. But, on the flip side, there’s always gonna be a drug presence no matter what. LSD exploration merely started blowing up in the 60’s. It’s still around. We see LSD being widely distributed today, just buy a ticket to any EDM festival and you’ll understand. In spite of that, the negative stigma is there, and probably for good reason, but there will always be one. It’s merely another aspect of counterculture. With every culture comes the prevalence of opposition, and drugs are just one of the many forms that are on the ‘dark side’.

Ram Dass a.k.a Richard Alpert (left) w/ Timothy Leary (right)

Dr. Timothy Leary publicized this countercultural aspect as direct ‘aid’ to the general population. Also, Leary’s pioneering ran parallel to the westernization of eastern philosophy. Although many indulged in psychedelics because of their recreational uses, people also popularized them in congruence with religious ideals. While Leary and Dass pioneered the synthetics, Alan Watts, an expert in contemporary Eastern Religion, pioneered the philosophy. He West Coast-ernized the ‘Zen’ aesthetic and can be attributed with a great deal of the popularization of Eastern Philosophy in the Bay Area. Without the catalysts of Leary, Dass, and Watts, the hippie sixties wouldn’t have nuanced into the culture they became. Although it is difficult for me to look back at the time period and offer a wholesome perspective as a jaded college student, the Sixties undeniably led a voyage of societal experimentation. The sheer amount of exposure to the unknown was made possible by the culture that propelled it and the drugs that opened the door for the culture to do so.

Although inherently countercultural, Dr. Timothy Leary was just trying to bring LSD to the mainstream. Now, whilst there is truth to the idea that hard drugs are not a healthy thing for society, they’ll still be around even if they never become widely accepted. Extensive research has been done on levels of substance usage when it comes to their legal position. For example, people are thought to express less interest in alcohol and marijuana once they become legal to consume, otherwise there is an inherent exemplification of mystery in the namesake of the substance itself. That’s not to say LSD isn’t in the same playing field as alcohol or marijuana, but alcohol has been around for hundreds of years and marijuana will be widely legalized in the coming years, so what’s next? Countercultural mediums like drugs have a visible effect on society over a period of time that can both be defined as progress as well as an indulgence into the spoils of recreation.

Sleeping Couple at Woodstock (1969)

California Countercultures

Public website for L&S 25: California Countercultures — University of California at Berkeley Spring 2017

Ben Brunelle

Written by

California Countercultures

Public website for L&S 25: California Countercultures — University of California at Berkeley Spring 2017

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