A decade before tens of thousands turned on, tuned in, and dropped out at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, psychiatrist Sidney Cohen was investigating the effects of LSD on human consciousness. If his voluntary subjects at LA’s Veteran’s Administration Hospital found themselves suddenly able to “see the music” a la Lizard Queen Lisa Simpson, they did so in a very respectable-seeming, mid-1950s setting.
Witness this session with the polite young wife of a hospital employee, above. She’s a bit nervous, but not because of any media-fueled preconceptions regarding the trip she’s about to take. It was 1956, and another of Dr. Cohen’s guinea pigs, publisher Henry Luce, had yet to regale the public with some of acid’s more colorful properties via multiple articles in both Time and Life magazines.
As such, our unidentified participant is as pure as the glass of water she’s served at the one minute mark. Purer, actually, given that the drink has been dosed with 1/10th of a milligram Lysergic acid diethylamide.
Three hours further along, she’s tripping her brains out, still seated demurely in the same chair in which her intake interview was conducted. Had it been filmed 20 years later, her revelations would seem trite, but the context renders them endearing. If she’s bummed out about anything, it’s that the nice doctor questioning her about her mind blowing journey isn’t able to see the molecules too.
I’d love to know what became of her.
Cohen continued observing LSD, with subjects as celebrated as writer Aldous Huxley, philosopher Gerald Heard and Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. He published his findings in The Beyond Within: the LSD Story. His ultimate takeaway was that ”beatnik microculture” destroyed LSD’s chances for achieving its potential as a psychotherapy tool.
This may be why we never hear him urging his subject to check out the drapes, which is surely what several young men of my acquaintance would have resorted to, back in the day.
David Lynch-style austerity of the setting aside, perhaps such coaching was unnecessary. Whatever this woman’s brain had her seeing, it made her want to “talk in technicolor.”
May I suggest that we’re just as delusional if we assume that someone who could be described as a 1950s “housewife” must have inhabited a world we can only perceive in black-and-white?
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Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday
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