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  • 1/10/2005

Dr. Albert Hofmann

Swiss chemist, discoverer of LSD effects (born 11 January 1906)

Dr. Albert Hofmann, Ph.D., Dr. Pharm. (Hon.), Dr. Sc.Nat. (Hon.), Head of the Pharmaceutical-Chemical Research Laboratories (retired), Division of Natural Products, Sandoz, Ltd., Basel, Switzerland, Member of the Nobel Prize Committee, Fellow of the World Academy of Sciences, Member of the International Society of Plant Research and the American Society of Pharmacognosy, is probably best known throughout the world as the inventor of LSD.  It is because of this discovery and the important impact it has made upon the world that our Foundation is proud to bear his name.

In the history of science, it is possible to pick out single, key events that have enormously influenced the progress of civilization.  Certainly Dr. Albert Hofmann's discovery of LSD is one of these.  This discovery has made an impact upon thousands of lives, making possible realizations and comprehensive understanding of the true nature of reality that had previously been the privilege of only a few, dedicated souls.  This discovery has permitted the honest, earnest seeker to stand on the very pinnacle of human experience the unitive knowledge of the Godhead.

It is interesting to speculate on the emergence of such a discovery within the framework of human evolution.  Alexander Shulgin, in an address to a conference on Entheogens atSanta Barbara, California in 1983, commented that our psyches and the universe have a tendency to stay in balance, and speculated on the fact that the discovery of LSD in 1941 coincided with the most massive war in history.  This view is repeated by Dr. Hofmann himself:  "The existence of LSD was even regarded by the drug enthusiasts as a predestined coincidence; it had to be discovered precisely at this time in order to bring help to people suffering under the modern conditions (page 58,LSD-My Problem Child)."  Carl Jung, the eminent Swiss psychiatrist, might have noted the synchronicity of the early childhood mystical experiences of Dr. Hofmann (described in detail in his bookLSD-My Problem Child) with his inspiration to become a chemist and pursue the investigations of ergot compounds that led to the discovery of LSD.

After completing his chemical studies, Dr. Hofmann chose a position in the pharmaceutical-chemical research laboratory of Sandoz Company in Basel, Switzerland, where he could pursue his interest in studying the medicinal potential of plants.  This eventually led to the study of the alkaloids of ergot.  A systematic study of the latter led to many interesting new discoveries, some with valuable medical applications, such as Hydergine, a medicament for improvement of peripheral circulation and cerebral function, applied in the control of geriatric disorders and as a "smart pill."  Another product was Dihydergot, a circulation and blood pressure stabilizing medicament.  Eventually the studies led to the compounding of LSD.  No use was found for this compound.  But five years later, an intuition led Dr. Hofmann to resynthesize LSD, leading to the famous bicycle ride in April, 1943.  The potential of LSD rapidly became apparent.

Hundreds of scientific studies revealed great promise for LSD. Concurrently, some of the more dramatic properties of LSD became widely known and an enormous lay interest developed.  By 1970, fearful governments had made practically all psychedelics illegal to possess throughout most of the world.

By 1965, Dr. Hofmann was well aware of the potential of LSD to be of considerable aid in psychotherapy, and particularly under appropriate conditions to reveal the mystical aspects of human nature.  Such a tool was sorely needed to counter what he felt were the deep-seated sociological causes of public interest: "materialism, alienation from nature through industrialization and increasing urbanization, lack of satisfaction in professional employment in a mechanized, lifeless working world, ennui and purposelessness in wealthy, saturated society, and lack of a religious, nurturing, and meaningful philosophical foundation of life."  One can no doubt imagine Dr. Hofmann's deep disappointment and chagrin when his valuable discovery was removed from commercial distribution.

Here are some of Dr. Hofmann's conclusions expressed in his book Insight Outlook:

"It is essential to recognize that the one-sided belief in the natural scientific view of life is based on a momentous error.  Certainly, everything it contains is true, but this only represents half of reality; only its material, quantifiable part.  All of the spiritual dimensions  that  cannot  be described  in physical or chemical terms, which include the most important characteristics of that which is living, are absent (page 40)."

"The goal is not to deny the validity of the natural scientific view of life and to downplay the value of the measuring sciences. We are only talking about recognizing their titanic myopia (page 41)."

"By observing natural scientific discoveries through a perception deepened by meditation, we can develop a new awareness of reality.  This awareness could become the bedrock of a spirituality that is not based on the dogmas of a given religion, but on insights into a higher and deeper meaning.  I am referring to the ability to recognize, to read, and to understand the firsthand revelations 'in the book written by the finger of God,' as Paracelsus designated creation."  Such observations make possible "revelations of the metaphysical blueprint of creation.  They reveal the unity of all things living in a common spiritual primordial basis (pages 53- 54)."

If such insights "were to enter into our collective consciousness, the result would be that natural scientific research and the hitherto destroyers of nature, technology and industry, would be applied to transform our world back into what it once was --  into an earthly Garden of Eden (page 56)."

Dr. Albert Hofmann, at 98 years of age is very much alive and doing well.  He reports that he continues to receive a great deal of correspondence expressing appreciation of his work and reporting how LSD has changed individual lives. Dr. Hofmann places particular emphasis on having experiences in nature rather than the "deadness" of the city.  He suggests that it makes a huge difference to rediscover our connection with living things.

Here are some photos of Dr. Hofmann, taken from a few months of age to his 80's. They were published in a new French translation ofLSD My Problem Child under the titleLSD mon enfant terrible and are published here by courtesy of Editions du Lazard, 7/9 passage Dagorno 750020 Paris, 1997.

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