LSD and Technological Progress

Steve Jobs was an information technology pioneer. He was a prolific inventor being either the primary inventor or co-inventor in 342 United States patents or patent applications related to a range of technologies. Even the mainstream media have written on Jobs’ LSD use.

LSD was important to Steve Jobs

Jobs described taking LSD as one of the two or three most important things he’d ever done. “He said there were things about him that people who had not tried psychedelics — even people who knew him well, including his wife — could never understand,” John Markoff reported for the Times.

Indeed, according to in his newly released biography Jobs supposedly believed that Bill Gates was unimaginative and would have benefitted greatly had he done LSD. Perhaps Jobs hadn’t read the Playboy interview with Bill Gates in 1974 in which it was suggested that he had done LSD:

PLAYBOY: Ever take LSD?

GATES: My errant youth ended a long time ago.

PLAYBOY: What does that mean?

GATES: That means there were things I did under the age of 25 that I ended up not doing subsequently.

PLAYBOY: One LSD story involved you staring at a table and thinking the corner was going to plunge into your eye.

GATES: [Smiles]

PLAYBOY: Ah, a glimmer of recognition.

GATES: That was on the other side of that boundary. The young mind can deal with certain kinds of goofing around that I don’t think at this age I could. I don’t think you’re as capable of handling lack of sleep or whatever challenges you throw at your body as you get older. However, I never missed a day of work.

So it would seem that two of the greatest computer pioneers that have ever existed had done LSD. Perhaps because of this LSD has been dubbed ‘The Problem-Solving Drug’ and ‘The Geek Wonder-Drug’. As American comedian Bill Meyer recently stated in >this hilarious video<, without LSD, we would have neither Ipods nor a substantial portion of the music we store on them. Indeed, Douglas Englebart, who invented the computer mouse, also used LSD: it’s hard to imagine personal computing having gone in the direction it did without the mouse, its invention seems to have hinged on LSD.

Some have suggested that this is all coincidence. Gates and Jobs just happened to be in California in a time when every one was doing LSD. Verily, there are millions who have done LSD and not come up with great inventions. But isn’t it interesting that the San Francisco Bay area was both the creative centre of America’s IT industry whilst, at the same time, during the 1960s and 70s, the centre of the country’s psychedelic use?

Crick, used LSD to discover the DNA double-helix.

There is further evidence that LSD is connected to technological and scientific progress. Francis Crick was the first man to conceptualise DNA in terms of a double-helix, he attributed this discovery to LSD. The truth is, because of the stigma and taboo surrounding LSD, it is not openly discussed by many who use it. It is in the background, silently benefitting society by aiding the minds of its technological innovators, scientists, academics, musicians and artists·

In a fascinating article by Wired (LSD: The Geek’s Wonder Drug?‘), Kevin Herbert, a Cisco Systems programmer from California says about LSD:

“It must be changing something about the internal communication in my brain. Whatever my inner process is that lets me solve problems, it works differently, or maybe different parts of my brain are used. […] When I’m on LSD […] it takes me to another world and into anther brain state where I’ve stopped thinking and started knowing,”

How are we to understand the influence of LSD on creative minds? One of the most insightful things I have ever read about LSD is that:

“Strictly speaking, acid is neither a transcendental sacrament, as Leary claimed, nor
an anxiety-producing agent, as initially defined by CIA and army scientists. Rather, it
is a nonspecific amplifier of psychic and social processes. LSD “makes you more of
what you are,” Aldous Huxley concluded. “It gives each person what he or she
needs.” At the same time acid catalyzes whatever forces are already active in a
given social milieu and brings forth those that are latent.” (Lee & Shlain)

Because of this, we cannot think that LSD will magically benefit all the minds it interacts with: those who benefit the most from it were already experts in their fields. Nonetheless, this drug which is represented by the mass media only in terms of its risks and harms, had caused real benefit to society at large in the form of technological innovation.

One of the things that fascinates me the most about LSD is trying to understand the broader social implications of its discovery: technological progress is just one aspect of this, but in many ways it is as significant as the spiritual, social, political and artistic progress associated with the compound. Given LSD’s role in causing technological and scientific advancement, it is worth considering whether a nation decriminalising the substance would give that nation an economic edge over its rivals.

One has to wonder how far technology would have progressed had LSD never been criminalised; it seems inevitable LSD will continue to play a role, albeit an unnecessarily restrained one, in humanity’s technological and scientific progress.


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