One of the most renowned – and certainly most prolific – discoverers of psychotropic molecules, Dr. Alexander Shulgin, was compelled into the field by the irresistible effect that sugar he’d presumed to be a soporific had upon his mind. A mere placebo! No one suggested that his drink (a glass of orange juice with stray crystals of undissolved sugar lingering at the bottom, served to him before a procedure at the military hospital) would put him under. From context, he assumed it would. And then could not stay awake.
After experiencing a profound mental change by consuming something inert, Shulgin devoted his life to the creation of compounds with undeniable psychotropic effects. He consulted with the U.S. military on the synthesis of THC analogs. He first synthesized (and, alongside a team of revelers, first ingested) hundreds of derivatives of mescaline and psilocybin. It is largely due to Dr. Shulgin that MDMA enjoys its current popularity.
Hoodwinked by sugar, he resolved to study drugs.
Perhaps this is to be expected from an artist. From an optimist. After experiencing an illusion, he attempted to make it real. Like a painter who through distance or blurred vision perceives something as beautiful that in actuality is not. Then attempts to paint, instead of the world, the beautiful mistake.
In “Poetry Is a Kind of Lying,” Jack Gilbert writes,
Degas said he didn’t paint
what he saw, but what
would enable them to see
the thing he had.
I too am an optimist. Everything looks beautiful from far away. As an optimist, I feel sad a lot – optimists are good at seeing the world as it could (and should!) be.
With enough hard work, the initial misperceptions will cease to be mistakes.
Featured image by Marina del Castell on Flickr.