Was the Computer Revolution Caused by LSD?

Every idea comes from somewhere. Just as the apple fell on Newton’s head and he began to create his theories on universal gravitation, the eureka moment does not come from nowhere. Like the film 2001: A Space Odyssey questions, when the first monkey decided to use tools, what was going through its head?

A spark, a moment of genius, it is quite remarkable to imagine how we as a civilization go from something not existing to something existing. Especially when that ‘something’ can change the fabric of society forever. The invention of the computer, the internet and everything that came with that, was an example of one of these ‘somethings’. Nothing had existed like it before, and yet suddenly within around 30-50 years, it was all anyone could talk about. But how did the computer revolution happen and was it really caused by the mind-opening qualities of LSD? 

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The Computer Revolution

The invention of the computer began in the 20th century and has continued to evolve and develop ever since. In fact, we are now at the point where almost 85% of the world’s population owns some sort of smartphone and – whether we like it or not – the metaverse is growing. It’s quite difficult defining what the metaverse actually is because, like in the 70s, the computer then is very different to what it is now. The metaverse is a futuristic concept that will one day be much further developed than it is now. In essence, it is a virtual, online space that people can live in – whatever that actually means. In a sense, this already exists. People spend, on average, around 2-3 hours a day on social media, which is an online space. The more developed version of the metaverse would exist even more sensorially, with people being able to see, hear and perhaps even touch the online space, and be there for longer periods of time. Wired writes:

“Broadly speaking, the technologies companies refer to when they talk about “the metaverse” can include virtual reality—characterized by persistent virtual worlds that continue to exist even when you’re not playing—as well as augmented reality that combines aspects of the digital and physical worlds. However, it doesn’t require that those spaces be exclusively accessed via VR or AR. Virtual worlds—such as aspects of Fortnite that can be accessed through PCs, game consoles, and even phones—have started referring to themselves as “the metaverse.”

Nonetheless, where we are now is far from where we were in the 20th century. So let’s take a step back and discover how the computer revolution started. It is hard to decipher when the invention of the computer actually happened because they didn’t look a thing like they do now. In fact, the first computers were thousands of complex wires, requiring just as many separate transmitters. Very few people came into contact with these machines, and even fewer knew how they actually worked. It was usually specialist men in lab coats, and the computers were mainly used for calculations. In a way, they were like large calculators. The major catalyst towards computer improvement was during the second world war, a time where all industrial and electrical inventions have to be improved fast to better the chances of national victory. Europeana writes:

“In 1936, Alan Turing’s paper On Computable Numbers was the first important catalyst driving innovation in computing. That same year, German pioneer of computer science Konrad Zuse started building computers in his parents’ home in Berlin. Zuse continued developing more complex machines and his Z3, finished in 1941 in part with funding from the Nazi regime, was the first freely programmable electromechanical computer ever built.”

As the 70s arrived, computer’s began becoming smaller, domestic and affordable to the average consumer. By the 80s, around 9% of the US had computers in their homes and these were used for minor administrative tasks, playing games and storing data. But then came the internet. A chance for people to communicate and share using their computers. 

The Invention of the Internet

The inventor Nikola Tesla actually thought up the idea of a world wireless system in the early 1900s but it wasn’t until 1983 that this became a reality. The ‘network of networks’ was assembled on January 1st of that year. Then, in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. At this point, the web was simply a series of websites and hyperlinks. In 1992, a group of students at the University of Illinois created Netscape, which allowed users to easily search the web – seeing images and words at the same time – with scroll bars and clickable links. History writes:

“That same year, Congress decided that the Web could be used for commercial purposes. As a result, companies of all kinds hurried to set up websites of their own, and e-commerce entrepreneurs began to use the internet to sell goods directly to customers. More recently, social networking sites like Facebook have become a popular way for people of all ages to stay connected.”

And so the internet was born and the never-ending evolution of it was started. However, what was the apple on Newton’s head in this case? How did the computers go from mathematical machines to social connectors? Where did the vision of a world wide web come from? 

LSD and the Computer Revolution

In the 1960s, those involved in the computer revolution decided to think differently about what its use could be. At a similar time, the US was exploring the uses of LSD after Albert Hofman accidentally invented it in 1938. The International Foundation for Advanced Study led around 350 people through acid trips for research. Some of these individuals were key figures in the development of computing. Doug Engelbart, who created the computer mouse, was one of these individuals. The New York Times writes:

“Mr. Engelbart saw much more. His team invented or envisioned “every significant aspect of today’s computing world” — point-and-click screen control, text editing, e-mail and networking”

But he wasn’t the only one with an interest in acid. Bill Gates, the creator of Microsoft, was known to dabble in the substance. Plus, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, also did. He used it to spark his imagination, coming at problems from a different angle. He went on to call it one of the three most important things he did in his life. If it really is true – that all of these silicone nerds were taking LSD to increase their imagination and creativity – then perhaps the computer revolution really was caused by aicd. Afterall, every idea has to come from somewhere and this one truly was something that no one had ever seen before. But, it’s also important to understand how LSD works. Harthoghson – a Thomas Leary supporter- believed that acid did not create ideas, but expanded them:

lsd computer revolution

“LSD’s action is thus primarily not psychotomimetic, psychotherapeutic, creative, or even spiritual—but just what it is: mind-manifesting… It acts as a mirror and magnifying glass to its user’s state of mind. If the state of that mind is anxious, LSD could easily function as an anxiety-inducing drug. If it is creative, then it could equally serve as a creativity enhancer. Should it be spiritual, then spirituality will be enhanced.”

In other words, LSD creates and enhances what is already there. If a load of intelligent computer scientists were taking acid in the 60s and 70s, then it was inevitable that they would create something special – like the internet. However, this isn’t necessarily solely due to acid – LSD may have just given them the push towards it. It allowed those individuals – who were known to be recluses, stuck in their own heads – to be creative for a moment. To envisage a future with their ideas. In fact, Thomas Leary – a psychologist and acid advocate – himself called the internet the ‘acid’ of the 1990s. 

Final Thoughts

It’s romantic to imagine that LSD was the sole purpose for the creation of the internet. However, the world is far more nuanced than that. The combination of the free-thinking 60s and the electronic advancement – in response to the distress that was existing in Vietnam and at home in the US – brought about a lot of important discoveries. One of these was the beginning of the internet, and one of these was the magic of drugs. In a sense, these went hand in hand.

When society is full of inequality and distress, it is common for exploration and creativity to occur. These were both examples of that. Did LSD create the computer revolution? It is hard to tell. But perhaps they were both created together, symptomatic of an American society that called for serious social change.

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New VR Tech Emulates Psychedelic Experience

The psychedelic renaissance is upon us, with myriad research showing how substances like psilocybin, LSD, and more aid in mental health conditions like treatment-resistant depression and PTSD. More and more, the curiosity around psychedelics is increasing, with individuals seeing the potential of these mind-bending medicines to overcome perceived limits of the self.

At the same time, technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, posing the question: Could tech like virtual reality provide comparable benefits that psychedelics offer? Evidently the answer is yes, according to a recent study of a new VR experience, Isness-D, made to mirror specific transcendent psychedelic effects.

It all started with creator David Glowacki, who took a steep fall while walking in the mountains 15 years ago. After hitting the ground, he laid there suffocating as blood began leaking into his lungs. During this experience, Glowacki’s field of perception began to shift, peering down at his own body and finding he was made up of balled-up light, MIT Technology Review reports.

He said the intensity of the light was related to the extent in which he inhabited his body, though watching the light slowly dim wasn’t frightening—It was transformative, leaking out of his body and around his environment. He took the experience as a signal that his awareness could outlast and transcend his physical body, ultimately bringing him peace.

The Nature study introduction brings up similar sensations from brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor following a left-hemisphere stroke. Taylor said, “I could no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can’t define where I begin and where I end, because the atoms and molecules of my arm blend with the atoms and molecules of the wall, and all I could detect was this energy… I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful.”

After his accident, Glowacki approached the experience, which he related to death, with curiosity, attempting to recapture that transcendence.

The new technology is designed for groups of four to five, based anywhere in the world. The participants are represented as a cloud of smoke with a ball of light around the location of their heart. The experience features energetic coalescence, meaning that participants can gather in the same VR landscape and overlap their bodies, making it impossible to tell where one starts and another ends, contributing to a sense of connectedness and ego reduction that psychedelic experiences commonly bring.

In real life, the study notes that humans often default to conceptual relationships of ourselves and others and separate objects, rather than connected or coupled concepts. Authors define the term “self-transcendent experiences,” or the transient mental states in which “the subjective sense of one’s self as an isolated entity can temporarily fade into an experience of unity with other people or one’s surroundings, involving the dissolution of boundaries between the sense of self and ‘other,’” essentially what Glowacki is chasing with this new VR technology.

So, can people really achieve some of these same breakthroughs psychedelics, or intense life experiences can provide, simply with the help of VR?

Researchers in the study carried out 29 Isness sessions with 109 total participants from August-September 2020; the results ended up analyzing a total of 75 participants. After their experiences, participants scored the level of intensity with which they experienced 30 items (i.e. mood, mystical experiences), answered pre and post questionnaires around their connectedness with the other participants and scored their level of ego dissolution.

In the study discussion, authors note that the experiences of participants in the study, based on the questionnaires, are comparable to psychedelic experiences, in both naturalistic and laboratory settings. The qualitative analysis also indicated similarities, with participants observing how the VR program was “similar to experiences that I have had as somatic visions through medicine plants. The interconnective nature of energy/intention and the ‘strings’ that appear to interconnect us with all living matter [is] also related to childhood dreams I had prior to any ‘psychedelic experience.’”

Others similarly noted that Isness-D left them with a sense of interconnectedness that they had only previously experienced with the help of psychedelic use in the proper setting. Others attributed a spiritual significance to the experience, but the strongest qualitative theme for Isness-D participants was connectedness.

“I felt connected with myself but also with everyone else here… I think ‘connected’ is the word for me for the end of this session,” one participant said. Others said that Isness-D offered “a completely other way of connecting that I’m not familiar with, [where] all the usual stuff disappears.”

Researchers conclude saying that the study affirmed their speculation that multi-person VR experiences like Isness-D offers comparable self-transcendent experiences that psychedelics can offer. They suggest this technology could play a role in easing feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially in wake of the continuous COVID-19 pandemic. 

While there is still more research to be done, namely on the long-term effects of these experiences and what specifically about Isness-D offers these reported outcomes, we could very well see a future where seeking psychedelic-adjacent, self-transcendent experiences is as simple as popping on a VR headset.

The post New VR Tech Emulates Psychedelic Experience appeared first on High Times.

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