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Solving Enhancement with Psychedelics
Enhancement of Specific Capacities Through Psychedelic Training
Agents in Creative Problem-Solving: A Pilot Study."
From: PSYCHEDELICS, The Uses and Implications
of Hallucinogenic Drugs, Bernard Aaronson and Humphrey
Osmond, editors, Doubleday & Company, 1970. Copyright
Aaronson & Osmond, Harman & Fadiman. The following
article is an overview of the paper: Harman, et. al., in
Psychedelic Reports 19, 211-27, 1966, Willis
W. Harman and James Fadiman
(This article discusses exploratory work that
was interrupted early in 1966 when the Food and Drug
Administration, as a strategy in combating the illicit-use
problem, declared a moratorium on research with normal
basic assumption underlying setting up the project,
and not negated by any of our observations during the
course of the research, is that, given
appropriate conditions, the psychedelic agents can be
employed to enhance any aspect of mental performance,
in the sense of making it more operationally effective.
While this research was restricted to intellectual
and artistic activity, we believe the assumption holds
true for any other mental, perceptual, or emotional
process. The psychedelic agent acts as a facilitator,
an adjunct to the situation it facilitates, neither
good nor evil, efficacious nor powerless, safe nor dangerous.
Behind the Creative Problem-Solving Study
Reports in the literature on psychedelic agents that deal
with effects on performance are inconclusive or contradictory.
Changes in performance levels have been intensively investigated,
both during and after the drug session. Instrumental learning
has been found to be impaired during the drug experience
in some studies, enhanced in others. Similarly, contradictory
results have been noted for color perception, recall and
recognition, discrimination learning, concentration, symbolic
thinking, and perceptual accuracy (Mogar, 1965a).
In some of the research, where impairment
was reported, the drug was used as a stresser with the
intention of simulating psychotic performance-impairment.
Practically all of the formal research in which improved
performance was claimed subsequent to the drug experience
has been in a clinical context. Performance enhancement
during the drug experience has been sporadically reported
in both experimental and clinical research, but not in
general where the psychotomimetic orientation was dominant.
Our experience in clinical research (Mogar
and Savage, 1964; Fadiman 1965; Savage et al., 1966) had
been amply convincing with regard to the possibility of
long-term performance enhancement through employment of
the psychedelic agents in a clinical setting. We also
had much evidence with regard to the subtlety and pervasiveness
of the influence of set and setting. Furthermore, although
they had not been deliberately sought, there were numerous
spontaneous incidents of what appeared to be temporarily
enhanced performance during the drug experience itself.
These observations led us to postulate the following propositions:
1. Any human function, as generally elicited, can be performed
more effectively. This amounts to an acknowledgement that
we do not function at our full capacity.
2. The psychedelics appear to temporarily
inhibit censors that ordinarily limit the mental contents
coming into conscious awareness. The subject may, for
example, discover his latent ability to form colored imagery,
to hallucinate, to recall forgotten experiences of early
childhood, to generate meaningful symbolic presentations,
etc. By leading the subject to expect enhancement of other
types of performancecreative problem solving, learning
manual or verbal skills, manipulating logical or mathematical
symbols, sensory or extrasensory perception, memory and
recalland by providing favorable preparatory and
environmental conditions, it may be possible to improve
the level of functioning in any desired respect.
3. Both objective and subjective indicators
of mental performance are appropriate to use in establishing
whether there has indeed been an improvement (or impairment)
As Table 1 indicates,
commonly observed characteristics of the psychedelic experience
seem to operate both for and against the hypothesis that
the drug session could be used for performance enhancement.
In this research we attempted to provide a setting that
would maximize those characteristics that tend toward
improved functioning, while minimizing those that might
hinder effective functioning.
For several reasons we chose to focus our
efforts on creative problem solving. One was its obvious
utility, an important consideration at that juncture because
of the increasing pressure for stricter regulation of
the psychedelics by those who doubted that they were good
for anything at all. Another factor was that many of the
observed spontaneous occurrences had been of this sort.
Finally, because of extensive recent research activity
in the field of creativity, a number of relevant objective
measures were available for use. Interest centered on
1. Can the psychedelic experience
enhance creative problem-solving ability, and if so, what
is the evidence of enhancement?
2. Can this result in enhanced production
of concrete, valid, and feasible solutions assessable
by the pragmatic criteria of modern industry and positivistic
3. Working with a non-clinical population
and with a non-therapy orientation, would there nevertheless
result demonstrable long-term personality changes indicative
of continued increased creativity and self- actualization?
The subjects in these experiments were twenty-seven males
engaged in a variety of professional occupations (sixteen
engineers, one engineer-physicist, two mathematicians,
two architects, one psychologist, one furniture designer,
one commercial artist, one sales manager, and one personnel
manager). Nineteen of the subjects had had no previous
experience with psychedelics.
The following selection criteria were established:
1. Participant's occupation normally requires
2. Participant is found to be psychologically
stable as determined by psychiatric interview- examination.
3. Participant is motivated to discover,
verify, and apply solutions within his current work capacity.
Each group of four subjects met one another
during an evening session several days before the experimental
day. (In one of the groups, one subject had to be eliminated,
which left only three.) The proposed sequence of events
during the experimental session was explained in detail.
This initial meeting also served the function of allaying
apprehension and establishing rapport and trust among
the members and the staff.
Subjects were told that they would experience
little or no difficulties with distractions such as visions,
involvement with personal emotional states, and so on.
The instructions emphasized that the experience could
be directed as desired. Direct suggestions were made to
encourage mental flexibility during the session. An excerpt
from those instructions is quoted below:
Some suggestions on approaches:
Try identifying with the central person,
object, or process in the problem. See how the problem
looks from this vantage point.
Try asking to "see" the solution,
to visualize how various parts might work together,
to see how a certain situation will work out in future,
You will find it is possible to scan a
large number of possible solutions, ideas, data from
the memory etc., much more rapidly than usual. The "right"
solution will often appear along with a sort of intuitive
"knowing" that it is the answer sought. You
will also find that you can hold in conscious awareness
a number of ideas or pieces of data processes simultaneously,
to an uncommon extent.
You will find it is possible to "step" back
from the problem and see it in new perspective, in more
basic terms; to abandon previously tried approaches
and start afresh (since there is much less of yourself
invested in these earlier trials).
Above all, don't be timid in the ambitiousness with
which you ask questions. If you want to see the completed
solution in a three-dimensional image, or to project
yourself forward in time, or view some microscopic physical
process, or view something not visible to your physical
eyes, or re-experience some event out of the past, by
all means ask. Don't let your questions be limited by
your notion of what can and what cannot happen.
Approximately one hour of pencil-and-paper
tests were administered at this time. Subjects were told
that they would take a similar battery during the experimental
session. To insure that the problems to be worked on were
appropriate for the purpose, each participant was asked
to present his selection briefly. By the end of the preparation
session, participants were generally anticipative and
at ease. They had been given a clear picture of what to
expect, as well as information on how to cope with any
difficulties that might arise.
The session day was spent as follows:
8:30 Arrive at session room
9:00 Psychedelic material given. Mescaline
sulphate (200 mg).
9-12 Music played, subjects relaxed with
12-1 Psychological tests administered
1-5 Subjects work on problems
5-6 Discussion of experience; review of
Participants were driven home after this.
They were given a sedative, which they might take if they
experienced any difficulty in sleeping. In many cases,
however, they preferred to stay up until well after midnight,
continuing to work on insights and solutions discovered
earlier in the day.
Each subject wrote a subjective account
of his experience within a week after the experimental
session. Approximately six weeks after the session, subjects
were administered questionnaires that related to (1) the
effects of the session on post-session creative ability
and (2) the validity and acceptance of solutions conceived
during the session. These data were in addition to the
psychometric data comparing results of the two testing
The literature on creativity includes analytical description
of the components of creative experience, the personal
characteristics of creative individuals, and the distinguishing
features of creative solutions. From the participants'
reports, it was possible to extract eleven strategies
of enhanced functioning during the session. The relationship
of these strategies to enhanced functioning should be
self-explanatory. Those readers interested in the relationship
of these aspects to current research and theory on creativity
can refer to the detailed technical discussion in Harman,
McKim et al. (1966).
The factors are listed below with representative
quotations from the subjects' reports.
1. Low Inhibition
"There was no fear, no worry, no sense of reputation
and competition, no envy, none of these things which in
varying degrees have always been present in my work."
"A lowered sense of personal danger;
I don't feel threatened any more, and there is no feeling
of my reputation being at stake."
"Although doing well on these problems
would be fine, failure to get ahead on them would be threatening.
However, as it turned out, on this afternoon the normal
blocks in the way of progress seemed to be absent."
to Restructure Problem in Larger Context:
"Looking at the same problem with (psychedelic) materials,
I was able to consider it in a much more basic way, because
I could form and keep in mind a much broader picture."
"I could handle two or three different
ideas at the same time and keep track of each." "Normally
I would overlook many more trivial points for the sake
of expediency, but under the drug, time seemed unimportant.
I faced every possible questionable issue square in the
"Ability to start from the broadest
general basis in the beginning . . ."
"I returned to the original problem....
I tried, I think consciously, to think of the problem
in its totality, rather than through the devices I had
Fluency and Flexibility of Ideation:
"I began to work fast, almost feverishly, to keep
up with the flow of ideas."
"I began to draw . . . my senses could
not keep up with my images . . . my hand was not fast
enough . . . my eyes were not keen enough . . . I was
impatient to record the picture (it has not faded one
particle). I worked at a pace I would not have thought
I was capable of."
"I was very impressed with the ease
with which ideas appeared (it was virtually as if the
world is made of ideas, and so it is only necessary to
examine any part of the world to get an idea). I also
got the feeling that creativity is an active process in
which you limit yourself and have an objective, so there
is a focus about which ideas can cluster and relate."
". . . I dismissed the original idea
entirely, and started to approach the graphic problem
in a radically different way. That was when things started
to happen. All kinds of different possibilities came to
"And the feeling during this period
of profuse production was one of joy and exuberance....
It was the pure fun of doing, inventing, creating, and
Capacity for Visual Imagery and Fantasy:
"Was able to move imaginary parts in relation to
". . . it was the non-specific fantasy
that triggered the idea."
"The next insight came as an image
of an oyster shell, with the mother-of-pearl shining in
different colors. I translated that in the idea of an
interferometer-two layers separated by a gap equal to
the wave length it is desired to reflect."
". . . As soon as I began to visualize
the problem, one possibility immediately occurred. A few
problems with that concept occurred, which seemed to solve
themselves rather quickly.... Visualizing the required
cross section was instantaneous."
"Somewhere along in here, I began to
see an image of the circuit. The gates themselves were
little silver cones linked together by lines. I watched
the circuit flipping through its paces.. . ."
"I began visualizing all the properties
known to me that a photon possesses and attempted to make
a model for a photon.... The photon was comprised of an
electron and a positron cloud moving together in an intermeshed
synchronized helical orbit.... This model was reduced
for visualizing purposes to a black and white ball propagating
in a screw-like fashion through space. I kept putting
the model through all sorts of known tests."
Ability to Concentrate:
"Was able to shut out virtually all distracting influences."
"I was easily able to follow a train
of thought to a conclusion where normally I would have
been distracted many times."
"I was impressed with the intensity
of concentration, the forcefulness and exuberance with
which I could proceed toward the solution."
"I considered the process of photoconductivity....
I kept asking myself, "What is light?" and subsequently,
"What is a photon?" The latter question I repeated
to myself several hundred times till it was being said
automatically in synchronism with each breath. I probably
never in my life pressured myself as intently with a question
as I did this one." "It is hard to estimate
how long this problem might have taken without the psychedelic
agent, but it was the type of problem that might never
have been solved. It would have taken a great deal of
effort and racking of the brains to arrive at what seemed
to come more easily during the session."
Empathy with External Processes and Objects:
". . . the sense of the problem as a living thing
that is growing toward its inherent solution."
"First I somehow considered being the
needle and being bounced around in the groove."
"I spent a productive period . . .
climbing down on my retina, walking around and thinking
about certain problems relating to the mechanism of vision."
"Ability to grasp the problem in its
entirety, to 'dive' into it without reservations, almost
like becoming the problem"
"Awareness of the problem itself rather than the
'I' that is trying to solve it"
Empathy with People:
"It was also felt that group performance was affected
in . . . subtle ways. This may be evidence that some sort
of group action was going on all the time."
"Only at intervals did I become aware
of the music. Sometimes, when I felt the other guys listening
to it; and it was a physical feeling of them listening
"Sometimes we even had the feeling
of having the same thoughts or ideas."
Data More Accessible:
". . . brought about almost total recall of a course
that I had had in thermodynamics; something that I had
never given any thought about in years."
"I was in my early teens and wandering
through the gardens where I actually grew up. I felt all
my prior emotions in relation to my surroundings."
of Dissimilar Ideas:
"I had earlier devised an arrangement for beam steering
on the two-mile accelerator which reduced the amount of
hardware necessary by a factor of two.... Two weeks ago
it was pointed out to me that this scheme would steer
the beam into the wall and therefore was unacceptable.
During the session, I looked at the schematic and asked
myself how could we retain the factor of two but avoid
steering into the wall. Again a flash of inspiration,
in which I thought of the word "alternate."
I followed this to its logical conclusion, which was to
alternate polarities sector by sector so the steering
bias would not add but cancel. I was extremely impressed
with this solution and the way it came to me."
"Most of the insights come by association."
"It was the last idea that I thought
was remarkable because of the way in which it developed.
This idea was the result of a fantasy that occurred during
Wagner [Note: the participant had earlier listened to
Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries.'].... I put down a line
which seemed to embody this [fantasy].... I later made
the handle which my sketches suggested and it had exactly
the quality I was looking for.... I was very amused at
the ease with which all of this was done."
Motivation to Obtain Closure:
"Had tremendous desire to obtain an elegant solution
(the most for the least) ."
"All known constraints about the problem
were simultaneously imposed as I hunted for possible solutions.
It was like an analog computer whose output could not
deviate from what was desired and whose input was continually
perturbed with the inclination toward achieving the output."
"It was almost an awareness of the
'degree of perfection' of whatever I was doing."
"In what seemed like ten minutes, I
had completed the problem, having what I considered (and
still consider) a classic solution."
the Completed Solution:
"I looked at the paper I was to draw on. I was completely
blank. I knew that I would work with a property three
hundred feet square. I drew the property lines (at a scale
of one inch to forty feet), and I looked at the outlines.
I was blank.
Suddenly I saw the finished project [Note:
the project was a shopping center specializing in arts
and crafts]: I did some quick calculations . . . it would
fit on the property and not only that . . . it would meet
the cost and income requirements . . . it would park enough
cars . . . it met all the requirements. It was contemporary
architecture with the richness of a cultural heritage
. . . it used history and experience but did not copy
"I visualized the result I wanted and
subsequently brought the variables into play which could
bring that result about. I had great visual (mental) perceptibility;
I could imagine what was wanted, needed, or not possible
with almost no effort. I was amazed at my idealism, my
visual perception, and the rapidity with which I could
As mentioned above, several weeks after the experimental
session all participants were asked to complete a brief
questionnaire. Here they rated their experience with respect
to nine characteristics relevant to enhanced functioning.
Items were rated on a five-point scale from MARKED ENHANCEMENT
(+2) through NO CHANGE (O) to MARKED IMPAIRMENT (-2) .
The average ratings are listed in Table
2. These data, too, seem to substantiate the hypothesis
of enhancement of both verbal and non-verbal skills.
Test-retest scores on some of the measures used showed
dramatic changes from normal to psychedelic-session conditions.
Most apparent were enhanced abilities to recognize patterns,
to minimize and isolate visual distractions, and to maintain
visual memory in spite of confusing changes of form and
color. Specific tests used included the Purdue Creativity,
the Miller Object Visualization, and the Witkin Embedded
Figures. This last test has been reported to be stable
under a variety of experimental interventions including
stress, training, sensory isolation, hypnosis, and the
influence of a variety of drugs (Witkin et al., 1962).
With these twenty-seven subjects, enhancement was consistent
(p<.01), and in some cases improvements were as great
as 200 per cent. (For a fuller description of the psychometric
evaluation, see Harman et al., 1966.)
The practical value of obtained solutions is a check against
subjective reports of accomplishment that might be attributable
to temporary euphoria. The nature of these solutions varied;
they included: (1) a new approach to the design of a vibratory
microtome, (2) a commercial building design, accepted
by the client, (3) space probe experiments devised to
measure solar properties, (4) design of a linear electron
accelerator beam-steering device, (5) engineering improvement
to a magnetic tape recorder, (6) a chair design, modeled
and accepted by the manufacturer, (7) a letterhead design,
approved by the customer, (8) a mathematical theorem regarding
NOR-gate circuits, (9) completion of a furniture-line
design, (10) a new conceptual model of a photon, which
was found useful, and (11) design of a private dwelling,
approved by the client.
Table 3 outlines the
initial results of attempting to apply the solutions generated
in the experimental sessions back into the industrial
and academic settings of the subjects. (These data were
obtained by questionnaire and follow-up interview six
to eight weeks after the session.) A quote for a follow-up
report written several months after the session is typical
of the relative usefulness and validity of the session-day
solutions: "In the area of ionospheric source location
and layer tilt analysis, I was able in the weeks following
the session to build on the ideas generated to the extent
of working out the mathematics of the schemes proposed,
and of making them more definite. The steps made in the
session were the correct ones to start with . . . the
ideas considered and developed in the session appear as
important steps, and the period of the session as the
single most productive period of work on this problem
I have had in the several months either preceding or following
Many subjects in the follow-up interview
reported changes in their modes of functioning that were
continuous with the enhancement reported for the session
itself (e.g., continuing visualization ability). Table
4 lists the result of a questionnaire dealing with changes
in work effectiveness.
The results given in Table
4 indicate that approximately half the subjects reporting
were still noticing some change in their performance level
several months after the experimental session. These results
are particularly interesting in view of the relatively
low dosage and the fact that no suggestion was made at
any time that continuing changes of this nature were expected.
The deliberate anticipation of enhanced performance level,
the incitement to a high degree of motivation, and use
of a sheltered and non-critical atmospherenone of
these were directly suggestive of long-term personality
changes or permanent therapeutic benefit. Yet a certain
amount of such change seems to have occurred. One implication
is clear: We are dealing with materials and experimental
situations that have long-term effects; it would be foolhardy
and irresponsible to treat this kind of research as if
it were isolated from the fabric of the subjects' lives.
We had originally intended to follow this pilot study
with a controlled experiment employing a double-blind
design, in which a fraction of the subjects receive an
active placebo. This would have addressed the question
of whether suggestion alone could account for the performance
enhancement. Because of interruption of the research program
by government fiat, this extension was never carried out.
The need for controlled hypothesis-testing research in
this perplexing area of chemical facilitation of mental
functioning has become a common plea, and rightly so.
But equally needful of furthering is the exploratory sort
of research that aims at invention of conceptual models
and hypothesis construction. Because of the controversy
surrounding use of the psychedelic agents, this latter
type of research is even more likely to be slighted.
In the research described, we employed naive
subjects. There are clear methodological virtues accruing
from the use of untrained subjects. However, when the
central question is not one of pharmacological effects,
but rather the degree to which certain processes can be
facilitated, the more experience the subjects can gain
the more we are likely to learn about the process. Thus
we would urge the desirability of further investigations
employing a series of sessions for each subject.
A similar comment holds with regard to selection
of subjects. Clinical studies already referred to indicate
that those subjects who are more stable and productive
beforehand 4 tend to "benefit considerably from the
psychedelic experience along the lines of self-actualization,
richer creative experience, and enhancement of special
abilities and aptitudes" (Savage et al., 1966). Subjects
for this pilot study were deliberately selected to be
persons with known reputations as creative individuals.
In general, we would expect the outcomes of this kind
of research to be more fruitful with gifted rather than
"merely normal" subjects.
In contrast with reports of other researchers,
we experienced little difficulty in getting subjects to
work on psychological tests. Many studies seem to indicate
a temporary debilitating effect of psychedelics on higher
cortical processes. It seems to us that variables that
affect results on these kinds of tests include attitude
and motivation as well as ability. We found that discussing
this problem with subjects in the preparatory meetings
eliminated any tendency in the experimental session to
shrug off the tests as meaningless or to resist them as
disconcerting. In short, on the tests, as well as in problem
solving, by establishing an anticipation of improved performance,
we seemed to obtain results that support it.
Assuming that these findings are eventually
substantiated by additional research, they find their
most obvious application to problem solving in industry,
professional practice, and research. Here the procedure
could play a role similar to that played by consultants,
brainstorming, synectics, and other attempts to augment
and "unstick" the problem solver's unsuccessful
efforts. A quote from one of our subjects illustrates
"I decided to drop my old line of thinking
and give it a new try. The 'mystery' of this easy dismissal
and forgetting did not strike me until later in the afternoon,
because I had many times before this session indulged
in this line of thinking and managed to work up the whole
thing into an airtight deadlock, and I had been unable
to break, much less dismiss, this deadlock. The miracle
is that it came so easy and natural."
A much more important application in the
long run, we believe, is the use of the psychedelic agents
as training facilitators to gradually upgrade the performance
level of already effective personnel. This would require
establishment of accepted training procedures and certification
provisions for those qualified to use them. This may seem
to be a utopian projection from our present state, but
we live in an age of rapid change, and it is perhaps not
out of the question within a decade.
Among consequences of this line of exploration,
the most significant of all, in our estimation, is the
gaining of new knowledge of the mysterious higher processes
of the human mind, the framing of new and more productive
research questions, and the eventual effect on our image
of manof what he can be, and of what he is, of the
vast potentialities he has seemingly only begun to tap.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PSYCHEDELIC EXPERIENCE
(as found in the literature and in subjects' reports)
access to unconscious data.
for logical thought processes diminished.
fluent free association; increased ability to play
spontaneously with hypotheses, metaphors, paradoxes,
transformations, relationships, etc.
to consciously direct concentration reduced.
ability for visual imagery and fantasy.
to control imaginary and conceptual sequences.
inputs more acutely perceived.
(verbal and visual communication abilities) constricted.
empathy with external processes, objects, and people.
to focus upon "inner problems" of a personal
beauty lessening tension to obtain aesthetic experience
in the act of creation.
"sense of truth," ability to "see
false solutions and phony data.
to become absorbed in hallucinations and illusions.
inhibition, reduced tendency to censor
own by premature negative judgment.
the best solution seeming unimportant.
Motivation heightened by suggestion and providing
the right set.
tasks seeming trivial, and, hence, motivation decreased.
RATINGS OF FACTORS
RELATED TO ENHANCED FUNCTIONING
(all ratings refer to behavior during the session) n
of defenses, reduction of inhibitions and anxiety
to see the problem in the broadest terms
fluency of ideation
capacity for visual imagery and fantasy
ability to concentrate
with external processes and objects heightened
with other people heightened
from "unconscious" more accessible
sense of "knowing" when the right solution
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