Psychedelic Imagery In Alice In Wonderland
Scientific breakthroughs and medical advancements are becoming increasingly beneficial in a world of growing physical and psychological illnesses. While many are open to new groundbreaking vaccinations and medical treatments such as new methods of radiation, pills, and medical marijuana, many physicians are against the use of psychedelic drugs to treat mental illness.
The word “psychedelics” is derived from the Greek word psyche, meaning mind, and the Greek word delos, meaning to make visible, or reveal. They are substances that induce a heightened state of consciousness characterized by a hyperconnected brain state, meaning that the networks in the brain are suddenly cross-linking in a hyperactive state while maintaining the same networking “order.” The image below depicts a normal brain network (left) and a brain network in people given psilocybin, or psychedelic compounds (right).
Researchers in a variety of fields including neuroscience, biology, and even mathematics and english are still questioning the production and use of these psychedelic miracles, therefore, little research is being done to further their merit. Johns Hopkins however, has devoted a research unit solely to psychedelic research. Many studies have been conducted at the research unit and have had positive outcomes, helping to expand our knowledge and openness to psychedelic drug use. Within their wide range of achievements, the Hopkins Psychedelic Research Unit’s most prestigious finding was in 2011, when they found that psilocybin increased the personality domain of openness. This was the first study to show that a single administration of psilocybin produced enduring change in personality, which was considered to be a fixed characteristic of individuals that does not change across their lifetime. The personality domain of openness is associated with creativity in the arts and sciences, meaning, levels of creativity and imagination were heightened with psychedelic use.
While research at Hopkins is producing great publicity for these psychedelic wonders, there is still a lack of research pertaining to psychedelics and its relatedness to creativity. Because creativity is such an abstract and subjective term, it is hard to study using a conventional scientific method. However, neuroscientists agree that creativity requires an increase in divergent thinking, which involves making unique connections between concepts. One might call this, “thinking outside the box,” a concept that many researchers facilitate in their studies. The bottom line is, it cannot be said for sure that psychedelics scientifically increase creativity by examining some part of the brain. Unfortunately, the human brain is not equipped with a “creativity cortex” that can easily be examined to determine this, but we do know that psychedelics are somehow re-structuring the human mind in a way that causes an increased uniqueness and heightened societal perception in its users.
As the growing world becomes more reliant on innovation and marketing, rather than industry and manufacturing, it is essential that expanded forms of thinking drive our ability to develop next-level ideas. Whether artists are craving inspiration for a new song, or the average entrepreneur takes a tiny dose of magic mushrooms with their morning coffee, soon there will be a place in our culture that embraces the use of psychedelics to truly expand our minds. The benefits of psychedelics will not stop at an increase in creativity, however. They will begin to change the world in a much broader sense, with heightened creativity leading to a more compassionate and fulfilled society of thinkers.
One of the most famous psychedelic drugs is called LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as acid. It was synthesized for the first time in 1938 by Albert Hofmann, a chemist working for Sandoz Pharmaceutical in Basel, Switzerland, while looking for a blood stimulant. Its strong hallucinogenic effects were unknown until 1943 however, when Hofmann accidentally consumed some of the LSD, (an oral dose of as little as 25 micrograms), and experienced vivid hallucinations. Later, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals began supplying free samples of the drug to psychiatrists and researchers, resulting in an epidemic of the substance. Once LSD was in the hands of American psychologist Timothy Leary, it became a popular substance in the 60s when he encouraged American students to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” This created a widespread drug epidemic that traveled from America to the United Kingdom and Europe. Today, the use of LSD in the UK is significantly higher than in other parts of world. The use of LSD in the 60s was attributed to a person’s desire to escape the problems of society, which was seen as a potential chemical weapon and threat by the Western intelligence community and the military. In 1951, these organizations began a series of experiments to prove that LSD was capable of rendering whole groups of people, interfering with their planning and judgement, and even creating apprehension, uncontrollable confusion, and terror. These experiments continued until the United States officially banned the drug in 1967. The use of LSD declined in the 80s, but picked up again in the late 90s. For a few years after 1998, LSD had become more widely used at dance clubs and night raves by older teens and young adults. LSD use significantly dropped in the year 2000.
While LSD use is often unheard of, it is definitely more “mainstream” than one may presume. Many influential people or music groups have experiment with, or have habitually used LSD in the course of their lives. Steve Jobs experimented with LSD in his late-teens, calling it one of the two or three most important things he ever did within his lifetime. Jobs credited his outside-the-box thinking and perspectives to LSD, claiming that it “made him think of the world in a different way.” One could argue that LSD gave Jobs the confidence to break away from mainstream thought when he founded Apple, a revolutionary product that was a step away from the normal corporate-based model of computer use. Aldous Huxley, a British-born author best known for writing Brave New World, was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Huxley first experimented with mescaline (a naturally occurring psychedelic) in 1953, later trying LSD in 1955. His experiments with psychedelics inspired him to write a novel entitled “Island,” a novel which expressed Huxley’s desires for a new culture in which rationalism and mysticism unite. Most notable for his experiences using LSD is Ken Kesey, the author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Once his novel instantly drew Kesey to fame and he felt that he had the attention of mainstream America, he leveraged his position as a thought leader to popularize LSD use. His devotion and mission to popularize LSD hit its pinnacle in 1964, when he led a group of friends in a cross-country bus trip from San Francisco to New York. They called themselves the “Merry Pranksters,” a group that frequently consumed LSD to experience roadway America while high. This journey was most notably documented by Tom Wolfe, who wrote a nonfiction book called “The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test” which presented an account of the first-hand experiences of Ken Kesey’s band of “Merry Pranksters.” With many influential authors and artists utilizing psychedelics to enhance their perception of the world, it is clear that these magic substances uphold significant ability.
While many associate psychedelics to certain movies, literature, and other forms of visual expression, their use has been falsely linked to many famous authors and movie producers. One of the most famous controversies in LSD history is associated to Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland has been connected to the use of psychedelics since the 1960’s, and while arguments against such theories have arisen, the correlation has nonetheless been established. Like all great children’s stories, fantasy is established, often portrayed by the use of mythical creatures and characters. While these odd creatures often attract young readers, they are ultimately used to bear a valuable lesson at the end of the novel. With that said, sometimes certain storylines that attract the innocent mind actually hold deeper and more “adult-like” meaning. Through the discerning mind of an adult, the classic tale by Lewis Carroll could arguably be a byproduct of the influence of psychedelic drugs.
The classic novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, tells the tale of a girl named Alice who literally falls down a rabbit hole and finds an entirely new world to explore. Along the way, she meets other characters and interestingly finds herself under the influence of a mushroom. The thrilling tale ends with Alice waking up, only to find that her Adventures in Wonderland were merely part of an elaborate dream. Examining the psychedelic undertones within the story is not a recent phenomenon. Since the 60s, the theory of Carroll’s use of psychedelics while creating Alice’s exciting tale has been pursued by artists and critics alike. Jefferson Airplane, a psychedelic rock band based in San Francisco, California, pointed it out in their classic 1967 song, “White Rabbit.” The lyrics read:
When the men on the chessboard get up
And tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know
Readers of this classic tale also associated the plot’s “disjointedness from reality” to the fact that it was written in an era when opium use was legal. However, it was never actually proven that Carroll ever had an experience using LSD or any other hallucinogens at the time of the story’s writing. It was discovered through his diaries that he did enjoy the occasional glass of wine, and could have accidentally ingested Laudanum, an opiate-infused drug that was readily available for use at the time. There is no mention in his diaries of him using or experiencing psychedelics, nor was there sufficient evidence to conclude that hallucinogens inspired any part of Alice’s adventures.
Carroll’s beautiful creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has inspired many artists, authors, and movie producers to deliver such an experience that fathoms the minds of its innocent viewers, and questions the minds of its “adult-like” thinkers. Alice in Wonderland’s controversial display of psychedelic use will forever boggle the minds of all ages. With up and coming research and more focus on the study of psychedelic drugs, it is almost inevitable that these wondrous substances will make a comeback to help cultivate the imaginative and creative spirit for decades to come.
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