Citation: Dave. "A Chance to See Uncle Albert Himself: An Experience with 2006 LSD Symposium, Basel (exp50411)". Erowid.org. May 5, 2006. erowid.org/exp/50411
International Symposium for the 100th birthday of Albert Hofmann, 13 - 15 Jan. 2006.
I found out about the conference in a rather roundabout way. There's a small publishing house in Germany called 'Werner Pieper's Media Experiment' that brings out a rather occasional newsletter, always worth reading. As I was reading through it, I noticed repeated references to a conference to celebrate Albert Hofmann's 100th birthday and I thought it would be quite something to actually be there. And, just for a change, I actually got up and did something about it, booked places for me and my girlfriend for Friday and Saturday at the conference, booked a flight from Stansted, and went!
Of course, I didn't make it for the Akasha Project and their musical introduction. 8.15 am was irresponsibly early for such a thing. But I was there for the introductory talks, from various notable psychologists. Very academic, perhaps to make Albert Hofmann feel more at home, because he was sitting up there on stage.
His turn to speak came last, thought it wasn't really a talk in the usual sense, the moderator asked him about how he discovered LSD, asked him about his famous bicycle ride, about his first delibertate self-experiment with LSD. He answered slowly and clearly. I guess he probably told those stories a thousand times before already. And then he spent the rest of the day sitting in the audience in the front row.
There were five parallel sessions - too much! - and I opted for Carl Ruck and Peter Webster, talking about the mythology and chemistry of Eleusius. Their contention is that the ergot theory that Hofmann and Schultes came up with is wrong. Instead, they believe that the climate at the time in Greece was damp enough to support the growth of psilocybe mushrooms, and that that offers a much simpler explanation for the magical drink given to initiates. The ergot explanation would require that the toxic components of the ergot were first neutralised, whereas mushrooms could have been added without any special preparation.
I was a bit late for the afternoon session, I just got there in time to catch David Nichols talking about the Hefter Research Institute and Rick Doblin talking about MAPS. Both organisations are chipping away at the monumental LSD prejudice that has become enshrined in law in most countries. It was very encouraging to hear that they are slowly making some progress, in spite of the current climate.
There followed another set of parallel sessions, worst luck. I would have liked to have gone to 'ask the Shulgins', but I was too tempted to go to a talk by Christian Raetsch about psychedelic plants. He's German and he's written quite a few books on the subject, as well as having spent quite a few years doing live research with shamans in South America (especially with ayahuasca). He is an engaging speaker and can even make puking up after drinking down a disgustingly bitter cup of ayahuasca sound good. He reported on a number of plants that he had been shown by shamans which he knew from personal experience to have a psychoactive effect, but for which there is currently no botanical identification. So, maybe we will soon see the next salvia.
I didn't go to the next round of talks, I got distracted by my girlfriend I guess the talk by Jonathan Ott was probably pretty good. There were quite a few retrospective talks about the history of LSD over the past 50 years, but I can't say I was too tempted by them. I suppose I already read too much about that.
Saturday morning I missed the shockingly early musical introduction once again, though I heard it was good, a giant gong.
I was in time to catch Martin Lee talking about how the early CIA influenced the psychedelic movement. He claims that they played a decisive role, in fact, funding a lot of above-board research, which introduced thousands of young people to LSD as paid participants in experiments. He also thinks that it isn't a cooincidence that LSD didn't get made illegal until the CIA had established that it was useless as an interrogation drug.
In the following parallel sessions, I opted for Alex Grey. That was a pretty good talk, though it suffered a bit because he had to stop every two sentences to allow the interpreter to translate into German. She wasn't too polite with him, so he started playing games with her by uttering really complicated sentences. Anyway, he did a kind of analysis of the painting that he did for Albert Hofmann's birthday present, a picture of the young Albert holding a reconstruction of the LSD molecule, with pictures of various LSD luminaries floating around him. He also discussed his plans for an expanded Chapel of Mirrors (or whatever he calls it), where his work and the work of similarly inspired artists would be displayed. He finished off by showing work from some of his favourite artists, that was really great - great to see one artist be so supportive for other artists, also great to see just what amazing stuff is going on out there.
I missed the afternoon podium discussion completely, too much nostalgia for my taste. But then I went to the talk by Earth and Fire about the various surveys they have been doing about LSD usage in the modern world. The main message seems to be that you are more likely to have a good experience than a bad experience if you take LSD.
After that I took a wander around the foyer, where all sorts of stuff had been set up. Lots of really great artwork and a couple of bookstalls, as well as a mini-cinema, where various videos were played on endless loops. I cought one featuring the 'young' Albert Hofmann when he was only about 80. He was speaking in English, and fast, with lively gesticulation. Very encouraging to see that maintaining an active mental world can keep your body and mind healthy into such an age. There was a funny story right at the beginning, where the moderator had asked him to do something, but he said, no, I'm not ninety anymore you know!
Anyway, I really enjoyed the whole thing, and I'm glad I got a chance to see and hear good old uncle Albert himself, because I doubt if I will get another chance. Oh, and Basel itself is a really nice city, very quaint and European, but because it's Swiss, you know it is clean and safe.
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