Carl Jung on Pyschedelics
To A. M. Hubbard
Dear Sir, 15 February 1955
Thank you for your kind invitation to contribute to your mescalin scheme.
Thirty years ago I became acquainted with Dr. Prinzhom’s mescalin experiments and thus I had ample opportunity to learn about the effects of the drug as well as about the nature of the psychic material involved in the experiment.
I cannot help agreeing with you that the said experiment is of the highest psychological interest in a theoretical way.
But when it comes to the practical and more or less general application of mescalin, I have certain doubts and hesitations.
The analytical method of psychotherapy (e.g., “active imagination”) yields very similar results, viz. full realization of complexes and numinous dreams and visions.
These phenomena occur at their proper time and place in the course of the treatment.
Mescalin, however, uncovers such psychic facts at any time and place when and where it is by no means certain that the individual is mature enough to integrate them.
Mescalin is a drug similar to hashish and opium in so far as it is a poison, paralysing the normal function of apperception and thus giving free rein to the psychic factors underlying sense perception.
These aesthetic factors account for colours, sounds, forms, associations, and emotions attributed by the unconscious psyche to the mere stimulus provided by the objects.
They are comparable in Hindu philosophy to the concept of the “thinker” of the thought, the “feeler” of feeling, the “sounder” of sound, etc.
It is just as if mescalin were taking away the top layer of apperception, which produces the “accurate” picture of the object as it looks to us.
If this layer is removed, we immediately discover the variants of conscious perception and apperception, viz. a rich display of contingent colours, forms, associations, etc., from which under normal conditions the process of apperception selects the correct quality.
Perception and apperception result from a complicated process which transforms the physical and physiological stimulus into a psychic image.
In this way, the unconscious psyche adds colours, sounds, associations, meaning, etc. out of the treasure of its subliminal possibilities.
These additions, if unchecked, would dissolve into or cover up the objective image by an infinite variety, a real “fantasia” or symphony of shades and nuances both of qualities as well as of meanings.
But the normal process of conscious perception and apperception aims at the production of a “correct” representation of the object excluding all subliminal perceptional variants.
Could we uncover the unconscious layer next to consciousness during the process of apperception, we would be confronted with an infinitely moving world riotous with colours, sounds, forms, emotions, meanings, etc.
But out of all this emerges a relatively drab and banal picture devoid of emotion and poor in meaning.
In psychotherapy and psychopathology we have discovered the same variants (usually, however, in a less gorgeous array) through amplification of certain conscious images.
Mescalin brusquely removes the veil of the selective process and reveals the underlying layer of perceptional variants, apparently a world of infinite wealth.
Thus the individual gains an insight and a full view of psychic possibilities which he otherwise (f.i. through “active imagination”) would reach only by assiduous work and a relatively long and difficult training.
But if he reaches and experiences [them in this way], he has not only acquired them by legitimate endeavour but he has also arrived at the same time in a mental position where he can integrate the meaning of his experience.
Mescalin is a short cut and therefore yields as a result only a perhaps awe-inspiring aesthetic impression, which remains an isolated, unintegrated experience contributing very little to the development of human personality.
I have seen some peyotees in New Mexico and they did not compare favourably with the ordinary Pueblo Indians.
They gave me the impression of drug addicts.
They would be an interesting object for a closer psychiatric investigation.
The idea that mescalin could produce a transcendental experience is shocking.
The drug merely uncovers the normally unconscious functional layer of perceptional and emotional variants, which are only psychologically transcendent but by no means “transcendental,” i.e., metaphysical.
Such an experiment may be in practice good for people having a desire to convince themselves of the real existence of an unconscious psyche.
It could give them a fair idea of its reality.
But I never could accept mescalin as a means to convince people of the possibility of spiritual experience over against their materialism.
It is on the contrary an excellent demonstration of Marxist materialism: mescalin is the drug by which you can manipulate the brain so that it produces even so-called “spiritual” experiences.
That is the ideal case for Bolshevik philosophy and its “brave new world.”
If that is all the Occident has to offer in the way of “transcendental” experience, we would but confirm the Marxist aspirations to prove that the “spiritual” experience can be just as well produced by chemical means.
There is finally a question which I am unable to answer, as I have no corresponding experience: it concerns the possibility that a drug opening the door to the unconscious could also release a latent, potential psychosis.
As far as my experience goes, such latent dispositions are considerably more frequent than actual psychoses, and thus there exists a fair chance of hitting upon such a case during mescalin experiments.
It would be a highly interesting though equally disagreeable experience, such cases being the bogey of psychotherapy.
Hoping you are not offended by the frankness of my critical opinion,
I remain, dear Sir,
Yours very truly,
C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 222-224.