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5 philosophers who took drugs and what they got out of it
You can name a dozen rock stars on drugs, but can you name the philosophers who partook? We're here to help.
We can all name a dozen rock stars who take drugs but it might surprise you to learn that great minds outside of music like a hit every now and again. Here, we have five philosophers who took hard drugs and how it influenced their work.
Before we begin, remember that these people would have been noteworthy even if they stayed sober and that, at best, the drugs these people took served as tools for getting a new point of view. Trying this yourself is less likely to work out as well.
Sartre in 1940, not pictured are a dozen crabs that he thought were all around him. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A French philosopher, Sartre was one of the greatest minds of 20th-century Europe. He was an extremely prolific writer who explored questions of existence and living as an individual in a conformist world.
Like many college students, the young Sartre had the bright idea to try mescaline as a means to get a new look on reality and explore his consciousness. He had a large dose of the powerful psychedelic injected into his arm, giving him an intense trip.
While he did get his desired perspective out of his misadventure, he also claimed to have visions of crabs for months afterward. They followed him everywhere, and he feared for his sanity. He later decided they were a manifestation of his fear of loneliness and they slowly faded away after he stopped paying attention to them.
How did it affect his work?
Sartre’s breakout novel, Nausea, contained themes that can be seen as drug-influenced, especially when characters make existential breakthroughs. His later play The Condemned of Altona featured a race of crabs who can see through time and judge the actions of 20th-century humanity.
A German-Jewish philosopher who worked with the Frankfurt School, Benjamin is one of the many philosophers whose fame came only after his death. He wrote on the history of philosophy, aesthetics, and was a notable cultural critic.
What interests us today is an unfinished book based on his experimentation with hashish. Published after his death, On Hashish explains his methods, experiences, and some of the insights he got out of the trips. Also included are articles which were influenced by the drug use.
He also took opium and mescaline as part of the same set of experiments. He was so dedicated to a scientific approach to the chemicals that he never got a supplier, relying on his doctors, and was always careful with the doses to avoid hampering his powers of observation.
How did this affect his work?
He did think that some of his work was directly influenced by his drug use and kept his records of how the smoke sessions went to help demonstrate the connections. It undoubtedly influenced his ideas on intoxication as explained in his essay Surrealism and likely affected his ideas on how perspectives and interpretations can be applied to the world.
A young William James in Brazil. (Houghton library, Harvard University)
An American philosopher who also had a knack for psychology, James’ work helped to form the school of pragmatism. He was the first educator in the United States to lecture on psychology and was the brother of English novelist Henry James.
James also has the distinction of being the first western philosopher to comment on psychedelic drugs. In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience he related his experimental taking of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and ether. He also took peyote, chloral hydrate, and alkyl nitrites for similar experiments into altered states.
How did this affect his work?
His drug use reflects a lifelong interest in mysticism and in many ways promoted his efforts in that area. He explained that by warping his consciousness he was better able to grasp the idea of religious experiences as altered states of consciousness as well.
He also, amusingly, claimed that he could only understand the work of Hegel while high. Many analytic philosophers would be inclined to agree with him.
A French philosopher of the late 20th century, Foucault examined what lay at the crossroads of truth, history, and power. Foucault died in 1984 and was the first public figure in France to die of AIDS.
He took more than a few chemicals during his youthful party years in the underground gay scene of Paris, and he later claimed to have taken everything short of heroin. It was only later in his life that he seemed to view the trips philosophically.
In 1975, Foucault traveled to California to give a lecture. It was while there that he was convinced to visit Death Valley and take LSD. The trip, which is described here by the man who went with him, involved music, beautiful vistas, and hiking around the desert.
How did this affect his work?
Simeon Wade, the academic who gave Foucault the acid, claimed that the great philosopher wrote to him later about the experience. The letter is said to explain that the trip had moved him greatly and caused him to completely rework his plans on his series The History of Sexuality.
Foucault’s early death prevented the work from being finished, and the notion that the drug trip seriously altered the course of the work he did finish is debatable.
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
One of the most controversial philosophers of all time, Nietzsche was one of the founders of existentialism and wrote on nihilism as well. His work has influenced many later thinkers and was used to justify the fascist regimes of the 20th century.
While Nietzsche had strong opinions on alcohol, placing it next to Christianity as one of “the great narcotics in European history,” he wasn’t entirely sober himself. He was always rather sickly, had trouble sleeping, and suffered from crippling migraines. In the search for pain relief before the invention of Aspirin, he turned to opium.
He also took chloral hydrate as a sleeping aid. He later became such a fiend for the stuff that he forged prescriptions for himself, signing as “Dr. Nietzsche,” which was technically accurate.
How did this affect his work?
While Bertrand Russell cited his sickly nature as the source of his “power fantasies” the influence of the drugs on his work is harder to pin down. He was taking large does of them during his most prolific period, and it is probable that at least some of his writing must have been done high.
However, given that the themes of self-overcoming seem to contrast rather sharply with taking drugs that make you want to lie down and do nothing, it seems unlikely that his drug use had much of an impact on his content.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to life recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
- As the material that makes all living things what/who we are, DNA is the key to understanding and changing the world. British geneticist Bryan Sykes and Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project) explain how, through gene editing, scientists can better treat illnesses, eradicate diseases, and revolutionize personalized medicine.
- But existing and developing gene editing technologies are not without controversies. A major point of debate deals with the idea that gene editing is overstepping natural and ethical boundaries. Just because they can, does that mean that scientists should be edit DNA?
- Harvard professor Glenn Cohen introduces another subcategory of gene experiments: mixing human and animal DNA. "The question is which are okay, which are not okay, why can we generate some principles," Cohen says of human-animal chimeras and arguments concerning improving human life versus morality.
New studies stretch the boundaries of physics, achieving quantum entanglement in larger systems.
- New experiments with vibrating drums push the boundaries of quantum mechanics.
- Two teams of physicists create quantum entanglement in larger systems.
- Critics question whether the study gets around the famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
Recently published research pushes the boundaries of key concepts in quantum mechanics. Studies from two different teams used tiny drums to show that quantum entanglement, an effect generally linked to subatomic particles, can also be applied to much larger macroscopic systems. One of the teams also claims to have found a way to evade the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
One question that the scientists were hoping to answer pertained to whether larger systems can exhibit quantum entanglement in the same way as microscopic ones. Quantum mechanics proposes that two objects can become "entangled," whereby the properties of one object, such as position or velocity, can become connected to those of the other.
An experiment performed at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, led by physicist Shlomi Kotler and his colleagues, showed that a pair of vibrating aluminum membranes, each about 10 micrometers long, can be made to vibrate in sync, in such a way that they can be described to be quantum entangled. Kotler's team amplified the signal from their devices to "see" the entanglement much more clearly. Measuring their position and velocities returned the same numbers, indicating that they were indeed entangled.
Tiny aluminium membranes used by Kotler's team.Credit: Florent Lecoq and Shlomi Kotler/NIST
Evading the Heisenberg uncertainty principle?
Another experiment with quantum drums — each one-fifth the width of a human hair — by a team led by Prof. Mika Sillanpää at Aalto University in Finland, attempted to find what happens in the area between quantum and non-quantum behavior. Like the other researchers, they also achieved quantum entanglement for larger objects, but they also made a fascinating inquiry into getting around the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
The team's theoretical model was developed by Dr. Matt Woolley of the University of New South Wales. Photons in the microwave frequency were employed to create a synchronized vibrating pattern as well as to gauge the positions of the drums. The scientists managed to make the drums vibrate in opposite phases to each other, achieving "collective quantum motion."
The study's lead author, Dr. Laure Mercier de Lepinay, said: "In this situation, the quantum uncertainty of the drums' motion is canceled if the two drums are treated as one quantum-mechanical entity."
This effect allowed the team to measure both the positions and the momentum of the virtual drumheads at the same time. "One of the drums responds to all the forces of the other drum in the opposing way, kind of with a negative mass," Sillanpää explained.
Theoretically, this should not be possible under the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, one of the most well-known tenets of quantum mechanics. Proposed in the 1920s by Werner Heisenberg, the principle generally says that when dealing with the quantum world, where particles also act like waves, there's an inherent uncertainty in measuring both the position and the momentum of a particle at the same time. The more precisely you measure one variable, the more uncertainty in the measurement of the other. In other words, it is not possible to simultaneously pinpoint the exact values of the particle's position and momentum.
Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle Explained. Credit: Veritasium / Youtube.com
Big Think contributor astrophysicist Adam Frank, known for the 13.8 podcast, called this "a really fascinating paper as it shows that it's possible to make larger entangled systems which behave like a single quantum object. But because we're looking at a single quantum object, the measurement doesn't really seem to me to be 'getting around' the uncertainty principle, as we know that in entangled systems an observation of one part constrains the behavior of other parts."
Ethan Siegel, also an astrophysicist, commented, "The main achievement of this latest work is that they have created a macroscopic system where two components are successfully quantum mechanically entangled across large length scales and with large masses. But there is no fundamental evasion of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle here; each individual component is exactly as uncertain as the rules of quantum physics predicts. While it's important to explore the relationship between quantum entanglement and the different components of the systems, including what happens when you treat both components together as a single system, nothing that's been demonstrated in this research negates Heisenberg's most important contribution to physics."The papers, published in the journal Science, could help create new generations of ultra-sensitive measuring devices and quantum computers.