The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test - by Tom Wolfe
How many?--maybe two dozen people in the world were on to this incredible secret! One was Aldous Huxley, who had taken mescaline and written about it in The Doors of Perception. He compared the brain to a "reducing valve." In ordinary perception, the senses send an overwhelming flood of information to the brain, which the brain then filters down to a trickle it can manage for the purpose of survival in a highly competitive world. Man has become so rational, so utilitarian, that the trickle becomes most pale and thin. It is efficient, for mere survival, but it screens out the most wondrous part of man's potential experience without his even knowing it. We're shut off from our own world. Primitive man once experienced the rich and sparkling flood of the senses fully. Children experience it for a few months--until "normal" training, conditioning, close the doors on this other world, usually for good. Somehow, Huxley had said, the drugs opened these ancient doors. And through them modern man may at last go, and rediscover his divine birthright.
Under LSD, if it really went right, Ego and Non-Ego started to merge. Countless things that seemed separate started to merge, too: a sound became ... a color! blue ... colors became smells, walls began to breathe like the underside of a leaf, with one's own breath. A curtain became a column of concrete and yet it began rippling, this incredible concrete mass rippling in harmonic waves like the Puget Sound bridge before the crash and you can feel it, the entire harmonics of the universe from the most massive to the smallest and most personal-- presque vu! --all flowing together in this very moment... This side of the LSD experience-- the feeling! --tied in with Jung's theory of synchronicity. Jung tried to explain the meaningful coincidences that occur in life and cannot be explained by cause-and-effect reasoning, such as ESP phenomena. He put forth the hypothesis that the unconscious perceives certain archetypical patterns that elude the conscious mind. These patterns, he suggested, are what unite subjective or psychic events with objective phenomena, the Ego with the Non-Ego, as in psychosomatic medicine or in the microphysical events of modern physics in which the eye of the beholder becomes an integral part of the experiment. Countless philosophers, prophets, early scientists, not to mention alchemists and occultists, had tried to present the same idea in the past, Plotinus, Lao-tse, Pico della Mirandola, Agrippa, Kepler, Leibniz. Every phenomenon, and every person, is a microcosm of the whole pattern of the universe, according to this idea. It is as if each man were an atom in a molecule in a fingernail of a giant being. Most men spend their lives trying to understand the workings of the molecule they're born into and all they know for sure are the cause-and-effect workings of the atoms in it. A few brilliant men grasp the structure of the entire fingernail. A few geniuses, like Einstein, may even see that they're all part of a finger of some ¡sort--So space equals time, hmmmmmm ... All the while, however, many men get an occasional glimpse of another fingernail from another finger flashing by or even a whole finger or even the surface of the giant being's face and they realize instinctively that this is a part of a pattern they're all involved in, although they are totally powerless to explain it by cause and effect. And then--some visionary, through some accident-- --accident, Mahavira?-- --through some quirk of metabolism, through some drug perhaps, has his doors of perception opened for an instant and he almost sees-- presque vu! --the entire being and he knows for the first time that there is a whole . . . other pattern here .. . Each moment in his life is only minutely related to the cause-and-effect chain within his little molecular world. Each moment, if he could only analyze it, reveals the entire pattern of the motion of the giant being, and his life is minutely synched in with it.
For a long time I couldn't understand the one Oriental practice the Pranksters liked, the throwing of the I Ching coins. The I Ching is an ancient Chinese text. The Book of Changes, it is called. It contains 64 oracular readings, all highly metaphorical. You ask the I Ching a question and throw three coins three times and come up with a hexagram and a number that points to one of the passages. It "answers" your question. .. yes; but the I Ching didn't seem very Pranksterlike. I couldn't fit it in with the Pranksters' wired-up, American-flag-flying, Day-Glo electro-pastel surge down the great American superhighway. Yet--of course! The I Ching was supremely the book of Now, of the moment. For, as Jung said, the way the coins fall is inevitably tied up with the quality of the entire moment in which they fall, the entire pattern, and "form a part of it--a part that is insignificant to us, yet most meaningful to Chinese minds"
There is another book in the shelf in Kesey's living room that everybody seems to look at, a little book called The Journey to the East, by Hermann Hesse. Hesse wrote it in 1932 and yet... the synch!... it is a book about.. . exactly ... the Pranksters! and the great bus trip of 1964! "It was my destiny to join in a great experience," the book began. "Having had the good fortune to belong to the League, I was permitted to be a participant in a unique journey." It goes on to tell about a weird, circuitous journey across Europe, toward the East, that the members of this League took. It began, supposedly, as just a journey, to get from here to there, but gradually it took on a profound though unclassifiable meaning: "My happiness did indeed arise from the same secret as the happiness in dreams; it arose from the freedom to experience everything imaginable simultaneously, to exchange outward and inward easily, to move Time and Space about like scenes in a theater. And as we League brothers traveled throughout the world without motor-cars or ships, as we conquered the war-shattered world by our faith and transformed it into Paradise, we creatively brought the past, the future and the fictitious into the present moment." The present moment! Now! The kairos! It was like the man had been on acid himself and was on the bus.
kai·ros n. [in sing.][chiefly theology] a propitious moment for decision or action. mid 20th cent.: Greek, literally 'opportunity'.
Intellectuals were always hung up with the feeling that they weren't coming to grips with real life. Real life belonged to all those funky spades and prize fighters and bull-fighters and dock workers and grape pickers and wetbacks. Nostalgie de la boue.
The answer to all the Prankster fantasies, public and private, the whole solution--they already found it; namely, the Hell's Angels party. That two-day rout hadn't been a party but a show. It had been more than a show even. It had been an incredible concentration of energy. Not only Pranksters, but people from all over, heads, non-heads, intellectuals, curiosity-seekers, even cops, had turned up and gotten swept up in the incredible energy of the thing. They had been in the Prankster movie. It was one show that hadn't been separated into entertainers and customers, with the customers buying a ticket and saying All right, now entertain me. At the Angels' party everybody got high together and everybody did his thing and entertained everybody else, Angels being Angels, Ginsberg being Ginsberg, Pranksters being Pranksters, and cops being cops. Even the cops did their thing, splashing those big lush evil revolving red turret lights off the dirt cliff and growling and baying and hassling cars.
The hip world, the vast majority of the acid heads, were still playing the eternal charade of the middle-class intellectuals--Behold my wings! Freedom! Flight!--but you don't actually expect me to jump off that cliff, do you? It is the eternal game in which Clement Attlee, bald as Lenin, lively as a toy tank, yodels blood to the dockworkers of Liverpool--and dies buried in striped pants with a magenta sash across his chest and a coin with the Queen's likeness upon each eyelid.