This is a pretty funny story.
When I read jokes in the form of “he must have been tripping on acid” I usually can tell if the person writing it has ever tripped on acid – because, often, what they imagine it’s like is completely wrong.
I tripped on LSD a couple of times in the 90s, including one occasion where I was comfortable enough with the blotter I had and the dosage and decided to do a ‘heroic’ dose: 4 hits. That’s not a good metric of dosage, though, because a ‘hit’ is not standardized, and neither is the subject’s neurochemistry. To make it more complicated, the active dose is miniscule – a microgram would be 100 hits in the 1960s; nowadays the concentration on a piece of blotter may be 2-5 times greater than it was in the 60s. This is unfortunate, because it means that the sensible tripper will buy a supply from the same batch, and creep up on it until they figure out what’s the right dose for them. Usually that’s done by putting a tab of blotter in a 10cc hypodermic of distilled water and letting the chemicals dissolve; then you can take 1/10 or 1/20 of a hit for starters (sometimes called “micro dosing” nowadays). It turns out I had some uncharacteristic responses, so it was good that my first trip was overseen by an experienced trip-guide.
If you’ve ever seen Fatboy Slim, he’s an example of the fact that too much LSD, over time, will affect you. I’m not going to hypothesize what’s going on, but it seems to me as though Nietzsche was right: if you stare into the abyss the abyss also stares into you and if you stare into the heart of a star, you get a bit crispy around the edges. After the time I did my heroic dose, I felt like the Dallas Cowboys had held practice inside my skull, wearing rubber wellies that had a lot of horse-manure on them. It was mostly dehydration, but everything in my head felt tired and wobbly.
Thanks the the CIA and its habit of dosing people without warning them LSD has a (deliberately) bad reputation for people sometimes imagining they’re a bird and jumping out a window. That’s complete bullshit, by the way. So is the story about the guy who gouged out and ate his own eyeballs. LSD doesn’t encourage you do to any of that sort of thing; that sort of messed-up behavior is the purview of religion but not psychoactives. What you feel is highly distractable, which makes sense since your brain activity has been turned up to 11, or maybe 12, and instead of your cognition being a meandering thread, it’s trying to run in parallel or something. The second time (I think it was) that I tripped it was on a lovely spring day in Paris, 1998, I sat in Notre Dame and listened to the acoustics and the sounds of the people in that great arched space of stone. Leaving there after an unknown number of hours I sat down at a cafe for pizza and the waiter asked if I wanted some wine. At that time I had no fondness for wine at all but I got a carafe of the house red, which went amazingly well with the pizza (as if some italian genius with wine had created pizza as its perfect foil!) and I ate pizza and drank wine and watched the people walk by. They sometimes fell into slow motion, which was tremendously beautiful and entertaining. The light wrapped around everything like a painting. It was a great time. While I was sitting there trying to think I had the idea that our notion that cognition is a single thread may be only a side-effect of how it’s organized, and that there may be people who process information with more parallelism that the rest of us. What if the difference between a genius like Feynman and an ordinary person like me is that Feynman hit on a more efficient way to think and, naturally, he didn’t realize it because fish don’t see the water they swim in, or something like that. Anyhow, I had joy watching the people pop in and out of slow-motion, and the sounds and smell and I had another pizza and more wine. Later I told my parents, when they asked when I had started drinking wine, that LSD was my “gateway drug” to wine.
So, you’re really distractable but if you need to you can pull your focus together and be almost normal for a bit but then you fuzz back out into free-association. I know people who drive (!) on LSD – which I do not recommend – but I think it’s important to understand that when you’re messed up, learned/over-learned behaviors are still available. That’s how, if you’re used to driving a semi-trailer across the country, you can still drive the semi- even if you’re in Bat Country. That’s also how Hunter S. Thompson was able to write when he was half-baked; it came out great because he was free-associating like mad and his main cognitive thread was grabbing imagery from the fountain of weird ideas sloshing back and forth in his mind. Wait, did I say “half baked”? Who am I kidding, he was more like the fire-box of a steam locomotive.
All of that leads me to the point of this posting: this is the remarkable story of when Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter in the major leagues while he was peaking on LSD. That’s a tribute to how well his brain already knew how to call up the “throw the ball” subroutine, while the rest of his cognition was bouncing around. Unless you’ve done it, it’s very hard to describe but you actually feel like you’re able to “pull yourself together” here and there, and then you fall apart again for a while.
I’ve never encountered a drug that’s as bad for your brain as religion. Well, maybe tequila. It’s a really unusual world we live in, that bingeing on tequila is legal and eating some mushrooms and exploring your inner space is not. If anyone could use a chance to trip balls and have a long hard look at himself in a mirror, it’s Mitch McConnell, “Mitch, how have you spent your life? Oh, no!”