Father of LSD nears the century mark
Hofmann will turn 100 on Wednesday, a milestone to be marked by a symposium in Basel on the chemical compound that he discovered and which unlocked the Blakean doors of perception, altering consciousnesses around the world.
As his time left grows short, Hofmann's conversation turns ever more insistently around one theme: man's oneness with nature and the dangers of an increasing inattention to that fact.
"It's very, very dangerous to lose contact with living nature," he said. "In the big cities, there are people who have never seen living nature, all things are products of humans," he said. "The bigger the town, the less they see and understand nature."
And, yes, LSD, which he calls his "problem child," could help reconnect people to the universe.
Rounding a century, Hoffman is physically reduced but mentally clear. He ambles with pleasure through memories of his boyhood, but his bright eyes flash with the recollection of a mystical experience he had on a forest path more than 90 years ago in the hills above Baden, Switzerland.
The experience left him longing for a similar glimpse of what he calls "a miraculous, powerful, unfathomable reality," but it also left him deeply connected to nature and helped shape his future.
"I was completely astonished by the beauty of nature," he said, laying a slightly gnarled finger alongside his nose with the recollection, his longish white hair swept back from his temples and the crown of his head. He became particularly fascinated by the plant kingdom, by the mechanisms through which plants turn sunlight into the building blocks for our own bodies. "Everything comes from the sun via the plant kingdom," he said.
Hoffman went on to study chemistry and took a job with the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Sandoz Laboratories because the company had started a program to identify and synthesize the active compounds of medically important plants. He soon began work on the poisonous ergot fungus that grows in grains of rye....
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