Set, Setting, and the Psychedelic Experience in the Twentieth Century
432 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: July 14, 2020
- Published: July 14, 2020
How historical, social, and cultural forces shaped the psychedelic experience in midcentury America, from CIA LSD experiments the Harvard Psilocybin Project.
Are psychedelics invaluable therapeutic medicines, or dangerously unpredictable drugs that precipitate psychosis? Tools for spiritual communion or cognitive enhancers that spark innovation? Activators for one's private muse or part of a political movement? In the 1950s and 1960s, researchers studied psychedelics in all these incarnations, often arriving at contradictory results. In American Trip, Ido Hartogsohn examines how the psychedelic experience in midcentury America was shaped by historical, social, and cultural forces—by set (the mindset of the user) and setting (the environments in which the experience takes place). He explores uses of psychedelics that range from CIA and military experimentation to psychedelic-inspired styles in music, fashion, design, architecture, and film. Along the way, he introduces us to a memorable cast of characters including Betty Eisner, a psychologist who drew on her own experience to argue for the therapeutic potential of LSD, and Timothy Leary, who founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project and went on to become psychedelics' most famous advocate.
Hartogsohn chronicles these developments in the context of the era's cultural trends, including the cold war, the counterculture, the anti-psychiatric movement, and the rise of cybernetics. Drawing on insights from the study of science, technology, and society, he develops the idea of LSD as a suggestible technology, the properties of which are shaped by suggestion. He proposes the concept of collective set and setting, arguing that the historical and sociocultural context of midcentury America offered a particular set and setting—creating the conditions for what he calls the American trip.
American Trip presents a timely and invaluable guide to the crucial lessons that twentieth-century psychedelic history provides for the current psychedelic renaissance, and to using set and setting as a strategic tool for ensuring the healthy integration of psychedelics into society.
Rick Doblin, Executive Director of MAPS
In clearly and rigorously exploring the single most consequential idea in psychedelic studies—the notion of set and setting—American Trip not only insightfully reframes the many histories of LSD, but offers a humanistic and reflexive alternative to the often simplistic discourse of today's growing psychedelic industry.
Erik Davis, author of High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies
American Trip guides its readers through the reflexive arts and sciences of set and setting used to study psychedelics, beckoning towards an intense pluriverse, full of beguiling guises, strange twists, and thrice-told tales.
Nancy D. Campbell, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; author of OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose
In this landmark book, Hartogsohn enlarges the traditional parameters of set and setting by including the larger social-cultural matrix. This expanded definition provides a more sophisticated understanding of how non-drug factors determine the nature of any psychedelic drug experience.
Rick Strassman, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of New Mexico School of Medicine and author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule
American Trip amounts to a sociological enlightenment of our drug culture. Hartogsohn's vibrant book shows how 1960s America made psychedelics do what they did and suggests that these wondrous molecules will do something altogether different in other times and places.
Nicolas Langlitz, Associate Professor of Anthropology, New School for Social Research; author of Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain
"Hartogsohn's book is a seminal contribution to his discipline and the larger issue of extrapharmacological factors shaping drug effects."
Frontiers in Pharmacology