Viktor Frankl: drugs, LSD and subjective vs. objective meaning (2020)


“One of Frankl’s main topics in the 1960s. When teaching at Harvard University in 1961, he was among few who opposed the experimental use of LSD proposed by Dr. Timothy Leary, stating that “freedom is only one side of a phenomenon whose other side is responsibility.” (California 1968)



Journalist: “In discussing this issue, Dr. Frankl draws a distinction between meanings which are objective and externally verifiable, and those which are subjective, based on feelings.

According to Dr. Frankl, only subjective meaning is found in the drug-induced experience.”


Dr. Frankl: “For instance those that are made available in a state of intoxication by LSD, may well wind up in the same way as the animals that have been used by Olds and Milner in California for their self-stimulation experiments.  

That is to say, they inserted electrodes into the deepest centers of the brain of rats and whenever the electric current was closed, evidently the animals experienced something such as sexual orgasm or else the satisfaction of taking in food.

And now the animals learn to jump on the lever, thereby closing the electric circuit and thereby providing themselves with these feelings of orgasm or other forms of satisfaction.

Then they became addicted to this business, they did so up to 50,000 times a day.  

And the remarkable thing now is, that these animals that could provide themselves by electricity with the mere feeling of orgasm or other satisfactions, no longer care for the real partners, sexual partners offered to them, and totally neglected the real food that has been offered to them.”


Once you take in LSD, suddenly the whole world takes on infinite meaningfulness.  

However, these are merely subjective meanings, I would say these are feelings of meaningfulness, rather than true, real meanings. 

And the danger is, that those youngsters who resort to these subjective feelings of meaningfulness, these youngsters are threatened to bypass and neglect those meanings, those objective meanings which are in wait for them, which are in store for them, out there in the world, rather than within their own psyche.”


“Caught in the existential vacuum, in the existential despair, in the despair over the apparent meaninglessness of life, they resort to subjective meanings and then neglect the objective meanings that are still available, but neglected by them.”

Journalist:  “The journey of life is a life task to be performed and to be achieved and not simply a subjective feeling.” 

Dr. Frankl:  “Right, not just an adventure in terms of sensations but an adventure in terms of unique potentialities.  Once we have actualized the potentiality, we have rescued it into the past, we have and nothing and nobody can ever rob us, it has become a reality for ever, for eternity.  

But the same also rules, if we have neglected and bypassed it, then the potentiality not having been actualized is past forever, is lost forever.

This constitutes our infinite responsibleness.  

Of course nobody is capable of fully actualizing each and every potentiality and thereby he becomes in a certain sense, in an existential sense, he becomes guilty.  However, this guilt belongs to the condition, to the human condition, is inescapable, and we have to confess to our fallibility.  

This is nothing to hinder us from going on to actualize values and fulfil meanings, but it is a warning not to let pass the transitory potentialities.  

What is transitory is only the potentialities, but once we have actualized them, we have actualized them forever, we have rescued them into an eternal reality, as it were.” 

Last Updated on July 28, 2020 by Federico Soldani

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