Origins of the cyber-psychedelic subculture (2021)

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by Federico Soldani – 18 June 2021

The word ‘cybernetics’, according to the popular online encyclopaedia Wikipedia (accessed 18th June 2021, emphasis added) “comes from Ancient Greek κυβερνητική (kybernētikḗ), meaning “governance”, i.e., all that are pertinent to κυβερνάω (kybernáō), the latter meaning “to steer, navigate or govern”, hence κυβέρνησις (kybérnēsis), meaning “government”, is the government while κυβερνήτης (kybernḗtēs) is the governor, pilot, or “helmsperson” of the “ship.”

French physicist and mathematician André-Marie Ampère first coined the word “cybernetique” in his 1834 essay Essai sur la philosophie des sciences to describe the science of civil government.  The term was used by Norbert Wiener, in his book Cybernetics, to define the study of control and communication in the animal and the machine. In the book, he states: “Although the term cybernetics does not date further back than the summer of 1947, we shall find it convenient to use in referring to earlier epochs of the development of the field.”

The word ‘psychedelic’ was coined by British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, working in North America, in a rhyme exchange with writer Aldous Leonard Huxley and presented for the first time at a conference in 1957, as described and discussed in four previous articles (1, 2, 3, and 4) in PsyPolitics.

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The two concepts and words ‘cybernetics’ and ‘psychedelic’ came to be increasingly associated to the point of allowing coining the term ‘cyberdelic’, which I prefer to spell out for clarity as ‘cyber-psychedelic’, to characterize the cyberdelic subculture.

The hypothesis about the current transformation of the mind by capitalism, referred to as ‘CyPsy’ mind, from the words ‘cyber’ – derived from cybernetics – and ‘psychedelic’, was developed in some detail in the 2020 article ‘CyPsy’ mind? Cyber super-ego and psychedelic id. Or digital surveillance, mass hallucinogens, and the new ‘black gold’ of the unconscious (2020) – PsyPolitics.

Such cyberdelic or cyber-psychedelic subculture, “of which former Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary became a guru, is about associating hallucinogens and digital technologies in various ways conceptually as well as practically (see, for instance, Leary’s 1990 From Psychedelics to Cybernetics, lecture tour or the Lecture at Sonoma State University in 1992 From LSD to Virtual Reality).”

“Leary went from the “turn on, tune in, drop out” psychedelic motto of the 60s to the cybernetic motto of the 90s “turn on, boot up, jack in” and famously proclaimed that the “PC is the LSD of the 1990s.”

In this article, two covers from conferences proceedings sponsored by the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, about Cybernetics (on top) – 1953 Macy conferences – and Neuropharmacology (below) – 1955 Neuropharmacological Conferences, in which U.S. neurophysiologist and behavioural scientist Ralph Waldo Gerard proposed the term ‘psychotomimetic’ – are presented along with additional related hypertextual links for the interested reader.

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In his 1957 paper in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences – as noted in a previous article in PsyPolitics – in which the name ‘psychedelic’ was first presented in print, Osmond noted:

Heinrich Klüver (“a member of the ‘core group’ of cybernetics pioneers that participated in the Macy Conferences of the 1940s and 1950s”, ed.) pioneered so many trails that it will be no surprise to discover that nearly 30 years ago he was emphasizing the importance of mescaline to psychology in an admirable book (‘Mescal: The Divine Plant and Its Psychological Effects’, ed.) now unhappily out of print.”

Among other works, in addition to the 1928 book encomiastically mentioned by Osmond ‘Mescal: The Divine Plant and Its Psychological Effects’, Klüver – who gave its name to the Klüver–Bucy syndrome – also wrote in 1966 a revised book on mescal: ‘Mescal and Mechanisms of Hallucinations’ (book cover in the photo above).

Klüver, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Chicago, was an influential figure who led Richard Evans Schultes – considered a founder of modern ethnobotany – to study psychoactive drugs, plant intoxicants. The prominent book co-authored by Schultes and Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann – “father” of LSD – ‘Plants of the Gods: Origins of Hallucinogenic Use’ (1979) was originally dedicated to Klüver.

Klüver almost three decades earlier also wrote an introduction to the first edition of the book on psychology by Austrian recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Friedrich Hayek – considered along with Keynes one of the major economists of the 20th century: The Sensory Order: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Theoretical Psychology (1952).

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Cite this article as: Federico Soldani, "Origins of the cyber-psychedelic subculture (2021)," in PsyPolitics, June 18, 2021, https://psypolitics.org/2021/06/18/origins-of-the-cyber-psychedelic-subculture-2021/.

Last Updated on June 19, 2021 by Federico Soldani

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