When I was in school I read a great story about a man who took opium, felt that he had a great philosophical insight, wrote it down, and then found, after sobering up, that what he had written was “I perceive a distinct smell of kerosene”, Jag kÃ¤nner en distinkt doft av fotogen.
Mucking around on the blessed web, I now find that the man was Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American 19th century physician and author. But it was ether, not opium, and turpentine, not kerosene. Here’s what OWH writes in his essay “Mechanism in thought and morals : an address delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University, June 29, 1870”.
I once inhaled a pretty full dose of ether, with the determination to put on record, at the earliest moment of regaining consciousness, the thought I should find uppermost in my mind. The mighty music of the triumphal march into nothingness reverberated through my brain, and filled me with a sense of infinite possibilities, which made me an archangel for the moment. The veil of eternity was lifted. The one great truth which underlies all human experience, and is the key to all the mysteries that philosophy has sought in vain to solve, flashed upon me in a sudden revelation. Henceforth all was clear: a few words had lifted my intelligence to the level of the knowledge of the cherubim. As my natural condition returned, I remembered my resolution; and, staggering to my desk, I wrote, in ill-shaped straggling letters, the all-embracing truth still glimmering in my consciousness. The words were these (children may smile; the wise will ponder): “A strong smell of turpentine prevails throughout.“
This reminds me of a time at a party when one of my buddies was drunkenly talking about how great other drugs than the beer bottle in his hand are, and described some deeply meaningful and intense insights he had attained while tripping on acid. Sadly, as I was sober as always, I failed to see their import. Like my friend the philosopher once said, “When you have that eureka feeling of really having made an intellectual breakthough, you’re generally wrong”.