Bethesda, Maryland: 1965
New York, Nairobi, Simla, Boston: 1967 - 1975
Zapatecus, Mexico: June 1975
Boston: Harvard Medical School, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital: October 1975 - January 1976
Cambridge, Harvard Medical School, Van Buren Park Zoo: April 1976
Cambridge, Harvard Medical School: April-May 1976
Edward Jessup, a young psycho-physiologist, experiments with different states of consciousness, obsessed with an addiction to truth and knowledge. He injects himself with psychedelic drugs, lies locked in an isolation tank and experiences all the stages of pre-human consciousness until finally terrible changes take place with him: Jessup also physically transforms into a pre-human being. His thirst for knowledge drives him into ever new, increasingly irreversible transformations. Only the horror when his body begins to dissolve into pure energy brings him back to human bonds...
Paddy Chayefsky (January 29, 1923 – August 1, 1981), one of the most important US dramatists, wrote a breath-taking, equally philosophical shocker with his debut novel.
In 1980, British director Ken Russell adapted the novel based on Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay - starring: William Hurt, Blair Brown and Drew Barrymore.
For my wife, Susan
For my son, Dan
In the course of writing this book, I sought out and talked with dozens of scientists, who without exception gave of their time and knowledge with a generosity that can only be called extraordinary. I was also struck by the interest of these scientists in matters outside their disciplines - the humanities, for example. I confess I know few artists and writers who have an equivalent interest in the sciences. Yet, after two years of acquainting myself with contemporary science, it seems clear to me that art, science, religion and philosophy are all racing toward some common point of understanding. It has been a remarkable experience for me, the writing of this book, and for that I owe a great many people a great deal of gratitude.
I would like to thank Dr Grover Farrish of Hyannisport, Massachusetts, and Dr Mary Stefanyszyn of the Harvard Medical School for helping me when I was first fumbling with the original ideas of this book, and for introducing me to that remarkable community of scientists in the Boston area - anthropologists, endocrinologists, the entire tissue-typing lab of the Harvard Medical School, and members of the school’s psychophysiology department, especially Richard Surwit, PhD, now Associate Professor of Medical Psychology at the Duke University School of Medicine. I would also like to thank Charles Honorton, Director of Research of the Division of Parapsychology and Psychophysics at the Maimonides Medical Center Department of Psychiatry; and Shelby Broughton of Stockton State College who showed me my first isolation tank.
I acknowledge my deep appreciation to Dr Harry L. Shapiro of the American Museum of Natural History; to Professor Eric Delson, also of the Museum and of Xehman College, CUNY; to David Post, PhD, of the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University; and to Professor Sol Miller of Hofstra University. I thank them all for the grounding they gave me in physical anthropology and paleontology.
I am grateful to Francesco Ramirez, PhD, of the Department of Human Genetics at Columbia University, for introducing me to molecular biology. Daryl E. Bohning, PhD, biophysicist in the Department of Medicine of SUNY at Stony Brook, and Garrett Smith, PhD in theoretical physics, of the Department of Philosophy at Fordham University, generously and patiently took me through some of the extraordinary beauty and philosophy of quantum mechanics. I also want to thank Drs Ramirez, Bohning and Smith for reading the manuscript and offering me their counsel.
And most of all, I thank Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, who funneled and clarified the mass of information that poured in from all these scientific disciplines. When he did not know the material himself, he found others who did, and then sat with me patiently explaining it all. I also want to acknowledge his support in those moments of despair when the sheer volume of requisite knowledge seemed to me more than I could ever master.
I am deeply grateful to you all.
Bethesda, Maryland: 1965
The isolation tank itself was nothing more than a coffin-like bathtub made of plywood and lined with aluminum, eight by eight by ten feet and half filled with a 10 percent solution of magnesium sulphate in water to increase buoyancy. The water was heated to 93°F, the temperature at which a floating body feels minimal gravity. Every morning, a volunteer from Andrews Air Force Base came by, stripped, and stood there while a medical student from Johns Hopkins took blood samples and Jessup wired him up to all the EEG and EKG equipment. Heart rate, pulse, blood pressure and galvanic skin response were tested. After this preparation, the subject climbed into the tank and floated. Jessup and his assistant placed the lid on the tank and went off to the monitoring room. Inside the tank, the volunteer subject floated in utter darkness and utter silence, effectively deprived of sensory stimulation, alone, isolated.
In the beginning, it had been presumed that being entombed in a black, silent, coffin-like contraption would in duce paranoia, certainly anxiety. But, on the whole, that didn’t happen. In Jessup’s two years in Bethesda, only five of the sixty-two subjects showed signs of anxiety and opened the hinged lid and asked to be dropped from the experiments. The others reported experiences ranging from pleasant to exhilarating. It seemed that depriving a man of external stimuli simply triggered a whole new set of internal stimuli. All the subjects, including those who dropped out, reported early disturbance in temporal and spatial orientation. The sense of confinement disappeared quickly, and after half an hour, the subjects couldn’t tell if they had been in the tank ten minutes or two hours. Most of the subjects reported intense sensory excitement, especially in the area of sexual fantasy. Several even achieved orgasm. Forty-nine of the subjects had hallucinatory experiences, and almost all reported increased clarity of mental processes and even new patterns of thinking. That is to say, their thinking, normally linear and logical, became holistic and patterned. They saw things as a Gestalt rather than in specifics. Some were able to do complicated algebra problems instantly, problems that would ordinarily have required a step-by-step solution. The most common reaction was a deep sense of rest and refreshed energy. This was supported by the electroencephalographic evidence. The first phase was marked by a distinct, repeated pattern of change. Within minutes after the activating period, well-organized alpha waves of 40-30/V, 11-12/sec., appeared in all regions. After fifteen minutes, there was an increase in alpha amplitude, as much as 30-70/W, predominantly in the frontal and central regions. At the half-hour mark, rhythmical waves of 7-B/sec. appeared, and then, suddenly, rhythmical theta trains (6-7/sec., 70-100/zV) began to appear. This EEG pattern was startlingly similar to that of Zen priests in meditation.
At any rate, on November 19, 1965, Jessup decided to take a shot at going into the tank himself. His series of experiments for NASA were over. He was writing up his findings now. The tank wasn’t being used. At 11.30 aun. on that day, he went down to the tank-room, filled the tank with three feet of water, checked the temperature gauges, stripped off his clothes, climbed into the tank, pulled the hinged lid back over himself, lay back and floated in the black, confined silence.
At first, there were a number of physical distractions. He was fearful his head would sink, and some water got into his ears. His toes and fingers began to wrinkle. He poked about with his feet, causing ripples, hanging on in a strangely frightened way to the last bits of external sensation. He had some trouble finding a comfortable position and finally settled on folding his hands behind his head. He was conscious of the intense confinement of the walls all around him, but mostly he was startled by the utter blackness. Even in the darkest rooms, one always expects one’s eyes to adjust and to find some light. But there was absolutely no light here, nothing for his eyes to adjust to. It was relentlessly black and suddenly silent. The abrupt rush of silence was shocking, palpable, alive. He felt fear. Nobody knew he was here; suppose he couldn’t get the lid off. There were only three feet of water in the tank, but he was no longer sure of that. He had the feeling he was floating in bottomless blackness. He had the feeling he was suffocating. He had the feeling he was drowning. Panic tore out of his deepest self and swept over his white, naked, floating body. Then, as suddenly, it was gone, as though washing out into the water around him. He could almost envision his fears liquefied, greenish in color, occasionally viscid, oozing out of his white body into the water. He was abruptly aware he was seeing now in the utter blackness. In fact, there was a great deal of light, almost a radiance. The wooden grains of the black walls of the tank behind the aluminum lining took on living forms. He suddenly saw an image of a green veronica, one of those religious handkerchiefs with the face of Christ painted on it, chalk-white with little red kewpie spots on the cheeks, a crown of thorns on the brow. In an instant, he saw an infinite expanse
BETHESDA, MARYLAND: I 9 6 S'
of surrealist landscape, stretches of brilliantly white beach on which his naked body lay thickly, blackly outlined in ink. My God, he thought to himself, I’m hallucinating.
It was of interest that, despite the hallucinatory experience, he was not losing his rational awareness. He was Edward Jessup lying naked in an isolation tank in Bethesda, Maryland, and he was hallucinating. He wondered what the precise physiological activities must be to produce a hallucination. A page of a medical textbook popped up on a computer screen in front of him on which was printed: Visual displays are caused by spontaneous excitation of parts of the brain. It seemed a remarkably pompous statement. Suddenly, everything was red, the color of rage. He felt himself shouting: »What parts of the brain? What the hell are you talking about?« Then he saw an image of a cluster of neurons, sleeping neurons, actually curled up in postures of sleep, lying in subdued shadow. The implication was clear. These were stored neurons, stored in some bank of our mental computers, perceptions picked up somewhere in life and selectively filtered out of our rational consciousness, the stuff of dreams. They were waiting to be activated, to be fired.
One thing seemed immediately shatteringly clear. Aside from the beach hallucination, his imagery was of a physiological nature. Apparently, one brings into the hallucination the constructs of one’s ordinary life. He was a physiologist; therefore, his hallucinations would be within physiological forms. He was looking at his own brain now, moving into the greyish masses of thundering neurons, concerned for the moment with a curious contradiction. Since his hallucinations and his awareness of the hallucinations were both products of his own brain, how could one detachedly observe the other, especially as his self-awareness was now taking the shape of a swollen, obviously aroused vagina, into which his whole body was plunging with trembling anticipation.
The vagina changed to a very realistic, extraordinarily eidetic image of a faceless yet somehow beautiful young woman back on the eternally white beach writhing in sexual exuberance, and he was there on the beach, writhing with her in totally uncharacteristic abandon, wildly, freely, heedlessly, violently, thrusting at her, in her. He noted that the face of the girl was the face of Jesus Christ, the one on the veronica, but now distorted in sensual pleasure, despite the crown of thorns still on his brow. With a flash of red brilliance, Jessup exploded into orgasm. He was suddenly back in the black, silent tank, floating effortlessly, serene, peaceful, and hooked.
He stood up in the three feet of water and pushed up at the hinged lid. It opened with no trouble at all. Dripping wet, he clambered out of the tank and into the dark, sound-attenuated room. His clothes and a bath towel were in the corner of the room where he had put them. He dried himself languorously. After a few moments, he felt ready to click on the soft lights of the room and to return to external reality. He felt very pleased with himself, singularly voluptuous. He enjoyed toweling himself very much. He fetched his wrist watch out of his jacket pocket, tried to read the time in the subdued light. It appeared to read 5.4.2. That didn’t make sense; so he unlocked the door of the tank-room and walked, oblivious of his nakedness, into the lighted corridor outside and looked at his watch again; he had been in the tank for more than six hours. It was extraordinary.
New York, Nairobi, Simla, Boston: 1967 - 1975
Emily Jessup first met her husband in New York at a party in Arthur Rosenberg’s house. That was in the fall of 1967. Rosenberg, newly married, was living in a three-room flat at Ninety-seventh Street and West End Avenue, and the gathering was one typical of young intellectuals, subdued Janis Joplin on the stereo and joints being passed around. There were two biochemists, a geneticist, one pregnant painter (Mrs Rosenberg), one sculptor, a pharmacologist (Rosenberg), one physical anthropologist, and one psychophysiologist. The physical anthropologist was Emily, then doing postgraduate work under Holloway at Columbia. She had, in point of fact, just handed in her doctoral dissertation and was sweating out the response of the committee. She was twenty-four years old, and a very pretty twenty-four, cropped blonde hair and hip-hugging jeans, a leggy, confident young woman. Anthropology seems to attract good-lookers. The psychophysiologist was Edward Jessup, then twenty-eight years old, middling height, slight of frame, flaxen-haired, fine, intense features, pale complexion. He wore gold-rimmed glasses which pinched his face and gave him a look of Calvinist austerity.
Emily thought him very attractive in a monkish way. He had just got his doctorate and was teaching physiology at the Cornell Medical College. He was doing some work on schizophrenics with Rosenberg and a clinical psychiatrist named Hobart at Payne Whitney. He and Rosenberg were also doing some moonlighting research of their own in sense deprivation and isolation. Emily had had her eye on him for some time. He had parked himself in a corner of the living-room couch at nine o’clock and had had almost nothing to say all evening. She squeezed in beside him and said, »Arthur says you’re very shy, and he wants me to draw you out.«
»Draw me out?« said Jessup. »Doesn’t sound like Arthur.«
»As a matter of fact,« said Emily, »what he said was that you were an arrogant, high-handed prick, a little bonkers, but you’re absolutely brilliant. He said you and he were into sensory deprivation and isolation tanks and that you were probably doing the only serious work in the field, that you had worked out the beginnings of a quantifiable methodology for studying interior experiences. He said you were probably the hottest physiologist in town, and that you had offers from Harvard, Michigan and Stanford, and that if I could ever get you talking, I would find you fascinating.«
Jessup nodded. »That sounds more like Arthur.«
And that seemed to be the end of that. He folded his hands in his lap and stared at them. She asked him what sort of work he and Rosenberg were doing at Payne Whitney. He said, »Toxic metabolite stuff. We’re more or less replicating Heath’s and Friedhoff’s strategies, trying to find maverick substances specific to schizophrenia. I think we’re chasing our tails, looking for a single etiologic agent produced by a single pathogenic mechanism.« He had said all this as if she was expected to know what he was talking about. She told him she hadn’t understood a word he had said. »Well,« he sighed, clearly reluctant to go on, »we’re trying to establish that schizophrenia has a physiology different from normal’s. I have no argument with that. Lord knows there’s a ton of evidence to support that. I just don’t think transmethylation is the process by which to find this out, and I don’t think schizophrenia can be reduced to a single agent. Look, you’re not really interested in this, because Lord knows I’m not. I suspect that when Arthur says you would find me interesting, he was really referring to the work we’re doing in sense deprivation and isolation tanks. Would you like to hear about that?«
»Yes,« she said.
»I’m not comfortable at parties,« he said. »Would you like to go somewhere and have a cup of coffee?«
They went to a coffee shop at Eighty-sixth and Broadway. Jessup told her how he had got into isolation studies, which he had always considered pretty flaky stuff and still did. By his own admission, he was as square as they came, strictly establishment, a straight, lab-oriented scientist. He had originally intended to work in hemispheric dominance; he had hoped to join Sperry and his group at the University of California. Then he was suddenly given the chance to do his doctorate under Gregory Hayworth, who was head of the Behavioral Services Department for NASA. Hayworth was doing a series of studies in stress under conditions of isolation. The space program was naturally interested in the psychological states its astronauts would experience, capsuled in small spaces for long periods of time, and it was giving out grants by the bushelful. You don’t get too many chances to work with someone like Hayworth, and the grant was a beauty, so the next thing Jessup knew, he was down in Bethesda, Maryland, in an outbuilding of the National Institutes of Health, working with an isolation tank.
He met Arthur Rosenberg in Bethesda. Rosenberg was working right across the street in the NIMH, studying the effects of LSD on schizophrenics. This was back in 1964, when LSD was still considered an interesting therapeutic drug and available for responsible research. Jessup was struck by the similarity between the tank experience and the psychotomimetic experience of LSD and other psychedelic drugs. He looked around for literature on the subject. There wasn’t much work being done in isolation and sense deprivation, most of it brainwashing studies which the Army funded in the wake of the Korean War, but there was a voluminous, even chaotic, literature on LSD, some fifteen hundred papers. The experiences of LSD subjects are anarchically variable, he told Emily. Some subjects see things brilliantly illuminated; some subjects see everything shrouded in gloomy shadows. Some people are exhilarated, some feel paranoid. Some people recall things lost in their consciousness, some people see projections of the future. Some people don’t feel anything at all. It was clear that the big problem with research in interior experience and altered states of consciousness was its total subjectivity and the fact that the communication between subject and observer frequently deteriorated. A subject is induced into altering his normal consciousness in an isolation tank or by a pharmacological agent or by hypnosis or self-induced trance, and his experiences are entirely personal, in fact, suprapersonal. The visions, hallucinations, distortions and deformities of cognition are his entirely, and he frequently cannot communicate them at all; and when he does communicate them, they frequently cannot be understood by the experimenter-observer he is communicating them to. Nor is there any way of knowing whether the information being communicated by a subject on an inner high is true or valid or accurately reported. The experimenter has no way of repeating them to check them out.
It seemed to Jessup that the whole world of inner and other consciousness was being improperly explored. The work being done in it was all radical stuff, an outgrowth of the contentious sixties, polemical innature, areaction against the establishment psychology of the times, tinged by Timothy Leary messianism. There were some good people working in the field, Tart, Ornstein, Deikman, but most of the literature was political rather than scientific, more interested in attacking Jensen and the behaviorists and Western science, exalting the irrational and intuitive over the rational and quantifiable. What had to be done, it seemed to Jessup, was to work out some kind of methodology for studying our other consciousnesses under controlled conditions. To that end, the isolation tank seemed the most effective device. Unlike the psychedelic drugs, volition is retained. The tank experience can be controlled, even programd, by either the subject himself or the observer-experimenter. You can actually determine what inner space you want to get to. And unlike hypnosis, the subject is constantly aware. So in 1966, Jessup followed Rosenberg up to the Cornell Medical College in New York because it had an isolation tank in the basement. Every Wednesday night, he and Rosenberg took turns going into the tank. They were old pros at it by now. They had worked out half a dozen tank trips that either one of them could program himself into any time he wanted to.
»What sort of programs?« asked Emily.
»Well, we have one trip that’s a sort of ontogenetic dematuration. You program yourself back into your mother’s womb and beyond that to the first cell of your conception. You can re-experience the explosion of your own birth. You sort of unfold all the layers of yourself back into the original cell. Arthur and I have replicated it. Would you like to hear some of our tapes?«
»I’d love to.«
»The fact is, you ought to try a trip in the tank sometime.«
»We’ve got another trip right down your alley. You program yourself back through collapsing veils of time into the fossilized bones of a protohuman creature, back into Pleistocene space. You can go hunkering along the savannas of primeval Africa.«
»Fantastic,« murmured Emily.
»There’s method to it, you know. It isn’t just freaking out. The first half-hour, sometimes an hour, you spend achieving a state of suspension. You let your body unfold into the water, finding your moment of gravitylessness, feeling your body separate from the consciousness of the mind so that your body becomes a separate consciousness in itself and the consciousness of the body slowly subsides from the turbulence of rational awareness, until the silence is utterly soundless and the darkness utterly black and the sensed confinement of the wooden walls around you is spaceless and time disappears and all is one. This is a moment of total centredness, lacking intelligence or will and consisting of nothing but essence. You’re in the deepest theta you’ll ever be in.«
»Fucking fantastic,« said Emily.
At 2 a.m. the manager of the coffee shop threw them out, and they went to Emily’s place, a three-room flat on the third floor of a brownstone on 105th and Riverside Drive which she shared with another postgraduate student. They went into Emily’s room, closed the door, and instantly ravened each other. It was an explosive experience for Emily. He went at her with the fervor of a flagellant, bucking into her with a coarse, almost fanatical zeal, which somehow seemed directed away from her. She had expected the fumblings of an inhibited scholar and instead found herself harpooned by a raging monk. She looked up at him in the middle and saw this white, ascetic face above her, eyes wide open, as if he were receiving God.
In a quiet moment between, in the dark room, resting among the rumpled sheets, she sitting up against the headboard, he sprawled belly-down across the bed, she studied his shadowed face. Even without his glasses, even with his eyes closed, almost asleep in post-coital repose, he seemed driven from within by some arctic passion. Rosenberg had told her he was a terrifically bright guy; she wondered if perhaps she wasn’t looking at a shadow of genius.
»What do you think about when we’re making love?« she asked him.
»God, Jesus, crucifixions.«
»Well, as long as it isn’t another woman,« she said.
»I was a very religious kid,« he mumbled into the sheets. He opened his eyes, lifted himself up on one elbow. »When I was nine, I saw visions, angels and saints, even Christ. He appeared to me in wonderful manners; I saw him with the eyes of faith, hanging on the cross, his vesture dipped in blood. I spoke in voices. There was this little Pentecostal church in south Yonkers that made a cult object of me. People came from all over to see the nine-year-old kid who saw visions of Christ.«
»Is that where you’re from, Yonkers?«
He turned on his back. »My mother still lives there. You’ll have to meet her sometime. She’s a clinical psychologist. My father’s dead. He was an aeronautical engineer. Both of them were militant secularists. It appalled them to have a nine-year-old son who saw visions and spoke in voices. They had me round to every psychiatrist in Westchester County. When I was fifteen, I told my father that I had been called to the ministry and was applying to a divinity school. I thought he would cry. I was very fond of my father. He died when I was sixteen.«
»How did a sixteen-year-old kid who saw visions wind up teaching physiology at the Cornell Medical School?«
»I stopped believing. It was very dramatic. My father died a protracted and painful death of cancer. I used to race to the hospital every day after high school and sit in his room doing my homework. He was very heavily sedated. The last few weeks he was in coma. One day I thought I heard him say something. I looked up. His lips were moving, but no sound came out. There was his yellow, waxen face on the white pillow, and his lips were moving. A little bubble formed on his lips. I got up and leaned over him, my ear an inch away from his lips. ‘Did you say something, Pop?’ I said. His lips moved again, and I could swear he was trying to say something, but there was no sound. I put my ear closer to his lips. Then I heard the word he was desperately trying to say, a soft hiss of a word. He was saying: ‘Terrible - terrible!’ So the end was terrible, even for the good people like my father. So the purpose of all our suffering was just more suffering. By dinnertime, I had dispensed with God altogether. I never saw another vision. I haven’t told anybody about this in ten years. I’m telling you now because I want you to know what sort of a nut you might be getting mixed up with.«
They stared at each other in the dark room. »Arthur was right,« she said. »You are a fascinating bastard.«
They embarked on a courtship. They went to a lot of Third Avenue movies. Rosenberg talked them into marching in a Vietnam peace parade on Fifth Avenue. They lounged around the living-rooms of other young academics, smoking grass and hash and listening to Jimi Hendrix. They saw each other almost daily. Jessup usually came by around lunch to pick her up at her office in Dodge Hall. They’d stroll across the campus to the Chock full o’ Nuts on Broadway. One day, they strolled right through one of the campus riots that shook Columbia University in April of 1968, hardly noticing all the cops chasing all the college kids, indifferent to the fact that half the campus buildings had been occupied by rampaging students, leaning out the windows waving anarchist banners. They were both intensely work and career oriented. They talked about almost nothing else, even while they stood in line for movies or marched in peace parades or strolled across a riot-ridden campus; even in bed.
She went down to Payne Whitney once to see just what he and Rosenberg did with their schizophrenics, a disturbing experience for her. She joined Jessup behind a one-way screen from where they could observe the experimental room, an austere chamber with tiled floors and white walls and windows darkened by heavy steel mesh. Two naked bulbs hung from the high ceiling. An attendant brought
Verlag: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Texte: Paddy Chayefsky/Apex-Verlag/Successor of Paddy Chayefsky.
Bildmaterialien: Christian Dörge/Apex-Graphixx.
Cover: Christian Dörge/Apex-Graphixx.
Lektorat: Dr. Birgit Rehberg.
Korrektorat: Dr. Birgit Rehberg.
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 19.01.2022
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