There are many instances of luck in the field of science, from the notion that an apple fell onto Isaac Newton’s head, prompting him to investigate the concept of gravity, to the invention of Viagra, which was originally supposed to be a heart medication.
The case study I want to focus on is the development and subsequent discovery of LSD.
The discovery of LSD may be of dubious utility to most, but the point is that it demonstrates a path that took extreme openness and curiosity to fulfill.ert Hoffman discovered LSD in:
In the year 857, ergot was theorized to be responsible for an immense plague that came to be known as St Anthony’s Fire.
Needless to say, decades of research against the effects of ergot had been conducted — how to reduce it, neutralize it, and deal with the ensuing symptoms.
Hoffman was originally piggybacking on the work of fellow researcher Arthur Stoll’s initiatives, whose biggest accomplishment was to break down ergot into two distinct compounds: ergotamine and ergobasine.
Following this research, Hoffman experimented with lysergic acid and ergot, eventually producing a compound he called LSD-25. As with any new compound, it was tested for medical properties, and there were none apparent except "the experimental animals became restless during the narcosis."
Ultimately, the researchers went on to say, “The new substance, however, aroused no special interest in our pharmacologists and physicians; testing was therefore discontinued.”
After LSD-25 sat in the dark for roughly five years, Hoffman admitted that he never forgot about it and had always had a certain fixation and curiosity about it.
He always remembered the way those animals reacted when exposed to it, and thought there was something special on his hands.again in:
However, his experiments and trials did not go exactly to plan.
In fact, he became his first test subject inadvertently.
02:30 One day while at work in his lab with close exposure to the substance, he suddenly felt so mentally uncomfortable that he had to go home for the day.
Here’s what he wrote in his diary about the experience:
“I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness.
At home, I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination.
In a dream-like state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted steam of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.”
When he returned to work, he naturally attempted to discover what had caused such an odd reaction.
It must have been something in the lab, and he concluded he had likely ingested a small amount of LSD-25, likely through his fingertips.
For such a small amount to cause such a massive reaction was startling, and he decided to engage in further self-experimentation to investigate the symptoms further.
Now that his intuition about LSD was showing tantalizing signs of proving justified, Hofmann decided there was only one course of action: self-experimentation.
He later wrote more about his fortuitous afternoon exposure to LSD-25:
"Here the notes in my laboratory journal cease.
I was able to write the last words only with great effort.
By now it was already clear to me that LSD had been the cause of the remarkable experience of the previous Friday, for the altered perceptions were of the same type as before, only much more intense.
I had to struggle to speak intelligibly.
I asked my laboratory assistant, who was informed of the self-experiment, to escort me home.
We went by bicycle, no automobile being available because of wartime restrictions on their use.
On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms.
Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror.
I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot.
Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had traveled very rapidly.
Finally, we arrived at home safe and sound, and I was just barely capable of asking my companion to summon our family doctor and request milk from the neighbors.
The dizziness and sensation of fainting became so strong at times that I could no longer hold myself erect, and had to lie down on a sofa.
My surroundings had now transformed themselves in more terrifying ways.
Everything in the room spun around, and the familiar objects and pieces of furniture assumed grotesque, threatening forms.
They were in continuous motion, animated, as if driven by an inner restlessness.
The lady next door, whom I scarcely recognized, brought me milk — in the course of the evening I drank more than two liters.
She was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask."
05:57 Hoffman began testing the substance on animals, and he noted that animals had curious reactions similar to his.
Mice began moving and walking oddly and licking everything in sight.
Cats appeared to be anxious but with immense amounts of salivation.
Chimpanzees were not perceptibly affected by the researchers, but other chimpanzees around the drugged chimpanzees became upset and disgusted, so the drugged chimpanzees were obviously acting in a way extremely foreign to their social norms.
And of course, LSD usage in humans results in similar symptoms.
There’s a reason is it a noted psychedelic that has been reported to produce hallucinations, voices, and feelings of euphoria.
So how does the curious case of LSD exemplify the presence of luck in scientific discovery?
Hoffman approached LSD in a way that all but guaranteed a lucky discovery.