Inexplicable. That’s one hell of a word, for it is a word that is fundamentally a lie. Everything that occurs is explicable. It doesn’t mean that the explanation is the right one, for humans are the ones doing the explaining and error tends to creep in when you involve people in just about anything. The ability to explain, though, remains even when we work from a place of profound ignorance. How do you think religion came into existence?
Sometimes, the problem is that there aren’t any tools to explain what we’ve just experienced. Reading accounts of first-time LSD experiences from the 60s and 70s as someone who knows some things about LSD, the first question that arises to mind is: What the hell were those guys taking? After some reflection, a second thought comes to mind. It’s not so much that their experience was radically different from those who partake now, or that LSD was stronger. They simply did not have the language or frame of reference necessary to properly express the experience, and were thus at a distinct disadvantage. Much like pidgin, trade, and creole languages arise when people who speak different languages need a shorthand way to speak to one another, so too did these psychedelic pioneers create their own language of sorts to express what was, for them, inexplicable. To do so, they leaned heavily on the language of the mystical and religious.
In retrospect, it’s a choice that makes most such writing seem at once pompous and grating. The best writing on the topic, namely the various accounts of Hunter S. Thompson, reads well now because he eschewed fluffy bullshit spirituality for his own voice. To be sure, he worked elements of messianic and epic speech into his work, but in a way in which it could not be viewed as anything other than an elaborate farce. What was there to explain, after all? There were a bunch of scandalous motherfuckers ruining things for everybody else, it was a bad scene, and there were good people scattered throughout the wastescape of late 20th century America to laud and consume copious amounts of mind-altering substances with while destroying shit. It was a good life, and his explanations of its elements existed within the limits of Thompson’s vast breadth of knowledge—but nothing more.
In this way, Thompson’s situating of the psychedelic experience within the frame of the explicable has influenced the way we think and feel about psychotropics and the possible connections between drug taking and mysticism. It is a miniscule victory in a seemingly doomed campaign against the lazy thought that what we do not know or understand lies beyond comprehension and will remain so. Even so, it is a triumph, and there are people to thank. The first shout-out goes to those LSD cowboys like Tim Leary and Steve Jobs who fawned over their experiences with hosannas and new-age bombast that would make the most unbearable of the Gospel of Wealth merchants currently operating (TD Jakes, I’m coming for you) blush and say “Hey guys, I think you might be overdoing it a bit. They were courageous enough to grope in the dark for a language to explain the inexplicable, and in doing so they made future generations that much less ignorant. Humanity thanks you.