Volume 4, Number 1 Winter, 1991

Editor : Dr. Charles Laughlin, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA K1S 5B6, Phone (819) 459-1121, E-mail charles laughlin@carleton.bitnet.


We have entered a new phase in the history of our wee network. With the advent of subscription fees, the membership has dropped substantially. I anticipated that it would. Only two questions needed to be answered: Would enough of you want the project to continue to renew membership, and would enough anthropologists be in the membership to make it truly an anthropological network with interdisciplinary participation.?

The answer to both questions has been affirmative. As of the end of February, roughly 25 members have renewed and a good half of them are anthropologists or sociologists. Many of the others are psychologists and neuroscientists. A good mix. There are still renewals drifting in, so I will withhold a final tally on membership until next issue. I expect some have forgotten and will renew over the next couple of months. I would not be surprised if we end up with 30-35 members by spring. That is more than enough to keep things going.

Membership for those in eastern Europe will continue to be free because of the difficulties they face in transferring funds.

I want to thank you all very much for continuing to support this project. We can do our little bit to bring about a better dialogue between social science and neuroscience, and to feed a cross-disciplinary understanding of humanity.


Life was conferred upon me twice: first in Budapest in 1915, and again in 1939 when my parents sent me off to Switzerland (6 months before World War II was about to start) to continue my studies in chemistry at the University of Basel. Between terms at Basel I had the opportunity to volunteer in the various laboratories of the Geigy Dyestuff and Pharmaceuticals Co.

After obtaining my Ph.D., and a marriage licence, I initiated two main lines of research. The first project had to do with wool fibers (alfa-keratin) -- which (I've found) stain Gram negatively, can be reduced to a Gram positive staining state and reconverted again with oxidizing agents to their original Gram-negative (non-staining) state. When "staining" these two kinds of wool with "colorless dyes," i.e., biologically active, water soluble compounds, it turned out that the greater the affinity of a compound (bound covalently) to these two kinds of wool fiber, the greater is the bactericidal activity of that compound to Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria respectively. In effect, the wool fibers modelled the bacterial membranes of the two types of bacteria. These studies were performed in the Bacteriological Institute of the University of Basel. A few years later (1952) at the National Research Council in Canada, I duplicated the redox conversion and reconversion of wools with real bacteria. In sum: determining the affinity of a compound to wools allows one to predict the bactericidal activity of that compound to the two main types of bacteria (1).

The other line of research began in parallel distributed simultaneity when, in June, 1945, I ingested 0.5 gm of mescaline that I bought for 10 Swiss Franks from the Hofmann La Roche Co. in Basel. I'd heard about mescaline in one of the lectures on alkaloids by the late Prof. Schlittler (the discoverer of reserpine). A year later my Self-Observations Under Mescaline appeared in the Swiss Journal of Psychology (2). Then I submitted a research proposal to the head of the Psychiatric University Clinic in Basel. I proposed to use mescaline to produce (what I've termed) model psychosis, and to pursue biochemical-physiological studies on subjects while under the influence of the drug. These studies were started before LSD became available, and were continued a couple of years later, also with LSD. My wife, friends and students from the medical school were my first volunteers (3).

Basically, I have pursued the same two projects ever since. I immigrated from Canada to the US where, for the first time, I had the chance to "self-actualize" in the full Maslowian sense of the term. For 12 years I did research --first as an assistant, then an associate, and finally as a full professor of experimental psychiatry and pharmacology at the Medical school of Ohio State University.

I found that instead of wool fibers (that cannot speak), I could use human taste receptors as detectors. By measuring the taste thresholds of biologically active and inactive compounds, lo and behold, the lower the taste threshold of a compound, the more potent is that compound; i.e., the fewer molecules are necessary for taste sensation to be produced by a compound, the more active is that compound on a variety of receptors other than gustatory ones. Clearly, the oral cavity can be used, in addition to eating and kissing, as a pharmacological preparation in situ ; the more, since the somatosensory representation of the tongue on the cortex is many times larger than the size of the tongue in relation to other body parts (the only parts that can compete with the tongue are the genitals and fingers). The general relation between bitter taste thresholds and systemic pharmacological activity is robust: It holds for compounds as diverse as the major tranquillizers and hyoscinebutylbromide, to give one example, and the relationship holds up in populations as diverse as mental patients and student volunteers. Hence, taste sensitive patients (with low taste thresholds for quinine) need significantly less tranquillizers to produce unwanted Parkinsonian tremor (side effects) than taste insensitives. Our results were replicated by independent investigators (4) but never used in a clinical setting. Apparently, it is easier and cheaper to overdose patients (and to produce undesirable side effects), and then diminish the dosage, than test for taste thresholds. For a summary of over 30 of our papers on interdisciplinary aspects of taste, see (5).

My other pet project (model psychosis) was enlarged and moulded into an inter-disciplinary study of a variety of conscious states. Psilocybin (from the sacred mushroom Psilocybe Mexicana Heim, synthetized by my friend Albert Hofmann in Basel) was used to produce increasing levels of central, subcortical arousal (an arousal state that is comparable to that of the Rapid Eye Movement state during sleep). The intensity of the arousal could be measured by a corresponding increase in pupillary diameter. The intensity of the cortical (cognitive) interpretation of the arousal, however, could be predicted from the size of the standard deviation determined on a simple perceptual-behavioral task prior to drug administration. Psilocybin (as well as mescaline and LSD) may elicit anxious, creative, psychotic and ecstatic states (as well as conversion experiences of the Saul to Paul type) as a function of drug dose, personality type, expectations and a (supporting or disturbing) set and setting.

Subjects who volunteer for a hallucinogenic (research) experience are taste sensitive (and hence drug-sensitive) with low taste thresholds for quinine; they are non-smokers and food sensitive (i.e., they dislike significantly more foods than taste insensitives) as a group. Moreover, they display faster reaction times, and are sensitive person-alities (i.e., introverts, intuitors, feelers and perceivers on the Myers-Briggs Jungian Type Indicator). The majority of them are minimizers of sensory input at drug peak and display high baseline levels of resting heart rate. I assume, then, that self-selected volunteers -- whether volunteering to cover the retreat of others in battle, or (like the first American settlers) to leave the Old Country behind and volunteer to "go west" -- are a physiologically and psychologically distinct group, like our rugged and drugged individualists.

Working with psilocybin, and about 600 self-selected volunteers (had we used random samples, we would have had lots of bad trips!) and in co-operative research with linguists, psychiatrists, hypnotists, physicists, clinical and experimental psychologists, physiological opticians and poets, as well as experts in comparative literature and psychophysics, a cartography of states of consciousness could be described (see Figure). The left side of the circular diagram depicts increasing levels of ergotropic, central or hyperarousal on the perception-hallucination continuum, while the right side depicts an increase in levels of trophotropic or hypoarousal on a perception-meditation continuum (including zazen and various forms of yoga).

The circular diagram also takes into account the phenomenon of "trophotropic rebound" at the peak of ergotropic arousal, in which the individual passes from ecstasy into samadhi (the last stage in the yogic progression). This physiological protective mechanism may be identical with Pavlov's transmarginal inhibition, and predictably follows Wilder's Law of initial values. Rebound in the other direction, from samadhi to ecstasy, is also possible. For more psycho-physiological details see (6) and (7).

There may be amnesia between differing levels of arousal, but the implications of this fact for criminology, juris-prudence and psychotherapy has yet to be realized. Sirhan Sirhan, for example, the killer of Robert F. Kennedy, had no recollection of shooting his victim, and only while he was hypnotized to enter the same hyperarousal state as he was in during the shooting did Sirhan re-experience and reenact the incident. Eight years later (in 1977) Sirhan's amnesia about the assassination still persisted, although he was eager to know whether he did or did not kill the senator. His attorney, Godfrey Isaac, after meeting Sirhan in his cell at Soledad prison, conveyed to the public the prisoner's suggestion that he be taken back to the scene of the killing, the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. To be "taken back to the scene" is equivalent with "to be in the same state" since the scene can evoke the state and visa versa. Such an evocation is called "the flashback."

Flashbacks are mostly thought of as bad trips, and this is symptomatic of the proletarianization (psyche-delic and otherwise) of inner space. But flashbacks are too important to be left entirely to clinical psychiatrists. It should be realized that a writer's ability to induce flashbacks in a reader is a criterion of masterful literature, and Marcel Proust, creator of On the remembrance of things past should be revered as the patron saint of the flashback (see 8, 9, & 10).

Between 1972-1977 in the Washington-Baltimore area of the US -- at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, the Georgetown University School (Clinical Professor of Psychiatry), the George Washington University Medical School (Professor Lecturer in Pharmacology), and The Johns Hopkins Medical School (Lecturer in Psychiatry) -- I was involved with biofeedback and EEG research related to ordinary and non-ordinary states of consciousness. I served as an editor of the (meanwhile defunct) Journal of Altered States of Consciousness . As a member of a Brain-Mind Circle and as founding secretary of the Maryland chapter of the Biofeedback Society of America, I was in steady contact with a colorful coterie of friends and colleagues, all working in the forefront of their respective disciplines and broadening my interdisciplinary horizon considerably.

Toward the end of 1977 I moved to Mallorca and have been busy ever since with "inter-disciplinary integrations" and some consulting. Most of the papers I have published since in Mallorca are listed in the Directory of the Neuro-anthropology Network. My present interest focuses on those recurring motives, themes and scenarios (cortical interpretations) that form the "content" of consciousness, motives that are constantly rewritten for each generation, reflecting a mind that is not in the head but distributed (in PDP fashion) over society's giant (neuronal) network (11). There are, in effect, only a limited number of motives that constitute the human interpretive repertoire, which, like the universe, is infinite but bounded. Utopias (like the mystical democracy of Joachim di Fiore and the not-so-mystical classless society of Marx), adventurous travels (into inner and outer space), and other universal constraints of the collective imagination are examples of those infinite but bounded and recurring themes on the revolving stage set of human consciousness. The two opposing styles that exercise a determined influence upon the representation of these themes in western literature are the extrovert Homeric style and the introvert style of the Old Testament. It is possible that the original matrix of all possible narratives is the trip to the beyond and back again -- long ago undertaken in the shaman's trance -- that is, the crossing over into the world of the dead and returning from it; "a trip from birth to death and death to birth" (12).

Another of my current preoccupations concerns "biological relativity," a concept I have developed recently that is based on experiments involving psilocybin under sensory attenuation (13). Biological relativity follows from the re-interpretation of the principle of covariance, postulated by Boscovich in 1758. When our subjects were placed in an environment of sensory attenuation (13), only the minimizers (i.e., those who at the peak of drug-induced arousal intend to reduce sensory input) will develop a hallucinatory experience. Maximizers (i.e., those who at drug-peak intend to increase sensory input), however, not having sufficient sensory input to maximize, are never sure whether they were given psilocybin or placebo. Hence, the response of subjects to the induction of central arousal will depend upon the changing ratio between inner e-motions (arousal) and outer motions (sensory stimulation), resulting in the attempt to compensate (through covariant transformation) for the gradual disappearance of touchable reality. According to our principle of neurobiological relativity, changes in conscious states on the perceptual-hallucination continuum of rising arousal reflect perceptual-conceptual adjustments or relativistic transformations to the changing ratio of internal vs. external excitation (14).

Address: Edificio CATI, C/.Japon 14, 3-F, E-07015 Portals Nous, Mallorca, SPAIN, Ph: 67-65-51.

(1) Fischer, R. (1985). Trends in Biochem. Sci. 10 , 151-2.

(2) Fischer, R. (1946). Swiss J. Psychol. 5 , 308-15.

(3) Fischer, R., Georgi, F., Weber, R. & Piaget, R.M. (1950). Swiss Med. J. 80 , 129-144.

(4) Joyce, C.B.R., Pan, L. & Varonos, D.D. (1968). Life Sciences 7 , 533-537.

(5) Fischer, R. (1971). In Gustation and Olfaction . G. Ohloff & A.F. Thomas (Eds.). New York: Academic Press (pp. 187-237).

(6) Fischer, R. (1971). Science 174 , 897-904.

(7) Fischer, R. (1986). In Handbook of States of Consciousness . B.B. Wolman and M. Ullman (Eds.). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold (pp. 3-30 & 395-427).

(8) Fischer, R. (1975). in Hallucinations, Behavior, Experience & Theory . R.K. Siegel

& L.J. West (Eds.). New York: Wiley (pp. 197-239).

(9) Fischer, R. (1976). In Readings in Abnormal Psychology: Contemporary Perspectives . L.R. Allman & D.T. Jaffe (Eds.). New York: Harper and Row (pp. 250-277).

(10) Fischer, R. (1978). in Expanding Dimensions of Consciousness . A.A. Sugerman & R.E. Tarter (Eds.). New York: Springer (pp. 24-57).

(11) Fischer, R. (1990). Diogene 151 , 1-32.

(12) Eng, E. (1990). Hospital, Lexington, KY (personal communication). See also conference paper (Lana, Italy, Sept. 1990, in press, 1991).

(13) Panton, Y. and Fischer, R. (1973). Archives of General Psychiatry 28 , 434-438.

(14) Fischer, R. (1991). Cybernetica (in press).


Members of the network should be aware of the Brain/Mind Bulletin . It has been published monthly since 1975 and reports in digest form major developments in neuroscience and "new age" psychology. It was founded by Marilyn Ferguson and costs $35/yr. ($40 for 1st class mail) in North America, Institutions $50, all other $45 (airmail). Write c/o Interface Press, Box 42211, 4717 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90042, USA.


The Primate Information Center , Regional Primate Research Center SJ-50, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA, Ph: (206) 543-4376, publishes Current Primate References , a monthly listing of bibliographic citations for all aspects of primate research. They also put out Topical Bibliographies for a range of specific topics, including such neuroscience topics as "Endorphin & Enkephalin Studies in Nonhuman Primates," and "Neural Correlates of Memory in Nonhuman Primates." A full list of topic is free upon request.


Larry C. Lake, 2303 Lucerne Dr., San Diego, CA 92106, Ph: 226-7454.


Freeman, Walter J. (1975) Mass Action in the Nervous System: Examination of the Neurophysiological Basis of Adaptive Behavior through the EEG . New York: Academic Press. [topological relations among neurons, spatiotemporal activities within the NS, feedback and signal properties]

Haken, H. and M. Stadler, eds. (1990) Synergetics of Cognition: Proceedings of the International Symposium at Schloss Elmau, Bavaria, June 4-8, 1989 . Berlin: Springer-Verlag. [see esp. W.J. Freeman on chaos and the brain, K.H. Pribram on a holonomic brain theory]

Shepherd, Gordon M., ed. (1990) The Synaptic Organization of the Brain (Third Edition). New York: Oxford University Press. [introduction to synaptic circuits]

Brown, Donald E. (1991) Human Universals . New York: McGraw-Hill.

Smith, Courtland L. and Kenneth L. Beals (1990) "Cultural Correlates with Cranial Capacity." American Anthropologist 92:193-200.

Trevathan, Wenda R. (1988) "Fetal Emergence Patterns in Evolutionary Prespective." American Anthropologist 90:674-681.

Pitman, Mary Anne, Rivka A. Eisikovits, and Marion Lundy Dobbert (1989) Culture Acquisition: A Holistic Approach to Human Learning . [Chapter 2 on developmental and neurological aspects of culture acquisition]

Frake, Charles O. (1990) "The Ethnographic Study of Cognitive Systems, II: Conceptual Frameworks of Directional Orientation and Their Representations in the Physical World." CogSci News 3(2):4-6. [human cognitive universals]

Bateson, P.P.G. and Peter H. Klopfer, eds. (1989) Perspectives in Ethology , Vol 8: Whither Ethnology? New York: Plenum. [see pp. 49-50 on "neuroethology"]

Ramon y Cajal, S. (1990) New Ideas on the Structure of the Nervous System in Man and Vertebrates . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Calvin, William H. (1991) The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence . New York: Bantam.