Margaret Mead and the psychedelic community that theorized AI


How does science progress? One way to look at the question is to peer into individual fields and observe the flow of ideas from laboratories and experiments into seminars and conferences and ultimately into the journal record. But the reality is so much more complicated since science is truly a creative act, a set of imaginative leaps from incumbent ways of thinking to new possibilities. The milieu that scientists inhabit — and particularly science’s most productive leaders — is often far more expansive than one would expect.

That’s the story today with Margaret Mead and the rise of psychedelic research. Best known as a cultural anthropologist, Mead spanned the sciences, from information theory into the humanities. That range brought her into regular contact with brilliance, and also helped her transmit vital ideas and concepts from field to field. One of the circles she participated in was an emerging group of scholars conceptualizing ideas around computer science, neurology and consciousness, linked together by a curiosity around psychedelics within the paranoia of Cold War politics.

Joining host Danny Crichton on the Riskgaming podcast today is Benjamin Breen, a professor of science at the University of California Santa Cruz who just published his new book, ⁠Tripping on Utopia: Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the Troubled Birth of Psychedelic Science⁠. Also joining me today is Lux Capital’s scientist in residence Sam Arbesman.

We cover Margaret Mead’s early work, her popularization of science, the Macy conference circles that brought disparate networks of scientists together in New York City, the utopian dream of science in the 1920s and 1930s recently depicted in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer movie, the rise of LSD and finally, why there were so many interconnections between these scientists and defense institutions like the CIA.


This is a human-generated transcript, however, it has not been verified for accuracy.