Join us for a Salon Talk at Cardea as we gather in the grotto with writee Dan Piepenbring.
Limited spots – Free with RSVP!
The Anesthetic Revelation: Benjamin Blood and the Origins of the Dissociative Experience
A century before ketamine was first synthesized—before the words “dissociative” and “psychedelic” had even been coined—Benjamin Paul Blood was overpowered by the remarkable connection between anesthetic drugs and “the old mysteries” of existential thought. Blood (1832-1919) was a true American eccentric: a farmer, inventor, newspaper columnist, and amateur philosopher, he hailed from Amsterdam, New York, a small town northwest of Albany. Around 1860, after a routine dental procedure, he came to believe that nitrous oxide and ether offered acute but fleeting insight into the secret of the universe, revealing what he called “the genius of being.” He self-published a pamphlet calledThe Anesthetic Revelation and the Gist of Philosophy that soon generated controversy in newspapers around the U.S. and England. “Mr. Blood’s most appreciative readers will be found in insane asylums,” one reviewer wrote. But more elevated readers, such as William James and Lord Tennyson, wrote to Blood at once, believing that he’d stumbled onto an exciting if bizarre new avenue for philosophy and psychology. Blood received hundreds of letters from patients in “every hospital and dental office” who recognized his moment of “cosmic illumination” and “had been put in mind of something they can’t think of,” he wrote, and soon he was the most infamous man in Amsterdam. This talk will explore Blood’s thinking, his supporters and detractors, and the shape his pamphlet gave to what we now think of as the dissociative experience, with parallels to the present-day framing of psychedelic therapy and of k-holes in particular.
Dan Piepenbring is the coauthor, with Tom O’Neill, of CHAOS: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties and the editor of Prince’s posthumous memoir, The Beautiful Ones. Currently he writes the New Books column for Harper’s and is working on a book about ketamine and dissociative anesthetics.