Credit: The Alan Watts Organization

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

– Alan Watts 


Alan Wilson Watts was a British philosopher, writer and speaker, who held both a Master’s in Theology and a Doctorate of Divinity. Famous for his research on comparative religion, he was best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books and numerous articles on subjects such as personal identity, the true nature of reality, higher consciousness, the meaning of life, concepts and images of God and the non-material pursuit of happiness. In his books, he relates his experience to scientific knowledge and to the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy.

This episode, Drugs: Turning the Head or Turning On, is a recording of an Alan Watts lecture, which was released in a podcast by Mark Watts (Alan’s son). In this talk at San Jose State during the counterculture bloom and LSD peak of the mid-1960s, Alan shares a nuanced and well-rounded approach to the psychedelic experience, sharing personal antidotes of his first two LSD trips, as well as outlining the benefits and pitfalls of taking drugs on both cultural and spiritual levels.

“Watts explains the many possible benefits and possible downsides of psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin, emphasizing that while they have the potential to occasion great insights, they aren’t a panacea. Watts makes it clear that relying solely on substances to achieve enlightenment or escape can lead to dependency and a detachment from reality. Yet, he stresses that when used wisely and respectfully, psychedelics can be uniquely powerful tools for personal growth and exploration. Watts’ message is, in essence, one of balance: noting that it’s natural to seek altered states of consciousness, but crucially, psychonauts must do so with mindfulness and intention.”


Photo courtesy of the Alan Watts Foundation


Below I have written out two quotes that I feel are important and very ahead of their time:


“You feel that the figure always goes with its background. And therefore you see in a funny way that all human behaviour goes together in such a way that you cannot have saints without sinners, you cannot have cops without robbers, you cannot have failures without successes and vice versa, you cannot have the good and the valuable in life without the background contrast of the failure and the evil and also, you cannot have life without death. That is a rather shocking realisation because you see, our culture is geared to the idealism of having the good without the evil, of using medicine to bring us to the point where we don’t need to die, so we can have life without death, and of reforming and psychotherapising people so that we can have all good law-abiding citizens and no criminals, all sane people and nobody in the asylums. And yet, from another point of view, you can see if were there no sick people, there would be no incentive for the study of medicine. Were there no crazy people, there would be no incentive to the study of psychology, finding out about the human mind. And were there no wicked people, there would be no puzzle and thinking about the problems of ethics, so that you arrive sometimes at this funny point of view where you see that everybody, however bad, has an essential contribution to the totality of life.

That is a point of view that is very largely brought about by these chemicals and therefore, you can very easily see why any kind of government would be uneasy about it because they would feel it undermines conscience. That is to say, it enables people to feel not so guilty about themselves and every government manages people by exploiting and working on their sense of guilt because everybody in this room has a private secret.

Exploitation of guilt is the primary method of dictatorships.”


“The position is not that young people of today are just looking for kicks, they are out for trying to find out what the hell this universe is about and they are very confused because the answers of the old standard brand religions are in a way respected but not plausible. The answers of science also aren’t plausible because they are sort of lacking in a sense of wonder.

The reason they go into that is not because they are just out for an idle kick, it is because they are willing to take the risk of going crazy in order perhaps to get an insight int the meaning of things.”