“I get more from wht great minds have written about human behavior, than any psychiatric text.”
with Oscar Janiger
Oscar Janiger was born on February 8, 1918, in New York City. He received his MA. in cell physiology from Columbia, and his M.D. from the UC Irvine School of Medicine, where he served on the faculty in their Psychiatry Department for over twenty years. His research interests have been wide, and he describes himself as a “tinkerer. ” He established the relationship between hormonal cycling and pre-menstrual depression in women, and he discovered blood proteins that are specific to male homosexuality. His studies of the Huichol Indians in Mexico revealed that centuries of peyote use do not cause any type of chromosomal damage. He is perhaps best known for establishing the relationship between LSD and creativity in a study of hundreds of artists. In addition to his research interests he has also maintained a long-standing private psychiatric practice, which he continues to this day.
Back in the late fifties and early sixties when LSD was still legal, Oscar incorporated LSD into some of his therapy, and is responsible for “turning on ” many well-known literary figures and Hollywood celebrities, including Anais Nin and Cary Grant. More recently Oscar has been involved in studying dolphins in their natural environment, and is the founder of the Albert Hofman Foundation–an organization whose purpose is to establish a library and world information center dedicated to the scientific study of human consciousness. He has also just completed a book entitled A Different Kind of Healing, about how doctors treat themselves. Jeanne St. Peter and I interviewed Oscar in the living room of his home in Santa Monica on January 3, 1990. Surrounding virtually every wall in his house is the largest and most interesting library I’ve ever encountered. Oscar spoke to us about his scientific research, creativity and psychopathology, the problems he sees with psychiatry, and his discovery of the psycho-active effects of isolated DMT. Oscar is an extremely warm, highly energetic man. There is a deep sincerity to his manner. He chuckles a lot, and one feels instantly comfortable around him.
DJB: Could you begin by telling us what it was that originally inspired your interest in psychiatry and the exploration of consciousness?
OSCAR: I was about seven years old and I was living on a farm in upstate New York. The nearest neighbor was a mile away. I would go for a walk, visit them, play, and then come home in the evening. This was a wild kind of country setting, and I had to get home before dark. Some evenings I would be coming home and the scene around me on the path was filled with menacing figures; pirates and all kinds of cut-throats ready to grab me and do me in. There was a place I called the sunken mine, where people had supposedly drowned and there was a frayed rope hanging from a tree. All of these menacing things gave the evening a very sinister cast, and I’d finally run to get home. Certain evenings I’d make the trip, and everything was just light and airy. Things around me were filled with joy and pleasure. The birds were singing, rabbits, squirrels and other animals were having a wonderful Disneyland time. So one day I was thinking, My God, that’s a magic road! One time it’s this way, another time it’s that way. So I puzzled over that. I finally came to the conclusion that, if it wasn’t a magic road, then I was doing something to these surround- ings and if I was doing it then I could change it. So the next time I came back from my neighbour’s place, and everything got murky, strange and sinister, I said, “No! If I’m doing this then bring back the rabbits, bring back the squirrels, bring back the fairies and let’s lighten this thing up.” Sure enough, it changed. That was the beginning of my interest in consciousness. It was all crystallized into a marvelous saying from the Talmud – “things are not the way they are, they’re the way we are.” From then on, when I’d get into situations, I’d determine what aspect that was within me was being projected outward, and what was a reflection of the world that others can validate along with me. That, of course, has been the theme of my work in therapy and as a scientist. The important distinctions regarding projection are among the fundamental things that one has to