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Observations placeholder

James, William - Gary Lachman - Inhaling Nitrous Oxide



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

In search of P D Ouspensky – Gary Lachman

William James was not satisfied with a vicarious understanding of mystical consciousness. To fully grasp what the mystical experience was about, he'd have to have one himself. Sometime in 1900, he made arrangements to inhale the gas. Under its effects James experienced the reconciliation of opposites that Blood argued was the essence of the anaesthetic revelation.

I have sheet after sheet of phrases dictated or written during the intoxication”, James wrote “which to the sober reader seem meaningless drivel, but which at the moment of transcribing were fused in the fire of infinite rationality. God and devil, good and evil, life and death, I and thou, sober and drunk matter and form, black and white, quantity and quality . . . and fifty other contrasts figure in these pages in the same monotonous way

A sample of his notes gives an idea of what went racing through James’s mind as the gas took effect:

What's a mistake but a kind of take?
What's nausea but a kind of--ausea?

To the logical mind, such musings seem sheer nonsense. Yet James couldn't deny that his experiment was in some way important.

The keynote of the experience is the tremendously exciting sense of an intense metaphysical illumination. Truth lies open to the view in depth beneath depth of almost blinding evidence…. Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different……No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.”

The source of the experience

James, William

Concepts, symbols and science items




Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Inhaling nitrous oxide