I first met Bill (Willis W.) Harman in late 1966. Michael Murphy, co-founder of Esalen, had put together a series of lunches at the 20th Century Fund in N.Y.C. which brought together leaders in the new Human Potential movement with possible funding sources.
As luck (???) would have it, Bill pulled up a chair next to mine and we started to talk. I learned that he was retiring from his position as professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University to assume a yet-to-be defined role at Stanford Research Institute (SRI).
Then somehow the conversation turned to LSD. I mentioned, almost wistfully, that although I had previously been tangentially involved in some research/academic settings where it was being studied, I had never had the opportunity to actually try it myself. I was intrigued with its potential but I wasn't about to take the risk on my own, especially with "street acid" of dubious quality.
He said in response that he was familiar with a group at Stanford that was doing some work with LSD under the sanction of an unnamed government agency. He added that if I were really interested he would check out the possibility of my taking it under legal and well-supervised conditions. I gulped a few times, feeling sort of like my bluff had been called, and then said, O.K., sure, yeah, check it out........gulp, gulp.
Well, as it turns out, he was being just a bit disingenuous because the "group" was actually him plus two of his friends.........Al Hubbard and Myron Stolaroff. He told me that he could not divulge the name of the government agency involved but assured me that he was a knowledgeable guide (one of the most experienced in the country at the time as it turned out) and that we would be using pure Sandoz acid.
Interestingly I never pressed him on the name of the government agency (although I sincerely hoped it wasn't one of the less savory ones). I didn't press him on it at the time and, unaccountably, I never asked him about it, even many years later. In fact it wasn't until quite recently that I finally learned (from Jim Fadiman) that the LSD had been administered under Investigational New Drug [IND] permit #1. This was "the first ever official license to bring lysergic acid diethlamide into the United States from Sandoz Laboratories" and was awarded by the Food and Drug Administration to the ubiquitous Al Hubbard.
At the time Bill and I first met I was the Advanced Planning Officer of the Bureau of Research in the U.S. Office (later Department) of Education. I was developing an initiative to look at the future and its educational implications. My plan was to give a number of small grants to various groups to do some preliminary work leading to the drafting of full-scale proposals for long term funding. Our ultimate goal was to fund two major centers at approximately $500,000 each (which was a lot of money back then).
As luck (again????) would have it, Bill showed up at our offices in Washington one day with a small group of people from SRI who were interested in competing for the funds. Thus started our dual relationship, as Bill and his group not only received one of the small grants but went on to be selected by the proposal review committee for one of the two large, multi-year grants, with Bill listed as Executive Director. So, while I was his government project officer during the work week.......he was my government-sanctioned trip guide on the occasional weekend!
Bill went on to author a number of ground-breaking books, head up the Social Policy Research Center at SRI, sit on the Board of Regents of the University of California, co-found the World Business Academy and serve as President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He was an enormously influential and innovative social theorist who had a profound effect on many of today's best known progressive thinkers, writers and researchers.
Prior to meeting Bill I was your typical left brained, scientifically-oriented, rational, agnostic/atheistic, egotistical young man.....very full of himself as young men sometimes tend to be.
He not only introduced me to the hitherto unexplored areas of mysticism, spirituality, psychic phenomena, and perennial philosophy but, more importantly, he served as a much needed role model. He was kind, patient, compassionate and unfailingly good humored. He was strong without being pushy. He was highly intelligent but never condescending. He had high self esteem, but was not the least bit egotistical or self-centered. On the contrary, he was selfless and service-oriented, always tirelessly working for the benefit of others, in ways both large and small. He encouraged and supported people, invariably bringing out the best in them.
Our friendship endured and my debt to him cannot be overestimated. Before I met him my life was headed in one direction.......after meeting him it took off in a radically different direction......one that he continued to support through his wise counsel, unfailing support, and sincere affection over the ensuing years.
Sadly, Bill passed away in 1997 at the age of 78. I was Dean of the Graduate School for Holistic Studies at JFKU at the time and I added the following message to his many remembrances:
Bill was a seminal figure in my life and the most important mentor I ever had.
I paid homage to Bill at our staff meeting yesterday and tried to explain to the staff how the School is, in some ways, created in his likeness -- and how it is imbued, in many ways, with his spirit and values.
It was a very emotional experience for us all. I was moved to tears as I was, once again, struck by how very much I owe him. He profoundly altered my life and it is impossible for me to imagine who I would be today if I had not known him.