Stephen Abrams (1938-2012): archive
- Archives and manuscripts
Where to find it
About this work
Papers created or collected by Stephen Abrams, counterculture figure, parapsychologist and drugs activist.
Topics covered include Extra-Sensory Perception, parapsychology societies, cannabis law reform, The Times advert, the work Soma, alchemy and Carl Jung's concept of sychronicity.
The archive also included several journals relating to parapsychology, which have been transferred to the library's serials holdings.
The archive came in a state of disarray with very little internal order. Some files were created and maintained by Abrams, but many have been created by the cataloguer by bringing together related loose papers. The origins of each file have been documented in the respective catalogue records. The files have been arranged into the following sections:
- A: Parapsychology papers
- B: Drugs work and campaign papers
- C: Other interests
- D: Personal papers and correspondence
Stephen Irwin Abrams was born in 1938. He studied at Beverley Hills High School, California in the early 1950s and enrolled as an undergraduate at Shimer College in 1954. From there he moved to the University of Chicago to study psychology.
In 1960 he moved to the United Kingdom to work on an extrasensory perception (ESP) doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford. He headed the University's parapsychology laboratory at the Department of Biometry. In the summer of 1961 he visited Duke University to participate in LSD experiments with J.B. Rhine and in 1962 he visited the Soviet Union to discuss ESP research with Russian parapsychologist Leonid Vasiliev. Abrams' postgraduate research was funded by the Human Ecology Fund, which turned out to itself be funded by the CIA's MK-ULTRA programme.
The Parapsychology Laboratory was closed down by the university in 1964 and Abrams temporarily moved to the University of Cambridge to take up the Perrett-Warrick Studentship of Trinity College, only academic appointment in psychical research in UK at that time. He returned to Oxford in 1965 to write up his D.Phil thesis and he sat his viva but was never awarded a PhD.
Whilst at Oxford, Abrams wrote an essay titled "The Oxford Scene and the Law" which observed that cannabis users were treated more harshly than heroin users: the former were treated as criminals and the latter as ill people requiring treatment. The essay was published without his permission in January 1967 in The People Sunday newspaper. The story spread and there was as student protest march in Oxford. At this time Abrams formed SOMA (Society for Mental Awareness), an informal drug research project. He also gave evidence at the University Committee on Student Health and called for a government inquiry into the government's drugs policy. In April 1967 the Home Secretary appointed the Sub-Committee on Hallucinogens (part of Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence) chaired by Baroness Wootton.
That summer, Abrams proposed the idea of publishing an advert in a national newspaper that would serve to both petition the Wotton Committee and to raise awareness of the case of John "Hoppy" Hopkins, a photographer and activist arrested for cannabis possession. The advert was paid for my Paul McCartney and signed by various notable people of the day including the rest of the Beatles, Francis Crick, Graham Greene, David Bailey, David Dimbleby, R.D. Laing and Francis Huxley. It was published in The Times on 24 July 1967 and began "The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice" and went on to call for more research into the uses of cannabis, permission for cannabis to be smoked in private premises and relaxation of cannabis laws. The advert created national debate and influenced the final report of the Wootton Committee.
In 1968, Abrams dropped the acronym and incorporate SOMA as the Soma Research Association. It counted Francis Crick, R.D. Laing and Francis Huxley amongst its directors and initiated a research programme to manufacture and investigate the effects of synthetic THC (a cannabinoid). Based on these activities, in 1968 The News of the World printed a front-page article about Soma and Abrams with the headline "This dangerous man MUST be stopped!" Abrams threatened to sue for defamation. By 1969 Abrams was uncomfortable with the scrutiny he and his work were receiving from the press and police and in 1970 he wound up Soma and left Oxford to focus on his research on alchemy and Carl Jung.
Whilst at the University of Chicago, Abrams had become interested in Carl Jung's concept of synchronicity. He believed parapsychology could be used to test the concept and in 1957 he began a correspondence with Jung that lasted until Jung's death in 1961. His interest in Jung and his work lasted throughout Abrams' life and in 1978 he presented three lectures on BBC Radio 3 under the title "Misunderstanding Jung".
In the latter decades of his life, Abrams continued to campaign for cannabis law reform and wrote a number of accounts of his activities in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s he developed an interest in computing and artificial intelligence and wrote several papers on the topics. He also had a keen interest in opera and record collecting.
Abrams was married to Jane Firbank from 1965 to 1972. He died of emphysema on 21 November 2012.
In the Wellcome Library:
- A file in the Michael Fordham papers, PP/FOR/F.1/1, contains correspondence with Abrams and the scripts of three talks that he gave on Jung.
- A copy of David Black: Acid: the secret history of LSD featuring several contributions from Abrams