For most of us, even getting out of bed in the morning is an act that requires the sort of intense focus not possible when you’re blitzed out of your mind, but that’s not how genius works. Some of history’s greatest minds kept functioning long enough -- and in some cases, functioned better -- while drunk or high to bring us some of humanity’s most impressive accomplishments.

Jules Goux Won the Indy 500 While Drinking Several Bottles of Champagne

Race car

(Wes Tindel)

The 1913 Indy 500 apparently started badly for driver Jules Goux, who told the crew during his first pit stop, “Fetch me a pint of wine, or I’m done.” They did him five better, procuring six pint bottles (the equivalent of about 4.5 standard wine bottles) from fans in the stands, which Goux manfully worked his way through as he dominated the race. He was not only somehow still standing by its end, his first request as his victory was celebrated was for more wine.

Khrushchev Made Peace With Yugoslavia Thanks to Booze

In 1955, things were just a little tense between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, so Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev planned a meeting with Yugoslavian President Josip Broz, unaware that Tito, as he was called, had his own plans. He intended to get the Russian delegates drunk so they’d make fools of themselves, but instead, everyone just had an awesome time, including Tito. It turned out Khrushchev was an “I love you, man” kind of drunk, kissing everyone and imploring Tito to “let bygones be bygones.” By the end of the night, they were pals, and they soon signed a resolution ending their conflict.

Francis Crick Credited Microdosing With His Discovery of DNA

DNA

(Sangharsh Lohakare/Unsplash)

Biologist Francis Crick was known to his colleagues as, in academic terms, an uptight asshole, so they were surprised when he boasted to them that he’d been experimenting with small amounts of LSD when he identified the structure of DNA in 1953. Immediately afterward, he and lab partner James Watson ran to the pub for an impromptu kegger because scientists were much cooler back then.

Kary Mullis Got the Idea for PCR on LSD

COVID testing

(JC Gellidon/Unsplash)

The polymerase chain reaction, a technique for making copies of DNA probably most familiar to you in the context of COVID-19 testing, was invented by Kary Mullis after he took a leisurely drive through the California mountains high on LSD in the ‘80s. That’s more likely to end in a distinctly non-psychedelic crash for any of us, so if you want to try to chemically unlock your own scientific superpowers, consider a nice comfy chair.

Ulysses S. Grant Won the Civil War Drunk

The bluster General Grant needed to win the Civil War might have come to him courtesy of good ol’ bourbon. He was known to be such a prolific drinker that a “principal responsibility” of his chief of staff during the war was making sure he didn’t drink himself to defeat, with mixed success. One historian said only that “there is not a documented case where any use of alcohol by Grant negatively impacted his performance in the field." So there were probably plenty of positives.

Cocaine Allowed Freud to Invent Psychoanalysis

When Freud discovered, like so many MBA students after him, that cocaine felt awesome, it was mostly because it made the usually staid doctor feel like talking. Having noticed how much freer and lighter he felt after a conversation (and coke) bender, he applied the idea to the “talk therapy” cure he used with patients, who were also welcomed to a big handful of cocaine when they came to therapy. That’s certainly one incentive.

Beethoven Probably Wrote His Symphony No. 7 Drunk

Symphony

(Lucas Alexander/Unsplash)

Beethoven was known to be a drunk, so that fact combined with the resulting output gives us a pretty good idea of what he was doing when he wrote his Symphony No. 7 in a “Bohemian spa city” in 1811. It was such a chaotically uplifting composition that critics as well as his own musicians were certain no sober mind could produce it, but it went on to become a beloved symphony.

Selim I Conquered Cyprus to Get More of Its Wine

Ottoman Sultan Selim II was nicknamed “The Drunkard,” so it’s not like the merchant who introduced him to Cypriot wine didn’t know what they were doing. The sultan liked it so much that when he ran out, he went on the Ottoman Empire version of a beer run, which meant conquering Cyprus so he could have its wine all to himself.

John Lilly Talked to Dolphins (And Tripped With Them)

Dolphin

(Ádám Berkecz/Unsplash)

In the ‘60s, neuroscientist John Lilly -- who’d previously developed a map of the brain’s pain and pleasure centers -- made breakthroughs in the understanding of dolphin communication, specifically the discovery that they imitate human speech, and also started using LSD. He even gave LSD to his dolphins sometimes but was frustrated to find that it had little effect on them. Being a dolphin is just always far out.

Gary Dahl Invented the Pet Rock in a Bar

Rock

(Dave Hoefler/Unsplash)

The pet rock started as a literal joke when Gary Dahl was out drinking with his friends and, in response to their complaints about taking care of pets, told them, “No problem at my house. I have a pet rock. No vet bills, except once in a while to scrape off the moss.” Everyone laughed, but being in the advertising industry, Dahl couldn’t just let drunken jokes lie and made everyone in the ‘70s look like an idiot.

Plenty of Astronauts Have Flown to Space Drunk

Astronaut

(NASA/Unsplash)

Astronauts aren’t allowed to drink for 12 hours prior to launch for obvious reasons, but in 2007, interviews with NASA staff revealed that “alcohol is freely used in crew quarters” and NASA disregarded warnings that crew members were too drunk for space on at least two occasions. Those missions did go off without a hitch, though, so those narcs were presumably duly razzed.

The Events of the Bible Were Probably Witnessed on Shrooms

Not only were hallucinogenic drugs widely available during the time the events of the Bible were said to take place, they were an “integral part of the religious rites of Israelites,” which sure explains a lot of those burning bushes and whatnot. Even the most militant Reddit atheist would have to admit that it’s pretty cool that Moses might have just yanked the Ten Commandments out of his own hazy brain.

Paul Erdős Did All the Math on Uppers

Math

(Jeswin Thomas/Unsplash)

Paul Erdős is the Kevin Bacon of math -- everyone has worked with him. It turns out his ability to crank out all that math was largely dependent on crank, to the point that when a friend offered him $500 to quit amphetamines for a month, he chided his friend for “set mathematics back by a month,” complaining that he “didn't get any work done. I'd get up in the morning and stare at a blank piece of paper. I'd have no ideas, just like an ordinary person.” For Erdős, drugs were demonstrably the difference between being a world-changing genius and some idiot.

Top image: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

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