Timothy Leary

From Academic Kids

Timothy Francis Leary (October 22, 1920May 31, 1996) was an American writer, psychologist, and drug campaigner. He is most famous as a proponent of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD. During the 1960s, he coined and popularized the catch phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out."

Dr. Leary was born in Springfield, Massachusetts the son of an Irish American dentist, who abandoned the family when Timothy was a teenager. Leary studied for a brief time at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, but reacted badly to the strict training at the Jesuit institution. He also attended West Point but was forced to resign after incidents involving smuggling liquor into the school and making unauthorized nocturnal visits to University co-eds boarding in the area. There is evidence that, as one of the few Irish Catholics then attending West Point, he was made a scapegoat as his Protestant co-conspirators were allowed to continue their studies.

He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of Alabama in 1943. He eventually got a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1950. He went on to become an assistant professor at Berkeley (1950-1955), a director of research at the Kaiser Foundation (1955-1958), and a lecturer in psychology at Harvard University (1959-1963). Leary later described these years disparagingly, writing that he had been
an anonymous institutional employee who drove to work each morning in a long line of commuter cars and drove home each night and drank martinis .... like several million, middle-class, liberal, intellectual robots.'

On May 13, 1957, Life Magazine published an article by R. Gordon Wasson that documented (and popularized) the use of entheogens in the religious ceremony of the indigenous Mazatec people of Mexico.[1] (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/lsd/life.htm) Influenced by Wasson's article, Leary traveled to Mexico, where he tried psilocybin mushrooms, an experience that would vastly alter the course of his life. Upon his return to Harvard in 1960, Leary and his associates, notably Dr. Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), began the Harvard Psilocybin Project conducting research into the effects of psilocybin and later LSD with graduate students.

Dr. Leary argued that LSD, used with the right dosage, set and setting, preferably with the guidance of professionals, could alter behavior in unprecedented and beneficial ways. His experiments produced no murders, suicides, psychoses, and supposedly no bad trips. The goals of Leary's research included finding better ways to treat alcoholism and to reform convicted criminals. Many of Leary's research participants reported profound mystical and spiritual experiences, which they claim permanently altered their lives in a very positive manner.

Leary and Alpert were dismissed from Harvard in 1963. Their colleagues were uneasy about the nature of their research, and powerful parents began complaining to the university administration about the distribution of hallucinogens to their children. Unfazed, the two relocated to a large mansion in New York called Millbrook, and continued their experiments. Leary later wrote,
We saw ourselves as anthropologists from the twenty-first century inhabiting a time module set somewhere in the dark ages of the 1960s. On this space colony we were attempting to create a new paganism and a new dedication to life as art.
Repeated FBI raids brought an end to the Millbrook era.

Leary later went on to propose his eight circuit model of consciousness, in which he claimed that the human mind consisted of eight circuits of consciousness. He believed that most people only access four of these circuits in their lifetimes. The other four, Leary claimed, were evolutionary off-shoots of the first four, and were equipped to encompass life in space, as well as expansion of consciousness that would be necessary to make further scientific and social progress. Leary suggested that some people may shift to the latter four gears by delving into meditation and other spiritual endeavors. An example of the information Leary cited as evidence for the purpose of the "higher" four circuits was the feeling of floating and uninhibited motion experienced by users of marijuana. In the eight-circuit model of consciousness, a primary theoretical function of the fifth circuit (the first of the four developed for life in outer space) is to allow humans to become accustomed to life in a zero or low gravity environment.

DEA agents Don Strange (r.) and Howard Safir (l.) arrest Leary in 1972
DEA agents Don Strange (r.) and Howard Safir (l.) arrest Leary in 1972

In 1972, Leary was imprisoned for possession of marijuana. When Leary arrived in prison, he was issued psychological tests that were used to assign inmates appropriate work detail. Having designed many of the tests himself, Leary answered them in such a way that he seemed a very conforming and conventional person with a great interest in forestry and gardening.

As a result, Leary was assigned as a gardener where it was made easier for him to make his escape. Though dangerous, Leary made a non-violent escape which he considered to be one humorous prank. For a fee paid by The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the Weather Underground Organization smuggled Leary and his wife Rosemary Woodruff Leary out of the US and into Algeria. A planned refuge with the Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver went wrong after Cleaver attempted to hold Leary hostage and the couple fled to Switzerland.

Having separated from Rosemary, Timothy Leary was detained by Interpol agents at an airport in Kabul, Afghanistan and extradited to the US in 1974, where he co-operated with the FBI's investigation of the Weather Underground, becoming an informant who implicated friends and helpers in exchange for a reduced sentence. Others note that no one was ever prosecuted based on any information Leary gave to the FBI. Based on numerous other escapades---such as his escape from prison itself and his confrontation of FBI agents who were terrifying an innocent young Hispanic woman during the Millbrook bust (led by G. Gordon Liddy) that was described in an eye-witness interview on the "Timothy Leary's Dead" (TLD) movie DVD (see below)---Leary appears to have been smart enough and audacious enough to have played along without compromising those who had helped him. He was released on April 21, 1976, by Governor Jerry Brown.

Further evidence of Leary's savvy was his cultivated friendship with former foe G.Gordon Liddy (whom former boss Richard Nixon had ordered to destroy Leary as "the most dangerous man in America") on his release from prison post-Watergate. Both men were near financial insolvency and Leary foresaw that they could make a small fortune touring the country as ex-cons debating the soul of America.

Leary once recruited John Lennon to write a theme song for his California Gubernatorial campaign (which was interrupted by his first arrest) inspiring Lennon to come up with the hit "Come Together", which he later reclaimed for himself. Leary was the explicit subject of the Moody Blues song "Legend of a Mind", which memorialized him with the words, "Timothy Leary's dead. Oh, but he was always outside looking in," a refrain he once detested but later found the sense of humor to adopt as his PR theme song when he hit the University lecture circuit promoting NASA scientist O'Neils innovative plans to build giant Eden-like orbiting mini-earth's using existing technology and raw materials from the moon.

Leary has on several occasions flirted with the occult and was a member of the magical order of the Illuminates of Thanateros.

In the months before his death from inoperable prostate cancer, Leary authored a book called Design for Dying. The book was an attempt to show people a new way of viewing death and dying.

In 1964, he co-authored a book with Ralph Metzner called The Psychedelic Experience, ostensibly based upon the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In it he writes:

A psychedelic experience is a journey to new realms of consciousness. The scope and content of the experience is limitless, but its characteristic features are the transcendence of verbal concepts, of space-time dimensions, and of the ego or identity. Such experiences of enlarged consciousness can occur in a variety of ways: sensory deprivation, yoga exercises, disciplined meditation, religious or aesthetic ecstasies, or spontaneously. Most recently they have become available to anyone through the ingestion of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, DMT, etc. Of course, the drug does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key - it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures.

Leary also believed that advances in technology could provide insights similar to those of psychedelic drugs, and lectured in the early 1990's on virtual reality.

Leary's final forecast for the future was encompassed in the ackronym "SMI2LE" standing for "space migration", "intelligence increase" and "life extension.

For a number of years, Leary was excited by the possibility of freezing his body in cryonic suspension. As a scientist himself, he didn't believe that he would be resurrected in the future, but he recognized the importance of cryonic possibilities and was generally an advocate of future sciences. He called it his "duty as a futurist", and helped publicize the process. Leary had relationships with two cryonic organizations, the original ALCOR and then the offshoot CRYOCARE. When these relationships soured due to a great lack of trust, Leary requested that his body be cremated, which it was, and distributed among his friends and family.

Leary's death was videotaped for posterity, capturing his final words forever. At one point in his final delirium, he said, "Why not?" to his step-son Zachery. He uttered the phrase repeatedly, in different intonations and died soon after. His last word, according to Zach Leary, was "beautiful". The death/suicide video was the culmination of the movie, Timothy Leary's Dead, and the filmmakers capitalised on his initial desire for cryogenic preservation by secretly creating a fake decapitation sequence without permission from Leary or his family, or so some claim. After the movie's release, the filmmakers declined to admit the scene's falsehood, possibly as a method to generate hype and sell tickets.

The fake was so effective that many people even question the accuracy of claims that it was faked. It has become a subject of debate where the side who claims it was faked has been unable to provide references and the truth has remained unknowable. To complicate the matter further, the final credits of the film are interspersed with explicitly clear scenes of Leary cooperating with specialists as they make a mold of his head (using the same technique and material that is used by dentists to make castings of teeth and for Hollywood special effects), ostensibly to make the fake head used in the decapitation scenes. Or, was this sequence filmed precisely to make it impossible to tell that the decapitation was real, in order to protect Leary's family, friends, and the filmmakers from prosecution?

After his death, seven grams of Leary's ashes were arranged by his friend at Celestis to be buried in space aboard a rocket carrying the remains of 24 other people including Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek), Gerard O'Neill (space physicist), Krafft Ehricke (rocket scientist), and others.

The term Timothy Leary tickets is an affectionate nickname given to the small squares of blotter paper to which liquid LSD has been applied. Presumably, this is because such tabs offer a "ticket" to a whole new show: a "trip" to lands hitherto unexplored.

Leary is the godfather of Winona Ryder, Uma Thurman (daughter of his ex-wife Nena), and Joi Ito.

Published works

  • Change Your Brain. Leary, Timothy. 1988. (ISBN 1579510175)
  • Your Brain is God. Leary, Timothy. 1988. (ISBN 1579510523)
  • Info-Psychology. Leary, Timothy. 1987. (ISBN 1-56184-105-6)
  • Flashbacks. Leary, Timothy. 1983. (ISBN 0874774977)
  • High Priest. Leary, Timothy. 1968. (ISBN 0914171801)
  • The Politics of Ecstasy. Leary, Timothy. 1965. (ISBN 091417133x)
  • Start Your Own Religion. Leary, Timothy. 1967. (ISBN 1579510736)
  • Psychedelic Prayers & Other Meditations. Leary, Timothy. 1966. (ISBN 0914171844)
  • The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Leary, Timothy and Ralph Metzner, Richard Alpert, Karma-Glin-Pa Bar Do Thos Grol. 1964. (ISBN 0806516526)
  • The Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality. Leary, Timothy. 1957.
  • Confessions of a Hope Fiend. Leary, Timothy. 1973.
  • Design for Dying. Leary, Timothy, with Sirius, R. U. 1997. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. ISBN 0-06-018700-X (cloth); ISBN 0-06-092866-2 (pbk.); ISBN 0-06-018250-4 (intl).

See also

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