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Famous Psychologists - Timothy Leary

Famous Psychologists: Timothy Leary

Famous Psychologists - Timothy Leary

Timothy Francis Leary, Ph.D. (October 22, 1920 – May 31, 1996) was an American writer, psychologist, and advocate of psychedelic drug research and use. As a 1960s counterculture icon, he is most famous as a proponent of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD. He coined and popularized the catch phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out." 

Timothy Leary

The following has been adapted from the Wikipedia: Timothy Leary website.

Timothy Leary was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, as an only child and the son of an Irish American dentist who abandoned the family when Timothy was 13. Leary attended three different colleges and was disciplined in each. He studied for two years at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts and was known for cutting classes, drinking, and chasing girls. He transferred to West Point to please his mother but was forced to resign after an incident involving smuggling liquor during a school field exercise. An extended period of a school wide"silent treatment" followed.

He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of Alabama in 1943. An obituary of Leary in the New York Times said he was a "discipline problem" there as well and "finally earned his bachelor's degree in the Army during World War II."

His education also included a master's degree at Washington State University in 1946, and a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1950. During World War II, Leary served in the U.S. Army, as a sergeant in the Medical Corps. He went on to become an assistant professor at Berkeley (1950-1955), director of psychiatric research at the Kaiser Family Foundation (1955-1958), and a lecturer in psychology at Harvard University (1959-1963).

In 1955 his first wife, Marianne, committed suicide, leaving him a single father with a son and daughter.

Psychedelic experiments and experiences

On May 13, 1957, Life Magazine published an article by R. Gordon Wasson that documented (and popularized) the use of psilocybin mushrooms in the religious ceremony of the indigenous Mazatec people of Mexico.   Anthony Russo, a colleague of Leary's, had recently taken the psychedelic (entheogen) Psilocybe mexicana during a trip to Mexico, and shared the experience with Leary. In the summer of 1960, Leary traveled to Cuernavaca, Mexico with Russo and after drinking several shots of Tequila tried psilocybin mushrooms for the first time, an experience that drastically altered the course of his life. (Ram Dass Fierce Grace, 2001, Zeitgeist Video). In 1965 Leary commented that he "learned more about. . . (his) brain and its possibilities. . . (and) more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than. . . (he) had in the preceding fifteen years of studying doing (sic) research in psychology".  Upon his return to Harvard that fall, Leary and his associates, notably Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), began a research program known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. The goal was to analyze the effects of psilocybin on human subjects using a synthesized version of the drug--one of two active compounds in the so-called Mexican mushroom--that was produced according to a recipe concocted by Albert Hoffman, a research chemist at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals. The experiment later involved giving LSD to graduate students.

Leary argued that LSD, used with the right dosage, set and setting, and with the guidance of professionals, could alter behavior in unprecedented and beneficial ways. His experiments produced no murders, suicides, psychoses, and 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.

According to Leary's autobiography Flashbacks they administered LSD to 300 professors, graduate students, writers and philosophers and 75% of them reported it as being like a revelation to them, and one of the most educational experiences of their lives. They also gave LSD to 200 professional religious people and 75% reported that they had the most religious experience of their lives. They administered the drug to prisoners, and after being guided through the trips by Leary and his associates, 36 prisoners allegedly turned their backs on crime. The normal Recidivism rate of prisoners is about 80%, where as of the subjects involved in the project about 80% did not return to prison.

Later, undergraduates became involved, leading to conflict with the university. In May of 1963, Leary and Alpert were dismissed from Harvard after college authorities confirmed that undergraduates had shared in the researchers' drugs.  According to another account, Leary was fired for not showing up to his classes while Alpert was fired for giving psilocybin to an undergraduate in an off campus apartment. Their colleagues were uneasy about the nature of their research, and some parents complained to the university administration about the distribution of hallucinogens to their students. To further complicate matters their research attracted a great deal of public attention. As a result, many people wanted to participate in the experiments but were unable to do so because of the high demand. In order to satisfy the curiosity of those who were turned away, a black market for psychedelics formed near the Harvard University Campus.  Sensing the growing opposition to their research Leary and Alpert founded the International Foundation for Internal Freedom in 1962 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Leary's activities attracted siblings Peggy, Billy and Tommy Hitchcock, heirs to the Mellon fortune, who in 1963 helped Leary and his associates acquire the use of a rambling mansion on an estate near Poughkeepsie, New York in a town called Millbrook and continued their experiments.

Later the Millbrook estate was described as "the headquarters of Leary and gang for the better part of five years, a period filled with endless parties, epiphanies and breakdowns, emotional dramas of all sizes, and numerous raids and arrests, many of them on flimsy charges concocted by the local assistant district attorney, G. Gordon Liddy."

It was in Millbrook that Leary's son and daughter, Susan and Jack, who had been dragged through so much, beginning with their mother's death, and had been neglected and passively abused for many years, began to fall apart. (In 1988 Susan shot her boyfriend, and eventually killed herself in jail; Jack managed to repair himself, but has avoided publicity ever since.)".  In 1964, Leary co-authored a book with Ralph Metzner called The Psychedelic Experience, ostensibly based upon the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Repeated FBI raids ended the Millbrook era. Regarding a 1966 raid by G. Gordon Liddy, Leary told Paul Krassner, "He was a government agent entering our bedroom at midnight. We had every right to shoot him. But I've never owned a weapon in my life. I have never had and never will have a gun around."

On September 19, 1966, Leary founded the League for Spiritual Discovery, a religion with LSD as its holy sacrament (by doing this, he hoped to legalize LSD based on a "freedom of religion" argument). Although The Brotherhood of Eternal Love would subsequently consider Leary their spiritual leader, The Brotherhood did not evolve out of IFIF.

On October 6, 1966, LSD was made illegal and all scientific research programs on the drug were shut down.

During late 1966 and early 1967, Leary toured college campuses to spread the psychedelic gospel by presenting a multi-media performance called "the Death of the Mind" which attempted to artistically replicate the LSD experience. Leary said the League for Spiritual Discovery was limited to 360 members and was already at its membership limit, but he encouraged others to form their own psychedelic religions. He published a pamphlet in 1967 called Start Your Own Religion to encourage people to do so (see below under "writings").

On January 14, 1967, Leary spoke at the Human Be-In, a gathering of 30,000 hippies in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and uttered his famous phrase, "Turn on, tune in, drop out."

The phrase came to him in the shower one day after Marshall McLuhan suggested to Leary that he come up with "something snappy" to promote the benefits of LSD.

At some point in the late Sixties, Leary moved to California. He made a number of friends in Hollywood. "When he married his third wife, Rosemary Woodruff, in 1967, the event was directed by Ted Markland of 'Bonanza.' All the guests were on acid."

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Leary (in collaboration with the writer Brian Barritt) formulated his circuit model of consciousness, in which he claimed that the human mind/nervous system consisted of seven circuits which when activated produce seven levels of consciousness (this model was first published as the short essay, 'The Seven Tongues of God'). The system soon expanded to include an eighth circuit; this version was first unveiled to the world in the rare 1973 pamphlet Neurologic (written with Joanna Leary while he was in prison) but was not exhaustively formulated until the publication of Exo-Psychology (by Leary) and Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger in 1977. Wilson contributed significantly to the model after befriending Leary in the early 70s and has used it as a framework for further exposition in his Prometheus Rising, among other works.

Leary believed that most people only access the first four of these circuits ("the Larval Circuits") in their lifetimes. The second four circuits ("the Stellar Circuits"), 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 such as yoga as well as by taking psychedelic drugs. 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.

In 1989 Leary's eldest daughter, Susan, committed suicide after years of mental instability. Relations between the two had been tenuous for years, with the younger woman often casting her father as a negligent alcoholic and drug fiend responsible for her mother's death. Leary had not spoken to son Jack on a regular basis since the early 1970s.

After splitting from Barbara Leary in 1992, Leary began to ensconce himself with a much younger, artistic, and tech-savy crowd that included his granddaughters, Dieadra Martino and Sara Brown; grandson, Ashley Martino; stepson, Zach Chase; author Douglas Rushkoff, publisher Bob Guccione, Jr., and goddaughter Winona Ryder. He was frequently spotted at raves and alternative rock concerts, including a memorable mosh pit experience at an early Smashing Pumpkins concert. Attempting to maintain the pace of the average twenty something in his early seventies, Leary began to develop poor eating habits and steadily abused alcohol and prescription medication. This culminated in a likely overdose in late 1993 that was misdiagnosed at the time as bilateral pneumonia.

In early 1995, Leary discovered that he was terminally ill with inoperable prostate cancer. He did not reveal the condition to the press upon diagnosis, but did so after the death of Jerry Garcia in August.

Additional Information

For more information about Timothy Leary and mental health treatment, please click on the websites listed below.

Deoxy.org: Timothy Leary
Virginia.edu regarding the Sixties and Timothy Leary

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