Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 3 Jun 13 12:25
I thought this was amusing: "On January 21, 1970, Leary received a 10-year sentence for his 1968 offense, with a further 10 added later while in custody for a prior arrest in 1965, for a total of 20 years to be served consecutively. On his arrival in prison, he was given psychological tests used to assign inmates to appropriate work details. Having designed some of these tests himself (including the "Leary Interpersonal Behavior Test"), Leary answered them in such a way that he seemed to be a very conforming, conventional person with a great interest in forestry and gardening. As a result, he was assigned to work as a gardener in a lower-security prison from which he escaped in September 1970, saying that his non-violent escape was a humorous prank and leaving a challenging note for the authorities to find after he was gone." He had a crazy, and probably rough, go of it on the run and in hiding after his escape. What impact did this have on his world-view?
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Mon 3 Jun 13 18:17
It's really the key to his worldview during and after prison. He becomes very sharp and corrosive regarding "mammalian"politics and "terrestrial" politics, however you would phrase it. Before that, there's work on what we might call a charting of the development of the arc of an ordinary human being that Leary did throughout his career, including pre-psychedelic as a theoretical psychologist or psychoanalyst. But after jail, exile, jail again and being jostled around by the feds he becomes sort of wickedly satirical about common patterns of human behavior -- taboos and belief systems and "get the heretic" sorts of stuff. That's actually some of his strongest writing, which he puts out in the context of a sort of charting (the first four "circuits") of stages of human development that relates pretty closely to what would become evolutionary psychology. The psychodrama is deeply woven into the content he created in the mid and late 1970s -- mainly the books he called the "Future History Series." Those books really are best understood in the context of what he went through, even though they're also very futurist and proto-transhumanist... not to mention, incomprehensible to most people.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jun 13 09:02
Would you say that the writing in those books is undisciplined? Naive? I've heard it described as confused... one person reviewing the last book in the series on Amazon says "What I find exciting about this book is not so much the confusing writing, but within the chaos there is a positive code that Leary is sending to all of us, possibly decoded from his own DNA transmissions, and that code is: 'Move On!'"
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Tue 4 Jun 13 13:31
Undisciplined, yes. Naive? No, very sophisticated stylistically and very post-hippie... not a whole lot of flower power, but overoptimistic, certainly. Confused? Quite the opposite with most of those books, which are What Does WoMan Want? Neuropolitics Exo-Psychology The Game of Life The Intelligence Agents To me, they have a kind of lucidity and clarity that's comparable to low dose psychedelics. However, the last book, which may be the one this person is talking about, The Intelligence Agents, is very nonlinear and playful and there are some pretty wildly experimental ideas, presented in fragments under pseudonyms and then being picked up later in the book. Leary used to talk about spraying out ideas and if he batted 333% (as per baseball) he was still the MVP. People get confused either by taking them too seriously or literally or by not being able to make that leap to the boundary between seriousness and play.
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Tue 4 Jun 13 20:11
I think that, if pyschedelic drug use had been confined to legitimate research, we might be better off today. Imagine the improved results if psychedelics had been more widely used by, for example, physicists.
Gail (gail) Tue 4 Jun 13 20:20
Hmm. That would make for a curious alternate history indeed.
J. Eric Townsend (jet) Tue 4 Jun 13 20:38
I was lucky (?) enough to do real, rx, MDMA back in the 80s and it was not like anything sold in the 90s and later. As a supervised drug used in clinics by trained professionals it would have led to a very different now. Maybe not a *better* now, but a different one, much the way alcohol made water safe to drink back before the 20th century.
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Wed 5 Jun 13 11:32
Robin Russell... wondering how old you are. It's easy to underestimate the reverberations of the changes in US and to a lesser extent global culture if the democratized and, yes, excessive flowering of psychedelic culture, out of control, hadn't occurred. I also don't think they would have become widely used by physicians. There's something intrinsic in psychedelic experience that probably couldn't be calmly integrated into US culture as a medicine. Maybe now, slowly. But it does make an interesting alternative narrative. The best outcome would have been the continuation of legal experimentation and the emergence of the wild and wooly and necessary psychedelic counterculture but better informed and a tad less excessive, thanks perhaps to friendly advice from a reasonable state (Leary's 1966 suggestion of regulations are often ignored). Jet... I'm sure that some people get real MDMA. It's not rocket science, as they say. But yes, a lot of people get crap because of the illegality. And I certainly remember when it was legal in the '80s.
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Wed 5 Jun 13 14:41
It was meant to be truth within a joke, ALL legitimate research of any ilk. I guess I am old enough to know better. I don't blame Leary for letting the genie out of the bottle, and, to the extent he was responsible, I think it was a good thing. While Huxley, had he lived to see the mass breakout of LSD use, would probably have been in "tut, tut, I told you so" mode, I think the pschedelic counterculture uncovered more interesting possibilities a lot faster than would and possibly could have been achieved by laboratory research. Leary's emphasis on set and setting as key parameters was a particularly worthwhile contribution.
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Wed 5 Jun 13 17:21
thanks for clarifying, Robin
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 6 Jun 13 04:49
I always thought Cary Grant let the genie out of the bottle. That's how I first heard about psychedelics, a news article about Cary Grant's therapeutic experiences with LSD. Here's a Grant quote: "I have been born again. I have been through a psychiatric experience which has completely changed me. I was horrendous. I had to face things about myself which I never admitted, which I didn't know were there. Now I know that I hurt every woman I ever loved. I was an utter fake, a self-opinionated bore, a know-all who knew very little. I found I was hiding behind all kinds of defenses, hypocrisies and vanities. I had to get rid of them layer by layer. The moment when your conscious meets your subconscious is a hell of a wrench. With me there came a day when I saw the light." I often wondered whether it was the Grant story that led Leary and Alpert to their first trips?
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Thu 6 Jun 13 15:00
Wasn't it mushrooms in Mexico?
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Fri 7 Jun 13 11:07
The genie was destined to escape the Klein bottle. In some ways, it all started with the VP of J.P. Morgan, R. Gordon Wasson, who experienced magic mushrooms in Mexico and then wrote it up in a most pleasant but distant combination of white anthropologist studying curious customs of the primitives and real person having an amazing experience - for Life magazine in 1957. So psychedelics entered mainstream American media culture as neither a therapeutic tool or something for outsider bohos but as a curiosity. The publishers of Life, Henry and Clare Booth Luce -- among other things, promoters of Ronald Reagan, were both enthusiastic about psychedelics in the 1950s, including LSD. So, in some ways, psychedelics in America started off as a plaything of ruling circles (giving birth to many many many conspiracy theories after it became a counterculture thing that the whole psychedelic counterculture was an intentional ruling class plot). A curious note: in the early '70s, Abbie Hoffman had the occasion to ask Clare Booth Luce, at a party, what she thought about LSD now. She said "We wouldn't want people to have too much of a good thing," at which point Abbie stopped accepting invitations to elite parties. (He was THAT famous at the time.)
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Fri 7 Jun 13 19:10
Clare Booth Luce's elitist attitude was shared by many in that circle. Aldous Huxley's 'The Doors of Perception' and 'Heaven and Hell' alerted me to the psychedelic world in the late 1960s, well before I had heard of Tim Leary. Huxley mixed in that group. Possibly he thought the hoi polloi wouldn't be reading his monographs. I reckon it would be a bold ruling class that thought turning on the massses to LSD would serve their interests, and there certainly seems to have been a lot of effort devoted to putting the genie back in the bottle.
From Mike E. Avelli via e-mail (captward) Sat 8 Jun 13 08:08
The 8-circuit model of consciousness is one that was widely advocated by both Leary and Wilson. You have stated, here and elsewhere, that the first 4 circuits anticipate--or at least adopt--findings from evolutionary psychology. That seems largely true. To be sure, Leary deserves special credit for acknowledging how clearly one can perceive and understand mammalian politics when psychedelicized [especially at a time when "sociobiology" (cf. Edward O. Wilson) was openly scorned by more idealistic, left-wing, politically-correct circles]. Nonetheless,the transcendent circuits (the upper 4) seem theorized for future use. Now, how does that square with Leary's overall worldview? He seems to propose a mild scientism at times (e.g., denigrating the use of "mind" now that "brain" is available), yet his 8-circuit model of consciousness and its attendant propositions seem entirely anti-Darwinian (insofar as Leary has a teleological framework). Is there a way to draw the line between his scientism and his mysticism? Does he anywhere articulate his agreements or disagreements with Darwinism? Does he ever seriously endorse theism? P.S. R.U. Sirius, you're a perennial fixture of the psychedelic community--from my teens to my late 20's now, you have been a reasonable and articulate voice, and I thank you.
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Sat 8 Jun 13 16:50
Thanks for the question and the praise. If you recall the 1970s material, he embraced the broad outline of Darwinian evolution but suspected a Lamarckian effect... acquired characteristics and so forth. He also referenced the "higher circuits"as post-Darwinian, in a few spots. Humans would be taking control of and programming the next stages of (our) evolution ourselves... this is another way in which he hit on themes that would later be taken up by transhumanism. Also, during that time, the '70s, he seems to believe that the biological code (DNA etc.) must be a conscious creation of a higher intelligence (or simply is a higher intelligence) and that the stages of evolution that he notes and, in the future sections, predicts -- are inevitable and are probably repeated across the galaxies... so there's a sort of soft predestinarianism in there. At the same time, there's an acknowledgment that all these ideas may just be wild pitches. He sort of backs away from the higher intelligence/mystical stuff in the '80s and then, sometimes picks it up again and sometimes puts it back down again. If we're looking for consistency with Leary, we'll probably only find it in the application of antiauthoritarianism to whatever field he's working in. On the whole, I think the "higher circuits" really come from trying to think about psychedelic experience in a Darwinian/post-Darwinian manner, i.e. what the hell are these substances good for, anyway? And he concludes that they are good for a post-terrestrial or posthuman or post-Darwinian species. I think the main key to Leary's neuropolitics are probably related to the at that time novel idea that there are reward circuits built in the brain. And (darwinian) neurology at that time (and now) could understand how the brain gets pleasurably rewarded for victory and accomplishment and aggression (also triggered by cocaine) and for sharing and nurturing and being nurtured, but why ecstasy, rapture, agape? Why should this onrush of too many signals and deep visual patterns and odd personal insights be accompanied by these rapturous exhalted feelings? So Leary figured that these were circuits that corresponded to the conditions of an accelerated post-Darwinian species... us in the future.
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Sat 8 Jun 13 22:58
You observe that "As with many psychedelic spokespeople, one of Learys flaws was that he assumed that just about everybody would have the same experience he did." Yet Leary conducted professional psychedelic experiments with dozens of different subjects and doubtless tripped with dozens more in less structured settings. Is it possible that Leary believed that psychedelics opened the door on aspects of reality that were not normally apparent, that is, that the psychedelic voyager was visiting and revisiting something that was separate from their personal consciousness? Much like the DMT dimension that Terry McKenna describes revisiting?
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Sun 9 Jun 13 15:19
In the '60s and '70s he seemed to mainly believe that psychedelics tap the individual into a vast nearly unfathomable informational space that contains all of evolution, but he seems to believe that all of this resides in each individual's nervous system or deep mind or... R.A. Wilson saw this as Jung's akashic records... although Jung, I don't think, thought of this "collective unconscious" as residing in each person's deep brain structures/nervous system, etcetera. But, you know, with Leary, if you told him you thought this informational space was outside of the individual but rather something other that you could tap into, he would probably shrug (or more likely smile) and not be too concerned with that detail (however large it may appear to someone like Terence McKenna, who felt that he had contacted Others at the operational controls of the universe, etc.) Of course, I'm sure we could find some passages that contradict this, in which Leary talks about all this as something exterior to the individual that psychedelics can tune you in to. It's hard to say because in the last couple of decades of his life, he didn't really concern himself with epistemology and related topics in a sort of hyperintellectual way. By the '90s, he's sort of cyber-Taoist about all this... chaos and going with the flow. So he never really summed up.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 9 Jun 13 18:43
Could it be that he dispensed with theory (and epistemology) because it was so inadequate to the scope and complexity of the reality that blasted through is head when he was tripping? I mean, you can get to that point without psychedelics: to a realization that scientific discipline, while necessary for one very disciplined level of knowledge, is too inherently self-constrained to approach whatever higher levels might be accessible to puny humans.
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Sun 9 Jun 13 20:40
Unless, of course, the universe has modelled itself on our mathematics.
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Sun 9 Jun 13 22:24
Jon, sorta like that. And more that that, maybe a sense that whatever is going on at the quantum level or any other invisible or meta level is manifest in life itself and in these electronic digital tools particularly that we were just forming a relationship with... so it was kind of the hands-on imperative. I think hanging out more with engineers and hackers and scientists in the '80s and '90s made him realize how much he didn't know... and how much was still unknown... and it made him a bit cautious... maybe even a bit intimidated by hardheaded reductionist science... not wanting to be TOO foolish. I also think he decided that figuring why and how everything is... wasn't his job anymore. You can see the tendency to want to be the guy who figures everything out and communicates it to the people even in the 1950s. At that time, it wasn't ridiculous to think that someone working in psychology would become an important philosophical thinker, since the examples of Freud and Jung were still vital. And then when you toss in the questions and inputs raised by initial psychedelic experiences and you toss in becoming famous and infamous and controversial and a target for your ideas and beliefs and how you express them; and then you toss in the intensity of cultural and political disaffection and expectation that emerged in the'60s and '70s and you have a fair number of people now expecting you to have "the answer" (If you lived through the '60s, you know that there was this ridiculous idea that you could search for and find "the answer")... and then finally you add in the prison/exile/prison/compromise-with-authority ordeal... you can sort of forgive the guy for thinking he's the one who has to be, in Leary's own mid-'70s words, "the only one offering a hopeful and forward looking eschatology"... I mean, at the culmination of all this, he almost HAS to be doing the most important transformative work in all the cosmos to justify himself. So he takes all this as far as he can in the '70s. And then, suddenly, that sort of apocalyptic period in which people are expecting instant transformation or revolution comes to an end, he's out of prison, the smoke clears and there's less damage and he's not as screwed as it must have seemed he was, and he's able to live and have a family and a career being Timothy Leary... suddenly he doesn't have to be that guy with the Most Transformative Cosmology Ever anymore. So he starts to bite off smaller issues, for example showing the relationships between the scientific paradigms, technologies and medias and cultural trends and beliefs of each decade of the 20th Century, for example, to impress on people the nature of accelerating change as we entered the "information age"... and that is largely where we end up, until it's time to die... at which point it seems to become about modeling how to die having fun, how not to be humorless and uptight about dying. Ummm, that's my late night ramble anyway.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 10 Jun 13 10:03
Aha. You bring an endearing empathy to your task. It's not so much a dissection under a sharpened blade, which will be part of what will divide your readers into fans and critics. Did you think about that while writing -- say, about engaging the empathy of the reader?
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Mon 10 Jun 13 19:19
I felt that, among my jobs, in writing the book, I was correcting or at least balancing out the historical record and public misconceptions, so I was definitely trying to reach out to anyone with an open mind. Part of that involved not being overly worshipful or uncritical. I don't know that I took enough space to actually evoke empathy with Dr. Leary, but I seem to be sort of doing that in interviews about the book, for some reason. Or are you asking about empathy with me as a writer? I certainly wasn't trying to reach out to anyone with a strongly critical view, although I think I maybe would try to do that in a longer book that would not necessarily be for the Leary estate. I can certainly understand some of the harsher critics, to a degree.
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Mon 10 Jun 13 20:35
I think you did achieve a nice balance, and made it quirky enough to be interesting as well. One of the most interesting questions you raise is this: "Why did Leary and Ginsberg and their magic pills fail to ignite a wave of advocacy among Ginsbergs friends in the intellectual cognoscenti of the early 1960s? On the one hand, we could decide that the intellectuals were correct. The mind magic supplied by the pills simply was not the great thing Timothy and Allen thought it was. On the other hand, we might conclude that successful intellectuals who were already pretty well defined publicly by their philosophic views and their mental perceptions might have had something to lose in letting the psychedelic experience divert them too far from their hard earned paths." In saying that maybe the intellectuals were correct, the implication is that intellectuals who were turned on by Leary and Ginsberg were making a case that LSD (or psylocybin) were not effective in changing consciousness, or that the changes were unremarkable. Both Burroughs and Kerouac did come out with negative assessments, but Kerouac was a juicer and Burroughs a junkie, and maybe defending their own choices. Were there a bunch of other intellectuals who tried psychedelics and found them wanting?
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Mon 10 Jun 13 23:31
Off the top of my head, Arthur Koestler and Robert Lowell come to mind. More generally, over the long years, I think a lot of intellectuals probably tried it and found it wanting, although few come to mind. Frank Zappa tried it twice and wasn't impressed, but he blatantly wanted to be unimpressed. Hmmm
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