Timothy Leary

03.05.2015 |

Episode #4 of the course “Significant futurists and their ideas”

Timothy Leary was an American psychologist and writer whose approach to questions of individual consciousness and experience pushed the limits of social acceptability in the 1960s. Leary famously experimented with and promoted the use of drugs and substances that altered a person’s state of consciousness, such as LSD, psychedelic mushrooms, and peyote. Having taken over 5000 doses of LSD himself, Leary also conducted research to discover whether psychotropic substances could aid people with personality disorders and other psychiatric conditions. He is remembered for quoting the phrase that some say defined the 1960s: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Timothy Leary became interested in psychotropic substances after he was already an accomplished professor at Harvard University lecturing on clinical psychology. After reading and hearing accounts from people who had experienced something while under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms in Mexico, Leary traveled there to try them himself. Immediately struck, he soon founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project to study the effects and uses of psychedelic mushrooms. Through these experiments, Leary became familiar with many influential artists of the day, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg; Leary was eventually discharged by Harvard for his work on this project.

Leary continued to promote the experimentation with drugs as a method of greater social consciousness. He researched on prison inmates and asylum patients at first and eventually continued making notations about the effects of psychedelic experiments on his private encampment with willing volunteers of the “beatnik” or “hippie” movements. Leary authored and co-wrote over 20 books and nearly a dozen academic papers. Some of his most famous works include The Psychedelic Experience, The Politics of Ecstasy, and The Intelligence Agents.


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