Timothy Leary

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Timothy Leary : biography

October 22, 1920 – May 31, 1996

Leary argued that psychedelic substances, in proper doses and in a stable setting, could, under the guidance of psychologists, alter behavior in beneficial ways not easily attainable through regular therapy. His research focused on treating alcoholism and reforming criminals. Many of his research subjects told of profound mystical and spiritual experiences which they said permanently, and very positively, altered their lives. According to Leary’s autobiography Flashbacks, after 300 professors, graduate students, writers and philosophers had taken LSD, 75% reported the experience as one of the most educational and revealing ones of their lives.

The Concord Prison Experiment was designed to evaluate the effects of psilocybin combined with psychotherapy on rehabilitation of released prisoners. After being guided through the psychedelic experience, or "trips," by Leary and his associates, 36 prisoners were reported to have repented and sworn to give up future criminal activity. Compared to the average recidivism rate of 60 percent for American prisoners in general, the recidivism rate for those involved in Leary’s project dropped to 20 percent. The experimenters concluded that long-term reduction in overall criminal recidivism rates could be effected with a combination of psilocybin-assisted group psychotherapy (inside the prison) along with a comprehensive post-release follow-up support program modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. These conclusions were later contested in a follow-up study on the basis of time differences monitoring the study group vs. the control group and differences between subjects re-incarcerated for parole violations and those imprisoned for new crimes. The researchers concluded that statistically only a slight improvement could be attributed to psilocybin in contrast to the significant improvement reported by Leary and his colleagues.

Leary and Alpert founded the International Foundation for Internal Freedom in 1962 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This was run by Lisa Bieberman (now known as Licia Kuenning),http://www.lycaeum.org/drugs.old/hyperreal/millbrook/ch-04.html a disciple of Learyhttp://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=134589 and one of his many lovers. Their research attracted so much public attention that many who wanted to participate in the experiments had to be turned away due to the high demand. To satisfy the curiosity of those who were turned away, a black market for psychedelics sprang up near the Harvard campus.

According to Andrew Weil, Leary was fired for not giving his required lectures while Alpert was fired for allegedly giving psilocybin to an undergraduate in an off-campus apartment. This version is supported by the words of Harvard University president Nathan Marsh Pusey, who released the following statement on May 27, 1963:

On May 6, 1963, the Harvard Corporation voted, because Timothy F. Leary, lecturer on clinical psychology, has failed to keep his classroom appointments and has absented himself from Cambridge without permission, to relieve him from further teaching duty and to terminate his salary as of April 30, 1963.New York Times, 03/12/1966, p. 25

In 1967, Leary engaged in a televised debate with Jerry Lettvin of MIT.

Leary’s activities interested siblings Peggy, Billy and Tommy Hitchcock, heirs to the Mellon fortune, who in 1963 helped Leary and his associates acquire a rambling mansion on an estate in Millbrook (near the city of Poughkeepsie) (the site of Vassar College), where they continued their experiments. Leary later wrote:

We saw ourselves as anthropologists from the 21st 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.Jay Stevens Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, 1998, p. 208

The Millbrook estate was later described by Luc Sante of The New York Times 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.