Timothy Leary

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Timothy Leary (1989)

Timothy Francis Leary (born October 22, 1920 in Springfield , Massachusetts , † May 31, 1996 in Beverly Hills ) was an American psychologist , author and " guru " of the hippie movement. Leary became known in the 1960s and 1970s for promoting free and universal access to psychedelic (mind-altering) drugs such as LSD , mescaline, and psilocybin .



Leary was born in Springfield , Massachusetts in 1920 . After high school , he attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts from 1938 to 1940. Under the influence of his father, he then entered the United States Military Academy in West Point , which he had to leave a little later after a disciplinary procedure.

academic career

Leary then took a psychology degree at the University of Alabama , which he graduated in 1943 as a Bachelor of Arts . In 1946 he earned a Masters of Science degree in psychology from Washington State University , and in 1950 a Doctor of Philosophy degree in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley . Finally, Leary was there from 1950 to 1955 assistant professor. From 1955 to 1958 Leary headed psychiatric research at an institute of the Kaiser Family Foundation, after which he went to Harvard as a lecturer in psychology , where he worked from 1959 until his release in 1963. It was during this time that his first experiments with psychedelic drugs such as LSD , mescaline and psilocybin took place .

Imprisonment and Escape

Leary when he was arrested

In 1965, while crossing the border from Mexico to the United States, marijuana was found on Timothy Leary's daughter Susan , for which Timothy Leary assumed responsibility. Susan Leary was sentenced to five years probation and the father was sentenced to 30 years in prison (under the Marijuana Tax Act for tax evasion and illegal importation). This judgment was passed in 1969 by the United States Supreme Court in the landmark decision of Leary v. United States repealed and declared the Marijuana Tax Act unconstitutional. However, in June 1970 Timothy Leary was sentenced to 10 years in prison for another marijuana offense - two joints were found in his car during a search .

With the help of the Weathermen , he managed to escape from prison in California in September 1970. His escape then took him to Algeria, where he found refuge with exiles of the Black Panthers movement . After conflicts with the Panther leadership, he fled to Switzerland , where he a. a. was supported by Sergius Golowin . Switzerland did not grant him political asylum , but on December 29, 1971 rejected an extradition request from the US government and released him from a month's imprisonment. After a short stay in Vienna, Leary fled on to Afghanistan . In 1973 he was arrested by the Afghan authorities in Kabul and extradited to the USA, where he remained imprisoned until 1976.

Next life

In the decades after his imprisonment, Leary appeared primarily as a publicist . He dealt with religious ideas for expanding consciousness and political positions on topics such as homosexual rights, abortion, welfare and environmental protection, space colonization, artificial intelligence and the Internet. He also kept close contacts with Hollywood .


Leary died of prostate cancer on May 31, 1996 at the age of 75 . On April 21, 1997, seven grams of his ashes and remains were shot into space by 24 other people including Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek ), Gerard Kitchen O'Neill (space physicist) and Krafft Arnold Ehricke (rocket developer).

Leary's work


Leary advocated free and universal access to " psychedelic " drugs in the 1960s and 1970s . In this context he invented the slogan "Turn on, Tune in, Drop out!"

This gave him a different approach than Aldous Huxley , who had already experimented with mescaline in 1953 and published his experiences in the influential text Die Pforten der perception . Huxley advocated the experimental use of mescaline only for a small circle of intellectuals, artists and religious people, not for the general public. An exclusively therapeutic application of LSD, in a protected environment and with medical supervision, was created by Stanislav Grof as psycholytic psychotherapy .

Timothy Leary saw psychedelic drugs as a means of "reprogramming" the brain; H. (in its terminology) the removal of existing conditioning and the simultaneous opening to new conditioning. Leary emphasized the influence of “set” (inner attitude of the consumer at the time of the intoxication ), “setting” (environment and environment during the session) and dose on the course of action of hallucinogenic drugs. According to Leary, a favorable set and setting can prevent the development of psychoses from psychedelics. Leary has never approved of uncontrolled drug use (even if it was so misunderstood), which can quickly have fatal consequences. Rather, he called for responsible drug use and advocated experiments under professional guidance.

In this context, Leary formulated the Two Commandments for the Molecular Age :

  1. "You shouldn't change the consciousness of your neighbor."
  2. "You shouldn't prevent your neighbor from changing his or her consciousness."

These sentences are not only to be understood in relation to the use of drugs: they also relate to manipulation by the mass media, politicians and peer pressure.

Leary was also a co-developer of the time chamber , a forerunner of the floating tank ( Samadhi tank).


SMI²LE is a principle in which Leary saw the coming development of humans. He has described it in his books Exo-Psychology and Neuropolitics , among others . Leary's friend Robert Anton Wilson , with whom he published Neuropolitics , has discussed SMI²LE extensively in many of his works (including Cosmic Trigger ).

SMI²LE consists of three parts:

  1. Space Migration (SM) - For him, emigration into space is a logical next step in human development. On the one hand, to solve the problem of overpopulation (also as a result of the Life Extension - see below), on the other hand, as the next stage in the evolution of humans or human consciousness. This stage consists in the liberation from the gravity of the earth, gravity. For Leary and his fellow spirits, we live at the bottom of a "100 kilometer deep gravity shaft". He was convinced that the human brain and consciousness would experience a significant development acceleration in weightlessness.
  2. Intelligence Increase (I²) - The intelligence increase or intelligence potentiation, also consciousness expansion . This is to be understood in many ways. On the one hand, it has a clear hedonistic component: the nervous system should be enabled to experience increasingly ecstatic states. For him, most of the people of his time were at the transition to the fifth, the first extraterrestrial, the hedonistic circuit (see below). Furthermore, it is about getting more and more control over the "machine" man and its "programs" ( imprints ). One can equate this with an ever-increasing personal responsibility for one's own reality tunnel. Means for expanding consciousness can be psychedelic drugs, borderline experiences, shocks, meditation and much more.
  3. Life Extension (LE) - The life extension up to immortality . Here Leary believed in the speedy overcoming of the "death mistake" through technological (e.g. cryonics , biotechnology , etc.) and consciousness- related progress.

Leary neural circuit

Leary developed a "development theory of the eight stages of consciousness", which divides consciousness into stages which it is said to have passed through during (individual and phylogenetic) evolution:

Timothy Leary understands a neural circuit to be a “basic program” of the human psyche that controls certain aspects of behavior . The name comes from his assumption that these behavior patterns and types of perception are at home in certain regions of the brain and are therefore ultimately based on neuronal excitation circles.

Timothy Leary believed that the human mind was best represented by eight neural excitation circuits. Each stage, each circuit represents a higher level of development than the previous one. From the first, the least developed, to the fourth, they are all anchored in the left lobe of the endbrain . These four levels of consciousness - here called “circuits” - are strongly linked to the survival of organisms on earth. The circuits five to eight, assumed by Leary in the right lobe of the brain, are intended for the future development of humans and are not yet properly developed in the majority of humanity even today. Rather, one can assume that this is for the most part in a kind of "hibernation".

According to Leary, humans have at least eight formative circuits, of which only the first four are normally used:

  1. The Bio-survival Circuit is responsible for basic life support measures. It decides whether objects are classified as either dangerous or safe. The circuit is already anchored in the brain of the simplest invertebrate animals . It is the first to become active in the baby's brain - shortly after birth. Leary connects this circuit with opiates.
  2. The emotion- related , territorial circuit (Emotional Circuit) mainly deals with the grossest emotions and differentiates between submissive and dominant behavior. It was the first to appear in evolution in vertebrates . In humans, the circuit becomes active as soon as the child learns to walk. Leary connects this circuit with ethanol .
  3. The semantic circuit (dexterity-symbolism circuit) is linked to logical and symbolic thinking. It goes back to when the first hominids began to differ from the rest of the primates , when they started using tools and walking on two legs. Leary equates this circuit with the effects of caffeine , cocaine, and other stimulants .
  4. The socio-sexual circuit takes over the operation of social networks and the transmission of culture over time. The emergence of the first social structures in society went hand in hand with this circuit. Leary never associated a drug with it. However, later authors have equated it with ecstasy .
  5. The neurosomatic circuit is the first to be located in the right hemisphere. For most people, however, he and everyone else are inactive. It allows one to experience things in multidimensional space - instead of the ability of most people to only perceive 4-dimensional things in space-time . He should support us in future ventures, in the exploration of space . It appeared around 4,000 years ago in the first wealthy forms of society in which the "earthly survival problems" no longer played such a major role. It became more pronounced with the development of the leisure society in the twentieth century. It can be associated with hedonism and eroticism . Leary connects the circuit with marijuana, tantra , hatha yoga and other occult techniques, or simply experiencing freefall at the right time.
  6. The metaprogramming or mind-abstracting circuit (Neuroelectric Circuit) is connected to the awareness of the mind, so that it acts independently of the patterns and imprints of the previous circuits. Leary believes that this circuit will pave the way for telepathic communication . For those who have the five previous circuits active but who only work with the left brain, it is impossible to reach that circuit. The development of this circuit goes hand in hand with the Silk Road, which emerged around 500 AD . According to Leary, peyote and psilocybin characterize this circuit.
  7. The neurogenetic circuit allows access to the genetic storage functions of DNA . It is connected to the memories of past lives, the book of life and the collective unconscious , as CG Jung described it. In addition, it opens up essential traits of immortality in humans. It probably originated among Hindu and Sufi sects at the end of the first millennium after Christ. The circuit is stimulated by LSD and Raja Yoga .
  8. The neuro-atomic circuit opens up access to the intergalactic, universal consciousness which precedes life in the universe. He lets people operate outside of space-time and the compulsion of relativity . The circuit associated with Ketamine and salvinorin A in context.

The idea of ​​such circuits was picked up by Robert Anton Wilson , who referred to this concept in Quantum Psychology and Prometheus Rising .

A rough correlation between the levels of the circuits and the levels of human consciousness can be established.

Reception in pop culture

In the foreground Timothy Leary recording the song Give Peace A Chance with John Lennon and Yoko Ono , Montreal 1969


Timothy Leary mentions the musical Hair from 1968 in the song Manchester England : "Now that I've dropped out, Why is life dreary dreary, Answer my weary query, Timothy Leary dearie" . In addition, the piece Let the Sunshine In contains the passage “Singing our space songs on a spider web sitar / Life is around you and in you / Answer for Timothy Leary, dearie” .

The Moody Blues celebrated the psychologist in 1968 with the song Legend of a Mind ( "Timothy Leary's dead / No, no, no, no, he's outside looking in" ).

The Beatles piece Come Together is based on a song that John Lennon wrote for a gubernatorial campaign that Leary led against Ronald Reagan in California . Leary is also mentioned in a stanza in John Lennon's 1969 song Give Peace a Chance : "Everybody's talking 'bout John and Yoko, Timmy Leary, Rosemary ..." .

The Who sing in their song The Seeker : "I asked Bobby Dylan, I asked the Beatles, I asked Timothy Leary, but he couldn't help me either" .


British hard rock band UFO's 1970 self-titled debut album also contained a song about Leary, titled "Timothy".

The Godfather of Disco David Mancuso based his DJ program on Leary's book The Psychedelic Experience . In it, an LSD trip is equated with a stay in the three bardos of the Tibetan Book of the Dead . Mancuso's set was also divided into three parts: an entry, a climax and a landing: “Leary had written that there are three stages or bardos on a trip. I used the same structure. The first bardo should be calm and light-footed. The second bardo should be like a circus or a fairground. And the third bardo was dedicated to re-entry, so that people could return to the everyday world as smoothly as possible. "

The Berlin Krautrock band Ash Ra Tempel recorded the album Seven Up with Timothy Leary in Switzerland in 1972 . The name refers to Leary's LSD-infused lemonade of the brand 7up , which the band members got to drink from their manager Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser .


Leary appears in the video Possessed to Skate by the Californian punk band Suicidal Tendencies from 1983. He appears as the father of the protagonist and lead singer Mike Muir .

In the 1981 film Cheech & Chong's Hot Dreams , Leary plays a doctor (himself).

Timothy Leary also made a guest appearance in a comic strip by Aline and Robert Crumb . In the story of Aline & Bob's fun games , Leary is the commander of the spacecraft Terra II , whose crew frees Robert and Aline from the clutches of alien larvae.


While working on the album Cyberpunk , Billy Idol and Leary meet in the recording studio . Leary is involved in a piece that is listed as Interlude 4 on the album .

The band Porcupine Tree used on their album Voyage 34: The Complete Trip Samples from Timothy Leary's record LSD Leary is mentioned in Stuff , a short film about John Frusciante made by Johnny Depp in 1994 .

The band Nevermore released a song on their debut album (1995) called Timothy Leary . The heavy metal band Nevermore released a piece about Leary in 1995 that also bears his name. Furthermore, begins the live album Salival of tool with a famous speech by Timothy Leary: "Think for yourself, question authority!" The band Tiamat released on their album A Deeper Kind of Slumber (1997) a song called Four Leary Biscuits or on the single Cold Seed (1997) the title Three Leary Biscuits .

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

After 2000

The main character of the novel The Light (2019) by TC Boyle is a PhD student by Tim Leary.


Fonts (in German)


Filmography (selection)

  • 1981: Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams
  • 1992: Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me (German: Hold me, kiss me, love me ), directed by Joel Hershman, USA.
  • 1989: Rude Awakening , directed by David Greenwalt, Aaron Russo, USA.
  • 1989: The Model and the Snoop , guest appearance as Wynn Deaupayne in the episode Lunar Eclipse .

Web links

Commons : Timothy Leary  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Arbeiterzeitung Wien, December 30, 1971, page 5
  2. Last rest as a shooting star: 20 years ago today, the burials in space began in nachrichten.at on April 21, 2017.
  3. Leary provided the following interpretation: Turn on = “Find a sacrament that brings you to God and to your own body; go beyond yourself, transform yourself! ” - Tune in = “ Stay reborn, express it, start a new life that reflects your visions! ” - Drop out = “ Free yourself from external drama that is as hollowed out and empty as a TV show! "
  4. 1. "You shalt not alter the consciousness of your fellow men." 2. "You shalt not prevent your fellow man from altering his or her own consciousness."
  5. Leary, T. & RU Sirius (1997) Design for Dying , Thorsons / HarperCollins, London, pp 90, 127-128.
  6. Tim Lawrence: Love Saves the Day , London 2013, pp. 85–86.
  7. Timothy Leary * & Ash Ra Temple - Seven Up. In: Discogs. Retrieved April 5, 2016 .
  8. wedidthetango: Suicidal Tendencies - Possessed to Skate. In: YouTube. March 14, 2006, accessed May 12, 2019 .
  9. Cast list for Nice Dreams at IMDb (eng.)
  10. Billy Idol and Timothy Leary in the Tripticon (German)
  11. Christian Walther: Trip into the Past: Bad Bonn lets LSD music rise again , in: Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF) from June 3, 2016.
  12. The Orchard On Demand: Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me , film on YouTube (English)