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December 10, 1964, Vol. X, No. 8
An Interview with Timothy Leary
By John Wilcock
Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, former Harvard professors, have been experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs (mainly LSD and psilocybin) for 4 1/2 years. They maintain that after taking one of the medically non-addicting hallucinogens, the subject’s orientation toward life changes for the better — that the subject literally learns “to use his head.” Their experiments have been greeted with wild enthusiasm (by most of the people who have joined the experiment ) and with reservations, scorn, and outright abuse by much of the organized medical and psychiatric Establishment. After their recent talk at Town Hall, I presented them with the following questions. Leary replied.
Q. Is it true that you’re about to set off on a world tour? Business or pleasure?
A. December 12 I am marrying Nena von Schlebrugge and shortly thereafter starting a trip around the world. The distinction between business-pleasure hasn’t made much sense to me for several years. The goal of any game is ecstasy. On the trip we’ll be visiting centers and experts on consciousness expansion — in Japan, Thailand, Iran, Egypt, Greece, North Africa, Europe. India, of course, is the source and goal of the trip. Dr. Ralph Metzner (who has been a central figure in our group for several years) is already in India. We are investigating the possibility of setting up a place somewhere in that country.
Q. As you leave, how do you see the situation in America relating to the acceptance of LSD compared to when you first began your research on psilocybin at Harvard?
A. The external political battle over psychedelic drugs in this country has been won. How do we know? 1. The number of persons who have had their lives changed by psychedelic drug experiences. 2. The number of influential people who have become involved. A recent book, “The Utopiates” (Atherton Press), written by hostile social psychologists, presents an interesting analysis of the so-called “LSD Movement” — people who have been successful in society and have gone on to ask more, etc. 3. The increasing number of favorable books about psychedelic drugs — four this fall, all positive in tone. 4. The government is now supporting research on the non-medical applications — creativity, etc. 5. The development of effective methods for running sessions. 6. The emergence of theories which explain the unique effects of psychedelic drugs and the number of scientific findings from other disciplines which are related to and help explain and use psychedelic effects. I refer here to recent developments in bio-genetics, imprinting, sensory deprivation, ethno-botany, mythical scholarship, etc.
Q. Do you think at any time in the near future it will become legally available, even if under some minor restraints, for adults who merely want to take it?
A. Psychedelic drugs will be legally available on a limited license or special permit basis within two years. Within a generation they will be available the way airplane pilot’s licenses are. Within two generations they will be used routinely in all forms of education and will be available the way liquor is now available. Any great breakthrough in the realm of ideas takes at least one generation to be accepted. Most of the persons who use LSD now are under the age of 25. The graduate students who are turning on now in private will be the heads of departments and editors of scholarly journals in 25 years. This is the way new knowledge has always been absorbed by cultures.
Q. Is the incorporation of churches, set up specifically to experiment with LSD and the hallucinogens, likely to increase, and is this the most likely way for it to gain acceptance?
A. I don’t think there will be a formally instituted LSD church. Religious institutions will be using psychedelic drugs as sacramental aids within 20 years. The Church of England is now sending priests for psychedelic training. There already exists a psychedelic religion. It is a movement without priests, without churches, without rules and dogmas. It consists of small groups of persons dedicated to conscious-ness expansion, to using their heads, who know that there is more to life than social externals. All that is required for such a movement is the chemical and manuals. Both are now available.
Q. What people are striving the hardest to prevent use and acceptance of LSD, etc.? Who is the main enemy?
A. Societies are by definition conservers, i.e., consciousness-contracting institutions. This is right and good. The task of the individual has always been the same — and is always in opposition to society: to expand internal potentials, to save his own soul, to live an ecstatic life. Anyone who possesses external power is threatened by the growth of internal power.
Q. LSD converts, who have taken it, maintain that it changes their thinking for the better in such a dramatic way that its critics aren’t competent to criticize until they’ve tried it; non-takers insist that those who have taken it have disqualified themselves as “impartial” witnesses. How can this deadlock be resolved?
A. The deadlock between those who know through experience and those who refuse the new experience will never be resolved. The theologians wouldn’t look through Galileo’s telescope because the Bible told them his experience wasn’t possible. The locus of this eternal dialogue does change from generation to generation. Today’s ecstasy is tomorrow’s orthodoxy.
Q. There are now people taking LSD every week, on schedule; isn’t this a form of psychological addiction?
A. To use your head — that is, to take advantage of the 13-billion-cell cerebral camera — you should take LSD every seven days. This is no more addictive than breathing or eating three times a day. Your body functions better with it. The real addiction is the involuntary, compulsive commitment to a narrow range of environmental “imprints” to which we were accidentally exposed in childhood, irreversible, bio-chemical freezings of the nervous system which can be unfrozen by psychedelic drugs. There is no evidence that psychedelic drugs set up cravings or obsessive needs — the addiction seems to be the present static picture of ourself and the world which LSD always undercuts.
Q. Is there any place (apart from the two clinics you have mentioned) where LSD is available legally? What are the chances that the bootleg stuff that is being sold is impure and might be harmful? How much should LSD sell for legally?
A. I know of no place in this country except Menlo Park where LSD can be taken legally. There is always the chance that anything you buy is impure. Liberalized laws about manufacture and distribution will cut down the risk. The wholesale price of LSD is about two cents a dose.
Q. What are the main changes that have occurred in your own thinking since you first began experimenting with the hallucinogens? Briefly (Impossible, I know!), what has it done for you?
A. The main change in my life since becoming involved in psychedelic exploration is that I take internal neurological possibilities very seriously and external social commitments much less seriously. I have dramatically simplified my external life. I am only concerned (1) with learning how to use my head; (2) with exploring the potentialities of the male-female relationship in which both are seen not as physical robots or social entities but as centers of an infinity of ecstatic possibilities which can be communicated and shared; (3) with a return to the tribal social unit which is based on psychedelic (i.e., ecstatic rather than static) conceptions of man and which allows each person to explore and express his mythic possibilities; and (4) to leave some sort of record, a history, manuals for future generations.
Q. What exactly is going on at Millbrook, where your Castalia Foundation now has its headquarters? Have you managed to induce any of the effects of LSD with other means?
A. Millbrook is a tribal headquarters. Castalia Foundation is the social form for relating to society at large. Castalia Foundation runs weekend seminars in which around 12 people (carefully selected for background and interest) come to discuss theories and methods of consciousness expansion. Although we discuss and demonstrate other methods of consciousness expansion, we concentrate on training people in neurological photography involving LSD. No drugs are administered or used at Millbrook.
Q. What situation do you visualize for society, ideally, with the use of hallucinogens? And what do you see as likely within the next few years in relation to unrestricted use of the hallucinogens?
A. All of our current social institutions and contracts are based on the assumption that man’s nervous system is static, changing only slowly and painfully by means of conditioning and continual reinforcement. In the near future all our institutions and contracts are going to have to be changed to adapt to the inevitability that men will be changing their nervous systems every week or two. If you take LSD every week for 30 years, you have available a sequence of about 1500 neurological reincarnations. The aesthetic and ethic and harmonious planning of changes in your external commitments to go along with your changing nervous system becomes a complex art and requires new social conceptions.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the
Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job
archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. John Wilcock is still going
strong at his website, Ojaiorange.com. And at Amazon, you can order his
recently released autobiography, Manhattan Memories. Go here to see
this article as it originally appeared in print.]