Today is the birthday (1920) of Timothy Francis Leary who was, in my youth, widely known as an advocate of psychedelic drugs used under controlled conditions for both therapeutic and mind-expanding purposes. He began experimenting with Psilocybin and LSD, both personally and on experimental subjects, in the early 1960s while a professor of psychology at Harvard University when the drugs were still legal. He testified before Congress in favor of them being kept legal if used under professional supervision when the matter was being considered in 1966, but was unsuccessful. Henceforth, his continued advocacy of psychedelic drugs got him imprisoned multiple times, yet he continued public speaking on their behalf. He has the distinction of being named “”the most dangerous man in America” by president Nixon. Nixon was a crook, but no fool. He realized that Leary’s social and personal philosophy tore at the foundations of Western culture as it existed in the 1960s: much more insidiously dangerous than guns or alcohol. I could say an awful lot about Leary’s life and work but I’ll content myself with 2 very broad comments on them: one positive, one negative. Don’t expect a recipe for LSD or marijuana brownies at the end.
Leary’s personal background shows that he was more or less rebellious from the start. He got tossed out of West Point after his first year for constantly breaking the rules. He had gone in the first place under the urging of his father. In late 1941 he enrolled at the University of Alabama where he developed an interest in psychology, but he was expelled a year later for spending a night in the female dormitory, losing his student deferment in the midst of World War II. Leary was drafted into the United States Army and reported for basic training at Fort Eustis in January 1943. He remained in the non-commissioned track while enrolled in the psychology subsection of the Army Specialized Training Program, including three months of study at Georgetown University and six months at Ohio State University. He worked in various branches of the army’s psychological units until the end of the war when he was discharged.
After retroactive suspension and eventual reinstatement at the University of Alabama, he ultimately completed his degree via correspondence courses together with psychology credits for his work at Ohio State and graduated on 23 August 1945. In 1946 he received an M.S. degree in psychology at Washington State University, and in 1950 he received a Ph.D. degree in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. You’ll have to read more of the details of his life and work for yourself. Here I’ll concentrate on two themes: his personal philosophy and his psychological theory.
Let’s start with his legendary mantra, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” The three phrases within the mantra can actually be arranged in different ways. In a 1988 interview with Neil Strauss, he said that this slogan was “given to him” by Marshall McLuhan when the two had lunch in New York City, adding, “Marshall was very much interested in ideas and marketing, and he started singing something like, ‘Psychedelics hit the spot / Five hundred micrograms, that’s a lot,’ to the tune of the 1950s Pepsi commercial. Then he started going, ‘Tune in, turn on, and drop out.'” Though the more popular “turn on, tune in, drop out” became associated with Leary, his actual credo as proposed to his League for Spiritual Discovery was:
Drop Out – detach yourself from the external social drama which is as dehydrated and ersatz as TV. Turn On – find a sacrament which returns you to the temple of God, your own body. Go out of your mind. Get high. Tune In – be reborn. Drop back in to express it. Start a new sequence of behavior that reflects your vision.
I can relate to this. In reflecting on his days as a professor he described his life as a mindless cycle of drudgery: commuting in long lines of traffic, cranking out lectures, driving home, eating dinner and going to bed. I did the same for 30 years. To be fair to both Leary and myself, it’s possible to be creative amid the toil, but it’s still toil. You’ve got a mortgage, and car payments, and laundry and whatnot that consume so much of your time and drive you to conformity. The urge to drop out is magnetically tempting but you resist out of fear – fear of having no money, of being ridiculed, of losing your way . . . etc. That fear keeps the system in place. It also keeps YOU in your place. 8 years ago I dropped out. I was able to retire at 58 and took the opportunity. I sold my house, gave away practically everything I owned, moved to Argentina where I was born, and since then have lived in England, China, Italy, Myanmar, and (for now) Cambodia. I’ve had some pretty hairy moments. There were a couple of weeks in China when I had less than no money and was living in a squalid dormitory on a bowl of rice a day. Mostly it’s all right. I can teach when I need some spare cash, but otherwise I’m doing all right. It’s enormously liberating.
For Leary “turn on” involved psychotropic drugs, but his more general advice was to “find a sacrament.” He was opposed to chemicals such as heroin or alcohol that he thought dulled the mind, but I’m a bit more liberal minded about such things. Alcohol reduces inhibitions and frees the emotions, along with dulling the intelligence and putting you to sleep. It was a risk I was willing to take at the outset, but not any more. The liberation of the emotions is not worth the concomitant loss of intellect and productivity for me, so I don’t drink alcohol now. Nor do I do drugs. Instead I pursue the spiritual realms through various forms of reflection, meditation, and prayer that I have created for myself. That fits Leary’s broad conception of “turn on” I believe. Living in predominantly Buddhist countries helps in this regard.
The last phase is the “tune in,” that is, re-engage with society, but on a different plane. Leary did this via activism, public speaking, and writing. I do much the same but in a much less flamboyant way. I follow a quasi-Christian model of being the change I wish to see in the world: I am an ordained minister !! My view of Christianity is not dogmatic nor conventional, however. I’m willing to embrace anything that expands lovingkindness in the world. I teach and preach as the mood catches me, and where my path leads me. I also write blogs (duh !!), books, and articles.
In short, I give a big thumbs-up for Leary’s mantra (in the correct order): his intellectual theories – not so much.
Leary proposed The Eight-Circuit Model of Consciousness which was later expanded on by Robert Anton Wilson and Antero Alli. Leary suggested there were 8 periods [circuits] and 24 stages of neurological evolution. The 8 circuits, or 8 “brains” as referred by other authors, operate within the human nervous system, each corresponding to its own imprint and direct experience of reality. Leary and Alli include 3 stages for each circuit that details developmental points for each level of consciousness. The first 4 circuits deal with life on earth, and survival of the species. The last 4 circuits are post-terrestrial, and deal with the evolution of the species, altered states of consciousness, enlightenment, mystical experiences, psychedelic states of mind, and psychic abilities.
I could give you a whole outline of Leary’s agenda, but I’ll stop here and say that any neat package of periods and circuits in the evolution of consciousness immediately raises red flags for me. It just seems confining, academic, and altogether too tidy for my liking. 3, 8 and 24? Really? Why not 5, 6, and 30? Why use integers at all? To give you the flavor here’s the first and last stages:
- The vegetative-invertebrate circuit
This circuit is concerned with nourishment, physical safety, comfort and survival, suckling, cuddling, etc. It begins with one spatial dimension, forward/back. This circuit is imprinted early in infancy. The imprint will normally last for life unless it is re-imprinted by a powerful experience. Depending on the nature of the imprint, the organism will tend towards one of two basic attitudes:
A positive imprint in this circuit sets up a basic attitude of trust. The default “life position” (according to Transactional analysis) is “you’re OK.”
A negative imprint sets up a basic attitude of suspicion. The default “life position” (according to Transactional analysis) is “you’re not OK.”
. . . skip to . . .
- The neuro-atomic metaphysiological
The eighth circuit is concerned with quantum consciousness, non-local awareness (information from beyond ordinary space-time awareness which is limited by the speed of light), illumination. Some of the ways this circuit can get activated are: the awakening of kundalini, shock, a near-death experience, etc. This circuit is sometimes compared to the Buddhist concept of Indra’s net from the Avatamsaka Sutra.
It’s all interesting reading, and I suggest you look into it if you are intrigued. Leary piles Freud, Jung, Nietzsche, quantum mechanics, Buddhism, Hinduism . . . whatever, into the mix. I’m fine with that. My mind is a kaleidoscopic garbage dump of information too. What I dislike is ORDER. Chaos and continua are more my bag. Look at a rainbow. Is it really made up of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, or is it a continuum containing (nearly) infinite color and variety? Here’s where perception creeps in. You’ll see 7 colors if that’s what you want to see; you’ll see infinite colors (and a lot of other things besides), if that’s what you want to see.
The simple fact, which Isaac Newton knew only too well, is that we are in a constant battle with chaos, and chaos is winning. Newton’s second law of thermodynamics is a killer. The total entropy (disorder) of a system always increases, and the process is irreversible. We can create order in one pocket of our world, but in so doing we create greater disorder in the larger world. Fight chaos if you like, but you’re going to lose. The very act of fighting creates chaos. Leary was fighting chaos and, in my endlessly humble opinion, lost. Creating orderly systems of complex things such as consciousness is an academic exercise that loses my interest very quickly. I’ll concede that the journey towards such conclusions can have merit. But I prefer chaotic journeys over orderly destinations.
This leads me to our recipe du jour. I’ve talked about “creative” recipe making many times here. I’ve also talked about “psychedelic” recipes – colorful swirls of stuff. This is the hazard of writing a daily blog for over 4 years. If I give you an orderly recipe, I’m going against the grain of the post. This site has some interesting ideas on unconventional cooking:
Recently, I had a conversation with an acquaintance, and after the topic turned to food (as it almost always does), we started talking about food experiences in university (communal kitchens, hotplates, etc). But he seemed a little startled when I said that I used to make grilled cheese sandwiches wrapped in foil using my clothes iron. It actually made a pretty decent sandwich…
The comments section contains a number of useful suggestions.
Right now I have no kitchen because I live in a hotel. I have an electric kettle and a refrigerator and that’s it. I do manage to cook after a fashion, however. I could make soups and stews right in the kettle if I wanted to – I bought it when I arrived in Cambodia. But I’m not big on cleaning up messes, and I need clean hot water for my yerba mate. Instead I use a variety of stock bases and sauces along with vegetables, fresh noodles, tofu, pickles, and whatnot to create soupy dishes in my soup bowl by adding the ingredients I want and then filling it with boiling water. Here’s the remains of yesterday’s dinner.
Today’s recipe will depend on how creative and unconventional you want to be.