Timothy Leary – Writings From The Harvard Years

Harvardcover-smTimothy Leary – The Harvard Years  Early Writings on LSD and Psilocybin with Richard Alpert, Huston Smith, Ralph Metzner, and others. Edited and Introduced by James Penner. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 2014.

Click here to order a copy signed by Ralph Metzner from Green Earth Foundation ($25).

This book, by James Penner, who is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico, is a demonstration of the process  of how experimental and empirical studies in psychology and the social sciences can become, in time, the subject matter of studies in cultural history. Penner is not a psychologist or sociologist, using quantitative empirical methods – he is a professor of English, who previously wrote a book on “The Rhetoric of Masculinity in American Literary Culture.”

The book is a reprint collection of articles originally published in psychology and social science journals in the early 1960s, many of them hard if not impossible to find, with insightful introductions by Professor Penner.  From the back cover: “Presenting the first collection of Leary’s writings devoted entirely to the research phase of his career, 1960-1965, this book offers rare articles from Leary’s time as a professor at Harvard…including writings from the Harvard Psilocybin Project, the Concord Prison Project, and the Good Friday Experiment.”

These essays… explore the nature of creativity and the therapeutic, spiritual and religious aspects of psilocybin and LSD. Featuring Leary’s scientific  articles and a rare account of his therapeutic approach, “On Existential Transaction Theory,” the book also includes Leary’s final essay from his time at Harvard, “The Politics of Consciousness Expansion,” as well as controversial articles published shortly after his dismissal.

With an editor’s introduction examining the Harvard drug scandal and a critical preface to each essay, this book of seminal essays by Leary – appearing in unabridged form – shows why and how he quickly become an articulate spokesperson for consciousness expansion and an iconic figure for the generation that came of age in the 1960s.”

The Work of Terence and Dennis McKenna – An Appreciation

Reading the fraternal autobiography, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss,  was for me  both fascinating and moving, as I was and remain close friends with both the brothers, have shared stimulating conversations and psychedelic explorations with them, and was deeply saddened by Terence’s early death. Terence became known for his scintillating eloquence and Irish gift of the gab, like my old friend from an earlier generation Timothy Leary. His scintillating flights of the imagination, mixing far-out speculative science and arcane scholarship, delivered in his characteristic dead-pan nasally inflected voice – have astonished and delighted thousands – and remain in disembodied recordings circulating worldwide on the internet.

As his brother Dennis writes “Terence channeled the logos of the age. Silver-tongued and a riveting speaker, he articulated the concepts that his fans groped for but could not express, and did so in a witty, disarming way. He was the gnomic trickster and bard, an elfin comedian delivering the cosmic punch line, even as he assured us we were all in on the cosmic joke.” Especially, one might add, if you followed his advice and continued to take what he liked to call  “heroic doses” of psychoactive mushrooms and DMT.

Dennis, who was close to and admired his eloquent and imaginative older brother, took on a different role in society, after the two intrepid explorers returned from the shamanic-alchemical-cosmic folie-a-deux described as “the experiment at La Chorerra,” in their joint autobiography The Invisible Landscape.  Dennis went back to school, got a Ph.D. in plant biochemistry and embarked on a career as research scientist in botanical medicine. His writing, in this dual autobiography, is enormously engaging, brilliantly articulating complex issues of natural history, while dealing honestly and humbly  with the personal, familial and professional challenges with which he was confronted.

Terence once commented to me in a conversation, that while he was known as the more eloquent speaker and captivating story-teller, his brother Dennis was, in his view, the more profound thinker and scientist. “His mind goes deep into matter,” he said with obvious admiration. Indeed,  Dennis has carved out a significant career as a consultant in the development of new botanical medicines, with a slew of research publications to his credit. I’ve always loved listening to his lucid and articulate explanations of complex concepts in molecular biology and entheobotany.

One of the  most exciting passages in Dennis’s book, to my mind,  is in the chapter where he describes the research work he and two colleagues did on the chemistry and pharmacology of ayahuasca for the Brazilian UDV church – work that resulted in several scientific papers published in the botanical and pharmacological literature.  He subsequently participated in a group session with ayahuasca (or hoasca as the church calls it) for several hundred participants  – a ceremony I also attended. With the help of a concoction of the visionary vine, Dennis found himself identified as a sentient water molecule and was shown and actually subjectively experienced the entire process of photosynthesis, step by step. As a trained plant biochemist, he was able to identify and name the different processes he had come to understand objectively, as he was experiencing them subjectively, from the point of view of a single drop of water.

 “I knew that I had been give an inestimable gift, a piece of gnosis and wisdom straight from the heart-mind of planetary intelligence, conveyed in visions and thought by an infinitely wise, incredibly ancient, and enormously compassionate ‘ambassador’ to the human community.”

This was perhaps a core vision of Dennis’ life as a scientist, presaging, like the work of Jeremy Narby, a time when the instrumental external observations of material and natural scientists will be supplemented by and compared with the interior observations of those same scientists in sensitized and expanded states of consciousness.

I find a comparable core vision statement of Terence’s life work in the introduction he wrote to the Magic Mushroom Growers Guide, which the two brothers published, under pseudonyms, in 1976. This guide itself is perhaps one of the most important contributions the two brothers made to the advancement of culture – describing a relatively simple process of growing the psilocybe mushrooms from spores in glass jars – thereby making these vision mushrooms accessible to millions and obviating the plundering invasions of the mountains of Oaxaca by fungophile hippies.

 

The experiment at La Chorera

In his fraternal autobiography Dennis is frank about the early unusual degree of closeness of the two brothers, triggered perhaps by the death of their mother when they were teens, and certainly fueled by the daily consumption of huge amounts of cannabis, as they made their early 1960s migration from small town Colorado to the West Coast hippie carnival. In 1971, the two brothers, young men in the twenties, ventured on a journey to Colombia, together with several friends, to search for ayahuasca, the legendary shamanic hallucinogen,  then relatively unknown. What they found instead were large quantities of high potency psilocybe mushrooms, with which they began what they called “the experiment at La Chorera.” This was described in their co-authored 1975 book The Invisible Landscape.

Basically, the experiment consisted of both of them repeatedly ingesting rather large quantities of the mushrooms, listening to a kind of interior, alien-sounding, buzzing or humming sound, and then reproducing that sound vocally to induce a lasting expanded state of consciousness. They had a complex theory, which they were discussing and elaborating in intense daily speculative conversations,  of how the psilocybin could activate endogenous tryptamines in the brain and create some kind of “holo-cybernetic unit of superconductive genetic material, activated via tryptamine harmonic interference.”

Following the ingestion of an enormous overdose of nineteen psilocybe mushrooms (a “normal” dose being perhaps three to six), plus continuous smoking of cannabis and also some ayahuasca that Terence had brewed up, and experimenting with prolonged vocal ululations,  Dennis developed a thought-hallucination,  sympathetically supported by Terence,  in which he felt they both were in touch with a “Teacher” of some kind.  This “Teacher” would guide them to …

…generate a hologram, which would begin to broadcast the information stored in the DNA, making the data both comprehensible to thought and open to manipulation by thought. If the experiment worked, one of us in the near vicinity would be turned into a DNA radio, transmitting the collective knowledge of all earthly life, all the time. This was the information that was downloaded to me by the Teacher, a recipe for constructing a hyper-dimensional artifact that would bind four dimensions into three and thereby end history. An object made of mushrooms, bark (from ayahuasca) and my own DNA, welded together by the sound of my voice.

While Dennis was being flooded by these eschatological thought-hallucinations, and furiously scribbling notes about the information he was “downloading,” his brother Terence was playing the supportive role of maintaining contact and communication, refusing the urgings of their companions that Dennis be committed to a mental institution.

Dennis writes, in his 2012 autobiography,

“in retrospect, I see how our conceits embodied a paradox of psychedelic experience. ..on one level we understood that a molecule doesn’t contain the trip. Rather, the trip is an interaction between a living organism and molecule’s pharmacological properties. Those properties may be inherent to the drug, but the trip itself is not. .. We got that, sort of. But in our delusion, if that’s what it was, we also embraced a conflicting view: We believed an intelligent entity resided in the drug, or at least somehow communicated to us through it. Even as we theorized about the 4-D expression of the drug – that the trip could somehow be expressed on its exterior by rotation through the fourth dimension – we were assuming on another level that a being of some sort was directing the trip. We weren’t the first or the last to make that “mistake.” After all, this is very close to shamanistic views of psychedelic experience, in which the drug speaks through a skilled practitioner.”

Here, I believe, was a crucial turning point in the development of their shared delusion, due to the brothers’ inevitable conditioning and commitment to the materialist worldview, as children of their time and their place of origin.   In the shamanistic worldview, the visions do not come  from the drug,  nor from the plant, nor even from the shaman guide who speaks or sings (whom the two brothers in any event did not have).  The visions  come from the spirits associated with the plants who communicate to the shamanic practitioner or explorer.   The shaman usually has established relationships with specific plant and animal spirits through his or her practice and training, and is thus able to decode the messages and visions “coming through” (or “being downloaded”) and translate them into the locally appropriate action or teaching.

As a committed materialist in good standing with his profession,  Dennis, in his autobiography, offers his support of the reductionist credo, though he clearly has some reservations:

“These substances did none of these things. The human mind-brain created these experiences. At La Chorrera, the psilocybin somehow triggered metabolic processes that caused a part of our brains to be experienced not as part of the self, but as the “other” – a separate, intelligent entity that seemed to be downloading a great many peculiar ideas into our consciousness. That’s the reductionist perspective. Is it true? I honestly can’t say, even today. If either is true, or is the alternative  true, that there are actually entities in hyperspace that can communicate with us via something akin to telepathy when the brain is affected by large amount of tryptamine – that’s a hypothesis worth testing.”(p. 248)

Actually, from my perspective, having long ago abandoned the reductionist empiricism of modern science and become a “radical empiricist” in the sense of William James, I  would say one needs to first simply describe the experiences – and later, separately, speculate about their meanings and implications for our existing worldview. Easier said than done, I agree, considering the irrepressible excitement of new discoveries. You have to hold the theoretical speculations in abeyance until the intensity of the experiential download diminishes somewhat, and you can calmly reflect on the experience.

Certainly, by now there are enough individuals in the psychedelic shamanic subculture who have had multiple experiences of intelligent communications with spirits, and who have learned, with practice, to decipher these communications and utilize them in their projects of healing or creative expression. However, our two young explorers from Colorado in the early 1960s were just beginning their life-long journeys as psychonauts.

Over the years, I have been around dozens of people (myself included) who, as a result of ill-prepared ingestion of high-dose psychedelics,  got temporarily caught in a delusional thought-system – often including profound insights,  but over-generalized as to their significance. Delusions of grandeur are mixed with genuine amazement at the bewildering grandeur and magnificence of the actual world of nature all around us. There are several examples of such delusional over-generalization in the text that Dennis wrote at the time he was setting himself up for the high-dose experiment.

“In the final Stone the tryptamines act as a superconductive antenna to pick up on all cosmic energy in space and time.”

Not just picking up some cosmic energy, but all.

Or, “It will constitute the 4-D holographic memory of the device, and will contain and explicate the genetic history of all species.”

As if picking up the genetic history of one species or even one individual wouldn’t be enough.

Over-generalization is part of the delusions of grandeur – perhaps a special feature of high-dose psychedelic drug experiences. I recall many times at our communal experiment in Millbrook, NY,  and afterwards, being cornered by a wild-eyed hippie wanting to impart the ultimate cosmic secret he had just been granted on his trip, that he was sure everyone would appreciate for its earth-shattering profundity.

Receiving such visions does seem of overwhelming importance and it is – at least to the individual concerned. Others, like family members or professionals, may not appreciate the cosmic significance of the vision/hallucination and are more likely to be alarmed by the tenuous nature of the individual’s connections to ordinary reality. Visionaries are notorious for appearing to others like madmen.

As a psychologist, I do not believe that what the brothers experienced was schizophrenia of either variety.  The latter is characterized by  fragmented ideation and inability to think rationally. What the McKenna brothers experienced was a glimpse into what shamans would call the “spirit world”, and what they call “hyperspace.” There is an inexhaustible vastness of other dimensions of our universe that are always there but only accessible in special states of consciousness and/or through shamanic or yogic practice, or through special instrumentation.

And yes, their glimpse was fragmentary and yes they were unprepared, and yes they had no ready-made language to describe what they found – explorers never do. These non-ordinary reality visions can only be communicated if one has access to a worldview and a consensual language to describe them. The brothers McKenna did not have either at the time of their “experiment”  though they have both contributed significantly since then to creating an expanded worldview – Terence through his imaginative  and inspiring speculations, Dennis through his solid scientific investigations into ethnobotanical medicines and their neurochemical effects.

Reflecting on his experiences of forty years ago, the sixty-year old Dennis writes poignantly about the wild mis-adventure of his twenty-year old former self.

“The ravings of a madman, I’ll grant you that. And yet, there is also poetry here, and beauty, and a longing for redemption.  What I expressed is not that different from the vision articulated by the most compassionate and beautiful of the world’s religions: the universe will not achieve perfection until all beings have achieved enlightenment. Isn’t that what I’m saying? No doubt there is messianic delusion here; indeed, in passages a bit further on in that text I discuss my role as cosmic Antichrist. But there is also a deep wish for healing, not only of myself but of the universe. Our mother had been dead less than six months. I have to believe that much of what happened to us at La Chorrera was linked to that tragic event. So overwhelmed were we by the sense of loss, and of guilt, we were ready to tear space and time apart in order to reverse that cosmic injustice.” (p. 257).

Over the next couple of weeks Dennis put his fragmented identity-programs back into a functional order, while his brother Terence was obsessively starting to construct his own metaphysical system that later become known as Time Wave Zero. The brothers’ companions could see only psychosis and wanted to bring Dennis to a psychiatric facility – no small task considering they were in the Amazon jungle. Dennis writes he is “grateful to Terence for resisting the pressure to leave La Chorrera. He insisted that whatever was happening to us be allowed to unfold in its own time and on its own terms – there was no need for intervention beyond making sure that I didn’t wander off or hurt myself.”

Terence’s intuitive understanding of the need to let the fragmented self-system of his brother find its own way back to center and to wholeness was consonant with the teachings of psychiatrists like Ronald Laing, Stanislav Grof, John Perry and others who have championed the idea that some forms of so-called “psychosis” can be understood as the psyche’s own natural healing journey – that is best supported by others, and not cut short by psychiatric medications.

 

The aftermath of La Chorera and returning to mainstream reality

After returning to the US, the two brothers, more convinced than ever of the value of psilocybin mushrooms, wrote and published, under pseudonyms and with the collaboration of Kathleen Harrison as illustrator, the first Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide which gave easy instructions for indoor cultivation and made the mushroom experience accessible to thousands. The brothers eventually took different career paths. Dennis went on to pursue graduate, doctoral and post-doctoral studies in plant chemistry and pharmacology, published research in the pharmacology of Amazonian psychoactive plants, and worked (still does) as a research consultant for the pharmaceutical and herbal industry. Terence, more of an auto-didact, devoted himself to ethnobotanical research and writing and became a much sought-after speaker on the lecture circuit.

In the introduction to the Mushroom Grower’s Guide booklet, Terence described a vision he received, perhaps the core and guiding vision of his life, of the interstellar origin of the mycelial nets, the true body of the mushrooms, which he believed maintain a “vast historical archive of the career of evolving intelligence on many worlds.” The mycelial networks seek habitable planets, he was told, where they can enter into symbiotic communication and exchange with intelligent species, providing that species with access to the “community of galactic intelligence.” The notion of the true form of the mushroom being the mycelial nets and the emphasis on symbiotic interactions of fungi with other species are points consistent with current scientific understanding of fungal evolution, as formulated in the work of Paul Stamets and Lynn Margulis. The idea of extra-terrestrial origin is uniquely and provocatively Terence McKenna, emissary from the world of entheogenic fungi.

In a later essay published in his book The Archaic Revival, Terence McKenna returns to elaborate on this theory, or rather the vision that he received and first recorded in the introduction to The Mushroom Growers Guide.

The mushroom was a species that did not evolve on Earth. Within the mushroom trance I was informed that once a culture has complete understanding of its genetic information, it reengineers itself for survival. The Stropharia cubensis mushroom’s version of reengineering is a mycelial network strategy when in contact with planetary surfaces and spore-dispersion strategy as a means of radiating throughout the galaxy…The other side does seem to in possession of a huge body of information drawn from the history of the galaxy…The Stropharia cubensis mushroom, if one can believe what it says in one of its moods, is a symbiote, and it desires ever deeper symbiosis with the human species. It achieved symbiosis with human society early by associating itself with domesticated cattle and through them human nomads.

He cheerfully goes on to argue against his own thesis of extra-terrestrial origin though, when he goes on to say: “I’ve recently come to suspect that the human soul is so alienated from our present culture that we treat it as an extraterrestrial. To us the most alien thing in the cosmos is the human soul.”

I personally find the thesis that extra-terrestrial sources of vast intelligence might be communicating to the human species via entheogenic plants and mushrooms quite plausible and worthy of further investigation. It is consistent with the fact that interest in UFOs and extra-terrestrial culture and contact has been growing tremendously in the second half of he 20th century, in tandem with other movements of consciousness expansion, such as psychedelics, shamanism, spiritual practices and higher states of consciousness. Harvard psychiatrist John Mack, who had made an intensive study of the UFO abduction experience, has shown, in his most recent book, Passport to the Cosmos, that reported contact and communication with alien intelligences is widespread and almost taken for granted in societies with living shamanic traditions. The notion that experiences with Amazonian hallucinogenic vines and mushrooms could facilitate or induce visions of extra-terrestrial visitors and space-ships, is also supported by the art of Pablo Amaringo, a Peruvian ayahuasquero who painted hundreds of visionary experiences, including many encounters with extra-terrestrial craft.

Terence McKenna’s thesis on the symbiotic role of entheogenic fungi was further extended in his major work, The Food of the Gods, in which he proposed that the discovery of consciousness-expanding mushrooms by our proto-hominid ancestors might have led to the development of language, higher intelligence and culture. While this thesis has been generally treated with disdain, or else ignored, by the academic establishment, it is interesting that there isn’t really a good alternative theory of the development of language or higher intelligence.  Furthermore, establishment academics are likely to be unfamiliar with the nature of psychedelic experience, and therefore hardly in a position to evaluate McKenna’s hypothesis objectively. As we know, those scientists who had not looked through a microscope or a telescope were not really qualified to evaluate the observations of those who had. The history of science is rife with similar examples.

In favor of the idea that mind-expanding plants may have played some role (if not the only one) in the evolution of language are:  (1) laboratory evidence that psilocybin and other psychedelics lower sensory thresholds, i.e. heighten acuity of sense perception, which would confer a direct adaptive advantage; (2) studies of brain areas activated during psilocybin states that show major activity in the frontal cortex, the area most involved in processing complex perceptions and thoughts; (3) evidence from subjective experience accounts that psychedelic mushrooms heighten cognitive awareness and linguistic fluidity – as, for example, in the chants of the Mexican Mazatec curandera Maria Sabina; and (4) heightened problem-solving ability, with adaptive advantages, is also suggested by the effective use of psychedelic drugs in psychotherapy and shamanic divination.  Terence McKenna’s Food of the Gods ranges far and wide through history, anthropology and around the globe in his review of sacred mind-expanding substances.  He re-examines R.G. Wasson’s hypothesis that soma, a mysterious substance deified in the Vedas, was basically the fly agaric mushroom cult, imported from Central Asia. Though historian of religion Mircea Eliade, who had written a masterful overview of shamanism, considered the use of psychoactive plants a degenerate form of religious practice, Wasson, on the basis of his experiences in Mexico with the psilocybe mushroom and his beliefs about soma, took the opposite view. Wasson held that all religious experience was originally induced by psychoactive plants and that the practices of yoga developed in India were substitute methods, created when the mushroom was no longer available to the ecstatic visionaries. McKenna comes down on the side of Wasson, but thinks soma was the psilocybe mushroom, not the fly agaric, for the main reason that the latter is only mildly and ambiguously psychedelic; however, apart from some ambiguous mushroom-shaped stones, no evidence has been found for either mushroom species existing in India.

It may be impossible to ever settle this question in the history of religion completely. But that some psychedelic plants may have played a role in the origins of some religious traditions, as well as some aspects of language (for example, bardic poetry) seems to me both probable and plausible.

Central to the argument McKenna makes for a role of psilocybe mushrooms are the facts that Stropharia cubensis grows in cow dung and that cattle were the main source of wealth and livelihood in early Neolithic cultures in Asia and Africa. When McKenna came upon the cave paintings on the Tassili plateau in the Sahara Desert of southern Algeria, he found the most impressive piece of evidence for a mushroom cult in the Neolithic period, dating from the 9th to the 7th millennium BCE. Judging from cave paintings of giant female beings, these people worshipped the Great Goddess, as did other cultures during  the Neolithic period in Old Europe and Anatolia. The people of the Tassili Plateau are described as the “Round Head” culture, because of cave paintings that show figures with rounded heads that could obviously be mushrooms. Among the surviving images there are running figures clutching fistfuls of mushrooms and a magnificent image of a giant anthropoid bee-faced goddess (the bee was also associated with the Goddess in Old Europe). The image is holding clusters of mushrooms in each hand and smaller mushrooms sprout from her arms, legs and trunk. Unmistakably, these people held mushrooms in very high regard. Terence McKenna writes,

“The contention here is that the rise of language, partnership society, and complex religious ideas may have occurred not far from the area where humans emerged – the game-filled, mushroom-dotted grasslands and savannahs of tropical and subtropical Africa. There the partnership society arose and flourished; there hunter-gatherer culture slowly gave way to domestication of animals and plants. In this milieu the psilocybin-containing mushrooms were encountered, consumed and deified. Language, poetry, ritual, and thought emerged from the darkness of the hominid mind.”

Concluding remarks

Re-reading and revisiting the works of the McKenna brothers brought to my mind an intriguing comparison with the life and times of another pair of pioneering scientist-scholar brothers from the early 19th century – Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt. Alexander von Humboldt was a naturalist and explorer who traveled extensively in Latin America, exploring and describing for the first time, in over 20 illustrated volumes, the biogeography, flora and fauna of the region. Wilhelm von Humboldt was a diplomat, educator and linguist, who made important contributions to the philosophy of language and the theory and practice of education in Prussia, their country of origin.

The McKenna brothers also have made significant contributions to expanding our scientific knowledge of mind-assisting plants, fungi and substances, to the flora and fauna of inner space geography, and to the new languages and concepts inevitably needed if we wish to understand the bewildering and fascinating world of psychoactive substances.

Works cited:

McKenna, Dennis, 2012. The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss – My Life with Terence McKenna.  St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press.

McKenna, Terence and Dennis McKenna, 1975. The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching.  NY: Seabury Press.

Oss, O.T. and Oeric, O.N., 1976. Psilocybin, Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide. Berkeley, CA: And/Or Press.

McKenna, Terence, 1992. The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History. New York: HarperCollins.

McKenna, Terence, 1992. Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution. New York: Bantam Books.

JFK, Mary Pinchot Meyer and the Leary Connection

Over two thousand books have been written about the life and death of John F. Kennedy almost 50 years ago and 60% of the American people don’t believe the “lone assassin” theory espoused by the official Warren Commission report. It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that if the real assassins have not been brought to justice, they have been and still are, if alive, “hiding in plain sight.” A fractious consensus among assassination researchers points to multiple, complex conspiracies involving elements in the CIA, the military, the mob and Cuban exile groups – all of whom had demonstrated antagonism against the President, thus the motive and the means to carry out the crime.

I am going to discuss two recently published books: (1) David Talbot’s BrothersThe Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (2007) and (2) Peter Janney’s Mary’s Mosaic – The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace (2012). Both are extensively documented and annotated books of over 400 pages, telling complex stories impossible to summarize. I will follow the example of Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, and state out front the view that I have come to hold, so that the reader can know what my bias is, rather than trying to pretend I don’t have one. I have come to believe that the multiple assassinations of leaders (JFK, RFK, MLK, Malcolm X to name only four of the most prominent) that occurred in the 1960s signaled the end of the American republic and the establishment of a military-industrial empire, governed according to increasingly secretive, fascistic and militaristic principles, with the formerly “free press” reduced to being the propaganda extension of the controlling elites.

The assassination of JFK brought about the end of the American republic analogously to the way the assassination of Julius Caesar by a cabal of wealthy land-owner senators, whose power and influence Caesar had started to break up, brought about the end of the 500-hundred year history of the Roman Republic and was followed by a totalitarian empire. For a fascinating fresh look at that event, read historian Michael Parenti’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar (2003).

David Talbot’s Brothers focuses on the relationship of JFK and Robert Kennedy, who became not only his attorney general, but his most trusted advisory as it became clear that, because of the debacle of the botched Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion he could not trust the Joint Chiefs of Staffs, who were always itching to go to war (that’s what the military always want) and had become his sworn enemies. He also could not trust the CIA (which he said he wanted to “splinter into a thousand pieces”) when he realized they were always pursuing their own subversive agendas in various parts of the world, without any oversight or even truthful disclosure, as required by law. The CIA and their Cuban exile allies wanted to take Cuba back from Castro and were deeply resentful of what they perceived as Kennedy’s failure to follow-up their Bay of Pigs invasion agenda by “sending in the Marines” even though Kennedy had assured them beforehand he had no intention of doing so.

During the Cuban missile crisis, when the entire world came within a hair’s breadth of exchanging nuclear missiles and terminating civilization as we know it, JFK only managed to defuse the situation through his personal back-channel connection to Nikita Krushchev, the Soviet Premier who was similarly being pushed by his military commanders breathing down his neck to let fly the missiles. The two men talked directly, but secretly, by telephone and agreed to turn their respective countries away from war and toward peace. Kennedy and Krushchev thereafter started taking the first, small steps toward a negotiated, gradual disarmament process. As a life-long peace activist, this was to me the most moving and dramatic revelation of Talbot’s book – to know that at the height of maximum tension in the Cold War, these two warriors at the heads of their respective imperial armies reached out and agreed to take steps to avert and avoid war for ever. Immediately after the assassination, Robert Kennedy, who was of course aware of his brother’s plans and activities, took pains to use his own back channel connection with the Kremlin to assure Krushchev that he and the Americans were not blaming the Soviets for his brother’s assassination (knowing that the CIA and the military would have attempted to do just that).

Peter Janney’s book Mary’s Mosaic is about Mary Pinchot Meyer – a woman whom Kennedy really loved (unlike the numerous bimbos his sex addiction brought to his bed) and with whom he came to share his vision of turning the world toward a lasting peace. Mary Meyer was assassinated in a Washington park where she was walking, a few months after the JFK assassination. An uneducated black man walking nearby was arrested and tried for the murder – but acquitted for lack of credible evidence. Since Mary Meyer came from an upper class family and had relatives and friends in high places (her former husband was Cord Meyer, who was a high CIA official) her death occupied the rumor mills for quite a while, but then receded into oblivion as yet another unsolved murder case. Peter Janney, who spent forty years researching this book, had a personal connection to Mary Meyer since he was best friends with her son, who got killed in an automobile accident as a child. And Janney’s father was also a high-ranking CIA official, making with Cord Meyer and James Angleton, a trio of CIA spooks who feature repeatedly in the various conspiratorial scenarios that swirl around the assassinations of the 1960s and beyond.

I found his book incredibly interesting and powerful, blending a poignant story of personal tragedy with stories of outrageous criminality in the highest corridors of the American imperial court. The Mary Meyer murder story, which features briefly in David Talbot’s book and hardly at all in most other Kennedy books is the central focus of Janney’s book, because of his personal connection to her family. My old friend and colleague Tim Leary also features in the Mary Meyer story, although I personally never heard him talk about this connection. (It does not surprise me at all that Leary would keep his contacts with Mary secret, at her request). In his autobiography Flashbacks, Leary relates that Mary came to see him in 1962-63, seeking guidance on how to guide LSD sessions for a small group of Washington insider wives, who were wanting to turn the world system to world peace. They had a few meetings, Mary reported that things were going well – but then something happened that alarmed her, her peace conspiracy had been discovered. She warned Leary to lie low, they lost contact. Then in November 1963, JFK was killed, three or four months later Mary Meyer was killed. Many people believe that Mary kept a diary of her meetings with JFK, which the CIA and others were anxious to retrieve.

Regardless of whether there was a diary in which Mary described her affair with the President and/or his designs for peace – a supposition that I for one find unlikely, given the woman’s obvious understanding of the explosiveness of their thinking if it was revealed prematurely or at all. Janney’s book includes a description of a never-before published two-hour interview of Tim Leary and what he knew about Mary Meyer, conducted by Leo Damore (himself an assassination researcher who died of a sudden brain tumor before he could finish his own book) in 1990 (i.e. more than forty years after the assassination) confirming much of the story Leary told in Flashbacks, and adding details.

The conclusions emerging from this book are staggering –Kennedy and the only woman he truly loved took LSD together in the White House, conceiving and birthing their vision for world peace and how to bring it about. As Janney writes, explaining his concluding understanding of why she was killed, –

After Dallas, amid utter horror and shock, Mary had taken it upon herself to to discover and make sense of the truth of the conspiracy that had taken place – only to realize the magnitude of the second conspiracy, a cover-up taking place right before her eyes.. It was her own mosaic of people, events, circumstances, and exploration that informed her understanding – not only of the evil that had taken place in Dallas, but of the villainous darkness that was now enveloping all of America. She had furiously confronted her ex-husband, Cord Meyer, possibly Jim Angleton as well, with what she had discovered, not fully realizing the extent of their own diabolical ruthlessness. The Warren Report was nothing but a house of cards; once ignited, it would be engulfed in flames. If Mary courageously went public with who she was, and what she knew, making clear her position in the final years of Jack’s life, people with influence would take notice; the fire of suspicion around Dallas would erupt into a conflagration. She had to be eliminated (p. 391).

This book shines a brave and brilliant light of truth into a still dark and somber chapter of American history (irrespective of whether the story he tells is precisely true in all its details), a crucial turning point on the pathway from republican democracy to military empire, a pathway on which he are still marching, blinded by fear and ignorance. May these two books (and others now coming out about the Kennedy era) contribute to our awakening and a returning to sanity.

Timothy Leary archives acquired by the NY Public Library

Some 350 boxes of hitherto unpublished papers from the estate of the late Timothy Leary have been purchased by the New York Public Library, and will be opened to researchers and the public after the library staff has organized and sorted the materials. Leary was somewhat of a compulsive gatherer of the  traces of his life and work, and some of the material is clearly more interesting than others. For many people this will provide in-depth access to the beginnings of the Harvard Psychedelic Research projects. Various media have been granted a preliminary view of this material.

Great thanks to Michael Horowitz for the providing the links to these articles.

New York Magazine published the following article, by Boris Kachka:

http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/timothy-leary-2011-6/

How Was Your Trip, Allen?

Acid commentaries from Timothy Leary’s just-revealed archive.
Timothy Leary has settled in at the New York Public Library. After many months of negotiation, the NYPL has acquired his complete papers—335 boxes of manuscripts, letters, photographs, and videos constituting the legacy of the psychedelic guru […]

As journalists are wont to do, there’s an emphasis on the weird and bizarre and a down-playing of the seriousness of the research. Michael Horowitz, Leary’s long-time archivist, provides a corrective commentary on the selection:

http://www.timothylearyarchives.org/new-york-magazine-article-on-a-bad-trip/

…The New York Magazine writer who covered the recent acquisition of the Timothy Leary archives by the New York Public Library seems to have a morbid interest in descriptions of the worst moments of people’s psychedelic trips…

This highly selective editing ignores the fact that, lo and behold, these same folks in the middle and later stages of their trips, and upon reflection afterwards, concluded it was one of the most uniquely insightful and glorious experiences of their lives…

Here is how the NY Times described the project, in an article by Patricia Cohen:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/16/books/new-york-public-library-buys-timothy-learys-papers.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&hpw

…When the Harvard psychologist and psychedelic explorer Timothy Leary first met the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1960, he welcomed Ginsberg’s participation in the drug experiments he was conducting at the university…

…The meeting between Ginsberg and Leary marked an anchor point in the history of the 1960s drug-soaked counterculture. Leary, the credentialed purveyor of hallucinatory drugs, was suddenly invited into the center of the artistic, social and sexual avant-garde…

The following is a commentary published in The Berkeley Blog by David Presti, senior lecturer of neurobiology at UC Berkeley:

http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2011/06/23/legend-of-a-mind-the-archives-of-timothy-leary/

…While many students in college today do not know who he is, Timothy Leary is without a doubt one of UC Berkeley’s most famous graduates.  He received his PhD in psychology at Cal in 1950…

I wrote the following  comment on David Presti’s blog:

Thanks for this sensitively nuanced appraisal of my former colleague and dear friend Tim Leary. Your statement that “the role of Timothy Leary in the early days of contemporary psychedelic research and his impact on society during the second half of the 20th century are far from having been fully explored” is right on target. I think in retrospect his pioneering contributions will be recognized and appreciated, while his flamboyant and provocative style of self-presentation will be forgotten. More books about him are coming out all the time – the most recent being Peter Conners’ White Hand Society – The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg. He was the funniest man I’ve ever known. When asked about Nixon’s judgement of him as “the most dangerous man in America” he said “It’s true – I’ve got America surrounded.”

The Economist

http://www.economist.com/node/18864332?story_id=18864332&fsrc=rss

Acid tests
Research into hallucinogenic drugs begins to shake off decades of taboo
THE psychedelic era of the 1960s is remembered for its music, its art and, of course, its drugs. Its science is somewhat further down the list. But before the rise of the counterculture, researchers had been studying LSD as a treatment for everything from alcoholism to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), with promising results…
Timothy-Leary-Being-LedThe Guardian (UK) published a fairly balanced review by Sue Blackmore, freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/18/timothy-leary-papers-sale-lsd

 

Will Timothy Leary’s papers turn us on to LSD?

…Perhaps these papers will give a glimpse of great genius arising from the clash of creative minds with powerful drugs – of insights gained and mystical peaks reached. Or perhaps they will show the horrors and mental decline of drug abuse and excess.

Possibly the most interesting will be the numerous “session records”, that is, descriptions of taking LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and other psychedelic drugs. These will presumably give a more realistic picture of what these poets, writers, professors and actors actually experienced at the time…

The New Yorker published the article about the archives by Scott Staton, which touches on some of the larger cultural-historical themes in a perceptive manner:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2011/06/turn-on-tune-in-drop-by-the-archives-timothy-leary-at-the-nypl.html

Turn On, Tune In, Drop by the Archives: Timothy Leary at the N.Y.P.L.

…In addition to his Harvard records and correspondence with such figures as Albert Hoffman (who first synthesized L.S.D. in 1938) and Aldous Huxley, Leary’s papers include the complete records of the various entities he established to continue his hallucinogenic studies: the International Federation for Internal Freedom, the Castalia Foundation, and the League for Spiritual Discovery. They constitute an immense amount of material to be assessed and reëvaluated by researchers today. The piles of case studies, session reports, and letters describing personal experiences in his archive are among the earliest ever recorded in such a fashion, and will offer scholars a unique perspective on the subject. Cultural historians will turn to the collection in an effort to shed greater light on this paradoxical figure who typified the acid-fueled, utopian indulgences of a far younger generation. Leary’s escapade was seriocomic—a midlife crisis that took on the dimension of a cultural revolution. In a private, lucid moment, he might have conceded this disproportion…