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From Psychological Tests to Psychedelic Tests, 1957–61
"Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others ..."
Timothy Leary (original source unknown)
First and foremost, Timothy Leary was a psychologist, dedicated to exploring the workings of the mind. As scholars of psychology, Leary and his colleague Richard Alpert approached the study of the human mind and behavior by applying standard scientific methods from the field of social sciences. As professors in the Department of Social Relations at Harvard University, they were tasked with the usual duties of advising graduate students, applying for grants, and conducting research studies under the support of Harvard's Center for Research in Personality. At the time, Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner's theories in behaviorism dominated the department. His models entailed the ideas of stimulus-response, conditioning, and reinforcement in shaping human behavior.
Prior to his appointment in 1960, Leary authored a well-received monograph, Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality: A Functional Theory and Methodology for Personality Evaluation (1957). This work was built on psychometric studies that he had conducted as a clinical psychologist at the Kaiser Hospital and Foundation in Oakland, California.
Some may not realize that before Leary ever dabbled in psychedelics, he received accolades for designing psychological tests. His "interpersonal circumplex" or "interpersonal behavior circle" was the first circular model for mapping interpersonal behavior. Developed in collaboration with psychologist Hubert Coffey and fellow Berkeley alumni in the Kaiser Foundation Research Group (Mervin Freedman, Rolfe LaForge, and Abel Ossorio), this model used group psychotherapy sessions and psychological test data to create a vector model for personality in the context of interpersonal relationships.
Visually charting the results of personality tests was a revolutionary idea. Established personality tests at the time included the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), which followed a linear approach for summarizing data, whereas Leary's graph incorporated measurements in magnitude and direction, offering a richer, multifaceted picture of an individual's interpersonal traits, as interrelated. As he would discover post-psychedelics, a "web" would serve as an analogy to describe our interrelated relationships, including a person's reactions and, thus, personality characteristics.
Leary marketed his own product, calling it the Interpersonal System of Personality, which also incorporated the TAT (Thematic Apperception Test), a technique that uses picture interpretation to evaluate patterns of thought. Leary described his own product as a "complex combination of methods and measures for assessment of personality. ... The raw data for the diagnoses are obtained from the MMPI, the TAT, and a test which was especially developed for interpersonal diagnosis. ... The booklet provides space for summarizing interpersonal scores from the MMPI (at two levels) and at five or more scores from the Interpersonal Check List. The scores are standardized and plotted on the diagnostic grid. The diagnostic ratings are then used to calculate over 30 indices of conflict."
Data from experiments using the model could be recorded in three booklets that Leary had specially designed: the Record Booklet of Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality, the Record Booklet for Analysis of Group Dynamics, and the Record Booklet for Analysis of Family Dynamics, in addition to checklists, a template, and a manual.
His tests were used by other psychologists who ordered copies of his diagnostic worksheets throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, as found in the records of his Psychological Consultation Service. It is striking that experts continued to use Leary's tests even after he had been declared the "guru" of LSD. For Leary, his adventures into LSD research and his work as a psychologist went hand in hand.
Considering that Leary's training and professional career focused on the measurement of personality and behavior traits, it is not surprising that he applied these same methods to analyze and describe psychedelic substances, as seen in session report forms and later plotting circles. His social science training informed his approach to understanding the psychedelic experience. As expected, his graphs and plotting circles become more and more unusual after the introduction of drugs.
Leary had his first experience with a hallucinogenic or psychedelic drug as a mature man — a Harvard professor in psychology, a widower, and a father of two. His wife's suicide was only five years prior. As previously mentioned, he was vacationing in Mexico that August 1960, as he had done several times before, this time in Cuernavaca — a popular haunt with his social science peers. His Berkeley colleague Frank Barron had recounted his own mushroom experience in Mexico to Leary the previous summer. Barron and linguist Lothar Knauth encouraged and prepped Leary to try it for himself. Leary was by all accounts a "square": a middle-aged, single father with a solid alcohol and tobacco habit who had not as yet dabbled in psychoactive substances. This was not a teenage, thrill-seeking, recreational happening. The hippie was not yet realized, the peace sign was still largely unknown outside of Britain and Leary was nearly forty years old. In his autobiography High Priest (1968), Leary stated that "ever since that last weekend and the mushrooms, I didn't know as much anymore. I had started the slow process of throwing things out of my mind, junking mental furniture that had been clogging up my brain."
Clearly, the experience for Leary was life-changing. Afterwards, he was determined to explore the potential that such drugs could offer and he began exploratory studies at Harvard that fall semester. By November 15, 1960, he wrote a report to Dave McClelland, Head of the Department of Social Relations, outlining the status of his research thus far. He stated that his aims were "to determine the conditions under which psilocybin can be used to broaden and deepen human experience; to determine which persons are benefited by the drug and in which direction; and to determine methods of making the beneficial effects durable and recoverable without subsequent exposure to the chemical."
Leary's initial approach to this research was fairly typical for the time. He started as a scientist to quantify and characterize the psilocybin experience. The subjects were to "alternate between roles of observers and participants" and initially consisted of two faculty members and five graduate students. The group included Timothy Leary, Frank Barron, and colleague George Litwin. Aldous Huxley also participated in the planning of meetings and drug sessions. After the first experience, it was determined to bring spouses or close friends to participate in order to reduce anxiety. Synthesized psilocybin was obtained from the Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, where the scientist who first discovered and ingested LSD, Albert Hofmann, worked. This was also where the CIA obtained the drugs for their experiments. "The first step was to expose every member of the group to the psilocybin experience in a naturalistic setting. This was done in small groups with at least three observers present. Tape recordings of the sessions are obtained. Observers' reports, phenomenological write-ups by the subjects and tape recordings of the session, comprise the data."
FROM TIMOTHY LEARY TO DR. DAVID MCCLELLAND, HARVARD
NOVEMBER 15, 1960
Dear Dave, I have received your note of November 14 in which you suggested that we put on record the design of our mushroom research. I thoroughly agree and herewith enclose a description of our current work and future plans:
Purpose of Research:
The aims of this research are:
1) To determine the conditions under which psilocybin can be used to broaden and deepen human experience
2) To determine which persons are benefited by the drug and in which direction
3) To determine methods of making the beneficial effects durable and recoverable without subsequent exposure to the chemical.
Among the most noticeable effects of the drug are increased sensitivity to visual experience and a voluntary and involuntary elimination of the subject-object relationship. Mystical and visionary experiences are produced.
There are no subjects in the classic sense. The members of the research group alternate between roles of observers and participants. All collaborate in planning and in analyzing data. The original research team included two faculty members, and five graduate students-research assistants:
Mr. Aldous Huxley has also participated in all planning sessions and in the drug experience.
After the first experience, it was agreed that allowing spouses or close friends of the members to join the group might diminish anxiety and increase the positive aspects.
Leary was fascinated by his experiments from the outset and shared his initial thoughts with Laura Huxley, Aldous's wife, who was also a psychological counselor:
TIMOTHY LEARY TO LAURA HUXLEY | NOVEMBER 18, 1960
Dear Laura, Mushroom magic continues to permeate the atmosphere here. Fascinating to see it work. Some are entranced. Many are frightened. Fear is our worst enemy. As usual.
I've talked to many people here about your "therapy" workbook and we are awaiting the promised publication.
As soon as our write-ups on the mushrooms are ready, I'll send you copies.
Sandoz Laboratories want you to have an M.D. make an application for psilocybin. They are apparently eager to have it aired for research at this time. Again the ridiculous compartmentalizations — research vs. treatment? With you as observer this platonic distinction makes no sense to me.
Enclosed are some materials for your perusal. The afternoon when Aldous participated was too active for visions but produced one of the richest, moving, raw human experiences one would ever want to be in. Food for years of thought.
Enjoyed meeting and knowing you so briefly. Hope to be able to continue our talks soon.
And please write up your work!
Best wishes, Timothy Leary
Soon after Leary's first psychedelic experience, he decided to further investigate and developed studies in set and suggestion and crime reduction. His colleague Richard Alpert did not have a chance to try the mushrooms in Mexico with Leary, but finally consumed synthesized psilocybin months later. By this time, Leary had contacted poets and artists to participate in his studies. Allen Ginsberg and Leary joined Alpert for his first psilocybin experience in Newton, Massachusetts in February 1961. Reportedly, Alpert blissfully shoveled the snow and experienced personal revelations.
Leary and Alpert — after he was on board — continued to contact individuals previously experienced in psychoactive substances, such as Albert Hofmann, Aldous Huxley, Humphry Osmond, and R. Gordon Wasson, the amateur mycologist who first wrote about Mazatec psilocybin mushroom traditions in Life magazine (June 10, 1957).
Other graduate students and colleagues, artists, poets, and like-minded individuals volunteered as test subjects and were administered psychotropic drugs (including synthesized psilocybin), often obtained via Hofmann and the Sandoz Laboratories. Leary and Alpert's Harvard studies included the "Psilocybin Study" (1960–62), the "Good Friday Experiment" (sometimes known as the "Marsh Chapel Experiment," a one-off experiment aimed at exploring whether psychoactive substances could catalyze the transcendent religious experience, 1962), and the "Concord Prison Experiment" (a larger study in the use of psychedelics and group psychotherapy in reducing prisoner recidivism rates, 1961–63).
By 1961, Leary was already concerned about drug prohibition and mentioned that his studies at Harvard involved graduate students regularly taking psilocybin for a semester "working through, organizing, and systematizing the results." The journalist Arthur Koestler became an early advisor to Leary and Alpert and participated in their hallucinogenic drug experiments. Just before Leary tried psilocybin he gave Koestler a personality test developed by Frank Barron.
Leary was determined to apply his scientific methods of personality research and testing to the psychedelic experience, but he knew that in order to gain a clear set of results he would need a wide and varied pool of willing participants to join in his "Leary project."
Academia, Meet Bohemia, 1960–62
"The goal of an intelligent life, according to Socrates, is to pursue the philosophic quest — to increase one's knowledge of self and world."
Timothy Leary, Your Brain Is God
Once Leary and Alpert began to incorporate psilocybin research into their curricula at Harvard, they sought to widen their pool of test subjects and reached out to those who were already experienced with psychedelics. Leary's letters from this period are a record of how these relationships were formed and how many developed into lifelong friendships. A growing circle of friends, colleagues, graduate students, and others, began spending more time at his home in Newton, Massachusetts.
Aldous Huxley, already a good friend and experienced in drug experimentation, was fascinated by Leary's research and he too provided further connections with like-minded people. Some friendships predated Harvard: Frank Barron and Leary were college friends and it was under Barron's urging that Leary met with David McClelland, Director of the Center for Personality Research at Harvard University, leading to Leary's appointment as a Professor at Harvard.
FROM TIMOTHY LEARY TO ALDOUS HUXLEY | NOVEMBER 18, 1960
Dear Aldous Huxley, Allen [sic] Watts was having lunch with your would-be host, Professor M____, but I missed seeing him. Hope to see him in New York this weekend. Enclosed are some materials for your files. Thanks for the peyote article. Frank Barron and I are beginning conversations with the research divisions of some large companies to investigate the possibility of increasing creativity of top-drawer scientists. I'll keep you posted. Hope to see you before you go back.
Sincerely yours, Timothy Leary
At the time of this letter, Huxley was a visiting Professor of Humanities at MIT while battling laryngeal cancer. In early September, Huxley attended the conference, "Great Issues of Conscience in Modern Medicine" at Dartmouth College, but felt disappointed that no one discussed mind-changing drugs. By December, he was completing his book On Art and Artists.
Among the many people Leary invited to participate in his studies was Allen Ginsberg. Viewing Ginsberg as his entrée into the New York Beats and the larger world of bohemia, Leary was able to secure introductions to those outside his usual cadre of academics. As Leary was making introductions with notable countercultural figures of the day, the Beat Generation was still in full swing. William S. Burroughs had recently published his avant-garde novel Naked Lunch (1959).
Ginsberg was interested in psychoactive drugs and remained eager for new experiences. He had used LSD in 1959 as a research subject at Stanford University. A frequent traveler, he had also ventured to Pucallpa, Peru in the summer of 1960 to sample a medicinal brew — ayahuasca — under the guidance of a local healer or curandero. Leary wrote to Ginsberg in November 1960 and the poet replied enthusiastically:
FROM ALLEN GINSBERG TO TIMOTHY LEARY | NOVEMBER 10, 1960
Dear Mr. Leary, Yes by all means! I don't know if Spiegel told you — he wrote to me you would write — I spent half a year in S. America this year and took Panisteriopsis [sic] Caapi (Ayahuaaca [sic], Yange [sic]) a number of times & kept lots of notes, mostly sort of abstract alas, but also some drawings & poems. Also I spent 2 days at Standford [sic] & had LSD a couple of times. Enclosed a piece of writing I did — about the 8th hour of the LSD. Part II Howl if you have read it, is Peyote writing.
Is Huxley there? Spiegel said he was at KIT working with mushrooms — I have never been in touch with him — show him the poem if you see & know him.
Also I have had a lot of Nitrous Oxide, Ether, Mescaline, Peyote, Marijuana, Ditran (a Datura?), (awful) — & the opiates. I'll bring up the notes I took while high.
Excerpted from "The Timothy Leary Project"
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Table of Contents
Foreword Zach Leary 6
Preface Michael Horowitz 12
Introduction: The Counterculture Phenomenon 16
Author's Note 29
1 From Psychological Tests to Psychedelic Tests, 1957-61 31
2 Academia, Meet Bohemia, 1960-62 45
3 From Harvard to Freedom, 1962-63 69
4 The Trip Reports 87
5 Millbrook, 1963-64 119
6 Acid Tent Revival, 1965-67 145
7 Leary versus the State, 1966-70 175
8 From Sit-Ins to Be-Ins and Bed-Ins 189
9 From Prison to Space, 1970-74 209
10 From the Counterculture to Cyberspace, 1976-95 231
Who's Who 263
Acknowledgments and Sources 266