Podcast 127 – Leary: “The Cooper Union Speech”


Guest speaker: Dr. Timothy Leary


[NOTE: All quotes below are by Dr. Timothy Leary.]

One of the first psychedelic posters“You have to go out of your mind to use your head.”

“Now, in taking this eccentric position, of taking the brain seriously, you run the risk of getting out of touch with your professional colloquies.”

“Now from the standpoint of the strategy of the genetic material, every living species is simply a creative solution to a packaging problem.”

“This [early imprinting of young ducklings on orange basketballs instead of mother ducks] is both funny and tragic, because it raises the question, in the case of the human being, what accidental orange basketball have you and I been exposed to early in life?”

“At times it seems to us that one of the functions of the mind is to rationalize and protect an accidental early imprint.”

“We suggest that psychedelic drugs may be seen as chemical agents which temporarily suspend your old imprints.”

“The thing which excites us these days is the corollary concept of psychedelic RE-imprinting.”

“I think that anyone who doesn’t experience, at some moment during their psychedelic sessions, and intense awe-full fear has been cheated by their psychiatrist or their bootlegger.”

“LSD is the most powerful aphrodisiac ever known to man.”


PCs – Right click, select option
Macs – Ctrl-Click, select option

Posted in Consciousness, Culture, LSD, Psychedelics, Timothy Leary and tagged , , , , .


  1. Too bad Timmy wasn’t aware of the condition researchers now call SYNESTHESIA where individuals do exactly what Lettvin asked. An example can be seen in the TED episode of Daniel Tammet:Different Ways of Knowing.

  2. Went on Bing Web search typed in Leary Lettvin Debate and the entry MIT Debate on LSD: Dr Jerry Lettvin + Dr Timothy Leary which also mentions it is notable as the first time a “curse” word was uttered on television which occurs at the 40 minute mark when Lettvin after asking his colleague “Timmy, Timmy what do you call a person who sees sounds and hears sights?” to which Tim replies “A religious mystic” Lettvin immediately responds “BULLSHIT”.The debate took place on May 3, 1967 and was televised by WGBH Channel 2.

  3. In Nov 1967 a debate on LSD took place between Dr Timothy Leary and Dr Jerry Lettvin at MIT, a video of which can be seen on YouTube, a must see. It was all we were talking about at the time, and my friend Henry Wojcicki, having recently completed his Navy service was attending UMass on the GI Bill. Henry who was editor of the school newspaper the Mass Media and also its Magazine CRUMB (Creative Review of the University of Mass Boston)wrote an excellent article about the debate entitled “Art vs Bullshit”. If you watch the debate at the 40 minute mark you will appreciate the title of his article.

    [COMMENT by Lorenzo: Can you post the links? I am quite interested in this.]

  4. Comments from original blog page: http://www.matrixmasters.net/blogs/?p=259

    tree wisdom
    I hope you’re feeling better, Lorenzo!

    Nothing against McKenna, but I appreciated hearing a different voice. At the very least, he provides contrast and perspective for the other P.S. speakers. And, even those who put Leary down are probably more influenced by him (directly or not) than they are perhaps aware of, so it is helpful to be aware of the history of this culture. Though I have heard and read small snippets of Leary before, this is the most I have heard in one sitting. It sounds like many have already formed opinions about him, this gave me a chance to make my own rather than blindly take advice from others.

    I’m certainly going to mull over the idea of what imprints I have that I wasn’t aware of. Definitely food for thought. I’d imagine the television is a “basketball” to many.

    I’m curious about all the laughter in the beginning of the lecture. Some of it seemed to be meant as a joke, but others didn’t strike me as such. Was it nervous laughter for an audience that wasn’t certain how to react to such an enigmatic character? Or, perhaps because LSD was so new to the public at that time that it was simply exciting to hear anyone speak on the subject?

    thanks again!

    I wondered the same thing. At times it almost seemed like the ‘nervous laughter’ of school children who were caught talking behind the teacher’s back. … But even if this was the most hip audience in the land at the time, my guess is that less than half of them had heard about LSD before that night.

    Thanks for posting this!

    I am in the group that knows very little about Leary – I’ve just heard that he was irresponsible and caused a lot of trouble. He was more cautious than I thought he would. This is a great snapshot of history.

    In addition to the laughter there was also a whole lot of loud clapping- it gave me the sensation that the audience was very hungry for leary’s perspective.

    I thought that the laughing was from folks “in the know” as they knew that Leary was no longer at Harvard and they were also the folks who knew and had taken acid so were less unfamiliar w/ the whole thing. Remember when the announcer made that original pun-slip unintentionally, as he was a pretty “straight man” and seemed not to know a lot about Leary’s real message.

    re Harvard –

    the “story is” that he had a group of 20 priests and on easter sunday gave 10 of them niacin and 10 of them psilocybin (or lsd) and then waited to see who had a “spiritual experience” – in a church no less. apparently only 1 niacin taker “met God” but 9 of the 10 entheogen-takers succeeded. and supposedly it was the last straw for admin —

    **note that i don’t remember where i read this – oh for Terence’s memory or his lovely “memory boosters”!!]

    also from the perspective of a former academic, i can tell you that Leary was not tenure-track regular faculty but only a visitor kind of guy with a cubicle. Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) was actually the originally truly straight “real deal” … point is that it’s easier to kick out the visitor – the real shocker was Ram Dass leaving, and there’s another memory hole, as i don’t know if he quit or was fired. being a FIRED tenured professor is very very very next to impossible, but there is an “immorality clause” they may have invoked [usually reserved for sexual harassment and etc- NEVER close your office door!]

    i gotta ask, please? how much of his topic was “new” to you now in 2008 vs. it’s incredible

    novelty back “in the day”?

    i was personally struck by how much Leary was working to simplify topics and using 5 cent words to ensure no one missed his meaning.

    I do promise to listen to this again, and !! have found leary’s book “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead” (google) for only $9.89 and shipping!

    blessings, :L, drlaura

    who regrets the loss of her Ram Dass collection and all the stories of his experiences when he first learned he wasn’t “himself” … gotta reread “Be Here Now”


    Fantastic Talk! I have another great Leary talk from a 1966 Harvard Forum that’s amazing aswell.. it’s probably in the archives you got, Lorenzo.

    I would suggest to anyone who is interested in the theory Tim discusses of imprinting with psychedelics, etc, check out these amazing books=

    “Prometheus Rising” by Robert Anton Wilson

    “Info-Psychology” By Timothy Leary.

    And here’s a cool quote about Leary by none other than Terence Mckenna, from 1991 -=

    “I know I wouldn’t be here tonight if it weren’t for Timothy Leary. Tim was the path finder – he cut the way through the woods. He gave us all permission to be very much the people that we are today.”

    re: The Day the Sixties started? An earlier date for the Media interest in psychedelics that caused Psychedelics to be a big issue in The Media was February 20, 1962, in the Harvard Crimson. Many of the themes that are being debated today were

    mentioned here. Like who is going to be in charge? The Sovereign Individual with Cognitive Liberty as outlined in the

    founding documents of the USA or the bad old Monarchical big boss totalitarian model…

    See the article that Andrew Weil wrote here:


    ‘Better Than a Damn’

    From the Bottle

    Published On 2/20/1962 12:00:00 AM


    When Aldous Huxley published his essay “The Doors of Perception” in 1954, he did much to publicize a very strange drug. “Mescaline,” he writes, “admits one to an other-world of light, color, and increased awareness. In some cases there may be extra-sensory perceptions. Other persons discover a world of visionary beauty. To others again is revealed the glory, the infinite value and meaningfulness of naked existence. . . .”

    Mescaline is an alkaloid produced by the peyote cactus which is native to the Rio Grande regions of Mexico and Texas. As peyote, this curious compound has been used for many years; indeed, the Aztecs worshipped this plant as the chief of three great deities. More recently, the ingestion of peyote for its drug effect has spread among Indians of Mexico and the United States. There is a Christian sect (The Native American Church) based on sacramental use of peyote wafers, and there is also an impressive black market that ships quantities of the cactus to American students, beatniks, and artists.


    The next day Richard Alpert & Timothy Leary wrote back a response! And Boom! the Media Hysteria was on…Search for

    Leary, Alpert, Psilocybin, Weil for different dates to see what happened for the next few years! I got over 500+ hits from 1962-2008!

    I first heard about Leary and the Religious Experience from the big media magazines in 1963. At that time LIFE, TIME, LOOK,

    The Saturday Evening POST, etc. were the main print media outlets and if one does database searches one can see a nice

    Bloom ongoing thru 1963….the combo of Harvard, Students, and Drugs seemed to be the big interest….Huxley and Wasson had been in the media in the 50’s, but it took this odd-ball combo here to launch Boom Bloom!

    Leary/Alpert response



    The Mail

    Published On 2/21/1962 12:00:00 AM

    To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

    An article in Tuesday’s CRIMSON reviewed Huxley’s theories on mescaline and related them to psilocybin studies being executed by some staff members at the Center for Research in Personality. The CRIMSON essay was a gallant attempt to summarize a most difficult subject matter, but some clarification seems needed.

    1. Escape vs. Insight.

    In the Doors to Perception, Aldous Huxley is concerned with the social applications of the so-called Budda drugs (mescaline, psilocybin, LSD). He refers to society’s need for escapes. The escape motif should not be emphasized. For most subjects the opposite seems true. Confrontation, intense (and often painful) contact with reality more accurately characterize the experience.

    Consciousness expanding drugs may some day contribute to human welfare by increasing understanding of the mind, by suggesting new methods of educational research, and behavior change. This work is just beginning. Systematic scientific studies in this field, as in any other, will produce the facts. Richard Alpert, Timothy Leary, Center for Research in Personality.


    Dear, dear Lorenzo and all you listeners of the psychedelic salon.

    For me it is very difficult to hear everybody speak about the brilliance of Timothy Leary…I never heard this guy till lets say a year or two ago…and when I first heard him; it was some not so old things which made me think, “well, if this guy is so brilliant, then why has he not implicated the cocnclusions of his way of thinking?”

    Most of the conclusions he reached were my conclusions after the first time I had taken acid, or rather during the first time I did LSD. It was as if I had come home, that familiar was the feeling of acid for me, and the epiphanies were a return to a way of thinking that I, somewhere inside me, had been thinking for waht feels like millions of years.

    Later on, I heard some more tapes of Leary and had to adjust my opinion; this man was not only not so fucking brilliant, but I began getting annoyed with what I felt was an untruthful, or lying tone of voice (and with the danger of not being taken seriously; I have to say that I am seldom wrong about people’s tone of voice; its my way of diagnosing a persons ailments…I am an empathic healer; i have been able to feel people’s emotions more than an average person ever since I was a kid. Only after taking acid did I ‘come out ‘ to people about my eeeh, well lets face it, ‘trans-personal experiences’ for acid had made me realize that the largest part of emotions I felt, were actually the reception of transmissions from the people around me.)

    then I met a girl who had met the man himself in the seventies and had experienced some unpleasantness from him, so my opinion persisted.

    Now, when I hear this, one of the first of his public appearances on this sunject, I find that his voice is much more honest, or, maybe STILL very honest. I guess the fact that Tim Leary has gone thru all the shit he has gone thru, has made him more closed and to some extent more secretive…

    So now i kinda feel sorry for the man, and sorry for me just dismissing him.

    But I still think that the insights that Leary had are just implications of the knowledge gained by tripping .

    For me the light shone a bit more on Terence, may he rest in peace, because Terence Mc Kenna has kindoff taken the lessons of the trip to a more elevated level; not just the level of freeing your mind and becoming aware and all that jazz, but to actually use this awareness to create, in the morphogenic field of man, a new ‘paradigm’ as he so aptly named that. Those were the things I was doing myself, before I knew Terence’s work. (and am still doing to this day.)

    What my point is, is that we completely miss the point of these two minds, if we keep thinking that what they insighted is better or higher than what we ourselves can intuit. The brilliance of the two lies in the exploration of THEIR OWN minds. Their work should only incite us to become even more brilliant; to let in and thru MORE light. I, without trying to diminish these people’s achievements, reckon myself to be an equal, at the least, of Dr.Leary and Terence Mc Kenna, and I am sure that most of the Saloners are that too.

    Sorry for writing such a long response, but I feel one cant be clear without giving infoormation.


    “democracy; dictatorship of the majority…” -Dervish Mad Whirler, who knew that the truth does not come in large groups.

    dear dervishmadwhirler,

    thank you.

    i like what you’ve said a lot, and i love that we are all talking- the more we hear and speak and share with each other the more we learn and grow.

    perhaps i am abnormal in this, but when i first listened to terence i was very impatient with the audience and some of the folks wasting [his time, and even in my arrogance, my own listening time]… i wanted only to hear terence.

    now i see that tm himself was right in loving the questions and in how it brings it all around or opens new doors & wndows. terence is an amazingly good listener which only adds to his double scorpio charisma.

    looking within alone/ listening only to myself is just so much mental noise – sure, there is good stuff to be found, but when i hear/read YOU speak i flash to new insights and new memories and new understandings even of what i thought i knew.

    blessings, :L, drlaura


    Hey Lorenzo,

    Thanks for posting this. I think it was the right decision.

    It was a very interesting talk, and after listening to so much from wonderful Mckenna, it was nice to hear another voice, and I sure do hope to hear more from him in the future.

    I wish you’d get well very soon, and I hope you will introduce Leary in one of your future podcasts. I read the Wikipedia article like you advised on your podcast, but it just isn’t the same as listening to you talk about it and give your own angle on that. Also, I must admit I did get curious as to the negative things which might make me skeptical about Leary the man.

    Thanks a lot!


    Hey ido,

    i too want to know more about the “negative side of Leary”.

    did he really desserve the blame? or is he just getting a bad rap for all the folks who abused LSD?

    and wasn’t there also a big involvement from Kesey and the “electric kool-aid acid test” and the bus Furthr ?

    what’s scarey is that there seems to be similar danger with Salvia and the suicide hysteria and etc., [was legal and it’s being eroded!]

    not to mention the recent frat-boy ayahuasca incidents [simplifying something i read about stupidity]

    obviously i can’t/shouldn’t preach but the spiritual path=walkers are endangered by the partiers, and yet…. there’s the “old man, take a look at your life” syndrome – i partied too.

    blessings, :L

    ps not having been to “Burning Man”, and being rather unlikely to ever go, i’d love to hear more about it. also about your founding of Palenque Norte, Lorenzo! more stories please! could you do another Lorenzo podcast?

    LOL, while i’m asking, i’d love to hear about kratom from experienced user[s].

    !! might as well dream!

    thanks so much for posting this file!

    “or is he just getting a bad rap for all the folks who abused LSD?”

    this seems to me to be the case, but i’m no expert.

    The negative side of Leary (or anyone else for that matter) usually tends to be those things which people don’t like about themselves, or a bit of hypocrisy here or there. Toward the end Leary embraced lots of things technological. He saw the ‘spiritual’ side of cyberspace or ‘mindspace’ or “wherever it is” we are when we connected with eachother through this medium. He was despised by normals/straight ppl in the same way the pastor of Barack Obama, Rev. Wright, is vilified. Taken out of context and twisted so as to be be misunderstood, Leary was constantly vilified. He embraced socialism and libertarian socialism and cooperative anarchism. So mainstream Republicans and Democrats would never fully “understand” his “liberated” mind. But at the deepest level, he was about individuals having the right to free thought and free expression. It wasn’t about what the government, your neighbor, or even your wife wanted. IT WAS ABOUT WHAT YOU CHOSE AND IT WAS YOU WHO WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN CHOICES.

    Anyone who has read any amount of lay discussion of psychedelics comes across the natural/man-made divide of psychedelics; many people take one side or the other; few embrace both equally. I think as a product of his time, despite his incredible genius at times, he continually did the best he could with what he had availble to him. Of course, I believe this of most people. I did a great deal of research before I took my first sacrament overseas. Leary’s work, and the testimony of several professors allowed me to overcome my hesitation. Of course, attending three rainbow gatherings totally sober and experiencing the power that comes from praying and meditating for world peace with a group of 4-8000 people is a powerful thing, even for the fervent athiest I was at the time (early 1980s). A bit of time has passed. I still find large spiritual gatherings enlightening in both a satori and psychedelic induced sense.

    I was introduced to Leary at time when I was deeply anti-capitalist. And the Leary I discovered in the early 80s was that of the late 60s/early 70s. The Leary I discovered in the late 80s, was far more capitalist, mainstream WiReD (even), with more of a San Francisco live-and-let-live-while-we-prosper-off-selling-neat-stuff sensibility. Like all of us, he was a highly complex person, so that we see in “appearances” and through his late writings aren’t the “real” him that his friends knew and loved.

    In this way, I think Terrance McKenna is different and special. I think his public persona and his private one were somewhat uniquely the same. I don’t think most of us are willing to do this. Nor do I think it’s a good idea. Look at the shit Leary went through. Or as Lorenzo said in a recent pod-cast, there are consequences if you put your name to stuff on the internet. It doesn’t go away. Ironicaly, there are some google searches I can do on myself and see that I completely disagree with my 1994 self, but admire my 1989 self. Of course, I was using IRC and list-serv s year before the internet was commercialized and freed from its academic/military beginnings. I still miss the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) green text crossing my screen at 300 bps, and remembering when I got 600 bps (‘baud’) how it was nice to have text go at a speed that was fast and comfortable. I still prefer that letter by letter “chat” to the line-by-line chat we have today. Then you could watch as someone wrote/thought their reply.

    Wow, i digress. Hopefully, you get my point. Leary is a good resource for some views on the pschedelic experience and how it can be enjoyed in a religious or spiritual context. I’d go further: in any area of intelligent inquiry the psychedelic experience can yield fruit: religious, spiritual, scientific, artistic, emotional, ecological, sexual, economic, or philosophical, etc.

    BUT as valuable as Leary can be, compare (no one uses cf. anymore) the ideas found at http://deoxy.org/ or http://fusionanomaly.net/.

    None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.—Goethe Buddha

    satellite syndrome
    I have never done LSD, and my experience with any other substances is fairly limited. I’m not sure how many people are in the same boat as me, but my opinion of it with relation to its(for lack of a better categorical classification) seemingly life changing effects goes through a cycle of opposing extremes.

    Did Leary’s opinion on becoming ‘more in tune’ with the original purpose of the genetic code change as he progressed his mind set? Somehow, I don’t think serving the purpose of my genetic code is going to benefit anything, especially in this day and age.

    Could someone with more experience directly explain this to me more thoroughly, hopefully giving some details?

    I understand the connotations of the statement but somehow I need to be able to put it into words. In nearly every single manner I have tried to analyze the effects I always come back with the same answer. Whenever I ask about it, it seems like the person I am asking is about to fly off with the perfect explanation, but some how they always end up muffling about, unable to give me the answer I keep looking for.

    For a few years I’ve looked forward to trying it myself, using it as a tool for self exploration or therapy. However, I have never been able to feel content with my level of confidence about using something with such a unique power.

    By far the most settling thing I have been told is that the experience will only change you if you let it, regardless of the way a person’s predisposition and subconscious willings effect those changes.

    I’m sorry that I can’t even pose the question in the direct manner I seek, let me try to clarify.. again..

    Nearly undoubtedly, everything I read, hear and learn about LSD leads me to believe that it is a beneficial experience. Having never tried it for myself, I cannot analyze the effects; which has a slight effect on my confidence about using it. What I want to hear is basically how it effected you, and your thought pattern. How you began to behave differently. Was it a change in your predisposition? Were you more patient, less patient?

    Or alas has all my ranting led me to the effort devaluating conclusion that the effects are what you make of them? Ahhh, if I could just get a concrete answer. Concrete is a good word 😉

    I apologize for my rantings, but maybe some good will come of me posting this tornado of doubt and presumption.

Comments are closed.