The professional activities of Dr. Timothy Leary, lecturer in Clinical Psychology, and of the group of his associates at the Center for Research in Personality, raised a controversy last spring over the legality and propriety of their research with drugs. Leary's description last Sunday evening of the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF), a corporation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts devoted to research on the use of consciousness-expanding drugs, is likely to excite further interest.
Unfortunately, much of the interest has and will come from equating extensive drug research with large dope rings or their equivalent. If Leary's accounts of his work may be taken at face value-- and there is every reason to suppose that they may, since they have not been in the least covert--his drug research is legitimate clinical psychology. The one, nearly fatal, handicap his research suffers is that it is unorthodox.
Leary described the program and conception of his research nearly a year ago in a lecture to the Social Relations colloquim entitled "New Methods for Behavior Change." His talk last Sunday supplied further details on IFIF and his research last summer in Mexico.
In his speech in December 1961, Leary examined "the internal politics of the nervous system." The goals of external politics, he said, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the internal analogs of these goals are consciousness, freedom, and "fun-love," respectively. Behavioristic psychology, he said, has focused on what is important to the observer, omitting what is important to the consciousness of the subjects. Leary's concern is to help people attain their inner goals" freedom from their verbal learned past, and an all-encompassing unity and love which transcends ego-identity. He chooses to use consciousness-expanding drugs.
Leary conceives erternal behavior as games, involving roles, rules, rituals, goals, values, and language. External happiness, he says, depends on playing these games successfully. In playing, the mind rules the cortex like a tyrant. (Sunday evening he referred specifically to the mid-brain as the censoring agent.) Internal happiness, however, he considers strictly non-game; it is equivalent to the brain without the mind's control--"physiological freedom."
Leary framed the goal of science in the Utopian sense as the reduction of helplessness. The natural sciences and education attempt to reduce external helplessness by increasing one's ability to play games, but are frequently unsuccessful because the game structures are unknown. The goal of behavioral science, he said, is to reduce internal helplessness by changing inner behavior, that is, consciousness.
Religious conversions, psychoanalysis, and social intercourse have all been ways of changing behavior by modifying consciousness. Leary chose the biochemical way to expand consciousness. In what he called "applied mysticism," drugs obliterated the subject-object, doctor-patient relation, allowing Leary to "love-engineer" behavior. Concluding his December talk, Leary described research projects in a prison and in an orphonage.
Sunday, Leary told something of the origin of the Cambridge research group. The parts of the brain which direct awareness, he said, "usually alert us to game committments, and not much else. Everything outside and inside gets strained through the fifteen or so game patterns--computer programs--and literature, more recently Bergson and Aldous Huxley, has been telling us for centuries that this is slavery." The Cambridge group started with the close co-operation of Aldous Huxley, in whose novel Brave New World the psycho-activating drug "soma" is widely used.
The group was immediately faced with the problems that lay ahead. "Very tricky social and cultural dilemmas emerge," Leary said, "if your consciousness extends beyond the language you know and the culture in which you exist. The question has been: do you attempt to harness on-going cultural games to the possibilities of expanded consciousness or do you attempt to set up new social forms?"
In the U.S., Leary finds, "there's a lot of resistance of taking like too seriously. We've done a lot of work in maximum security prisons. We and the prisoners have been convinved that there are wider possibilities in life that the game of cops and robbers. But it's hard for a convict to retain the serious goals he may have attained for moments through drugs; it's hard to get outside the game."
It is difficult to guarantee internal freedom in the U.S. for two reasons. External games and behaviors are imposed through education. And laws limit one's right to alter his own consciousness. Therefore, Leary said, "we've organized a game to provide more internal freedom for those who want to join the game." His "game" is the International Foundation for Internal Freedom.
IFIF will supply drugs and legal and financial support to properly qualified groups, called "cells," which apply. Among those which have applied are a group of ministers interested in the "transcendental" experiences drugs can induce, psychologists interested in group dynamics, and three Christian families desirous of higher spiritual experience. Each group must report on its experiences, and since an M.D. is required to administer most psycho-activating drugs, will include a doctor. The national foundation will publish a journal covering the work of cells and "set up retreats where Americans can go for longer periods of inner exploration."
The controversy around drug research last spring centered on whether the drugs were being administered legally. Leary has now made sure that the drug activities are strictly legal.
The question arises, Is this proper scientific research? Leary does not feel he needs to create and control every aspect of the drug-using situation. "Our methods are definitely naturalistic, not experimental," he said. "One function of the local group is to keep very close records. Our main interest is in the subsequent applications of drug experiences in the social life of the individual." Leary seems to be using drug-taking as a subroutine in the larger game he plays of helping people adjust socially.
There is no a priori reason to suppose his methods less fruitful than the more established techniques of clinical psychology; if they are to be condemned, it should be only because experiments will show that they fail.