Leary and Lettvin Clash on Drugs In M.I.T. Debate

"It's odorless, tasteless, and colorless -- and furthermore it's addictive," said Dr. Timothy Leary, holding up a glass of water before a packed audience last night in M.I.T.'s Kresge Auditorium.

"It's a way of life and a sacrament," said Leary, "and a sacrament is something that gets you high." He then downed the water, and launched into a debate with Jerome Y. Lettvin, professor of Biology and Electrical Engineering at M.I.T. on the merits and evils of LSD.

Leary, dressed in white, sat in a Buddha-like pose on the stage floor and talked for over an hour on the importance of "flipping out." Behind his head two movies and a slide-show ran simultaneously.

"The real goal of the scientist" he said to his audience of engineers and mathematicians, "is to flip out." To prove his point, he cited Newton's spiritualism, Carl Jung's visions, and William James' books on mental telephathy.

Lettvin put on a show of his own without slides. He asked himself whether he would trade places with Leary, who claimed he was ecstatic. "Why don't I? Is it love of the real world? Is it that my own ego would be destroyed?" Lettvin said he objected to LSD on moral grounds, since certain drugs cause permanent suspension of judgment. To opt for saying "so what?" he argued, was an unbearable decision for him.


In two to three per cent of the cases he had seen, Lettvin said, taking drugs had brought on a form of epilepsy, similar to the type which affilicted Charles Whitman, the Texas sniper. "Real Dostoyevsky if you want to see what it is like," he recommended.

If one out of fifty takers of LSD suffers brain damage, Lettvin charged, "I cannot see you, Tim, as anything but the tool of the devil."