On This Day … 31 May

People (Deaths)

  • 1996 – Timothy Leary, American psychologist and author (b. 1920).
  • 2011 – Hans Keilson, German-Dutch psychoanalyst and author (b. 1909).

Timothy Leary

Timothy Francis Leary (22 October 1920 to 31 May 1996) was an American psychologist and writer known for his strong advocacy of psychedelic drugs. Evaluations of Leary are polarized, ranging from bold oracle to publicity hound. He was “a hero of American consciousness”, according to Allen Ginsberg, and Tom Robbins called him a “brave neuronaut”.

As a clinical psychologist at Harvard University, Leary worked on the Harvard Psilocybin Project from 1960 to 1962 (LSD and psilocybin were still legal in the United States at the time), resulting in the Concord Prison Experiment and the Marsh Chapel Experiment. The scientific legitimacy and ethics of his research were questioned by other Harvard faculty because he took psychedelics along with research subjects and pressured students to join in. However, the claims that Leary pressured unwilling students are refuted by at least one of Leary’s students, Robert Thurman. Leary and his colleague, Richard Alpert (who later became known as Ram Dass), were fired from Harvard University in May 1963. Most people first heard of psychedelics after the Harvard scandal.

Leary believed that LSD showed potential for therapeutic use in psychiatry. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD. After leaving Harvard, he continued to publicly promote the use of psychedelic drugs and became a well-known figure of the counterculture of the 1960s. He popularized catchphrases that promoted his philosophy, such as “turn on, tune in, drop out”, “set and setting”, and “think for yourself and question authority”. He also wrote and spoke frequently about transhumanist concepts of space migration, intelligence increase, and life extension (SMI²LE). Leary developed the eight-circuit model of consciousness in his book Exo-Psychology (1977) and gave lectures, occasionally billing himself as a “performing philosopher”.

During the 1960s and 1970s, he was arrested often enough to see the inside of 36 prisons worldwide. President Richard Nixon once described Leary as “the most dangerous man in America”.

Hans Keilson

Hans Alex Keilson (12 December 1909 to 31 May 2011) was a German-Dutch novelist, poet, psychoanalyst and child psychologist. He was best known for his novels set during the Second World War, during which he was an active member of the Dutch resistance.

Keilson, having worked with traumatised orphans, mainly wrote about traumas induced by the war. His first novel was published in 1934, but most of his works were published after the war. In 2010, The New York Times ‘s Francine Prose described Keilson as “one of the world’s greatest writers”, notably honouring Keilson’s achievements in the year in which he turned 101 years old.

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