Changing My Mind, Among Others is a selection of the irrepressible Tim Leary’s “Lifetime writings, selected and introduced by the author”. Its themes move from psychology to brain change to religious experience to politics to psychedelic sci-fi futurism. In many places it can be a hard slog and the ideas presented go on at length, usually delving into strange and unfamiliar conceptual nooks. To read the whole book requires a combination of credulity and skepticism. One must jovially suspend disbelief and understand that the author, though apparently inspired, could often be talking utter nonsense. Nonetheless there are ideas to be gleaned, along with reams of rare, encouraging thought and imagery.
The book is also in many ways a historical text: It answered many questions I had about “what the hell was going on in the sixties anyway?” (At least, its answers are what Leary says was going on.) Leary discusses the rise and demise of psychedelic study, including its transition from a scientific effort to a religious one and back, as well as his involvement and that of others in that colorful, controversial scene.
The book is self-serving yet lucidly self-effacing, sure but yielding, dogmatic but polite. It is a warm mug of hot chocolate for the turned on, and a window into a very different set of lives and options for the turned off. It’s a five-part collection of abridged, selected, essential Leary.
Part One: Essays In Nuclear Psychology (Human movements and collisions in space-time)
“Nuclear psychology” is described as a personality model based on quantum, rather than Newtonian, physics — what Leary hails as a much-needed update of the psychological sciences. It deals with charting the coordinates and trajectories of interactions of interpersonal attitudes or social modes, and how they affect and train each other. Like much of the book this section is heavy with jargon, but the three essays predate the rest of the book’s material by several years and Leary’s trademark mystic-optimist-futurist bent can be seen here in its formative stages. The introductions to each essay are revealing and enjoyable, like all of the introductions in the book. Part One is easily the driest part of the book but was also the part that was most new to me, containing concepts and theories that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere.
Part Two: How To Change Your Brain
Part Two contains four long elaborations on the possibilities and virtues of brain-change, suggesting (often implicitly) that the most (or the only) feasible tool for altering one’s mental make-up is the psychedelic experience. It touches on language and creativity and emphasizes the primacy of free will in the face of the deterministic environment in which we reside — I think.
Part Three: Humanist Interpretations of The Religious Experience (Your brain is God)
The five essays of Part Three are theological and spiritual, including selections from Psychedelic Prayers from the Tao Te Ching and a discussion of The Psychedelic Experience and its relationship to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The essay “You are a God, act like one” immediately precedes “LSD as religious sacrament”. While reading this book I often wondered to what extent Leary had been affected by his psychedelic diet in ways he couldn’t predict. A lot of drugs throw neural “God switches”. We can try to be rational about the experiences that result but enthusiasm and devotion like Leary displays come from something more personal than rationale. Had some part of him equated LSD with God? Had his personal capacity for freedom of religion been shorted out? Or is what we find in the LSD experience that seems sacred, numinous, or holy, exactly that? What Leary suggests is that it’s not God we find in acid, just ourselves, but that we ourselves are, naturally, God. This section is valuable and florid but deserves the grain of salt most will take it with.
Part Four: The Politics of Humanism (The successful scientist always upsets the hive)
Part Four contains nine essays documenting some of the ripples that have been sent through the modern world’s political networks since its rediscovery of the psychedelic experience. These papers are deeply revealing and slightly frightening. Perhaps in a hundred years we’ll all use psychedelics abundantly, freely, and properly, and be glad for it, but in the meantime this is a hell of a weird time to be alive. The last essay in this part is titled “Prison is the occupational hazard of the successful philosopher” which, I feel, is a concise summary of Part Four.
Part Five: The Future of Scientific Humanism
Folks! Buckle up because here’s where the brakes let go. In the nine essays of this section, speculation and extrapolation spill out of the author with the ease, consistency, and flowing variability of a hallucinogenic experience. The words in this section string together to form a long, twisted visual about the evolution, history, and possibilities of mankind, language, intelligence, and the universe. Leary hallucinates madly onto the page, his bare notions and whimsies and hopes and fears pouring and pouring out — and is that HIS neuroses I can see in there, or mine? It’s so hard to tell! Part Five is beautiful but difficult to read quickly, and genuinely brain bending to take in. The ideas presented are often amorphous, drifting, vague, and not clearly attached to one another, but in grappling with them your brain sighs and groans and grows a little. It’s exercise, it’s recreation, it’s intellectual meditation. It’s fun!
For strangers to Leary’s work, I highly recommend Changing My Mind, Among Others as a meaty and multifaceted primer. Of course if you’ve already read all the Leary you want to, you may not want to bother with it. I’d read very little of Dr. Leary’s writing when I started this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even when it seemed a dry non-fiction slog it was bursting with the kind of unconventional, turned-on pinko philosophy and ideation that I find most inspiring, and kept me reading out of sheer force of happy agreement and cheerful surprise.
On the whole, Changing My Mind, Among Others is an enjoyable and reaffirming psychedelic reader.
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